This is my version of the much-loved Mumbai Mawa Cakes, first appeared in Mint Lounge on Saturday 22nd November…
I haven’t spent nearly enough time in Mumbai, a fact that was brought home to me yet again this week when I visited the kitschy-cute “Bombay food” restaurant SodaBottleOpener-Wala in Khan Market in New Delhi and cursed the fact that I have never visited a real Irani café. I probably need to get my skates on—Mumbai’s Irani cafés, complete with Victorian tiled flooring, eccentric signage and evocatively named dishes are fast disappearing. The most recent, much lamented closure was of B Merwan and Co., the 100-year-old bakery that claims to have invented the mawa cake back in the early 20th century. Mawa cake: two words which, I gather, can reduce a homesick Mumbaikar to tears, and I’m not surprised, if the SodaBottleOpenerWala’s version is anything to go by. I’ve heard that B Merwan’s mawa cakes were so popular that the shop in Mumbai regularly sold out before 7.30am every day. It looks like the plainest of sponge cakes but looks, as we know, can be deceiving. Beyond that unprepossessing exterior, thanks to the addition of mawa, or khoya, lies a rich, milky, buttery heart as well as a hint of cardamom. Extraordinary how the smallest changes to a basic recipe (in this case a classic sponge cake, presumably brought to India by the British) can transform it into something completely different. Mawa is one of those Indian ingredients that is a complete mystery to most foreigners, and I was relieved I only had to pop round to the local dairy to buy some. Or so I thought. The dairy had run out so I was obliged to make my own and stand over a simmering pan of milk for about 2 hours. I’ve tinkered slightly with the look of the cakes by baking them in a madeleine mould (although the sponge is very different from that of a madeleine). I make no claims to authenticity here, I’ve just retraced what I assume was the mawa cake’s own journey—an Indianized British sponge cake. With or without the madeleine makeover, though, memories of every milky treat you’ve ever loved will come flooding back with every bite—burfi, Milkybar, Old Delhi’s extraordinary winter treat, daulat ki chaat, or a puddle of evaporated milk on childhood fruit salad.
For the ‘mawa’:
1 litre full-cream milk
For the madeleines:
150g all-purpose flour (maida)
1 tsp baking powder
Seeds of 4 green cardamoms, finely ground
100g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Grease a madeleine mould with melted butter or line a muffin tray with small cake cases. If you need to make the mawa, you will need to think ahead as the process takes up to 2 hours. Put the milk into a large, heavy bottomed pan and slowly bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and let the milk simmer gently. Stir regularly to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan and burn. Eventually the milk will darken slightly in colour and thicken. Once it resembles the thickness of porridge, don’t take your eye off it—stir continuously until all the liquid has evaporated and you’re left with about 150g mawa. This can then be stored for a few days in the fridge or months in the freezer. Bring it to room temperature before you use it to make mawa cakes.
When you are ready to make the cakes, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Sift together the flour, baking powder and ground cardamom in a large bowl. Put the mawa, butter and caster sugar in another bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well to incorporate them into the mixture. Mix in the flour mixture and enough milk to make a mixture that drops off a spoon banged on the side of the bowl. Divide the mixture into madeleine moulds or cake cases. Bake the cakes for about 10-15 minutes, until they are lightly browned on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. They are perfect fresh and warm from the oven with, what else—a glass of milk.