Last week my colleague got cakes and donuts in the Office, a proper assortment of sweets for his anniversary celebration. I secretly believe that he got all of that as leftovers in the party he threw a day before, and he got all of that just to finish it all up. But then, who am I to say all this among these posh English people I work with. So anyway, he got a proper feast for everyone and everyone was gobbling upon them, specially donuts. And it was a pleasant surprise for myself when I didn’t feel like having anything. It was nothing out of my willpower or something but due to the sheer abundance of the Christmas adverts all around me that have put me off for any sort of sweet. I wish it goes on like this and I don’t eat a single piece till Christmas..
Anyway, as averse I am to western sweets and candies right now, I still get equally weak when it comes to Indian sweets. Every now and then I treat myself with halwas and kheers made at home especially on weekends. S loves it too, so we happily splurge on these fat laden desserts very often, and then crib later. As much as we love our North Indian sweets, these days I am experimenting more with other regional sweets as well. So we get to eat a lot of Payasams and other South Indian desserts. Amidst all that and more, Preeti brought these Chocolate coated Sandesh balls one day and I became an instant fan of these little Bengali balls. I cursed myself for not having to taste the Bengali sweets properly before. Although there is one big sweet corner named “Bengali sweets” in Delhi, I wonder why didn’t I ever grow out of having jalebis and barfis even there. Sigh !!
And then Suchi gave me her aalu Posto ( which is potatoes cooked in poppy seeds, dry stir fry sorts), which was extremely delicious. I cursed myself even more for not having any basic knowledge of the cuisine and culture. So there !! The enlightening moment !! I have tried to learn things about the amazing culture and bothered my Bengali friends since then to learn more and more about the food, people, customs and most interestingly Sweets.
So this recipe basically is a fusion of Bengali sweet “ Shondesh” (what it is called in West Bengal, “Sandesh” it is elsewhere) and chocolate. Chocolate Cheese Fudge is the closest translation I can come up with to get the name right. It’s a dry ball, yet moist in sweetness. Sandesh & most of the sweet meats of Bengal are made from only “Chenna“ (A soft fresh Paneer/the Indian Cheese made with curdled milk), & Sugar in their basic form, butter or ghee is rarely being used in these; forget the flour, cornflour & the condensed milk used in the “modern” versions. Using flavorings, garnishes & other ingredients like fruits, pulps, etc. are an option. The variety, flavors & texture depends on the time of the year & occasion...
This recipe essentially is only a 3 ingredients recipe, which are Paneer, Sugar and chocolate. Everything else is just optional.. And if you don't want to coat the Sandesh balls with chocolate, its only Paneer and sugar that you need. So technically there is no fat involved in making this sweet. Isn't it amazing !! :) I have tried another famous Bengali sweet called Bhappa Sandesh in the past, which was again a very different sweet with a unique burnt aroma and texture. And with this Sandesh, am so looking forward to try my hands on more Bengali sweets. Thanks Preeti for the innovative recipe, and Suchi for being the inspiration :)
What you need?
To make the Paneer:
1 ltr. Whole/Full Fat Milk
½ Cup Distilled Vinegar/Lemon Juice
For the Sandesh/Fudge:
1 white chocolate bar
A Generous Pinch of Good Quality Saffron (Optional)
3/4 Cup Fine Sugar (more or less to taste)
3-4 Tablespoons Pistachios & Almonds combined, made into a powder
**The powder should be about 4 tablespoons; dry grind the nuts in a blender or coffee grinder. The powder should be ground to a texture where you can still feel the tiny pieces, but not so coarse that it will not let you mould the cheese. You can use either of the nuts or combine them, or use none at all
How to make?
How to make Paneer at home:
- Heat milk on medium heat & bring it to a gentle boil. Keep on stirring during this process so the milk does not get burnt at the bottom of the pan.
- Stir in vinegar/lemon juice & increase the heat a bit. The milk will start to coagulate.
- The coagulation will be completed in a few minutes. Do not overcook/over heat. The moment you see the clear greenish water, switch off the heat. Over cooking will make the chenna/cheese stiff.
- Line a colander/sieve with fine cheesecloth. (If you do not have a cheese cloth, any fine cloth will do) Transfer the contents into the lined colander. Spray the coagulated milk with cold water. This washes off any remaining acidic taste. Gather the cheese cloth from the sides & twist it at the top. Let it drain for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Take out the Chenna/Paneer after draining.
Proceed towards making Chhena:
- It is time to knead the chenna now. You can use a food processor, but I usually do it with hand, using the fingers & the heel & the middle of my palms.
- Knead evenly for about 7-10 minutes. During the last 3 minutes, add the sugar & the crushed saffron. Knead the chenna/cheese along with the sugar. By this time the chenna/cheese should be very smooth & not grainy at all. You will feel the fat from the cheese glisten on your palms & the cheese itself.
- To test if it is done & ready for the next step, take a portion of the chenna/cheese & roll it in a sphere between your palms. The sphere should be very smooth on the outside with no cracks.
- Take a non stick pan, & put the entire chenna/cheese in the pan. Switch on the stove at a low heat. Spread out the chenna/cheese, & cook it on low heat, while constantly stirring with a spatula so it does not stick at the bottom of pan. This should be done for about 12-15 minutes. You will see it slowly change into a slightly darker shade. The texture will change too. When it is towards done, the chenna/cheese will no longer stick to the pan; it will form lumps & kind of gather together.
- Once this stage is reached, quickly take it off the heat & transfer it to a bowl. If the chenna/cheese is heated beyond this, it will form crumbs & you will not be able to mould it into shapes.
- The Chenna/Cheese is now ready to be given shapes. Grease your palms with a drop of ghee and roll the balss between your palms very gently. Do it right away while it is still warm to touch. If left alone for long, it will get harder and you wont be able to roll it then, although it can be used and eaten at this stage too.
- Keep these Sandesh balls aside in a cool place and meanwhile melt the white chocolate
- To melt the chocolate, break it into pieces and microwave it for 1 minute. Take it out, stir it a bit with the spoon and micro it again for a minute. Repeat it one more time, and the chocolate should be all melted properly by now. Do not melt it at one go since that will burn the chocolate straight away.
- Now, take the Sandesh balls out, dip them in melted chocolate, coat them evenly from all sides and place them on the greased plate immediately. Don’t hold them for too long in your hands, else the chocolate will start sticking and will loose its shape.
- Garnish the balls with a drop of saffron paste putting sliced pistachio over.
- Keep them in fridge for 30-45 minutes before serving so that chocolate hardens up and takes its shape.
- These chocolate Sandeshs can be kept in refrigerator for upto a week.
Some Notes and Tips:
- While cooking the Chhena/ Paneer, if you notice that the Chenna is releasing water instead of drying up quick, it would mean that it was not drained well. Don’t panic. It just means that the cheese needs to be cooked a little bit longer. Increase the heat a little bit & cook while constantly stirring & mashing it down with spatula till it reaches the above mentioned state.
- This is the crucial & tricky step. The Chenna will be cooked just enough so it does not have the raw cheese taste. If it gets overcooked (which might happen in few minutes time), they will be too crumbly to be moulded, but the prepared lump will still be deliciously edible without moulding or rolling, just on its own with spoon.
- As I said above as well, coating in chocolate is totally optional and you may simply do the Sandesh balls or mould them in shapes if you have moulds with you
- This is an excellent finger dessert, specially in kids' parties and can be made ahead of time. Beware !! its very addictive ! :)