Shondesh (sandesh) is one of the most authentic, mouth-watering and popular Bengali sweets. This shondesh recipe yields such soft and luxurious shondesh that even your favourite moira’s (sweet-seller’s) shondesh would taste average and I bet so! My shondesh is made from a well-kneaded dough of rich khoya and snow-soft chenna (un-pressed paneer). Khoya is a milk product that is often used in Indian sweets to give extra volume and richness. I will tell you how to make authentic kheerer shondesh from scratch, including the methods used to make khoya and chenna.
Shondesh is an integral part of the Bengali cuisine and culture. The literal meaning of shondesh is “news”. But in Kolkata and for Bengalis scattered around the world, no excuse is actually needed to bite into these soft milk fudges. Durga puja (the biggest festival for Bengalis) is almost a fortnight away and Bengali homemakers and sweet-makers are all set with their best sweet recipes. During Durga puja, thousands of sweet shops in Kolkata itself work day and night to meet the overwhelming demand for sweets. Not only in Kolkata, but all over India, Durga puja or Navratras brings the blissful time when people offer prayers to the Goddess of Power (Ma Durga) and generously treat their tastebuds with an array of sweets! Time to indulge.
The food-loving city of Kolkata, the City of Joy, will make you spoilt for choices with its exquisite range of shondesh. Few of the most popular brand names are Bhim Nag’s, Balaram Mullick, Dwarik Ghosh, Nakur’s and Sweet Bengal. Bengali sweet-makers have been experimenting a lot to come up with wackier versions of shondesh, which is a must for Bengali marriages and other auspicious occasions as well. We do get boozy shondesh these days, along with the regular fruity versions. Some sweet-makers have also made the savoury shondesh with olive oil and rock salt. Then there are kora-paak (hard-cooked) shondesh and the norom-paak (soft-cooked) ones. I love the medium-cooked ones as these don’t make the throat dry and are moist and enjoyable to me. There is a kind of shondesh called Kacha Golla (click here for the recipe), which is a softer version of shondesh. Other popular kinds include the nalen gurer shondesh (with jaggery as a sweetener), amrita kumbha, coconut shondesh, abar khabo, jolbhora (sandesh filled with date-palm juice), etc. Shondesh can also be classified by the shapes of moulds used.
Tips to make the perfect shondesh
Shondesh-making is an art. It is not difficult at all, but you need to know the tips and tricks at each stage. As it is made entirely with just milk and sugar, a great melt-in-your-mouth shondesh will only be possible with the best-quality full-fat cow’s milk. The secret behind making heavenly shondesh is also a good and patient kneading of the milk dough, the right ratio of khoya to chenna and just the right heat and cooking time needed to get these awesome morsels of authenticity.
How to make chenna
Chenna is the cottage cheese obtained when we add vinegar or lemon juice to boiling milk. Once the milk starts to boil, lemon juice (mixed with water) is added to the boiling milk, just until the cheese separates. Once the cottage cheese or chenna separates, the gas should be immediately switched off and the pan should be removed from the burner (as the burner is still hot, although off). This is done to prevent the overcooking of the chenna.
I have used two litres of milk for making chenna. To make the cottage cheese or chenna, pour 1 tbsp water in a pan (so that on heating, the milk doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan) and add two litres milk. Bring it to a boil. Slowly add 4 tbsp lemon juice mixed with equal amount of water, till the cheese and the whey just start to separate. Switch off the gas immediately to prevent hardening of the cheese. Remove the pan from heat and add 10–12 ice cubes to the chenna, although adding ice cubes is not done traditionally. After around three minutes, remove the ice cubes and pour the chenna (cottage cheese) and the whey into a cheesecloth or a muslin cloth and run cold water on this to arrest further curdling and to wash away the lemony smell. Tie the cloth and squeeze the extra whey.
Hanging the chenna
Basically we want to get rid of the excess water (whey) from the cheese. The process of making chenna is a little different than making paneer. When I make chenna for shondesh, I don’t put a heavy object over the cottage cheese, to expel the whey, as it is normally done to make paneer. Instead, I hang the chenna somewhere up in the kitchen for four hours and place a bowl below to collect the whey. On hanging, we are not making the chenna too dry, unlike the heavy-weight method. On the contrary, when I put a heavy weight over chenna, fat particles also get squeezed out, and I don’t want that here for the sake of creaminess.
Hang the chenna the same way as we had done in our Bhapa Doi recipe. Or, you may refer to the sketch above to make things clear. We will be using this “set-up for making chenna” for the shondesh recipe here.
How to make khoya
Khoya is solidified milk. When milk is simmered and cooked for a long time, stirring continuously, the liquid part in the milk is evaporated out and we are left with solid khoya. About 1.5 litres of milk in a wide non-stick pan takes almost 1.5 hours to turn into khoya. Khoya itself is delicious and mixed with sugar, it can be used as a stuffing in various sweet preparations. Last week, just for a change, I replaced the stuffing in my Cream Cheese Samosa recipe with sweetened khoya and it tasted great too! My khoya looks caramel-coloured as I had added one cup of sugar at the end of 40 minutes of cooking the milk.
The kneading technique
Massaging the chenna and the khoya together with bare hands and in small batches is the secret to making sandesh with the desired texture. The resulting dough (makha) should be uniform and smooth in texture. It should not be brittle, but almost pliable. The secret is to add a little refined flour to make everything bind together. A good binding is only achieved by thorough and patient kneading or rubbing small batches of chenna–khoya mixture on a flat surface, so that it becomes grainy and uniform.
Shondesh (Sandesh): Festive Indian Recipe #3
- Full-cream milk for chenna: 1.5 litres
- Full-cream milk for khoya: 2 litres
- Sugar to be added while making khoya: 1 cup
- Refined flour: 1/2 cup
- Sugar powder to be added at the end, when we cook the kneaded dough: 5 tbsp
- Lemon juice: 4 tbsp mixed with equal amount of water
- Make the chenna and the sweetened khoya, as explained. Cook the khoya until it is totally dry. Hang the chenna for four hours, as explained just now.
- Knead the chenna, flour and khoya together. Make small batches of the mixture and flatten with the help of bare hands, until homogeneous and less brittle. The kneading takes atleast 20 min.
- Once the kneading is done, transfer the mixture to a non-stick pan. Switch on the gas and simmer the flame. Add the powdered sugar. Stir the mixture continuously for 15 min, ensuring that the mixture is stirred continuously. The dough, after cooking, should be almost completely dry. Switch off the gas.
- Leave the mixture to cool slightly but not completely. It should be warm. Make balls out of the dough and flatten over the shondesh moulds. Press down for some time and remove carefully. Shondesh is still brittle at this stage, but once cooled, it will become less brittle and harder. These shondesh can be refrigerated for 15 days.