Indian desserts have always been a one-of-a-kind experience. In most cultures, desserts are the final course of a meal which is usually something sweet. In India, however, sweets are not just limited to the desserts. In fact, they are a comfort food for Indians. And if the sweets belong to the eastern region of Bengal, then they are a must to try. This is because the sweets of the Bengal region are some of the most unique desserts.
A Brief History of the Sweets of Bengal
The prominent presence of sweets in Bengali cuisine can be noticed throughout the history of West Bengal. In fact, the ancient Bengal was popularly known as ‘Gauda Banga’, which is a name believed to originate from the term ‘Gur,’ the molasses grown in the region.
The practice of using ‘chhana’ or cottage cheese became popular after colonial invasions. The earlier Bengali sweets used to be mostly made of jaggery or molasses and coconuts. There were also uses of refining sugar in sweets such as ‘monda’, which is made of mostly sugar lumps, and ‘batasha’, which was used as an offering to God and later as ‘prasad’ in modern times.
The traditional delicacies such as ‘pithe’, which was made of rice flour and jaggery stuffed with coconut or sugar, were popular before ‘chhana’ conquered the taste buds. Other than that, there was ‘payesh’, which is traditionally made with milk, rice, and jaggery or sugar, ‘nadu’, ‘moya’, and ‘takti’, the last of which is popular in ancient Bengal. There are also several sweets made from ‘khoya and kheer’, which means milk solids and condensed milk, respectively.
Different Types of Sweets in Bengal
There are a variety of Bengali sweets, all of which have a unique taste. Some of these are made of milk, while others are dipped in sugar syrup. Even though the ingredients used in making these are usually quite similar and limited, most of these sweets’ tastes stand out on their own.
Dipped in Sugar Syrup
Most of the iconic sweets of Bengal are dipped in a sticky syrup of sugar locally known as ‘chashni’. Most popular sweets such as Roshogolla are one of these types of sweets.
One of the most famous Bengali sweets of all time is Roshogolla. It is a soft, round sweet made of chhana and dipped into sugar syrup. Traditionally, it has a very particular taste, but currently there are more flavours of this traditional sweet. One of the best flavours ever introduced is Nolen Gurer Roshogolla, which is dipped in syrup made of jaggery.
Rajbhog is a close cousin of the popular Roshogolla. It is made in a similar way — of chhana. However, it has a stuffing in its centre made of dry fruits, saffron, cardamom etc.
Malpua can be called a traditional Bengali miniature pancake. It is a syrup-drenched sweet made of flour, sugar and additional ingredients, including coconut, amongst others. They are fried before being soaked in sugar syrup.
Pantua is a delicious combination of milk, semolina, ghee, khoya and sugar, dipped in syrup. This is a Bengali version of the famous Gulab Jamun.
Famous Indian delight Jalebi is called Jilipi in Bengal. Made by deep-frying, the batter is arranged in circular patterns, then soaked into sugar syrup and served hot. It tastes good cold, too, but warm Jilipis are just little pieces of heaven on Earth.
This sweet is like a third cousin of the authentic Jalebi. Chhenar Jilipi is a sweet made of chhenna, khoya and flour. Its spirals resemble so much of the Jilipi, but it boasts a new and delicious taste.
Amriti is Bengal’s answer to Indian Jalebi. This authentic Bengali sweet looks similar to Jalebi. It is worked into spirals with decorative curlicues around the edges. This is made from a batter of ground dal, sugar and cardamom which is then fried in ghee and soaked in syrup later.
Langcha is a fairly popular sweet found in the eastern part of India. Made of flour and khoya, this sweet is fried and then dipped in syrup.
Made of flour, coconut, cream, sugar and saffron, Chomchom is a real delight to experience. This sweet is generally oval in shape and often has a brownish hue to it. It comes in many varieties and favours. Some come in vibrant colours, while others come with a garnishing of mawa or coconut flakes.
In order to describe Mihidana appropriately, it can be said that it is a smaller cousin of the famous Indian Boondi. Mihidana is made with powdered rice, flour and saffron. They are blended in water, and then the mixture is poured through a sieve-like ladle and deep-fried. After frying properly, they are soaked in sugar syrup and drained to remove the excess syrup.
Sar Bhaja or Shor Bhaja is a sweet made out of deep-fried milk cream. The recipe can be a little complicated, but the results are just so worth it.
This is a sibling of the classic Sar Bhaja, which is made by layers of cream milk which are baked or fried, and then soaked in sugar syrup.
Kalo Jam is a very distant cousin of the famous Indian Gulab Jamun. It is made of ingredients such as flour, milk, cardamom etc. After being shaped into little spheres, these fried dumplings are deep fried and then soaked up in sugar syrup.
This is a delicious combination of chhena, flour and cardamom, deep fried in an oblong shape. The fried balls are soaked in sugar syrup and after that put in condensed milk and chilled.
Labongo Latika is a traditional and complicated sweet. It is a special recipe made by grandmothers on special occasions. The pocket of Labongo Latika is made of all-purpose flour, and inside it is filled with sweetened khoya. The outside of the sweet is covered in a crusty pastry sealed with a piece of clove. This is then fried and left to cool in a bowl of sugar syrup.
Ledikeni or Lady Kenny is named after Lady Canning, the wife of Charles Canning who was the Governor-General of India during the 19th century. This sweet is basically a light brown sweet ball made of chhena which has been fried and soaked in sugar syrup.
Mohan Bhog is basically balls of cottage cheese filled with sugar syrup coated with semolina. It offers a unique combination of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Goja is small pieces of maida, deep-fried and dipped in sugar syrup. It may look like a salty treat, but it tastes sweet.
Made of Milk
Bengal has a variety of sweets made of milk to offer. These creamy, milk-based sweets are exclusives of Bengal.
One of the most popular desserts in Bengal is the creamy and delicious Mishti Doi. This dessert is made from a blend of thick milk and jaggery. There are many different variants and flavours of this dessert. One of them is Bhapa Doi, which is usually garnished with nuts.
This sweet has a connection to Orissa. However, Bengal’s exclusive Rasmalai are made of small sugary balls of chhena soaked in malai and garnished with a dash of cardamom. It is cooked in a concoction of sugar syrup, milk, saffron, pistachios and kheer. Then the balls are immersed and cooked in simmering milk cream. In the end, it looks like tiny rasgullas soaked in a creamy, milky base.
Payesh is a Bengali dessert that is made at home. This tasty Bengali dessert with a thick creamy consistency is made of milk, rice, sugar, ghee along with spices such as cardamom and bay leaf and also dry fruits and nuts. There are also different variants of this dish made with slightly different ingredients but the base is always the same.
Rabri is made by slowly cooking and thickening milk. Condensed milk is also used in this sweet and delicious dessert. Even though Rabri is found in other states of India as well, Bengali Rabri is still a delight to experience. The dessert is generally garnished with dry fruits and nuts and sugar and spices are added to season the dish.
Apart from all the sticky and gooey sweets of Bengal, there are also ones which are dry and tasty ones. These can be stuffed with sugar syrup, or jaggery or other ingredients, but mostly they are dry.
Shondesh is one of the most popular dry desserts of all times. Made with condensed milk, sugar and/or jaggery, this sweet comes with many variations, moulded into different shapes and designs. These variations include Nolen Gurer Shondesh, a seasonal delight; Jol Bhara Shondesh, which is a classic; or Chocolate Shondesh, a much more modern and trendy variant.
Moa is another classic sweet of Bengal. This delicious dry concoction is made out of jaggery, puffed rice and ghee and is packed together into a delicious round ball. The most famous Moa of all time is Joynagar-er Moa, a seasonal treat dotted with dry fruits and nuts.
If eating a tiny Rasagolla wrapped in a Sondesh sounds tasty, imagine how good it will taste. Ras Kadam is an exotic and authentic Bengali sweet. It is made of a small Roshogolla cocooned in khoya and powdered sugar.
Kheer Kadam is like a sibling of Ras Kadam. The only difference is that instead of Rosogolla, Kheer Kadam contains a small sphere of chhena inside, while being coated with khoya-kheer and powdered sugar outside.
Darbesh is the Bengali version of Laddoo. Even though it is very similar to Laddoo, Darbesh is still utterly unique compared to the taste. These are basically Laddoos made of boondi.
Kacha Golla is arguably one of the healthiest desserts. It is often preferred during religious ceremonies and festivals. It is a very soft and dry sweet that melts in the mouth. It is made of pure milk and can be cooked with numerous variations.
Chandrapuli is a popular Bengali sweet and is mostly enjoyed during festive occasions such as Durga Puja. Shaped like a pale crescent moon, this dessert is made from cottage cheese, mawa, coconut and jaggery.
Naru is a dry sweet made into small spheres. It can be made of a variety of ingredients including grated coconut, cardamom, jaggery, til and so on. These are generally slightly sticky, dry sweet orbs of deliciousness that one can munch on anytime, anywhere.
This is a very tasty and a very interesting dessert. Sitabhog generally looks like pulao but tastes sweet. Even though many variants of this are available, the traditional Sitabhog is made of white rice and tiny gulab jamuns.
Next, Khirer Chop is a popular sweet snack in Bengal. It is a crispy light sweet made of flour, sooji, nutmeg, milk, sugar, and bread that tastes heavenly.
As much as the sweets available all year in Bengal are a delight to taste, there are also rare and authentic desserts which are available during certain seasons and occasions. Most of the best seasonal sweets are available during the winter, when special qualities of jaggery become available. This is also around the time when the harvest festival of Poush Parbon is celebrated in Bengal. Bengal celebrates Poush Parbon with a variety of authentic and delicious sweets, which are a whole meal of only sweets. These dishes are collectively known as ‘Pithe’. However, there are varieties of Pithe available during this time.
This is a traditional Bengali crepe that envelopes a mixture of coconut, cardamom, jaggery, khoya and dry fruits. This is generally the festival favourite during the festivities of Poush Parbon.
Doodh Puli or the Puli Pithe is one of the most famous kinds of Pithe of all time. It has an outer shell made of rice flour and an inner filling made of coconut and sugar. After these half-moon shaped pulis are prepared, they are boiled in thickened milk/doodh, sweetened with jaggery.
Chitoi Pithe is famous in Bengal, as well as in Bangladesh. Made with the help of flour and baking soda, this Pithe is a bit complicated to make. In fact, if done wrong, it can crumble into pieces. It is often served with sweet syrups such as jaggery.
Khir Puli Pitha
Kheer Puli Pitha is very delicious & easy to make, generally using ingredients such as rice flour, coconut, khoya kheer, sugar and milk.
Asrish Kakara Pitha
Originally from Orissa, Kakara pitha is a sweet deep-fried cake made of suji, shredded coconut, cardamom, sugar etc.
Gokul pithe is a fried and syrup soaked dessert traditionally made with flour and coconut widely available in sweet shops of Bengal during the season.
Other Winter Delights:
Nolen Gurer Payesh
This is a variant of the classic Payesh with an added twist to it. Blended with milk, rice, and ‘Nolen gur’, a special jagger, this dessert requires a lot of continuous stirring. But the delicious result makes all the effort worth it.
Kolar bora is a famous Sankranti dish. It is made of fried ripe banana fritters filled with rice, and tastes soft inside and crunchy on the outside.
In current times, there are a lot of varieties available of the classic sweets, including different flavours, like chocolate, mango etc. and different colours and shapes. There is sugar-free Sondesh. There is Mishti Doi without Gur. There is Blueberry Rosogolla available in shops. There is Mango Doi available as well. While these taste insanely good, the classic sweets of Bengal are just always going to be the best version of them.