“Try ghee chakli with melted chocolate. The combo tastes like churros,” said Pooja Dhingra, founder and CEO Le15 Patisserie, at the launch event of her new cookbook Coming Home. The casual statement from one of India’s most renowned pastry chefs can sound blasphemous, but it doesn’t. The idea is to experiment and have fun, whether one is baking or writing a cookbook. She went on to add, “Some of the most popular foods (potato chips, ice cream cones and chocolate chip cookies) were discovered accidentally. So, I always tell my chefs, ‘make lots of mistakes; you’ll never know what you’ll find'.”
Dhingra was brimming with positivity and optimism at her book launch last week in Mumbai. Here was a chef who, about a year ago, had to shutter her beloved Le15 cafe when dine-in was discontinued due to the pandemic. It was a childhood dream and the decision to close it for good was devastating. For days, she remained withdrawn and binge-watched shows. During that time, she started to tinker in her home kitchen and baked a bit to self-soothe. It made her realise why she had decided to pursue a career as a professional pastry chef. It was not to tally balance sheets—although she is a savvy business person—but to bake for the pure joy of it. So, she made cakes and cookies for comfort and recreated recipes from memory, while simultaneously documenting them in a book aptly named Coming Home.
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“It's my most personal book where I'm my most vulnerable. It took a lot of courage, but it was something that I really needed to do. The book took a year to complete. I had set a deadline which kept me going,” says Dhingra. One of the most rewarding experiences was to have the foreword written by her favourite chef, Pierre Hermé who is known as the ‘Picasso of Pastry’. “I don't think Le15 or my macaron obsession would have existed without Pierre Hermé and receiving the foreword on my birthday (in August) was the best gift I could have ever asked for!”
The book is divided into four segments—Nostalgia, Lazy Baking, For The Soul and Celebrations—with straightforward sweet and savoury recipes. Most of them are eggless, made with pantry basics and each recipe is preceded with a personal anecdote. The nostalgia section has recipes like her nani’s gajar ka halwa, Flapjacks that she baked from Tarla Dalal’s cookbook as a child and sticky toffee cake because as a young girl she thought it was a fancy dessert. The honesty is palpable and perhaps it’s the star ingredient in the cookbook.
Here’s a recipe from the Lazy Baking segment, excerpted from Coming Home.
Lemon Chilli Cookies
Makes: 40-45 mini cookies
Flour 160 g
Cold butter, cubed 100 g
Icing sugar 40 g
Lemon juice 2 tsp
Chilli juice 1 ½ tsp
In a bowl, mix flour and sugar. Add cold butter cubes and use your fingertips to blend everything together. Add the lemon and chilli juice to the dough, and mix well. Chill the dough for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 165 C and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Roll out the dough between sheets of parchment paper to a 5-mm thickness. Cut into rounds with a 3-cm cookie cutter, and place on the tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 8-10 minutes or till golden brown.