Indian confectionary scene, evolving with American influences

Masterclasses by renowned American pastry chefs are taking the pastry scene above a notch in India

By Kasthuri Subramanian

Particularly after the pandemic, there’s been a spike in the interest people have towards pastry and breads across the world and in India, a place known more for its traditional mithais than crème brulee.

When pandemic struck and people found themselves with time on hand, the whole banana bread craze showed the world that baking can be therapeutic and making and consuming fine desserts can release happy hormones.

Despite minimal resources, so many people started making banana cakes, breads and experimenting with a lot of other things.

Read: American style burger bars — new craze hits Indian metros (July 12, 2022)

Many of these folks also started sharing their experience of making these products on Instagram. When their own close circle of friends saw their stories and posts, I presume it only led to another chain of people getting interested in this space.

I think this explosion of interest happened not just in cities, but also in small towns all over India as people moved back to their hometowns during the lockdown period.

I myself moved back to my hometown and lived there for about a year and a half – and I was able to make pastries that are typically not available in my town, sell them and help a lot of people experience them.

Initially, I was pretty skeptical about how my pastries would be received in a small town but I quickly realized that there were a lot of people who were particularly interested in not having to travel 500 kms to taste an Opera or a Tiramisu.

Many folks who may have never had the chance to taste such desserts also had the opportunity to taste them in their own places, due to this movement of people back from cities experimenting like never before.

I think this has led to a rise in everyone’s taste and expectations. The bar has never been higher than it is today for pastry chefs to go the extra mile – one needs to make products truly distinct and innovative in this extremely crowded space.

This scene in India has also turned out to be a fantastic avenue for chefs like me to help guide and open up doors for people coming in with interest.

Personally, I’m super excited about being able to coach emerging talent in India about everything from tea cakes to confectioneries through masterclasses.

My two-year experience at Lavonne comes in really handy here, and I’m thoroughly enjoying teaching people what I know and expanding their world-view.

A lot of people walk into our masterclasses with the assumption that desserts are all about basic chocolate pastries, cupcakes and celebration cakes.

Read: ‘Chai Pani’ named America’s best restaurant (June 14, 2022)

But, when I show them a series of categories in pastries that they’ve never heard of, they are often surprised and feel ten times more enthusiastic than when they walked in.

I’m super excited for what the future holds. As more people get the required training, and the opportunities that they deserve, they’re going to bring their passion and talent to innovate for the Indian market.

US influences on the evolution of pastry in India

If you ask many older Indians about their first non-Indian dessert experiences, they might probably recall having lava cakes, choco-chip cookies with a group of friends at a fast food chain or a store.

In the last ten years though, there’s also been an emergence of quite a number of chains that exclusively sell donuts, cheesecakes, and a variety of cookies. These products aren’t very different from what’s sold in the US.

Many brands have evolved options in their menu to offer desserts that offer a sense of familiarity by customizing these desserts to local taste buds, while also trying to appeal to the memory of these early experiences.

You would find a lot of places serving gulab-jamun or gulkand flavored pastries which you wouldn’t find in the west, for instance.

People’s memories of these desserts (originally popularized in the US) definitely influences what they’re looking for when they try a new dessert or a pastry for the first time here.

There is also a lot of consumer preferences (gluten-free/sugar-free/vegan choices) that first became a norm in the US that are becoming common requests in India.

For example, on any given day, a good percentage of the desserts that we serve are gluten-free. I suspect even in the future, trends in western preferences will continue to influence the Indian market.

Several American chefs have travelled to India to share simple and complex techniques through masterclasses, and I’ve learnt from so many of them.

For example, I learnt the art of glazing through Chef Antonio Bachour’s (named amongst one of the best ten pastry chefs in America) masterclasses. It is from him, I learnt to make the perfect glaze with the correct consistency and shine.

Similarly, from Chef Andres Lara, (Chicago bred famous pastry chef) I learnt the easiest way to line tarts, which I use till date. He also emphasized taste as much as looks in pastries – and it’s something I try to remember when I create a product.

I find myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to assist and learn from these amazing chefs through their masterclasses in India.

I think it’s safe to say that my experience reflects that of many chefs here. We’ve taken inspiration from and have learnt from watching these chefs up close, as we come up with our own creations.

(Kasthuri Subramanian is the co-head and pastry chef at Delish dessert studio, Chennai) 

Chef Kasthuri’s recipe

Linzer Torte 

Linzer Torte is a classic Austrian pastry with an almond shortbread topped with a tangy raspberry jam and covered with a lattice and topped with almond flakes.

Ingredients

Butter 60 gms

Icing sugar 60 gms

Eggs 50 gms

Vanilla 5 gms

Flour 30 gms

Almond flour 60 gms

Sponge crumbs  90 gms

Cinnamon powder 2 gms

Salt

Method

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla in three parts to combine. Fold in the dry ingredients, do not over-mix.

Pipe on a fluted tart ring. Using wet hands spread the batter and cover the sides as well. Freeze the rings. Once frozen, fill raspberry jam and pipe lattice on the top with the leftover dough.

Bake in apreheated oven at 200C for 20-25 minutes.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

Butter 37 gms

Caster sugar  30 gms

Brown Sugar 33.5 gms

Milk 17 gms

Peanut Butter 30 gms

Salt 2 gms

Baking soda 0.75 gms

Flour 53.5 gms

Chopped dark chocolate 50 gms

Method

Cream butter, peanut butter and sugar till pale and fluffy. Add milk in parts to combine. Fold in the dry ingredients along with the chopped chocolate. Chill the cookie dough. Portion to 40g on a tray with parchment paper.

Bake in a preheated oven at 170C for 12-15 mins.

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