Gourmet Secrets: In search of the perfect rasgulla
What makes this particular Bengali sweet so very delightful?Updated: Feb 03, 2018 23:12 IST
Bengali mithai was always something of a mystery to me. For someone who doesn’t normally have a sweet tooth, I find a piece of sondesh or a ‘light as air’ rasgulla quite tempting. Part of the reason must be the lightness of Bengali sweets. I especially love the ‘gur ones’ – made from palm jaggery, which is not as aggressively sweet as jaggery made from sugar cane. The rasgullas you find in North and West India are often leaden spongy things, which stick as you swallow, leaving behind a trail of thick sweet syrup. Not nice at all.
I finally found someone in Kolkata who could enlighten me on the subject. He is a chef – yes – a very experienced one, and is obsessed with preserving the heritage of traditional Bengali sweets. Chef Saurav Banerjee is my “find” for this week. None of that chocolate coated sondesh and mango-topped mishti doi for him. He took me to Vien on Shakespeare Sarani one evening at 5pm. “This is my local shop for rasgulla,” he says, “but you have to come between 5pm and 7pm when the rasgullas have just been made and to do justice to the trip you must eat at least 3!!”.
I did. They were heaven. Soft balls of chenna in a light gur syrup which just melts in the mouth. Vien is a simple place which you could easily miss. Its sister concern, Mithai, near Park Circus, is an equally popular haunt where you’ll find locals buying what they need for the meal ahead only. It is also where I used to pick up mishti doi on the way to the airport in the days when you could carry it on the flight.
The cow is its mother
Back to the rasgulla. So what’s the secret of a perfectly soft rasgulla, I asked? Partly the milk! I was told. Local cow milk is best. Milk from buffaloes is too fatty. And milk from cows who are lactating naturally rather than commercial brands which rely on hormone injected cows is preferred. The milk is heated and ‘split’ with water from left over chenna or limboo juice. It is then left to drain on muslin cloth till soft but not dry like paneer.
What is left is called chenna. It is gently massaged and kneaded with a little cornstarch and flour to bind it. When it is silky smooth and pliable enough, the rasgulla ‘maharaj’ breaks off bits and rolls them expertly into tiny balls with slightly oiled hands. At the same time, a sugar syrup is made with either all white sugar or a mix of white sugar and palm jaggery. As the syrup boils, it is cleaned of all impurities and scum by adding a little milk. Some of the syrup is removed and water is added to it for the final ‘dunking’ solution. The chenna balls are then carefully lowered into the first hot sugar syrup which is allowed to bubble and boil away. This takes around 10 to12 minutes and there is no rushing the process. Scum and impurities have to constantly be skimmed off the top, and hot water is added to dilute the syrup.
When the balls swell to almost double in size and rise to the surface, that’s when they are ready. Of course, the experts use no thermometer, gauges or refractometers (to measure sugar content). They simply know when things are right and when they are not. The rasgulla are then removed and immersed in the thin sugar syrup to soak.
Little rounds of heaven
It looks incredibly easy, but it clearly takes years of practice and skill to get everything just right. If the chenna isn’t quite right, Kaka, who still makes all the Bengali sweets at The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata under Saurav’s supervision, goes off in a sulk. “He gets so upset that he is quite capable of throwing the whole batch out and starting again,” says Saurav of his chief whip at ‘the Grand Old Lady of Chowringhee’.
Three types of rasgulla are commonly found – white, light brown gur ones, and bright orange Komola Bhog with a strange orange flavour and saffron. I must say my favourite are the gur ones. Other deviations on “chenna” to try are langcha, the long slender sister of the gulab jamun, raj bhog which is a rasgulla filled with khoya, pista and saffron and pantua, the ‘Bong’ version of the gulab jamun stuffed with mishri.
The morning rasgulla session was so enticing that I might just attempt them myself. This is chef Saurav’s recipe from The Oberoi Grand Kolkata
For 25 pieces of rasgulla
• Chenna - 500g (from 3 litres cow milk)
•1 tbsp vinegar/lemon juice
• Refined flour - 10g
•Corn flour - 5g
•Sugar - 1kg
•Milk - 25 ml
For gur rasgullas, replace 50 per cent of the sugar with nolen gur
Heat the milk in a sauce pan and bring it to a boil.
Then slowly add vinegar and mix well. The milk gets curdled.
Strain the mixture as for paneer, but don’t allow it to dry out and harden. Add refined flour and corn flour and knead well on a flat cold surface.
Divide it into small balls the size of a ping pong ball.
Make sugar syrup using 750ml water and 1kg sugar and add 50gms of milk which cleanses the sugar syrup.
Then put the balls into the sugar syrup.
Poach in the syrup for approximately seven to 10 minutes. Remove and store in a previously made even lighter sugar syrup.
Author Bio: Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on February 18.
From HT Brunch, February 4, 2018
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First Published: Feb 03, 2018 23:12 IST