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Ganesh Chaturthi: Modaks get a modern makeover

A host of chefs and sweet makers are pushing boundaries to create innovative modaks that go beyond the classics

Tropical modaks by the contemporary mithai brand Genda Phool.
Tropical modaks by the contemporary mithai brand Genda Phool.

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Nothing embodies that flavours of Ganesh Chaturthi better than a plateful of warm dewy-white modaks. This bud-shaped sweet was one of the reasons, I eagerly waited for Ganesh Chaturthi every year as a child. My mother can vouch for the fact that the preparation for the perfect modak is an elaborate process. Coconut and khoya would be bought a day or two in advance. Jaggery, cardamon and nutmeg powder would be stocked up. On the day of Ganesh Chaturthi, she would meticulously scrape the coconuts and cook it along with cream, jaggery, and khoya. Nutmeg, cardamon, and toasted poppy seeds would be added. Once firm, this mixture would be cooled completely. Then the rice dough would be brought out and rolled into round thin flatbreads.The edges would be pleated together, similar to sari pleats, and stuffed with the mixture. This would then be steamed to form ukadiche modak or fried to be enjoyed as sweet crisp dumplings. These may have been the preferred options on Ganesh Chaturthi in the past, however, cut to the present, a host of chefs and sweet makers are pushing boundaries creating innovative modaks that go beyond the classics.

Also read | 5 sweet and savoury recipes for Ganesh Chaturthi

Chef Girish Nayak, chief ‘mithaiwala’, Bombay Sweet Shop, creates puran poli modaks during Ganeshotsav. Laced with nostalgia, these sweet treats are inspired by his childhood, when his mother would dish out piping hot puran polis laden with ghee on Vinayak Chaturthi every year. “It used to be my favourite sweet and something I would eagerly wait for every year. My favourite part of this sweet flatbread was the crumbly, roasted crust on top made with whole wheat dough,” he says. For his recipe at The Bombay Sweet Shop, he borrows from this memory, and coats the modak shell with dried puran poli crumble to add that crunchy mouthfeel. This sweet melt-in-your-mouth treat is a pure festive bliss and is a part of the Ganpati Collection, Modak Medley, at Bombay Sweet Shop, introduced in 2020. Ever since, it has been a runway success. Other modaks that are an interesting addition to this box include Chocolate Fudge Modak, a decadent chocolate peda filled with dark chocolate ganache and peanut brittle, and the Pista Khubani Modak comprising pistachio peda rolled in dehydrated rose petals and filled with khubani (apricot) jam and coconut praline.

Vidhya Gawas, Sous Chef Double Tree by Hilton, Goa - Panaji, prepares potato halwa modaks inspired by the traditional Goan dessert, Kangachi Nevri that resembles a sweet potato gujia. In her recipe, Gawas uses rice flour for the outer covering and boiled potatoes, sugar, nutmeg and saffron for the stuffing. This mixture is cooked in ghee and sealed into the shell before being steamed. While the traditional ukadiche modaks are a mainstay on Ganesh Chaturthi at Gawas’ home, these dulcet potato treats are a hit with her friends and family and serve well as fasting food.

In Mumbai, Shweta Agarwal, founder of the contemporary mithai brand Genda Phool, has curated five different types of modak boxes this year, with assorted flavours like vanilla, kesar pista, chana and coconut. The vanilla modak harks back to childhood— vanilla being a favourite in every dessert, whether it was icecream or pastries. “The idea behind this modak recipe was to add nostalgia in this beloved sweet,” says Agarwal. Her pineapple modak is inspired by her recent trip to Phuket, Thailand. Impressed by a bounty of fresh tropical fruits like pineapples, she wanted to incorporate the same freshness in her mithais with tropical modak. The pineapples are handpicked, with only the queen variety being used, as they are sweeter and less tangier. The ‘queen’ is more petite and easily distinguishable by its sweet aroma. The pineapples are peeled and sliced before being soaked in a concoction of sugar and saffron water. After eight to ten hours, the pineapple is removed and cooked until it is devoid of moisture. It is then mixed with desiccated coconut, sugar, milk and milk powder. Once the dough cools, it is pressed into a modak mould and then de-moulded carefully. With their lemon yellow colour, topped with a red edible bead, the modaks look delectable. Though this flavour is not a part of her Ganpati mithai box, she plans on introducing it later this year, perhaps for Diwali.

Another modak collection that combines the richness of Indian sweets along with the classics from French baking, is the JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar modak box. While the Indian flavours include Saffron Kaju, Peshawar pistachio, and saffron and chocolate modak, the Western flavours are inspired by the classic flavours of French pastry like milk chocolate pecan praline and Sicilian pistachio ganache. Through these modaks, pastry chef, Danish Khan, has attempted to re-imagine Indian sweets in a contemporary avatar. The ganache modak uses chocolate and cream along with liquid glucose filled inside a shell of pistachio peda while the pecan praline comprises a mixture of sugar, pecan, and vanilla, ground to a paste and filled inside a milk chocolate shell. These neat little confections look delish in pleasing colours of green, brown, and pink— decorated with a silver and gold leaf— and can double up as Ganpati decoration as well.

While there are chefs who experiment, there are those who can’t accept the complete transformation of a traditional sweet.

Shoma Abhyankar, a freelance journalist based in Pune, echoes the same sentiment. “While it is ok to experiment with food, I feel these innovative versions are robbing the modak of its identity. In the bargain, the traditional recipes, in most cases that have been passed down generations, will be lost. Festival is a time for celebrating our traditions and connecting with our roots. And the fusion ones fail to do that. I’d rather be bowled over by the warm, familiar smell of ukadiche modaks,” says Abhyankar. 

However, Agarwal of Genda Phool thinks otherwise. “By creating newer versions of modaks, we are welcoming more and more people onto the modak bandwagon and allowing them to experiment with these new-age flavours”. If one can have a falooda cake or a gulab-jamun cake, then why not a chocolate ganache modak.

Also read | How to celebrate a pet friendly Ganesh Chaturthi

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