Kashi’s most iconic milk sweet is the centuries-old Lal Peda that has been praised to the hilt by travellers, food connoisseurs and historians. This traditional dairy product of Kashi is offered as prasad in the Kaal Bhairav Temple, Kashi Vishwanath Temple and Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple.
In the olden days, the abundance of milk in the Ghazipur and Varanasi districts and surrounding areas helped sweetmakers procure rich buffalo and cow milk and excellent quality khoa. In fact, locals say that it is the special danedar khoa (also known as daanedar khoa) used in the preparation of this classic sweet that really sets it apart from the pedas made across the country.
The age-old method involves boiling full fat buffalo and cow milk (80 percent and 20 percent in volume respectively) in an open vessel on wood fire. As it simmers gently, a layer of cream forms over it. The layer formed is pushed away from the centre to the sides. The milk is stirred carefully without disturbing the creamy layer on the sides.
This process is repeated till the milk reduces to one-third of its volume, becomes thick and turns beige cream in colour. Desi Chinni or Desi Khand (made from Khandsari) is added as it reaches the rabdi stage and stirred gently. The cream that has been pushed aside begins to form distinctive layers. The creamy layers on the sides are mixed into the thickened mixture and allowed to cool.
Some sweetmakers add the sugar at the beginning of the reduction stage on medium to high flame so that a consistent reddish-brown colour is formed with a burnt caramelized taste and grainy texture. The mixture is spread on the sides of the pan to cool. It is then shaped by hand into flattened circular balls or rectangular pieces.
Another method is to heat the danedar khoa and sugar in an open vessel on high flame. The mixture is stirred continuously till an even reddish-brown colour is attained. It must have a smooth texture when it is taken off the flame.
The Lal Peda makes a regular appearance in social and religious gatherings, during the festivals and auspicious occasions. It has a shelf life of about 15 to 20 days in the rainy season, 35 to 45 days in the winter and 25 to 30 days in the summer.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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