Pastry chef Juhi Pahwa does not like sugar coating. The baker to the stars owns The Better Binge, an artisanal cake brand in Mumbai, whose gluten-free, vegan cakes are free of refined sugar, butter, milk, eggs and white flour. The brand has amassed close to 18.4k followers on Instagram, with Katrina Kaif and Jacqueline Fernandez having her cake and eating it too. Juhi believes a cake “is the showstopper of any table.”
A bestseller is jowar dark chocolate cake. So are her buckwheat pancakes with peanut butter strokes and a nutty organic drizzle, which Kaif and Bollywood fitness expert and influencer Yasmin Karachiwala enjoy the most—going by the constant barrage of Instagram posts of them tucking in. Esha Deol loves the pinatas. Her other celeb clients are Manish Malhotra, Ananya Pandey, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt and Sophie Choudry.
Is her confectionary calorie-free? She laughs, “The Better Binge doesn’t mean a calorie-free binge!” Jowar qualifies as a carbohydrate and carries calories, though in lesser quantities than maida. Pahwa shares, “My options are nut milk, almond flour, and coconut sugar, which tastes just like white sugar but have the lowest glycemic index.
I have healthy versions of hazelnut mousse and vanilla bean sponge cakes.” She is not a fan of dates, but uses date sugar on occasion, for example in candy with golden jaggery powder. Other preferred ingredients are palm jaggery, organic honey, pure maple syrup, flaxseeds, and unorthodox ones such as plant-based protein powders.
Pahwa’s predilection for innovative baking solutions began early in life. “I once replaced Parle-G biscuits with Hide&Seek, which I teamed with milk and microwaved the combo to make my younger sister’s favourite snack when my folks were out. I was only 12 years old,” she recalls.
Pahwa’s best friend is a superb baker and her go-to genie who got married and relocated to Delhi. Influenced by her, she decided to take up baking herself. She customises cakes to suit different diets. “It is important for my products to look good. I spend an equal amount of time baking and then dressing up the desserts with mini meringues, macarons, nuts, and seasonal fruits,” she says.
Everyone is not a chocolate devotee, so Pahwa has something for alternate taste buds too. Recently she baked a cake with berries and mango hung curd for actor Rajkummar Rao’s birthday. “I once worked with juicy lychees and mangoes to make a multi-layered cake,” she shares.
Pahwa’s repertoire is as wide as her engaging grin—cinnamon cakes with oats and apple sauce drizzle, mango and semolina cake with custard frosting, golden butterscotch pralines, Belgian dark chocolate and peanut butter cakes, and red velvet madeleines. Her cake take on the pandemic? A smash cake. You take a bat that comes with the cake, and hit the ball-shaped pinata and eat the luscious mango cake inside. Yumm...
The self-taught baker specialises in reinventing classics.“I blow-torch the crust at times, glam up the brownies and make vegan snack options with coconut dark chocolate ganache and Nutella spreads,” she says. Pahwa often bakes through the night, coming up with curious spins and variations such as 5g protein shots flirting with flavours in peanut butter, dates, dry fruits, cinnamon.
There are Korean tea time cakes in smaller sizes, dolled up with pretty pouffes and tiny flowers and pearls. “Believe me, nothing happens without hard work, and hustling,” winks Pahwa sweetly.
Gluten-free Japanese Cheesecake
● 1/2 cup cream cheese
● 2 tbsp butter
● 4 tbsp milk
● 3 eggs, separated
● 1 tbsp lemon juice
● 1 tbsp vanilla extract
● 1/3 cup stevia
● 3/4 arrowroot flour
● 1/4 tbsp salt
● Melt the cheese, milk and butter. Once slightly cool, add egg yolks, vanilla and lemon juice.
● Sieve the arrowroot flour and salt over the cream cheese mix. Now cut and fold until no lumps.
● In another bowl, start whipping egg whites and slowly add the stevia, 1 tbsp at a time. It will take about eight to 10 minutes for stiff peaks to form.
● Once ready, incorporate the egg whites into the flour and cheese mixture to form a fluffy batter.
● Bake in an eight-inch tin in a water bath for 30 minutes. Post that, leave the cheesecake in the oven with the door slightly open for 30 minutes.
● Cool the cheesecake and top it up with fruit of your choice and enjoy.