Friday, 27 October 2017

Mava Cakes

The funny thing about a city you've grown up in is that while your eyes take in all that is changing in the city, your heart always looks out for all that was. And while change remains the only constant in life, you can't help feel that odd twinge when facades change, people move out and institutions close down. 

And over the past few years, Irani cafes and bakeries, the quintessential Bombay institution, look vulnerable to the relentless march of time that we've all learned, waits for no one. Whilst a few of these family run enterprises bravely continue till date, a large number of them have shut shop, taking with them a time of this city that will never come back. 

Step into any of the surviving Irani cafes and it is to enter a place that has somehow defied time with its trademark black, bent chairs and tables covered with red checkered cloth, rows of glass jars filled with goodies, that no-nonsense instruction board and of course, that heady aroma of fresh baking that calls out to every passerby. But, to enter these places was also a chance to meet the everyday Mumbaikar, who go about their daily grind relentlessly with a spirit that makes the soul of this city.

Like the couple sitting in the corner snatching a few moments alone in a city where privacy comes with the highest premium. Or those two old men whose conversation alternates between reminiscing about the good ole days and discussing the latest neighbourhood gossip. The young man sitting alone while he contemplates on how this city that promises to fulfil all your dreams takes an awfully lot from you before it even allows you a whiff of those dreams. The group of middle aged men stepping in for a mid-work break while they discuss the inevitable travails of life. Or simply the mother stopping by the bakery shelves to pick up some much cherished after-school treats from a place that has not only withstood time but also inflation to a large extent. Much like the maximum city, there's always place for everyone and maybe that's why they have endured for so long in a city whose character is constantly being reshaped by the people who live in it. 

I think we all have an enduring Irani cafe memory. It could be bun-maska and omelette or a plate of berry pulao or one of those biscuits from those glass jars be it the sweet nankhatai or the savoury, flaky khari biscuits or vegetable puffs or mutton samosas or my personal favourite, mava cakes.

Much before fancy bakeries opened shop, there were Irani bakeries and their signature madeira cakes and mava cakes. Mava cakes for the uninitiated are these small, crazy sweet, no frills, dense, buttery cakes that could be found either in a slab form or as I remember them, in these plain white cupcake liners topped off with half a cashew. This is your familiar butter cake desi-fied with mava and cardamom to superlative effect. 

Over Diwali, I had access to some freshly prepared mava (which is a kind of evaporated milk solid and is a key ingredient in many Indian, traditional sweets) and decided to have a go at making them at home. The recipe is thanks to a well connected blogger network. I first saw the recipe on Helen's beautiful blog, Tartelette who incidentally got it from Bina, a dear friend who I've gotten to know through her generous and lovely blog, 'A Bit Wholesomely'. 

The recipe was easy and worked a charm. Although take a tip from me and bake them in cupcake liners because hot out of the oven, they are incredibly soft and can be a bit fiddly to take out. Liners were my original plan till I realised I didn't have any at home.

And this is one cake where you want them to completely cool down before you bite into them. Warm out of the oven, they were very moist and soft and seemed a tad too sweet to my present palate. I wondered if these matched what I remembered of my childhood mava cakes. But, then I let them cool completely and it was everything I wanted from my mava cakes. Cooled down, the mava had given them that characteristic denseness and richness that you expect from these cakes along with that fragrant hit of cardamom that hits all the right spots in the memory bank. Although, when I make these again, I will reduce the sugar a tad bit even if Ma said it was just fine. 

Oh Bombay, you inspire and you disappoint, you demand and you bestow, you anger and  you exhilarate and you do it all in your unique, mad, brutal, chaotic and beautiful way that somehow continues to cast it's spell, despite the ravages of time and man. 


Mawa Cakes

Makes 10-12 mawa cakes, depending on the size of your muffin tins/cupcake liners

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup grated mava**, room temperature (I used shop bought)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar*
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • cashew halves for topping each mava cake, optional but recommended
  • Preheat the oven to 180 deg C. Line the muffin tins with liners.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Reserve.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with hand held beaters), beat together the mava, butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy.
  • Turn the speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time and beating well after each addition. 
  • Still with the motor running on low, add the reserved flour mixture and the milk. Turn the speed back up to medium and beat until the mixture is smooth. Divide evenly among the prepared muffin cases, top each with a cashew half if using and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer comes clean and the top is springy to touch.
  • Transfer the mava cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
*If you would like your mava cakes on the less sweeter side, reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup.
** I was lucky to buy fresh mava from a local store that makes it for Diwali, else it is quite difficult to find. Ask around at your local dairy or mithai shop or you can have a look at these recipes here, here and here, if you want to give it a go to make it at home.

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