This piece is from the archives, when I started writing, scribbling actually. This was the piece I shared with some people, some encouraging feedback and some not very. Also back then I wanted to write a book about how food and memory are interlinked, a book that explored how so much in our lives is a food memory. But that was then, and today I am sharing the story, abridged with current pictures and a recipe to boot. Reinventing the old in the new year are we?
On a cold September morning in Mcleodganj I was looking around for a bakery called Woesar. And after resisting the temptation of steamed potato momos and other cafés serving breakfast goodies, I sweated a bit, walked up and down the same street, asked everyone I could and then finally found it. And good that I did.
Most of the reviews of the place write about the famous carrot cake, but when I walked inside the door I could smell only one thing. Cardamom.
Fresh out of the oven, on the cooling rack, a cake. The bakery is owned by a lady and the bakery is named after her daughter. Woesar means the ‘rising sun’ in Tibetan. We exchanged greetings and I asked for the carrot cake, well the carrot was being grated before my eyes and would take a few hours to be on the plate. The bake of the morning was a cardamom cake.
I asked for a slice of the same and a cup of freshly pressed coffee.
I had my doubts. I probably associated cardamom to Indian desserts alone. The smell reminding me of the aate ka halwa challenges at home most winter, the turns we took to to churn out the perfect halwa with the humble aata, sugar, ghee and cardamom. The obvious winner each time being my father. The effort of roasting besan for ladoo which gets it’s finishing touches when ghee and cardamom come together with the pink roasted besan and sugar, painted a picture of my mother and her two daughters sitting with a big plate (parat) , three sets of palms churning out ladoos like halwais. The centre of a raj bhog, cardamom seeds, a little bit of semi-evaporated milk (khoya) as center of a giant rasgulla, my sisters favourite sweet and the many attempts she had made as a child to gobble them up at social does. The final sprinkle on a creamy kheer cooled by the full moon of Kartik Poornima, the seeds that added texture and flavour to a cold home churned kulfi, all memories that that smell of cardamom had evoked.
I have always felt memory over a period of time gets condensed into recollection by a colour or that melody which you recognise without any strain, more often than not it’s also by a smell.
To my utter surprise, the cake was just the right sweet and incredibly flavoured.
Back home I tried to recreate the cake. Failed the first time, simply because I got the amount of cardamom wrong, it was too less. Take your favourite vanilla cake recipe, and simply replace the vanilla with cardamom. The quantity of cardamom should be generous as the high heat of baking takes a lot of flavour away. Also the quality of cardamom.
I enjoyed every morsel of that slice of cake with my sugarless coffee. It was right after that I left Mcleodganj but that memory and the many others that were linked to that one fragrance stayed.
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda / sodium bicarbonate
1 tin (395g) sweetened condensed milk
100g unsalted butter, melted
175ml milk/water (I used 175ml full fat milk)
2 tsp Cardamom Powder
1. Pass all he dry ingredients through a sieve. This traps some air and makes the cake lighter.
2. Whisk together all the wet ingredients with a hand blender. Fold in all the dry ingredients in the wet mixture. Do not over mix as the cake will then become flat.
3. Pour the mixture in a greased and 20 cm lined cake tin. Bake in a preheated oven for 40-50 minutes. The time required in the oven can vary greatly with the amount of water/ milk added to the batter.
4 Once called, sprinkle with icing sugar and cardamom powder.
Prince – When Doves Cry – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UG3VcCAlUgE
The Cranberries – Linger – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6Kspj3OO0s
Josh Groban – You Raise Me Up – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJxrX42WcjQ
Blog/ Webpage: https://www.cupcakejemma.com
Book: Men Without Women – Hakuri Murakami
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.