Well, if you have a sweet tooth and you do not mind seeing your waistline expand a little bit, then chomping on some chum chums must be it. What is delight ! This is a Bengali treat and something that really does set a festival apart. I have friends who will only wait for Diwali before they can treat themselves to such a dish.
Chum Chum is versatile. I was peering through an Indian shop window in London not that long ago which sold sweets. It’s quite close to Euston train station and I simply cannot remember where it is in relation but it is one of those places to try. the window is too inviting not to pass up.
Anyway, I digress. In West Bengal they seem to have a knack of developing really sweet treats. Think of Sandesh and Rasgulla. Think also of kheer as well because the method making a chum chum is sort of in the same ball park.
The Chum Chum is similar in texture to a rasgulla but it is more a cake which is shaped and stuffed with sweet treats.
Making it is simple. As with many desserts in India generally, it starts with boiling milk. The milk should be full fat and not skimmed or semi-skimmed. Bring to the boil and turn off the heat as soon as you see a few bubbles. It is a good idea to add some water (may be 10 mls or a 1/4 cup of cold water) just to cool it rapidly. I usually have to leave for up to 10 minutes but do not be surprised if it needs 15 minutes – it really does need to have cooled down.
It must then be curdled with lemon juice or sweet vinegar. I don’t think a savoury vinegar works well here because it carries over as an aftertaste. So, the milk curdles and you have what is a paneer or chena. The cooling just to repeat myself is important here because it affects the final sponginess.
Drain off the watery bit. Some chefs actually rinse the chena because it removes the lemon acidity and that is a good idea. Use a sieve or strainer to hold the chena in. Leave to drain fully but if you knead it a little in your hand, the water will drip out. A bit of gentle squeezing should be enough. Do it in a muslin cloth if you do not want that beautiful chena all over the floor.
Add some cornflower, about 1 teaspoon please – no more ! Chop or mash the chena up to a paste. I have used a blender but why spoil something when hands and knives work wonderfully well. The paste is the critical step because the consistency is all important. It will probably need 10 minutes or more of simple mashing to get it truly as smooth as possible. Keep it in the palm of your hand and form a ball from it. A good chum chum chena will not have any cracks in. That’s when this part of the process is completed.
Knead the chena on a cold surface like a marble or granite tabletop. If you have nothing as fancy as this, use a chopping board. (I don’t so I use a cold hard steel plate). Flatten it out.
Separate into small portions about a walnut in size but in an oval shape. If you make enough, add some colouring to different portions. A round ball is another dish.
Cook that chum chum in a sugar syrup. The syrup is a classic sugar one. add some rosewater for flavour. You can add other essences too just to bring a bit of variety. One the chum chum is in the syrup, cover the saucepan with a lid and cook on a medium flame or gas mark. Cook for 10 minutes and it wont need any longer, believe me. Just do not take the lid off as the cover helps with raising the temperature.
The chum chum doubles in size. Leave to cool. If not that spongy ball breaks apart if you start handling too quickly after syruping. I also think it is an exercise in patience and you need to think ahead. Please leave for at least 3 hours. It will soak up the syrup. It is similar to a rum baba in many ways.
Let it cool and then fill it with whatever sweet stuff takes your fancy. As with kheer, I like roasted nuts, dates, cashews and pistachios. The stuffing mixture is commonly called a khoya or mawa which is a mixture of chopped nuts. I have even seen roasted pine nuts used which sort of gave it an Italian twist strangely. If you have fig (anjeer) compote or some other fruit confection, why not give that a whirl. Use some crushed cardamom seeds for a more Indian flavour. It needs to taste sweet and luscious.
The chum chum needs to be spongy but that is a matter of taste. Slit the chum chum in the middle but not too much. Put the stuffing inside the slit.
Roll your chum chum in some shredded coconut. Add a few chopped pistachios – why not ! Place on the table and devour in 10 seconds. Our chum chum never seems to last that long.