Holiday season is upon us, and that means indulgence is beckoning. Time to succumb. One word for it – Dessert! Creamy, and loaded with tiny bites of dates, cranberries and almonds, this fudge is my ticket to the train.
This is one of those desserts which come together easily and offers the possibility to be made differently each time. The appeal is universal and it does not belong to any particular cuisine. The very idea that the creamy ricotta may be served chilled as a smooth and elegant dessert with some orange extract/or zest and may be layers of chocolate had started me with this dessert. The Italians fill their cannoli, a lot others build their cheesecake around it and some make fudge like I did.
However when I was discussing this recipe with a group of my foodie friends, the author of Bongmom’s Cookbook being among them, mentioned that this bears close similarity to the recipe of Kalakand (the short cut way) that she cooks in the microwave.
I am not much of a dessert person; meaning a very little portion usually satisfies me. Even then every single year by the second week of January I am afraid to stand on a scale. Then begins another journey… But life is short and some indulgences are worth it.
Kalakand is Indian Milk Fudge/Sweet. It is usually done adding a tiny bit of acid to the boiling milk and then allowing it to partially coagulate/split. That partially milk is then slowly reduced until it thickens and starts to get granular. The cooked mass is then spread in a plate to slice it up. The quick Kalakand recipes use either evaporated or condensed milk along with ricotta cheese to get closest taste of the rich, original version. I did not have the Kalakand in mind when I made this. Along the way with some trial, error and also some creative experiments, this dessert came into existence.
But I am glad that it also qualifies in some ways as the Kalakand; definitely not the authentic, but close.
I had started off making this with only orange zest and then adding shaved chocolate when the mix cooled down. That kind is pretty neat in its own way too. The chocolate does not melt as in this, but you can feel the bits when into bite into a slice.
Being an ardent fan of almond flour (I love the texture and subtle flavor) and also orange and chocolate, I have used all three along with the ricotta cheese.
This time with the holiday spirit in mind I used the dried fruits and the pistachios. The dried fruits in the fudge does a lot more than just enhance the way it looks. The natural sweetness and the combined flavors in them are beautiful and mind it, the amount of sugar used reduces considerably too!
I felt that the cranberries imparted a bit of tart which some might like or some might not. If you do not want tart berries, use any other dried fruits like raisins, figs etc. Any kind will work.
I should admit here that I am not at all fond of Kalakand. I stay away from most desserts with involves reducing milk and getting it thick and grainy. I just do not like the way they feel on my tongue. The same reason I stay away from Rabdi – a popular thickened milk dessert or even Khoya/Mawa (solidified milk) which is used in a lot of Indian cooking.
Cream – smooth, luscious silky texture is what I chase. But I could have a few slices of this fudge. All the processing and kneading helped, and that I had not used condensed/or evaporated milk kept the texture smoother than that of Kalakand. The fudge did do quite well with the other members of the family though.
Overall it is a dessert befitting the holiday season and as well as for any time of the year.
Ricotta Fudge with Dried Fruits, Nuts and Chocolate
Ingredients: (makes about 24, 1 inch square pieces)
- 30 oz ricotta cheese (2 tubs, 15 oz each)
- 1/2 cup almond flour or ground almond
- zest of 1 orange
- 1/2 cup sugar or as much or as little needed
- 1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries
- 30-35 dates
- 1/2 cup unsweetened dark chocolate (shaved or chips)
- 1/2 cup almonds
- oranges extract, few drops
- a teaspoon of ghee/or melted butter
- pistachio, almond flakes and more dried cranberries for garnish
Note: You may use any kind and combination of dried fruits here. Figs and raisins work well too.
Place ricotta over a cheese cloth or a fine porous cloth over a sieve. Allow it to sit for about 30 minutes and then press out as much moisture (pressing down with layers of absorbent kitchen towel or paper towels) as possible.
Pulse together dates, cranberries, orange zest, almonds, sugar and chocolate. They should still be coarse.
In a blender/food processor, process ricotta until smooth.
Remove the ricotta from the processor and knead for 5 minutes. Combine almond flour and ricotta cheese.
Place the ricotta in a heavy bottomed or non stick pan over low heat and cook while stirring frequently until it begins to look dry and forms a solid mass, about 20-30 minutes. It will be a bit sticky, but will start to pull off from the sides of the pan; the consistency will be almost like a bread dough, but still a little wet.
Alternately, you can cook the ricotta cheese in the microwave. Place cheese and almond flour in a microwave safe bowl and cook on high for 5 minutes. Take it out, stir well and cook again; repeat until the cheese starts bubbling and then stir more frequently and cook at smaller intervals until the moisture is reduced so that the cheese starts looking like a sticky dough. Cool and proceed as below.
Switch off the heat and the orange extract and the pulsed sugar and dry fruits. Slowly stir them in. Since the ricotta is still hot, most of the chocolate will melt and mix in.
Remove from the heat and slightly cool. Smear a tray/plate with ghee/butter. Scoop the ricotta mix and place on the tray/plate and flatten it uniformly on the top. Garnish with the nuts and more cranberries.
Allow to cool completely (at least an hour and a half) and refrigerate them. I was able to slice them clean only after they chilled for a few hours. Slice them in squares or if you want you can roll them up or give them whatever shape you want. Store in a single layer in the refrigerator.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 -50 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy to Intermediate
Serves: (makes about 24, 1 inch square pieces)
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