Just as I was writing a draft for this post, I realised that this year, all my dessert posts for Holi have cottage cheese/ chhena / paneer as their ‘base’ / key ingredient. It was not intentional; it kind of just happened. If you have been following my blog regularly you would remember me sharing a post on how most Indian confections / mithai use either mawa i.e. thick reduced milk (also called khoya) or chhena (freshly made paneer or cottage cheese/ ricotta cheese) as their base. In fact, there are already eight delightful desserts on this blog, from cake to pancakes to fudge and pudding, that have chhena as their base (I have provided the link to all these recipes at the end of this post in case you are interested in trying them in your kitchen) I find chhena / paneer based dessert to be a healthier option in comparison to the mawa / khoya based ones.
This mithai is made from freshly made cottage cheese, just as the one I recently shared. Freshly made cottage cheese is mashed, turned into tiny balls and cooked in sugar syrup. It is then drained and added to the reduced milk. The resultant dessert is soft, spongy and juicy cheese balls floating in saffron perfumed milk and garnished with slivers of pistachio and almonds – an exquisite dessert. It is meant to be served chilled and stays well in the fridge for three to four days. It is a delicious and healthy dessert to end a meal with and it is very popular during Indian festivals and also served on special occasions. It tastes best when served chilled and it felt like a perfect dessert to serve for Holi, this year, since it is already quite hot here.
This dish is more about technique and a few handy tips and tricks will help you make soft and spongy cheese balls every single time. The dish has two components – the small chhena balls (called angoori which means grapes since they are meant to be grape sized) which are cooked in sugar syrup. The second component is the reduced and perfumed milk, i.e. the ras (juice) in which the balls are eventually served.
FOR MILK COMPONENT
1 litre Whole Milk / Full fat Milk
A generous pinch of Saffron (for best taste, use a good quality one)
¼ tsp Cardamom Powder
3 tbsp Sugar (Amount measured, using proper measuring spoon)
1 tbsp mixed Nuts (Almonds & Pistachios), thinly sliced or finely chopped
1 tbsp mixed Nuts, for garnishing
FOR CHHENA BALLS
1 litre Cow Milk (sold as Toned Milk)
Juice of one Lemon or 1½ tbsp Vinegar, mixed in equal amount of water
Lots of Ice (at least four cups)
400 gm Sugar
1½ litre Water
For the Milk component, i.e. ‘Ras’ part of the recipe, transfer the milk in a saucepan (preferably a heavy bottom one) and bring it to boil.
Remove one tablespoon milk in a small bowl and add saffron to it and keep it aside.
Reduce heat and simmer the milk for ten minutes, stirring frequently.
Add chopped nuts and saffron soaked milk and continue to simmer it, stirring frequently, till the amount is reduced to 600 ml.
Switch off the heat and add sugar. Stir well and set aside. Stir the milk frequently for ten minutes to help it cool and also to prevent formation of skin.
For Chhena balls or the Angoori Malai component, transfer the milk in a sauce pan and place it on heat.
Line a sieve with cheesecloth or muslin cloth and place the sieve over a large bowl to catch the whey. Set aside.
Bring the milk to boil and switch off the heat. Keep stirring the milk for five minutes to cool it down a bit and then gradually (while stirring) pour in the lemon juice or vinegar (whichever you are using) to the milk. If you see the chhena or the curds separate and a clear greenish whey, the chhena or cottage cheese is ready. Else add a little more vinegar or lemon juice to the milk and stir gently till you achieve the desired result.
Immediately add two cups of ice and thoroughly stir the contents. Sieve the contents through the muslin cloth or cheesecloth and rinse the cottage cheese with water to get rid of any traces of lemon juice or vinegar. Bring the ends of the cloth together and squeeze the cheese to get rid of any excess water. Leave cheese inside the cheesecloth or muslin cloth to remove extra water. You can either hang the cheesecloth from the kitchen faucet or leave it on the sieve for half an hour to forty five minutes. (Discard the whey or use it for making curries, in dals or for making chapatti dough)
The chhena or cottage cheese should be grainy and soft. Transfer the cheese to a plate. Begin to mash the cheese, gently, with the base of your palm till the cheese is no longer granular and a smooth texture is attained (When you can feel the paneer release grease/ fat, you know it is time to stop mashing any further) Depending on the quality of cheese (which depends on the quality of the milk) it can take anywhere between 3 to 4 minutes and up to 10 to 15 minutes to attain smooth texture.
Pinch the cheese and make smooth crack free tiny balls (I could attain 40 balls) Cover the balls with a moist cloth and set aside.
Heat one and a half litre water in a wide saucepan (water should cover almost half the depth of the pan) and add sugar to it. Stir to dissolve sugar and bring to a rolling boil. Carefully transfer the cheese balls to it. Cook covered for 12 minutes. Switch off the heat and remove the cover and allow the cooked cheese balls to sit for five minutes in the sugar syrup.
In a bowl, add two cups of ice and then using a ladle, transfer three ladles of sugar syrup to the bowl of ice. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the cooked cheese balls and transfer them to the ice bowl. Allow them to sit for half an hour and then very gently squeeze excess water from the cheese balls and transfer them to the reduced milk (ensure that the milk is warm before adding the cheese balls to it)
Allow the balls to sit in the milk for at least four to five hours but preferably overnight in the fridge before serving. Serve chilled, garnished with more nuts of your choice and enjoy!
Serves – 4 to 6
Do not forget to check the Key Points given below
Key Points to Note
- We prefer our desserts lightly sweetened hence I used only three measuring tablespoon of sugar. Add this amount and then taste the reduced milk and adjust the amount to suit your need.
- It is pertinent that one uses freshly made cottage cheese for making this dessert. Store brought paneer won’t work well.
- The cheese is the hero of this dish and it needs to be soft and for which, temperature is the key. Do NOT add the lemon juice or vinegar to very hot milk. This will make the cottage cheese chewy and not soft.
- Adding ice cubes is also a step that should not be skipped. This will help drop the temperature of the cheese, stop the cooking process, thereby keeping it soft.
- Too much moisture or too dry cheese, both will spell doom for the cheese balls. Therefore, ensure that the cheese is just moist and has no extra water.
- If you find, while mashing the cheese, that it is dry, add just a few drops of water and also keep in mind that there is no damage control for very moist cheese.
- You can mix-in half a teaspoon of maida (all purpose flour) or corn starch (known as cornflour in India) to the paneer. Add it after you are done mashing and then mix it well again.
- You need to make smooth, crack-free balls else they will split in the boiling water.
- Adding the cooked cheese balls to ice bath helps stabilize the cheese balls and drop their temperature thereby ensuring that they stay soft and spongy and nicely soak up the milk later. Therefore, do not skip this step as well.
- To give this dessert a nice lemony colour (just as one finds in sweet shops) you can add some yellow or orange colour but I refrain from doing that. Feel free to add colour if you want your rasmalai to look sunny and bright.
Follow these pro-tips and I promise you, you will make perfect rasmalai every single time 🙂
More recipes using Chhena / Paneer / Cottage Cheese
Rasgulla / Rosogolla (Cottage cheese balls cooked in light sugar syrup)
Instant Kalakand (Cottage Cheese Fudge)
Chhena Poda (Burnt Cottage Cheese Cake)
Roshogollar Chhena Payesh (Cottage Cheese balls Pudding)
Paneer Kheer (Fresh cottage cheese cooked in Milk)
Chhena Murki (Paneer Candy)
Malai Laddu (Soft Paneer Laddu)
Chhena Malpua (Cottage Cheese Pancakes soaked in Saffron syrup)
Thank you so much for your visit and see you soon again with another exciting recipe!