Bengali’s love for sweet dish is well-known affair and sondesh they simply adore it. The great Bengali luncheon always ends on a sweet note, and it does not stops there, it continues with late afternoon tea and dinner as well. Life revolves around tales of sweets from birth, marriage till death and memories laden with nostalgia keep haunting, weaving the stories and unfolding the secrets of sandesh making, a culinary art which remains the forte of selected few.
A 150 year old tradition pioneered by Bhim Chandra Nag, Nabin Chandra Das and Sen Mahashoy, whose repertoire makes them an icon in the history of sandesh, later joined by Gangurams and Balram Mallick, sondesh has evolved through times and is present in infinite incarnations displayed in countless number of sweetmeat shops in Kolkata and in West Bengal.
The name of sondesh often reflects their shape, size, texture, flavouring, and sometimes even portrays the psyche of society. For instance, shankh (conch shell) and maach (fish) are the two most common shapes whereas pista, saffron, almond, rose, nolen gur in winter and mango in summer are the usual flavours. Sometimes it caught the poetic fancies of its creator, so we have pranhara and manohara (captivator of soul & heart resp.), nayantara (star of the eye) and its charismatic magic spell leads to the creation of abar khabo (I’ll have another). One more variety which deserve special mention is jalbhara talshansh sandesh (with a filling of rose syrup inside) and khirpuli sandesh both of which is created by S.K.Modak around 1820, a very renowned sweet maker of that period.
Khirpuli sandesh is perhaps the most difficult one and it truly reflects the art and creativity of its creator, and grace only the occasions marked by marriages and like. During marriages it is a ritual to exchange tattwa (marriage gifts) which comprises around twenty variety of sweets (sometimes even more) all in massive size but the cynosure of all eyes remain khirpuli sandesh in its colossal form. From Eiffel tower, Statue of Liberty to London Bridge anything can be beautifully crafted with khirpuli sandesh and these are usually presented to NRI grooms from the brides family.
Sandesh in its most classical form is made only with pure chhana or casein, no khova or condensed milk is used and subtly flavoured with rose and pistachios. When aam sandesh or mango sondesh appears on display at sweet shops it pronounce the onset of summer.
See the pictorial description – how to make fresh home meade chana / chhana or curdled milk cheese.
- Milk (full fat) : 1 litre
- Ripe Mango pulp (thickened & sweetened with sugar) : 1 cup
- Cardamom powder: ½ tsp
- Souring agent to curdle the milk
- Boil the milk, curdled it using a juice of lemon, drain the whey and collect the cheese.
- Knead the chhana / cottage cheese with the heel of your palm for 10 minutes until it become soft and smooth.
- Warm slightly a non-stick pan and put the chhena along with sweetened mango pulp, mix thoroughly and cook it on low heat while constantly stirring it.
- You will notice that it gradually changes its color and texture, when towards done it will become lumpy or dough like. Take it off immediately from the heat and transfer into a bowl. This is called "makha" or ready to be moulded.
- If you are using moulds, then grease the inner design slightly with ghee (clarified ghee), sprinkle some topping (I have used finely crushed pistachios) in the centre of the design, pressed the chhana into the moulds, smooth the edges giving a neat shape and gently take them out of the mould.
- Repeat the process with the rest of the chhana or simply mould them into your desired shapes and sprinkle your favourite toppings.
- Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Mango sandwich sandesh
To Prepare this : pinched some cooked chhana (not mixed with mango pulp, but cooked as described above), flatten them gently and shape it as you wish. Spread evenly the thickened mango pulp and cover it with another layer of cooked chhana. Mango sandwich sandesh is ready and serve it chilled.
Verdict: This was my second attempt to make paak (cooked) sandesh, and I can say it was far-far better than the previous one. The challenge is to maintain the right proportion of moistness and firmness at the same time, so sandesh often categorised into naram paak (soft) and kada paak (hard). These sandesh are naram paak that is incline more towards the moistness, and tend to firm a little after it gets cool down a bit.
But with more practice, this culinary art of making sandesh can be perfected.
Hope you have enjoyed this sweet story on Sandesh, as much as we did and if you have tried this recipe at home, do let us know, we would love to hear from you.