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How to Make Chhena Poda, the Caramel-Edged Paneer Cheesecake of Odisha

Yes, it's worth making fresh paneer for this cardamom-scented dessert.

10/18/2020 8:01:00 PM

It's worth making fresh paneer to make chhena poda—ManeetChauhan and jodyeddy showed us how.

Yes, it's worth making fresh paneer for this cardamom-scented dessert.

My first bite of chhena poda was a revelation. I had never tried cheesecake before and even now, after all the cheesecake I’ve enjoyed over the years, the true definition of it—and its highest benchmark for me—will always remain chhena poda.The origins of chhena poda can be traced to a pastry shop in the centrally located Odia town of Nayagarh. One serendipitous night in the early twentieth century, the shop’s owner, Sudarshana Sahoo, experimented by stirring together sugar, paneer, cardamom, and semolina, leaving the concoction in a low oven overnight. The next morning, chhena poda was born.

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Chhena poda, which translates from the Odia language to roasted cheese, is sold throughout the state by street food vendors, in confectionary shops and, more recently, in sit-down restaurants. During fall’s ten-day-long Hindu festival of Durga Puja, where homage is paid to the Hindu goddess Durga, chhena poda is a staple, its flavors as welcome as the festive revelry of the puja itself.

Fresh paneer is worth the (minimal) effortThe essential ingredient for chhena poda is paneer, which has a silky texture and a tangy, slightly salty flavor. Paneer is readily available to purchase, but for a result that would make Sudarshana Sahoo proud, only fresh paneer will do. Paneer has a tangier, more robust flavor when it’s fresh, and just-made paneer is lighter in texture—more like a dense ricotta—than store-bought versions. Cheesemaking has the reputation of being a complicated, drawn out affair, but this fresh farmhouse cheese only requires three ingredients—milk, lemon juice, and salt—and it comes together in just over an hour.

Get This RecipeA few tips before you start: Whole milk works best for this, because the high fat content enables the most successful separation of curds from whey. When you’re warming the milk and, slowly bringing it up to temperature, be sure to stir frequently with a wooden spoon to prevent the milk solids from attaching to the bottom of the pot, where they could burn.

AdvertisementOnce the milk is frothy and properly warmed, just remove the pot from the stovetop and add the freshly squeezed lemon juice. The acid is what kickstarts the separation of curds and whey. After a minute or two, cover the pot and set it aside at room temperature for ten minutes or so.

When the curds and whey are fully separated, the whey will have a tawny color. Place a double layer of cheesecloth over a colander or fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl, and slowly pour the curds and whey into it. Season the curds with salt and then gather the cheesecloth together around the curds to form a tight ball and squeeze out the additional whey.

Do not discard the whey! It makes a great meat tenderizer, or can be enjoyed as a healthful drink that has the same bright flavor as buttermilk. (Epicurious has moreideas for using whey here.)The next step involves pressing the paneer in order to extract any residual liquid, giving it time to set up a bit. Transfer the cheesecloth bundle to a plate and place another plate on top of it in order to compress the paneer as it cools. Let it rest at room temperature for a half hour and that’s it. The fresh paneer is ready to be enjoyed immediately, though you can also store it in a covered container in your refrigerator for a few days.

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