To a heavy bottom pan, add the whole milk. Set heat to medium-high. Stir often and let the milk come to a boil. Then turn off the heat.
Now, start adding lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time stirring gently after each addition. At one point, the milk will curdle completely and whey will separate. I used a total of 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon lemon juice to make the milk curdle completely. The quantity of lemon juice can vary depending on the quality of milk you are using.You can also use yogurt for curdling the milk too. I do not recommend using vinegar since it results in harder chena in my experience and we don't want that for kalakand.
Line a strainer with muslin cloth and pour the curdled milk over it. Wash the fresh chena that you just prepared under running water. This is important to get rid of that lemon flavor.
Bring the ends of the muslin cloth together and tie them in the center. Squeeze water from the chena. You need to squeeze the water well, however do not squeeze the heck out of it. You do need some moistness in the chena, that's important for a moist and soft kalakand. I measured the chena at this point and it resulted in 225 grams of fresh chena.Tie the muslin cloth to your sink tap (or anywhere else where it can hang) and let it hang for 10 minutes.
To a pan now, add the prepared chena. To that add 3/4th of a 14 oz. can of condensed milk. You can use the entire can for a sweeter kalakand. Adjust sweetness level to taste.
Mix the chena and sweetened condensed milk together well using a spatula. Set heat to low. Start cooking the mixture on low heat, stirring often. At first the mixture will be very thin.
But as you keep cooking, the mixture will start to thicken and start leaving the sides of the pan.After around 10 to 12 minutes of cooking on low heat, it will come together, thicken quite a bit and leave the sides. At this point add the rose water and cardamom powder. Mix well. You can also flavor it with saffron.
It took me 12 minutes on low heat to reach this stage where it was thick enough and was leaving the sides of the pan but was still not dry. It can take you more or less time depending on the thickness of the pan and intensity of the heat. Remember to not over-cook, it should not dry out but still be juicy else the kalakand will turn chewy. Immediately, remove pan from heat.
Transfer mixture to a greased pan or a pan lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. I used an 8 inch square pan but spread the mixture on only half of the pan as I wanted thick kalakand pieces. Smooth out the mixture using a spatula.
Sprinkle chopped nuts on top, I sprinkled some pistachios. Let it set for 2 to 3 hours at room temperature. Once set, cut kalakand into pieces. I got 16 pieces of kalakand from this mixture. Keep it refrigerated. Kalakand tastes best when fresh and should be consumed with in 3 days for best results.
I have used 3/4th of a 14 oz. can of condensed milk. For a sweeter kalakand, you can use the entire can of condensed milk.
You can definitely make this recipe with ricotta cheese. You would need around 15 oz. of ricotta cheese. However, cooking time will increase a little since ricotta cheese has much more moisture than chena. So, it would probably take 20 to 25 minutes to reach the desired kalakand consistency. The process and steps will remain same.
You can flavor this kalakand with saffron too. Warm 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk and crush some saffron strands and add it to the milk. Let it rest 5 minutes and then add that saffron milk to the pan along with the condensed milk.
Please refer to the recipe text is you wish to make kalakand the traditional way, without condensed milk.