Little does he know that I am a Sondesh dummy. Every Sondesh attempt of mine in the past have been scintillating failures. I have a feeling, if P was born 100 years ago, he would have fallen head over heels with Nani, my Mum’s Grandmother. The original Sondesh queen of our family.
For as long as I remember, Nani moved around her home on a wheelchair. She would even make Sondesh sitting on her wheelchair by the clay unoon/chulha in the courtyard. The servants would prep up the clay unoon with coal and fire and fan with a haathpakha till the embers would glow just right. She would then boil the milk slowly, taking ladlefuls of the hot milk and pouring it from a height to make it frothy. Half cut lemons would then be squeezed in the milk to curdle it. And then the hot, curdled cheese would be dunked in a clean cheesecloth, draining off the lemon-yellow liquid. The cheese, the cloth and Nani’s sari were all the same color. An awesome white.
Sadly, with age, the quantity of the Sondesh Nani made started to reduce. Those who are Sondesh connoisseurs know that Sondesh is all about timing and perfection. Her shaking hands at 90 something found it growingly difficult for her to knead the cheese. Which meant, her Sondesh became rarer and rarer. And only those who were in her inner circle would get that rare piece of Sondesh.
And those Orange Sondesh were the most sought after. Fragrant, fresh, melt-in-the-mouth Komlalebur Sondesh. She would make them in the summers. A chilled piece of her Orange Sondesh would ensure atta’r total shanti (peace of the soul).
Since, I have neither Nani’s experience in Sondesh-making, nor her deftness in doling out little pieces of perfection, I took the short-cut route, a slight deviation and used the zest of orange to make Makha Sondesh. The very basic, very raw and absolutely dummy version of Sondesh! And this is how I did it.
Ingredients for Orange Sondesh are:
3 litres whole milk
250 ml heavy/whipping cream (optional)
2 tablespoons zest of orange
2-3 tablespoons white vinegar
Drain the chhana (cheese) in a colander lined with cheesecloth. Hang the cheese for about 30-40 minutes, or till all the liquid drains off. You can also do the press by weight process to do away with the remaining liquid.
Now with the heel of your hand, start rubbing the cheese to give it a smooth texture. It takes about 10-15 minutes of gentle, rhythmic rubbing to get the appropriate texture which looks smooth and supple, like a baby’s bottom. Do a test to check if your Sondesh dough is ready. Make a little ball with the cheese, if you see no cracks or fine lines, its done. Now add the sugar, little by little and keep mixing into the smooth cheese dough. Do a taste test and add more sugar if necessary.
Make little round balls with the cheese and shape in Sondesh moulds, or leave them looking rustic as I did. Simply because I could not find my moulds after frantically looking for them for two minutes. That’s how deficit I am of attention (read sleep-deprived) these days.