Professor X and I made a monthly pilgrimage to Devon Ave. for Indian food during our time in Chicago. After gorging on kebab and numerous other savory dishes, we’d manage to find room for tea and sweets after. Professor X loves all of them, but rasmalai is a shared favorite. Now that we’re tucked away in a town with only two Indian restaurants and one S. Asian grocery, sweets aren’t easy to come by. Devi has a few kinds shipped in every Friday from Portland, but they’re ones that keep well: ladoo, jalebi, and chumchum. Rasmalai – paneer balls steamed and soaked in sweetened milk – go bad quickly. With Durga Puja on the horizon, I decided to make some at home this week after consulting Manjula’s Kitchen, my go-to for Indian home cooking.

Step One: Make Paneer
Yes. You have to make paneer. You can’t just run out and buy a block at your nearest Indian grocery either. You need soft, malleable paneer to do rasmalai. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy. Just add 1/4 cup of lemon juice to 4 cups of boiling milk. Strain it in cheesecloth once the fat separates from the whey. Let it drain for about an hour.

Step Two: Knead and Form
After years of honing European and American kitchen skills, I confront techniques that just shouldn’t work – but do – with Indian home cooking. Kneading and forming what’s essentially ricotta into small patties is one.

It *can* be done.

It *can* be done.

You’ll notice that mine are a little uneven. They’re also cracked around the edges. Lesson learned: my paneer was on the dry side and I’m pretty sure I didn’t knead it enough since it wasn’t quite rolling itself into dough. To be honest, I forgot that it was supposed to do that.

If you watch Manjula’s instructional video for rasgulla, you’ll see the magic. Do note that a dough scraper is useful for this step. I used my Ventra card since that’s about all it’s good for.

Step Three: Pressure Cooker

I’ve never owned a pressure cooker. After tales of confirmed explosions and lentils on the ceiling, I’m wary of this bit of equipment, which is incredibly necessary to many home recipes. How necessary? In the same way U.S. parents give their kids frying pans upon moving out, Indian parents gift pressure cookers. Professor X toted one all the way from Kolkata to Chicago, then promptly lost the whistle.

Hissin' and spittin' like the Nechung oracle.

Hissin’ and spittin’ like the Nechung oracle.

My sense of cooking times is still a little off, but nothing has gone wrong yet. I waited seven minutes per instruction and voila!

Holy shit! It worked!

Holy shit! It worked!

If you stop at this point in the recipe – where you cook paneer balls in sugar syrup – you will have rasgulla. I pressed on and cooked them one last time in sweetened milk with cardamom, then garnished with chopped pistachios.

I forgot to take pictures. However, none of them broke and I didn’t scald the milk sour. The finished product squeaked a little – much like cheese curds – while I chewed. I suspect that less draining and more kneading will remedy this. Professor X ate enthusiastically as it’s been more than a year since our last rasmalai experience. His official statement was “These are really good for your first time.”

In the end, rasmalai aren’t as hard as suspected. They take a bit of time and an experienced hand to determine the proper texture, which is why most folks leave rasmalai preparation to professionals. I’m nowhere near ready to open Gulab – my imaginary Indian sweet shop in Corvallis – but can easily scratch the itch when we crave variety.