Ode To Abu

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Baker Brigade - Rashmee Gopalan

Rashmee Gopalan
Rashmee Gopalan is known to make the yummiest gooey fudge brownies in town. Huge words of praise? Home Bakers Guild members swear by it, and they ought to know, being big-time foodies. 

Rashmee is the mother of a cute little daughter and son who keep her on her toes. She has been contributing to Parent Circle magazine for a year now. She does a recipe column for the mag and is a consultant for diet-related queries. A post graduate in Dietitics and Food Science, Rashmee is also an advisor and consultant at her husband's pharmaceutical company. The formulae, tasting trials and methods that go into introducing nutraceutical products, are first run by her, and tested out before they are marketed.

Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Despite all these activities, she manages to dish out some unbelievably exotic desserts. Her fave Ghirardelli chocolate makes its way into many baking experiments. Below is a pic of a mouthful of a dessert, in more ways than one. This is a brownie tart with a chocolate chip cookie base, infused with Ghirardelli chocolate, drizzled with chocolate ganache, and topped with cranberries. Phew!!

Brownie-based Tart
Rashmee says she is fortunate to have a sister based in the USA, who brings down the best products, colours and equipment that make her job easier. She places a premium on the consistency of the ingredients she uses and hence prefers to source them mostly from abroad.

Although her customized creations cater to the current craze for fondant-based cakes or the still-ruling-the-roost cupcake mania, Rashmee calls herself "a tea cake kinda person." Her personal favourites from all she bakes are fresh cream mocha walnut cakes and coffee walnut muffins. 

Thanks to indulging in delicacies and getting others to do the same via her label SnowFrosting, Rashmee is even more committed to stay physically active every single day. She walks the 3-5 km from school and never misses out on her yoga routine. Having  been a basketball player in college, she knows only too well the importance of health, fitness and discipline. Her goal is to run a marathon. She has already participated in the Dream Runners quarter marathon of 11 kms about two months ago. 

Rashmee's future plans include practising diet and nutrition counselling in a professional capacity, albeit part time. Her ultimate aim is to teach the same at the college level.

Below is a crumbly, buttery tart with choco fudge filling and topped with fresh fruits and cream.

Despite being a previous participant at the Baker Showcase, Rashmee still feels a twinge of nervousness. After 4 hours of marathon baking topped with 1 hour of fear before doors open, Rashmee is enjoying all the excitement. She comes across as a chilled out person and a lot of fun. I am hoping to get lucky this time around and pick up some of her stuff that I've heard so much about. Last time I got to the Showcase just in time to see her cleaned-out table! All sold out in in less than one hour. Her presentation and packaging was super neat and easy, particularly for purchasing individual cupcakes.

Of late, Rashmee has rediscovered the joys of baking bread. Besides the crusty and trusted ole garlic pull-apart buns, her current fave is foccacia bread.

I've had the good fortune to taste her peanut butter paisley bars -- you should see how people's eyes pop out when they bite into one of those! Its almost a divine, blessed, and fulfilling feeling. :D Besides that, she is bringing a whole host of goodies to this Showcase. There will be assorted cupcakes -- some that she calls 'citrussy all the way' or 'citrus burst', nutella hazelnut and mocha walnut flavours.

Assorted Cupcakes
And on that sweet yet citrussy note, I'm signing off to rush to the venue - Crimson Chakra. Hope to be on time before the Baker Showcase flags off. Think I might need a pick-up truck to haul all the yummies back home, while all the baker mummies are left with empty tables but hearts full of joy!

SnowFrosting FB page 

Baker Brigade - Apeksha Agarwal

Apeksha Agarwal
The daughter of the Kitchen Queen title winner of Jaipur, Apeksha Agarwal is the proud daughter of her super-talented mother. Despite belonging to a Marwari family that essentially thrives on food, Apeksha’s mom was not interested in cooking as a young bride. Post marriage she tried her hand at various talents, and excelled in many of them. Cooking, quite naturally, was mastered to a fine art. Apeksha spoke so warmly about her mom, that I almost feel like doing an article on her! Maybe that will be next on the agenda post the Baker Showcase. :-)

Another thought that struck me both during and since the conversation with Apeksha, was the tone of her musical, lilting voice over the phone. It sounded like she had a smile on her face with each sentence she spoke. Left me with a warm feeling. That’s a wonderful quality, Apeksha, may your tribe increase!

It is about 7 odd months since she officially began her bakery biz named Sweet Fairy. Fairy is a word she’s always been fascinated with from a very young age, and imagined she would use it in the name of whichever enterprise she would begin some day. Once she discovered baking, the name Sweet Fairy seemed to fit just perfectly. Cupcakes, tea cakes, customized cakes, cookies and desserts, chocolates and homemade breads are Sweet Fairy's specialities.

Since most of Apeksha's loved ones are vegetarian, she became an expert in eggless baking. She says, "There is a common misconception that eggless baking does not deliver the same soft results as goodies made with eggs. Sweet Fairy was started to specifically cater to all to enjoy desserts, hence we make everything eggless. The texture of all my products is very similar to what people bake with eggs."

She has been taking baking orders for family and friends for about 4-5 years now. Apeksha sources only the best quality ingredients and her goodies are made only on order, and hence always fresh.

Apeksha has been in Chennai for 7 years now, the longest in any city considering all the travelling and moving she’s experienced with her husband’s profession. She worked as a trainer -- helping people learn the art of making presentations -- before settling down to look after home and hearth. While her husband works at Ford Motors and her son plays with little dinky cars, Apeksha is driven by her hobbies – cross-stitch embroidery work, and of course, baking.

Sugar-free cupcakes and cookies are her forte, and a majority of Apeksha’s customers are among the vast population of Jains in the city. Her low-fat treats are specifically catered to meet the needs of the calorie conscious and those with diabetes.

On display at her table at the Baker Showcase today, are Mickey Mouse shaped cookies with an interesting 3D structure that kids would love.

Then there are buttermilk-based Velvet Cupcakes in 4 different colours – red, green, yellow and orange. And last but not the least of the 7 varieties of baked goodies from her stable, will be the East-meets-West range of cupcakes. She calls them thus because they contain the softness and structure of a cupcake, at the same time are topped with cardamom-flavoured icing, making for an interesting fusion to watch out for. 

Apeksha will also showcase the classic always-in-demand bakery staple -- eclairs! These are eggless and hence guilt-free, as she puts it.

Writing all these articles and sorting through all the yummy pics, I wonder if even the neighbours can hear the rumblings in my tummy grow louder by the hour, as the countdown to the Showcase begins!!

Sweet Fairy FB page 

Baker Brigade - Aysha Shanaz Abdullah

Aysha Shanaz Abdullah is Ms Perfectionist Personified. From something seemingly mundane as keeping the house neat and tidy to her awesome, jaw-drop-inducing baked creations, it is that meticulous attention to detail that defines her work. Her keen eye, artistic bent of mind (so apparent in not just her bakes, but also their personalized, creative and classy packaging), innate sense of beauty and finesse sets her and her goodies apart from a majority of the home-bakers today.

Interestingly, baking is not her first passion. She would rather eat cheese every day of her life if she could get away with it! Having revealed that, she adds that working out gives her a higher high than chocolate. Appearing to be a bundle of contradictions, Aysha can confuse even Confucius at this rate! The lady loves words and has a high regard for people who use them intelligently. Writing is something this multi-faceted lady has always wanted to try. I for one cannot wait for her to start blogging—the moment she gets a breather from running behind her three utterly cute, handsome and playful sons. Although she wasn't the studious sort in school or college, she developed a fascination for book learning post the age of 20. According to her, she was painfully shy as a child and would clam up on meeting new people, and this is a difficult task even today. Aysha, why not admit you are just a kid at heart!

Fresh Cream Cake with Fondant Accents

What I personally admire and respect about Aysha is her clear stand on principles and practices. She tries to apply these in all walks of her life, both personal and professional, and does not waver or alter them, come what may. Her strong sense of ethics stems from core beliefs. She explains, “My faith keeps me anchored and is very important to me. I try to examine my intention with every single thing I do and that somehow keeps me sane.” She is also a great believer in change despite initially struggling with it. All of us grapple with this, but her humble acceptance and admission of the same speaks volumes of her belief in the grand plan of the Universe.

Baking is not new to Aysha in the sense that her childhood was filled with her mother’s much-loved cakes within the family. According to her, however, all she did back then was gorge on them and perfect the art of resembling a teapot!

Lemon Cupcakes

Her first inspiration was the Martha Stewart website. Completely captivated by what she saw, Aysha elaborates, “I loved the way the food looked in the pictures - dreamy, delicious and altogether perfect!” This was three years ago, and thus began her obsession with baking. She adds, “I've always had a very sweet tooth and the baking fed that (and my hip).”

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

Thereafter, Aysha discovered the blog world and was totally hooked. Amazed by the number of insanely talented people sharing their recipes, backed by brilliant photography and beautifully elucidated posts, Aysha believes the Internet was truly her first teacher. However, most of the recipes she read about could not be put into actual practice, since half the ingredients listed are not available in India. Most of the bloggers are based in the USA. As a novice back then, she states that her experiments in attempting to follow some of those recipes were more error than trial. And if you refuse to believe her, she will invite you to witness the proof on her food-spattered ceiling, claiming that she is the officially certified family klutz!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Never one to give up, Aysha searched for easy recipes where the botch factor would be at an all-time low, if not a zero possibility. ‘Plenty shmart, eh?’ As the Spaniard character used to say in the UK sitcom ‘Mind Your Language’. She soon came to the wise conclusion that it is the simplest recipes that are the most perfect. A profound realization indeed! Ask her which recipes caught her eye and she jokes, “If I see the words “one bowl”, “under 15 minutes” and “skill level: easy” on a recipe, then I’m in!” Always one to crack the funniest wisecracks on herself, she continues in the same vein saying, “Although I always take the 15 minutes limit to half an hour and one bowl to three.”

Strawberry Oats Tarts

Once she set up shop, there was no looking back. Her customers won't let her! As a mom three times over and as a baker, she hummed her way into professional baking with the 70s classic tune 'Ma Baker' on her lips. Ironically, it is her pet peeve that people who are clueless about the song, don't get the clever spin on the name. Instead they think its cool and hip and based on today's chat lingo! Shall we just say Ma Baker is the mother of all bakers and leave it at that? ;-)

She terms her approach “updated classic - comfort food, presented well.” Left to her, she would stick to classic swirls and buttercream border decorations on cakes - something that never goes out of style, something our moms could have made, and yet, stamped with that timeless appeal. 

Cheesecakes in a jar

That in a nutshell, describes Aysha herself. A baker with a difference – there is something that distinguishes her from others, and it is that extra something that she brings to the baker’s table. Come to the Showcase today, and you will see what I mean!

Baker Brigade - Divya Ninan-Eapen

Divya Ninan-Eapen

Divya Ninan-Eapen in her own words: “I grew up in the Nilgiris. At the hillstation, I watched my mum bake cakes for kids who were celebrating their birthdays. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t the least bit interested when it came to cooking. Necessity post marriage got me into cooking, and more so into baking.” 
Spinach Feta Twist Bread
“I soon realized I loved baking bread, both sweet and savoury. And I realized I wanted to do a food blog to record all my recipes and probably help someone like me. That is how Tangerine's Kitchen, my 4 year old space came into being. The space features more of baking recipes, most of which are either handed down the generations or inspired from books et al.”

Buttery Garlicky Flaky Mini Bread Rolls

Professionally, Divya designs Indian textiles under the brand name 'Rachel'. The store specializes in handpainted textiles. As a visitor to her FB page one fine day, I was surprised to discover I was one of the winners for a voucher from Divya's boutique. She invited me over to browse through her collections, and I am yet to take her up on that offer. There was further incentive thrown in when she generously offered to bake some favourites as accompaniments to the chit-chat along with the personalized shopping experience. Post the showcase, I wonder if this will remain a distant dream!

Thanks to Divya's FB page, I did not have to caption most of her pics. Also could not resist adding so many of them for obvious reasons. As the saying goes, a picture speaks a thousand words, so we shall let them do all the talking on this piece. Its even more appropriate considering Divya is a woman of few words!

What she does say, however, is that baking is a huge destresser. For her, a surefire method for beating stress is kneading bread. Just check out the end result - Wow! This baker sure packs a punch within her slight frame.

Sunflower & Sesame Seed Bread

Participating and winning in the Bake for Sandy's contest organised by the Home Bakers Guild got Divya seriously thinking about baking. And not just for family or friends as she was used to, but also for people who love traditional, typical home-baked goods. Her entries at the contest were unique in that aspect. She made Lamingtons and Lemon Blueberry Yoghurt Cake, which blew everyone's minds for their simple, wholesome taste of freshly baked yumminess. For a whole month, she retailed the Lamingtons at Ox & Tomato while Fresca housed the Lemon Blueberry Yoghurt Cake, where it was paired with fresh fruit and artistically plated.

No-bake Lemon Cheesecake

Divya is enjoying baking even more now and is naturally excited to be a part of the 3rd Baker Showcase. Her specialties such as braided breads and glazed orange and ginger loaves will be the main attraction at her table.

Ask about future plans and she says, "My dream all along has been to own an old cottage-style store for my textiles, with a quaint little cafe attached to it." She says the cottage would specifically have to resemble the ones in the Nilgiris. Now here's a woman whose heart belongs to the hills alright! The dreams she weaves, into the beautiful clothes she designs as well, coupled with photos of her wholesome, home-style bakes and breads almost magically transport me to another place. Oh, for a whiff of that cool, fresh and misty mountain air, and the soothing sight of pretty, flowery gardens and lush green meadows! 

Something about Divya's pictures and choice of baked marvels takes me back to childhood days. Curling up with an Enid Blyton book and tucking into apple strudel and caramel tarts, and munching on peanut butter cookies sound like the perfect way to take a trip down memory lane. Think I'll stock up at the Showcase, and spend my weekend indulging (in more ways than one) in some wistful thinking.

Peanut Butter Cookies

 Tangerine Kitchen's FB page

Baker Brigade - Linu Paul

Linu Paul
Keeping up with current food trends as well as generations-old traditional recipes is Linu Paul’s forte. The latest addition to her menu is the Greek dish Moussaka. This goes well with the present fascination for Greek food in Chennai, made popular by restaurants such as Kryptos. She will be premiering this dish at the 3rd Baker Showcase. It will be available in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options -- i.e. eggless mushroom and aubergine, and chicken and aubergine flavours. This time around, Linu plans on premiering more savouries along with her usual bakes.

Her grandmother’s rich plum cake recipe is one of Linu’s most prized heirlooms and a permanent fixture on the menu of Linu’s Kitchen -- the simple and easiest-to-remember name for a business. Her ready-to-fry cutlets, rosette-shaped icing cakes, plum cakes, Devil’s food cake, banana breads, double chocolate brownies and varieties of cookies are at the top of the popularity charts of home-baked orders in the city.
Chocolate Crinkles
In just a span of a few months and more so since her participation in the 1st Showcase, Linu now finds herself taking a Sunday off from her own super-busy home-baked business! So much so that her supportive husband who sometimes helps with delivering orders jokes that he ought to be officially employed and given a salary!

Chocolate Cupcakes

Laughing Linu is what comes to my mind when I spot her current FB profile picture. A candid shot that captures the spirit of this talented young woman, who enjoys everything she does to the hilt. Always smiling and helpful towards upcoming home-bakers and baking enthusiasts, Linu shares her tried and tested recipes on her blog. The bank of recipes available on the blog is a source of encouragement for many people new to baking and cooking. Most are simple homemade recipes that can be easily attempted by a novice.
Gingerbread Men

A computer science engineer at Cognizant, Linu grew tired of managing a stressful career while attending to the needs of her young kids. She turned to baking and writing, her stress relievers. Both avenues are now her bread and butter, figuratively and literally speaking! Linu is a freelance writer and is also in the process of compiling her favourite recipes into a cookbook. 

Snowmen Cookies

Linu’s goodies can also be savoured at Hotel Harrison’s Café. I’ve heard that her red velvet fresh cream cakes fly off the shelves as soon as they are delivered!


Linu's baking business has escalated purely via online media such as Facebook groups and referrals. She has never advertised officially so far, and those in the food and baking worlds would vouch that she does not need to! The sheer years of practice she has put into the food that she makes, speaks for itself. Linu’s Kitchen looks poised to soar to even greater heights henceforth!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Baker Brigade - Usha Seetharam

Usha Seetharam

Usha Seetharam is originally from Bangalore and came to Chennai to gain work experience. Interesting twist, as it’s usually the other way around – Chennaiites end up in B’lore to further their careers. Then again, Usha is an individualistic and interesting young woman who wanted to step out into the world on her own terms. She came here seeking independence and the freedom to do her own thing.

It’s been 8 years since, and Usha found many work assignments in television and radio, varied projects in the media, and in the fields of marketing and communications. Her stint with radio lasted about 3 years, which included working in Delhi, and also training aspiring RJs. At present she is the Corporate Relations Manager with one of India’s leading law firms. 

Usha returned to Chennai and besides work, also found love. Usha is happily married for two years now. Her husband Shaun runs a design firm and together they pursue their common interests in cooking, eating out, and travelling. She loves the mountains while her husband is a beach-aholic, and hence they try and do both types of destinations at least once a year. Not surprisingly, Leh, Ladakh is her favorite holiday spot.

Carrot Zucchini Bundt Cake

Although she's been baking for a while, the frequency of her baking has increased in the past three years. Friends and family have been the lucky recipients of Usha’s oven experiments. Like most home-bakers, Usha enjoys the process of baking and creating something that she herself, as well as others, can enjoy. She finds it a relaxing pursuit, particularly after a long hard day at work. Baking to her is relaxation therapy. 

Chocolate Cake with Buttercream Frosting

A hot fave among friends is her all-popular chocolate cake. Breakfast at home many a time is just that one chocolate cake -- a wholesome, tasty and healthy meal as it does not contain butter and is made with wholewheat flour. She tries different variations of her signature specialty, by adding either coffee liquer or giving it a burst of orange flavour.

Chocolate Cake

Usha loves the fun part of baking that can turn into gifting. That is, when she gets invited to a get-together or if it's a celebratory occasion, it gives her an opportunity to bake and take along something creative and yummy. Needless to add, there are happy smiles all around. Usha, you’re gonna be a regular at my place now. ;)

1st Fondant Figurine

Usha’s recent passion is baking decorative cookies. She gets to play with colours, shapes, and toppings that give them an ‘arty’ look. Quite naturally, they end up eliciting a ‘wow!’ from her clients. 

Decorative Sugar Cookies

At the moment, she bakes mostly for people she knows personally or for those referred by friends and colleagues. Usha's incentive to participate in the 2nd Baker Showcase is to gauge how others would respond to her treats. It would give her a chance to validate her baking skills, and explore orders from outside her immediate circle. Her aim is to be armed with around 220 pieces of baked yummies on her table at the Showcase.

Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

From all that I’ve gathered so far, I predict Usha’s baking skills will be much talked about
in the city very soon. Get ready to join the much-in-demand baker brigade after the Showcase, Usha! All the best! And I’m dreaming about that sinful, yet guilt-free chocolate cake of yours already! :-)

Dark Chocolate Cake

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Baker Brigade - Sangeetha Ramamoorthy

Whoa!! :O Stats show 581 page views yesterday and this blog is less than 10 articles old!! What a fab note to start a new post on. Thank you so much, dear readers :-) Especially for all the encouragement and feedback...keep 'em coming especially if from a critical eye! ;-)

Sangeetha Ramamoorthy
I see a similarity in the blog stats shooting up and Sangeetha Ramamoorthy, the home-baker of this post. A friendly, talkative, warm and super busy woman, she has experienced almost overnight success since she announced her home-based business. Sangeetha was one of those who rode the cupcake craze when it hit Chennai, since she got into the game early on. Besides being in the right place at the right time, it is her experience and quality of goods and service that keep her dazzling in the home-baker spotlight.

An interesting phenomenon these days is the number of women taking the plunge from a software career to a home-based baking business. Sangeetha is a B-Tech degree holder in Electronics and Communications. She has worked in prestigious IT companies like HCL, Satyam, Caritor, Hexaware, and Cognizant for more than 12 years.

Oreo Devil's Food Cupcake and M&M Cupcake

From a young age, Sangeetha was interested in the arts, travelling, cooking and baking. Her experiments with baking were nurtured by her travels around the world. This spurred her to bring those awesome creations back home. She explains, “I decided to try my hand at baking for my two kids as well as for family occasions. After delivering my second child, I stopped working and began to pursue my love for baking and cake decorating.”

Frangipani Themed Wedding Cupcake Tower

These experiments evolved via a quest to create combinations from something she had seen and liked, or what her daughter or husband had liked. Many of the creations were thus perfected over multiple rounds of baking sessions -- some very successful with the family members and some not so popular in the initial stages.

Ferrero Rocher Cake

As she perfected recipes and practiced her artistic talents on cakes, friends and family suggested she take it to a professional level. Thus, her home-based baking business Li’l Delights was born. The products used in her creations from the chocolates to the colours are of the finest quality, and most of these are sourced from around the world. Lil’ Delights has been operational for about 15 months now. Its popularity has grown through its online presence, the news coverage her work has received, and was further boosted by Sangeetha’s participation in the 1st Baker Showcase.

Raspberry Chocolate Truffle Tart

Many visitors to the 1st Showcase remember Sangeetha for her super-yummy cupcakes and cheesecakes, and the fact that her table was the first one to get completely sold out! All this in less than an hour of opening the doors to the public! She was also wearing a cute little cupcake earring and many women and children liked that! :-)

Irish Cream Cheesecake

House specialties of Lil’ Delights are the anytime, everyone’s fave Ferrero Rocher cakes, frosted signature cupcakes, lychee yoghurt tarts (one of the winners in the Bake for Sandy’s competition for home-bakers), Irish cream cheesecakes and many more. My personal faves are Sangeetha’s lychee yoghurt tarts and raspberry chocolate tarts – mouthwateringly yummy, before and after the bite!