On the eve of his sister Afsha’s birthday last month, 16-year-old Arbaaz Dhanani sifts the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa in a mixing bowl in his kitchen. He breaks two eggs in, adds a few drops of vanilla essence and whips the mixture to a thick consistency. He places the tin can with the batter for his chocolate sponge cake into the pre-heated oven. The sweet smell of chocolate wafts through the air.
Thirty minutes on, he removes the nicely risen cake and allows it to cool. Hoping to enroll in a culinary school after his 12th grade, Dhanani plans to surprise his sister with a unique birthday cake. Instead of finishing it off with an icing and garnish, he mashes the moist sponge and rolls it into bite-size balls, dipping them in chocolate sauce, dusting sugar sprinklers and mounting each of them on a stick. What Dhanani has created are cake pops, the latest makeover the sponge has undergone after cupcakes and macaroons.
Today, we don’t think cake only when it is an anniversary, birthday or a festival. And as the fad of landing up at a friend’s or family member’s house at midnight is no longer a surprise, people are always looking for something innovative.
Mohsina Mukadam, a food historian and history teacher at Ruia College, Matunga says cakes trickled into India through Iranian cafes. “Cakes were a foreign delicacy, and just like bread, it met with a taboo, being a foreign item. Iranians were close to us culturally and at the turn of the 20th century, they began to served it with tea, and this introduced Indians to cakes.”
Cut to the scene at the Dhanani household: His sister is delighted indeed, and amazed too. “She knows I bake well, and perhaps expected me to make a cake for her birthday, but this was an unusual treat,” says the proud teenager, who signed up for a cake pop workshop in January at Rakhee Vaswani’s Palate Culinary Studio.
Vaswani, who has been making cake pops for two years, says though cupcakes are here to stay, customers are looking for something visually different. “Cake pops are moist cakes on a stick -- like a lollipop -- with a frosting of chocolate batter cream. One can do lovely themes around them such as two-tier wedding pops, baby and love themes etc,” says Vaswani, who explains that cake pops remain moist for up to a week thanks to the thick frosting around each pop.
On Valentine’s Day this year, Love and Cheesecake, a dessert café, had Love Bites, cheesecakes on sticks, on their menu for clients. “They were a big hit,” says chef Amit Sharma. The dessert café also sells cheesecake in bite-size portions, a variation of the pops.
Cake pops are making their presence felt as edible centrepieces at events too. Founder of Tart bakery in Bandra and Powai, Aashiyana Shroff says in the past three months, she has received many queries for cake pops. “While they have been around for two years, all of a sudden, a lot of people are seeing it as a change from cup cakes, as they are pleasing to look at. It also serves a dual purpose -- cake pop centre pieces are interactive and add a unique curiosity in a crowd. Most of our conversations revolve around food, and cake pops are ideal to start a fun conversation,” says Shroff, who sets up cake pop centrepieces at the Sunday brunch menu at VongWong, Nariman Point.
Mini-cakes are conducive, as they are easier to handle. “They are non messy, even with kids eating them,” says Shroff, adding that they are available in every flavour that a regular cake is though chocolate is most popular.
The fan following for cake pops has already cut across age barriers. In March, 45-year-old Harsha Rukhana was to attend a family get-together. She didn’t want to waste money on a flower bouquet, which would land up in the bin the next day. “I opted for a cake pop bouquet, and it was a hit. My uncle was overjoyed to see something so quirky,” says the Khar resident.
Cake pops are popular because one can taste multiple flavours without feeling full. Pastry chef at Taj Land’s End, Vishal Sharma, says in the past decade, mini-desserts are in. While big cakes will never go out of style, mini-desserts give chefs the opportunity to show off their skills. Hosts get to add a fun element to their menu. For those with a sweet tooth and who don’t suffer pangs of guilt, every sinful bite of a cake pop is pure heaven.
Origin of cakes
New York-based food historian Trina Clickner talks to SMD about the history of cakes:
“The very first cakes were crafted by ancient Egyptians and Greeks. They were bread-like, flat and simple. If they were sweetened at all, it was with honey and dried fruit. These cakes were likely a daily staple. By the 1300s, the British elite were feasting on fabulous frosted cakes.
While the first cakes were simple, grainy, daily breads, the Greeks and Romans offered fancier cakes to the Gods, sometimes with a candle to mimic the moon. The Greeks introduced an element of chance by baking a gold coin into celebratory cakes. The person who found the coin would enjoy a year’s worth of good fortune. Cakes have been the sweet symbol of success and victory since the 5th century BC.”