Of sugar and spice and all things nice: Maska Maarke with Kunal Vijayakar
My life has always been full of emotional upheavals and ups and downs. There are occasions when I start hyperventilating and even my Apple watch can’t keep up with my heart rate. On other days I am faced with bouts of anxiety and fear. Sometimes I am quiet and am moved to tears. After years of deliberation and study, I have accepted that my condition is irreversible, and the root cause of this malady is ‘dessert’.
Dessert makes me hyperventilate. My heart rate actually rises at sight of a crusty lemon meringue pie, or even the thought of it, bursting with fresh tangy citrusy lemon, a crispy, crusty, buttery base and soft fluffy meringue on top. Now anxiety. Anxiety and fear are to me a common recurrence; I usually have an attack after lunch or dinner, when I realise that there is nothing sweet to end the meal with. And finally tears. Chocolate in any form moves me to tears.
I grew up in a home where dessert was de rigueur. Every Maharashtrian meal in my grandmums’s house, where I spent most of my childhood, ended with a huge bowl of ‘pudding’. It could be red wobbly jelly, a smooth and browned crème caramel, a simple bread and butter pud or just fruit salad with a quick Brown & Polson’s custard poured on top. Some dessert, never nothing. And I actually miss those days and miss those desserts.
I’m going to talk about three such puddings that have lately been lost in the maze of cheesecakes, panna cottas, cupcakes and donuts. The first is the simple but classic Trifle Pudding. A trifle pudding is one half of a Tipsy Pudding, a dessert now rarely found outside the army or navy college mess. Speak to any officer in the Indian armed forces and the Tipsy Pudding is bound to come up. No formal dinner is complete without it.
The Tipsy Pudding is similar to what we know as the Trifle Pudding. A Trifle Pudding is actually a dish born of two. The Tipsy Cake, made with sponge soaked in brandy and a simple custard. And the English Trifle, made in a bowl or tray with handmade egg custard poured over the Tipsy Cake and topped with fresh fruit and whipped cream.
Put away in the fridge till each layer sways the others, while still retaining their individuality. When you serve it, it’s a cold wedge of booze-soaked sponge, blubbery custard, podgy fruit and bouncy clouds of whipped cream. I’ve tried a Trifle Pudding made by Hiroo Gidwani of Desserts R Us. It’s quite a joy, and I’m sure if you have a preference for the kind of fruit you’d like in a Trifle, it would hardly be a trifle.
The other pudding I am about to drool over comes with a story, a legend. It is said that sometime in the late 19th century, a waiter carrying a huge strawberry, meringue and cream pudding at an Eton v Harrow cricket match in England, dropped it by mistake. The meringue broke into pieces and the strawberries and cream along with the broken pieces of meringue made a huge mess. Rather than throwing the whole pudding away, they scooped it up and served the mess. And so the dessert came to be called the Eton Mess and has been served up as a summer pudding ever since.
No one really makes this dessert any more, but Madeira and Mime in Powai does a Chocolate Eton Mess (white chocolate, dark chocolate, whipped cream, fruit). Pali Village Café in Bandra serves up a pretty good Eton Mess, with the kinds of meringue, berries and cream that can really mess with your mind.
Which brings me to the last dessert on my little list, one that is often considered the genesis of molecular gastronomy. I speak with great reverence of the Baked Alaska. The hot and cold dessert that’s cake and ice-cream veiled and tucked away inside an oven-baked meringue. The art is to keep the ice-cream hard and cold and the meringue warm and toasty. So start with slices of soft spongy cake. Cover the cake with frozen ice-cream and then cover the whole dessert with stiffly whipped egg whites and caster sugar.
Introduce the whole bomb into a blazing oven or under a scorching salamander. As soon as the egg white (meringue) is brown, bring it to the table and flambé it with brandy. Serve it bursting with flame.
It’s a delight to feel your dessert spoon plunge straight through the snowy meringue, scooping ice-cream and cake all in one go. Gaylord at Churchgate is one of the last places I know of that serves a real Baked Alaska. Oh be still, my beating heart.