There are no words to describe the intense rich, creamy, and sweet taste on the palate when eating a spoonful of rasmalai. Light, spongy, spiced softly with cardamon and delicate saffron; they must be tasted to be fully admired.
Ras in Hindi literally translates to “juice” meaning the delicious thickened milk we serve, and malai means cream. They are a Bengali delicacy of spongy soft cheese dumplings which are cooked in a spiced sugar syrup and then soaked in a creamy saffron milk, absorbing all the lovely flavours.
Because I didn’t have much milk on hand, this recipe only yields enough for a dish of two rasmalai. However, it can be easily adjusted to accomidate just by doubling the ingredients.
Making this dessert for the first time was quite an exciting experience for me as I learnt several new techniques. The first and most rewarding was the process of making chenna. This is basically a soft cottage cheese – like paneer but not pressed – which is made just from curdling milk. It could not have been more easy and yet it was extremely satisfying to have made cheese with my own hands. Chenna is the backbone of many Indian desserts so it is a great skill to have in your repertoire.
I found that this recipe was one I could really pour my love into. Maybe it’s because it develops a real understanding of your ingredients whilst following the recipe that not many others do. It’s surely a special thing to cook for anyone to warm their heart or impress.
Bengali Rasmalai: Traditional sweets soaked in saffron milk
Bengali delicacy of sweet dumplings cooked in lightly spiced syrup and milks
To form chenna:
- Just over 1/8 litre full fat cows milk
- 1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice
To make the sugar syrup:
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- Pinch of cardamon powder
To make the saffron milk:
- Just under 1/8 full fat cows milk
- 2 tbsp sugar
- Pinch of saffron
- Pistachio, cashew, or almond nuts to garnish
- Dash of rose water (optional)
- Begin by making the chenna. Pour required milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan and turn to high heat until it is boiling. Stir fast and constantly to prevent the milk sticking or spilling over, now immediately add vinegar/lemon juice.
- Turn stove to low-mid heat and continue stirring the milk. You should begin to see it curdling. What you are looking for are solid lumps of ‘milk’, and a watery lime green liquid separating which is the whey. If milk is not curdling, add a dash more vinegar.
- When all the milk has gone from the pan and you can only see the watery whey, turn off the heat completely.
- Place a cheesecloth (or clean cotton cloth) over a sieve and pour the curdled milk into the cloth so the whey drains through and you are left only with chenna.
- Run water over the chenna to remove the smell and taste of remaining vinegar/lime juice.
- Now bundle together the ends of the cloth and squeeze the chenna with your hands to remove the whey. Hang the cheese cloth over the sink (tie it to the tap) while you continue the other preparations.
Make the saffron milk:
- In a deep pan (not saucepan), milk the remaining milk and immediately add saffron.
- Now add sugar and cook, stir constantly, until the milk has reduced to ¼ of it’s original size and the saffron has diffused it’s colour.
- Place the milk aside on your stove for later.
Making rasmalai balls:
- Remove the chenna from the cloth and sprinkle a tiny bit of flour (optional) onto a clean work surface. Knead on the surface and between your hands for a good 10 minutes. The purpose of this is so our rasmalai balls are smooth textured, expand, and hold together while cooking, so please do not knead for less time.
- Now split the chenna into two and shape them into balls with your hands. Gently flatten them into disks and make sure the sides are tightly packed.
Cooking sugar syrup:
- Tip water into a saucepan and turn the heat to full. Now add sugar. The water and sugar proportions should be that the water is twice the amount of the sugar, and there should be enough syrup to submerge the rasmalai completely.
- Stir with a wooden spoon until the water comes to be boiling, and then gently add in the rasmalai. They should not be touch and should be submerged.
- Now add cardamon powder to sugar syrup and gently spoon the syrup over rasmalai.
- Turn the heat to medium and leave now to cook for 8 minutes.
- The rasmalai should have expanded to twice their original size. Remove them from the sugar syrup and very gently between two spoons squash them ever so slightly to drain the syrup.
Soaking rasmalai and plating;
- Heat prepared saffron milk mixture. Add the rasmalai and cook very gently for only 1 ½ minutes.
- Place rasmalai onto a plate and spoon over saffron milk and sugar syrup to your taste.
Serve rasmalai chilled (either from resting or fridge) and garnish with nuts of your choice.