Winter has arrived in India and with it has come celebrations. The winter season is considered ideal by many for a number of festivities, mostly weddings. This means food, specially good food and dessert. Now no mention of dessert can be complete without chhenapoda. It is a dessert considered native to Odisha and its popularity has been increasing lately.
Chhenapoda was invented actually quite recently. In the first few years of the 20th century, a confectioner in Nayagarh discovered that slow baked chhena (cottage cheese) tasted really good. The discovery was an accident, but quite a good one. This dessert soon spread out all over Odisha and now we can see it in every sweet shop we can find in the state.
The Taste of Odisha
The dessert gets its popularity from both its taste and texture. It has a moist, yet firm texture, quite similar to cheesecake. The caramelized milk proteins and sugars lend it a mellow toasted flavour that is slightly sweet but still distinctly different from desserts like rosogolla. Any serving of chhenapoda must include the crust as most of the flavour is concentrated there. It is a treat to be eaten all the year round but should be eaten in moderation as it is in essence a fat packed dairy product and too much dairy is not good for your waistline.
Chhenapoda has been heavily promoted by the Odisha Milk Federation to boost milk consumption in the state. It took till the 1980s for it to actually get popularized as the availability of milk was quite low before that. And now we see it being offered to Lord Jagannath during puja. This dessert has come a long way in a very short time.
How To Make It
Chhenapoda is no different frm a cheesecake. It is made out of cheese (chhena) and sugar and does not need any kind of base. That means no flour, no eggs and no baking powder. You do need a fairly high reaching oven, but it can be made on lower temperature oven as well, it just needs more time.
- The first step is chhena. Most people use skimmed milk as it is less fattening. I feel that whole milk with its higher fat content gives a far better flavour. Chhena is nothing more than acid curdled cheese so the only thing you’ll need here is either lemon juice or vinegar.
- Heat up milk to a boil in a stainless steel pan and reduce to a simmer.
- Let it simmer while you add the acid drop by drop while stirring.
- Milk will start to curdle. Keep stirring till you feel the water separating out from the milk solids
- Switch off the heat and let the milk rest covered for 5 minutes.
- Strain out the whey using muslin cloth lined strainer.
- Hang the cheese laden muslin cloth for an hour or two to drain out the last of the remaining whey. Your chhena is ready.
- Mix in sugar or jaggery (gud) with your chhena. You can also add in nuts, raisins etc if you want. The chhena should still be wam and relatively loose.
- Most people add a little semolina (sooji) for a better structure for the chhenapoda. You can use it or omit it as you wish.
- Some people also add baking powder but it is not necessary.
- Add some of the whey to make a cake-like batter.
- Line the baking tin with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 180C.
- Pour the mixture into the tin. Don’t forget to tap it a little to remove air bubbles.
- Bake the dessert it done. You can check doneness by poking it with a needle. If it comes out clean then it is done. It takes about 30-40 minutes.
- Remove the chhenapoda from the tin and let it cool to room temperature.
This is a relatively quick method of making chhenapoda. The longer method uses a less hot oven baking for a longer time and a chhena with a higher moisture content. It allows for a better caramelized crust and a more flavourful interior. However it is not economical outside of industrial baking concerns like actual bakeries and restaurants. It is better to buy this dessert than make it yourself because of the cost and time factor.
The cost and time required for this dessert is very high. Chhena itself takes long to make and the yield is also low (2 liters milk to 2 cups of chhena). The baking and cooling takes at least an hour more. In total it is a 6 hour job for a single cheesecake. The ones available in sweet shops take even longer as they are bigger in size. I can say it confidently that making chhenapoda should be left to the professionals and if you get the urge to make it yourself, do it only on special occasions when you have copious amount of free time.
Chhenapoda is a signature dish of Odisha and it has become a part of Odia lifestyle in the course of a generation, not a very long time considering. So in this coming winter festivities indulge yourself on this dessert, whether you make it yourself or buy it from outside. Just be sure to exercise, it is a lot of calories after all.