Inside track to icing
Phorum Dalal walks into the kitchen of a dessert cafe and emerges with a few extra calories and lessons on the precision that goes into the making of our favourite desserts � from Death by Chocolate to Gooey Brownies
On a wet, gloomy Wednesday, I almost miss the three, bright red electric boxes — my landmark to the narrow alley — on Peter Dias Road, Bandra that leads into the kitchen of dessert cafe, Deliciae Patisserie. My stomach rumbles as I stop to catch my breath outside the glass door that will soon uncover mysteries similar to that of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Inside lies 700-square feet of bliss, divided into a baking section and finishing section, all locked in action. A team of six bakers are poring over specific processes that go into the baking of a cake. One chef laboriously spreads, in a clockwise direction, a thick serving of pink cherries onto a layer of dark brown sponge — which is placed on a turntable — before sandwiching it between another layer of sponge. He then dips his palate knife into thick, gooey chocolate, neatly spreading a sinful layer of it all around the cake. He runs the ridges of the serrated knife perpendicular to the turntable, gently touching the sides of the cake to create a combed effect. He steps back, looks at the icing on the Black Forest Cake and nods in satisfaction. I smack my lips, almost unconsciously.
On the steel table next to his, a coffee-flavoured Ferrero Rocher cake, already set overnight in the cold storage, and ready for its final decoration, has been conjured. Using a wooden strip to measure with precision, the chef cuts the cake into pieces, and sets each of them on a pastry plastic plate. With a steady hand, he runs the icing cone across in zig zags — creating a delicious mesh of cream-coloured icing. In another corner, another chef has spread out five sheets of acetate paper, on which he is creating garnishes such as curls, loops, squares and circles, using white and dark chocolate. He makes designs using cones and allows them to harden.
As I inhale all the delicious activity, the petite Bunty Mahajan, founder and executive chef — her head covered in a chef’s hat and dressed in black, almost as if it’s a solemn religious undertaking — oversees each process. She chides a chef for plating an oversized pastry, instructing him to measure once again and cut a centimetre from each side, to make it proportional. “If I had not corrected him, they would have sent it like that. So, the next time we send a standard cake, customers will say we have decreased our portion size,” informs Mahajan, while darting in between table one and table five.
The kitchen opens at 7 am, when the chefs start baking sponges for various cakes, Death by Chocolate, Black Forest, Mars Heaven, Caramel Crunch and Belgium Chocolate. The kitchen’s oven can bake 25 sponges at a time, says Mahajan, who usually walks in at 9.30 am. “The sponge takes 25 to 45 minutes to bake, depending on the cake. It is allowed to cool for around 30 minutes, after which we do the layering — which is cutting the cake into two or three layers, inserting fruit or caramel fillings in between and sprinkling sugar water on the layers to keep it moist. Before we do the final decoration and send it to the cafes or clients, it is put in the cold storage to set overnight. We prepare chocolate truffle — thick, gooey melted chocolate put in cakes — every alternate day as it is used in most of our cakes,” says Mahajan, who oversees 45 cakes a day.
By now she has stepped into the baking room, and looks appreciatively at a soft sponge a chef has finished baking. She points out, however, that the sponge is higher than needed and will result in wastage. Another chef is running a rolling pin over a pile of Oreo biscuits — each crunch is music to my ears. “We use a lot of this crunch, so we store it in cans. We also crush biscuits for the base of the Blueberry cheesecake,” explains Mahajan, as she breaks a cookie and checks it for the crunch. She then turns towards the cold storage, which is perpetually set at 5 degree Celcius. She picks up a cake or two and smells them for rancidity. Satisfied they are all fresh, she steps out and asks whether all the deliveries are as per schedule.
Mahajan started taking cake orders after friends and family loved the birthday cake she made for her son 27 years ago, on his first birthday. She started under the name Golden Crust, which was later renamed Deliciae in 2002. In August 2004, Out of the Blue approached her and she stepped into the role of running the dessert cafe in Bandra. “I had no clue how a cafe was run. We had so much wastage in the beginning because we couldn’t gauge what item would sell how much. But now, it all seems so smooth,” she smiles, offering me a slice of a Gooey Belgian Chocolate Cake. I watch as a chef walks in with two finished Black Forest cakes that he had started on when I first walked in. As he takes them towards the kitchen, I realise the two look exactly like each other. A sudden crunch of caramel in my mouth transports me back to the chocolate exploding in my mouth. Mahajan smiles proudly at the effect her food has had on me.