What do you do when you love to entertain but keep running out of ideas of what to serve for dessert? Mumbaikar Nikita Sanyal solved her dilemma by baking sweet treats herself. Gradually, the chorus of oohs and aahs from friends led to requests to make her lemon flan and cookies-and-cream cheesecake for them, and prompted Sanyal to launch her own business, Bombake. It’s kept her busier than she’d ever been as a hostess: “Some clients order my lime cracker pie every two to three weeks.”
Sanyal is just the latest among a legion of women who’ve started to leverage their dessert-making talents into home-based businesses. Well-heeled women are firing up their ovens, rolling out pastry, and even quitting their jobs, to pursue their passion for baking. Some like Delhi’s Ridhima Khanna take summer courses in New York to stay up to date with international trends. (Khanna learned to make the trendy croissant-doughnut hybrid ‘cronut’ this year).
Others like Mumbai’s Stephanie Lobo are building their reputation by baking an order in as little as five hours and delivering it to a client’s house. And then there’s Delhi resident Arti Jain, who started off looking for some cookie recipes for her kids, but ended up spending three hours every night, reading tutorials, watching YouTube videos and inviting herself over to the homes of anyone whom she discovered could make good fondant.
All the women say that while they’re happy to turn a profit, it isn’t essential; they’d rather bake to please. And they swear they’re happier baking at home than doing anything else.
AKA: Pixie Mojo
GREATEST HITS: Xmas pudding and mulled wine hamper TIPS: Weigh and measure all ingredients accurately. Sift flour to aerate it. This lightness translates into the finished product. Butter wrappers are handy to grease baking tins.
Good, Batter, Best
India’s explosion of home bakers echoes a worldwide trend. The world, it seems, is now obsessed with homemade desserts that are several notches higher than your grandma’s easy-bake chocolate sponge cake. New York’s Magnolia bakery, which ignited the cupcake trend in 1996, has a bestselling cookbook that is a Bible for many home bakers. And when Sofia Coppola fetishised the macaroons from Paris bakery Ladurée in her 2006 film Marie Antoinette, macaroons suddenly became world-famous. Closer home, an episode of Masterchef Australia, which featured a macaroon tower, spawned a similar craze. In the UK, the show The Great British Bake Off (on air since 2010) has made baking cool again. An article in The Guardian stated that sales of cake stands at Marks & Spencer rose 243 per cent in the UK in the run-up to the show’s 2012 finale.
“In India, it all really exploded three to four years ago, but more so in the last two years,” says Kanika Parab, co-founder of Brown Paper Bag, an online lifestyle website. Of course, shows like Masterchef have done much to glamourise the labour-intensive work, precise proportions and temperamental ovens. But Parab adds that there’s also been a “explosion in cooking studios, purpose-built venues for one-day classes and short workshops in icing cupcakes, mastering macaroons and baking cakes” that may have tipped people over to the dark chocolaty side.
It also helps that for the first time in our metros, a recipe you may see in a magazine or on TV is actually 100 per cent replicable at home – you don’t need to rely on make-do substitutes for ingredients, tools or equipment. Belgian chocolate? The supermarket has six varieties. Maraschino cherries and real vanilla pods? The gourmet store imports them. Cupcake corers, gluten-free flour and edible sprinkles? Local websites will deliver. In short, everything a home baker needs to turn her cake from gooey to gorgeous is available.
And if it isn’t available (or proves too expensive), many home bakers turn suppliers themselves, stocking up on ingredients and tools on trips abroad. Or they turn to friends and family. “My husband picks up sprinkles for me,” says Sanyal.
What’s exceptional is that home bakers are finding customers even as commercial patisseries open in nearly every suburb, selling a lot of the same desserts. Chef Marzban K Avari, pastry chef at the Sofitel BKC hotel in Mumbai, says home bakers are holding firm precisely because they can take all the time they need to make a customer happy. But “price-wise and taste-wise, also, they are cheaper,” he adds since some use cheaper ingredients. Home bakers, however, are quick to point out that they don’t always cut corners. “I use an expensive brand of Belgian chocolate for my desserts,” says Sanyal.
Still, Mehernosh Khajotia of Celebrations Fine Confections, a pastry shop in Mumbai, believes that home bakers cannot compete with professionals. “They’re usually a one-man operation, so they don’t have the manpower or correct equipment to do big orders,” he explains. “I can make a ton of chocolate for a single order. Which home baker can match that?”
AKA Addicted–Freshly Baked
GREATEST HITS: Carrot walnut cinnamon cupcake
TIPS: Mix dry and wet ingredients separately. Sugar is a wet ingredient, mix with other wet ingredients. Once you add flour to batter, don’t over beat or you’ll get a crumbly cake. Put your cake in the oven once the dry ingredients have been added.
Dough a Dear
A gigantic order is clearly out of the range of home bakers and their little ovens, but while they acknowledge they can’t churn out large quantities at one time, they point to their adapatability instead. “Commercial guys have a set menu,” says Lobo. “But I can customise.” She recently created a coffee-and-coconut cake on demand for a customer.
Others go to extraordinary lengths to please clients. Arti Sarin Jain prefers to meet customers before preparing cakes. “If it’s a birthday cake for a child, I ask the mom to show me images of the dress and shoes the child will be wearing on that day, the wallpaper in their room, etc., and then design the cake in such a way that the child will be able to relate to it,” she explains. Jain once produced a pink tiara-topped cake after looking at 20 images sent by a particularly fussy client. She prides herself on never repeating a design: “I look at my cakes as a form of art.”
Ridhima Khanna too takes suggestions for new cupcake combinations directly from customers and regards her time at culinary school as her USP. “It exposes me to the latest trends and gives my creations an international flavour,” she explains.
Aarti Sarin Jain
AKA: Baking From My Heart
GREATEST HITS: Elaborate customised cakes
TIPS: Don’t refrigerate iced cupcakes. If you do have to refrigerate cupcakes, take them out in time for your party (in the morning for an evening party). To prevent the cake top from cracking, cover the cake tin with foil halfway through your baking time.
Icing on the Cake
For customers, however, the increasing numbers of home bakers is sweet news indeed. It means more variety, a greater likelihood of getting new, trendy desserts, and the assurance that your dessert was created personally by someone who knows and cares, not some underling on an assembly line. “I order cakes from home bakers on almost every occasion and I’ve not been disappointed yet,” says Delhi resident Divya Burman, who has sampled cakes from Jain. “I enjoy the fact that they can be customised, and I feel such cakes have a better flavour; shop-brought cakes tend to taste a little synthetic sometimes.”
While it may appear like there’s a home-baking enterprise (or five!) in every neighbourhood, the industry is in no danger of collapsing in on itself any time soon. Almost all the bakers and quite a few professionals agree that the pastry and dessert category is underdeveloped in India, even as customers are becoming savvier about dessert. “People travel abroad and then come back, looking for the same kind and quality of sweet treats, and for new things to try,” says Sanyal. “That’s why although I started my business only in August this year, I don’t think I’m too late an entrant.”
GREATEST HITS: Dulce de leche pie
TIPS: Bring all ingredients to room temperature before you start baking. Incorporate dry ingredients together with a whisk to reduce clumps before adding wet ingredients. To slice a cake neatly use a hot knife (dip in hot water and wipe dry). Wipe the blade clean between slices.
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From HT Brunch, December 22
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