How to Make Shondesh: A Delightful Bengali Sweet

Shondesh (or Sandesh) is a classic Bengali sweet that holds a special place in the hearts of those who savor Indian desserts. Made from fresh chenna (paneer or cottage cheese) and sweetened with sugar, Shondesh is often flavored with cardamom, saffron, and other delightful ingredients. This sweet treat is popular during festivals and celebrations, and its melt-in-the-mouth texture makes it irresistible. Here’s a detailed guide on how to make Shondesh at home.

Ingredients

For the Chenna (Paneer):

  • 1 liter full-fat milk
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
  • Water (for diluting the lemon juice or vinegar)

For the Shondesh:

  • Prepared chenna (paneer)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • A few saffron strands (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon warm milk (for soaking saffron)
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped pistachios or almonds (for garnish)

Instructions

Step 1: Prepare the Chenna

  1. Boil the Milk: Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom.
  2. Add Lemon Juice: Once the milk comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Dilute the lemon juice or vinegar with a little water and slowly add it to the milk. Stir gently until the milk curdles and the whey separates.
  3. Strain the Chenna: Line a colander with a muslin cloth or cheesecloth and pour the curdled milk into it. Rinse the chenna under cold running water to remove the lemon juice or vinegar taste. Gather the cloth’s edges and squeeze out the excess water.
  4. Drain the Chenna: Hang the cloth with the chenna for about 30 minutes to drain any remaining whey. The chenna should be soft and moist but not too wet.

Step 2: Prepare the Shondesh

  1. Knead the Chenna: Transfer the drained chenna to a large plate. Knead it with the heel of your hand for about 5-7 minutes until it becomes smooth and free of lumps.
  2. Mix in Sugar and Flavorings: Add the powdered sugar, cardamom powder, and soaked saffron (if using) to the kneaded chenna. Mix well until the sugar is fully incorporated.
  3. Cook the Mixture: Heat a non-stick pan over low heat and add the chenna mixture. Cook it for 5-7 minutes, stirring continuously, until it thickens slightly and starts to leave the sides of the pan. Do not overcook, as it can make the Shondesh dry.

Step 3: Shape the Shondesh

  1. Cool the Mixture: Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool slightly until it is comfortable to handle.
  2. Shape the Shondesh: Divide the mixture into small portions. Shape each portion into small balls or flatten them into discs. You can also use molds to create different shapes and designs.
  3. Garnish: Press a few chopped pistachios or almonds onto each Shondesh for garnish.

Step 4: Serve

  1. Chill the Shondesh: Place the shaped Shondesh on a plate and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set.
  2. Serve: Serve the Shondesh chilled. Enjoy the delicate flavors and melt-in-the-mouth texture of this delightful Bengali sweet.

Tips for Perfect Shondesh

  1. Fresh Milk: Use full-fat milk for making chenna to achieve a rich and creamy texture.
  2. Kneading: Knead the chenna well to ensure a smooth and lump-free mixture, which results in a soft and melt-in-the-mouth Shondesh.
  3. Cooking: Cook the chenna mixture on low heat to avoid overcooking, which can make the Shondesh dry.
  4. Flavorings: Customize the flavor of Shondesh with different ingredients like rose water, kewra water, or cocoa powder.

Variations of Shondesh

  1. Kesar Shondesh: Add soaked saffron strands to the chenna mixture for a rich and aromatic flavor.
  2. Chocolate Shondesh: Mix cocoa powder with the chenna and sugar mixture for a chocolatey twist.
  3. Nolen Gur Shondesh: Replace the sugar with nolen gur (date palm jaggery) for a traditional and earthy flavor.
  4. Fruit Shondesh: Add fruit purees like mango or strawberry to the chenna mixture for a fruity variation.

Nutritional Benefits

  1. Protein-Rich: Chenna (paneer) is a good source of protein, making Shondesh a nutritious treat.
  2. Calcium: Milk and chenna provide calcium, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth.
  3. Customizable: Adjust the sweetness and flavorings to suit dietary preferences and needs.

Conclusion

Shondesh is a classic Bengali sweet that is loved for its delicate flavors and melt-in-the-mouth texture. Making Shondesh at home allows you to enjoy this delightful treat fresh and customize it to your taste. By following this detailed recipe, you can create perfect Shondesh that will be a hit with your family and friends. Serve it during festivals, celebrations, or simply as a sweet treat, and relish the flavors of this traditional Indian dessert!

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