The pandemic has put the world into a strange spin. Many hoarded TP, while I stocked up on milk. Different shelf-lives!! That got me into a rhythm of making cheese and yogurt-cheese in alternate weeks.
I present an iconic dish, with iconoclastic techniques (microwave, food processor, just 2 ingredients!!). Yet, the minimalist rasagola is better than the best- I exaggerate not. Clean, wholesome, made-from-scratch. From milk to cheese to rasagola — the transformation is magical.
While social distancing, in a pricey pick-up Box from Blue Hill at Stone Barns, I rediscovered whey as a sophisticated, Cheffy drink. Never have I discarded the liquid from cheese making since then: it sits in mason jars in my refrigerator. Again, the whey was served with honey, verbena, …, but I like my homemade whey straight up (chilled).
Just recently Odisha settled the GI tag (Geographic Indication) battle over rasagola with its friendly neighbor, Bengal. While the latter attribute the birth of rasagola to the days of European colonialism in Calcutta; the Odias claim an 11th century origin, with offerings in temples. The Pahala Rasagola has a special place in my heart, as jeje (grandfather) never visited us without a box of those. These minimalist ones are a close rival. Enjoy!
Food Processor, cheesecloth.
yields 12-14 rasagollas and approx 5 cups whey
- approx 20 oz homemade cheese (made from 2 quarts of milk)
- Sugar syrup: 4 cups water + sugar to taste (can range from 6 tsps to 2 cups, based on your preference)
Make the cheese as described in the Notes. Crumble it into a food processor (not a blender!) and run it at medium speed. The cheese will gather into a ball in a minute or so (see Notes for tips). Divine into 12-14 equal-sized portions and form into balls with the palm of your hands.
Meanwhile bring the sugar and water to a boil. Reduce heat. Add the balls. Simmer on medium heat for 20-25 minutes till the balls have double in size and float on top.
Notes, hints, tips:
- Homemade cheese (chena/paneer): I usually start the process a day in advance, so that it spaces out the effort.
- (6 mins + 6 mins + 3 mins) Bring 2 quarts of milk in a 8-cup Pyrex glass container to just about a boil in a microwave. The timing given here is what I see in my microwave- adjust with yours. It is better to do that in multiple steps, rather than one long shot.
[– I use Skim Plus milk. But feel free to use whole milk or 1-2 % milk. But not just skim.
— Why use microwave, many of you ask. Zero risk of milk scorching in the Pyrex cup. Not to mention the ease of use.]
- (5 mins) Curdling. Immediately, while the milk is very hot, add 2-3 tsps of acidifying agent (AA) and stir vigorously till the proteins coagulate and you can see the whey separating. Note that, there is no more heating or cooking at this point.
AA can be lemon juice or distilled white vinegar.
- (1 hr) Cooling. Let the cheese separate from the whey by sinking to the bottom of the container and it comes to a room temperature, or comfortably warm to the touch.
- (overnight or at least 1-2 hrs) Draining. Unlike the yogurt-cheese, where gravity alone helps in draining, here it takes a little more coaxing. Hence, the three steps, but you could go straight to the Hang step below.
- Pour. Gently pour out the whey, without disturbing the cheese at the bottom, into mason jars.
- Drain. (30 mins) Line a metal sieve with cheese cloth and pour all the contents of the pyrex cup, gathering more of the whey either directly in a mason jar or in a convenient container with a spout.
- Hang. Tightly squeeze the cheese cloth and and hang it out to drain: I have used the ubiquitous banana holder. Or, use a tofu-press (scroll down to see pictures).
[For multi-use cheesecloth, I have been using a clean piece of cotton fabric . The humidity in the homes in the US Northeast varies by season- so the cheese may get harder in the drier seasons. You may have to peel out the hard shell and just snack on it. And, use the rest for the recipe. ]
- Remove the cheese from the cheese cloth.
- Is the cheese of the right consistency to make the rasagola ? This is the million dollar question. I have a simple test– if the cheese does not gather into a ball in the food processor — it is not going to work.
- If it is too sticky, you may have to add a little cream of wheat (semolina) at a time till it gathers into a ball.
- If it is too powdery, you can add little whey at a time till it gathers into a ball.
- Some use cardamom powder, pistachio bits and other garnishes, but you may like them nude, like I do.
- I store the rasagolas in a mason jar, upside down when the level of syrup is not covering all the balls. This way when you retrieve your top rasgolas they are sufficiently steeped in syrup.
When I used a tofu press (“That Tofu Thing”) to drain the cheese, the cheese was drier, but I reconstituted with a little whey in the food processor, so that it gathered into a ball. The rasagolas were perfect. So, I would say, it is safer to be on the drier side than wet.
Pahala rasagola. For a caramel colored rasagola, caramelize the white sugar, before adding the water to make the syrup.