I can still feel my wonderful childhood days in bits and pieces. There are triggers that revive childhood memories: food being one of them. My childhood winters were totally enriched with yummy homemade Bengali desserts, including the Gurer Paayesh, Shondesh, Rosogolla, Lobongo Lotika, and of course, the different kinds of divine Pithey and Puli made during Sankranti. These were made by my mother, especially during the late winter afternoons, once my younger sister and I came back from school. It was quite a sight. We would often watch our mother, while she would single-handedly scrape coconuts using the Kuruni of the Bonti (a kind of Bengali chopper with a scraper on the top). The pile of freshly grated coconut felt soft to touch and tasted great!
This was generally the first step of the Bengali pithe-making, which was sweetened preferably with Gur (jaggery). My mother made sure that any winter dessert which involved jaggery, was made with nothing but the best jaggery in the town. And the best jaggery for any Bengali are the dark and aromatic Nolen Gur (solid) and Jhola Gur (liquid). The aroma of high-quality Nolen Gur melting slowly on the simmered fire was unmatched. It made us eagerly wait for the dessert dishes. My mother would make a wonderful Gurer Paayesh on one burner and on the other, she would proceed to make the Nolen-gur-enhanced coconut filling for the Patishaptas (Bengali pancakes with a sweet coconut filling). The whole house smelled divine! Till today, when I close my eyes and think of my childhood days, those familiar tastes and aroma still keep coming back in my senses.
As a child, knowingly or unknowingly, my love for the rich Bengali food culture grew stronger with each passing day. Today, I take pride in Bengali cuisine and its unique ingredients. Undoubtedly, Bengali cuisine is very dear to me. Almost every day, I cook atleast one Bengali dish in my kitchen inspite of having a full-time cook. Although I love rustic Bengali dishes, I do create my own signature dishes using these unique Bengali ingredients. My Signature Nolen Gurer Shondesh Ice Cream is my homage to the exceptional Bengali flavours that I grew up on. This year, almost close to 50 guests have sampled this ice cream at my home, and the response was overwhelming. I am happy to share this recipe today, as many of my friends and relatives who tasted this Bengali dessert at my home recently, have requested for the recipe. And yes, adding Nolen gurer shondesh to this recipe is absolutely essential for its creaminess and well-rounded “comforting” flavour!
If you happen to visit Kolkata during the winters, you will find people selling a kind of sweet, brownish liquid in earthen pots. This is Jhola Gur, somewhat resembling the Maple syrup in consistency. Personally, I feel, Jhola Gur tastes much better than anything on Earth! The date-palm jaggery or Nolen Gur is solid and dark, but equally delicious. These two versions of date-palm jaggery are only available in winters for a very short period of time, so if you are late in buying the same, the jaggery will be out of stock for sure! (No worries, still you can taste this jaggery in myriad Bengali mishtis or sweets in any Bengali sweet shop, throughout the winter. Just go to any Bengali sweet shop and ask for Nolen Gur mishtis.)
Once you have tasted the Nolen Gur and its cousin, Jhola Gur, you will know it for yourself, why these two kinds of jaggery are so prized. The experts who make Nolen Gur in West Bengal, think that wind from the North is favourable in West Bengal for the best-quality sap. This year, peculiar climatic changes and global warming have affected even the overall production of date palm jaggery. A wild date-palm tree needs cold temperatures for the sap production. As in 2016, Kolkata winter is much warmer, and hence, the Nolen Gur yields have reduced quite a bit.
How Nolen Gur (নলেন গুড়) is made
When it is winter (around December), those who make gur get ready as the sun sets. The leaves of the date palm tree are shaved. The shaved portion is further shaved with a knife or a Katari, until tiny drops of sap are seen. Now a small piece of bamboo (called bansher konchi) is stuck inside an incision just below the shaved area of the date-palm tree. This process is called Nol Boshano, as the bamboo serves as the tap. A big earthen pot or handi is then tied just under the incision in which the “tap” or Nol has been fitted. This handi gets filled drop by drop, till the dawn. The earthen pot is removed the next day around 4 am. Each tree yields different quantities (and qualities) of the sap: some fill the whole earthen pot, whereas the others fill only 1/6th of the pot. This sap collected from the date palm trees immediately undergoes a process called jaal dewa, which means that all the sap from all the pots are collectively transferred to a big rectangular vessel on wood fire (unoon). It is then cooked until a good amount of froth appears on the top. The cook now raises a tiny portion the froth in the air with a special half-moon-shaped ladle with a small hole. When the froth reaches 1-hair consistency (the same consistency which the sugar syrup of Rosogollas have), the process of cooking is stopped. In other words, if a “hair” flies away from the ladle as the latter is raised up, the sap is cooked perfectly. The fires are doused and the utensil is removed from the oven. Some amount of the liquid underneath the froth is removed and cooled in earthen pots. This liquid is called Jhola gur.
Coming back to the vessel in which the sap was cooking, a small part of the froth in the utensil is whisked vigorously in a special way, using two wooden sticks, and this is continued until that portion of the froth turns thicker and white. This froth is then mixed with the rest of the froth in the same vessel and the process continues until all the froth in the vessel turns white and thick. This froth is transferred to individual bowls/moulds lined with muslin cloth. This froth dries out and gives you moulded Nolen Gur.
This jaggery has many medicinal benefits, if taken on empty stomach, it clears the throat, fights cold and cough, strengthens the liver, increases immunity, eases menstrual cramps, increases haemoglobin count, is rich in minerals and fights Arthritis and Obesity as it is a natural sweetener.
My Signature Nolen Gurer Shondesh Ice Cream
[This is an ice cream flavour that will drive you crazy with its flavour and aroma. It’s a celebration of jaggery in different forms. Although this ice cream is ice-crystal-free and doesn’t need an ice cream maker, it takes a little extra time to set. Once, it took almost 1.5 days. On other occasions, it took only 24 hours of undisturbed freezing. Sometimes, the ice cream refuses to set even after 1.5 days. In such cases, whip 200 ml fresh cream and remix with the ice cream mixture. It will then set in 24 hours. This ice cream is quite a gourmet, and is totally worth the hard work!]
Nolen gur (Date palm jaggery): 1/2 kg
Nestle Milkmaid condensed milk tins (400 g each): 1.5
Freshly made Nolen Gurer shondesh (available in any Bengali sweet shop): ½ kg
Amul fresh cream: 800 ml – 1 l (see Notes)
Cornflour: 1.5 tbsp
Water: 3 tbsp
Jhola gur (Liquid jaggery) for drizzling
All the utensils used in this dish should be free from any water droplet. In a deep bowl, crush the shondesh with the help of your hand. Add the condensed milk. Keep aside.
In a non-stick pan, melt the Nolen gur (broken into small pieces) with 3 tbsp water on a very slow fire. Take utmost care to ensure that the jaggery doesn’t burn or comes to a boil. We only need to melt the gur (jaggery) by stirring it constantly over low heat. After the gur is melted and you get a uniform liquid, slowly add the hot liquid to the bowl having the crushed shondesh in liquid.
Blitz this dense liquid with an electric hand whisk. Keep away about 1/2 litre of this liquid (you can make a separate batch of ice cream later). We will use the rest of the liquid for this recipe.
Whip 800 ml cream with the cornflour, until the peaks don’t settle for a while (whipped-cream consistency). Add the jaggery mixture in batches and blend just enough so that it is well-incorporated. Do not overblend.
Take a completely dry (not even a drop of water) lock-n-lock tiffin box. Pour the ice cream mixture. Refrigerate until set (see Notes). When half set, you may churn the ice cream by hand, although this step is optional for this recipe.
While serving, drizzle Jhola Gur generously on each scoop. This ice cream melts fast.
My Signature Nolen Gurer Shondesh Ice Cream: the Best Bengali Ice Cream Made in my Kitchen
- Nolen gur Date palm jaggery: 1/2 kg
- Nestle Milkmaid condensed milk tins 400 g each: 1.5
- Freshly made Nolen Gurer shondesh available in any Bengali sweet shop: ½ kg
- Amul fresh cream: 800 ml – 1 l see Notes
- Cornflour: 1.5 tbsp
- Water: 3 tbsp
- Jhola gur Liquid jaggery for drizzling
- All the utensils used in this dish should be free from any water droplet. In a deep bowl, crush the shondesh with the help of your hand. Add the condensed milk. Keep aside.
- In a non-stick pan, melt the Nolen gur (broken into small pieces) with 3 tbsp water on a very slow fire. Take utmost care to ensure that the jaggery doesn’t burn or comes to a boil. We only need to melt the gur (jaggery) by stirring it constantly over low heat. After the gur is melted and you get a uniform liquid, slowly add the hot liquid to the bowl having the crushed shondesh in liquid.
- Blitz this dense liquid with an electric hand blender. Keep away about 1/2 litre of this liquid (you can make a separate batch of ice cream later). We will use the rest of the liquid for this recipe.
- Whip 800 ml cream with the cornflour, until the peaks don’t settle (whipped cream consistency). Add the Jaggery mixture in batches and blend just enough so that it is well-incorporated. Do not overblend.
- Take a completely dry (not even a drop of water) lock-n-lock tiffin box. Pour the ice cream mixture. Refrigerate until set (see Notes).
- While serving, drizzle the Jhola Gur generously on each scoop. This ice cream melts fast.