Many days of the week, I wish I could just call up my friend Bina to come and have tea or coffee with me. I know my afternoons have never been sweeter as since she shared her Mava Cakes recipe with us. I am very fond of a little tea break and I am very fond of Bina. We "met" when she emailed about her macarons issues. We just went through every problem, one by one, laughing along the way. Like with most friendships, it is difficult to explain how the pieces of the puzzle just fell into place. We started sharing a bit more each day, her about India and me about France.
We finally met in person and confirmed our friendship went deeper than a computer screen. We cook the same way, from memory, from family, for others, always worried people are going to enjoy themselves and have enough. Our cultures are miles away from each other and yet we relate by cooking like our ancestors did. Our way to keep alive the generations before us and pass it on to the ones after us.
Bina is funny, talented, attentive and generous. There is no better guide than her when going grocery shopping at an Indian grocery store which is precisely what I did on my last visit. A lot of dishes and treats were mentionned on that last trip but nothing prepared me to the little box she sent me last month.
"I am sending you some mava cakes I just made. It's a recipe I have been working on for a while". As soon as the package arrived, I ripped the wrapping to shreds and stared at the container, wondering if I should wait on B. to sample one. I did not, and a moment of sheer bliss quickly followed. I started counting the mini cakes wondering how many I could eat before B. would find it strange she sent so little...
Hints of butter, milk and cardamom hit me all at once sending my senses in a very happy dance. I quickly shut the box closed and sent her an email "please, please, please, tell me how to make those! What's the story behind them? What's mava?"
Turns out mava is a reduction of milk and/or cream that gives a thick spread complementing the butter and other ingredients in the cakes. Her recipe calls for evaporated milk and heavy cream and I am sure there are others out there but this is the one that makes Bina feel closest to home and that sounds perfect to me! On a side note, she tops hers with cashew halves but I ran out on my last batch and plopped a pitted cherried right in the middle instead.
Thank you dear Bina for adding your words and memories to this post. I am just the one telling people "you must make this!".
Mava cakes bring back all the wonderful memories I have of growing up in Mumbai– my family, friends, college, monsoons, red double-decker buses, Marine Drive, amazing food, wonderful bakeries...
The bakeries were not the trendy places more common now, but simple Irani/Parsi ones which had the best mava cakes! Our family favorite was the City Bakery which was a ‘must-stop’ for us, often around 5 am, on our way back from the airport after helping a friend or relative catch an international flight (which always left at some crazy hour like 3 am!). The city always looked so quiet and peaceful at that hour and as we approached the bakery, we would be greeted with the amazing aroma of freshly baked bread. Next to the breads, piled high on a tray were the mava cakes. Not particularly impressive to look at, plain looking almost, occasionally dressed with a sprinkle of cashews or almonds. One bite of these delicious cakes was all it took to get hooked! We would return with our stash of baked goodies and sit in our balcony overlooking the Arabian Sea, sipping hot tea and munching on these cakes, watching the sky get brighter. Home for me is now over here but whenever I make these cakes, I feel like I am back on that balcony and that always makes me smile.
One year ago: Loquat Creme Brulee Tartelettes.
Two years ago: Lemon Mascarpone Charlottes.
Makes about 12-18 depending on the molds
Notes: I used canele molds but feel free to use anything that you have, like muffin tins or cupcake liners.
Make sure to use a large pot so the milk and cream cook down properly.
For the mava:
2 cans (14oz each) evaporated milk (not low fat)
1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
For the cakes:
1 1/4 cups (155gr) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (2gr) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (100gr) mava, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (85gr) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (100gr) sugar
6 tablespoons whole milk
cashew halves (optional)
Prepare the mava:
Place the evaporated milk and heavy cream in a large stainless steel pot or wide saucepan (12-inch) with tall sides. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium high and let it cook, stirring more than occasionally for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat to medium and let the mixture cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture starts to thicken. Turn the heat to medium low and cook another 10 minutes. At this point, the mixture starts looking like a grainy butterscotch pudding. No worries, everything is going according to plan. Turn the heat down to low and continue cooking another 10-15 minutes. Do more than stirring occasionally there too: there is very little moisture left and the higher risks of scortching happen at that point.
The whole process should take about 50 minutes, pay close attention to the mixture during the first and last 10 minutes of cooking. The final consistency is that of a very thick pudding.
Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate if not using right away. The mava can also be frozen for up to 3 months. With this mava recipe, you have 3/4 cup to 1 cup of mava, enough for 3 batches of cakes.
Prepare the cakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 and position a rack in the middle. Lightly spray with cooking spray (or brush with melted butter) small cupcake, muffin tins or other mini cake moulds. Set aside.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Reserve. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with hand held beaters), beat together the mava, butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Turn the speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time and beating well after each addition. Still with the motor running on low, add the reserved flour mixture and the milk. Turn the speed back up to medium and beat until the mixture is smooth. Divide evenly among the prepared cake tins, top each with a cashew half if using and bake for 20-25minutes.