Indians around the world are about to launch into festival mode. The months between August and November are packed with some of the biggest religious celebrations in a country that loves celebrating year-round, beginning with Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of the elephant headed god Ganesha, this week, and ending with Diwali, the mother of all Hindu festivals, in November.
These months will also see many other popular Indian festivals, including Navratri, observed in some states to celebrate Rama and in others as a celebration of the goddess Durga. In the south, Navratri is celebrated by creating exhibits of figurines of gods and goddesses in homes — an arrangement called “kolu”. Durga Puja is celebrated in states in the east, including West Bengal and Odisha.
Mishti Doi is a popular Bengali sweet that's often made at festivals like Durga Puja and Diwali, and today I have for you a delicious but vegan version of this beloved dessert.
What is mishti doi?
Mishti Doi literally translates from Bengali to "sweet yogurt." It is a yogurt-based sweet that's often made during Bengali celebrations, including Durga Puja and Diwali. Its beauty, to my mind, is that it's stunningly simple, relying on the natural deliciousness of yogurt combined with caramelized sugar or natural palm sugar to create amazing flavor.
But making mishti doi involves more than stirring sugar into yogurt. There's some boiling and stirring of milk involved, although it doesn't take too long, and you then set the milk with yogurt, wait overnight or for however long it takes for all of it to set, and then eat it. Mishti doi is traditionally set in small terracotta ramekins, which help absorb moisture from the yogurt, because you want your mishti doi to always be very, very thick with no apparent whey.
Mishti doi, in its authentic form, is made with palm jaggery--domed lumps of brown, unrefined sugar. But more modern versions use sugar. I love coconut sugar in this recipe, when I have it, and it gives the vegan mishti doi a more authentic flavor. But this time I used cane sugar, which I had on hand, and to add that rich flavor I caramelized it. You can use any vegan sugar or, if you have jaggery, use that. The method will differ slightly if you use jaggery, and I'll describe it for you in the FAQs below.
Why you'll love this vegan mishti doi
- It's delicious. It's hard to believe that sugar and yogurt can create such tremendous flavor together, but cooking the milk (nondairy milk in this case) and the sugar together and then letting it ferment with a probiotic makes all the difference. You get a sweet, thick, caramelized yogurt with striking, tangy notes.
- It's simple. There's not much skill involved in making a mishti doi, but be sure to follow directions or you may not get what you wanted. If you have an Instant Pot (you don't absolutely need one for this recipe), your job's that much easier.
- It's everyone-friendly. If you, or someone you are feeding, cannot tolerate lactose, this is the recipe for you. It has all the flavor and none of the milk. It's also soy-free, gluten-free, and you can make it with full-fat coconut milk for a nut-free version (although I do prefer the flavor of mishti doi made with cashew milk). See FAQs below on how to make this with coconut milk.
- It's nutritious. There is sugar here but this is not a cloyingly sweet food. The probiotic yogurt packs in lots of benefits--and protein, if you make it with cashews.
- It's great anytime. Mishti doi is usually classified as a dessert sweet but it makes a tremendous breakfast or anytime snack.
- It's compassionate. Festivities in India are typically accompanied by lots of sweets, most of them dairy-based. But there's no reason for animals to suffer when we humans celebrate and what better time can there be to show compassion?
- Sugar. Coconut sugar is great here and gives a more authentic flavor, or use vegan cane sugar, turbinado sugar or any sugar of your choice. You can also use jaggery. See notes in the recipe card if using jaggery for instructions on when to add it.
- Raw cashews. We will use these to make cashew cream. Don't use storebought cashew milk or any other nut milks, which tend to be too think, in this recipe--you want homemade cashew cream for the right consistency.
- Two vegan probiotic capsules. I use the PB8 vegetarian probiotic capsules (in the green bottle). If you already have a cultured vegan yogurt that's thick (like my vegan Instant Pot yogurt), use that instead, although the probiotic capsules will result in a thicker mishti doi, which is the result we're going for. If using a yogurt starter add it at the same time as you would the probiotic capsules.
- Superfine almond flour or powder. Buy storebought almond flour or make your own, but make sure it's a fine powder. It helps thicken the yogurt and adds more depth of flavor.
- Pure vanilla extract. This is not a traditional ingredient and it's optional, but I like it in here to add a bit of depth and sweetness to the cashew milk.
How to make vegan mishti doi
You don't, and you can absolutely make the vegan mishti doi the traditional way, by placing it in a warm spot in your home. The mishti doi will take a little longer to set than regular yogurt would. In my cool September kitchen with daytime temps in the 60s and 70s it took more than 36 hours. An Instant Pot makes quick work of this and is quite foolproof, but it is not necessary.
Cashews work really well in a vegan version of mishti doi because they are a great thickener and they create the perfect consistency. However, if you are nut-free, you can use full fat coconut milk. Add a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch to the coconut milk (when you'd add the almond flour) to thicken it. Skip the almond flour if you are nut-free.
Definitely, and I suggest a range in the recipe card below, from ⅓rd of a cup, which is the amount I use, to ½ a cup. You can add even more sugar if you prefer, although mishti doi shouldn't be cloyingly sweet.
Mishti doi tastes at its best when it's at its simplest. But a bit of cardamom stirred into the cashew milk before you set it with the probiotic would be nice.
You can also garnish the mishti doi with nuts and saffron before or after it sets.
Terracotta bowls are traditionally used to set mishti doi and their porousness helps thicken the dahi or yogurt nicely. But I wouldn't use a terracotta ramekin or bowl inside an Instant Pot unless the product specifically says it is oven-safe. If you are not using an Instant Pot, however, and plan to set the yogurt in a warm spot in your home, you can definitely use terracotta or clay bowls.
More delicious vegan Indian sweets
Vegan Mishti Doi
- 1 cup raw cashews (soaked in water for 30 minutes, then drained)
- 2 cups distilled or filtered water
- 2 tablespoon almond flour (use the kind labeled "super fine" or "finely ground")
- ⅓ to ½ cup sugar (preferably use coconut sugar, but vegan cane sugar or any sugar works just as well. If using jaggery see notes below for how to tweak recipe.)
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional, but it helps stir in more sweetness. This helps as we are replacing dairy milk, which has lots of natural sugars in it)
- 2 vegetarian probiotic capsules
- Blend the cashews with the 2 cups of distilled or filtered water into a very smooth milk/cream. Set aside.
- Place the sugar in a heavy saucepan with 2 tablespoon water. Let the sugar melt and then caramelize. The sugar will clump before it melts and then loosen up, so don't worry if it take a little while. Keep stirring the sugar frequently so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
- Let the sugar turn a rich caramel color, then turn the heat down to the lowest point or turn it off. Pour in the cashew milk gently. Take care and stand back as the milk can bubble when it hits the hot caramel.
- Turn the heat back on to medium high and let the milk come to a boil. Stir frequently. The milk will begin to thicken in a few minutes. Once it has thickened, stir in the almond flour and mix well.
- Add the vanilla extract, if using, and turn off the heat. Let the cashew cream sit for a few minutes until it's lukewarm to the touch, around 110 degrees. Don't add the probiotic capsules before it reaches this temperature or the high heat will kill the good bacteria and the yogurt won't set.
- Open the probiotic capsules and stir the powder into the cashew cream. Immediately pour it into four ramekins or a single large heat-safe bowl. Make sure first that they will fit inside the Instant Pot liner, if you are using an IP.
- Place the ramekins or the bowl inside the Instant Pot liner. Close the IP lid and set it to the "yogurt" function for 8-10 hours. Eight hours will yield a less tangy mishti doi, if that's what you prefer. I find 10 hours works just right for me.If you don't have an Instant Pot, leave the mishti doi out in a warm spot for 24-36 hours, like a cold oven with the light turned on. My oven light is on the fritz so I left a ramekin on the countertop in my September kitchen, with daytime temps in the 70s, and it took around 36 hours to set.
- Once the mishti doi has set, garnish it with nuts and saffron, if you wish. Chill for a couple of hours at least before serving.
- If using jaggery in this recipe, you can skip the step for caramelizing the sugar. Instead heat the cashew milk, and once it begins to boil, stir in the jaggery. Make sure that the jaggery is powdered or chopped into really small pieces before you stir it in, and also make sure it melts completely into the milk before you stop cooking.
- Make sure you use ramekins that will fit inside the Instant Pot liner and are oven-safe. Terracotta ramekins won't work here.