What Is Mishti Dessert?

No meal in South Asia is complete without mishti.

In South Asia, the end of a meal is almost always marked by the sudden arrival of over-satiety, making you almost regret that last serving of biryani. But even for those near incapacitation from biryani overload, no meal in South Asia is complete without mishti (alternatively, mithai in Hindi).

What Is Mishti Dessert?

It’s a rather broad category of confections that originated in Bengal, a region of South Asia that encompasses the city of Kolkata and the country of Bangladesh. For centuries, Bengali culture and hospitality have been inextricably linked to the presence of these sweet treats. But their prominence spread across the region, making mishti a mainstay of South Asia’s culinary heritage. Both India and Bangladesh are now filled with legacy sweetshops that have been churning out hundreds of varieties of mishti for decades.

Traditionally, mishti was eaten to celebrate special occasions such as religious holidays or weddings. But today they can be the end to a lavish dinner, a midday sugar boost or even an indulgent breakfast. From weddings to a baby’s first mumble that loosely sounds like “mama,” there is no occasion too large or too small for mishti.

What Is Mishi Made Of?

There’s an endless variety of mishti, each hailing from different parts of the region, unique in their flavors, textures and ingredients. But regardless of variations, one element remains constant—they are all delicious and sweet. The word “mishti” is Bengali and directly translates as “sweet.”

The most popular variety are those made by combining chenna, a coagulated milk by-product, with sweeteners such as jaggery or sugar. Flavorings are then introduced to this base mixture to create iconic household staples such as Sandesh, Roshogollah, Rasmalai, chom chom and more.

Another category of mishti is made by combining besan, or chickpea flour, with sugar and ghee. The most popular mishti in this category is the laddoo. Across India and Bangladesh, laddoo is an integral part of celebrations. Every region has its own take on this age-old classic, but the most well-known variation, the Motichoor laddoo, hails from northern India and is said to have originated over 2,000 years ago. To make this type of laddoo, beads of besan batter are dropped into hot ghee using a special ladle and fried until golden brown. The beads are then soaked in a rich syrup scented with a whisper of cardamom and bound together to form golf-ball-sized Motichoor laddoos.

Burfi is another type of mishti widely popular across South Asia. Much like all other mishti, there are hundreds of varieties of burfi; however, the base ingredients remain the same. Most burfi are made with a base of condensed milk solids, sugar and ghee, and common addons include pistachios, cashews and peanuts. Burfi is characterized by a particular quintessential trait: its fudgy texture. During religious celebrations such as Diwali or Eid, burfi are jeweled with a thin sliver of edible gold or silver called vark.

Making Mishti at Home

In South Asia, the mishti industry is an essential part of the culture. There are thousands of mishti shops with expert artisans who have perfected the intricate art of making mishti over decades. In the United States, many South Asian grocery stores will carry a limited selection of common mishti such as Rasmalai or Sandesh. In select cities with a large South Asian population, like Huston and New York, certain heritage mishti shops have opened up franchises to meet the demands in those areas. But seeing as visiting a mishti shop isn’t quite feasible at the moment, here are a few simple recipe ideas for you to try making mishti at home:

Chenna-Based Mishti

To make chenna, simply bring milk to a rolling boil. Then switch off the heat, add lemon juice and stir until the milk curdles. Once the curding has completed, strain completely. Lightly knead the chenna for five minutes, then use it to make any of the following mishti:

  • Sandesh: Combine chenna with sugar and cardamom powder to make this simple Bengali classic. You can shape your sandesh into squares or rounds, just be sure to make them no larger than 1″ in thickness. For another fun variation, you can add some molasses or jaggery to your sandesh.
  • Roshogolla: This delicious mishti is characterized by its iconic pool of fragrant syrup and its spongy texture. To make Roshogollah, shape 1″ rounds of chenna and cook them in flavored light syrup for 10 minutes. It is very important to make sure your syrup isn’t thick, or the Roshogolla will not soak in the syrup which gives it its quintessential spongy texture. Here you can get creative with your syrup flavorings. Traditionally cardamom and rose water are used to flavor the syrup, but feel free to experiment with other spices like cloves, ginger and even citrus peel.
  • Rasmalai: Instead of syrup, Rasmalai are submerged in a rich, lightly reduced milk flavored with cardamom and saffron, and topped with almonds and pistachios.

Besan-Based Mishti

If you’re wondering where to find besan, check the closest South Asian grocery store. The key to this type of mishti is to toast the besan properly in a dry pan. It will turn from yellow to a deep orange color, and the nutty aroma will be hard to miss. Here are a few ideas on how to use your toasted besan to make mishti:

  • Besan Laddoo: Simply combine your toasted besan with a generous amount of ghee and powdered sugar. For an additional layer of complexity, add cardamom powder to the mix. Form one-inch rounds with the palms of your hands, and top with nuts of your choice.
  • Besan Burfi: To make besan burfi, combine toasted besan with ghee and sugar syrup. The syrup is key to giving this burfi its quintessential fudgy texture. It must be reduced enough so that a thin thread forms when it’s dropped from a wooden spoon. You can add cardamom powder and even some nuts to the besan and syrup mix for extra texture. Finally, spread the mixture evenly onto parchment-lined baking sheets.

Learn more about cardamom and other essential—but unexpected—spices and seasonings.

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