We are well into summer and I thought I should ring in the first holiday in July by telling you about a special dessert and showcasing a delicate and fragrant spice – Cardamom. Speaking of holidays, I do not know about you but everytime I get to the grocery store near a holiday weekend it almost seems like everyone in the neighbourhood remembers that it is time to get supplies and hits the store. I think I should make a mental note and stock ahead to time. I know, not really possible with everything but just a thought to avoid the crazy holiday rush.
These fragrant buds of the Casia tree, have an amazing assortment of uses ranging from tea spices, rice dishes and are usually quite an essential in Indian desserts. Cardamoms are a native the Southeast Asian regions of Nepal and Bhutan. The buds consist of a thin outer skin and black fragrant and robust seeds.
They are sometimes used interchangeably or along with saffron. I usually keep these spices separate in a dessert as I think that cardamom tends to overwhelm the subtle fragrance of saffron. Cardamoms are used whole (preferably bruised in stews), and the seeds are pried open and powdered for a bolder aroma. If you are using the seeds, do the discard the shells, place them in your tea or coffee while brewing and you can savor the aroma with your preferred cup of “wake me up”.
To showcase the use of cardamom, I shall tell you about a traditional Indian dessert called Rasmalai. It is one of the few traditional Indian desserts that is loved by everyone in my house. My version has small adaptations that of course cate to the taste palates of my little emerging foodies (aka my children), including a variation that is my son’s brain child. This recipe will offer you a basic primer on making paneer
or Indian cheese which is useful and surprisingly simple once to see what is involved and the recipe is worth saving for that occasion where you want to impress someone with your Indian culinary know how.
Rasmalai – Cheesecakes Drenched in a Creamy Cardamom Sauce with Seasonal Berries
Rasmalai is a combination where Indian cheesecakes are simmered in syrup and then immersed in a creamy cardamom infused milky sauce. I add fruit to my version, just a small amount and often vary the fruit with the season. The white base makes it a perfect foil for the season and in this case, affords an exotic take on thered, white and blue. This dessert is all about the creamy cardamom sauce, so it you wish you can actually try it on pound cake, you will find my son’s variation interesting.
Prep Time: 15 to 20 minutes plus 2 hours to drain the cheese
and 3 hours to chill
Cook Time: 45 minutes
For the Paneer Cheese
½ gallon low-fat 2% milk
1 to 2 limes
For the cheesecakes
1 serving paneer cheese
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese (optional, but adds a nice soft
11/2 tablespoon sugar plus 2 cup sugar
11/2 tablespoon all purpose flour
2 cups water
For the creamy sauce
2 cups half and half
1 cup milk powder
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup raspberries
¼ cup blueberries
Method of Preparation
1. Place the milk in a heavy bottomed pan and bring to a
boil. This should be done on medium low heat, stirring occasionally.
2. In the meantime, line a large colander with cheesecloth.
3. When the milk is boiling, cut the lime or lemon and
squeeze in the juice (usually one is enough), in about 10 to 12 seconds the
milk should separate. This process is nicely demonstrated here.
4. Turn off the heat and carefully pour the mixture over the
cheesecloth lined colander.
5. Let the whey drain off and gather the cheese into a ball
and tie the cheesecloth around it.
6. Let this hand over a sink to allow the moisture to drain
off for at least two to three hours. This can be done the previous day and the paneer can be stored in the
7. The paneer should be a fairly solid ball at this time.
8. Place the paneer, ricotta cheese (if using), flour and the 11/2 sugar in a food processor and start the processor for about 1 minute.
This should blend the mixture and it should come together in a ball.
9. Remove the mixture and knead lightly and shape into small 11/2 inch ovals.
10. Place the remaining sugar and water in a pan and simmer for 25 minutes, until a light syrup is formed.
11. While the syrup is cooking, add the half and half, cardamom and milk powder in a separate saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes,
until the mixture is creamy, thick and fragrant.
12. Add the sugar to the milk mixture and cook for 10 minutes.
12. Carefully add the cheesecakes to the sugar syrup and simmer for 15 minutes, this should turn the cheesecakes spongy and slightly
13. Remove the cheese cakes and add to the milk mixture and simmer for 5 minutes (do not add the left over syrup).
14. Cool the mixture and chill for at least 2 hours.
15. To serve and assemble, place 2 of the cheesecakes in a serving dish, discard any cardamoms.
16. Add a few raspberries and blueberries
My Son’s (7yr-old) variation
Scope out the house for any cookies, this usually tends to be what they bring in to the house since we do not usually keep a store of
cookies. Crush the cookies and line the base of the serving dish with a thin layer of the crushed cookies. Assemble the dessert as outlined in steps 15 onwards.
Rinku Bhattacharya is a daytime financial professional, who spends the rest of her time immersed in food. Rinku is the author of the blog, Cooking in Westchester, where she shares her life experiences, original recipes that combine Indian spices with produce from her backyard and local farmers markets. Rinku is blessed with a gardener husband, who always surprises her with a prolific and fresh supply of produce to keep her creative instincts flowing. Rinku has been teaching recreational cooking classes for the past six years, and has found her classes a great way to teach and learn.