Anyone who knows me and my cooking even a little bit will tell you how scared terrified I am of cooking mithais and basically all Indian desserts; baking is a science, you measure things out correctly, follow the steps and it almost always goes to plan. Indian sweets on the other hand, I find, are like French desserts- temperamental; of which macarons probably have the most attitude but let’s leave the French sweets for another time, today is about the rasgulla.
Every time I think of making traditional Indian sweets, I run out of the kitchen scared and try to incorporate traditional ingredients in a cake or pudding, my comfort zone. However, every year when the festive season nears, I get emotional and homesick and yearn for the plethora of mithais which are so easily available back home, made at home or store bought. This year with Rakshabandhan and Janmashtmi coming up, I convinced myself to try something, anything and see how it goes, but to at least try. I’m not sure why I decided on this popular Bengali sweet, but I came across Lail’s blog and her recipe for rasgulla was so detailed and simply explained that it gave me some confidence which I so desperately needed, plus she’s from Bangladesh and there can be no better authority on Bengali sweets than a Bengali, so I trusted her recipe. There is also a very detailed explanation on how to make chenna/paneer/cheese on her blog and an equally detailed post regarding the do’s and don’ts for rasgulla making which can be found here, do read this super helpful post.
I made this recipe 3-4 times, with varying results but it helped me figure out what I was doing wrong. The first time around I got perfectly round pretty looking rasgullas but they were a bit chewy, still good though, we ate every last one. Second time around was disastrous, I had unknowing used the wrong kind of milk which didn’t curdle properly and of course if the cheese is not right, you have to start again. The next couple of times I had learnt from my mistakes and got rasgullas that kept their shape, were spongy and tasted good. The only reason I’m telling you about my kitchen disasters is because I don’t want you to give up if you don’t get it right on the first try, not saying you won’t but just in case and seriously if I can make decent rasgullas, trust me, anyone can. So give these sweet cheese balls a try this festive season, you might be pleasantly surprised like I was.
For the Paneer/Ricotta cheese
- Fresh Milk – 2 litres
- Vinegar/Lemon juice – 4 tbsp
- Water – 4 tbsp
- Ice – 20-25 cubes
For the Rasgulla
- Paneer/ Ricotta cheese – about 2 cups (from 2 litres of milk)
- Sugar – 2 cups
- Water – 6 cups
- Rose water – 2-3 tbsp (optional)
- Dried rose petals – 2 tbsp (optional)
To make the Paneer/ Ricotta cheese
- Line a sieve with a cheesecloth or muslin cloth folded twice. Place the sieve over a large bowl and keep aside. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar and water and keep aside.
- Add milk in a heavy bottomed pan (I use non stick). Heat the milk on medium flame till it comes to a boil; stir frequently to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pan. As soon as the milk comes to a boil, take it off the heat and let it sit for 2-3 minutes (I’m impatient so I had to time myself).
- After 2-3 minutes, add the vinegar-water mix to the milk and stir slowly; the curds will start to separate from the whey and rise to the top. As soon the curds rise to the top, add the ice to cool the whey and prevent it from further cooking the curds.
- Slowly ladle or pour the curds into the cheesecloth lined sieve. Gather the cheesecloth around the curds to completely cover it then gently wash the curds by pouring fresh water over it; this is done to get rid of any sourness from the vinegar. Tie/ secure the cheesecloth and hang it or put it in a bowl and place a weight on it to drain out all the water (2-3 hours). After all the water has been drained, you will get paneer/ cheese that is quite crumbly in texture.
For the Rasgulla
- Knead the paneer/ cheese, I find it easier to use my hands; you could also use a food processor; it should be a smooth, soft dough.
- Divide the dough equally to make small marble sized balls (should be smooth and without any cracks); keep in mind they will double in size as they cook so form balls accordingly.
- In a deep wide pot with a fitted lid, heat sugar and water, stir till sugar dissolves, add rose water, if using. As soon as the sugar dissolves and the water is heated (not boiling) add the cheese balls and cover tightly. Cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and let it cool without opening the lid (about 20 minutes). It’s best to let the rasgullas soak in sugar syrup for a couple of hours before serving. Garnish with dried rose petals if you like. *use a pot that is large enough to hold all the rasgullas (remember they will double in size as they cook) or cook in two separate pots or in batches, overcrowding the pot will spoil the shape of the rasgullas.
*Getting the paneer/ cheese right is the first and most important step; if the paneer is not right, the rasgullas won’t be either. Make sure all the water has been drained.
*Knead the paneer well; it shouldn’t be too crumbly or too wet. How long you’ll have to knead the paneer will depend on the milk and the paneer, it took me almost 10 minutes of kneading to get it right once and just 2-3 minutes another time, basically you want a smooth, soft dough.
*The rasgullas will double in size as they cook so keep that in mind when making balls.
*Don’t open the lid while the rasgullas are cooking.
*To check if the rasgullas are cooked, drop one in a glass or bowl of room temperature water, if it sinks to the bottom, it’s cooked.
*For the sugar syrup, I used a ratio of 1:3 sugar to water, depending on your preference you can adjust the ratio.