Rasgulla: Bengal's Most Popular Sweet
IN INDIA, AND PARTICULARLY in Bengal, people enjoy special occasions with sweets such as raskadam, khirkadam, khirmohan, rajbhog, nawabhog, and rasamund. All of these sweets, virtually unknown outside India, belong to the rasgulla family, roughly translated as "juicy sweets." Bengalis prize a box of artful rasgulla sweets as people elsewhere prize a box of fine Swiss chocolates.
Both sandesa and rasgulla are made from essentially the same ingredients chenna cheese (milk curd) and sugar but the taste change with rasgulla is sensational. When you bite into a plainrasgulla, sugar syrup bursts into the recesses of your mouth, and porous, juicy chenna cheese squeaks between your teeth. Rasgulla varieties range in consistency from creamy to crumbly, in textures from soft to firm, and in shapes from bite-sized ovals to gigantic rounds as large as a Valencia orange. Some rasgullas are served in syrup, while others are drained and dredged in sugar or rolled in powdered dates or shredded coconut. One type is stuffed with khoa (condensed milk), dried fruits, and four types of nuts.
The bad news is that these sweets are a challenge to master. The good news is the results especially for temple chefs and those who want to learn classic dishes. Here are a few notes on technique:
• When making the chenna cheese, add strained lemon juice only until the solid cheese curds form; you may need more or less than the amount suggested in the recipe.
• Use an accurate scale to weigh the cheese; it should weigh 9 ½ to 10 ounces (270-285 g).
• Use the pan size recommended and a burner with strong heat.
• Keep a clock nearby and use it when adding thinning water to the syrup to maintain a uniform consistency throughout the cooking.
• If you are a newcomer to making the plain sponge rasgulla in the recipe here (next page), add 2 teaspoons of fine semolina to the cheese during the braying process. This will help the balls hold their shape, and will prevent deflating or crumbling while they cook.
• If you don't succeed the first time, read the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine, and try, try again.
• If you are following the class series, prepare 3 or 4 varieties from this chapter.
Patience and Rasgullas
Patience is required to make first-class rasgullas. Stay positive and enthusiastic; patience will follow. Be happy with small successes making good cheese or obtaining quality ingredients and commit yourself to overall improvement. Above all, relish glorification of Krsna by speaking about Him and chanting His holy names.
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and Vegetarian Times.
(Makes 16 pieces)
8 cups (2 liters) whole milk
4 tablespoons (60 ml) strained lemon juice
8 cups (2 liters) water
7 cups (1.5 kg) sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of water
1 tablespoon (15 ml) rose water
Bring the milk to a boil in a large pan. Reduce the heat to low and while gently stirring add the lemon juice. When the milk separates into cheese curds and yellowish whey, remove the pan from the heat.
Line a strainer with a triple thickness of cheesecloth about 24 inches (60 cm) square. Using a slotted spoon, gently transfer the large pieces of chenna curds to the strainer, then slowly pour the smaller bits and whey through it. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth and tie the cheese into a tight bundle. Rinse the curds with a slow stream of water to remove the lemon taste. Gently squeeze out the excess liquid.
Place the cheese on a slightly inclined surface draining into the sink. Neatly fold each end of the cheesecloth over the cheese to make a flat, square parcel, and balance a heavy, flat weight on top of it. (Use any other method that will press the cheese and exert pressure on it.) Press the chenna for 15 to 30 minutes, until it weighs 9 ½ to 10 ounces (270-285 g).
While the cheese is draining, combine the water and sugar in a heavy 5-quart pan and bring it to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil on high about 5 minutes or until the temperature reaches 220 degrees F (105 degrees C). Reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
Unwrap the warm cheese and place it on a clean work surface. Break it apart and press it with white paper towels to extract excess moisture. Transfer the cheese to a food processor. Process, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary, until the chenna cheese is smooth and fluffy, without a trace of graininess.
Scrape the cheese onto a lightly oiled smooth surface. Wash and dry your hands; then rub them with a film of oil. Divide the cheese into 16 portions, and then roll each portion into a uniform crack-free ball.
Again bring the syrup to a boil over moderate heat. Add the balls one by one and gently cook them for 1 minute. Raise the heat to high and boil the syrup vigorously, covered, for 20 minutes. After the first 4 minutes, add the cornstarch-water mixture along with ¼ cup (60 ml) of water. To keep the syrup at the same consistency throughout cooking, every four minutes pour ¼ cup (60 ml) of hot water down the sides of the pan (not on the balls). The syrup should be a mass of frothing bubbles. Toward the end of cooking, the balls will swell and double, triple, even quadruple in size. During the last 3 minutes, sprinkle the surface of the syrup with water every minute.
Turn off the heat. Cool the rasgullas in the syrup for 10 minutes; then sprinkle in some rose water. Leave the rasgullas to cool in the syrup for at least 4 hours. While sitting, the rasgullas will firm up and the flavors will intensify. Stored refrigerated for up to 36 hours. Offer to Krsna slightly chilled or at room temperature.