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Pastry chefs give old classics a twist

Artisanal bakeries are drawing inspiration from local flavours, making creations that pay tribute to childhood memory and home

Maska Bakery’s brioche topped with strawberry compote is inspired by bread and jam.
Maska Bakery’s brioche topped with strawberry compote is inspired by bread and jam.

Shriya Shetty, chef and co-founder of Mangaluru’s Buco Artisanal Bakery & Café, mentions bella tharai cake. Bella tharai (jaggery and fresh coconut, respectively, in Tulu) is an age-old combination in Karnataka, eaten in many ways. Mixed with a little sugar and banana, it becomes a quick nourishing snack for children or an easy dessert. It is tossed with bajil (beaten rice) for a simple breakfast. Shetty used the combination to make a cake when she received an order to prepare something traditional for a 75th birthday celebration. “We used jaggery to prepare a whole wheat vanilla sponge base. We stuck to the classic bella tharai filling and covered the outside of the cake with Swiss meringue buttercream. Today it is made to order and is my ode to Mangaluru, a city I love.”

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There are several new artisanal bakeries across the country which draw inspiration from local favourites. The pastry chefs who run them have taken flavour memories to create contemporary desserts that sit alongside croissants, cookies and madeleines. For them such items are a tribute to their childhood memories and homes.

In Jaipur, several creations by pastry chef Tejasvi Chandela of Dzurt Patisserie are dedicated to the city’s sweets or mithais. She has a Boondi-Lemon Curd Mousse Tartlet, Clementine Ghevar Petit Gateau and a dessert with balushahi and custard apple.

In the east, there’s Mon Petite Bakery in Kolkata. Manila Nad and Radhika Kauntia started it 2019 to introduce contemporary baked options in a city known for its rich and traditional bakery culture. The duo wanted to create a meaningful tribute that resonated with the collective memories and tastes of the people of Kolkata through food. “One afternoon, we were enjoying a coke float and discussing potential new flavours to work on. Talks shifted towards Kolkata’s rich traditions and nostalgia. The float and our topic immediately had us connect to the classic doodh cola (cola, milk, sugar and lots of ice) sold at the historic Balwant Singh Dhaba in Bhawanipur. The doodh cola profiterole is our playful twist on this local favourite,” explains Nad. The duo infuse the profiterole with a cola-flavoured, Magic Pops-inspired candy (Magic Pops was a rage in the 1990s). The duo are now crafting new flavours, turning to Kolkata’s mishti for inspiration.

 

Mon Petite Bakery’s ‘doodh’ cola profiterole.
Mon Petite Bakery’s ‘doodh’ cola profiterole.

In Mumbai, there’s pastry chef Heena Punwani who opened Maska Bakery in December. Her initial thoughts of a fancy French patisserie evolved to become a bakery that would pay tribute to the city. Her creations are a throwback to her childhood visits to bakeries with her father. “It was Yazdani for bun maska and apple pie, Paris Bakery for cookies and Sassanian for puffs. Those were formative memories of my life,” she says.

Punwani likes to take familiar dishes and give them a contemporary spin. “For example, the mawa cake is iconic in Mumbai and people line up at places like Merwans for it. It is a tea-time treat, and so are madeleines. It made sense to reimagine the mawa cake this way. We make madeleines with fresh mawa, and use brown butter for a toasty flavour. And since it’s eaten at teatime, we have infused our butter with Earl Grey tea.”

Besides the bella tharai cake, Buco Bakery has other made-to-order celebratory cakes with a traditional twist. Shetty has taken Mangaluru’s favourite ghee cake from Cochin Bakery (a brand started in Kochi in 1939, its branch in Mangaluru is now 22 years old and given it her spin. “Our attempt with jaggery overpowered the ghee, so we used white sugar, which we eventually swapped out for brown. Whole wheat flour gave it a nuttier flavour and we added some roasted coconut. Each bite reminds you of Mangaluru’s favourite cake, but in a different avatar,” says Shetty.

When Sweta Garapati, director-promoter, Old Madras Baking Company, opened her first outlet in Chennai in 2014 (there are 14 across Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad today), the idea was to make fresh, preservative-free bread accessible. Now, they have a coconut bun as a sweet tribute to the city of its origin. “Known in Chennai and Bengaluru as dil pasand , the traditional version of the Iyengar bakeries has coconut and tutti-frutti. In our version, we skip the tutti-frutti. Like me, a lot of people who don’t like coconut have tasted and loved it—I believe it has to do with the freshness of the coconut,” says Garapati, who is currently working on another tribute product—a pickle and podi croissant. “Pickles and podis are a huge part of the Tamil culinary culture, but it resonates with all the three cities that we are in,” she adds.

In Goa, at Padaria Prazeres in Panjim, the star item on the menu, pastéis de nata, is all about a connection to a colonial past enfolded in the chef’s travel experiences. “Our version of the pastéis is close to the original, but it’s not a copy, because the real recipe remains a secret to this day. You could call ours a homage to the OG,” says chef-owner Ralph Prazeres. His bakery does specials that are a hat-tip to other Goan favourites. In the monsoon, Goans use turmeric leaves to steam a sweet preparation called pataleo—rice parcels filled with a coconut-jaggery mix. Prazeres has reimagined this traditional dessert into Patoleo Berliner—turmeric leaf-infused custard and a jaggery-coconut filling inside a doughnut, which is encased in red rice glaze and topped with toasty desiccated coconut.

Another creation is the Serradura Berliner, a Berliner filled with serradura—a classic Portuguese-Goan dessert made by layering whipped cream and condensed milk with crushed Marie biscuits. There is also the Chourico Croque Monsieur—a take on the traditional croque monsieur, where ham is replaced with piquant Goan sausages.

What each of these chefs agree on is that they don’t seek to replicate a classic, but rather, give it their twist and introduce it to younger and older generations in ways that intrigue the latter and inspire nostalgia for the former.

Ruth Dsouza Prabhu is a features journalist based in Bengaluru.

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