Sweet Somethings | Verve Magazine
Wine & Dine Text by Shirin Mehta “If they cannot have bread, let them eat cake!” Each time that I read this admittedly cliched misquote that the last French queen, Marie Antoinette, apparently never actually said, I think to myself, “Wouldn’t I just love to have them both?!” Greedy? Not so much! Just that […]

Wine & Dine

Text by Shirin Mehta

“If they cannot have bread, let them eat cake!” Each time that I read this admittedly cliched misquote that the last French queen, Marie Antoinette, apparently never actually said, I think to myself, “Wouldn’t I just love to have them both?!” Greedy? Not so much! Just that there is something so life-affirming about the sight and smell of bread, that a fresh, fragrant loaf will make your spirits rise as surely as the yeast makes the dough rise to a sunny, earthy, golden hue. And as for cake…do I need to say anything more? Soft, gooey, crunchy, melty, pillowy, in all its various forms, cake, well, is just cake. Scrumptious, celebratory and guaranteed to ignite a state of happiness.

Well, the good news is that our country that has thrived on traditional sweets (always welcome) and industrial bread now has a batch of young bakers who travelled abroad or to newly popular local cooking and baking schools (our list here has one who is self-taught) so that we could have a diverse choice of Western-style breads and cakes on offer as well. (Not to say that the locally baked crusty gutli and soft paos delivered by the cycle-pedaling breadwallah, are not as delicious; but a change in palate is always welcome, no?)

These bakers, with their keen eye for design, extend their own aesthete, so apparent in their own sense of dress and style, to the care and detail of their sweet creations. Their well-fashioned pies and tarts showcase their inherent flair. And to visually “accentuate” the tools of their trade, these hands-on bakers readily exchanged oven mitts for fashion gloves that speak to their individual style. A far cry perhaps from the comfort clothing and footwear that make life easier and safer in the kitchen, but then, who’s complaining?

Right: The Good Butter’s cinnamon rolls with clean flavors of cinnamon, butter and sugar, encased in a tender dough.

Simply visit their Instagram pages to view a Willy Wonka-esque repertoire of goodies jostling each other for attention. Mallika Tandon’s rustic fig and cheese galette features “super-flaky shortcrust pastry, goat cheese mascarpone, and a drizzle of honey”. Noor Mubarak’s dark chocolate babka loaf and Homer Simpson D’oh-nuts would be hard to resist at any age. Flavia Lewis’ oranges and lemons is a “seven-layered rainbow cake of citrus sponge, sandwiched with lemon curd and whipped, white-chocolate frosting”. Zainab Motiwala’s sourdough cinnamon and organic orange buns are a “no-waste dessert that uses the whole citrus fruit; orange and lemon peels are rubbed into the sugar along with organic Ceylon cinnamon. Glazed with our signature whole orange juice marmalade”. Mitali Sahani’s experiments with sourdough, which she calls “a way of life”, have resulted in the SoDo – sourdough doughnuts – as well as  sourdough focaccia. While self-taught baker Smita Sharan who is focused on “all-natural baking” offers her sourdough bread just a little bit over-browned. “We bake because we love to share our passion for baking. Fortunately or unfortunately that means we are also a little bullheaded about how we bake. Luckily, we have found folks who see that as a positive (may we keep finding such people)”, she states on Instagram.

Beignets, kouign-amann (a cross between a croissant and a palmier), cinnabombs, cronuts…. Do not call this a cultural shift, (Diwali pedas and ladus, deeply sunk into the Indian celebration psyche, will always continue to do the rounds) but rather an extension for the palate. And while Queen Marie Antoinette probably indulged in only the purest versions of delicate French confections, our bakers have tapped into the “hybrids” trend. A tasty blend for the senses, an experiment with flavours in baking. So much more than vanilla…. An inclusion of cultures, flavours and techniques that seems ever so right at this time.

They speak to Verve of their baking passion and dreams for a delicious future….

Flavia Lewis, Salt by Flavia, Mumbai

Shirt, earrings, both Flavia’s own; gloves, from The Source.
Photographed by Mallika Chandra

Did Salt by Flavia start as a passion project, or had it always been planned as a full-blown business? Do you bake at home, or do you have a separate kitchen?
I started baking in 2013 while I was still at the hobby course at IHM (Institute of Hotel Management); that turned into Flavia’s Confectionery in 2014, post pastry school, and eventually Salt this year. My journey has been a reverse one of sorts – it started as a business, as a student fresh out of college without a job and purpose. (There was so much pressure to just be something and to know what you wanted to do for the rest of your life.) Now, nearly eight years later, it’s definitely a passion project. I currently operate from the kitchen at home.

Where did you study baking? What or who inspired you to be a baker? How did this influence your baking style?
I took the three-month pastry hobby course at IHM in 2013 and studied pastry at the Culinary Arts Academy in Switzerland soon after.

I’ve always been in the kitchen. While I was growing up, my family threw many parties, and my father was very meticulous about the menu planning, shopping, cooking, serving – each one was an elaborate affair. Meals at home were also something that we were always a part of, so I took to cooking very early on.

My grandmother died when I was three, but my memory of her is centred around food – through stories and recipes. Both she and my late father have influenced my baking style in the sense that there are always boundaries to be pushed. There are new flavour combinations to be tried; things that wouldn’t work together at first glance, but they actually do. Sometimes they may not, but experimenting is key.

How would you describe your style of baking? Are there any new techniques that you learnt, or are the European classical/American baking styles still relevant today?
My baking style is comfortable: easy to work with, easy to eat, easy to enjoy. There are many new baking styles I’ve picked up in kitchens that I’ve worked in, in addition to the European techniques that I have learned. However, for India, I think it’s very important to adapt to what works for you. Some of the ways we work may be considered sacrilegious to others, but they are influenced by our environment.

How does your baking style connect with your fashion sense?
My fashion sense is also very much centred around being and feeling comfortable, with some small pieces added to accentuate or pop, like earrings or a bright lipstick. Similarly, with my pastry, you will find layers and elements that pop as you take another bite.

What are the clothes and shoes you prefer to wear when you’re baking?
Shorts! It’s almost always shorts and a T-shirt. I have a pair of glittery pink Skechers slides; they feel like I’m walking on clouds. When you’re on your feet for hours together, this is a very important quality to have in footwear.

What are some of the misconceptions people have about baking and bread making in particular? Since it’s more scientific and tedious than cooking.
Yes, pastry is an exact science and may seem more tedious than cooking, but the more you experiment with it, the easier it gets to play around with things and work by feeling. Even with bread, once you have the basics down pat, life gets much easier. Honestly, I don’t see why it is considered so difficult; but then again, some people understand accounting and finance, I understand pastry.

Do you prefer local ingredients, imported ingredients or a mix? What is the most important ingredient in your kitchen?
I try and use only fresh local ingredients. The most important ingredient in my kitchen is butter! Better butter actually makes everything better.

Birthday Cake: Cream cheese pound cake, salted potato chip praline, 54.5 per cent couverture dark chocolate frosting.

What are some of your specialties? Which has been your most popular baked item?
Years ago, I created the Frankenstein out of leftover bits-and-pieces and scraps – five years later, it is still the most popular item on my menu. The Frankenstein is a layered dessert made of a chocolate chip cookie base, baked cheesecake, caramel and sea salt, and finished with a chocolate whiskey glaze.

Have you experimented with or reinvented any Indian sweets? Do you think Western-style pastries and desserts will ever be as popular as desi mithais in India?
I haven’t experimented with Indian sweets because I think they’re great the way they are; I don’t know enough to try and make them better. I think both pastries and mithais have their own markets; they’re not the same thing.

What new pastry are you working on that you are most excited about? Is there any pastry that you loved but the customers did not appreciate?
I’m currently working on an ode to the drink Cabo Pineapple (tequila, pineapple, lime) that I’m very excited about! I did have a mango cream tart that I was thrilled about, but it didn’t taste as good in reality as it did in my head. Oops!

(Left): Scheherazade – salted butter biscuit, liquid orange cheesecake, rose and pistachio brittle.
(Right): Hazel jar – dark chocolate sponge, soft caramel sauce, roasted hazelnut honeycomb, dark chocolate mousse.

Are people looking for healthy dessert/pastry options, or do they indulge when it comes to sweet things?
Sometimes I get requests for vegan or gluten-free desserts, but they’re not my forte currently, so I refer those customers elsewhere. But most people are happy to indulge.

 Is the day of the elaborately decorated cake done? Are people looking for great taste but visual simplicity?
I think the visual aspect of a dessert is still very important. However, now people are less accepting of something that is only visually pleasing and not also pleasing to the palate. It’s important to have that balance. If a cake is simple but tastes great, then that works too.

What do you think of the current craze for sourdough? Is it just a trend?
I’ve been baking sourdough for years. Especially because my mother is diabetic, and the long process is also very therapeutic for me. Essentially, sourdough is easier for the body to digest, so that automatically makes it a better option than commercially made bread.

Did you continue to bake through the lockdown? What was the demand like?
Yes I did, very much so…. Ordinarily, people would only order whole cakes for celebrations because dessert is something they otherwise ordered from a restaurant at the end of a meal. But because of the lockdown, with people cooking at home, they were very open to ordering dessert from outside. I adapted and offered cake by the box, two pieces only, as opposed to whole cakes. This way they also got to try multiple flavours.

What are your plans for the future?
Currently, I want to keep experimenting and creating an environment for myself where I can play with flavours for customers. I intend on always being a one-woman team; I enjoy working with cake too much.

Mallika Tandon, Big Bobo’s Delivery Kitchen, Delhi

Shirt, pants, both Mallika’s own; shirt (worn as jacket), stylist’s own; gloves from Metacarpus by Caroline Zeliang.
Photographed by Aishwaryashree

Did Big Bobo’s Delivery Kitchen start as a passion project or had it always been planned to be a full-blown business? Do you bake at home, or do you have a separate kitchen?
I started a commercial kitchen in September 2020, a project long delayed because of the pandemic. We focus on making small-batch weekly savouries and bakes with ever-changing menus.

This is, and always will be, a passion-fuelled project with the goal of feeding people quality food. I think there is an aunty hidden inside of me, the kind of relative who likes to feed children till they’re full to the brim and can’t eat anymore!

Where did you learn baking? What or who inspired you to be a baker? How did this influence your baking style?
I’ve been obsessed with food for the longest time; I remember when I was a child and my parents were away at work, I would pretend to be a food show host. I would put leftover kheer on biscuits and describe the process of making that fancy dish to my imaginary audience.

I did a communication design course as my UG course. In 2018, I was travelling in the mountains with my partner, and we met some beautiful cooks who exposed us to a style of cooking that we were not aware of. We were also watching a lot of food documentaries at the time and discussing the scientific aspects of bread making while always being fascinated by the different food cultures around the world. I was doing a nine-to-five job that made me feel unlike myself, and I was looking for something refreshing in life. I think it all collated after my sister suggested that I do some professional course related to food and I decided to pursue patisserie. Looking back, I think it has been the most fulfilling shift in my life so far.

How does your baking style connect with your fashion sense?
I think my food presentation (in terms of plating, colour combinations, packaging) and my design aesthetics go hand-in- hand. In both streams, I love pops of colour, fussy intricate detailing and precision. Talking about pops of colour, I love chrome yellow, and I use the colour everywhere – from my logo to my packaging ribbons to my food backdrops. If I could, I would colour everything chrome yellow….

Top, jacket, skirt, earrings; all stylist’s own.
Photographed by Aishwaryashree

What are the clothes and shoes you prefer to wear when you’re baking?
I can always be found in track pants, a plain, solid-colour tee and kitchen-grade Crocs.

What are some of the misconceptions people have about baking and bread making in particular? Since it’s more scientific and tedious than cooking.
I think people like to compare baking to cooking. Sugar, butter, flavourings etc. can’t be adjusted according to one’s whims and fancies. Baking involves very precise measurements and techniques. A few grams here and there can change the end result.

Tell us something about the ingredients that you use. What is the most important ingredient in your kitchen?
I’m currently using imported couverture chocolate and French butter for my bakes, but I wish to find sustainable Indian-origin substitutes. For my weekly savoury specials, I focus on making small-batch, artisanal dishes with locally sourced small-batch breads, condiments and veggies. I wish to promote small businesses like mine for a truly special dish and experience.

The most important ingredient in my kitchen is not something edible but a tool; it’s my precious kitchen weighing scale.

Bark: White chocolate bar set with candied mango, cranberries, pistachio, rose, edible gold + glitter and edible flowers. 

What are some of your specialties? Which has been your most popular creation?
Owing to my design background, I’ve always had an inclination towards, in a way, “fusing” art and food.

I’m making couverture chocolate terrazzo “tiles” with a variety of colours and flavourings. I’ve been experimenting with different colour palettes, natural food-derived coloured powders and nut combinations. I hand-temper the chocolate, stain it, hand-cut the tile “chips” and then set them in a chocolate slab with fillings. My favourite is the dark chocolate terrazzo with crispy feuilletine, hazelnut praline, cacao nibs, toasted hazelnuts and caramel mou bits.

I’m also making couverture chocolate barks with pressed edible flowers and gold. My favourite is the white chocolate bark with pistachios, rose, candied mango and raspberry.

What unusual flavours/ingredients or pairings have you experimented with? Any strange cake or pastry requests that you might have custom made?
I’ve randomly been asked to make bachelorette cakes with fondant penises (lol) to which I politely respond by saying that I don’t do fondant work.

I once made a chukku/sukku malli spice mix chocolate cake with filter kaapi buttercream and a rice crispy/jaggery layer for a pastry school exam. Luckily, my judge was Tamilian and said my cake reminded him of home.

What new pastry are you working on that you are most excited about?
I’m very excited about working on chocolate bonbons with different designs and fillings. I’m keen to design 3D-printed moulds for chocolate slabs and cakes in the future. I’m also coming up with a luxe brunch box/picnic box just in time for the Delhi winters.

Which are the pastries/desserts that are trending?
In general, I find people gravitating towards conscious, sustainable, organic and local produce.

Is the day of the elaborately decorated cake done? Are people looking for great taste but visual simplicity?
For me, the perfect cake is one that is too beautiful to cut and is too tasty to share. I think everyone wants a balance of the same.

Did you bake through the lockdown? What was the demand like? Were people ordering more being at home?
I didn’t bake for business, but I had a lot of fun making intricately iced shortbread cookies with royal icing. My favourites were the mini Mondrian cookies I made during lockdown. I’m obsessed with all things Mondrian.

What are your plans for the future?
I wish to continue exploring the fascinating practice of overlapping and fusing the spheres of food and design. I also want to continue making edible art and treat food the way an artist treats her materials.

Mitali Sahani, Mr And Mitts Bakery, Gurgaon

Did Mr and Mitts start as a passion project, or had it always been planned as a full-blown business? Do you bake at home or do you have a separate kitchen?
Mr And Mitts is a lockdown baby that opened doors in August 2020. Baking is not only my passion but also my first true love. I have been a professional baker for over a decade; my last business – The Bombaykery – which kicked off in 2015 as a cloud-bakery with only six employees, eventually had 120 employees and four outlets (in high-street locations such as DLF CyberHub, Gurgaon and Select CityWalk, Delhi). Unfortunately, I had to close for reasons beyond my control. Mr And Mitts is slated to be a full-blown business; we are just waiting for the world around us to normalise to grow our reach and presence. Mr And Mitts has a fully operating kitchen with state-of-the-art equipment.

Where did you study baking? What or who inspired you to be a baker? How did this influence your baking style?
I am a classically trained pastry chef who aims to blend sophisticated culinary techniques with unexpectedly whimsical and nostalgic ingredients. I was raised in a family of women who baked. And since all of us had a sweet tooth, baking was the place our joy and? satisfaction lived. Growing up, I was hatching plans to take over the world – drawing chef hats and three-tiered cakes on mark sheets.

I began designing intricate business plans throughout hotel school at the Institute of Hotel Management, Aurangabad. I then gathered invaluable experience at Taj Corporate, managing the business end of things. My sugar yearning and incessant baking habit landed me at the International Culinary Center, New York, where I worked and trained under legendary mad-hatter and cronut-creator, Chef Dominique Ansel. I further staged at other F&B powerhouses, such as Chef Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park and Café Grumpy, both also in New York. I continued to learn every day. I can never stop learning baking.

How would you describe your style of baking? Are there any new techniques that you learnt or are the European classical/American baking styles still relevant today?
Our menu comprises cakes, mini desserts, rustic breads and artisanal coffee in addition to savoury snacks. Our selection revolves around signature bite-size desserts that serve up a variety of flavours and textures for everyone to experience.

I implement a mix of French and American baking techniques in order to offer the best of both worlds. With a strong French classical foundation, I find that it is imperative to constantly evolve and innovate with new techniques and methods.

How does your baking style connect with your fashion sense?
Simple, Classy and Cool….

What are the clothes and shoes you prefer to wear when you’re baking?
I love being in cool casuals and a good pair of sneakers along with an apron, of course.

Do you use local ingredients, imported ingredients or a mix? What is the most important ingredient in your kitchen?
Everything is handmade, from scratch, using honest ingredients. (No frozen products, no ready-to-use fillings, no preservatives.) Only seasonal produce that is sourced locally and the best-quality ingredients are used. I am also professionally committed to a zero-wastage policy.

What are some of your specialties? Which has been your most popular baked item?
The Nutella sea salt cookie, sourdough donuts, Nutella cupcake and the crispy hazelnut crunch cake have been some of the most popular baked goodies. However many we bake, they keep getting sold out.

Have you experimented with or reinvented any Indian sweets? Do you think Western-style pastries and desserts will ever be as popular as desi mithais in India?
We take inspiration from Indian flavours such as paan, cutting chai, kala khatta, tender coconut and use them to make Western desserts such as macarons and cakes. You can’t replace desi mithais as they have carved out their own market and space in people’s hearts and stomachs. Western desserts have gained massive popularity over the last few years; this has been fuelled by growing awareness and increased availability.

What unusual flavours/ingredients or pairings have you experimented with?
I recently worked with a leading beer brand to make stout and wit beer chocolates. They were a hit!

What new pastry are you working on that you are most excited about? Is there any pastry that you loved but the customers did not appreciate?
Extremely excited about the trials that have happened for kouign-amann and cronuts. The feedback has been great.

Which are the pastries/desserts that are trending?
For Mr And Mitts, the most trending desserts have been the sourdough donuts (especially crème brûlée – sourdough Berliners filled with a vanilla pastry cream and torched with a crackling sugar top – these take 72 hours to prepare).

Are people looking for healthy dessert/pastry options or do they indulge when it comes to sweet things?
There is a large demand for healthy desserts while the indulging never stops. I believe that “healthy” is to satisfy the mind and “sweet” is to satisfy the soul. We do have sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan on our menu, as it’s pretty much a requirement now.

Is the day of the elaborately decorated cake done? Are people looking for great taste but visual simplicity?
To a certain degree, yes, but customers are always keen on exotic flavours and new looks. However, a fine balance between the two is critical and remains ever-evolving.

What do you think of the current craze for sourdough? Is it just a trend?
Not at all! Sourdough is a lifestyle choice that is here to stay and is expected to grow multifold in the near future. It is lovely in taste and texture and may even replace the locally available mass-produced breads. Besides doing sourdough breads, we have experimented with other items with sourdough, and the results and feedback have been outstanding, to say the least.

Did you bake through the lockdown? What was the demand like? Were people ordering more being at home?
Yes, absolutely! The demand was very erratic, as people were still wary of the misinformation passing around. But midweek and weekend demand was extremely satisfying. Even though a bunch of people took up baking through the lockdown, there were some that wanted desserts delivered to satisfy their cravings or to snack on while binge watching Netflix.

What are your plans for the future?
Our plans for the future are being made with lots of cautious optimism. We surely plan to expand and grow our presence and reach not only in Delhi NCR but also in Mumbai, Goa and Bengaluru. We have been in discussions with a few developers and some collaborations are on the cards as well. But we are in no hurry; we believe in being a slow-and-steady rather than a fly-by-night F&B business.

Noor Mubarak, The Notting Hill Bakery, Mumbai

Jacket, earrings, both Noor’s own; gloves, from The Source.
Photographed by Mallika Chandra

Did The Notting Hill Bakery start as a passion project, or had it always been planned as a full-blown business? Do you bake at home or do you have a separate kitchen?
I launched The Notting Hill Bakery on May 12th 2020. I wasn’t going to open up for a couple more months, but I wanted to raise money for migrants who were stranded due to COVID-19, so I launched earlier than planned. Currently, I’m working out of my kitchen at home.

Where did you study baking? What or who inspired you to be a baker? How did this influence your baking style?
I studied at Le Cordon Bleu London and then worked in London for a couple of years. My love for baking started when I was nine. A cousin of mine was staying with my family, and we used to bake together after she would get back from university.

Jacket, ring, both Noor’s own; gloves, by Gunu Sahni.

What are the clothes and shoes you prefer to wear when you’re baking?
Comfortable! Since I’m on my feet for a good 12 hours a day.

What are some of the misconceptions people have about baking and bread making in particular? Since it’s more scientific and tedious than cooking.
I think people have this misconception that it’s really hard! While yes, there are some pastries and breads that might be a bit on the harder side to master, it’s all about practice. The more you practice, the better you get at it – though even chefs make mistakes.

Do you use local ingredients, imported ingredients or a mix? What is the most important ingredient in your kitchen?
I’d say I use a mix of local and imported. For example, my butter, creams and chocolates are all imported. But my flour and sugar are local. I don’t know if this falls under an important ingredient, but I use buckets and buckets of Nutella a week. (For my Nutella-stuffed doughnuts, which is my most popular item). So I have to order in bulk and make sure I don’t run out.

What are some of your specialties? Which has been your most popular baked item?
My most popular items are my brioche, stuffed doughnuts and babkas.

Chocolate rainbow cake: A three-layered rich chocolate sponge, covered in a rainbow vanilla buttercream, with a 32 per cent milk chocolate drip.

Have you experimented with or reinvented any Indian sweets? Do you think Western-style pastries and desserts will ever be as popular as desi mithais in India?
I do believe there is a growing demand for Western-style pastries in India, since so many Indians travel abroad.

What new pastry are you working on that you are most excited about? Is there any pastry that you loved but the customers did not appreciate?
I’m currently working on my Christmas menu! I’m thinking, mince pies, apple pie, croquembouche and a few other things. I loved my Crack Pie, but I took it off the menu because I didn’t get many orders for it. It’s Christina Tosi’s (the owner of Milk Bar in New York) recipe and one of my favourite desserts.

Which are the pastries/desserts that are trending?
Lately, I’ve been seeing babkas pop up a lot on social media.

Are people looking for healthy dessert/pastry options or do they indulge when it comes to sweet things?
Every now and then I do get someone messaging me for healthy desserts, but it’s not something that I do. I’m not a big fan. They are just not as satisfying. I do have a lot of customers who order from me for their cheat meals. I’ll also do the same; I’ll be good all week and then treat myself to something indulgent on my cheat day. Life is too short not to be eating cake.

Is the day of the elaborately decorated cake done? Are people looking for great taste but visual simplicity?
I think there is a market for both. I’ll get customers who ask me if I can make an elaborate cake, and then I’ll get those asking me for that simple chocolate cake they grew up eating.

What do you think of the current craze for sourdough? Is it just a trend?
I’m always intrigued by food crazes, because sometimes I think to myself, “Why is this trending?” I mean, I do enjoy sourdough, but I don’t understand the craze around it. There are so many other types of bread that I personally think are more delicious. But when it comes to food, it always comes down to one’s personal preferences.

Did you bake through the lockdown? What was the demand like? Were people ordering more being at home?
I launched during the lockdown, and I think it was the best decision I made. I did feel there was more of a demand since we were all cooped up at home. Food is definitely a source of comfort.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m hoping to eventually move into a commercial kitchen; it is a bit of a struggle working out of my home kitchen. So, that’s definitely the next thing I’m planning.

Zainab Motiwala, Mizah Bakery, Mumbai

T-shirt, apron, earrings, all Zainab’s own; gloves, from The Source.
Photographed by Mallika Chandra

Did Mizah Bakery start as a passion project, or had it always been planned as a full-blown business? Do you bake at home, or do you have a separate kitchen?
We opened in September 2019 with plans to become a full-blown business. We work out of a separate professional kitchen.

Where did you study baking? What or who inspired you to be a baker? How did this influence your baking style?
I wanted to bake from when I was about eight. I just love the process; I am particularly interested in the science behind food. Most of my food idols, except for Joanne Chang, aren’t even in the baking field, such as David Zilber, Harold McGee and Sandor Katz. I like to deconstruct the recipe and create the dessert from the bottom up. Flavour is governed by the seasonal availability of produce.

How would you describe your style of baking? Are there any new techniques that you learnt or are the European classical/American baking styles still relevant today?
I don’t work with any particular style. Both have their merits; I prefer using both in combination. I like to create my own method through numerous trials and errors

How does your baking style connect with your fashion sense?
I prefer really minimal and clean forms. I don’t believe in perfection, just simplicity. It’s cake after all; you shouldn’t feel guilty about cutting into it.

Dress (right), apron, earrings, all Zainab’s own; gloves, from The Source.
Photographed by Mallika Chandra

What are the clothes and shoes you prefer to wear when you’re baking?
My girls and I work in denims because we prefer comfortable clothing. All our clothing is washed, boiled and sanitised every day. I detest wasteful disposable wear. Shoes are Birkenstocks all day, every day.

What are some of the misconceptions people have about baking and bread making in particular? Since it’s more scientific and tedious than cooking.
One of the biggest misconceptions around bread is that it’s a mix-and-bake formula, which it isn’t. It’s a long process, as well as time and temperature sensitive. By the way, did you know that bread freezes well but doesn’t refrigerate quite as well? So it’s better to plop leftover fresh bread into the freezer.

Tell us something about the ingredients that you use. Do you use local, imported, or a mix? What is the most important ingredient in your kitchen?
We only use organic ingredients sourced from different parts of India. Our desserts and breads are seasonal; even our flour changes with the seasons. We make everything from scratch. We prefer everything to be fresh and not frozen. We hate waste, so we produce only in small batches on order. We use reusable piping bags and avoid cling film at all costs.

Pumpkin turmeric and garlic sourdough: Organic heirloom wheat, organic turmeric, garlic and pumpkin.

What are some of your specialties? Which has been your most popular baked item?
Definitely our sourdough breads, twice baked chocolate cake, miso sesame chocolate chip cookies and our seasonal fruit tarts.

Have you experimented or reinvented any Indian sweets? Do you think western-style pastries and desserts will ever be as popular as desi mithais in India?
I prefer using Indian fruits like raw mango, amar phal, sitaphal and chickoo and working up the flavours from there. I am more fascinated with the techniques of Indian sweet making, and I would like to apply more of that to my form of baking. I believe Indian sweets are irreplaceable and an integral part of our culture. Western desserts can co-exist but can never take over. And I prefer it that way.

Pistachio and berry tart: Buttery sable, pistachio frangipane, fresh berry compote, fresh berries, white chocolate crémeux.

What unusual flavours/ingredients or pairings have you experimented with? Any strange cake or pastry requests that you might have custom made? Which flavours are you experimenting with right now?
Oh gosh! We experiment with numerous flavours every week. I am currently experimenting with new heritage flours, gluten-free sourdoughs and winter fruits.

What new pastry are you working on that you are most excited about? Is there any pastry that you loved but the customers did not appreciate?
I love adding spices to my baking. I have been experimenting with German-style Christmas desserts lately – my favourite being lebkuchen (spiced gingerbread cookie). Did you know that it needs to be made a whole two months in advance to fully develop its flavour and the full potential of the traditionally used potassium bi-carbonate? I am grateful to have customers willing to try out my “wonky” desserts.

Which are the pastries/desserts that are trending?
I only follow my gut and avoid trends as much as possible; for me it is the season that is in trend.

Are people looking for healthy dessert/pastry options or do they indulge when it comes to sweet things?
People are definitely looking for healthier desserts. I believe everything needs to be consumed in moderation. We only use the best locally sourced organic ingredients. We do make a nutritious, heritage whole grain, long-fermentation sourdough. Our double chocolate cake is gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and completely organic.

(Top): Passion fruit caramel and 70 per cent chocolate tart: Seasonal pink passion fruit caramel, 70 per cent single origin Malabar chocolate passion fruit ganache, dark chocolate sable.
(Bottom): Salt and pepper chocolate crémeux tart: 70 per cent single origin Malabar chocolate crémeux, 70 per cent single Origin Malabar chocolate soufflé, dark chocolate sable finished with pink Himalayan salt and single estate tellicherry pepper.

Is the day of the elaborately decorated cake done? Are people looking for great taste but visual simplicity?
As a designer as well as a pastry chef, I feel that aesthetics definitely have a place in cake making, but it should be thought out and meaningful. I believe we should work towards creating our own aesthetic and avoid imitation as much as possible. But, alas, it is always flavour that reigns supreme.

What do you think of the current craze for sourdough? Is it just a trend?
Long fermentation has been the norm in bread baking for thousands of years, and sourdough is here to stay. This is thanks to a new crop of artisanal bakers taking the power back from corporations to create local healthy foods that not only enrich the consumer but also ensure better pay to farmers.

Did you bake through the lockdown? What was the demand like? Were people ordering more being at home?
There is no denying that the lockdown has helped small-scale, home-based food businesses. We worked through the lockdown with the utmost precautions. At one point, I was making all the breads and desserts and physically delivering them to my regular clients in Bandra, Khar and Santacruz.

What are your plans for the future?
To expand Mizah by opening a larger kitchen and to complete my master’s in Food Design. I have already kick-started the research for my first cookbook…maybe start teaching.

Smita Sharan, The Good Butter, Pune

Dress, Smitsa’s own; gloves, from Rajesh Pratap Singh.
Photographed by Kaustubh Khare

Did The Good Butter start as a passion project, or had it always been planned as a full-blown business? Do you bake at home, or do you have a separate kitchen?
My partner, Khamir, and I started the bakery in 2015, selling granola and nut butters to our neighbours. It was initially a mild hobby in 2011, which led to full-blown obsession. Although it was never intended as a business venture, we eventually got there. I used to bake at home, but now that I spend all my time in production at the bakery, it is very infrequent.

How did you learn baking? What or who inspired you to be a baker? How did this influence your baking style?
I have had a lot of virtual teachers considering my learning exclusively happened through baking books, blogs and a LOT of trial and error (I also got a wonderful head-start on sourdough by attending a day-long workshop with Sujit Sumitran back in 2016).

I don’t have any particular inspiration, but I have always looked up to women who are not afraid of change or of redefining themselves throughout life. Although I was not unhappy, I was far from inspired working at a bank. And since I never went to culinary school, my style evolved almost backwards. I started with copying recipes, tweaking them to my liking and then figuring out the building blocks of what makes a good cake or a cookie, for me.

How would you describe your style of baking? Are there any new techniques that you learnt or are the European classical/American baking styles still relevant today?
My style of baking is sort of old school. What I love about baking is that it allows the nerd in me to play with technique and ratios. The classics are very much relevant today, but then there is always a personal style that every baker brings, including myself.

How does your baking style connect with your fashion sense?
My style has changed through the years. At 30, I was a typical consumer buying whatever caught my fancy. At 43, I like clothes that have a shelf life. Clothes that are well cut and made with lovely fabrics that have been sourced responsibly and are not an environmental or social hazard (The Summer House is a favourite). My baking style and fashion sense, in short, are both about quality.

What are the clothes and shoes you prefer to wear when you’re baking?
I prefer cotton or linen trousers and simple cotton T-shirts. I also prefer open sandals with good cushioning, as I am constantly on my feet.

Everyday Sourdough loaf

What are some of the misconceptions people have about baking and bread making in particular? Since it’s more scientific and tedious than cooking.
Baking does require some amount of thought and process, but it is not difficult. If I can bake, anyone can. I didn’t bake for the first 33 years of my life, and now I own a bakery. But there are no shortcuts if one aims to do some quality baking – and especially bread.

Do you use local ingredients, imported ingredients or a mix? What is the most important ingredient in your kitchen?
Our bakery stands for good ingredients. Given that we started it  as an extension of our home kitchen, we only sell what we like to eat ourselves. As much as possible, we use local and organic. And other than Belgian chocolate and French butter, we don’t use any imported products.

For me, the most important ingredient is time. We don’t take any shortcuts at all. No premixes, no pre-made flavourings or artificial ingredients. Everything is made from scratch, in-house. Most of our breads are slow fermented, overnight doughs. Everything needs time.

What are some of your specialties? Which has been your most popular baked item?
Our mainstay is breads, and sourdough happens to be our most popular and most ordered. We are lucky to have a host of subscribers who literally depend on us for their daily bread!

Have you experimented with or reinvented any Indian sweets? Do you think Western-style pastries and desserts will ever be as popular as desi mithais in India?
Funny you ask. I am in the middle of some experimentation with revisualising pineapple sheera as a partnership with a local brand.

I think Western-style pastries are getting popular. People are well travelled, well informed and seek out the experiences they have had outside the country, especially when it comes to food.

Classic Chocolate Cake: Includes two layers of moist chocolate cake sandwiched and covered with a rich Chocolate Ganache frosting.

What unusual flavours/ingredients or pairings have you experimented with? Any strange cake or pastry requests that you might have custom made? Which flavours are you experimenting with right now?
Two years ago we got a request for a gluten-free, vegan and refined sugar-free chocolate cake. It took weeks to get that out but it was some challenge, especially since we came up with our very own GF flour blend!

What new pastry are you working on that you are most excited about? Is there any pastry that you loved but the customers did not appreciate?
Right now I am familiarising myself with laminated pastry which I am very excited about. It’s all about patience, practice and good ingredients.

Are people looking for healthy dessert/pastry options or do they indulge when it comes to sweet things?
There is room for both. I have to say though, folks are focused on quality of ingredients more than anything else and do respect the fact that we bake with utmost care.

Is the day of the elaborately decorated cake done? Are people looking for great taste but visual simplicity?
Again there is room for both. But most of our customers are those who are looking for solid flavours and simplicity.

What do you think of the current craze for sourdough? Is it just a trend?
In India, I have seen an increasing awareness when it comes to sourdough. I have been baking sourdough breads since 2016 and the popularity has only gone up. We have gone back to the good old days of slow fermentation and naturally made breads and this hopefully is not a end at all.

Did you bake through the lockdown? What was the demand like? Were people ordering more being at home?
Yes, we came under the essential services segment given that we deliver bread to folks. Ours being a delivery-only business had us prepared for it but the demand went through the roof and it became difficult to keep up. As more and more people discovered us, the word spread and our pre-lockdown delivery estimate of two-three days went up to 15 days. With no team in place we relied on some friends who saw us through those times of very little sleep and non-stop work. We even had some customers offering us help, from doing dishes in the bakery to making deliveries to other customers. We did take up some of the offers on the delivery front. How people (friends/customers) came together as a community is what got us through those crazy times.

What are your plans for the future?
Our plan has always been to grow organically. Scale is a good word only if done with intent, purpose and care.



Sometimes it can feel like maintaining a saine lifestyle is an overwhelming challenge that doesn’t fit within the realities of daily life. It’s tough to hold down a full-time job, eat well, train for a marathon, make homemade green juice, spend quality time with your family/partner, and meditate for an hour each day.

Coffee’s great too, but it’s best to start your day by re-hydrating with a full glass of water. Hydrating first thing in the morning helps to aid digestion, enhance skin health and boost energy.

Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is a simple way to get a little more physical activity in your daily life. It also strengthens and tones your legs and core while you’re at it !

A simple hack for saine eating ( and portion control ) is to make half your plate veggies at each meal. The veggies pack in essential vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients important for health and longevity. And, because they’re rich in fiber, they help to aid absorption ( aka keep you regular ! ) and keep you feeling full longer.

Using a fitness tracker ( like the Fitbit, Apple Watch or similar ) to track your steps is an easy way to make sure you’re getting enough physical activity each day. We aim for 10, 000 steps daily, which has significant physical and esprit health benefits. The Fitbit will also remind you to get 250 steps each hour ( another important measure of health

Conventional household cleaning products are full of harmful chemical ingredients that are not good for our health ( or the health of our kids or pets ! ). Switching to healthier alternatives is a simple way to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins in your home. See our Healthy Cleaning Guide for a complete list of recommendations, and what to look for when choosing safer household cleaning products.

Similar to cleaning products, conventional skincare and personal care products are formulated with toxic ingredients we should not regularly let absorb into our body’s largest organ. Reduce the toxic burden on your body by switching to non-toxic personal care and beauty products ( see our specific recommendations on deodorant, sunscreen, and green beauty products ).

Maintaining a healthy gut has significant impacts on absorption, skin health, immunity, mental health and more. Taking a daily probiotic with a glass of water each morning is one of the simplest things you can do to boost your gut health ( which, in turn, boosts overall health in many ways too ). Learn more about the health benefits of probiotics ( and all the ways to get them in your diet ), and site our favorite probiotic supplement here.

Aim to eat real food that’s made of whole food ingredients you would have in your own kitchen pantry, or that your grandmother would recognize. ( Yup, this rules out most packaged food, sorry ! ) This is a little different than suggesting you eat only “health foods” ( many of which are increasingly processed ! ). “Real food” includes unprocessed foods like an apple, a cucumber, soybeans or a steak, as well as foods loosely processed from one ( or few ) real-food ingredients, like butter, olive oil, yogurt, tofu, etc. In other words, aim for foods that could be reasonably made in your own kitchen and avoid foods that can only be made in a lab.

Reduce the harmful effects of sitting ( like at your desk emploi ) by standing up and moving around for a minute or two every half hour.

Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for overall health, and sunlight is one of our best sources of it. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of sunlight each day—preferably in the afternoon, and without sunscreen ( read more about that here ). Not much sunlight in the winter where you live ? It might be worth supplementing with a vitamin D supplement and/or other food sources of this essential nutrient.

Houseplants help to cleanse your indoor air ( sadly, it probably needs it ! ), they’re pretty, and research even shows they improve mood, creativity and problem solving !

Aim to sweat in some way each day—whether that’s via running, biking, dancing, hot yoga, or any other physical activity you enjoy. See our Fitness Guide for more workout ideas, as well as tips and tricks for building regular physical activity into your daily life and a downloadable sport planner you can use to outline your own custom fitness plan to stay on track.

Green smoothies as a snack or simple, on-the-go breakfast are an easy way to get your greens in each day. Check out our curated list of healthy ( veggie-packed ! ) smoothie recipes for our favorite starter green smoothie recipe ideas.

“The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude. ” It’s true—mindset is everything ! Cultivate a positive mindset by recognizing negative thought patterns and countering them with positive thoughts or affirmations. Here are more mindset resources for positive thinking.

Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But in addition to quantity, quality of sleep matters too ! Follow our tips on getting quality sleep—things like keeping your bedroom cool at night, avoiding blue light after dark, and more.

{Start each day with fulfilling activities that set the tone for how you want to feel—whether that’s inspired, relaxed, productive, or something else.

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