There was one very discernable difference between Thierry Metee’s apricot macaroon and the actual fruit. The latter has a seed. But in all other aspects, Metee’s tangerine-coloured confection (with apricot and saffron cream sandwiched between the crumbly layers) was like biting into a juicy apricot, a bit sweet at first, followed by that whoosh of fruity tartness. And Metee, who is Mumbai’s Four Seasons Hotel’s French executive pastry chef, can do magic with other flavours as well.
Just like granny’s: (left) Theobroma’s Victoria sponge crowned by a meringue topping; and flavoured macaroons from Four Seasons. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
The milky coffee-coloured macaroon was a shot of rich, creamy coffee, while the pastel lemon one took me right back to my childhood, to my grandmother’s lemon curd—more tart than sweet.
Pastry chefs are rediscovering the classics and churning out desserts or confectionery that can be almost classified as old school, such as Metee’s macaroons. Cupcakes and pineapple upside-downs, Victoria sponges, roulades and profiteroles are reappearing on menus across Mumbai, and for the people who make and eat them, it’s a walk down memory lane.
“A lot of people say, ‘oh my grandmother used to bake something similar’, when they see things such as jam tarts, pound cake and Victoria sponge cakes in the shop,” says Kainaz Messman, owner of Theobroma, a bakery and patisserie in Colaba, Mumbai. Theobroma offers these desserts, in addition to retro sweets such as bread and butter pudding, pineapple upside-down cake, macaroons and caramel custard, a few of which are made on order.
“Comfort food is definitely coming back, and it’s now chic to have classics on the menu with a new twist,” says Ashiyana Shroff, founder of Tart.co.in, an online patisserie which delivers in Mumbai, and specializes in flavoured cupcakes, profiteroles, fresh cream eclairs and tarts. Shroff says she sells about 70-80 cupcakes a day (they are priced at Rs55 or Rs75 a piece). Some flavours for cupcakes include carrot with cream cheese frosting, tiramisu with mascarpone frosting and dark chocolate with chocolate frosting.
Messman says her memories of her childhood and vacations are all associated with food. “I remember my mum used to make bread and butter pudding in a big glass bowl that we would eat till we were sick. Then we’d put the rest in the freezer and eat it frozen the next day,” she says. Similarly, she remembers vacations at her grandparents’ place in Nagpur, where her mother would make jam tarts.
Bite-sized: Cupcakes at Tart come in flavours such as (left) tiramisu with mascarpone; and chocolate with chocolate. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
For Metee, nothing represents classic French pastry more than a macaroon. He says that in France, if a man brings a woman macaroons, it signals that he is sophisticated, classy and rich.
The latter is important; decades ago, macaroons were only for the rich since making them is a long and costly process. “They are still expensive; it costs about €1 (around Rs70) for a single macaroon,” he says. Four Seasons sells them in boxes of seven and 14, for Rs500 and Rs900 plus tax, respectively.
A sign that a relatively unfamiliar confection in India such as the macaroon is making it to the mainstream: A prominent Mumbai family sent flavoured and coloured macaroons with their daughter’s wedding invites, instead of the traditional Indian mithais. The box even included a short history of the macaroon.
Sous chef Saundeep Nunes from the pastry department of the Renaissance Mumbai Hotel and Convention Centre says the resurgence of old-style desserts is much like fashion trends, which are cyclical. “Like bell-bottom pants, these things have to have a break, and then they’re back in style, often with some modification or the other.” Tiramisu is an example—a retro dessert which he says has now been updated with flavours such as orange and berry. But one dessert which the Renaissance has kept traditional is the chocolate roulade, one of the most popular cakes at the hotel.
Similarly, says Metee, he has kept the flavours of his macaroons classic and not tried experiments with wasabi or other flavours: “You don’t find macaroons everywhere in India, and if you are experimenting in a new country, you start traditional.” His pastry department is churning out old-fashioned opera cakes, strawberry-and-rose flavoured profiteroles, crème brûlée and chocolate fondant. Flipping through his latest Journal du Patisserie, he points out candy-pink, heart-shaped macaroons and explains that for pastry chefs, the base remains the same but the technique evolves, and new flavours and decorations are added.
For now, lovers of sweets are happy that cakes at dessert counters are looking like the dreamy, soft-focus photographs in their grandma’s cookbooks, and that vanilla, not wasabi, is the flavour of the season.