‘Mawa’ and ‘cake’ are two words that can reduce a homesick Mumbaikar to tears, and I’m not surprised. When I first encountered them at the Britannia café in the city, I was initially underwhelmed by their plain looks. Beyond that unprepossessing exterior, though, 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) can transform it into something completely different.
Mawa, or khoya, is one of those Indian ingredients that is a complete mystery to most foreigners but is still readily available in most local dairies. One day, though, when I was craving mawa cakes, my local dairy had run out of khoya and I had to make my own, so I give the recipe for that too (essentially, standing 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.
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 – barfi, Milkybar, Old Delhi’s extraordinary winter treat daulat ki chaat, or a puddle of evaporated milk on childhood fruit salad.
For the mawa, or khoya
- 1 l full cream milk
For the madeleines
- 150 gm all-purpose flour
- 100 gm mawa
- 100 gm butter
- 100 gm caster sugar
- 75-100 ml milk
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Seeds of 4 green cardamoms, finely ground
- You will need a madeleine mould or a cake tin and paper cake cases
- Grease a madeleine mould with melted butter or line a muffin tray with small cake cases.
- If you have 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 150 gm mawa.
- This can then be stored for a few days in the refrigerator 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 degree 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.
Excerpted with permission from Uparwali Chai: The Indian Art of High Tea, Pamela Timms, Penguin Random House.