MAWA CAKES (Milk Cakes) This week I dare to delve into my rich Parsi heritage and unearth a recipe which will be a hit in any kitchen. I come from a miniscule community that has settled in India since the 1500s-Parsis or Zorastrians or Bawas (called lovingly throughout the world). We are known for our great love of food, more food, and all food and drink…. The Parsis originally from Iran escaped on a boat, to avoid religious persecution. They landed on the western shores of India and soon became an integral part of their adopted country. Hence many recipes which are part of the Parsi cuisine have an Irani, Arabic influence and Indian too. Almost all Parsi food is meant for hardcore carnivores and it’s blasphemous to be a “veggy Parsi” (me for example). The food is spice laden, rich and comfortingly heavy. No guest goes home from a Parsi household complaining, except for a vegetarian! Many recipes that I prepare on a day to day basis are watered down versions of what my mother or grandma would have made, less oil, no red meat and lesser spice. Very few recipes I follow are written, they have been passed down by the talkative women in my family who couldn’t stop boasting about their culinary skills (Thank Heavens!!). That was their version of blogging, I guess. (LOL) Baking and cakes is not a part of Parsi culture but is influenced by the British who ruled India for over a century. The Paris of my Grandmother’s and Mother’s generation considered themselves to be the Queen’s far off cousins and hence acted the part of “propah” British ladies, complete with bone china tea sets and tea times with cakes, pastries and delicate sandwiches. They have disowned daughters like me who turned vegetarian, drink tea from chipped mugs, accompanied by last night’s, cold pizza! 🙂 To get back to baking, Mawa cake is an iconic Parsi take on the classic Pound Cake. It has been a part of the Mumbai culinary scene for decades. Newspapers were filled with obits when a famous Parsi bakery shut shop. As kids we have eaten endless mawa cakes from tiny Irani cafes and stores which dotted South Mumbai’s Parsi areas of Grant Road, Lamington Road, Fort (note the British names please).
Mawa cakes could be the cousin of another Parsi tea-time treat called Kumas, which is similar but uses semolina, wheat flour and ghee (clarified butter). Mawa is basically full cream milk reduced to a thick creamy mix. It is also known as Khoya and widely available at milk centres all over the city. For years I have used the store bought mawa but this time I dared to try my hand at making it and at the end of an hour and a half my legs craved a massage and my arms looked toned. Its an easy task but extremely time consuming and the heat makes it worse. The superior taste was worth the exercise.
The cake making process is the same as for a pound cake. The mawa adds a dense, milky richness to the cake and the cardamom and nutmeg powders elevate it to another level. Its tastes like Indian Mithai, only much lighter and a little more Anglicised. Top it with cashews soaked for an hour in milk, this prevents them from burning to a dark brown piece of inedible cardboard. Be generous when spooning the batter into the muffin tins, they rise beautifully and end up looking golden brown like a balding Head (LOL!!). The cakes are rich, buttery, golden and “mawaddictive”. And any Bawa worth his milky-sweet-tea will tell you they are best eaten dunked in a hot cuppa chai…..slurp!! 🙂
Makes- 24 muffins / 2 large loaves
300 grms Mawa (recipe follows)
300 grms caster sugar
300 grms butter
300 grms all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon Baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
½ cup milk
1 heaped teaspoon cardamom and nutmeg powdered (alternately grind seeds of 10 cardamom pods and half a nutmeg with a tablespoon of sugar)
2 teaspoons Vanilla extract
50 grms cashew nuts, broken into halves and soaked in ¼ cup milk
- Preheat oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
- Prepare your cupcake or muffin tins by oiling them and lining with paper cups.
- Sift the flour, salt and baking powder.
- In a large bowl beat together mawa, butter and sugar until light.
- Add eggs one at a time a beat thoroughly to incorporate.
- Add in the vanilla and spice powders and beat for another 30 seconds
- Add 1/3rd of the flour alternating with the milk and fold in gently but thoroughly. Scrape the bottom of the bowl so that no flour pockets remain. Start and end with the flour. The mixture will be very thick, thicker than dropping consistency.
- Spoon the mixture into muffin tins, filling them a little over ¾. Top with milk soaked cashew nuts and bake for 20-25 minutes in a pre heated oven. If you find the cakes browning a bit too fast lower the oven temperature to 170. When done the cakes will be springy to touch and golden brown.
- Cool on a wire rack. Store in an air tight container at room temperature for a day. Transfer to the refrigerator for long term storage and thaw before serving.