Blog-checking lines: Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen was our August 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to make some amazing regional Indian desserts. The Mawa Cake, the Bolinhas de Coco cookies and the Masala cookies – beautifully spiced and delicious!
One of the pleasures of being part of the Daring Bakers’ group is the exposure to desserts that I wouldn’t otherwise have ever heard of, let alone baked. That was the case with this month’s challenge. I don’t think of Indian cuisine including baked desserts so it was a surprise this month to be given the challenge to make Indian baked sweets – a Mawa cake as well as one of two cookies, the Bolinhas de Coco or Masala cookies. I chose to make the Bolinhas de Coco to accompany the Mawa cake. Both of these desserts are fairly simple, but they involve some really unusual (from a North American standpoint) techniques and are multi-step desserts.
Mawa cake is apparently a specialty cake found in the Irani cafes of India. Mawa is a mass of slightly caramelized milk solids that are formed by reducing full fat milk until no liquid remains. I have to say that I can’t imagine doing this in India – the hour and half it took standing over my stove during a moderate California summer was pretty uncomfortable as it was! It was pretty interesting to do this though. The 4 cups of milk reduces down to barely a cup of solids! The solids are cooled and then creamed into the butter and sugar when making the cake.
The texture of the Mawa cake is really lovely – a very fine crumb, but a dense and moist cake that reminded me a little of pound cake. The strong flavoring of freshly ground cardamom and the cashews on top are typical, though almonds are sometimes also used. When my husband first saw this cake, he thought there were macaroni noodles on top! I guess I don’t use whole cashew nuts enough.
For my second dessert, I chose the Bolinhas de Coco. Bolinhas are cardamom flavored coconut and semolina cookies from the Indian state of Goa. This recipe is influenced by the Portuguese occupation of Goa and appears most often at Christmastime though it may be eaten throughout the year. Like the Mawa cake, the method of making cookies is different from the cookies I’m used to making.
The Bolinhas de Coco are made entirely with semolina and fresh grated coconut (no flour). The semolina and coconut are stirred into a hot sugar syrup and cooked until the mixture thickens up. It reminded me a bit of making polenta in the beginning and cream puffs towards the end. Lots of stirring! The semolina mixture is rested overnight in the refrigerator so that the semolina can soak up liquids and become really soft. The next day, the eggs are separated and mixed into the semolina mixture, first the yolks and then the lightly beaten whites, to form a fairly stiff dough. The cookies are supposed to come out a little crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I had some textural issues which I think is because I could not find the correct kind of semolina or fresh grated coconut. If I can find a source for these ingredients, I would like to try making them again.
A note on using fresh cardamom – it’s pretty strong and the amount specified was a little confusing. The cake called for 5-6 pods of (green) cardamom and the cookies for 8-10 pods. Both recipes said this would equal about 1 1/2 tsp. of powdered cardamom, which is achieved by breaking the pods and grinding up just the seeds. I didn’t get anywhere near 1 1/2 tsp. by grinding the seeds from 10 pods, so I ground as many as I needed to get that measurement. The cardamom flavor was VERY strong in my cake and cookies, so I think next time I would stick to just the number of pods and not worry about getting 1 1/2 tsp.