She failed many times before her cakes began to rise. Tasneem Shah is a homemaker, a professional cake artist and a baker. Her sons, Ali (19) and Omar (16), she claims with pride, “are my guinea pigs. They are the first to try out my cakes and enjoy my daily cooking too”.
Tasneem started her journey with hand-made chocolates in 2009, which took shape as The Chocolate Factory. She has moved on from chocolates to baking and cake decoration but her enterprise is still called The Chocolate Factory By Tasneem. “Baking for me started purely as therapy; I would bake late at night and be engrossed for hours on end, trying out new recipes, researching with the limited internet content in those days, experimenting, failing miserably sometimes only to start all over again. If luck was on my side on a particular day, I would have a beautifully risen cake or a cookie with that perfect crumb or the freshest loaf of bread for our early morning breakfast and nothing else gave me more joy than to share those with our friends and neighbours,” she shares.
Tasneem leans towards Awadhi-Mughlai flavours and takes pride in her biryani, dal-gosht, kebabs, Zafarani korma and more. Excerpts:
Who introduced you to baking?
I began as a novice baker looking for that perfect recipe to bake a cake for my son’s birthday. Little did I know that I'd be doing that for a living some years down the line. My earliest memory dates back to my childhood where I remember my mum going to a local baking school for a basic course and coming back home with loads of cakes, biscuits and goodies every day. And I was hooked! Fabulous feedback from people, who ordered from me, was all it took to believe in myself and the things I could achieve.
When you started, was brand-building ever on your mind?
Foraying into the world of baking was purely out of love for it. I never envisioned it as a full-time career. Every time I bake, it becomes a form of self-expression. Creative freedom helps me unwind, knowing that I've made somebody happy with my creation. Spreading joy is a different kind of high. The fact that I was able to build a career out of this passion and that my brand name is synonymous with the best in baking and cake decoration is definitely an added bonus and the additional income this provides me is definitely more than welcome. Even though I am a business owner today, baking still gives me the same amount of joy and creative freedom.
What is your culinary expertise?
I have always been a cooking enthusiast. Right from childhood, eating good food made me happy but cooking gave me a different kind of joy. Over the years, baking has taken precedence over my kitchen endeavours. Baking is definitely where my culinary expertise lies. Creating an edible piece of art from scratch is a wonder in itself. I love making things look beautiful with my art and what better way to do that than to make stunning cakes and desserts.
At what age did you first step in the kitchen?
Early in life, I must have been around 11 or 12 when I was allowed to cook and that was very exciting for me. I would look forward to cooking almost anything. When nobody was home I’d sneak into the kitchen. My mother had a hard time cleaning up my mess but there was no stopping me. I used to see my mother prepare lavish meals for family get-togethers and it intrigued me.
Initially, when I started baking, there was not much one could learn from the online options. I largely depended on my own reckoning and calculations; taking classes was not an option at that time. So, it was just me and my experiments, my trials and research with my recipes. Sometimes my efforts resulted in disasters!
What was the first dish you made for your parents?
I vividly remember my father relishing the burnt roti I very proudly made for him. I was showing off my newly-found roti making skills to him. Not a word of complain came out from his mouth; it was only when I ate it did I realise what I had fed him.
What do you like to bake for yourself?
Do you seriously think that after being surrounded by only cakes and frostings for the most part of the day, I can devour a cake like the way I used to? The craving has diminished, but I don’t mind biting into a piece of a decadent classic chocolate cake or a piece of a heavenly French Entremet.
What is your favourite from your mom’s cooking?
Her shammi kebabs are to die for.
Do you specialise in anything in particular apart from baking?
I am now an instructor and have mentored hundreds of home bakers and baking enthusiasts. I consider baking therapeutic and sharing my knowledge through teaching gives me the utmost satisfaction, My workshops are mostly online now, due to the pandemic; and being online and having a social media presence, especially on Instagram, has given us a massive boost. I have almost 11k followers on Instagram and Facebook, comprising of friends, baking enthusiasts, customers, fellow bakers and some who are just admirers of our page.
Traditional Plum Cake
Fruits to soak:
Orange Peel 100 gms
Lemon Peel 100 gms
Black Raisins 100 gms
Golden Raisins 100 gms
Cashews (chopped) 100 gms
Hazelnuts (chopped) 100 gms
Tutti Fruity 100 gms
Dried Blueberries 100 gms
Dried Cranberries 100 gms
Rum or Brandy (just enough to soak the fruits)
Ingredients for the cake
Butter 140 gms
Dark Brown or Dermerera Sugar 120 gms
All purpose flour 120 gms
Nutmeg Powder 1 pinch
Cinnamon powder 1 pinch
Vanilla 1 tsp
Molasses 2 tbsp
Salt ¼ tsp
Baking powder 5 gms
Soak the fruits in rum or brandy, make sure the rum is just two centimetres above the fruits. These fruits can be soaked much ahead of baking the cake as that is what gives it such a rich flavour, people soak the fruits as at least a month in advance as the soaked fruits can be stored easily for a year. For this recipe strain one cup soaked fruits measure and proceed. Beat butter and brown sugar till the mixture becomes light in colour. Now, add eggs and whisk well and add vanilla. Sieve together the dry ingredients and fold them lightly in the wet batter. Add the molasses and the strained fruits and fold it lightly. Pour the batter in a loaf tin, decorate the top with some almonds and pecans. Bake in preheated oven at 150° Celcius for 40-50 minutes or till the skewer comes out clean. Once out of the oven you can brush the cake with some alcohol before consuming.
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