Sandesh [“shon-daesh”] is a sweet treat that is unique to the eastern part of India particularly, West Bengal. Some recipes of Sandesh [“shon-daesh”] call for the use of chhena or paneer (which is made by curdling the milk and separating the whey from it) instead of milk itself. Some people in the region of Bangladesh call it pranahara (heart stealer) which is made with mawa and curdled curd. Sandesh [“shon-daesh”] has received its accolades not only in medieval Bengali literature, but also in Krittibas’ Ramayana and lyrics of Chaitanya.
I grew up in Bhubaneswar, Odisha but as far as I remember, all my summer vacations were spent in Calcutta, which was home to my mother. I would always look forward to the annual exam to be over so that we would all take the train and come to my oldest uncle’s place in Entally, Calcutta. The staple in everyday morning breakfast was a small earthen pot filled with delicious Misti Doi and a packet of Sandesh [“shon-daesh”] which were bought fresh from the close by sweet shop by my uncle on his morning walks. The smell and taste of sandesh is still etched in my memory.
After coming to USA, I craved for the local sweets (we never call those desserts back home) which I used to take for granted back home. I learned to make it over time but no matter how good a shot you give, it’s hard to get the same taste. Sharing my Sandesh [“shon-daesh”] recipe below.
- Large heavy bottom pan
- 2 quarts whole milk
- ¼ cup of lemon juice (or lime juice)
- Fresh Paneer (see below how to prepare)
- Pistachios a few cut into slivers
- Saffron strands a few strands
- Warm milk 2 tbs to soak saffron
- Milk powder 1/2 tbs
- Powdered sugar 1/2 cup
- Cardamom powder 1 tsp
- Rose water 1 tsp
- Heat the milk in the pan until just before it boils, then turn off the heat. Do NOT overcook the milk
- Add lemon juice (or citrus substitute) one tbsp at a time.
- Stir the milk constantly while adding the lemon juice; the solid curds will separate from the liquid whey
- Place the cheesecloth in a strainer, and strain out the whey from the curds. Allow the curds to cool for at least 15 minutes
- Soak pistachio slivers with the saffron in warm milk. Keep aside to use as topping. If the nuts do not soak up all the milk by the time you are ready to use them, drain it away before you use the nuts as topping.
- Combine the sugar, milk powder and paneer and mix well. Knead with the palm of your hands until the mixture is neither grainy nor lumpy. There should be a smooth consistency to it.
- Place on a medium-low flame, folding the doughy mixture continuously for 4-5 minutes in the pan
- When the mixture becomes slightly more solid in texture, splash the rose water on it and remove the pan from the heat. Stir a few more times.
- Allow the mixture to cool.
- Add sugar and cardamom powder and mix until smooth dough is formed
- Make small balls out of the dough and put a little bit of pistachio on top of each Sandesh
- Chill for few hours and serve.