Sandesh The Thief of Hearts ~ Culturama Magazine

by on May 6, 2015

Sandesh was the topic of this article “The Thief of Hearts” in Culturama, a magazine for expats in Chennai. Pratibha Jain talks about her wonderful journey with Indu Bokaria, a Sandesh artist and author of just-launched cookbook “Recipes from a Diary”. Here is a transcript of the article along with Rose-flavoured Sandesh, a delicious recipe from the same cookbook.


Sandesh, also known as sondesh or shondesh, is a traditional Bengali sweet, made by rolling a mixture of paneer and sugar into balls. What makes it really special is that it can be made very quickly and easily, and can be adapted to elaborate and decorative forms as well – it is often a part of everyday meals in its simplest form, while it can be moulded into elaborate shapes, with added flavours, for weddings and festivals.


In what might come as a pleasant surprise to those with a sweet tooth, many Bengalis start their day with a bite of sandesh as it is considered healthy. Interestingly, sandesh is also known as ‘pranhara’ or ‘heart stealer’ in Bengali. True to its name, it finds its way into the hearts of those who have tasted it – be they from Bengal or from any other part of India.


Indu Bokaria, a Rajasthani, is one such sandesh afficionado. Indu, who says that sandesh is her favourite sweet dish, adds that it is a means by which she relives the memory of her childhood in Kolkata. She reminiscences, “I remember that if there was one dish apart from the khichadi (rice and lentil porridge) that was eaten when you were well or unwell, it was the sandesh.” In 1971, when she moved to Chennai after marriage, she realised that there were hardly any shops in the city that made sandesh – which led her to decide that she might as well roll up her sleeves and make the sweet herself.


“I remember calling a friend of mine, asking her for the recipe and preparing the sweet. That was the beginning. I think my new family liked it very much and that prompted me to prepare it again. And again. Over the years, if there is one dish I have prepared the most, it is this very sweet. Of course, now many sweet shops sell delicious varieties of Sandesh, yet I enjoy making it myself,” she says. Before she knew it, the initial surge in interest morphed into a consuming passion, and she began to experiment with different flavours. With time, her repertoire of recipes grew and her family decided that they would try and get it published in book form. It was in this context that Indu and I met.


When I first saw close to 30 varieties of sandesh in Indu Bokaria’s diary, I was fascinated! “Sandesh is so versatile that it can be transformed into a hundred varieties. For me, it is like an art, one that allows creativity and experiments. And above all, the basic recipe is so simple and easy to make. Some of my favourite sandesh creations are the ones made with fruits – such as stuffed apples, mango roll, fig, strawberry sandesh, pineapple, orange and kiwi,” says Indu.


Those who wish to follow in Indu’s footsteps, and steal a few hearts, should try their hand at making sandesh. Don’t be put off by the thought of making paneer from scratch – this is one of the easiest sweet dishes to make, and will definitely win you several compliments. And what better way to make a start than with a recipe from Indu’s book, Recipes from a Diary? So, begin your journey of discovery with rose-flavoured sandesh – an extremely tasty dish for which the recipe for which is given here.



Rose-flavoured Sandesh

(Recipe Credit: “Recipes from a Diary” by Indu Bokaria, the Sandesh Artist)
A simple sweet dish that is both healthy and delicious, sandesh is an indispensable part of all celebrations in Bengali households.
For the paneer:

  • Milk – I litre
  • Juice of 1 lemon (or Calcium lactate – 1 flat tsp)

For the sandesh:

  • Paneer – 1 cup
  • Sugar – ½ cup
  • Rose essence – 2 drops

To make paneer:

  1. Heat 1 litre of full cream milk and bring to boil.
  2. Add the calcium lactate or lemon juice. The milk will curdle within a minute (if it doesn’t, add another ¼ tsp calcium lactate).
  3. Turn off the flame, strain the curdled milk (paneer) and rinse it gently with water to wash away any remnants of calcium lactate or lemon juice.
  4. Set the strainer aside for 30 minutes until all the liquid has drained away.
  5. The best paneer is obtained from cow’s milk, but the yield of paneer may be less.
  6. Hence, on a practical basis, to use full-fat milk.

To make sandesh:

  1. Grind the paneer with sugar until it turns soft but not pasty.
  2. Roast the paneer mixture in a pan for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool on a plate and mash it with the heel of your palm for 3-5 minutes until the mixture turns soft.
  4. The ideal texture of sandesh is fine and grainy.
  5. Add the rose essence and mix well.
  6. The sandesh is now ready.
  7. You can flatten it out in a serving dish or mould it into creative shapes.
  8. The most common method is to roll the mixture into lemon-sized balls.
  9. Using the rounded back of a ladle, make a depression on top and gently press a rose petal into it.
  10. Serve chilled.

Tip: Many people prefer to make the sandesh without roasting the paneer. However, roasting it helps it to stay fresh for 4-5 days in the refrigerator.


(As seen in Culturama Magazine, May 2015)


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