Chhenapoda: A Sublime Indian Cheesecake

Chhenapoda - A most gorgeous cheesecake

And you thought cheesecakes were the domain of the western world !!! Well, allow me to introduce to you the quintessential Oriya dessert of Chhenapoda – the only well known Indian dessert derives its flavor primarily from caramelized sugar, giving. Orissa is a mineral rich, naturally diverse coastal state in eastern India, by the Bay of Bengal. It is the land of Jagannath Temple of Puri, Hirakud Dam,  Sun Temple at Konark and Chilika Lake. It is also the land I call home, a place that my memories and yearnings are made of. Chhenapoda comes from this region of India and is a dessert very different in it’s preparation from most Indian desserts.
Literally translating, Chhenapoda means ‘burnt cheese’ (Chhena-cheese, Poda-burnt). It is perhaps the only Indian dessert (to my limited wordly knowledge i.e.) which is baked in an oven. And since baking is a very new/modern concept in Indian kitchens, needless to say Chhenapoda is a relatively modern dessert (originating somewhere in early to mid 1900s). It’s made of a a few basic ingredients but yields a smoky, nutty flavored sublime dessert that is not biting sweet but infinitely rich and intense. I particularly love it’s texture, as if millions of tiny, translucent & tasty pearls have been packed together and baked to melt their edges slightly, resulting in a dessert that looks like a cake but tastes like a slightly grainy pudding. I tried my best, but I don’t think I can truly describe in words what a wonderful dessert I am talking about. The proof of this pudding is totally in it’s eating. and considering how easy it is to make, might as well get started right now.
Since Chhena is not available off the self outside India, you can either make your own or subsitute it with Ricotta cheese. Someday, I will write about making Chhena at home (2 ingredients, boiling and draining – you are done, it’s that easy). I had Ricotta cheese on hand and so used that. Here is how you weave the magic in your kitchen.

Ingredients: Serves up apprx 8-10 pcs (this is a rich dessert and so a little does the trick)
Butter: 2.5 tbsp
Ricotta Cheese: 1lb
Dark Brown Sugar: 5 packed tbsp
Semolina/Rava flour: 3.5 tbsp (You can substitute this with cream of wheat, ground couscous OR durum wheat flour in 1:1 ration)
Cashewnuts: 1/4 cup, preferably split into smaller pcs
Black raisins: 1/4 cup
Sweetened condensed milk: 4.5 oz (1/3rd of a 14oz can)

Method:
1. Pre heat over to 350 degree F. Line a loaf pan (9″x3″) with parchment paper (or coat with butter). You can also use a small cake pan (5″ or 6″) .
2. Melt butter in a pan/bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan/bowl. Mix well.
4. Pour into the prepared pan and tap well to evenly distribute and smoothen the mixture in the pan.
5. Bake for 60-70 mins or until a knife/toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
6. Chill it in the fridge for 3-4 hours before slicing and serving. You can also have it warm if you want but this dessert tastes best when served chilled.

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