CHENNAI: Syrupy cham cham cakes, ghee-soaked motichoor laddoo jars and crunchy legiyam cookies were doing the rounds on Instagram this Diwali. Meet home baker Aarthi Santhanam, founder of Bakespeare Tales.
Aarthi wasn’t always a baker. She has a degree in MBA in Marketing and HR, and has held diverse roles such as recruitment consultant and content creator. An event at her workplace in 2013 piqued her interest in taking up baking full-time.
“We had a potluck and were asked to choose a chit. Each chit represented different countries and we had to prepare a cuisine native to that place. I had whipped up a rainbow cake, and it was a crowd-puller. Eventually, I developed an interest and started baking every day after coming from work and it was a big stress-buster. My cookies and cupcakes became an instant hit and I started receiving birthday orders,” says Aarthi, a resident of Kotturpuram. From 2014 to 2017, she was selling home-baked goodies from her house.
Finding it difficult to juggle work and her passion for baking, she quit her lucrative job in 2018. Aarthi enrolled in Whitecaps International School of Pastry in Bengaluru for a six-month diploma course in pastry and chocolate art. Armed with new skills, she started her brand on Instagram and began experimenting with fondants and figurines.
Baking breads and spreading joy — this sums up her life. “I loved playing around with healthy alternatives in eggless baking as people started getting more diet conscious. I make varieties of bread. The whole wheat is milled, pounded and then freshly baked. My latest innovation was for Diwali. Instead of carrying a box of sweets while visiting guests, I wanted to infuse a surprise element. I made cakes with traditional sweets like palkova and jangiri. The box had edible sponges made with a cardamom-flavoured base and drizzled with dry fruits,” says Aarthi, who believes that innovation is the only way forward in a conservative and competitive market like Chennai.
Pastry and bread maybe her bread-and-butter, but rajma chawal and dal makhani trigger a visceral memory from childhood. Culinary traditions are fragile but have tangible links to the past. “Cooking has been an inevitable part of my life, thanks to the positive influence of my mother and grandmother. My mom moved to New Delhi after marriage and settled there.
Despite coming from Tiruchy, she effortlessly picked up the north Indian cuisine and specialised in it on par with the locals there. On the other hand, my grandmother is known for her pickles. The minute she spots a citrus fruit-bearing tree in our garden, she’d pluck them and make pickles,” reminisces Aarthi who moved to Chennai in 1991 from New Delhi.
To date, Aarthi never visits her friends’ home empty-handed. “I take whatever I prepare for the day with me. Those days, potluck and get-together were so common. I’ve imbibed this too from my mother.”
The baker is currently working on Christmas hampers. By 2020, she wants to specialise in sourdough bread and pizzas.
Whole wheat carrot muffins
Ingredients: Whole wheat flour: 1 1/4 cup, Baking powder: 1 tsp, Baking soda: 1/4 tsp, Salt a pinch, Thick curd: 1 cup, Vegetable oil (flavourless): 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp, Jaggery (grated): 3/4 cup, Carrots (grated): 3/4 cup, Vanilla extract: 1/2 tsp, Walnuts/ Almonds (optional): as required
- Pre-heat your oven for 10 minutes at 1800 C.
- Sift all the dry ingredients.
- Combine the wet ingredients in a big bowl and blend them well together.
- Fold in the dry ingredients into the wet mixture.
- Add grated carrots and nuts and gently fold it into the batter.
- Pour the batter into cupcake liners and bake at 1800 C for 15-18 minutes or until a skewer, when inserted, comes out clean.
- These muffins make a great breakfast or snack item for kids.
For details, visit Instagram page: Bakespeare Tales