It’s all about the dhud in Varanasi.
All over Varanasi you will see huge cauldrons of milk (called dhud in Hindi and pronounced “dood”) starting to bubble and boil late in the afternoon each day. The milk and sweet shops provide locals with their daily fresh paneer cheese, curd and sweets that come in a variety of shapes and flavors. They are so sweet that you can’t really eat more than one piece per sitting.
Locals all have their favorite shop and will rarely stray from buying their goodies there day in and day out.
I’ve done a fair amount of sampling the sweets around Varanasi even though I am mostly a savory and crunchy food fan. But you know what they say…when in Rome (or India in this case)!
The sweets in these milk shops are all made from fresh local cows milk. All sweets and paneer cheese are made from boiled milk and a handful of other simple ingredients that have a spongy texture and soak in a sugary liquid while others are creamy – almost like a pudding.
Paneer is a fresh cheese common in Indian cuisine. It is an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmers cheese or curd cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice, vinegar, or any other food acids. Paneer has a fairly mild, milky flavor on its own, so it’s best when paired with strong, spicy flavors, like in classic Indian curries or dishes like saag paneer. It’s nearly identical to Mexican queso fresco and Italian ricotta salata, and can usually be used in recipes calling for either of those ingredients.
Rasgulla is a popular sweet of boiled milk with a touch of curd and semolina to give it some texture and bind it to make the balls. They soak in a sugary syrup which the balls absorb and become very juicy and super sugary sweet.
Chum Chum is similar to rasgula but different in shape and presented with different toppings. Chum Chum is a popular Bengali (East Indian) sweet dish that is made with Paneer. It is a versatile dish that can be served in many different variations. either with Pistachios, or with Coconuts or with Malai (cream).
Rabri aka Rabdi is a classic, traditional Indian sweet. It is a rich dessert that is a mixture of thickened creamy milk and bits of malai (top of milk) that is lightly sweetened with sugar and flavored with saffron and cardamom powder.
Dahi Baray is similar in texture and flavor to Rasgulla yet comes with a sweet cream.
Below are a few recipes for some sweets and paneer. Because some of these are very local and specific to Varanasi, I wasn’t able to find all of the recipes online. I will continue to look for the recipes I’m missing here and will add them to the blog as I track them down. If you are curious to try these sweets or making real Indian paneer….I think the only way you’ll get the opportunity is to make them at home since they probably are widely found outside of India (or even Varanasi) OR come to Varanasi and give them a try first hand!
- Prep time: 45 min
- Cook time: 10 min
- Serves: 4
- Whole milk – 1 lt OR 2% fat milk
- Curd – 1/2 cup (sour) at room temperature OR fresh lemon juice – 2 tbsps OR vinegar – 1 1/2 tbsp
- Heat milk in a heavy bottomed vessel. Bring to a boil and reduce flame to low.
- Whisk the curd well and very slowly add it to the hot milk and keep stirring continuously. Do not add all the curd at once. Add a little at a time and keep stirring.
- You will find that the milk would start curdling with milk solids start forming along with a greenish color thin liquid called whey. If the milk is not curdling after adding the entire curd, do add another one or two tbsps of curd to curdle it. Turn off flame.
- Immediately add 8-10 ice cubes to the vessel to stop the further cooking of the milk solids. Adding ice cubes at this stage will give you soft paneer otherwise it might be hard and rubbery in texture. Allow to rest for 5 mts.
- Take an empty vessel and place a sieve over it. Cover the sieve with a wet muslin or cheese cloth and pour the curdled milk into it. The whey will collect the bottom of the vessel and the curdled milk solids(called chenna) will remain on the top. Set aside the collected whey that can be used to knead chapati dough.
- Pour 2 to 3 cups of water over the chenna to wash off any sourness that it might have.
- Bring the edges of the cloth on all four corners and gently squeeze the milk solids (chenna) once or twice so that excess liquid is removed. Now tie a knot so that you can hang it at a height for the excess liquid to drain. Leave it aside for 30 mts.
- Now remove the knot of the muslin cloth and place the chenna along with muslin cloth on a wide plate. Gently press it to form a rough square shape. Place a heavy weight over the chenna for it to harden. I used an iron mortar and pestle. Heavier the weight, lesser the sitting time. Allow the paneer to set in 20-30 mts. It should set enough to hold shape so that we can cut into pieces. If you allow the weight to sit for a longer time, you will have a hard textured paneer.
- Once the paneer is set, remove it from the muslin cloth and cut it into any shape of your choice. At this stage you can use it right away to make tikkis, curry or any snack.
- If you are not going to use it immediately, place them in a ziplock bag and freeze them.
- An alternate method to curdle the milk is to bring milk to a boil and turn off flame. Slowly add the curd and allow the milk to curdle stirring continously. You will see small milk solids and a greenish liquid is formed. Immediately add ice cubes to stop it from cooking any further.
- If using curd to curdle the milk, use room temperature curd as cold curd might take a longer time to curdle and it might not curdle properly.
- Use whole milk for best results but even 2% or 3% milk is equally good to prepare paneer.
- Curd is best for a soft and sour free paneer. You can also use lemon juice and vinegar in its place. Use freshly squeezed lemon juice and not the bottled lemon juice.
- The left over whey can be used to knead chapati dough, gravy dishes that call for water as well as boil rice.
- I used a very heavy weight so the sitting time was less. If you are not using a very heavy weight, allow the paneer to set for at least 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- To soften hard/rubbery textured, place it in warm water for a couple of minutes.
- For frozen paneer, place it in hot water for a couple of minutes and the paneer will turn soft.
Recipe will make 8 Chum Chums.
Ingredients for Chum Chum:
- Paneer prepared with 4 cups or 1 liter of whole milk
- 2 cups of sugar
- 5 cups of water
Ingredients for different serving options:
- With Pistachios
1 tablespoon sliced pistachios
- With Coconuts
2 tablespoons finely shredded coconut/coconut powder
- With Malai (cream)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon cardamom powder
- Prepare paneer according to recipe “How to Make Paneer”. To test if sufficient water has been removed out of the paneer, take a little piece of paneer in your palm and rub with your fingers. You should be able to make a firm but smooth ball, after 15-20 seconds of rubbing.
- Place the drained paneer on a dry, clean surface and knead it for 3 to 4 minutes until it rolls into smooth soft dough. If the paneer is too crumbly, add a teaspoon of water.
- Divide the paneer dough into 8 equal parts and roll each one into a smooth oval shaped ball.
- For the syrup: In a wide saucepan, bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add sugar and stir to dissolve completely. Use a large pan as the Chum Chums will double in volume while cooking in the syrup.
- Add the paneer balls to the syrup and bring it back to a boil. Then turn down the heat to medium and cover the pot. Cook for 10 minutes.
- Open the pot cover, turn the chum chums over and cook for another 15 minutes.
- Check to see if the chum chums appear firm but sponge-like (with little holes on the surface). Turn off the heat and let sit for 10 more minutes.
- Remove the chum chums from the syrup.
- Serve chill!
- With Pistachios
Cover every Chum Chum with a few pieces of sliced pistachios
- With Coconut Powder
Roll the chum chums in dry coconut
- With Malai (cream)
- Boil the milk over medium heat until it reduces to ½ its volume. Stir the milk continuously so it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot.
- Add sugar, and cardamom powder. Stir for 2 minutes, and then turn off the heat.
- While milk is still warm pour 1 tablespoon over every Chum Chum and top with a few pieces of pistachios.
Enjoy this soft, spongy, flavorful sweet Chum Chum!
- Prep time: 5 min
- Cook time: 120 min
- Serves: 8
- Full cream milk – 2 lts
- Sugar – 1/4 cup (for a sweeter taste you add another 1 to 2 tbsps)
- Cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
- Saffron – 7-8 strands (soaked in 2 tbsps of warm milk)
- Pistachios – fistful
- Almonds – 7-8, blanched and peeled
- Kewra essence or Rose water – few drops (optional)
- Sliver the blanched almonds, chop the pistachios and set aside.
- Boil milk in a large heavy bottomed wide vessel on high flame. Once it comes to a boil, reduce flame to low and allow to simmer. Every 3 to 4 mts, push the top layer of malai (top of milk) that forms on the top towards the sides of the vessel. Continue to do this till the milk is reduced to less than half of the original quantity.
- Keep scraping the sides of the vessel and combine it with the thickening milk.
- After almost 1 1/2 hours, the milk would have reduced considerably to a thick mass. Add sugar and half of the chopped nuts and mix. Allow the sugar to dissolve and continue to simmer the mixture till it reaches a third of the original quantity. Add cardamom powder, rose water and saffron and mix well.
- Turn off flame and allow to come to room temperature. Remove to a serving bowl. Garnish with the remaining chopped nuts and saffron strands.
- Ladle into serving bowls and serve warm. You can even chill the rabdi and serve it chilled.
- Do not keep stirring the milk constantly. Stir only at intervals to ensure that the milk does not burn. It is advised to use heavy bottomed vessel so that the contents do not burn.
- To speeden up the process, you can cook over medium flame.
- You can flavor with nutmeg powder instead of cardamom.
- Left over rabri can be stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days or frozen for a few weeks.