Indians are known all over the world as much for their love of spices as their love for sweets. And if you’re Indian or know something about India, you know that if you go to the local “halwai” (sweet maker/ seller) there’s usually so much of variety he’s offering you that it’s difficult to decide what you want to buy. Each part of India has its own sweet specialities and varieties so you can imagine how mind boggling the world of Indian sweets can get.
Let me start this post by telling you something about Rasgullas and Rasmalai, in case they’re new to you. Rasgullas are very popular in the East Indian state of West Bengal and many of them claim it as their own. However, Rasgullas have a longer history in the neighbouring state of Orissa where they have for centuries been the ritual offering made to the Goddess Lakshmi, consort of Lord Jagannath of Puri during the famed Rath Yatra.
The name Rasgulla is self-explanatory as “Ras” means juice or essence of, and “Gulla/ Golla” (from “Gol” for round) meaning “which is round or a ball”, describing the soft juicy sugar soaked round dumplings made of milk cheese.
Traditionally, Rasgullas were sold in small clay pots (and probably still sold in smaller towns) which is keeps them cooler and is supposed to be the best way to eat them.
Rasmalai simply is a slight variation on the Rasgulla as the same dumplings are flattened and served in a slightly thick, saffron and cardamom flavoured milk sauce. The initial part of making both the Rasgullas and the Rasmalai is the same, and the difference is in the way they’re served. Rasgullas are served in the sugary syrup that they’re cooked in.
Both sweets are made by curdling milk with lemon juice or vinegar and draining the cheese. This Indian cheese, when packed till it is firm, and can be cut into squares is called paneer. In the eastern part of India, it is called “chenna”, and is crumbled, kneaded till soft and used to make a variety of sweets.
I, personally, am not very fond of sweets made out of chenna but Rasgullas and Rasmalai are the exception. When I was younger, I always thought that making them at home was probably a very involved process. So the only time we got to eat Rasgullas was when some visiting family member would bring us some back from a visit to Kolkota (as Calcutta is now officially known). These occasions were very rare as in those days as we didn’t really have family in Kolkota and a journey by train from there to the southern part of India took the better part of 3 days! By the time we grew up somebody discovered Rasgullas could be preserved in cans and sold, so though they were very expensive we still bought them as the occasional treat.
Rasgullas (Milk Cheese Dumplings In Syrup) – About 8 to 10 years ago I met and became friends with someone who is from Orissa and discovered that making Rasgullas at home wasn’t a big deal when she came over and I got my hands on lesson in making Rasgullas. They were so good I’ve never forgotten them though I never made any more till now.
I don’t remember the exact recipe I got from my friend and calling her up wasn’t an option a she’s away for the summer vacation. I had an approximate idea of the proportions so I went ahead with them and my recipe evolved from there.
Rasgullas should be soft and spongy with a faint hint of chewiness about them. With every bite you should have the sugar syrup oozing out into your mouth. If your Rasgullas feel really chewy or rubbery then they’re not good. They’re really not very sweet at all and healthier than a lot of sweets and desserts if you consider there’s very little fat here, except what comes from the milk you use.
The secret to making spongy Rasgullas is in the kneading of the “chenna” (cheese). It has to be kneaded really well until it is smooth and has a slightly “oily” feel. There are people who add baking powder to make the cheese dumplings swell up when cooking but this is not done traditionally. My friend tells me that traditionally the flavouring agent for Rasgullas is “Kewra” extract (whichis extarct of the Pandan flower) but you can use cardamom as a substitute. Please do not use both. Some people also place a bit of chopped cashewnuts or almonds in the centre of each Rasgulla while shaping them.
My friend also tells me to use clear crystallised sugar bits (Kalkandu in Tamil/ Malayalam and Mishri in Hindi), if you can find them, instead. These crystals add to the moistness/ juiciness of the Rasgulla by melting inside them when they’re cooked. You can see this crystallised sugar in the photograph where the “cheena/ cheese balls are being shaped.
I make my Rasgullas and Rasmalai with the recipes given below. . You might just want to take a look at this video which explains the process though its a bit different from the way I made mine.
Rasmalai (Milk Cheese Discs In Saffron-Cardamom Flavoured Creamy Milk Sauce) – As I mentioned earlier, Rasmalai is sweet dish of flat chenna or cheese dumplings served in a flavoured milk sauce. The “Ras” of course means essence or juicy whereas “Malai” means cream referring to the slightly thickened and creamy milk in which the flattened chenna or cheese dumplings are served. Making these chenna (or cheese) discs involves the same procedure as for making Rasgullas so I chose to use the Rasgullas from above to make my Rasmalai.
While I find that people seem to eat Rasgullas at any part of the day when they desire to eat something sweet, Rasmalai invariably seems to be served as a chilled dessert after a meal these days.
Rasmalai can be a dessert which is very easy to make and serve if you use readymade canned Rasgullas which are available at most stores these days. You might not be making them from scratch or even get the taste of home-made Rasmalai, but in a pinch this is something that works.
Rasgullas - Milk Cheese Dumplings In Flavoured Syrup & Rasmalai - Milk Cheese Discs In Saffron-Cardamom Flavoured Creamy Milk Sauce
For the Rasgullas :
- 2 litres milk (I used 3% fat)
- 4 to 5 tbsps lemon juice (or vinegar)
- 1 tbsp all purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 1/4 cup sugar crystallised bits (optional)
For the Rasmalai :
- 500 ml milk (I used 3% fat)
- 1/8 cup sugar
- 4 to 5 cardamoms , powdered
- 10 to 15 strands saffron about
- For the Rasgullas, start by making the u201cchennau201d or cheese.
- Pour the milk into a deep and largish heavy walled pan and bring it to a boil and turn the heat down so the milk is simmering. Add the lemon juice (or vinegar) one tbsp. at a time and stir well after each addition. The milk will start curdling and at the point where it separates and leaves a somewhat clear (not milky looking) whey, stop adding the curdling agent. If you add too much of the curdling agent your cheese will be tough and chewy.
- Turn off the heat and allow the curdled milk to settle for about 10 minutes. Line your strainer with a clean cheesecloth or a cotton kitchen towel and carefully pour the curdled milk into it to drain the whey. Allow to drain well for about half an hour or so. Then use the cheesecloth or towel to twist/ wring out any extra moisture. Your u201cchennau2019 or cheese should be reasonably dry yet moist enough.
- Now we start making the chenna/ cheese dumplings. Put the chenna where you can knead it comfortably. A large stainless steel plate with a raised edge, which most Indian kitchens would have, is good for this purpose. Crumble the chenna and start kneading till it is soft and comes together as a ball. Add the tablespoon of all-purpose flour and knead a couple of times.
- Continue kneading by using the heel of your palm and pushing it away from you to the edge of the plate that is away from you. Bring it back towards the edge close to you and then knead with the same u201cpushing/ rubbing inu201d motion. Do this until the chenna starts feeling a bit u201coilyu201d or doesnu2019t really stick to the plate when you knead it. You will have to do the kneading for about 20 to 30 minutes.
- In the meanwhile, put the sugar and the water into a largish and somewhat deep pan and bring it to boil, while stirring to dissolve the sugar. If you havenu2019t finished shaping the dumplings, you might want to switch off the flame. This is because you want to have a sugar solution to cook the chenna/ cheese dumplings in but the solution should thicken into a syrup.
- Take small bit of the kneaded chenna and flatten it a bit. Put 2 or 3 bits of crystallised sugar in the middle and bring the sides up around it, rolling it into a smooth ball about the size of a large walnut. Make sure there are no cracks on the surface or the ball will break when it is being cooked. Shape the rest of the chenna similarly. Once all the dumplings have been shaped, you need to cook them. While it is not to be done immediately, you need to cook those dumplings in the sugar solution soon enough.
- Bring the sugar solution to a boil again, and turn down the heat to medium-high and let it simmer. Add the kewra extract (or powdered cardamom) and then add the dumplings slowly to the simmering liquid. Do not agitate the dumplings till they have cooked for about 5 minutes, and then do so gently. Cover the pan with the lid, and allow the dumplings to cook for a total of 15 minutes or so. You will see the sugar solution frothing up and the dumplings will swell upto double in size. Once theyu2019re done, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl or plate.
- To check if theyu2019re cooked just lift one out of the syrup using a slotted spoon and press it gently. If it springs back it is done. Another way is to drop it into some cold water. If it sinks it is done.
- If youu2019re going to cook the dumplings in two batches, take out about 1/3rd of the simmering sugar solution and keep it aside. Add half the shaped dumplings and cook them. Take them out. By now, after simmering for 15 minutes or more, the sugar solution would have become a bit concentrated and the dumplings wouldnu2019t cook well in a thicker sugar solution.
- So add the reserved 1/3rd portion of sugar solution to the simmering solution and bring the whole thing to a boil, and then back to a medium-high simmer. Now add the remaining dumplings and cook them till done, like mentioned above.
- Let the sugar solution cool down and when you are ready to serve the Rasgullas , put 2 or 3 rasgullas in a serving bowl and about 3 tablespoons of the syrup. Garnish with chopped pistachios. Some people like to serve Rasgullas chilled, so if you want to do that chill the dumplings and the sugar solution. I personally find that Rasgullas are softer in texture when served at room temperature or with the syrup slightly warmed.
- To make the Rasmalai, First make the creamy milk sauce which is the u201cMalaiu201d part of the Rasmalai.
- Put the milk and sugar in a pan, and bring it to boil while stirring it to dissolve the sugar. Then turn down the heat, add the saffron strands and let the sweet milk simmer for about 10 minutes or so, till it reduces a bit and is thicker. Take it off the heat, add the powdered cardamom and stir well to mix. Let the creamy milk (malai) cool and stir occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.
- Take the Rasgullas, and gently squeeze each one between your palms to remove as much of the sugar syrup without breaking them or flattening them too much. Put them in the slightly warm sweet milk and then let it chill in the refrigerator until serving time.
- To serve put 2 or 3 of the soaked cheese discs with enough of the creamy milk sauce to submerge them 2/3rds of the way. Garnish with chopped pistachios.