Sandesh or ‘Sondesh’ is a well-known dessert from the region of Bengal (eastern part of India). Prominently, cottage cheese or chhena is what it takes to make Sandesh. This particular cheese is made by curdling the milk and separating the whey from it.
Sondesh is a symbol of harmony and love. Many call it ‘message,’ and when someone brings in Sondesh sweet, it means that there is a special piece of information. Mostly, good news. There is not one but many ways to make Sandesh. It varies in shape, color, size, and even flavor. However, the base recipe usually remains the same, which is milk and sugar.
Conch shells, seashells, fish, butterflies, and classic oval are the most common forms of Sondesh. It is quite astonishing how one recipe has so many variations, each being unique in its way. Though the joy attached to each one is the same, and that is blissfulness.
Some fascinating things about Sandesh
• In West Bengal, “Sondesh” is what it is known as, “Sandesh” elsewhere, & Sweet Cheese Fudge is appropriate for English speakers. Some people in the region of Dhaka call it pranahara (meaning, heart ‘stealer’). This one is a softer kind of Sandesh, containing mawa and the essence of curd.
• Sandesh is a big part of Bengali culture. Virtually all the Bengali sweets are a beautiful result of Sandesh, such as Chum Chum, Kalojam, Pantua, Malai Chom Chom. Floating in sugar syrup Rasgulla or Roshogolla, is a pride of Bengali sweet maker called, Moira. It was here that the art of making chhena began spreading on a broader scale first.
• During winter, “Nolen Gur” (Runny sap of Date palm collected before dawn) replaces the table sugar. It transforms the usual white Sandesh to a pale beige & “Nolen Gurer Sondesh” (Sondesh made from Nolen Gur). This particular variety of Sandesh is a much healthier version and tastes even better, in my opinion.
• There is an entire chenna market in Kolkata that sells reliable quality of chhena. Vendors sell huge piles of chhena there. Just like there are exclusive flower markets, and so on, an exclusive chenna market makes sense because of the popularity of the ingredient.
• West Bengal is famous for its culture and festivals are an inevitable part of it. People of different religions and communities perform their religious rituals with festivities. And no festivity is complete without including Sandesh. Sandesh is requisite and has to be there to savor celebrations. Check out more Indian sweets in my Diwali special post. You are sure to fall in love with Indian sweets!
Sondesh has so much to love about, and it is hard not to give this culinary gem a try. To start with, try the simpler version of it. You will want to try other varieties later on too, am sure.
- 1-liter whole milk
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 30 ml
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar, 42 grams, or adjust to taste (use stevia powder if avoiding table sugar, as per taste)
- 1/8 teaspoon cardamom powder
- 1 tablespoon coconut flour
- 1 teaspoon Rose Essence
- crushed saffron 5-6 strands
- crushed pistachios, rose petals, edible silver foil or varq to decorate
1. Start by lining a colander or a sieve with a cheesecloth. Keep it aside. Then take milk in a heavy bottom pan. Put it on heat to boil. Once the milk comes to a boil, remove pan from heat. Add around 1/3 cup water to the milk and let it cool for 4 minutes.
2. Then start adding the lemon juice, one tablespoon at a time. The milk will curdle. Note: if the milk does not curdle, you may add more lemon juice or try with vinegar.
3. Let the milk sit for 5 minutes after you have added the lemon juice so that it curdles completely. You will notice the whey separating. The moment you see the clear greenish water, switch off the heat. Overcooking will make the chenna/cheese stiff.
4. Pour the curdled milk over the lined colander. Use cold water to wash the chhena (that has accumulated in the cheesecloth). Cleaning the chhena is essential to get rid of the lemony taste.
5. After washing the chhena properly, bring all ends of the cheesecloth together and squeeze as much water as you can. Tie and hang the cheesecloth and let it hang for 45 minutes to an hour.
6. After all the water drains out from it, remove the chhena from the cheesecloth and transfer it to a plate. Crumble it with your hands and then start kneading/pressing it.
7. You have to knead for 5 to 7 minutes or until the chhena becomes smooth and soft.
8. Now add rose essence, powdered sugar (or stevia powder), and crushed saffron to the chhena. Knead it into a smooth dough free of any lumps.
9. Put a non-stick pan on low heat. Remember to use a non-stick pan and keep it on low heat only. Transfer the chhena-sugar mixture in the pan.
10. Keep stirring continuously with a heat resistant spatula as you cook the chhena. Cook for no more than 4 to 5 minutes. It will thicken up and leave the sides of the pan. If you cook it more, the chhena is going to crumble and turn grainy again.
11. Transfer to a plate and let it cool down for 15 minutes. Then add coconut flour and cardamom powder. Mix well. If you feel the mixture is too dry, then add very little ghee or melted coconut oil to bind it all together.
12. Make small balls from the mixture. I got around 8 medium-sized balls. Roll between your palm to make it round and then press lightly in the center.
13. Decorate Sandesh with edible silver foil (varq) first and then top with few chopped pistachios and rose petals. Keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving and enjoy!
- When cooking the chhena-sugar mixture, make sure to keep stirring continuously and not overcook it. We don't want the mixture to crumble because then it will be too difficult to give a sturdy shape.
- The chenna/cheese should be very smooth & not grainy at all. You will feel the fat from the cheese flash on your palms & the cheese itself. To test if it ready for the next step, take a portion of the chhena/cheese & roll it in a sphere between your palms. The sphere should be very smooth on the outside with no cracks.
- While cooking the chhena-sugar mixture, if you notice that it is releasing water instead of drying up quickly, it would mean that you didn't drain it well. Don't panic. It just means that you need to cook the cheese a little bit longer. Increase the heat a little bit & cook while continually stirring & mashing it down with spatula.
- Mold the chhena into Sandesh while it is still warm to touch. If left alone for long, it will be hard to mold properly.
- If using molds, press it down on the frame, smooth the edges with the fingertips for an even outline & carefully take it out. It sometimes helps to have a bowl of water on the side & wet your fingers while doing this
- After garnishing, Sandesh will harden a bit & won't be as fragile when it cools down.
- Keep Sandesh refrigerated when you don't intend to consume it or serve others. Store in an airtight container in the back part of the refrigerator. It stays good & and fresh for a week.