If you are a baking enthusiast in Mumbai, chances are you’ve heard of Purple Foodie — a decade-old blog on all things baking. It has been chef and baker Shaheen Peerbhai’s passion project, even before baking became cool. And if you have been a follower, you know it is tough to scroll through her blog and Instagram without drooling all over your phone.
Peerbhai (29) has catalogued over a hundred recipes of cakes, cookies, brownies and more complex French desserts like madeleines and financiers, along with images and easy tips and tricks of home baking. “This blog is my holy place. This is where I come to get away from things, put my thoughts down, without dirtying it with advertising,” says London-based Peerbhai.
Cupcake and crayon
In 2011, Peerbhai, who quit her cushy marketing job in an IT company in Mumbai, moved to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu (LCB). During this time, she visited many neighbourhood bakeries and markets to borrow influences that shaped her style of cooking. “After my course, a friend (who used to be a chef in the US) and I got together to do a pop-up called Friday Lunches. These lunches grew popular and, before we knew it, we were cooking over 80 meals a week,” she says.
However, after a year, Peerbhai moved to London, and her friend, Jennie Levitt, moved to Bogota (Colombia). “We were figuring out ways to collaborate long-distance. That’s when the idea of a book came about,” she adds. Popular recipes from the pop-up lunches soon made it to a book proposal, which was picked up by Sterling Publishing (Barnes & Noble) earlier this year. The recipe book will contain small plates, tartines, desserts and drinks made from scratch. And each recipe will be illustrated in water colour by Levitt, who is also an artist.
We meet Peerbhai during her annual month-long vacation to Mumbai, between her busy baking class schedules. “My parents’ apartment in Juhu resembles a store room. There are pre-portioned ingredients put in boxes that are stacked sky high,” she explains. This meticulous planning, bordering on obsession, often comes across in her blogs too. Her recipes, when followed to the T, are known to produce excellent results — a quality vetted by her editors at Sterling Publishing. “We test each recipe six times before shortlisting it for the book,” informs the 29-year-old chef.
Back to school
After finishing her course at LCB, Peerbhai secured multiple scholarships, including the James Beard Foundation (USA) and the Culinary Trust (USA). Most recently, she studied an advanced course in traditional French cuisine at Alain Ducasse’s cooking school in the outskirts of Paris. “Though I have always been a baker, being in a cooking school made me confident. I learnt to define my style of cooking — food that has a balance of flavours, is non-fussy and looks elegant,” says Peerbhai. Her most recent stint in a professional kitchen was at Lyle’s (a Michelin-starred restaurant) in London, where she honed her pastry skills.
Between moving to different cities and working at various restaurants, the only thing that has remained a constant is Peerbhai’s blog, and the many obsessions she picks up along the way. “My latest obsession is canelés. It is a finicky French pastry; it has to be in a specific shape, baked in the right kind of copper mould, made with batter that is rested for at least 24 hours. You can’t whisk in too much air, or too less. I am trying to perfect it,” she says.
Watch: Shaheen Peerbhai’s easy chocolate chip and pecan cookie recipe
Bakers’ hacks: a 5-point guide
Always preheat the oven for baking.
Use real vanilla beans or pure extract.
Use a scale instead of cups for better accuracy.
Use chocolate instead of chocolate compound.
Always sift flour before using.