A month’s worth of desserts

The cheesecake which you see above came close to being my favourite sweet of the month. The old-fashioned Parle-G biscuits around it gave a nice crunch to the dish. The sauce at the bottom of the dish was a rabdi which did little jiggs on your tongue. The Gems on the plate looked nice, but I couldn’t imagine they would do anything to the taste, so I let the secret sharers take them away. A lovely retro-modern dessert, which I wouldn’t mind eating again. This was The Family’s favourite of the month.

A working trip to Odisha wouldn’t be complete without digging into chhanapoda. This is lightly sweetened chhana bunged into a hot oven until it becomes crusty. It can be lightly dusted with cinnamon, or not. I like it either way. It doesn’t last more than a day, so I spent my youth hearing about it without ever eating it. It was not so far back, on my first visit to Odisha, that I finally tasted it. I can’t do without it once in a couple of years.

This is a kairi tart to beat all kairi sweets from your local canteen. The taste is amazingly tart on the tongue, with an aftertaste of sweet. The mango flavour suffuses the dish. The salt, the light sprinkling of red chili powder, and the crisp pastry all go so well together, that The Family took a photo of me grinning loopily after finishing this. This was definitely the dessert of the month for me, and the runner up for The Family.

This was a nice chocolate sweet which wasn’t very inventive. Good cooking, nice presentation; just the thing to have with two nieces who are both chocolate fanatics. I wouldn’t mind having it again when I’m ahead of the game in terms of calories.

What a lovely presentation for a coffee mousse! It is billed as a hoity-toity Kerala coffee, sweetened with jaggery and accompanied by banana fritters served on a banana leaf. It is just coffee mousse with banana fritters, but a nice end to a meal. I liked the fact that it was served in a coconut shell. And I loved the plate it came on.

The enumeration of the month’s best wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the mouth freshener. It came in this complicated stand which holds lollipops filled with Bailey’s. This is undoubtedly the most interesting digestif that I’ve had in recent times.

Our daily sweet

sweets

Odisha and Bengal are the two states of India with wonderful sweets, and when you travel through here, it seems that every street corner has a sweet shop. The morning’s shopping is not complete without stopping at one of these for the daily titbit. I was reminded of this when I was in Bhubaneshwar last week. I passed a shop early in the morning and saw the lady in the photo above come shopping. She’d bought her vegetables and fish already. She placed them on a high stool outside the shop (you can see the plastic bag to the left of the photo, if you look closely you can see she has bitter gourds in there) and then turned her attention to the sweets. It was clearly a daily stop, because the shop keeper chatted with her while he measured out the chhanapora.

In India most sweet making is too technical for home cooking, so there are specialized shops for sweets. Odisha and Bengal have different traditions. In my experience, Bengali sweet makers tend to be innovative: constantly trying out new tastes and combinations; even the corner shop will innovate. But the classics, roshogolla and mishti doi, are not always well made. The sweet shops in Odisha which I’ve been to tend not to innovate, but make their reputation on technique.

The four Oriya classics which I love are:

Chhanapora (literally, burnt chhana, ie, cottage cheese) is the one Odisha sweet you should not miss. A mass of paneer is kneaded with sugar, and sometimes with cinnamon or chopped nuts, and then baked in a coal-fired oven. The smooth, smoky tasting, caramelised mass is available in every sweet shop in Odisha, but seldom outside the state. I have great memories of a mildly cinnamon infused, and very smoky, chhanapora from a shop in Puri, not far from the Jagannath temple.

Rasabali is a deep-fried sweet chhana patty soaked in a saffron infused thickened milk syrup. It’s the kind of thing designed to burst your arteries. I was introduced to it in a little bazaar between Konarak and Puri. The sweet shop was fly infested, and I nearly left without trying anything. But Sky, my friend and local guide, insisted that this was the best place within tens of miles for the sweet. I’ve been a fan ever since that first taste.

Kheer sagar looks like the north Indian rasmalai, but tastes quite different. It consists of balls of chhana dipped in a thin rabri. Again, the combination is not good for your cardiac system; but then I get to eat this less than once a year. I judge it by the smoothness of the chhana and rabri. I’ve had some really nice Kheer Sagar in Bhubaneshwar.

Chhana jhili is meant to be Odisha’s answer to the north Indian jalebi. The version I first ate in a shop between Bhubaneshwar and Puri was a patty, like a rasabali, in sticky sugar syrup. Later I had versions which look a little more like a jalebi. Whatever it looks like, it is designed to kill.

When I go to Odisha for work, I ask taxi drivers about the best place for sweets. They’ve always been helpful, and very often taken me to places which I later found are generally supposed to be among the best.