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.