I remember that many mornings at my badi mummy’s (grand mother’s ) house opened with a warm bowl of sooji halua, a ghee laden dessert made with toasted semolina and milk, speckled with grains of woody black cardamom. In fact,it would not be exaggerating to say that the strong,nutty aroma of toasting sooji filling the air of the house sometimes managed to pull me out of the bed early,especially on the lazy weekend mornings. With half closed eyes, I headed straight to the verandah where we usually ate breakfast . Sometimes, there were cups of chai and warm bowls of halua already waiting to be eaten, many times, the eating had to wait a bit longer, for it took a extra while to roll and deep fry pooris to go along. Yes halua – poori is exactly what I am talking about here, an immensely carbohydrate loaded meal but at the same time so comforting. Those the days when you could eat as much as you wished to.The variety of foods at our mealtimes were many.An amazingly beautiful thing in the house that I grew up in, a tradition that instilled in us the virtue of sharing and caring.In those times, childhood could absorb so much sugar, oil and calories. Much unlike now when a bowl of halua will push me a step closer to long naps during mid day, I remember playing around the aangan (back yard) for hours. Semolina is quite a popular flour of choice when baking cakes in indian homes.There were a couple of sweet as well as savory cakes that my mother baked for us using it.Most of the cakes were steamed inside the pressure cooker(for she did not own an oven then) and they came out pretty awesome.In contrast to the sugar syrup drizzle that I used in my recipe, inspired by arabic desserts, the pressure cooker cakes from my childhood were really moist and soft.They didn’t need any glaze, drizzle or makeup, as mum says. This cake is full of flavors from those days of sooji halua eating mornings.The ingredients are very few and the condensed milk and nutty almond meal makes it a lot, lot better than the actual dessert. It is quite a dense cake and a small portions will instantly make you feel full. I would really recommend not skipping that sugar syrup to cut down the sweet else it may taste dry.I do not soak the cake in entire quantity of the syrup and save some to drizzle just when serving. It keeps the cake moist just when you are about to enjoy it. You can substitute any nut powder of choice here and make it. Also, I found that this cake travels and packs really well,once it cools down completely and you cut the slices, they can be packaged for lunch boxes, care packages and on the go snacks.Serve with black or green tea. Printable Recipe
Ingredients (Makes a 9″ round)
1 no 14oz sweetened condensed milk can
10 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted + more for the cake pan
1/2 cup +1 tablespoon whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 + 1/3 cup coarse semolina (not the instant,quick cooking kind)
1+1/3 cup almond meal
1 teaspoon green cardamom powder (from 5-6 pods)
1/3 cup raw almonds for top (optional)
For the Sugar Syrup
10 tablespoon crystal sugar (I use raw)
6 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon green cardamom powder (from 2-3 pods)
I use ready made almond meal, if you plan to make your own, do not crush the blanched almonds to a point that they release their oils.Let there be a coarse sandy texture.
This cake does not rise much. So if you want a high rise cake, use a smaller dish to bake it.
For the Cake
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 9 “X 2” round cake pan. I use parchment paper lining for easy handling.
In a large bowl, mix whisk together condenser milk, melted butter, milk and baking powder to smooth slurry. Add semolina and almond meal to it along with cardamom powder. Mix together to combine to a smooth batter. Do not over mix.
Transfer the batter to the cake pan. Scatter the raw almonds on top. Bake for 35 minutes or so or until a skewer comes out clean and the edges are nice and golden brown.
Once the cake is baked, take it out and drizzle liberally with the sugar syrup (recipe below) while still warm.
I sometimes, reserve 1/4 cup or so of the syrup to be used for instant moistening when serving the cake (optional)
Let cool completely. Slice and serve.
For the Sugar Syrup
While the cake is baking, in a small sauce pan, combine the sugar and water. Cook for 10-12 minutes on low medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the syrup has thickened a bit. Put the stove off and add cardamom powder to the syrup.Keep the syrup warm. Drizzle the warm syrup on the cake as soon it comes out of the oven.
Memories tied to food is a wonderful thing, isn’t? I say it more often than not but I am an emotional eater. I get bouts of voracious eating depending on if I feel happy or sad that day. Sometimes I just cook and eat solely because that food is supposed to be associated with the season,or only coz a bowl of warm kheer (rice pudding) will see me through that dull, gloomy day or because I got to know about it when I chatted with mom or some aunt in the family last week. You can categorise these cookies as a baking activity that happened on such a whim. I spoke to mum the other evening discussing the picky food habits of my daughter and she happened to mention if I have tried feeding her ‘bakery wale biscuits‘ with milk.
All along mixing the dough, the only thought that rattled in my mind was how these should taste of cashew predominantly & not just flour and sugar, just like original ones from a little bakery with blue & white candy cane style painted walls near my house in Delhi.
Ingredients(Makes about 4.5 dozen)
3/4 cup cashew meal (I used ready-made cashew meal from Trader Joes you can grind raw cashews to a (not very fine) powder at home if you do not get ready made)
1.5 cup all-purpose flour
1.25 cups confectioners sugar/castor sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
5 green cardamom pods, break open & powder the seeds
a generous pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
10 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup finely chopped raw cashews
1/4 cup oil (any neutral oil will work)
2 – 5 tbsp cold milk (just so the dough comes together, I used 3.5 tbsp)
Cashew bits for top (optional)
In a bowl, mix cashew meal, flour, sugar,baking powder, soda & salt together. Dump the flour mix in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the cardamom & nutmeg. Add the butter cubes. Pulse for a minute or so till the butter becomes pea sized.
Remove the metal blade and fit the dough blade in the jar. Add the 1/2 cup finely chopped cashews. Add the oil. Start the processor and start adding cold mix 1/2 tbsp at a time till the dough just comes together. Stop. Open the lid and take out the dough on a clean surface. The dough will be slightly sticky & loose but that’s okay. Knead gently with dry hands for a minute or less and bring it together. Divide into two portions. Wrap the dough portions in plastic/cling film. Make sure that the cling film is large enough since we will be rolling the cookies later in it. With the help of your palm, flatten each wrapped dough portion. Refrigerate for at least 30-35 minutes or till firm. Now, if you plan to bake them later, you can freeze one or both of the dough halves.
Once the dough is firm, roll the flattened dough still wrapped in the cling film to a square sheet about 1/4″ thick. After rolling, refrigerate the rolled out dough again since the heat from your hands and rolling will melt the butter.
Preheat oven to 300F. Line cookie sheet with parchment/ wax paper. You might need a couple of baking sheets or you can bake in batches.
Once the rolled dough is firm, using a sharp knife, cut very small squares (about 1/4″ by 1/4″) since these cookies will spread quite a bit while baking. Try to cut as evenly sized squares as possible. Press some cashew bits on top and arrange the squares about 2″ apart on the baking sheet. Refrigerate again for 20-25 minutes.
If you do not want to roll the dough, pinch small portions of the dough, shape into balls and press few cashew pieces on top.
Bake the refrigerated cookies in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes till the cookie bases start & edges start turning golden brown and the top cashews changes color. I like my cookies slightly brown so I baked them a few minutes more, about 22 minutes.
Let cool completely on the sheet before storing them in air tight containers for up to 3 weeks. Serve with hot chai.
A reader successfully tried this cake.You can see the link here.Thank you so much for trying out.
Tuesday,8th March is our wedding anniversay.I wanted to make something to refresh memories of Pune,a bustling metropolis near Mumbai,India.I couldn’t think of anything else but Mava cake, a unique speciality from Pune/Mumbai bakeries to recapture the moments we spent there.City of Pune has always been special,it is the city from where my career took off with first job and then I met P there for the first time 7 years back.Also referred to as the “Oxford of the East”, Pune is a youthful city with pleasant weather all round the year and attracts a lot of foreign students.I lived in Pune for almost 2 years, and while I was there I got a chance to enjoy the cultural heritage of the city.Due to presence of Osho Ashram ,Pune is a haven for foreign tourists who come here to seek relaxation through meditation and simple, natural living.
The influence of cosmopolitan elements is quite explicit in the city’s culture and lifestyle.Thanks to influx of foreigners, the city has a plethora of world cuisine restaurants and bakeries to choose from. My two favorite bakeries from the city were Kayani Bakery on MG Road and German Bakery in Koregaon Park[den of the Osho Ashram]. A visit to German Bakery and you won’t feel you are in India.I usually frequented there to catch up with friends over Masala Chai.The place has less of a bakery feel but its more like a mini eatery serving some of the best cheese sandwiches, toasts and burgers.One of the highlight was that except for chai they don’t serve any indian food.
Anyhow, since we are talking Mava cakes here, I want to focus on Kayani Bakery, a reminiscent of Irani/Parsi Cafés specializing in some of the best milk cakes and biscuits [cookies].Wiki tells me that these Iranian cafés were first opened by Persian travellers to India in the 19th century.Iranian cafés used to be numerous and popular but competition from modern cafés and fast food restaurants have left them behind.One of the most popular eating places is the 102-year-old Kayani Café, a heritage landmark in south Mumbai.Though I m not sure but I think from the similarities between the setting and menu of both places that Kayani Bakery in Pune is an offshoot of the same legacy.The bakery is very ordinary looking, always packed with people, with crowds thronging to queue up as early as 6 or 7 in the morning to get their daily quota of fresh baked goodies. The bakery opens at 8 and by noon, they are out of most of their stuff.I have had the best and most unusual biscuits [cookies] and cakes of my life here.To name a few, if you get a chance to visit, you should not come back without Shrewsbury biscuits and wine [yes] biscuits.
The mention of Kayani bakery is incomplete without mention of Mava cake.Infact, mava cakes have been their shot to fame.A no-frill, milky cake, made with flour, eggs, butter, sugar, cardamom and mava.Mava or Khoya is nothing but solidified milk, quite comparable to ricotta but less moist.It is used in making most of the indian sweets and desserts. You take one bite of the mava cake and you can discern that unique flavor-dense,scrumptious and milky.It is difficult to describe the luscious mava tingling on your taste buds,the delectable lively aroma of sweet-smelling cardamom complete with a delightful sensation of the dense texture rendered by baked flour and butter.It a feeling you want to prolong.You want to take bite, sit back and enjoy without dunking it down with coffee or tea.Trust me it would be a sacrilege if you want to wash down the cake with a beverage.If you must, couple it with hot milk, it doubles the warmth. Mava cakes from Kayani Bakery are superb, unique, matchless, delicious – the best and freshest milky cake in the world.If you are looking for a fluffy, light cake, this cake is not for you.It is the dense and heavy texture along with exotic taste that leaves you with a full feeling when you eat it.
When I told P abt mava cake, I dont know from where he came up with this idea and suggested a twist with pistachios and saffron.He is totally saffron loving person but in this cake saffron did wonders.It made us feel at home 🙂 However, the authentic version is made with almonds/cashews and cardamom.You can replace these if you feel.I saw a lot of recipes on the internet, but I settled for this recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Tartelette.I used her cake recipe with my additions.For the mava, I used my own proportions.Though I stuck to using evaporated milk and cream for making mava as done by Helen, you can use whole milk to make it too.I do it many a times and there is not much of a difference in taste.But working with whole milk will take little more time to make mava.Below goes the recipe:
Ingredients [Makes 3 mini cakes of the size shown]
For the Mava/Khoya [Yield 1 cup ]
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cup evaporated full fat milk
For the Mini cakes [Makes 3 mini cakes of the size shown]
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder [use aluminium free]
1/2 tsp green cardamom powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup mava, softened at room temperature
7 tbsp unsalted butter,softened
1 cup white granulated sugar
6 tbsp whole milk
2 tsp saffron threads
1/2 cup fine chopped unsalted pistachios for mixing in cake batter
1/4 cup chopped unsalted pistachios for topping.
Mava making is basically a process involving low heat cooking of whole milk and/or cream till the moisture content of the milk is reduced and it becomes paste like.Once it is cooked for such a long time,the remaining milk solids and fats in the milk take a butterscotch/caramel color.This paste is then poured into moulds and cooled.Once cooled, mava can be cubed using a sharp knife or crumbled with fingers. First important thing to note while making mava at home is that you have to check on the mix quite regularly, scrape it down the sides and prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.Second being that the last few minutes in the process are very important, because the paste can turn into a dry crumble within second so keep a watch. I recommend that if you plan to make this cake, prepare mava a day or two in advance because mava making takes about 1-1.5 hours alone and cooling time is separate.Mava can be refrigerated for up to 4-5 days and frozen for 1-2 months without losing taste and freshness.
Making Mava at home:
In a heavy bottomed, wide-mouthed and preferably non stick pan, pour in both evaporated milk and heavy cream.A non stick pan helps to avoid the milk & cream from getting burnt and sticking to bottom while cooking.Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.About 10 minutes.Once boiled, reduce the heat to medium on your burner. Cook with continuous stirring for about 15 minutes.The milk mix will start changing color slightly and start to thicken.At ths point,turn the heat to low on your stove and let cook with occasional cooking.The milk will keep on thickening and start turning into a sauce like consistency.Another 20 minutes.You have to stir the mix continuously now and scrape from the sides. At the end of 20 minutes, the mixture starts looking like a smooth caramel colored sauce.In some cases, it can turn grainy too.Continue cooking on low heat for another 10-15 minutes with continuous stirring.Cook down till there is very little moisture left in the mixture and its pasty, smooth and little shiny due to fats in the cream.At this point remove from heat.
What I do is to immediately measure out 1/2 cup paste and pour it into individual bowl.Such pre measured bowl are easy to use anytime.Just run a sharp knife all around the bowl.and unmould.Let the paste in the bowls cool down, cover with cling film and refrigerate. The whole process took me about 1.5 hours with the quantities I have mentioned.
Note: You can also get Mava/khoya at any of the indian stores easily.It can be used to make this cake.You will just need to measure out, soften it a bit in a pot on low heat for 5 minutes and use.
Night before: Let the butter, eggs and mava sit on the kitchen countertop to come to a room temperature.
Preparing before cake making :Preheat the oven to 350F.Grease thoroughly the sides of whatever baking pan, cupcake pan, spring foam pan you are using for making these cakes.
Heat up the milk for 20 seconds in microwave to luke warm.Add saffron strands to the milk and let dissolve.
Mix flour, salt, baking powder, cardamom powder thoroughly and set aside.
Making the cake: In a large mixing bowl, on medium speed beat the butter with softened mava and sugar until creamy and light brown in color.About 3 minutes.
Once creamy , add the eggs, one at a time and beat to combine well.About 2 minutes.
Next add the milk + saffron mixture and blend well on low-speed until a smooth mixture is formed.About 1 minute.
Add the flour mixture all at once to the wet ingredients and beat well on medium speed to make a smooth, creamy batter.About 2 minutes.
Fold in the fine chopped pistachios in the batter.
Divide the cake batter evenly into the pan to leaving some room for rising and top with more chopped pistachios.
Bake in oven for 22-25 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Mine took 24 minutes exact.
Once baked, remove from oven, let sit for 10 minutes to cool and then unmould.
Let cool completely before slicing.
The quality of mava plays and important role in the texture of this cake.Generally, the store bought mava has less oil content so if using one u ll need to adjust the amount of butter so that the cake does not turn dry.I recommend making mava at home to best use the proportions given above.
The cake sits fresh for upto two days unrefrigerated.
Any kind of nuts : almonds, cashews etc can be used in place of pistachios.