Bengali Khirer / Kheerer Sandesh
The melt in mouth Bengali khirer sandesh or kheerer sondesh is Bengal’s version of reduced milk fudge. Milk is patiently first reduced on low heat till every bit of moisture is evaporated, thus improving the shelf life too. Which is then sweetened with powdered sugar and flavoured variously. Kheerer sandesh not only tests the patience and perseverance of the sweet maker, but also testifies his/her skills of making sweets.
Having said that reducing milk till it solidified, known as kheer in Bengali and khova/ mawa elsewhere in India, is a technique that had been in use since ancient times in India to make sweets.
Kheerer Sandesh And its Origin
Manda and mithai, the two word that used to classify the sweets , once upon a time is based solely on this preparation technique. Manda is mounds of reduced milk, sweetened with unrefined sugar and flavoured with edible camphor . This was then offered to the deities, a tradition that is still being in use in many parts of Bengal and Bangladesh. Chhena is added to this at much later time.
Sandesh making is an art and since centuries this has been zealously guarded by the originators and their descendants. Both kheer and chhena are used to make sandesh. There were some references in middle ages texts about souring the milk with fermented buttermilk and curdling the milk and making chhena out of it. The whey thus obtained was again fermented for days and used to curdle the next batch of milk. But historically, curdling the milk was taboo in Hindu religion and for this reason, chhena based sweets were not offered to the deities and in temples.
Probably for this reason alone, I had never seen my grandma and grand aunts (specially in my ancestral paternal home) offering chhena based sweets like rasgulla and chhena sandesh to the deities or during puja at home. But the same was not taboo in my maternal home. The bhog will always comprise sweets like narkel naru (coconut laddoo), murir moa (puffed rice balls), til naaru (black sesame laddoo) and peda sandesh or kheer sandesh, peraki, chirer puli, chaler payesh and malpuas.
Today is Mahalaya. For Bengali, the festivity starts right from the Mahalaya, the day announcing the ending of “Pitru Paksha” and beginning of “Devi Paksha“. Mahalaya signifies the arrival of Agomoni or Goddess Durga, who symbolizes the “Adi Shakti“, the eternal power, the primordial cosmic energy.
Mahalaya is also the beginning of Akal Bodhan (the untimely worshiping of God) , the awakening of Devi Durga, invoking the Goddess on Earth before time.
For Bengalis the the day starts with the listening to the oratorical narration of “Chandi path” at the dawn, in the baritone voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The beautiful mellifluous “Jago, tumi jago, jago Durga...”or shlokas and hymns from Devi Mahatyama scriptures to invoke the Goddess on Earth to save the world from the demon Mahishashur.
Another important aspect of this day – eyes are drawn on the idols of the Goddess Durga on Mahalaya in an auspicious ritual known as “Chokkhu Daan”, invoking her soul in the idol.
For manys, this is also the day to offer tarpan at the ghats of Ganga to the deceased ancestors with food and other things, so that the departed soul can leave this mortal world happily.
For this auspicious day, Mahalaya we are sharing this beautiful kheer sandesh with you all.
How To Make Khirer / Kheerer Sandesh ?
I have made all kinds of sandesh before, except this kheerer sandesh. It needs time, continuous monitoring and lots of patience. Milk is reduced slowly on low heat, taking care at every steps. Milk should not get caramelized too. When the milk is reduced to 3/4th its original volume, powdered sugar is added at stages. I generally adds little ghee at time and keep stirring it till it becomes a soft dough like.
Do you adore sandesh as much as I do ? Then here are few sandesh recipes that you will love to try for sure.
Bengali Kheerer / Khirer Sandesh
- 2 l Full Cream Milk
- 1 ¼ Cup Powdered Sugar (adjust sugar according to taste)
- ½ tsp Cardamom powder (See note)
- Ghee, melted as required
- Bring the milk to a rolling boil in a heavy bottom pan. I prefer to use non stick or hard anodized pan to make khova. This will ensure that the milk will not get burned at any stage.
- Lower the flame and keep simmering the milk on low heat till it reduces to its one third of its volume.To reduce 2 l milk it will take around 2 hours.Keep stirring in between. This step is crucial and will need lots of patience and constant monitoring.
- Towards the end stage, add the powdered sugar in batches.Keep mixing it vigorously . Sugar should be mixed evenly and properly. Hence use of powdered sugar is better.
- Sprinkle the cardamom powder and mix it nicely.At this stage the khova should easily comes out off the pan and should be non sticky.You can drizzle little ghee on the khova at this stage now.
- Take a small pinch of the khova and check if it is sticking to the fingers. If yes, then cook it little more till the khova should not feel sticky.This step is important. Else you wont be able to make sandesh.
- Allow the reduced milk / khova to cool till it feel warm to touch. Do not cool it down completely. If it is too cold you wont be able to mould it into sandesh.
- Grease the sandesh moulds with the melted ghee. You can also use a brush to do the same, which will take care that the designs of the moulds are well greased. That will give you better imprint of the designs.
- Now divide the reduced milk into equal portions. Take one portion and gently press over the mould. Shape accordingly to the shape.Let the khova rest on the mould for 30-40 seconds and very gently de mould the sandesh on a greased plate.
- This will come perfect with little practice. Once done allow the sandesh to rest for 2-3 hours at least.
- Once done, place the kheerer sandesh in a single layer in a box and store it at room temperature.
How to Store Kheerer sandesh
- Khirer sandesh stays good at room temperature easily upto 1 week.If you are making this in large quantity, say 30-40 (like I do), then keeping them in a single layer in a box is not feasible.So I place the kheerer sandesh in multiple layers in a box by putting a layer of muri / murmura / puffed rice in between every layer of sandesh.