June 7, 2010

Mava/ Mawa Cake - An Indian Cardamom Cake (Version 1)

As I have mentioned a couple of times before, baking is traditionally not a part of Indian cooking methods. A history of trade with other countries of the world, foreign invasions, the arrival of Christianity and Islam, and colonization have however, had an effect on the cuisines of various parts of India.
Baking has become an innate part of some regional Indian cuisines and there are a few cakes, biscuits (which is what we call our cookies) and bakes which are very Indian though their origin might have been elsewhere.

In Kerala (my home state) and Goa (where I now live), the Christian community is famous for their festive baking as elsewhere in India. Similarly, the Parsis and Iranis in Mumbai are also well known for their baked confections. Many other cakes and biscuits had their origins in the tea-time practices of the British when they were in India. While a lot of these are disappearing with time, one can still find small bakeries in various parts of the country.

I am going to keep looking for recipes for such bakes and whenever I do, try them out and share them here.
One such bake is the “Mava Cake”, which is just one of the excellent eats made and served at Irani bakeries/ cafés.

The Irani café, a fast disappearing tradition, refers to the cafés run by immigrants to India from Iran and Persia in the early 20th century. These cafes were very popular for the delicious yet inexpensive food they served. Many of these cafés have closed down because they couldn’t cope with the fast food culture that has swept in.
It would be unfortunate if they totally disappeared because they are an insight into a culture, tradition and cuisine which was very much a part of India.

I’m not an expert on Irani cafés and the only thing truly Irani I had ever had was Irani chai which is strong, sweet, milky and deliciously flavoured with cardamom. Yet I had heard so much about the food served in those cafés and the bread, cakes and biscuits made in their bakeries, especially their mava cake.

Mava, also known as khoya, is the base in many Indian milk-based sweets. It is made by reducing full fat buffalo milk (or cow milk) over low heat, until most of the liquid has evaporated leaving behind the milk solids.
There are different types of mava depending on the moisture content and each type is used in different dishes.
Mava is easily available in the stores in most parts of India, but you can always make it at home. It just takes a lot of time and a watchful eye.

About 6 months back, I came across a mention of the mava cake in something I was reading. I wanted to try making it but had no idea how it tasted. It was sheer co-incidence that my husband was in Mumbai on some work then, so I immediately messaged him asking if he could bring back some mava cake.

My husband is now quite reconciled with the vagaries of having a wife who blogs about food, and is never surprised by my occasionally strange demands for something or the other whenever he travels out on work!
So, as a matter of course, he messaged me back asking “How urgent is this?”!!

I replied it really wasn’t, but searched out all information as to where exactly he could source the cake from, and sent it to him. The next day, my husband came back from Mumbai and handed me two rectangular brown paper boxes, tied up in string, bearing the name of the 103 year old bakers and confectioners, Kyani & Co.

The rather plain and unpretentious packages were opened to reveal two somewhat ordinary looking cakes (one with almonds and another with cashewnuts). One bite of the mava cake however, revealed why this very rich yet soft and melt-in-the-mouth cake is so popular with everyone who has ever had a taste of it.
Now all I needed to do was to see if I could reproduce a cake as close as possible to the original.

There weren’t too many recipes out there and most of them required more eggs than I was happy using since I didn’t want an “eggy” cake. They also seemed to need a lot of butter, but then the mava cake is a very rich cake. So I cut down on the eggs and tweaked the recipe, baked these cakes a couple of times to arrive at a cake which comes pretty close in taste and texture to the ones I ate from Kyani and Co.

Living where I am, I wasn’t too sure how good or fresh store bought mava/ khoya would be, so I made some at home. This method takes a bit of time, but this is how mava/ khoya is traditionally made.
Another easier version of home-made mava can be found on Helen’s blog. This source provides more alternatives for mava, but I have no idea how well they would taste in this cake.

You can make the mava cake as cupcakes, but the cakes I got from Mumbai came as small loaves. As I did not have a suitable sized loaf tin, I made mine as a round cake. I tried to stay as authentic as possible to the appearance and taste of that cake.
The cashewnut mava cake from Kyani was flavoured with cardamom (which I used in my cake too) while their almond mava cake was flavoured with nutmeg.
Mava/ Mawa Cake - An Indian Cardamom Cake

Making Mava:


1 litre milk (I used 2% fat) ~ 3/4 to 1 cup mava


Pour the milk into a deep heavy walled pot/ pan. This is important as the milk needs to cook very slowly. Bring the milk to a boil and then turn down the heat. Allow the milk to simmer and keep stirring frequently until the milk reduces down so that the milk solids are very moist but there’s no visible liquid in the pot/ pan.

Take it off the fire and allow it to cool. This mava can be refrigerated in an airtight container for about 3 days.

Making The Mava Cake:


1/2 cup mava

60gm butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp powdered cardamom

1/3 cup milk

1 egg

about 10 to 12 unsalted cashewnut halves


Beat the sugar, soft butter and mava till light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Mix together the flour, baking powder and cardamom and add alternately with the milk beating well with each addition till smooth.

Pour the batter in to a buttered and floured 9” cake tin. Sprinkle the cashew halves on top and bake at 180C for about 25 minutes or till the top of the cake is a golden brown and a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, remove and cool on a rack.

This cake is very rich and it might be advisable to cut smaller servings than usual. It should serve about 10 to 12.

For variations of the mava cake, do see Nandita’s eggless mava cake and Vaishali’s vegan version.


Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal said...

Sounds, such a nice one. Very delicious as I love mawa. So, bookmarked it for future cooking :)

Happy Cook said...

I have neve rhad this have seen once this in Tartletts place i think. Years ago we went to a Iranian cafe in Mumbai which was really good. Dont know if that is still there.
Cake looks so so good.

sra said...

hey, I was just thinking of you and your post popped up! liked reading it. a friend once took me to an irani cafe for chai and it was an experience - not sure if I've ever had this!

Asha @ FSK said...

Where have you been?? You have been MIA for soo long! I have something for you on my blog!!

btw, i have never been to a Irani cafe.. Hub promises to take me everytime when we are in B'bay but then comes up with cricket as an excuse to not take me!! :OO

Nupur said...

Bookmarked!!! Thank you so very much, would love to be able to make mava cake at home. It looks just so good.

simply.food said...

I never thought you could add mava to cake I have used it in indian sweets.Nice recipe.

Sayali said...

Hi der,

I have a ThankYou Cake and Circle Of friends award for you. Check Out Tomorrow. :) Have Fun and enjoy every bite in life :)

Jayasri said...

hi Aparna, I made this quite sometime back, Made it from seeing Helen's blog!!, I made it as cup cakes!!, when I came back from work I had only left with one which I used it for my click!!, my kids just loved it, My kids were saying it tasted like Kulfi!!, it was so really delicious!!, your cake looks delicious!!

Cynthia said...

Oh baby, you had me at cardamom.

Priya said...

such a lovely cake .. just delicious..

Apu said...

Aparna, Irani cafes are some the best cafes in Mumbai. They have the most amazing bakeries and you will find an amazing array of seasonal baked products on display there. Its quite common for office goers to drop by for an afternoon tea and snack at such cafes before heading home - on the local!!

suma said...

Have read a lot about Irani cafes, great to see this recipe,sounds unique and yumm!!

Whoa!! The plight of husbands and kids of food bloggers:-))lol!!

Sharmilee! :) said...

Cake looks soo soft

jayasree said...

The cake looks moist and delicious. More than the picture, your write up makes me want to try this.

Rajani said...

looks delicious aparna! and hats pff to you for doggedly pursuing the kayani's mawa cake.

shaz said...

Sounds very interesting, the cake looks light and I'm trying to imagine what it tastes like. Very impressed that you put so much effort into maing this!

astheroshe said...

SOO awesome! I never heard of mawa? Gotta try this one...soo interesting. :))

Sukhdeepak said...

Very delicious and mouth watering dish.

Jaya Wagle said...

Aparna, visiting Irani cafes and eating their mawa cake used to be my favorite activity on weekends. The marble topped tables, the hight ceiling and the old people playing table games is or used to be standard fixtures of these cafes. Thank you for the memories. :)

And I can not believe you made mawa at home. That takes so much patience. I bow down to you, sensei.

Jaya Wagle said...

Have been meaning to ask you if you intend to reply to Sumati's comment on your last post? I thought it was rude, opinionated and uncalled for. I don't think it is her or anyone else's place to suggest what you should be blogging or cooking.
Ok, I am being opinionated too but I hope I am not being rude?

Jaya Wagle said...

Oops! Just checked and loved your response. Got to go get the foot out of my mouth.

Suman Singh said...

WOW...mava cake looks awesome...thanks for sharing this recipe!

Esme said...

This sounds delicious.

Anh said...

This is an interesting post. An ingredient is so new to me (mava) :)

Miri said...

I have grown up eating mava cakes in Mumbai and this post of yours made my mouth water with memories - I am definitely making this next weekend - thanks for perfecting the recipe!!

Preserving traditions is the subject of my latest post - do share any tips you have! Thanks

Parita said...

I too had bookmarked Helen's version but never got around making the cake. Your version looks equally delicious, love the paper in the first pic..is it a baking paper or normal gift wrapping kind?

Aparna said...

Appreciate all your comments.

Finla, it might still be around though many have closed down now.

I've had Irani chai too, but want to experience the atmosphere and food. Next visit to Mumbai,Sra. :)

A passing virus fell in love with me, Asha! :)
Am better now. Thanks, I saw the "little something" and thrilled beyond words. Have e-mailed you.

Thank you very much, Sayali.

I remember seeing them on your blog, Jayasri.

Jaya, that comment was a bit rude. Guess she has the right to express her point of view.
Just that it doesn't agree with mine. LOL

Will check it out, Miri.

No Parita, its not baking paper. I baked the cake in a round tin and just wrapped it in that paper to make it look prettier.
Its not wrapping paper in the strict sense, but textured hand-made paper.

sweetartichoke said...

Beautiful pictures, and the cake looks delicious. I have never tried mava before, but any cake with cardamom wins my heart :-)

San said...

Hi Aparna,

Iam fond of baking dear,a smile popped up on my face whn i saw ur succulent mava cake.Your space is interesting to read with cute blurbs ,following u.

Mallugirl said...

There is a condensed milk cake in Kerala traditions.. Does this taste similar to that? I get mava to buy here. which would be better.. making it from scratch or using store bought one?

Erica said...

This looks absolutely incredible!!!!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting blog and recipe. I have bookmarked your blog and hope to try your recipe soon.


Nags said...

this is awesome! i really need to make myself some mava!

Cynthia said...

wow this cake's exactly my cuppa tea. want to sink my teeth into one too!

Aparna said...

Sweetartichoke, cardamom is my favourite spice. :)

Thank you, San.

Shn, homemade is defintely better, but if you can find good quality mava in the store, then use it by all means.
Didn't know about the condensed milk cake in Kerala. Must check that out.

Sunshinemom said...

Kyani's was witness to many events in office, friends' birthdays, anniversaries, high scores and admissions:). Their walnut cake ranks highest in demand and of course, the Irani chai:). I remember the custard too.

I don't go there anymore since all their products have eggs but Kyani and Sassanian Bakeries will always enthrall many cake lovers!

The mawa cake looks perfect in texture!