Rasmalai is an Indian sweet cheese dessert soaked in a saffron- and cardamom-infused milk. Making rasmalai can be tricky, as it involves curdling milk to the perfect degree. My mom skips this step by using store-bought ricotta, in true Sandra Lee semi-homemade fashion. Her easy version is as good as (dare I say, better than) the complicated one. It’s creamy, milky, aromatic, and to die for.
Ras means “juice,” referring to the syrupy milk flavored with saffron and cardamom. Malai means “cream,” referring to the paneer or soft cheese curd squares that resemble a cake. In my family, rasmalai makes its appearance at special occasions, like family parties or Diwali. As a child, seeing my mom take a maize-colored container of Polly-O ricotta cheese out the fridge was doubly exciting. It meant that later in the day, we would have a function to attend and more importantly, we would have rasmalai to devour.
When I tried making my own rasmalai at college, I somehow botched the simple recipe. Luckily, a mother always knows, and she was quick to identify my mistake. I wasn’t using Polly-O brand ricotta cheese. She claims that it’s the only brand of ricotta that achieves the right consistency. I’ve put her claim to the test, and through every combination of different brand names and bake times, the consistency of the cake always falls short of the rasmalai that I had as a kid. Only when following my mom’s instructions perfectly (including the brand name) does the creamy cake holds its shape in the flavorful, saffron milk. So, if you’re looking to indulge in this rich Indian dessert, I can’t stress this enough — make sure to look for the maize-colored container of Polly-O ricotta.
Preheat oven to 350℉.
Fold together ricotta cheese, 1 cup of sugar, milk powder, and ⅛ tsp. of the cardamom. Pour into a 9×13 inch glass baking dish.
Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the edges are golden. As for the top, you don’t want it to brown, but golden is okay. The cake will continue to firm as it cools down.
Allow to cool and cut into squares.
Heat half & half over low heat. Add saffron, remaining ¼ cup sugar, and remaining ⅛ tsp. cardamom, and continue to simmer over low heat.
Allow liquid to cool and pour over the cake squares.
Top with chopped pistachios or almonds. Serve cold.