[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!]
Yep, it's that time of the month again - Daring Bakers! One of the great things about this community is that it allows us to make baked goods from different cultures, and this month's challenge embraces that with traditional Indian cakes and cookies. I love Indian food, but I've never been exposed to much of the sweet side of Indian cooking, so I was excited to be able to give the challenge a go.
I went for the Mawa Cake for two reasons: 1) I'd heard about it a few times before and 2) I was fascinated by the process of making 'mawa'. Aparna told us that Mawa Cakes are a specialty cake that's a hallmark of Irani cafes in India. The 'mawa' itself is basically caramelized milk solids, made by gradually reducing milk until it's a quarter of its original volume, thick and slightly lumpy. It lends a pretty unique milky taste to the finished cake, which is reminiscent of a butter cake.
This is the kind of cake that my family loves to devour; not too flashy, without any frosting, yet delicious - the perfect tea cake. The cashews strewn over the top add a nice contrasting crunch and goes well with the milky crumbs. I was slightly panicky over making the mawa, scared that I'd burn the batch and waste a whole litre of milk, so I stood guard for an hour and a half stirring the milk with one hand and highlighting my equity textbook with the other. That's how a law student bakes.
The cake itself has a tight crumb - be careful you don't overbake or it'll become dry very quickly. The mawa in the cake will warmly cocoon your entire house with an unbelievably heavenly smell. Seriously. I'd say make it just for that.
I had lots of fun with making this cake, thank you Aparna for such a great and diverse challenge!
Makes 1 8-inch cake
Note: you can make the mawa one or two days ahead of time and store it in the fridge.
For the mawa:
1 litre (4 cups) full-fat milk
For the cake:
1/2 cup (110g) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (180ml) packed crumbled mawa
1 1/4 cups (280g) caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (or 5-6 cardamom pods, crushed and ground)
2 cups (260g) cake flour (you can also make your own cake flour by replacing 2 tbsp for every 1 cup of flour with cornstarch)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
Cashew nuts (or blanched almonds) to decorate
To make the mawa:
Pour the milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan (if you have nonstick, use it). Bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick to the sides or the base. Once it's at a boil, turn the heat down to medium, and cook the milk until it reduces to about a quarter of its original volume. This takes about an hour to an hour and a half. As it cooks, it's important that you stir it frequently so that none of the liquid sticks and burns. As it reduces, the color will also darken slightly.
Once the milk has reduced to about 1/4 of its original amount, lower the heat even more and cook for a bit longer. Stir regularly now until you see that the milk has taken on a lumpy appearance and there is no visible liquid left in the pan. Remove from heat and let cool; store in the fridge if not using yet.
This will make about 3/4 to 1 cup of mawa.
To make the cake:
Preheat your oven to 180C/350F. Grease and line an 8-inch round cake tin.
In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream the butter, mawa and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat each time until well incorporated. Add the vanilla and milk and mix well.
Sift the cake flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt into the batter and stir it in until it's just incorporated. Scrape the batter into the cake tin and smooth the top. Place cashews or almonds on top - don't press the nuts into the batter.
Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer comes out clean. If the cake is browning too quickly, tent it with some aluminum foil. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then turn it out onto a rack and let it cool completely.