Friday, October 26, 2012

Sondesh -- the fabled Bengali Sandesh

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. 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

Ecurry's Sondesh

Ahaar's Mango Sondesh

Sayantani's Sondesh

Preeoccupied's Sondesh

Deepasris Nutella Sandesh


  1. Thanks, glad to find I am not the only Bong who hates dry Sondesh and prefers bhapa or makha, I also hate Rosogollas and prefer Rajbhog but only if sweetened with Khejur Gur.

    1. Kola kuli. Yes I love all kheerer mishti and rajbhog too

  2. I love sandesh. I wasn't sure I could make it at home but I have to say you've given me courage to try. Thanks, Sandeepa. :)

    1. I don't know if you should given that you are right next to the real deals :) but it is easy and the kaanchagolla easier. My Ma says to add little kheer if the milk is not great.

  3. OMG is there is so many Sondesh? I love this sweet just for simplicity! I like the sondesh in kheer idea - so it is served chilled?

  4. looks delicious and a easy recipe.....Thanks for sharing....

    Did you get a chance to check the website to manage editorial calendar easily for your blog and show your editorial calendar in your blog easily (optional)
    Thanks & Regards

  5. than q .. can you help me with the recipe of polau .. i have done it number of times and it came wonderful " jhor jhor e" ..each and every grain separate but last time I cooked for 8 adults it turned out to be a real disaster ... turned " khichuri " its worrying me ever since .. jus not getting to understand the problem ... which would be easy for me to rectify .. Can you tell me for 1kg rice what should be the size of the vessel ( pressure cooker). Your help will be highly appreciated ... am sulking and so disappointed ... :(

  6. I am glad you noticed that there are no Shondesh recipes on any decent blog and thanks for posting one even if u don't prefer shondesh yourself. i love shondesh(s) and hate the bhapa variety. never read the magazine though. However, since we are on the topics of bengali sweets why are there no recipes for kheer-kodom or mishti doi? i miss these sweets in dubai and i can try and make them at home if some kind-hearted blogger would supply authentic bengali recipe.

  7. i love your will u please be the kind-hearted blogger?

  8. I have never had them so i cnaot say anything aobut the taste or texture, but i love the shapes and that mould.

  9. I didn't like Sondesh either, till I tried some soft ones and then it resembled all other milk sweets. But I fell in love with the rossogolla when I tasted it off a roadside street shop near Kalighat when I visited Calcutta a few years ago - no comparison to what I'd eaten until then. They were superb!

  10. Wow!! very nice sandesh...

  11. I might have been the exactly like you. I did not take to paneer for a long time and sweetened paneer would have been too much to bear.

    But they look so good. I will have to make it myself because my chances of making it to Calcutta any time soon is remote. Or I could make a trip to New Jersey ;)

  12. OMG!! I am so surprised. I am about to post something where I said the same thing about rashogolla. When I say that I don't like rashogolla to a Bong, his/her jaws drop and I feel like I am an alien in my own community.

  13. I never get bored of this marvellous sandesh..

  14. Lovely sandesh..nice i will try it

  15. Subho Bijoya. Sandesh fatafati baniyecho, excellent.

    today's recipe:

  16. Loved that dream of yours! Couldn't stop laughing :-)
    And guess what even I do not like the dry sandesh one bit and prefer the norom bhapa ones! Though am not sure if lazy me will ever get down to making it!

  17. People used to raise their eyebrows when offred rosogolla to me and I refused !!! In any case I was living with a tagline 'probasi Bangali' so this was another setback. But later I developed a taste for lot of bengali sweets. Very well explained recipe...Now am craving for this...Infact wanted to make some nadu for Lokkhi pujo today but travelling tomorrow so opting for shortcuts...Khoob shundor lagche ..pujo pujo bhab..Thank you for providing my link.

  18. I love shondesh. I must admit that after having made chhana myself, I have found that drying off ricotta cheese in a saucepan (on a low heat) along with sugar/gur, works really well too!
    skm - honey flavoured greek yoghurt tastes really similar to mishti doi, if you just need a quick fix!

  19. I have something even more blasphemous to disclose....I don't like sweets!!! Go figure!! I just tell everyone who expresses their shock that I am a mutant Bengali! I do have a question for the sandesh, despite that! I was wondering if this could be made using riccotta cheese instead of the curdled milk?

  20. Hope you are safe with the storm and all!

  21. Can't say I have ever had Sondesh but it sounds like you make a not-so-hard paneer, knead it with sugar and/or jaggery, heat the whole thing and then mold it into pretty designs, What's there not to like? :-)

    BTW, the next part of pumpkin story is up.

  22. Sandeepa, hope you guys are safe. I will have Shondesh first and then all the other sweets you have mentioned :) norom paaker shondesh with khejur gur.. gorom gorom fresh makha on a winter night. nothing can get better than that. I never ever used eat talshaash and shaakh shondesh. ekhono khai na. aha gurer shondesh. so lovely.

  23. thanks 4 posting this recipie.i had been waiting for this one on your blog

  24. craving for something sweet but don't know what to cook… click to know more –

  25. Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first –

  26. Sandeepa I wonder so many times - how ur choices r so alike mine! I also prefer 'Kalakand, KheerKodombo, Crisp raas soaked Jilipi, ChamCham, Kheerer Shingara, Motichur Laddus, Chanar Jilipi, Ledikeni, Kheerer Naaru, LobongoLotika' much above sondesh! :) bhapa sandesh is the only sondesh i like, less sweet and cold. I really wonder u put so much of effort by making sondesh at home and wrote detailed recipe for the blog readers! once i saw the sondesh chnaachs avlble at gariahat mkt. but didnt dare to buy, as i wud probably never take the pain of sondesh making! gr8 of u dear!

  27. Heard of Green rice… click to know more –

  28. I hope you guys are safe and have power at least.

  29. Thanks for this Sandeepa. I tried and loved them. Yours look much better though. Hope you and your family are safe post Sandy.

  30. Thanks for this, tried making it and loved it but they didn't look as good as yours. I hope you and your family are all safe post Sandy.

  31. Brilliant post on Shondesh... and I'm on your side completely - I pretty much choke on Shondesh. I want my Bengali sweets to be absolutely 'rosher'!
    You've written about all of them at one go... sharing:)

    BTW, where did you get your beautiful shondesh moulds from?

  32. Ummm delicious,..feel like picking one,,,

  33. ami tomar ei post ta ekjon obangali bondhu ke pathiye shondesh niye prochur gyan dilam! thank you for details! :-)
    my poison of choice is the kawra paaker jolbhora from bhim nag!

  34. thanks for the recipe tried this yesterday for the bhog

  35. hii... from where I can buy these sandesh moulds in kolkata.. any shop/ market :)


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