CHENNAI: A sweet, nutty aroma filled our tiny room as we opened four petty-packed boxes of Mediterranean delights. Gently wrapped puff pastries, garnished with pistachio shavings and topped off with sweet syrup; lines of thin roasted vermicelli engulfing a generous dose of cheese; carefully crafted bird’s nest with nuts on top — it was the perfect way to bring in the weekend cheer, thanks to Munahiza, a 24-year-old culinary arts student, who has been baking tempting Turkish treats.
Munahiza moved to Chennai from Dubai in 2018. Having grown up with a palate of Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern cuisines, she decided to relieve herself of constant nostalgia by giving into experimentation.
Armed with the confidence she gathered while studying cooking at the International Center for Culinary Arts (ICCA), Dubai, in 2014, and support from family, the 24-year-old launched Dessert Workroom in December 2019. “I have always loved to cook. My mother is my biggest critic. Teamed with my sister, they are my sources of encouragement. They pushed me to start a venture and start taking orders from home,” she says.
Munahiza’s first big break came in the form of the Bumble Bee Pop Up Exhibition organised by Fika, a cafe in Adyar, in December 2019. “My cousin and I convinced our family to allow us to set up a collaborative stall. While she displayed kaftans, I set up a table with baklava, bird’s nest and truffles,” she shares, while recalling her debut attempt.
Much to her relief and delight, the first batch of baklava sold out almost instantly, even though “the baklava was a little soggy”. Soon,word spread about Munahiza’s desserts. “People beyond my social circle and family contacted me for orders. My entire family advised me to take every order and prepare each item to the best of my ability. My husband has also been a tremendous support.
From buying the ingredients to organising delivery, he helps me with anything he can,” she elaborates. But who knew that a virus would put paid to her plans. The month of Ramzan, however, brought some respite. “People were panic buying sweets for the festival and not many had access to custom-made Mediterranean treats,” she says. Friends and family promoted her work on social media, and in three months, she tasted the sweetness of this joint labour — followers doubled and orders poured in.
A sweet outing
So coming back to the nutty aroma in our room...it was a paradise of baklava, kunafa, bird’s nest, chocolate biscoff, and rose pastry. The two-inch-long baklava pieces, lightly drizzled with sugar syrup stirred our senses back from ennui. Not too sweet, it was just the right pop of sugar to not have us levitating even after a few were gobbled down.
The bird’s nest — another sweet treat made with pulled dough strings similar to vermicelli, drizzled with sugar syrup and topped with pistachios — melted with the perfect crunchy, crispy that we only dream of. Expectations were now set high as we turned to try the chocolate biscoff/scoff nest, a variant of the bird’s nest.
Topped with Nutella and a crumble of dried nuts, this one is a marriage made in sweet heaven when blended with the chocolate-hazelnut spread. Her latest addition to the menu is rose pastry — a layer of filo pastry neatly wrapped with a mixture of crushed rose compote, dried nuts and chocolate. There’s also kunafa and rolled cream cheese kunafa to help you drown your lockdown grief.
Filled with cheese and cream cheese, wrapped in a layer of Arabic vermicelli, drizzled with sugar syrup and sprinkled with crushed nuts, you are bound to be brought down on your knees. The vermicelliwrapped delicacy is not sweet in itself. It comes with a box of sugar syrup that is customised as per taste. Some like the kunafa as is, in its cheesy goodness, while others prefer a dash of sweetness to the cheese which gives an unusual trifecta of flavour — sour, salty, and sweet.
The Dessert Workroom can turn you into the proverbial Pavlovian dog, but there’s a good reason to surrender. So while we indulge our senses in some guilt-ridden, unfathomable decadence, we’ll leave you with details to sample this joy. For details, call Dessert Workroom at 9790868026 or place orders on their Instagram page @ dessertworkroom