Thursday, 28 April 2011

Mascarpone Ras Malai with Dulce de Leche

My family might disown me for saying this but generally I don't like Indian sweets (also known as 'mithai').  I find them too rich and sweet for my taste.  I've tried them again and again hoping I would learn to love them but to no avail.  That is why I set myself the task of creating my own variations of some of the popular kinds of mithai.

Here is my first one, Mascarpone Ras Malai using Dulce de Leche.  Traditional ras malai consists of an Indian cheese called paneer soaked in sweetened milk usually flavored with cardamom and saffron.  I love paneer in savory main courses but find its slightly chewy texture not quite as appealing in sweets.  On the other hand, I find Italian cheeses such as mascarpone and ricotta work beautifully in desserts.

That is why my first attempts to create a sweet baked cheese mixture were made from mascarpone and ricotta.  Unfortunately, the heat of the oven caused the fat and solids of the cheese to separate.  The results were greasy, lumpy balls that tasted fine but did not have a very appealing texture.

To stabilize the mixture I added egg to act as an emulsifier.  I made an additional batch including a little flour along with the egg.  The egg worked perfectly to create a homogeneous texture after baking.  However, the addition of flour created a cake-like quality to the puddings so I chose to exclude flour in the final recipe to maintain a soft cheese consistency more akin to ras malai.

I also suffered the nightmare of the classic fallen soufflé.  As I combined the cheese mixture I tried to beat in lots of air to lighten it up.  The trapped air caused the pudding to rise in the oven as expected but also resulted in it crashing down after as there was no flour to give it structure.  That is when I remembered something I read on where she explained her efforts to make the perfect canelé...air can be your enemy.

Remembering this, I combined the mixture slowly and carefully, trying not to incorporate any additional air.  The result was a pudding that rose very little and maintained a flat, even top instead of crashing into a sunken cavity.

When it came to the sweet milk I immediately thought of dulce de leche, similarly known as confiture de lait in France.  Dulce de leche is a gorgeous, sweet caramel spread one gets when you've simmered sweetened milk for hours.  However, if you don't have the patience to make it yourself you can buy it in many grocery stores.  Mixed with coconut milk, the result is a delicious sauce that goes perfectly with our baked cheese pudding.

Though the final dessert is not a tradition ras malai, I hope you still enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it!

    Some Info

  • Makes around 24 small puddings
  • Cooking time: approx. 15 to 20 minutes per batch

    The 'Goods'

  • 250g | 8.8oz mascarpone
  • 250g | 8.8oz ricotta
  • 100g | 3½oz golden caster sugar
  • 2 large free-range eggs at room temperature
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
    Coconut Malai:
  • 100g | 3½oz dulce de leche
  • 300ml | 10½fl oz coconut milk
  • seeds from 1 cardamom pod or ¼tsp cardamom powder (optional)
  • pinch of saffron (optional)
  • unsweetened dessicated coconut for sprinkling

The 'How To'

Preheat the oven to 175C | 350F.

Mix carefully.  Slowly combine the mascarpone, ricotta and sugar in a large bowl being careful not mix in any air.  Similarly, gently mix the two eggs in a small bowl and incorporate them into the cheese mixture along with the vanilla without beating in air.  Grease a 24 mini-muffin tray with a butter-flour paste and fill each cup two-thirds full of the cheese mixture.  Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out reasonably clean and the puddings have pulled slightly away from the sides.  Let them cool in the tin for a few minutes and then carefully remove each one, placing them on a fine wire rack to cool further.

Sauce it up.  While the puddings are baking, put the dulce de leche and coconut milk in a saucepan over a medium-low heat.  If you would like more of a traditional flavor, add the cardamom and saffron  to the saucepan (some recipes also add ground pistachio into the milk or the pudding mixture).  I personally did not add them.  Simmer for a few minutes until all ingredients are well blended and the flavor of any added spices are fully infused.  Remove from the heat.

Assemble.  Sieve out any added spices from the milk and, using a whisk or electric hand blender, froth up the milk until it has a lighter, more airy consistency.  Ladle a few spoonfuls of sauce into each bowl, carefully place one or two puddings on top of the sauce and sprinkle over dessicated coconut.


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