Bengalis are gastronomes and are obsessed with fish and sweets. No Bengali meal would complete without either one of these not being present in the menu. I am a Bengali too but my obsession is limited to sweets only. In Bengal every neighbourhood has one or more sweet shop. Almost every street has one. I guess because there were plenty, I strangely enough didn’t used to like sweets, especially sondesh. Its only when I came out of Bengal, I started missing it. And now I miss it more than ever, mainly because it’s not so easily available here.
In Bengal very few people will actually think of making sondesh at home, simply because it is so easily available in the shops. they are freshly made every day and with lots of different variety. We get Indian sweets in UK too but my personal experience is not so good unless I am in Southall, London. I remember my first visit to Southhall, I had proper 3D samosa, chole bature and jalebee, all freshly made. Can’t express in words what that meal meant to me, as I was having that combination after a long time.
Anyway', back to sondesh, I am yet to find a place where I can find this particular variety in UK and this particular one is a legend on its own. Just to give an example, if you mention the name “Nole-Gur er Sondesh” to any Bengali living outside Bengal, it will make them homesick almost instantly. Within no time you will know all the stories/childhood memories related to this he/she had. In fact writing this post is actually making me homesick. Anyway you get the point, I am homesick, addicted to sweets and there is no good Indian sweet shop nearby where I live, let alone Bengali delicacies. So I made an attempt to make some at home and I am proud to say it was a success.
(Makes 20 small sondesh)
1.5 Litters of full fat milk
Juice of 1 big lemon
175-200 gms of Date Molasses / Nolen (Khejur) Gur (I didn’t measure exactly, also it depends on how much sweetness you can take!) If you can’t get hold of Nolen/ Khejur/Date Gur then you can use dark Muscovado sugar.
1 tbsp butter
Oil for shaping the sondesh
Take a deep, thick bottom vessel and heat the full fat milk in it. Keep a close eye on the milk as it can boil over anytime. To avoid that, keep stirring the milk and keep the flame to medium. Bring it to boil and pour the lemon juice in it. Continue to stir and keep the heat in medium to low so that it doesn't boil over. Wait till the lumps of paneer forms and the liquid becomes light green in colour.
Take it off the heat. In a sieve place a cheese cloth (big enough to cover the sieve) and pour the content of the vessel. Now take the cheese cloth out of the sieve and squeeze it so that the water in the paneer comes out. Drain as much water as possible then place it back on the seive. Now place something heavy on the paneer so that it continues to drain water from it. At this point you can do two thing, either wait for couple of hrs till the paneer is ready or keep the whole arrangement in the fridge for over night (Dont forget to take the heavy weight out before placing it in the fridge). I did the later. Next morning take the cheese cloth off and place the paneer in a bowl and heat in the microwave for a minute. This will soften the paneer and it will also be easy to kneed.
In a wide base bowl take the paneer, first break it into pieces and then start kneading. Continue to kneed till the paneer becomes smooth and no big lumps remaining (5-7 minutes) then add the Molasses to the paneer and keep kneading. At this point the mix will be little softer than before. Now in a non-stick pan melt the butter and pour the mix into it and start stirring with an wooden spoon. Cook for 3-4 minutes on low heat, stirring continuously. At one point you will see the mix is not sticking to the sides of the pan and has become even smoother and softer, take it off the heat. Oil a plate and pour the sondesh mix on the plate. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes.
Last time when my mum visited me I had asked her to get me some moulds for making the sondesh. I have used them to give them this shape but if you don't have one, then just apply some oil on your palm take a spoon full of sondesh mix each time and make small balls by rolling between your palms. Press them a little so that they take small peda shape. Place them on a oiled plate and keep them couple of hours in the fridge to harden a bit. If you have the moulds then press those pedas on the mould and press hard. Now when I say hard I mean hard enough to get the impression on the sondesh but not to break it into pieces!! Just kidding, you will know once you stat! Enjoy!!