The pandemic was hard on people and the economy alike, with the F&B industry arguably bearing the worst of the cross. With Coming Home, pastry chef Pooja Dhingra rediscovers her passion for baking and with it, a sense of hope.
Le15 Patisserie owner Pooja Dhingra’s inability to pick a signature favourite dish of hers is instantly telling of her love for her craft. Even as her future holds the promise of more books, stores, some travels and rest, the past two years have been gruelling, to say the least.
That is until Coming Home brought things into perspective.
Possibly her most personal story yet, the book talks about how the baker in her helped her navigate the global crisis — both on a personal and professional level.
“Baking in my home kitchen in the first few months of the pandemic made me feel like I was 23 again. I was rediscovering what it meant to take simple ingredients and transform them into something delicious. Baking as an activity is also extremely therapeutic and requires you to truly stay in the moment. This allowed me to put my energy into something other than the crisis at hand,” she remarks of her time spent at home during the pandemic.
The book is peppered with incidents and recipes from different parts of the author’s life. One such memory involves chikoo ice cream and milkshakes from Naturals Ice Cream. The deliciously vivid memories of these scoops served as inspiration for her Chikoo Kulfi coated in roasted, chopped hazelnuts. But it was these very nostalgic creations that the chef and author found hardest to conceptualize and create, all before perfectly nailing it anyway!
Backed by a solid team that covers her through books and bakes, she stresses on the several recipe tests and solid amount of research it takes before making a single item live. According to Pooja, some of her most notable creations include savoury cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and caramelised onions.
Apart from being simply delightful, Pooja Dhingra’s recipes are often synonymous with eggless. From her macaron to kulfis and more, she has always strived towards keeping her recipes largely vegetarian. Given that a large part of India’s population prefers baking without eggs, Pooja adds that she’s consistently worked towards creating tasty treats minus the ingredient.
Like Pooja, of course, there were several others who discovered their love for baking simply for being cooped indoors! Commenting on the longevity of this passion for most, she adds, “I’m hoping it sticks! Baking is addictive and once you get hooked, you get hooked.”
For someone who works out of a massive professional kitchen, however, the work from home model couldn’t have come easy. How does one cope with the loss of access to the best machinery and chefs? Pooja admittedly says, “My home kitchen was shared by 5 of us. [The] only window I got to use it to bake was at either 3 pm once lunch was done, or at midnight once everyone went to sleep. At the start of the pandemic, basic ingredients were unavailable and I really had to search my home pantry to put things together.”
Minor roadblocks aside, it’s been full steam ahead for her. The baking enthusiast managed to make her YouTube debut during the lockdown, finally realizing her long overdue dreams. Her channel has managed to garner over 19k subscribers so far, and covers everything from baking basics to her vlogs, recipes, and a lot more.
While macarons are now something of a calling card with Pooja Dhingra, her first rendezvous with the intricate delicacy was nothing short of a culinary rom-com.
“I had my first macaron in Paris in 2008 and as cheesy as it may sound – it was love at first bite! It was a passion fruit macaron from Pierre Herme. I decided then that it would be my mission to bring them to India. Life feels like it’s come full circle as Pierre Herme has written the foreword for my book,” says Pooja of her experience falling in love with them.
All these years later, her food philosophy remains as unshaken as her love for all things sweet. Her belief in the same has only grown stronger over the pandemic, evident in the hopeful pages of Coming Home.
Pastry chef, businesswoman, author – Pooja has donned several hats over the years. Various accolades later, however, she believes that the biggest mark of her success is when she sees young girls embark on a journey towards becoming a chef.
Her belief in making the word a sweeter place shines through the many ups and downs of the pandemic. On advice for those starting out in the F&B space now, she says, “A time of crisis and change is a good time to test new things. If you have a good concept and truly want to do this, now is a good time to test things out.”
Be it a lazy afternoon read, or the need to rediscover your culinary skills, Coming Home definitely nails the brief.
Lemon Chilli Cookie
- 160 g flour
- 100 g cold butter, cubed
- 40 g icing sugar
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 ½ tsp chilli juice
- In a bowl, mix flour and sugar. Add cold butter cubes and use your fingertips to blend everything together.
- Add the lemon and chilli juice to the dough, and mix well.
- Chill the dough for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 165 C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Roll out the dough between sheets of parchment paper to a 5-mm thickness.
- Cut into rounds with a 3-cm cookie cutter, and place on the tray lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes or till golden brown.
Chikoo Hazelnut Kulfi (Eggless)
- 500 ml milk
- 100 ml chikoo pulp
- 50 g castor sugar
- 50 g hazelnuts, roasted and chopped
- In a saucepan, start heating milk on a low flame.
- Add castor sugar and continue to whisk the milk until it is reduced to half.
- This takes about 20 minutes. Ensure that the flame is low and you don’t stop whisking!
- Let the reduced milk cool, and then whisk in the chikoo pulp. Mix well to incorporate.
- Fill kulfi moulds with this mixture and freeze for 6 to 7 hours, or overnight.
- When you are ready to serve, spread the hazelnuts on a tray.
- Demould each kulfi carefully and immediately roll it on the tray to coat with hazelnuts.
- Serve chilled.