Her soft hands hold a distinctive, sweet fragrant vanilla pod that she gently rolls around her index fingure. It doesn’t break. It’s bendy and moist, just the way it should be. Pastry chef, author and blogger Shaheen Peerbhai’s smile tells us it’s an ingredient she is going to pick for her next preparation. After reaching home, she heads to the kitchen and splits the bean into two. The delicious aroma envelops the room. This afternoon, she is making Sticky Vanilla and Coconut Rice with mangoes with her best-loved ingredient. Clouds have gathered outside, forming a dark halo on the horizon. It’s almost going to break into rain. It’s perfect for some indulgence with a dessert.
It’s going to be a while before she can indulge herself again. Long, tedious days are to follow with her baking classes beginning on September 8 in Delhi. “These are not like your typical brownie and cup cake classes. That’s too basic and done to death,” says the 29-year-old London-based baker, who champions the use of real chocolate and quality ingredients. She is the only pastry chef in India who gives classes on creative layered French style patisserie, and all that she will be teaching in her classes personify the elegance of the quintessential French flair.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, she studied culinary arts in Paris and London at Le Cordon Bleu and Centre de Formation d’Alain Ducasse on scholarships from The James Beard Foundation and the Culinary Trust. As a former food editor for BBC's Good Food Magazine India, she visits India to conduct baking classes twice a year.
“Over the years, I found the greatest love and satisfaction in baking. I enjoy sweets but don’t crave them,” says Peerbhai, who loves tasting more than eating. To feed her curiosity, she often heads to Paris and goes patisserie hopping, where she consumes a lot more than she should under the pretext of research.
Her website purplefoodie.com has a plethora of recipes, including cakes, petit four (small confectionery), biscuits and crackers, tarts, pies, ice creams, sorbets and more, but what remains extra special to her are her French pastries. “I like to explore food from different perspectives. I was in Mexico earlier this year and ate some desserts that were done so differently, like sweet corn cakes and local berries poached in mezcal and served with cream. It’s always refreshing to explore different cultures to gain new ways of looking at things,” she says.
Her classes will reflect different levels of expertise. The first is for those who want to ease themselves into baking or just learn quick bakes. They attend the simpler classes that cover recipes such as speculoos cookies with cherry jam or moist chocolate cake with ganache. The second is for those looking to add layers in terms of textures and flavours with an advanced class on French patisserie. “The chocolate I’m teaching has cocoa and pecan dacquoise, a chocolate mousse, a shiny mirror glaze, caramel ganache and pecan nougatine. This takes precision and planning. You can’t have something ready in an hour. Time and temperatures have to be respected to get the best set and a delicate, beautifully created pastry,” she explains.
Gardening and watercolour painting are the other two passions. “I’ve made it a rule to enroll in different courses. I’ve taken courses in block printing, filmmaking, calligraphy, fermentation and leatherwork,” says Peerbhai, who is working on her upcoming book called Paris Picnic Club, which will be published in 2017 by Barnes and Noble New York (Sterling). She’s co-authoring it with her friend Jennie Levitt, who is illustrating the book in watercolour. “It draws recipes from the weekly popup restaurant we ran in Paris for two years, and some that span small plates, sharing platters, tartines and desserts. The book goes beyond how we all know French food to be, as Paris has many ethnic influences which are always overlooked. There is Vietnamese, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Tunisian, Moroccan and Turkish pockets that add flavour to the city and take it beyond the quintessential French Onion Soup,” she explains.
For details about the classes, log on to purplefoodie.com