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Bengali Cooking: Seasons & Festivals

Bengali Cooking

By Chitrita Banerji

Published 1997

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One of them was the Patishapta, a delicious Bengali variant of sweet, stuffed crepes. With a bit of practice, it becomes one of the easiest of desserts. First, she would make the filling. She would grind the flesh extracted from one half of a good large coconut on a special coconut grinder and mix it with 250 g (8 oz) of brown sugar, gur, or if that was not to hand, white sugar. The mixture would be cooked in a karai over a medium flame. Usually a separate karai is used for sweet preparations, so that none of the strong lingering smells of spices can invade the delicate flavour of sweets and milk. After ten to twelve minutes of constant stirring, the sugar and the coconut would be evenly blended and a lovely caramelised smell would fill the air. Sometimes she would need to add more sugar, and if it was white, she would also grind 2 whole cardamoms and add them to the coconut mixture at this stage. As soon as it was cool enough to touch, she would divide it into twelve to thirteen portions, shaping each into a roll about 10 cm (4 in) long. These would be covered and set aside.

To make the crepes, she would take 250 g (½ lb) of flour and mix it thoroughly with 2 tablespoons of peanut oil or ghee. If they were not to be eaten immediately, she would use a mixture of flour and cream of wheat to keep the crepes soft. Then she would add 250 ml (8 fl oz) of water and 2 tablespoons of sugar and mix it carefully to form a liquid thick enough to roll over the surface of a tilted frying pan. When she was satisfied with the consistency, she would take the medium-sized frying pan, heat it slightly and grease it carefully with peanut oil. In Bengal the usual way to do this is by taking the discarded stem of an aubergine and rubbing the pan with the flat end that was attached to the aubergine. The important thing is not to add too much oil. The pan would then be put over a medium flame, a large serving spoon or a cooking ladle full of the liquid poured in, and the pan tilted to spread the liquid evenly. As soon as the batter started cooking into a golden skin, she would wedge a spatula under the surface to loosen it from the pan. Then she would take one of the coconut rolls, place it close to one edge of the crepe and roll the two together like a stuffed mat. Pressing down on the patishapta gently with her spatula, she would flip it over until both sides were brown, remove it from the pan and start on the next crepe, greasing the pan carefully. When this was being served as a dessert for special guests, my mother would go one step further. She would evaporate some milk to make a thick kheer. Some chopped almonds would be cooked in this kheer and a flavouring of ground cardamom would be added. Then it would be poured over the waiting patishaptas, much as chocolate sauce is poured over desserts in the West.