Many years ago, in the bright and airy classroom of Grade 1, I was first introduced to Bengali Mishti–Bengali sweets. My classmate and bench partner would always have a kheerkodom or sondesh in her little lunchbox. She would save it right for the end and savor each little bite. She offered me a taste once, and when our innocent, temporal friendship grew thicker, she’d get an extra piece for me. Perhaps it was because of the mishti or because my parents were always fond of Bengali culture (they went and took a class in Bengali when they were courting) but I grew to love all things Bengali and have always been a closet Bengali of sorts.
My friend, Rhea, not one to chomp down sondesh in a hurry, is nevertheless the most encouraging friend you can find. I was once whining to her about not getting Gondhoraj lemons (a lemon much like the Kaffir lime in character; only sweeter) to make marmalade and not getting sondesh molds in Mumbai. She immediately packed her mum off on a market trip in Kolkata before she could come down to Mumbai with the goodies. I think I squealed in delight through all octaves like an excited Bengali woman when I saw the molds. These beautiful black terracotta molds have been lying in the drawer of my shrine (that’s how precious they are to me) for almost a year now.
I decided to make a regional, Maharashtrian take on the Nolen Gurer Sondesh (Sondesh sweetened with palm jaggery) by using the local Kaakvi or liquid sugarcane jaggery. I discovered, much to my dismay though, that my two-year-old Kaakvi has started to ferment; so, while it would make for some excellent other desserts, it would not be suitable for the delicate sondesh. Since I had my mind set on the dessert of the day, I just went ahead and indulged in sugar and added a bit of saffron. I must say, I had never imagined sondesh making to be so straightforward and easy. This is dangerous discovery.
- 1 cup unsalted, well-drained paneer (or paneer by boiling 1 liter of full fat milk and the juice of 1 lemon to curdle; drained completely)
- 4 tbsp. caster sugar
- 1 pinch of saffron
- Place the paneer, saffron, and caster sugar in a food processor with the kneading blade on.
- Process until the paneer and caster sugar are well combined and soft.
- Place the mixture in a non-stick or thick-bottomed vessel and stir continuously on a low flame until the mixture looks a little loose but the sugar is dissolved.
- Cool completely at room temperature (about 15 minutes), stirring once in a while.
- Grease the mold lightly with ghee. Make small balls from the mixture and press into the molds. Carefully remove from the molds. Alternatively, press into a greased plate and cut into squares or make small, flattish balls.
- Cool until firm. Store in a closed box in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.