Tell me, when you hear the word or words "Lobongo Lotika", what is the picture that comes to your mind ?
At the risk of stereotyping, I think of a slender girl standing at the bus stop, maybe Manicktala, looking out into the horizon for Bus # 34B, her rippling hair in a long braid snaking down her back, her hands clutching a book and on that book her name scribbled in deep blue ink -- "Lobongo Lotika Bhattacharya"!
Or "Lobongo Lotika Mukherjee".
Or even "Lobongo Lotika Talapatra".
But never ever a "Lobongo Lotika Pandey" or "Lobongo Lotika Patel". Nope they won't do.
And that is the only reason that I could not name my daughters "Lobongo Lotika". It doesn't ring well with their last name. That and because no one else agreed to my naming suggestion.
Nomenclature aside, it is a traditional and famous Bengali sweet. Bong sweet is not all about curdling milk and making chhana, you know. And for the likes of me, a Lobongo Lotika is way way more delicious than a Sondesh.
Ahh, that grainy sweet kheer wrapped in a flaky parcel of dough and hugged by a sugar syrup. Just the thought of it makes me cave in. A similar sweet that would clog my heart with happiness was "Kheer er Shingara". I have had it only at a very few places, one of the very best being a small store called "Buri'r Dokaan" near my Dida's home. It looks exactly like a regular shingara or samosa, a tad smaller, but it has a sweet filling of kheer/khoya and is then dunked in sugar syrup. Bliss is this. But sadly that store is no longer there. Neither is my Dida.
The Lobongo Lotika is built on the same framework, except that it is a delicate square shaped parcel of flour, stuffed with kheer, the flaps of which are secured with a lobongo or clove. At the end of the sweet sensation, biting into that clove brings about a fresh, pungent and spicy burst of flavor. A very different and refreshing note to end the sweet journey. I used to be a bit weary of the lobongo as a child and wished mine didn't have any. I would always eat around it. But as I grow older, I have come to appreciate the innovative mind of the sweet maker who first came up with this sweet and used a clove to tie up the loose ends. What brilliance!
Now, Labongo Lotika, though very good to eat, is slowly losing its place in the world market. Bengali Roshogolla is what the world swears by. So, nary a Lobongo Lotika can be found outside of specific dessert stores or mishtir dokan in India. To appease to my cravings, I decided to take matters in my own hand. And then I called up my Mother.
"Ma, how do I make Labongo Lotika"
"Do you have fever? Are you okay? Did you take antibiotics? Or is it indigestion? Take 4 globules of Carbo Veg."
"Ma, I am perfectly fine. Why do you ask?"
"Then maybe mental anxiety? Alzheimer? I will send Brahmi Amla hair oil with someone next time"
"Okay, I don't know why you are saying all this?"
"Well, who in their right mind would want to make Lobongo Lotika? And off all people, you"
"Just tell me how to"
"It is not so simple and I don't remember exactly. But it is just like the pyaraki I made on Wednesday."
With that she gave me a rough recipe as to how to make the sweet. Since making khoya kheer at home is not my forte, I decided to settle for a coconut khoya filling. I also checked Deepa's blog Hamaree rasoi for the exact measures to make the dough.
I made a batch of about 20 labongo lotikas and they were truly delicious. The ones hot off the syrup were best. The ones stored for later were also good but they were a little dry with the sugar crystallizing on their outer surface. Both ways, my cravings were fulfilled.
And really, it is not that difficult. I did it on a working week day evening.I simplified by not making the kheer which my Mother thinks should be the key ingredient. Tch, tch.Instead I made a coconut-khoya stuffing. Compromise. Compromise.
AlsoI divided the sweet making over two weekday evenings. So, on the first evening, I made the stuffing. It took me 40-45 minutes in all. The next evening, the work was little more and took a little more time. But I rolled out the dough and shaped the sweet while watching "Big Bang...", so it did not seem like a chore. Rolling the dough that is. Next step was frying and soaking in syrup. I had a small kadhai so had to do in small batches. If you have a bigger one, you can fry a larger batch and then your frying time is cut in half. Next dunk in syrup.When all is done, ask the spouse or any other adult or even the kids in the house to clean up. Done
Now you take rest. And eat two of those Lobongo Lotikas. And check "Making traditional Bengali sweet lobongo Lotika" off your "List of things to do before I am 120".
Make the Stuffing
This stuffing measure is good for about 30 sweets. I make in a large quantity and freeze the rest. This same stuffing can be used for patrishapta too.
Grated Coconut(I used frozen pack) ~ 3 cups
Khoya ~ 12oz almost 2 cups. Note: Ideally home made khoya/kheer is best but store bought khoya works fine.
Sugar ~ 1 cup
Condensed Milk ~ 2tbsp
Heat a Kadhai.
Add coconut and sugar and lower the heat.
Mix the grated coconut with the sugar slightly pressing with your fingers till sugar melts and mixes with the coconut. Add some cardamom powder.
Now crumble and add the Khoya and 2 tbsp of Condensed Milk. Keep stirring till mixture becomes light brown and sticky. It should easily come off from the sides by now. This will take about 30-35 mins. At this point take a little of the mix and see if you can fashion a flat disc out of it. If it is too sticky you may have to cook a bit more, else you are good.
Make the Dough
This measure makes about 12-14 Lobongo Lotikas
In a wide mouthed bowl take
1 Cup of AP Flour/Maida
pinch of salt
pinch of baking powder
2 tbsp of Vegetable Oil/Ghee
With your thumb and forefinger, rub the oil into the flour mixture so that the flour looks all crumbled.
Then gradually add water and knead the flour into a dough. Water needed will be between 1/4th Cup to 3/4th Cup. Start with less water and gradually add more as needed.
The dough will be a little stiff unlike the dough for luchi or poori. Make a smooth ball of dough. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rest for 30 minutes or so.
From this ball of dough make about 12-14 small gooseberry sized balls.
Shape the sweets
Dip each ball in little oil and then roll it out in shape of a thin disc about 3.5" in diameter. This will look like a small luchi or poori.
Put the coconut-khoya stuffing in the center of the disc.
Wrap the disc around the stuffing to make a neat parcel as shown in the pic. Secure the last flap with one or two cloves.
Make this parcel like thing with the rest of the balls.
Make the Syrup
To make sugar syrup boil
1.5 Cups of Sugar
1 Cup water
2 green cardamom
couple of saffron strands
You need the syrup to be thicker than a gulab jamun syrup. Once the syrup starts boiling at the surface and looks sticky, do this test. Take a shallow bowl of water. With a spoon take a drop of the syrup and drop it in the water. If the syrup dissolves, it is too thin for this sweet. If you see the syrup forming a thread like structure on the water surface, you know syrup is ready.
Now baby, it is time to deep fry
Heat enough oil for deep frying in a Kadhai.
To test if the oil is hot enough, chuck in a small piece of dough in the oil. If it rises up with bubbles, oil is ready. If it sinks, nada. If it burns, switch off the heat.
With the heat at medium-high gingerly lower the parcels in the hot oil. They should not jostle for space, so add only as many as will fit comfortably. Now lower heat to a comfortable medium and fry until both sides of those dough packets are golden brown.Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Dunk the fried parcels in sugar syrup, where they will soak for about 5-7 minutes. Then take them out and cool on a plate lined with parchment paper
They taste best when hot off the syrup. But you can also cool and store in an air-tight container for 3-4 days. The sweet will not be as moist but still taste pretty good when had later.
Also check out this sweet at Hamaree Rasoi. My pictures taken at night don't do full justice to the sweet. Deepasri's pictures will give you a much better idea