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Easy Indian Sweets?

I'm stuck! It's someone's birthday and as usual I have left all birthday dinner/cake planning till the day before.

I'm thinking of trying to make an Indian dessert because he's always very nostalgic for Indian food, and a whole cake seems like a bit much for the two of us.

I need something that's not too complicated or labor-intensive because I have other projects underway for today and tomorrow. Nothing involving caramel or deep-frying, please.

I also need it to consist mainly of very generic ingredients. He's out working with the car and the only grocery store within walking distance is a decrepit old Hannafords that tends to not stock your more "esoteric" items. We already have a pretty decent selection of spices at home, but I probably can't get a hold of a mango right now, for example. They also don't have fresh ginger.

I'm considering this recipe that someone posted on other Indian food topics:

But I would have to substitute black raisins for golden ones (does this make a difference?).

It would be nice to have a few more suggestions so I can weigh my options!

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  1. I love ras malai. Is this a good recipe? I have no idea. Maybe someone who has made it previously can weigh in and let us know. Seems you have all the ingredients if you already have cardamom.

    Do you have rose water? I had to look up kewra water.

    Ooh, neato, here is a video! This recipe calls for lemon juice and saffron.

    7 Replies
    1. re: kattyeyes

      That recipe sounds interesting; unfortunately, I do not have rose water. It's one of those ingredients I keep making a mental note to try but never get around to buying.

      Ooh, after watching the video I think that's definitely a recipe for another day. Standing over a pot of milk till it reduces by half, making paneer, and the comment about how long it takes to mix it by hand if you don't have a food processor-- I think this one's a little more than I can take on right now.

      1. re: sonia darrow

        Rose water is definitely not essential (pun not intended). It's only an optional fancy touch.

        Re the video - fuhgeddabout standing in front of a pot and watching it. Here is where you yuse a slow cooker or pressure cooker. If you don't have either of these, then that is different.

        1. re: Rasam

          While we have your attention, can you recommend a good/better ras malai recipe than what I posted? I did watch the video. It looked like more of a task than I want to undertake. I have a crock pot, but not a pressure cooker. Maybe I'll just continue to order this out occasionally. :)

          1. re: kattyeyes

            So sorry; I am fairly lazy when it comes to sweets, and ras malai is something I order from outside.
            Your snickerdoodles sounded very good.
            Have yout ried the Indian eggless cookies called Nan Khatai? Manjula's kitchen has a video.

            1. re: Rasam

              No problem, from the looks of it, ras malai is now on my "order from outside" list, too. :) I'll look for Nan Khatai. Thank you!

              1. re: kattyeyes

                Rasmalai isn't hard, but it is time consuming. I mix it by hand, kneading the still warm paneer with some suji/farina/cream of wheat. I use part milk, part heavy cream--needs less time to reduce. However, this may be too hard for your first Indian dessert. Maybe start with a simple kheer--Indian comfort food.

          2. re: Rasam

            Yeah, I made custard twice a couple of weeks ago and I've about had my fill of standing in front of a pot of milk for a while. I have neither slow nor pressure cooker.

      2. Three of the easiest recipes are:
        1. Carrot halwa (gajar halwa, similar to what you posted): and the raisin substitution will not be a problem. The recipe you posted looks OK except I would crack 2-3 green or white cardamom pods and cook along with the carrots, and fish them out and discard when done. Essential. You could become a little fancier and add 1-2 drops of rose water at the end.
        2. Kheer (rice pudding). Easier than carrot halwa in that it does not involve grating lots of carrots. But the method and spicing and other ingredients (raisins, and cashews or almonds) is similar to carrot halwa, and you can google for recipes to see some options..
        3. Shrikhand (thick yogurt) flavored with saffron and cardamom - these spices are available in most ordinary supermarkets nowadays. You could even add mango puree if you find really good fresh mangoes. Again super easy: get good thick yogurt; set it up to drain for several hours, then fold in powdered sugar, cardamom, a little water in which saffron threads have been boiled, and mango puree if desired. Serve it like pudding.

        All three

        1 Reply
        1. re: Rasam

          I second the kheer idea. Simple to make, especially if you have a crockpot. Just mix milk, rice and sugar along with some cardamom seeds and simmer until thick. Then mix in or garnish with sliced almonds and raisins.

        2. Shahi tukra is a very simple bread pudding recipe which can easily be reduced for two (or expanded for seconds). Rice pudding (kheer) or a variant made with vermicelli noodles (seviya) is also very common.

          Gajar ki halwa is not difficult if you are a quick grater, but do remember that it is rather rich. I prefer it cold to somewhat mitigate its heaviness. I generally sub black raisins for sultanas.

          9 Replies
          1. re: JungMann

            I was happy to see you and Rasam on this thread since I haven't a clue what I'm talking about re MAKING Indian sweets--only what I like to EAT. Hi, guys!

            Do you have a favorite recipe (link is fine) for shai tukra? I've never had Indian bread pudding, but I'm very interested to learn more. :)

            1. re: kattyeyes

              This looks about right for a good Pakistani bread pudding: http://taiyyaba.com/2008/09/16/shahi-... I might add a bit of rosewater to perfume the milk as well. You can add sultanas, but I prefer to omit them.

              1. re: JungMann

                Mmmmmmm! Thank you kindly! I like the rosewater idea, too.

                1. re: JungMann

                  I second Shahi tukray, I love those things. I think deep fried white bread sounds scary but that is such a yummy dessert. The recipe you linked looks perfect...it doesn't use sweetened condensed milk, which many people do use to thicken the milk but which I don't like. This is fool proof and easy for the novice.

                  One tip in cooking desi home type sweets is that you must be patient when slow boiling the milk to evaporate water from it and thicken it. It takes a long time. Just a thought.

                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    Does slow boiling mean it should be at more of a simmer? What should I be doing about skin forming on top (or does that only happen before, not during, boiling)?

                    I probably won't try these today but I'll definitely be referring back to this thread next time I want to try something new!

                    1. re: sonia darrow

                      You can have a rapid simmer. You just don't want the bottom of the pan to catch otherwise you spoil the milk. Stirring the pot will prevent the proteins from coagulating and forming a skin. Moreover when cooling any heated milk, you can prevent the formation of skin by covering the surface with plastic wrap, however a lot of people like "pudding skin."

                      1. re: sonia darrow

                        For many desi sweets it is the same thing: you boil the milk on low-medium heat and keep boiling away, babysitting constantly by stirring away, you won't get a skin. It can take an hour and a half for a large portion. Luckily shahi tukra doesn't need that much milk. I am guesstimating that it would take like about 45 mins. But cooking good kheer or gajar ka halwa (the milk based one) takes a long time. You can actually boil the milk slowly for so long that all you have left is a milk solid dough. Most people don't do this at home though and leave that for the sweet makers.

                        1. re: luckyfatima

                          I thought kheer thickens from breakdown of the rice; I didn't realize it was like making khoa. But the shahi tukra sauce I have had has never been thicker than creme anglaise, though usually it is much thinner, I think because people are using canned malai. How thick should the sauce properly be?

                          1. re: JungMann

                            Scalding the milk slowly while the rice breaks down is important in kheer, too. It gives taste. Shahi tukra sauce shouldn't be runny, but it is liquidy. There are also recipes for shahi tukra in which the milk is thickened to a very thick point and spread on top of the toast.

              2. Hmm. So it looks like it's down to rice, bread, or carrot pudding. Rasam's yogurt dish sounds nice but I just don't feel like dealing with the draining and I also think the birthday boy might be sick of yogurt right now.

                Are there any non-puddingy desserts out there or do those cross over into "complicated/time-consuming" territory?

                14 Replies
                1. re: sonia darrow

                  You might look into a semolina halva/halwa, which I think is sometimes called sooji halva. It's less complicated than the carrot halva recipe you linked to and doesn't use dairy apart from butter, although unfortunately I don't have a recipe. I know it's semolina (or Cream of Wheat), butter, sugar, cardamom, raisins and slivered almonds, if you've got them. I believe the method is similar to making a soft polenta, and the consistency is similar as well. It's not at all fancy but soooo comforting!

                  1. re: mmmmangos

                    I'll second this. Easy and good.

                    1. re: mmmmangos

                      The version I was taught also included half a cinnamon stick.

                    2. re: sonia darrow

                      Most of the Indian desserts I can think of involve working with milk solids and/or frying, so they might not be as simple as you are seeking. You could perhaps engineer a Westernized falooda with pistachio ice cream, tapioca and rose-flavored gelatin, but it would only be an approximation of the real thing.

                      If you want to think creatively, you could try to put Indian flavors into cookies or petit fours working with cardamom, rose water, saffron, nuts and the like. Perhaps chai masala cookies and tea for dunking. Or a chickpea cookie similar to Persian Nan-e Nokhodchi.

                      1. re: JungMann

                        Hey, now, I made chai snickerdoodles recently! Would those work? They're super easy to make.

                        1. re: JungMann

                          Jung Mann:
                          I personally would love to try such things; though the OP doesn't feel like even draining yogurt now :)

                          Have you tried any recipes for cardamom macarons or cardamom creme brulee or similar?

                          1. re: Rasam

                            Don't make me sound so lazy! (Although I am often lazy...) Draining yogurt means going in search of cheesecloth (one of those things my inferior Hannafords may not carry) and incapacitating one half of the sink at a time when there will be lots of other kitchen activity going on. Perhaps I'm just over-intimidated because it makes me think of the time I tried making ricotta and it was just so messy and goopy everywhere.

                            1. re: sonia darrow

                              You can drain yogurt in a paper towel or better, a large coffee filter, held in a sieve over a bowl. Put the whole thing in the fridge and you don't have to see it until it's ready.

                              1. re: icecone

                                As a starving student, I used a "floursack" kitchen towel to drain yogurt or paneer.

                            2. re: Rasam

                              I haven't tried cardamom creme brulee, only ginger, but I do make rosewater or cardamom and coconut pots de creme / panna cotta. I have been thinking a Rooh Afza panna cotta would also be good. I haven't tried my hand at macarons but I have made a curry coriander shortbread from Epicurious http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... and various iterations of their cardamom chiffon cake with rosewater and saffron icing http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo.... Kattyeyes chai snickerdoodles are definitely going to be on my to-do list.

                            3. re: JungMann

                              I'm intrigued by the idea of a chickpea cookie. I just happened to buy some gram flour the other day but I never would have thought to make a dessert from it.

                              1. re: JungMann

                                Too bad you do not want to work with caramel as creme caramel with "Indian flavours" would be super simple.

                              2. re: sonia darrow

                                Here is another easy one: microwave besan laddoos, if you have besan (chickpea flour, also used in Italian cooking) and ghee.

                                I have made these before and I know it works, but I have not tested all the recipe variations out there. Here are three links and I hope they give enough similarity and clarity:

                                Here is a recipe that uses butter instead of ghee:

                                Here is a microwave rava laddoo (rava = cream of wheat, not the instant kind, in India it is known as sooji or semolina). But it calls for ghee.
                                a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtTPTp...

                                You can make ghee at home in a pinch, it is not time consuming:

                                1. re: Rasam

                                  One note: Based on personal experience and some internet collaboration, I do not believe that besan (Indian chickpea flour) and farina de ceci (Italian chickpea flour) are interchangeable.

                              3. This is a bit late, but I wanted to post another 'easy Indian sweet' just in case someone came to this thread by googling or was looking for a very simple recipe.

                                If you have mangos that are towards the end of season or overripe, or the mangos weren't handled well during transport/export so they don't develop their perfect sweetness even when ripe, this is a great recipe to use them up. It is Mangos and Cream or Aam ka meetha. Just cut about 3 mangos into bite sized chunks. Whip 1 cup of regular or double cream with 1/4 cup sugar. Beat well to ensure sugar dissolves. Then stir in the mangos. Chill in the fridge for a few hours, then serve. You can also do this with any other juicy pulpy suitable fruit like peach or apricot.

                                1. My mom is all for the KISS rule (keep it simple stupid) and tells me to make mango ice cream for parties instead of the complicated desserts I'm usually brainstorming.

                                  Soften vanilla ice cream and mix in mango pulp. Add some fresh cubed mangoes in the bowl/ serving dish. It will remind you of mango lassi.

                                  Its not really a traditional indian dessert, but it will top off a indian meal nicely and mangoes are in season these days!

                                  1. You already have a bevy of options, but this Cashew Fudge (Kajoo Barfi) looks great and super easy: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                    1. For what its worth, Halva made with sugar syrup and semonlina has to be the easiest to make. Less than 20 minutes in one pan and its ready to eat and its hard to ruin. Real Carrot halva takes hours to make if its done properly.

                                      1. Most Payasams are very easy to make and there are a lot of them. here is a link to get you started

                                        1. So what did you go with in the end? :)

                                          1. What Indian sweet someone will enjoy depends VERY largely on his cultural background. Remember that India is as large as Europe in size, minus Russia, and much more ethnically diverse. What might be delicious to a Bengali might be unfamiliar to a Maharashtrian, and unpalatable, and I can definitely vouch for the fact that lipsmacking delicacies from Maharashtra, like puranpoli will fall flat if offered to Bengalis who have had no exposure to sweets outside their native delicacies!! THe Kerala interpretation of "payasam" or Tamil "pongal" may not find many admirers in North India, and cross-cultural disasters are very painful. So you need to be a bit more specific about who you are cooking for, and the types of "sweets" he might like!

                                            Another example: Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have invented a quick and easy method for making rasmalai by using powdered milk, ghee and raw egg to make little balls that are cooked like rasgullas in slightly thickened milk. This is ok in certain contexts, but please beware of offering this to Indian vegetarians and especially brahmins, for whom that egg defeats the very purpose of the rasamalai and makes the dessert a bit of a sacrilege. That is another type of cultural pitfall to avoid, as is the use of egg in semolina halwa, perfectly acceptable in certain circles but not in others. Another reason to specify the roots of your recipient, to understand the sorts of things he might like, and the things he would be unfamiliar with.

                                            We should be delighted to suggest several simple ideas, if you write back.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: GTM

                                              GTM, I've never heard of the rasmalai short cut you mention above. How different is the texture from the traditional boiled milk/steep in sugar syrup method?

                                              1. re: adrienne156

                                                The traditional rasamalai is : first make mini-roshogollas, by curdling 5-6% fat cow's milk at 80C with yoghurt, remove jol-chhana at warm temps, "bray" chhana on seasoned hardwood or marble at warm temps, and prepare roshogollas in thin syrup. Then reduce milk slightly, and gently cook the prepared roshogollas a second time until plump and season the Rasamalai to taste.

                                                In the Pak-Bangladesh method, it is better to use whole milk powder, not the non-fat kind. This will improve texture. A little bit of ghee, sparing use of baking powder, another thing that affects texture, and which depends on the expertise of the person making the rasgullas. Why am I hedging my answers? For the simple reason that there are fewer than 1 in 10 million that can make a decent roshogolla, even in Calcutta, even professionals. Only 2-3 shops in Calcutta manage to turn out a decent product with respect to texture and other parameters by my reckoning, and by the reckoning of my peers. We are not snobs, just purists or perfectionists. Ghirardelli and Hersheys both make chocolate, and so do Lindt & even more upscale chocolatiers. What is the difference? So too here. For natives of West Bengal, these are not mere words but important issues. Things like "sponge", tenderness versus "squeakiness" [chew] etc. that are not relevant where the milk-powder version is being used. The same issues arise for Bengalis, who are addicted to their pantuas, lengchas, chitrakuts, etc. whereas North Indians plough through their milk powder gulab jamuns oblivious to the universe beyond this sweet!! What can I say? As Stevie Wonder once remarked, If you could only see what I hear! lol!!

                                                So the eggy rasmalai is ok for those who are craving a quick fix, and for those in North India who have grown up with their version of "bengali sweets", a whole genre never envisioned in Bengal but wildly popular across the Northern half, right into Pakistan. A frozen and good brand is NANAK rasamalai, expensive, boxed 1 dozen pieces.

                                                1. re: GTM

                                                  My mother originally reigns from Khulna, BD and I had just never heard of the shortcut you mention. I definitely don't think you're a snob - IMHO if there's any squeak, into the bin it goes and someone's got to go back to the store for more milk. And, I don't know if they are supposed to have some squeak as I'm not a fan of roshogollas in general, I just don't like the squeak.

                                                  As far as the methods... I've only ever known the traditional method you mentioned - although there is a step in which the channa is hung in cheese cloth that I don't see above - and I couldn't figure out how you could get the right texture from powdered milk and wondered if the egg brought it closer to the texture of a traditional roshogolla.

                                                  Thanks for taking the time to reply!

                                                  1. re: adrienne156

                                                    Wonderful to hear from Khulna. I will try to get you the Siddika Kabir show, and the Shireen Anwar show that details the procedure. The latter is on Khanapakana. Squeakiness is caused by a number of factors: high curdling temps, high acid, wrong type of acid, not cooling the milk down post acid introduction, too much development of casein fibres, too much focus on sponge, etc. It is a balance between sponginess, and tenderness, the latter a factor of how much semolina is introduced, as in Odisha roshogollas, Bangla rural as opposed to Kolkata sponge, and milk fat and milk quality. Desi cattle breeds have a range of fat globule sizes, I discovered after research, just as Italian Red hill cattle, and Ragusa Sicilian cattle have particular characteristics that make their milks particularly suitable for the local cheeses they are famed for. The Italian government has instituted intensive investigation into these minute details, while we are lagging way behind. Bangladesh, for example, has exceptional beef breeds in the miniature Bhutti cattle, similar in growth characteristics to the small Kasargod breed in Kerala, but no one gives a hoot. Likewise, much could be done with the cattle around Natore, because modern researchers have discovered the genetics of milk fat, and several interesting alleles for milk solids and milk quality. We also have begun to understand issues behind the thermodynamics and problems of yield versus productivity of humped cattle versus the humpless, the tropical versus the temperate. but countries with high potential like Bangladesh are completely immune to any suasion, moral or otherwise. It is very sad to see the press up in arms over issues of entitlement and extraordinary mindless matters, but even people like Shaykh Siraj, an agricultural journalist, are not receptive to thoughtful ideas. Everyone is expert at milking the international gravy train of aid and limitless awards, but not very keen on taking care of the national interest, except through endless verbiage and rancor!

                                                    Back to hanging the chhana in cheesecloth-- yes, but to maintain it as jolchhana, for either sandesh or roshogolla, that amount of drainage will need to be limited, otherwise we will move towards a stiffer chhana and a chewier, coarser roshogolla. We want to preserve the right amount of water, maintain temperature, especially in cold countries, and preserve the milk fat from escaping the warm mass, which it does in tiny but insidious amounts [hence ricotta cheese!].

                                                    What I hesitated to suggest to the OP was a crude version of KANCHAGOLLA: 32 oz. full fat ricotta placed with 1 -2 sticks unsalted butter in a very clean non-stick saute pan over medium heat and allowed to come to simmer. Add either 1 volume of granulated sugar, or go easy, and add only 1/2 the volume making up any deficit with SPLENDA, using the empty container of ricotta as your volume measure. Allow to melt in. Now add 1 container of non-fat dry milk, and stir it in, and allow to cook slowly, with a spatter screen in place. Stir to prevent scorching, and place a heat diffuser if necessary.

                                                    Grate 1 or 2 organic oranges with a microplane grater. Chop some pistachio nuts for garnish. You can also use some orange rind extract, but not orange flower water. When the milk solids have lost some of their raw smell, and seem homogenized, and this is a matter of experience, what we call norom paak, in Bangala, add in the grated peel, and/or the extract. Allow the fragrance to permeate but do not overcook, just a minute or two at most. Remove to a big platter. It will be semi-liquid but will set in a couple of hours as it cools. Sprinkle pistachio flakes on top. Later, cut into diamonds or other shapes. No need to grease, as there is enough butter. This is very tasty eaten with fresh puffed rice, called muri, or murmura. We make something like muesli, called phalahar, with soaked poha/chiraa, good quality yoghurt, cane or date jaggery, such sandesh, mashed banana, or mango, and sometimes other things.