Indian sweets are not something I’d call myself a big fan of. In spite of the large number of shops [and now supermarkets] coming up with an Indian Sweets section I rarely get to see, or rather taste, something my mind and taste buds would register as memorable.
When I was a kid, my father used to bring a box of assorted sweets back from Bombay Sweets Mart on his every trip to Port Louis. I would then take my treasure box to a quiet corner and slowly examine its contents till I found my fave – safarjan, a small apple-shaped barfi in a cute cupcake liner. Over the years I discovered other Indian sweets and came to like quite a few.
My first encounter with ras malai was one my cousin made from an egg-based recipe. Ras malai, a frozen Indian dessert, consists of 2 parts. The ras is a creamy milk sauce flavoured with spices like cardamom or nutmeg and the malai part refers to the homemade paneer balls. Finally, the term kesari refers to the saffron strands used to give a delicate pale yellow colour for presentation.
After reading about eggless versions of this yummy dessert, I was torn between the desire of making them and never having time for the time-consuming steps. So please keep this recipe bookmarked for a day where you have plenty of time to spare. You can always make it in advance [the flavours mature with time] and let in sit in the fridge till your guests arrive. I advise to make an extra batch ‘coz I bet you’d be asked for second helpings;)
6 cups water + 2 cups milk powder, for malai
2tbs lemon juice
4 cups water + 1 1/2 cup milk powder, for ras
6 cups water + 1 cup sugar, for syrup
1/8 cup ground almonds
1/8 cup toasted coconut
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
A few saffron strands/ kesar
Pistachios & Cashews
Start by preparing the malai. For this, dissolve 2 cups milk powder in 6 cups water. You can use fresh milk if available.
Gradually bring milk to a boil, stirring occasionally, over moderate heat. This will take around 10 minutes.
Add lemon juice slowly to boiling milk. Stir slowly till you see milk solids separating. Switch off heat at this point.
Allow to cool for a few minutes. Lemon juice causes milk proteins to coagulate and form a curd-like precipitate. [Like in those high school chemistry experiments!]
- Take a soft cotton cloth or muslin cloth and use it to line a small bowl. Dump lemon-milk mixture into cloth.
- Hold the cloth above the bowl and allow whey water to filter out. Now extract as much water as you can by pressing the cloth with both hands.
- Wash it under the tap a couple of times to remove residual lemon flavour and squeeze out water again.
- You will end up with a soft ball of cheesy material – homemade paneer – something like dry cottage cheese.
- You now have a fairly small ball of paneer. If you want more, simply prepare a second batch or double the recipe.
- Transfer the paneer to another clean cloth and tie it up. Hang the paneer ball on a clothesline [where humans and animals cnt get at it]and forget about it for a while.
- After 1/2 – 1 hour take the paneer ball down from where it was hanging. It should be now free from excess moisture.
- Remove paneer from cloth and knead it to make it smooth. You can fastened this step by using a food processor.
- Now divide into small balls. I got only 12 malai balls.
- Roll each ball between your palms and flatten slightly.
- Prepare the sugar syrup. For this, take sugar and water in the ratio of 1:6. Bring to boil in an open pressure cooker.
- Carefully drop malai balls in boiling syrup.
- Make sure they have enough space to expand as they will double in size. I cooked them in 2 batches.
- Close pressure cooker and cook for about 10 minutes. My SEB was being used for smthing else so I had to boil them in a saucepan for some 30 minutes.
- Do not worry about the malai balls breaking up in the boiling syrup. If you shaped them well, they will not!
- Leave the balls to cool and soften in the sugar syrup while you prepare the ras/ milk sauce.
- Take 4 cups water and 1 1/2 cups milk powder in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil with occasional stirring.
- Add almonds, coconut, cardamom and saffron strands.
- Add 2 tsp of sugar syrup of the malai balls to boiling milk.
- Boil over low heat till the milk reduces to about 2 cups.
- Remove malai balls from syrup and dunk them into lukewarm water. Press lightly to remove excess water.
- Drop malai balls into boiling milk and boil for another 5 min.
- Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
- Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.
- Serve in individual cups and garnish with pistachios & cashews and saffron strands. Makes 12 servings.
If you are allergic to nuts, you can replace them with dried fruit. For the egg-based recipe, mix 3 cups whole milk powder with 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1tbs butter. Add a lightly beaten egg and 6 tbs fresh cream. Gather dough together and shape into malai balls.