Coffee Mishti Doi (Caramelized Sweet Yogurt)

“When I was little
My mother told me,
Be strong, be independent
And the world will see.
When everything seems evil
Don’t be afraid,
Open your mind and,
Fear with victory will trade.
If the world bends its ways
Keep your head high,
‘Ekla Cholo’- walk alone
And trouble will stay at nigh.
Her words, her food
Her songs, her strength unseen,
Brought me this dish
And will forever inspire me...”
Love you Mom.

I was introduced to these little pots of sweet yogurt by my mother. A common sweetmeat in the western Indian states of Assam & Bengal, I thoroughly enjoyed the creamy texture & deep caramel bite they  boast of. Since my mother spent a significant part of her childhood in Bengal, she loved to experiment with bengali flavors in the kitchen. And often enough, had a story or song to go along with the origins of the dish.  So much so that till date, every bite of this creamy yogurt reminds me of her, her voice, her enduring personality and ...her courage.

Making yogurt at home is quite common all across India. In fact, most people I know still make yogurt from scratch, and it's not considered much of a feat since...well...who buys yogurt from the store except those lazy-good-for-nothing-rich-people!? Such was the stigma with buying yogurt! And honestly, I don't remember yogurt even being available in stores till my late teens - except the milk vendors selling little packets (called jamun or milk culture) that is used to kick off the yogurt making process. The process itself is fairly easy (which may come as a surprise to many!), and once you have mastered it, adding flavors or colors to your liking is a tease. Read on.

Mishti Doi, literally meaning sweet yogurt in Bengali, is a yogurt dessert made from thickened milk, caramelized sugar and sometimes flavored with cardamom or dates. I gave it a corporate-NYC-style tweak by adding coffee to it - just because everything should have coffee in it. And it was scrumptious. I saw was because I polished it all off right after the photo shoot. My mother would be proud of me.

While making it, I couldn't help but think (and have always wondered) what came first, the yogurt or the jamun. What do you think?
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons instant coffee powder (I used Nescafe)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons plain yogurt (culture or jamun)

Heat 1 tablepoon of sugar on a non stick pan till it begins to bubble. Add 1 tablespoon water to this, mix well till dissolved and add to the milk. Bring the milk to boil till it reduces to half. Remove from heat, add the coffee powder and the remaining sugar and cool slightly - below boiling point but above body temperature.
Meanwhile distribute the plain yogurt into 2 small individual bowls (works great in earthen tea cups. You can also use glass/steel, but don’t use plastic). Coat the sides of the bowls with the yogurt, and then add the coffee milk to each. Mix well with a spoon, and keep the bowls in a warm place for 4-6 hours or overnight. Remember not to shake or move the bowls once you have placed them in their spot – you want the bacteria in the yogurt to start acting quickly, and any movement would prevent that from happening.
PS-If you live in a warm place, it won’t take more than 4-6 hours to set. For the colder unfortunate few, it tends to take overnight.
Once set, refrigerate for a few hours and serve. A creamy, low calorie, coffee flavored dessert!