Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen was our August 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to make some amazing regional Indian desserts: the Mawa Cake, the Bolinhas de Coco cookies and the Masala cookies – beautifully spiced and delicious! Traditional Indian cuisine does not have a history of baking at all. Whatever baking is seen in Indian cooking today has been adopted and adapted along the way from recipes brought in by traders, invaders and colonial rulers. There is quite a bit of baking in regional Indian cuisines, especially those of the Christian community and to some extent, the Muslims as well. While hints of the original recipes may still be there, most of them have taken on uniquely Indian identities through the use of indigenous ingredients and spices.

Mawa Cake is a specialty cake that is the hallmark of Irani cafés in India. The Iranis are Zoroastrians who left Persia/ Iran in the 19th and early 20th centuries to escape persecution of non-Muslims, and settled down and thrived here mostly in the cities of Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune. They’re most famous in India for their friendly informal cafés/ restaurants that serve the most awesome food. Their brun pav or maska pav with Irani chai, their Shrewsbury biscuits and Mawa cakes are just a few of them. Mawa (also known as Khoya) is made by slowly reducing milk until all that remain is a mass of slightly caramelized granular dough-like milk solids. In this cake, Mawa lends a rich and a caramelized milky taste to this cake which is slightly dense and reminiscent of a pound cake.



1 litre (4 cups) full fat milk

1/2 cup (1 stick) (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) unsalted butter, softened

1-1/4 cups (300 ml) (10 oz) (280 gm) castor sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

5 to 6 cardamom pods, powdered

2 cups (500ml) (9 oz) (260 gm) cake flour

1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/2 cup (120 ml) milk

Cashew nuts or blanched almonds, to decorate


  • First make the mawa. Pour the milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan, preferably a non-stick one.
  • Bring milk to a boil, stirring it on and off, making sure it does not stick to the bottom. Turn down heat to medium.

  • Keep cooking until it reduces to about a quarter of its original volume. This should take about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Once the milk it has reduced to about one fourth quantity, bring down heat to low and let cook for a little longer.

  • Keep stirring regularly, until the milk solids (mawa) take on a lumpy appearance. Remove the pan from heat.
  • The mawa can be made one or two days ahead of making the cake and stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

  • Transfer mawa to a bowl and cool completely. You should get about 3/4 to 1 cup of mawa from 1 litre of full-fat milk.
  • Pre-heat oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Beat the butter, the crumbled mawa and sugar in a large bowl.

  • Beat on high speed until soft and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat on medium speed till well incorporated.
  • Add the vanilla and milk and beat till mixed well. Sift cake flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt onto the batter.

  • Beat at medium speed and well blended. Grease and line only the bottom of an 8 inch (20 cm) spring form pan.
  • Pour the batter into this and lightly smooth the top. Place cashew nuts or almonds randomly on top of the batter.

  • Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 1 hour until a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean.
  • Do not over bake the cake or it will dry out. If the cake seems to be browning too quickly, cover it will aluminum foil.

  • Remove from oven and allow it to cool for 10 min in the tin. Release the cake, peel off the parchment from the base.
  • Let it cool completely. The Mawa Cake is usually served as it is, without any other accompaniment. Serves 8 to 10.

Bolinhas de Coco (Cardamom Flavored Coconut Biscuits/ Cookies)

Bolinhas are cardamom flavoured coconut and semolina cakelets or biscuits from the Indian state of Goa. They are a little crisp on the outside and soft and have a melt-in-the-mouth texture on the inside. As the name suggests this recipe, like a lot of Goan Catholic cooking, is very much influenced by the Portuguese occupation of Goa. Bolinhas de Coco are a Christmas-time treat and a Goan Christmas sweet platter would be incomplete without them, though they’re eaten throughout the year.



2 cups (500 gm) (5-1/3 oz) (150 gm) fresh grated coconut, packed

1-1/2 cups (360 ml) (9 oz) (250 gm) semolina

1-1/4 cups (300 ml) (8-3/4 oz) (250 gm) granulated sugar

3/4 cup water (180ml) (6 oz) (175 gm) water

2 tbs (30 ml) (1 oz) (30 gm) ghee (clarified butter) or melted unsalted butter

2 large eggs, room temperature

8 to 10 pods cardamom, powdered (about 1-1/2 teaspoon)


  • Run the coconut in a processor a couple of times so that the flakes are smaller and uniform in texture.
  • Put the semolina in a pan and toast/ roast it, over low to medium heat, until it starts giving off an aroma.
  • It will look like it is about to start changing colour. This should take a couple of minutes. Do not brown.

  • Transfer the semolina into a bowl and keep aside. In the same pan, pour the water and add the sugar to it.
  • Place on medium heat and keep stirring until sugar dissolves completely. Let it cook for about 2 minutes.
  • Turn off heat. The sugar solution should just begin to start forming a syrup but it should still be watery.

  • Add the toasted/ roasted semolina and mix well. Then add the coconut and ghee (or melted butter).
  • Mix well. Put the pan back on the stove, and over medium heat stir the coconut mixture until it is really hot.
  • It will easily form a thick clump. This should take about 2 to 3 minutes. Take the pan off the heat.

  • Let the semolina coconut mixture cool to room temperature. Transfer this into a bowl or container and cover.
  • Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, ideally overnight. For really fluffy biscuits, overnight rest is recommended.
  • The next day, take dough out of the fridge and bring to room temperature. Separate egg yolks from whites.

  • Lightly beat the yolks with a fork to break them and add to the dough. Also add the powdered cardamom.
  • Mix well with a wooden spoon or fork. Whisk the egg whites by hand until frothy and add to the dough.
  • Mix well till incorporated to form a moist and slightly sticky dough. Refrigerate dough for about half an hour.

  • Pre-heat your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Line baking trays with parchment or grease well.
  • Take the dough out and pinch off walnut sized bits of dough. The dough should be firm enough to handle.
  • If the dough is sticking to your palms, lightly dust your palms with flour before shaping the dough.

  • Roll the bits of dough into balls and then flatten them slightly. Decorate the top by marking crisscrosses.
  • Place on baking trays leaving a little space between them. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes till golden brown.
  • Cool for about 5 minutes and then transfer to racks to cool completely. Makes about 4 dozen biscuits.

Masala Biscuits (Spicy Savoury Indian Cookies)

The word “Masala” means “spice mix” and so Masala Biscuits are a savoury and spicy Indian snack that is quite popular in some of the Southern Indian states. They also had quite a bit of “heat” from the chilli peppers that went into them, making them more of an adult treat. These Biscuits/ Cookies should be crisp/ crunchy on the outside and flaky on the inside.



1-3/4 cup (420 ml) (9 oz) (250 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour

2 tablespoons (30 ml) fine white or brown rice flour (optional)

1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt (or according to your taste)

1/2 cup (1 stick) (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) chilled butter, cut into small pieces

3 green chillies, deseeded and chopped

3/4 inch (20 mm) piece of ginger, finely grated

1-1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorn, crushed coarsely

1-1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and crushed coarsely

1 tablespoon (15 ml) (½ oz) (15 gm) granulated sugar

1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped curry leaves

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander/ cilantro

3 to 4 tablespoons (45 ml to 60 ml) cold yogurt

1-1/2 tablespoons black sesame seeds (or white sesame seeds)

A little oil to brush the tops of the biscuits/ cookies


  • Put both flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda into the bowl and add the pieces of chilled butter.
  • Pulse until the mixture takes on the texture of breadcrumbs. Now add chopped green chilies and ginger.

  • Then add crushed peppercorn and cumin, sugar, curry leaves and coriander leaves. Pulse a couple of times.
  • Then add 2 tablespoons of yogurt and pulse again. Add one more tbs of yogurt (or two, as much as needed).

  • Pulse again until the dough just comes together and clumps together. Do not over process or knead.
  • The dough should be just moist enough to bring everything together to shape into a rough ball.

  • Flatten it into a disc and cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least hour.
  • You can also leave it overnight (up to about 24 hours). Pre-heat your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

  • Line your baking trays with parchment or grease them with oil. Lightly dust your working surface.
  • Roll out the dough to 1/8”(3 mm) thickness, not more or your biscuits/ cookies will not be crisp.

  • Sprinkle the sesame seeds uniformly over the dough and use your rolling pin, very lightly, to press them in.
  • Using cutters of your choice (about 2-1/4 inch (55 mm) to 2½ inch (65 mm) in size), cut out biscuits/ cookies.

  • Place them on lightly greased baking trays. Brush a very thin coat of oil; this will help them brown while baking.
  • Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or till they’re done and golden brown on the top.

  • Cool on the trays for about 5 minutes and then on racks. Once they’re completely cool, they should be crunchy.
  • Servings: Makes about 2 dozen masala biscuits/ cookies that are 2 1/4” (55 mm) to 2 ½” (65 mm)wide.

Cakes & Cookies from India