That West Bengal waged a not-so-sweet battle with next door neighbour Odisha for GI of rosogolla and finally won it is well-known. What is not so well-known is that Bengal achieved another gastronomical breakthrough by improvising on the signature sweet by coming up with what is known as baked rosogolla.
Popularised in the past decade by a few sweet chains of Kolkata, this innovation is considered by many an improvement on rosogolla that has become a signature of the state and the proverbial sweet tooth of many of its residents.
Put simply, the baked rosogolla consists of the familiar rosogolla sleeping peacefully in a bed of a brownish souffle-like semi-liquid made with milk that can be loosely called thick rabri milk or khoya. The similarity with souffle stops at the consistency.
The baked rosogolla is a melt-in-the-mouth dessert. Like any other item, the degree of sweetness can be varied by adding more or less sugar.
The uniqueness of this item is the burnt flavour of the khoya and the synergy of the rosogolla with the surrounding material.
It differs from the traditional rosomalai which swims in liquid mild flavoured with kesar and saffron.
The baked rosogolla is baked in an oven that lends its distinct slightly burnt flavour and colour.
While the sweet is available off the counter at some of the famous misti chains of Kolkata, expert chef recommend that it is worth trying at home too, though the balance of the ingredients is not easy to strike and the style and duration of baking requires endless practice to reach that mouth-watering perfection.
Some say that fresh rabri, condensed milk and some ‘makha sandesh’ or paneer is whipped up and baked in an oven to achieve the soft bed in which the rosogolla rests. The baking will burn the cream and lend the item its signature look and aroma.
If you buy the rosogolla and makha sandesh – both available in any standard Bengali sweet outlet – then experts can prepare it in just about an hour at home.
In a sense, the rosogolla is the indirect outcome of the Dutch setting up a small colony in Bandel of Hooghly district beside the Hooghly river, a distributary of the Ganges.
When, in the later part of the 1860s, Nabin Chandra Das, the man credited with the invention of the modern rosogolla, was frustrated by the disintegration of the casein (chana in Bengali) as he put in syrup, he had a chance meeting with a few Dutch gentlemen in Bandel, from whom he got the idea of how to keep the chana together for the dumpling to retain its shape in the boiling sugar syrup.
The baked rosogolla, in contrast, is a true-blue Bengali creation, borrowing neither concept nor the ingredients from anywhere beyond the state.
There is only one point of lament. During his lifetime, Nabin Chandra Das (1845-1925) got the credit and adulation from the residents of Kolkata for his timeless invention. In fact, the other sweets credited to him – Baikuntha Bhog and Dedo Sandesh – have been eclipsed by the halo around the beloved rosogolla.
He lived in an age what was popularly referred to as the Bengal Renaissance and through his inventions, he did contribute to the golden period of creativity of the state, enriching it beyond the social reformers, authors, poets and artists who were the torchbearers of this age. (Incidentally, when Das was trying to put rosogolla into a sustainable shape, in another part of the world Alfred Nobel was inventing dynamite and Gregor Mendel had just proposed the foundations of genetics)
But though the baked rosogolla was conceived and delivered in this information age, there is no documentation of its inventor or invention.
May be a century later, our successors will fight another quasi-legal, or legal, battle to establish who invented it where and how.
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