Yes, it is true that Bengalis are inseparable from sweets. Bengali sweets are famous for its unforgettable taste and innovativeness. In spite of having such a wide variety of sweets we treasure a special love for the traditional sweets which are not easily available these days. Shor Bhaja or Sar Bhaja is definitely one of the leading items in that list. Even in proper Kolkata you can find handful of shops that actually make Shor Bhaja regularly. Many renowned sweet confectioneries in Kolkata make these Shor Bhaja during festival times only.
Krishna Nagar (Nadia, West Bengal, India) is the birth place of Shor Bhaja. It is purely made of cream of the milk. Sometimes khoya and chhanna are also mixed with it. It follows one of the most difficult and tedious processes of making sweets. It needs extreme patience and expert skills.
There is a similar kind of sweet named Shorpuria or sarpuria. The only difference is that for sarpuriya the cakes made of milk cream (shor) are baked instead of deep frying. If you don’t want to deep fry it, you can bake or stir fry it and enjoy the taste of Sarpuria.
Full cream milk: 3 liters
Sugar: 3 cups
Water: 4 cups
Cardamom powder: 1 tbsp
Rose essence: 1 drop
Vegetable oil: 1½ - 2 cups
Caster sugar: 1 tbsp (I couldn’t find them handy so I used normal sugar)
All-purpose flour: ½ tsp (if required)
Lemon: 1/6th of a regular lemon
Pistachio: slivers for decoration
Khoya/ milk powder: 1 tsp for decoration (use whichever is available at home)
1. Boil the milk on high flame. Turn the flame to simmer once cream starts forming on top of the milk. Wait for few minutes. Let the cream settle on the top of the milk. Then again turn the flame to high. (See Tips)
2. Don’t stir the milk while boiling as our aim is to collect the cream form the top of the milk. Continue the process until the cream is thick enough to scoop out. Take a long spatula and start from one side of the pan and start pushing the thick layer of cream towards the exact opposite direction. Make it real slow so that the cream layer doesn't get disturbed. Push it further when you reach the body of the pan. Now push it upwards and try to stick it to the body of the pan. This step is extremely difficult and hectic too. If you break the cream it will melt in the milk and will turn it thicker. And you need to start from scratch again. (See Tips). When entire milk will be done, you will find your pan full of cream on the body with very little milk left at the bottom. Scoop out the layers of cream from the body of the pan and place them on a flat palate.
3. If you are not comfortable with the process, take another option. Scoop off the cream when it is at least ¼th inch. Thick. And place it on a large flat palate. Continue the process until you are done with the entire milk. (I opted for this one later.) Now arrange the layers of the cream on the palate evenly. Make sure there is no milk at all in the cream. If there is any milk squeeze it out by pressing the layers gently. The layer of cream should be dry but moist.
4. Sprinkle some caster sugar on the top or between the layers. ( I choose to sprinkle few crystals between the layers; it is more effective in my opinion.) If you find your cream layer is still a bit watery sprinkle some all-purpose flour on the top of the layer and distribute it evenly. Leave it for few minutes to absorb the liquid. By pressing the top make the layer even and as smoother as possible. Now run a knife roughly to make square pieces out of it. Now heat oil in a nonstick wok on medium flame. (See Tips)
5. Take a square at a time. Reshape it with the flat knife or spatula and add them in the oil slowly. (See Tips) Add 3-4 pieces at a time. (Or as much your wok can handle at a time. But don’t make a crowd in the wok.) Make sure all pieces are separated. Fry them on medium-high flame until they are golden brown in color. Turn the cakes upside down once to fry the reverse side as well. Fry them until they are brown in color on the both sides. In mean while add water in a deep bottomed vessel and let it boil on high flame. Once bubbles start appearing add sugar and stir continuously until sugar is dissolved.
6. Add cardamom powder and essence and give it a light stir. Keep boiling. Squeeze 1/6th of a lemon to extract the juice. Add 3-4 drops of this juice into the syrup. (See Tips)
7. Once you are done with the frying, remove them with a slotted spoon and dunk them directly into the sugar syrup. Let it boil on medium flame. Keep the syrup boiling for 10- 15 mins more or until you notice the sugar syrup getting thicker. Now use the back of a spatula to poke a shor bhaja. If it gets back to its shape you are done.
8. Remove the pan from fire and let it cool.
9. Decorate with some sliver of pistachio and sprinkle some khoya on the top.
10. Serve it hot or cold: both ways they are extremely delicious.