Of uncertain origins

I had a dilemma on my hands recently: a half gallon of 2% lactose-free organic milk lay languishing in my refrigerator. It's more expensive than regular milk and I did not want to see it go waste. I tried lacing my tea with it, only to have mugfuls of tea remain unfinished and untouched. Given how I felt about it, there was no question of getting help from the other two members of my family.

Yogurt seemed like the only solution but I wasn't sure that I could make yogurt from lactose-free milk. I reasoned that since the lactose in this milk has already been broken down into its constituent glucose and galactose—something that the lactobacilli does, in the yogurt-making process—it seemed like it would be a worth a try, at the very least. Then I found this post, Homemade Yogurt with Lactose-free Milk, which confirmed my train of thought.

But, what if the yogurt was as powdery as the milk? I needed something to mask that distasteful quality about lactose-free milk. Then I remembered how delighted I was last December when Anita had yanked me into a teeny little shop in Chandni Chowk that sold Bengali mithai. There was barely enough room for all of us to stand. Little earthenware kulhads were handed to us, filled with creamy thick sweetened yogurt. Yes! I had finally tasted mishti doi.

is that look telling or what?

Medha, I recalled, had not been much enamored by mishti doi. Well, everything doesn't have to be about her or for her. Was this a bad-mother moment?!

Naturally the first thing I did was hit up the authority on Bengali food, Bong Mom's Cookbook, for recipes and instead found a recipe for bhapa doi or steamed sweetened yogurt and a seed was sowed. Not one to give up, I finally found a recipe for mishti doi and the seed became a sapling that showed great promise when I saw that the recipe called for caramelized sugar.

Medha is a fan of burnt sugar. She's crazy about flan and is a sucker for crème brûlée. It was time to atone for that bad-mother moment!

these white babies were begging to be filled up

Faux Mishti Doi

mishti doi, in the evening glow

  • 3 cups milk, (2% fat or more)
  • 1 tbsp sugar, to add to milk (or more, to taste)
  • 2 tbsp sugar, to caramelize
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 tbsp yogurt, with live cultures

not as thick or creamy

  1. Bring milk to a boil over medium to low flame, stirring occasionally. Skim off any skin that may form on the surface. Lower the heat and allow milk to simmer.
  2. Lightly bruise the cardamom pods and add to the milk, along with the sugar. 
  3. Simmer until the quantity is reduced to about half the original quantity, stirring frequently to prevent the milk from boiling over. Taste the milk and if you want it sweeter, add more sugar at this point.
  4. Take it off the stove and cool until it is warm, approximately 110F or thereabouts.
  5. Lay out little bowls or shot glasses to line with caramelized sugar.
  6. Combine 2 tbsp sugar with 1/2 tbsp water in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until the sugar begins to melt. 
  7. Do not stir with a spoon and instead swirl the pan over the heat until the syrup darkens to a medium amber color, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and quickly pour a small amount into each little bowl, swirling it so that the bottom is evenly coated, as well as a little bit up the sides.
  8. Once the sweetened, thickened milk has cooled, strain it and only then, blend in the yogurt.
  9. Pour into the little bowls, cover and set them aside in a warm place to set. If you live in cooler climes, pre-heat your oven to about 150F, turn it off and only then place in the oven. Turn on your oven light to help maintain warmth.
  10. The yogurt should set within 6-8 hours or overnight.
  11. Once set, refrigerate and serve chilled with some crushed nuts, if you like.

it was a huge hit

  1. As you can see, the texture of my faux mishti doi was not as thick or creamy as the real thing. But that did not make a difference to its intended audience. Medha absolutely loved it. For a creamier mishti doi, use full-fat milk. 
  2. You can mix the caramelized sugar into the milk instead of attempting a flan-like mishti doi, as suggested in the original recipe. The advantage of not mixing it in is that the mishti doi is not cloyingly sweet. The original recipe had a total of 8 tablespoons of sugar to a liter of milk (approximately one quart or 4 cups) whereas I used only 3 tablespoons in 3 cups of milk. You may want to use more sugar. Lactose-free milk tastes a lot sweeter than regular milk so I used less sugar to begin with and it was just right for us.
  3. I normally use a lot less yogurt culture if the culture had been home-grown and, therefore, more potent. Since I used store-bought yogurt, I used a lot more. Adjust this amount based on your yogurt culture.

mishti doi and unmolded bhapa doi

I did not stop there. I had to find out whether this faux flan-like mishti doi could be made into bhapa doi.

Faux Bhapa Doi

flan-like bhapa doi

  • mishti doi, as described above
  • a water bath or tray filled with warm water
  1. Heat oven to 350F
  2. Place bowls of mishti doi in the water bath such that the water is at the very most up to 2/3rds the height of the bowls.
  3. Bake for 40 minutes or until the edges start turning brown. 
  4. Remove from oven and allow to cool. It will be a little jiggly when hot.
  5. Chill in the refrigerator to at least 2-3 hours. 
  6. Just before serving, run a knife along the edge and turn over on a plate to unmold. They do not unmold as cleanly or as easily as flan.

creamier and thicker

The first bite is a little bit of a shock. It looks like flan but tastes completely different. It's tangy and its texture is not as smooth as flan. But it is delicious. Is this bhapa doi? I don't know. I have never eaten bhapa doi but whatever this is, it's fabulous! Unfortunately, Medha was not a fan and preferred the uncooked mishti doi whereas both D and I felt this was the real winner.

definitely a keeper

It was a good thing I made this in small bowls as the serving size was just right for us! One thing is for sure, I am making this again and again, with one difference: I will use regular milk!


Nandini Vishwanath said...

oh wow! The pictures are breath taking. And I'm quite taken aback by the coincidence. We made creme caramel with regular milk and cream after a particular episode of Masterchef Australia. Medha'd have loved it!

That said, I'm a fan now. I'm not usually a caramel person, but after this dessert, surely.

Also wanted to tell you that all your recipes are so accessible :) Thanks for that.

AA_Mom said...

I have been looking for a recipe of Mishti doi and Bhapa doi for a while now. I am going to give this a try

Bong Mom said...

Woo hoo, your mishti doi looks terrific. I have never tried that one, now that you say will try.

The Bhapa Doi looks great too. Usually it is more sweet than tangy but that is because Bengalis like loads of sweetness in their yogurt.
Unmolding is not easy, in fact I have never been able to do that. Also try baking for a little less and you will see the texture is a bit different. Settle at the one you like.

Anita said...

I remember making bhapa doi a long time ago but now cannot recall the taste. Time to make it again! For the thickness of that original Annapurna you have to use full fat milk and then reduce it - better to just go there and eat some than make a big pot at home!
The pictures are great - love the plates and the spoons!
I had completely forgotten that you did eat something in Old Delhi even if it was not exactly the street-kind...

TKW said...

How did you know that I have a gallon of milk in my refrigerator that needs using up?

Indian Food Rocks said...

Nandu, thank you! And, I'm glad you liked the pictures. They will be rejected by all the food photo sites though! :-D

AA_Mom, be sure to adjust the sweetness to your tastes. We eat very little sugar and prefer our desserts that way, too. Also, adjust the amount of yogurt culture as it is way more potent in India than here.

BM, my guru! Medha liked this mishti doi because I kept the caramelized sugar separate. I'm sure it can be even better when made with full-fat milk and better yogurt culture than what I had at hand.

I think my bhapa doi was tangy because I used very little sugar so the yogurt flavor came through more than the sweetness of the milk and sugar. I erred on the side of baking a little longer because my yogurt was so soft. I will try again though! Thanks for all the great tips here and on your blog!

Anita, you have a memory like a sieve. We ate some steamed yams, too! And who's making a big pot? Not me! I made just 3 cups worth, which I cooked down to half that quantity! It was the right amount - small helpings!

TKW, ha! Don't forget to adjust the sweetness to suit your tastes!

Miri said...

The bhapa doi looks delicious ! But then I'm a sucker for anything caramel!! So you did eat something jn old Delhi! Living
next to CR Park which is the Bengali stronghold in Delhi, means we got introduced to mishti doi as soon as we moved to Delhi. Hubby was ecstatic about the new taste and bought bowlfuls of it thinking he was having healthy yoghurt. I waited a month before I broke it to him gently that this was as loaded a dessert as any other Bengali sweet! ;-)

Soma said...

I am drooling. I had my fill at home this time, but does not feel like it now :) I am not too fond of Bhapa Doi, but mishti doi in a clay cup is something i can relish even at midnight. This is the right way to do it except you made it pretty like cream brulee with a layer. Some do it with condensed milk, but I don't like that either. Blown over by the photographs Manisha!

Anjali Koli said...

No super likey button here? Beautiful pics! Next you must try all bengali sweets with Nolen gur now. You will never want to go back to caramelized sugar. This Nolen gur impart a beautiful beige color and the flavors are subtle yet awesome.

Indian Food Rocks said...

Miri, your poor hubby! At least you let him enjoy it for a month! And, I'll have you know that I ate more than this. We had some ras malai in a mithai store, too.

Soma, crème brûlée! Now maybe next time I could sprinkle sugar on the top and torch the darned thing! What a great idea! I've seen the recipes with condensed milk. My only problem with those is that they are too sweet.

Anjali, thank you! Where can I find this Nolen gur in Bombay? I have booked a teeny amount of space in a suitcase traveling my way early December and Nolen gur would fit nicely in some of that space.

notyet100 said...

Mmm I am craving for some now,..:)

Bong Mom said...


Next time I get Nolen Gur from Kolkata, I will save you some. My stash is gone for this year. You get it only in the winter months and as Anjali said it has a beautiful flavor. It is actually Palm Jaggery. Some friends get it from Bangladeshi stores here but they are not as flavorful as the real one.

BTW in one of my posts I reader left a comment suggesting the use of a certain molasses in lieu of sugar for my nariyel laddu
"Grandma Something (forget the name,Moses?) unsulphured molasses that comes in the bottle with a yellow label"
Said it will taste better than the regular jaggery in the Indian stores. I have not used molasses before, have you tried something like it ?

Bong Mom said...

Oh, did not see your reply to Anjali. You have a better chance of getting Nolen Gur/Khejur Gur from Mumbai in December than waiting for me!!!
Anjali should know the places, else if you want I can ask around.

Anjali Koli said...

Hi Manisha, I have never looked for Nolen Gur in Mumbai but found this article http://www.indiaprwire.com/pressrelease/food/2008122917422.htm

It mentions that Sweet Bengal hosted a Nolen gur festival in 2008 and it does sell nolen gur sweets I am told even now every winter, ask someone to check if they sell Nolen gur too by luck or chance you might just get it. The article lists all its outlets.

I struck gold here at my neighborhood mall nr. my workplace in Blr. Sharing here my link so you will know what it looks like. I am told it is almost always this shape and weight 1.25 kgs.


themustardseed said...

Oh my! I am drooling over these pictures! Found you through food gawker and am so glad I did. Now this is one thing I am going to try to make around Christmas!