A Bengali Food Blog and not a single Sondesh recipe in there. "Chee, chee, ...", the Bengali Mashima in her wide red bordered spun cotton sari spat out a stream of betel juice in disgust. The other ladies in their filigreed gold bangles stopped midway in their task of "boron", feeding Ma Durga pieces of sondesh and smearing her with Sindoor on BijoyaDashami, and looked at me with rebuke writ on their face. Ma Durga's face shimmied in the rectangular mirror placed for Dorpon Bishorjon. I hate betel juice and was about to say a few choice words to Mashima when the darn alarm went off.
Phewww...so this was just a dream, I looked around trying to spot betel juice stains lurking in any corner. None. That settled, I switched my thought to Sondesh or rather Shondesh. Really , why did I not have a decent sondesh recipe on my blog ? I did have two "faankibaaji" recipes but not the real deal. Why oh Why ?
"Wait. I can explain", I said. And then I gulped for what I was going to say was close to blasphemy. But "Honesty is the Best Policy" was my favorite topic to write essays on and so I decided what the heck...I do not like Sondesh. That is the sweet Sondesh. I have always liked the children's magazine Sondesh but that we are not discussing here. There, I said it. Sondesh does not feature among the sweets I would like to eat after I have come back from Mars or the Alcatraz. Nope. I will take Kalakand, KheerKodombo, Crisp raas soaked Jilipi, ChamCham, Kheerer Shingara, Motichur Laddus, Chanar Jilipi, Ledikeni, Kheerer Naaru, LobongoLotika and then, only then shall I consider the Sondesh.
I have no concrete reasons why I don't like it given that all my childhood, my Ma kind of force fed me Sondesh. Every winter vacation that we spent in Kolkata was marred by huge Kara Pak er sondesh from Balram, Taal Shaansh sondesh or Jol-Bhora sondesh made of nolen gur with a spot of liquid jaggery in the core from Sen Mahashoy, creamy white shaankh sondesh shaped like a conch from the Kalika Mishtanno Bhandar near my Dida's home and several variations of the same stuff again and again.
In absence of these in our Bihari town Ma made them at home, making fresh chhana and shaping the sondesh with her dark black stone molds.I hated them all. Well "hate" is a strong word but I didn't really take to Sondesh like a Bong should. I did prefer the "Makha Sondesh", moist, warm and fresh over the harder and dried Kara Pak er sondesh but nothing to go ga ga about. The only variation of sondesh that I like is one where my Ma adds kheer to the channa and thus makes a Kheer-Chhanar Sondesh.
Many, many years later I made norom paak er sondesh at home on this Bijoya Dashami. As if the house move was not exciting enough and I needed more. I had a stash of Khejur Gur from last year and I wanted to use it to make Nolen Gur er Sondesh . I used both sugar and the jaggery but if you have enough of the Khejur Gur I suggest you use more of it. So anyway the sondesh was easy to make and pretty decent to eat, so it is definitely worth a try. If I could have done it, so can you. And then if you fall in love with the famous sweet all the more better for you.
Sondesh -- is a popular Bengali sweet made from fresh chhana/chenna aka home made paneer also known as curdled milk solids. The chhana is kneaded with sugar and different flavorings to make different variety of Sondesh. Different kind of kneading from smooth to grained, leads to different types of sandesh. Traditionally only delicate flavorings were used for sandesh like rose or saffron and notun gur in winter. While the raw flavored and sweetend channa/chenna is made into KaanchaGolla, the kneaded chenna is put back on heat and cooked further for different durations to make different kinds of sondesh. The first Sandesh was introduced by Bhim Nag in 1826 but Nakur Chandra, Sen Mahashoy and Balram are some of the oldest and famous sondesh makers of the city
Nolen Gur er Sondesh -- This is a sub-species of Sondesh found only in the winter season. The sweetener for this Sondesh is Date Palm Jaggery or Khejur Gur. This enchanting and aromatic jaggery is made by collecting the fresh sap of Date Palm Trees on foggy winter mornings. The Notun gur er sondesh has a coloring that varies from pale to a deeper shade of brown and a heady aroma if the Khejur gur is good quality.
Kaanchagolla -- In this variety the fresh warm chhana is kneaded with sugar or jaggery and then tossed into balls.The chhana is not cooked for this. Natore, a town in Bagladesh is famous for its Kaancha Golla.
Norom Paak Sondesh - In this variety the chhana/chenna after kneading with the sugar or jaggery is then put back on heat and stirred gently at low heat for a few minutes to form a soft grainy mix. "Paak" means to cook while "Norom" means soft, and that explains the process. This soft grainy mix is either shaped with molds or tossed into soft round balls. The soft grainy mix which has not been shaped yet is called "makha sondesh". The molded ones usually have the shape of conch or fish, the traditional symbols in a Bengali home.Guptiparais the home of Bengal’s first community Durga puja, the place where first branded Bengali sweets graduated from makha sandesh (sandesh mixture) to gupo sandesh (a variety of sandesh pieces)
Kora Paak Sondesh -- This is a harder variety of sondesh where the chhana/chenna is stirred for a longer time to make it hard. I have no idea how they then mold or make shapes out of it.
A very interesting article on Sondesh of Kolkata is here.
What You Need
Whole Milk -- 4 cups
Lime Juice -- 2tbsp (almost 1 whole lime)
Sugar -- 1/8th cup
Khejur Gur -- 2 tbsp Note: Adjust the sugar and jaggery to your taste.You can use no sugar and all jaggery too.
How I Did It
Step 1-- Curdle Milk
Bring 4 cups of whole Milk to boil.
When the milk is boiling add about 2tbsp of Lime juice. Lower the heat. Almost in seconds you will see the milk curdle and clumps of white milk solids forming.When you see the greenish water separating take it off from heat. Let it sit for 30 secs or so.
Step 2 -- Drain chhana
Now line a colander with cheesecloth and drain the chhana/chenna/paneer. The greenish hued whey is great for making roti dough says my Ma. Next lightly rinse the chhana with water to remove the lemony taste and let it drain.
After few minutes gather the ends of the cheesecloth to form a purse like shape and squeeze out the remaining water from the chhana. Next put it on a flat plate and weigh it with a slightly heavier object and let it remain like that for the next hour.I used my mortar for weighing down, I remember my mother using her nora.
Step 3 -- Knead Chhana with sweetener
Now we have to knead the chhana. Knead the chhana with the heel of your palm for about 4-5 minutes. Add about 1/8th cup of fine sugar and 2 tbsp of Jaggery and knead for 4-5 more minutes until the sugar and jaggery is totally mixed with the chhana. I microwaved the jaggery for few seconds to soften and then added it to the chhana.
At the end of this the chhana will look like a smooth ball of dough. Take small portion of it and toss to make small balls. These sweetened balls of raw chhana are called KaanchaGolla.
Step 4 -- Paak or Cook Chhana
Now we will do the "paak" or cook. Since I am doing a Norom Paak er sondesh we will be cooking the chhana at a very low heat.
Put a non-stick pan on low heat and add the kneaded, sweetened chhana. Flatten it out and cook at low heat while stirring with a spautla. 5-6 mins at low heat should be fine.
Step 5 -- Shape cooked chhana to make Sondesh
Now take out the warm chhana and immediately shape with molds or just toss into balls. If you wait, it will harden and you cannot shape it. For further decoration you can warm few strands of saffron in drops of milk and dot each sondesh with the saffron or add bits of pista.
There are many sondesh recipes out in the blog world all almost similar. Here are a few.
Manjula's Video Of Sondesh-- good one if you have never seen or tasted one
Ahaar's Mango Sondesh
Deepasris Nutella Sandesh