Archive | November, 2013

Swirling Up a Cupcake Storm!

20 Nov

27-year old Shitija Nahata started baking as a hobby for family and friends. Little did she know that in just less than two years she would be on her way to building one of the most sought after dessert destinations in Bangalore and Chennai. Her delectable delights have made The Cupcake Company a favourite among most dessert lovers in these two cities. I got chatting with her about her journey so far, future plans and what baking means to her.

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On finding her passion

Soon after her wedding, Shitija bid adieu to her 7 year long career in marketing and started spending a lot of time in the kitchen, doing what she loved doing since childhood – baking for friends and family. “Baking wasn’t new to me. I loved doing it as a little girl and it always caught my fancy. I still remember the first time I made a chocolate mousse, I’ve been fascinated with baking ever since. I probably just didn’t have enough time for it when I was building a career in the corporate world. But soon after my wedding I decided to get back to it” says Shitija. Baking for family and friends and posting pictures of her creations on Facebook attracted a lot of attention and compliments, and even offers from the best bakeries in Chennai for partnerships. But Shitija didn’t want to be a supplier to these bakeries, she wanted to create a brand of her own. After testing her products and baking from home for over a year, Shitija took the plunge and opened her first store in Chennai – The Cupcake Company.

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On building a business and a brand

While passion is key to creating a truly wonderful product, a good business sense helps take the product to places. In my conversation with Shitija, I sensed strong business acumen and great emphasis on ‘brand building’. “When you are confident of your product and know it’s good, the next step is to ensure it’s in the right place at the right time. Your choice of store location, interiors etc can play a big role in creating aspiration with your consumers and building your brand. For example, we chose Indiranagar in Bangalore because it felt right to be there, we wanted to be visible in the company of the best” says the businesswoman in the baker.

To be able to build a brand, one has to be very closely involved with every aspect. Apart from quality control and routine baking, Shitija makes note of every feedback the store receives “I ensure I reply to every email, every Facebook comment and every message myself. It helps me stay in touch with reality and know the good or bad first hand”.

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On creating a niche

There are thousands of bakers across these two cities and cupcakes are no novelty anymore and are available in plenty, so what sets The Cupcake Company apart? “I can confidently say that our quality sets us apart. We have never compromised on our ingredients; we use only the best even if it costs a little extra. And loyal customers are won only with great quality and service “ says a confident Shitija. “Customization is another forte we are proud of. There is no customization request that we have ever turned down and we have always delivered to perfection”.

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On learning and growing

Shitija never went to a culinary school, she’s a self-taught baker but a firm believer in ‘practice makes a man perfect’.  She still remembers an incident when a friend challenged her to make macrons, something she had never done before. She tried and tested different recipes for over four months until she perfected the art and was proud of her creation. “I travel extensively and always bring back some learnings from my travel. I do a lot of research before I visit any place about the bakeries and chefs in the city and ensure I pay a visit to stay updated on what’s happening in the baking world”.

Expanding to other cities is definitely on the radar for The Cupcake Company but Shitija wants to do it herself and not with franchisees “We will expand to other cities but I’d much rather do it myself than get into a franchisee model because I want to have complete control over quality”. As she reveals her ambitions she adds, “One day I want to open a restaurant too, I’m just not sure if it’s the right time yet”.

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On her support system

While the idea and the effort is her own, there are a lot of people who have contributed to Shitija’s success. She doesn’t shy away from talking about her husband and mom, who have helped her build The Cupcake Company from scratch. “My husband is a finance guy and he knows the tricks and traits of business too well. Everytime I think of expanding or opening a new store he makes me present a business plan to him and weighs out all pros and cons with me. He ensures I don’t get carried away and helps me make smart decisions” says Shitija. “My mom has always been around to help me, she spends time in the stores when I’m traveling or manages the show when I’m busy experimenting with recipes. She’s been a big part of my journey” she adds.

Photo Credits : Kunal Chandra & The Cupcake Company

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The India Depressed Cake Shop!

16 Nov

‘Stressed spelled backwards is Desserts’. I’ve seen this line in many posters at cake shops and I couldn’t agree more. Many of us often pick up a dessert to lift our mood when we feel low. But what about those who live in a state of distress day in and day out? On 16th November, desserts played a big role in making a difference in their lives. Lavonne decided to raise awareness and support a global movement for those suffering from depression and mental illnesses by organizing a one day pop up cake shop – The India Depressed Cake Shop in Bangalore. The idea was simple – every baker in the city who wanted to support this cause could volunteer to display and sell their goodies and the proceedings would go to an organization named ‘Medico Pastoral Association’.

When so many bakers come together, ofcourse there has to be a creative twist. The only condition was to ensure all desserts have an element of ‘grey’ – a colour to signify depression. Over thirty bakers from the city came together to support this cause and showcase their goodies.

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Expecting to see a lot of grey colored desserts, there I was, ready to do my rounds at the stalls. As I started chatting with the bakers I realized how every dessert was so thought through and had a story behind it.

Sandhya, a software engineer by profession and a home baker (Cake My Heart) by passion told me about her ‘Vanilla Confetti Cake Pops’. Each one of them had a different shape but with pretty grey flowers on top to state that each person is different but pretty in their own way. And then there was her Chocolate Blackout Cake that was covered with glitter with a message that there is a bright side to everything that’s dark.

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Similarly Purbasha of Sweet Nothings offered me a beautifully layered jar with a cinnamon infused biscuit layer at the bottom, a layer of dark chocolate cake and ganache and on top of was a layer of grey coloured Swiss meringue. When I dug into the jar for my first bite, pop came out a bright red cherry. The message she wanted to convey was simple – no matter how grey we feel on the outside, but inside all of us have a heart which is pretty similar.

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It was great to see support with stalls by established names such as Chef Girish Nayak of Olive Beach, Monica Manchanda of Sin-a- Mon and Leela Thomas of Cupcake Noggins to bakers who have ventured into the baking world just off late. One such baker was Hajra who was filled with excitement to showcase a beautiful Ombre Cake for the first time, especially for a noble cause.

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I absolutely loved the whole idea behind this pop up cake shop! It definitely made me give this cause a thought. Kudos to Chef Vinesh Johny, Jonnie Tan and the entire Lavonne team for bringing this to life.

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The Soiree Pie! (Orange Meringue Pie)

10 Nov

Oranges hold a very special place in my heart.  I was born and brought up (till the age of 11) in the Orange City of India – Nagpur. I still have memories of the house filled with the fragrance of fresh oranges from my granddad’s orange farms every year starting October, all the way till February.  Even today, like a child I wait for the orange season and even more thinking about the desserts I’ll make using this delightful fruit.

This time I knew I was going to make a tart with oranges but was pretty clueless till the last minute about the other ingredients. But closer to baking time I pretty much knew what my pie would look like. So this is essentially a pie with a layer of chocolate ganace, fresh oranges and French Meringue.

I’m going to divide this recipe in four different parts and in the end I will tell you how to put it all together and I suggest you follow the same order. With this recipe you can put together a medium sized pie.

Step 1 – Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients

80 ML Fresh Cream

100 Gms Dark Chocolate (Cooking chocolate is preferred but I chose to use Lindt Dark Chocolate)

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Start with the chocolate ganache first because it takes the longest to set. On a double boiler mix the cream and chocolate until it has mixed completely. Now pour it in a bowl, let it cool and place it in the fridge for atleast 3-4 hours (best way to do this is to let it set overnight).

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Step 2 – Sweet Paste

Ingredients

100 gms Flour

80 gms Butter (melted)

3 Teaspoons Egg

40 gms Icing Sugar

A pinch of salt

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Mix all the ingredients and knead the dough. Remember not to over knead it. If you feel the dough is not moist enough, sprinkle some water but remember not to make it runny. Now wrap the dough in a clean wrap and place it in the fridge for half an hour.

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Once the dough is out, butter a pie plate and place the rolled dough in it. Adjust the dough around the plate in gentle upward direction so it is equally distributed.  Remember your pie is going to hold a few things inside so it shouldn’t be too thin at the same time it should be easy to bite into, so it can’t be too thick either. After trimming the edges with a knife, blind bake it in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for atleast 20 mins or till turns golden brown.

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Step 3- Fresh Oranges

Dice two fresh oranges in small pieces (without the peal ofcourse) and place them in the fridge.

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Step 4 – French Meringue

Ingredients

2 Eggs

80 Gms Caster Sugar

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Carefully pour only the egg whites in a bowl. Now start whisking it with an electric whisker. Once the egg white starts getting a little fluffy, start folding in the sugar slowly.

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Keep whisking it (for atleast 5-7 minutes) until the meringue starts to look shiny. One trick to know if your meringue is done is to turn the bowl with the meringue upside down. If it’s not runny and stays in the bowl, your meringue is done.

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Step 5

Now is the time to put it all together. Once your pie is out of the oven, let it cool down. Pour the chocolate ganache in the pie.

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Next, place the fresh oranges on the chocolate ganache.

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You can either make a pattern with the meringue on top or cover the pie with a layer of meringue.

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Garish it with some chocolate chips and your pie is ready to be served.

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A Coffee with Chef Rajith!

6 Nov

Closer to my travel dates to Colombo I started doing my research on the bakeries I must visit while I’m there.  One common name showed up in almost all reviews – ‘Pebbles’ at Taj Samudra. It is rated as one of the best there, though I had my doubts. I know Taj serves the best quality food but in my mind the best bakeries are usually found in the most cosy and unexplored nooks and corners. But since I was staying there I thought it might be worth dropping in.

So there I was, at Pebbles on a cloudy evening in Colombo with a beautiful view of the ocean and a cup of cappuccino by my side as I waited for Pastry Chef Rajith Kalhara to join me.  Expecting a forty something year old man to join me (I assume it would take that long to reach such a prestigious position in one of the best hotel groups), I was startled when I was greeted by a humble, 29-year old who introduced himself as the pastry chef at Taj Samudra. Soon as he joined me, I knew I wasn’t going to chat with him about the desserts he had to offer there (well, the reviews and the delectable looking desserts spoke for themselves) but I wanted to hear his story and how he’s made it there.

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Chef Rajith with some of his creations for the day

A Computer Science student by qualification, Chef Rajith discovered his love for food and creating it by chance when he decided to find a part time job on the side to support his education. Little did he know that a job at a Chinese restaurant will change his career and life forever.  From an assistant to the chef at the restaurant, in just about four years he was now the head chef himself. While Computer Science was long forgotten, he still felt the need to polish his baking skills, something he discovered his love for over time. That’s when he decided to do a course at PRIMA and in a year he was all set to venture into the baking world.

Looking back at his training years, he fondly remembers his experience at Taj Clubhouse in Chennai “It was one of the best experiences that prepared me to become a tough baker.  Stretched hours at work, almost upto 16 hours a day helped me become a perfectionist. I was literally breathing desserts. It was almost like my life revolved around it and the joy of creating made me more and more passionate about this profession everyday”. Now, for over 16 months he’s been cooking quite a storm at Pebbles.

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Some of the best from the counter – Carrot Cake, Chocolate Cake & Swiss Roll

So what makes Pebbles one of the most loved bakeries in Colombo? In the chef’s words, “Striving for excellence and perfection in whatever we do and create, that’s what the entire team works for”. The Chef is a big fan of traditional recipes and believes, deep down eventhough we all try innovative desserts, most of us feel happiest with a simple chocolate or sponge cake (I must agree, that statement hit a chord with me). No wonder, the daily spread of desserts include Chocolate Cakes, Swiss Rolls, Pineapple Upside Down Cakes, Walnut Brownies, Carrot Cakes and many more such popularly loved desserts. That doesn’t mean there’s no scope for experimentation. The chef also believes in doing the different and offering a variety to his regular visitors. “In any profession, innovation is important and as bakers we will continue to showcase our creativity with new additions and interesting recipes that are rare in Colombo”.

I can’t end this post without mentioning what a brilliant chocolatier the chef is. Though I did try the chocolates and absolutely loved them when I met him, what made me realize the amount of hard work that team of bakers puts in when I found a personalized chocolate box in my room in the night. With such massive volumes everyday, there is no compromise on the taste whatsoever!

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Chocolates made at the Taj Samudra Bakery