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Sandesh is a sweet cheese dessert that is native to West Bengal, India. The native Bengalis call it shondesh, but sandesh is common and correct throughout the rest of India, and both words mean "good news." This cheesy treat is often considered a delicacy and typically is served in small, round portions at celebrations.
This dessert begins with a soft Indian cheese called chenna or paneer. The cheese resembles cottage cheese, although the curds are larger and the cheese itself isn’t as moist. Chenna is the foundation of sandesh; the recipe contains no flour or other binder, making it safe for people who are allergic to gluten or wheat.
Sandesh comes together quickly from scratch. Chenna is available at ethnic stores, but home cooks can make it as a fresh foundation for homemade sandesh. It starts with about 1 gallon (3.78 liters) of full-fat milk brought to a rolling boil.
The cook should add half a cup (118 mL) of lemon juice to the boiling milk and stir gently until the milk begins to congeal. When the congealed milk separates from the rest of the liquid in the pot and begins to float, the cook should pour the hot mixture into a fine mesh colander. This strains out the excess liquid, leaving only the chenna behind. The cook must place the colander over the bowl, allowing the chenna to drain for about an hour. This keeps the chenna from being sticky and difficult to knead.
Next, the cook should gently knead the chenna on a dry piece of parchment paper until the cracks in the cheese begin to disappear and the chenna becomes smooth. At this point, the cook should add flavorings such as sugar, pineapple, saffron or pistachios. How much of any of these ingredients goes into the chenna is up to the cook.
As soon as the cook adds sweeteners and flavorings to the chenna, it becomes sandesh. As the cook gently folds and kneads it, he or she should taste a small piece to see whether it is necessary to add more of anything. When satisfied with the flavor, the cook can roll pieces of the sandesh into balls the size of table tennis balls and place them on wax paper sheets.
Mediterranean fruits and saffron are traditional sandesh flavors, but home cooks can add any ingredients they like. Cocoa powder, apples and peaches are just a few possibilities. Cooks should note, however, that this dish traditionally is sweet and never savory.