Gulab Jamun is one of the most popular Indian sweet world wide. However, to us Bengalis, it is it’s distant cousin, Pantua, which is favoured. It looks like a gulab jamun but is made with different ingredients. Hence, it has a distinct taste as well. I did not quite understand the differences until a few years back. There is of course, many variations of this recipe.
So how is a Pantua different than a Gulab Jamun?
The basic ingredients that go into a gulab jamun are khowa or mawa along with maida (all purpose flour). Whereas, pantua is a chhana (chhena) based sweet. Chhana or homemade paneer is quite an essential ingredient in a Bengali household. Most of our Bengali sweets are chhana based. Mixed with a little bit of semolina and flour, the dough is deep fried and then dunked in a sugar syrup. There are several chhana based deep fried Bengali sweets ( in different shapes) with minute differentiation. Chhanar jilipi shapes like a jalebi. There is ledikeni- a pretty famous sweet named after and created for Lady Canning. There is kalo jam, chitrakoot and many more.
It’s not a Bengali sweet but an apple jalebi is a definite party pleaser during Diwali.
The recipe books are a good reference point but…..
I have never referred to Bengali cook books before this. I am not very fluent in bengali reading and most of my cook books are of baking or of International chefs. Lately I decided to get a couple of recipe books in Bengali. Anindya already had Chitrita Baerjee’s book and I also found two of my mother in law’s Bengali cookbooks. I found the recipe of pantua in Purnima Thakur’s Thakurbarir Ranna and in another ‘ Adhunik rannar boi by Shakuntala Bhattacharya.
Both the books spoke about using chhana without any water and ‘shabeda’. I was totally confused by this. Why would I use shabeda, which is a chiku, in a sweet? I called my friend Debjani and she told me that most sweet shops use shabedar aata, ie, chiku flour. There was no way I was getting it anywhere close to my house. Purnima Thakur’s book also speaks about adding sweet potato. I made the first batch with sweet potato and chhana but it hardened in the refrigerator.
Kesar sandesh is also made with chhana but it is not deep fried.
The final recipe
Finally after some trial and error, I managed to make a perfect batch of pantua. So, I did not use shabeda but instead I used semolina. During our food festival at Mustard, I saw Debjani using semolina while making komola bhog. She had learnt this trick from her father. After a conversation with her, I decided to go ahead and make pantua with semolina. I did use a little bit of flour for binding. There was khowa used as well but only as a filling along with a cardamom seed.
How to make a Pantua and a few things that I learnt
The first thing to do is to make chhana by boiling milk, adding lemon juice and letting it curdle. When it has completely curdled, strain it and leave the chhana inside the strainer with a weight on top to drain out all the water. Then prepare a basic sugar syrup with sugar and water. You can flavour it with cardamom as well. However, it is better to not use saffron (it is not a gulab jamun). When the water has completely drained off, take the chhana in a mixing bowl and knead it well. Then add semolina, flour and a little bit of ghee and further knead it to a smooth dough. Make small balls of the dough and stuff them with a cardamom seed and a tiny little bit of khowa. While rounding them, it is very important to smooth out the balls completely. There shouldn’t be any cracks.
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In a kadai, heat ghee for deep frying. You can do it in oil as well or a combination of ghee and oil. This here is an important point. The pantua balls should be added to warm ghee instead of hot. Keep the temperature at medium and let the pantua slowly take colour. This prevents from the outside from getting burnt without cooking from the inside. It takes a bit a of time to fry the pantua balls. When done, drain them and dunk them in the syrup. Again the syrup shouldn’t be hot. It should be of room temperature or warm. Let the pantuas remain in the syrup for an hour. Over an hour, the syrup gets soaked and then you can serve them.
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For making Chhana
- 1.5 ltrs full cream milk
- 2- 3 nos lemons
For making sugar syrup
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 cups water
For making the dough
- 1/3 cup semolina plus 1 tbsp if required
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour plus 1 tbsp if required
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1/4 cup khowa
- handful of cardamom pods
- ghee for deep frying see notes
- In a deep vessel, boil the milk. When the milk has boiled, add the lemon juice and turn off the heat. You might need extra lemon juice if the milk doesn't curdle.
- Once the milk has separated, stran it in a muslin cloth and separate the whey. Squeeze out as much water as possible.
- Place the muslin cloth with the chhana over a a large strainer and put a weight on top to release any excess water. Keep this for 15 to 20 minutes.
- This would make about 300 gms of chhana or 3 cups approximately.
- In a kadai or another heavy bottomed pan, take the sugar and water to make the sugar syrup.
- Let the water boil and melt the sugar. Give it a stir and let it continue to boil till the water becomes a syrupy consistency- what we call a one string consistency. Turn off the gas and keep aside.
- In a mixing bowl, take the chhana and mash it with your fingers. Add semolina, flour, ghee and mix it thoroughly.
- Knead very well for about 5 - 6 minutes till the dough becomes very smooth. If the dough is extremely sticky, then add a tbsp more of semoline and 1/2 tbsp of maida to it.
- Knead till the dough is smooth , not extremely sticky, firm but soft.
- Remove the cardamom seeds from the pods and keep them ready. Grate the khowa and mash them. Make small tiny balls of the khowa.
- Now make small balls, about an inch in diameter of the pantua dough. Flatten it in the palm of your hand. Insert a small khowa ball and one cardamom seed and seal the dough.
- Make it a nice round shape without any cracks and place on a plate.
- Complete the entire dough and then get ready to fry them.
- In a kadai, take ghee for deep frying. When the ghee has become just warm, add the pantua balls in batches.
- Keep the heat at medium and let the pantua fry very slowly. Turn them around when one side has cooked. All sides need to cook evenly.
- Once the pantua balls have become a nice brown colour, take them out of the ghee and dunk into the prepared sugar syrup.
- Let them soak in the syrup for at least an hour.
- After an hour, they are ready to be served. However, if you keep them longer, they absord more syrup and become even more soft.