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.
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.