When it comes to cakes, brownies, and the likes, we all have a favourite chain that we know won’t disappoint. But lately, the choice to experiment and find good quality dessert is being met by newer, artisanal brands. We speak to five such dessert entrepreneurs who have penetrated a pretty set market with their unique offerings that go beyond our commercial dessert shop choices.

NIDHI THAKUR of 17|40 Bakery, Dharamsala

A PR executive who moved to Dharamsala a few years ago, Thakur decided to move on from PR and turn a hobby into a profession to give Dharamsala a taste of exquisite desserts, with 1740 Bakery, right in the middle of the pandemic 

Nidhi Thakur

Best sellers: Tiramisu, sourdough berliners, hot cross buns 

What desserts did you introduce Dharamsala to?

It’s been a slow journey, but I introduced our little mountain town to some lovely desserts from across the world. It all started when a customer requested some Easter special treats, and my research led me to hot cross buns. That gave birth to the idea of exploring more breads and desserts that had a cultural significance. I keep adding seasonal and festive specials in order to cater to the eclectic mix of people living in this town.

 What’s the most challenging dessert you’ve ever made?

I’m embarrassed to say this, but I have this love-hate relationship with cookies. I love eating them, but I hate making them because it’s such a challenge to master the perfect ones. I will try out a new cake or bread in a heartbeat, but a new cookie? It’s taken me over a year to try two of them.

 Why do you think people are now trusting small-batch, artisanal dessert brands as much as we’d trust the popular commercial chains?

I think trust is the keyword here. The trust in small artisanal brands stems from the intimacy a customer feels by knowing that they matter. They are not just another figure on a balance sheet, but an actual valued asset to a freshly growing brand. Artisanal brands are offering desserts so freshly made, that our instant-Zomato-ordering generation is making the effort to order two days in advance. People love and appreciate something that’s new, but what do they love even more? Personalisation, quality, and consistency. 

PRERNA PURI of Prerna’s Ice Cream

Prerna Puri was doing interior designing consultancy in Delhi till the pandemic set in, and gave her a new direction to blend health with indulgence, and come up with India’s first certified gluten-free ice cream

Prerna Puri

Bestseller: Pure Coconut, Pure Almond Marzipan

Cake

Why did you decide to make artisanal ice cream, of all desserts?

During the pandemic, I was very concerned about buying ice cream for my child from vendors. So, I decided to make ice cream on my own. During my research on recipes, I realised that stabilisers, emulsifiers, artificial flavours, and colours were commonly used, and they aren’t good for health. I began preparing ice creams in my home kitchen with all-natural and premium ingredients, without using any artificial additives. My child, family, relatives, and even friends loved it. They forced me into selling by word-of-mouth, and thus started my journey as an entrepreneur.

Do you think eating clean, gluten-free etc. are fads, or are they defining a bigger change in the way people eat?

Healthy eating is a conscious choice that informed consumers are making today. Over the years, people have realised that food and lifestyle choices are directly responsible for their well-being. The way people eat is definitely changing, and this change is here to stay.

Do you think people are now trusting homegrown, artisanal dessert brands as much as we would trust popular commercial chains? 

Absolutely, Artisanal brands give a lot more attention to using good ingredients, and follow very innovative and ethical processes of manufacturing products that are healthy, as well as big on flavour.

AMRITA CHUGH of AMOO’S; Sisterhood of Cakes

Amrita, a 26-year-old baker in Delhi, was always about the bake, but she quit her job last year around this time to start Amoo’s, to bring minimalist desserts to people so that they can experience good quality dessert, not just taste it

Amrita Chugh

Bestsellers: Bundt cakes 

Bundt Cake

How and why did you decide to do Bundts? 

I have not seen too many bakers or commercial bakeries specialise in Bundts. Moreover, I have mostly observed people not liking the cream or icing component of their cakes. Another motivation for developing Bundt cakes was that anyone can eat them any time, they are so light and pleasant.

How have you seen the demand for the birthday cake change? Do people still want the full-of-icing, fondant fancy cakes, or are the choices more minimal?

The market is still divided. Though the trend for fondant cakes has plateaued and is declining, people still look for them. Cakes that are choke-full of icing are on the decline now. Customers are now more aware about quality, the kind of ingredients; they have knowledge of couverture chocolates, the perils of the choky icing, etc. 

Do you think people are now trusting homegrown, artisanal dessert brands as much as we would trust popular commercial chains?

I would say yes, and no. Yes, because homegrown brands have been reputed for handmade, small batch, fresh desserts. No, because homegrown brands still have a long way in marketing themselves far and wide, and reaching out to the right people. Building trust from a scratch is a long-drawn process. 

NOOR MUBARAK of Notting Hill Bakery 

Shuffling between Mumbai and London, Noor Mubarak started Notting Hill Bakery during the pandemic to raise money for the migrant workers, and at the same time, introduce the city to a new range of indulgent desserts

NOOR MUBARAK

Bestseller: Brioche doughnuts

Brioche doughnuts

You steer clear from the usual line of desserts. How did you decide on the unique menu, and how has the response been?

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make items that not everyone in Mumbai does. At the time, I noticed no one was really doing babkas or brioche doughnuts, so I decided to try it, and the response was great. In the beginning, it was a little overwhelming, because I didn’t expect my doughnuts or babkas to get the attention they’re getting right now. 

Tell us about your famous Lays Cake. Do you think the ‘salt in sweet’ palate is explored enough?

I personally love the combination of salt and sweet. Growing up, I used to love eating crisps with chocolates. When I first posted about the cake, so many people messaged me saying how it reminds them of their childhood and going to birthday parties, where they would mix their chips with the chocolate birthday cake.

Why do you think people are now trusting homegrown, artisanal dessert brands as much as we would trust the popular commercial chains?

I guess it’s because with homegrown brands, since it’s on such a smaller scale than the professional chains, your focus is more centred towards customer satisfaction. 

MALLIKA TANDON of Big Bobo’s Kitchen 

MALLIKA TANDON

From hosting imaginary cooking shows as a child to quitting her full time communication designer job to pursue a patisserie course, Tandon found her way to merging food with design by making unique, delish pieces of confectionery 

Bestseller: Buttercream floral cakes

Buttercream floral cakes

You make these chocolate tiles and barks, different from the usual chocolate bars. How did you come up with this?

I love taking inspiration from my immediate environment. I almost think in a reverse manner — I first imagine the look of a confectionery/dessert, and then plan its flavours. My terrazzo tiles have been my favourite project so far. I was inspired by my grandma’s DDA flat’s terrazzo floor, so I went on to replicate the look by making tempered coloured chocolate “chips”, and setting them in a tile format with dark, milk, and white chocolate as a base. I’ve also recently designed some intricate floral buttercream cakes. 

How have you seen the choices of the kinds of desserts people like change?

I’m very new to the industry to comment, but as a consumer, I see that people are very open to trying new forms and flavours, and are keen to spend money on places that champion quality produce. 

Why do you think people are now trusting homegrown, artisanal dessert brands as much as we would trust popular commercial chains?

To me, there’s a certain kind of authenticity to small-batch, made-to-order food and bakes. I think we put a face to the brand and tell our story first before we sell our products, the food has a very personalised aspect to it. I, too, would rather order coastal food from a home kitchen where the founder’s mama is famous for her podi,  than the order in curries from Zomato for a special occasion. 

ABHISHEK THUKRAL of The Whimsical Baker

A PR professional of 12 years and still big in the game, Thukral decided to create an alternate profession for himself during the pandemic with his passion for baking, and is doing some exquisite flavoured cakes in Mumbai 

ABHISHEK THUKRAL

Bestseller: Italian Lemon Ricotta Cake

In an attempt to make what most bakers aren’t making, how did you come up with your menu?

I have a personal penchant to try new dishes, and have been lucky enough to travel to many places and try a lot of local stuff. I curated a menu understanding that if people would want to buy from a new baker, they will only do so if you do something unique but at the same time, with a great focus on quality. 

You make a lot of vegan cakes as well. How have you seen the demand for vegan desserts change or increase?

A lot of people actually wanted more diet-specific cakes — I think that’s owing to the lockdown. So more than vegan, we got more healthy bake requests, and of course, vegan is an important option to have because it’s an ever-growing lifestyle. 

Why do you think people are now trusting homegrown, artisanal dessert brands as much as we would trust popular commercial chains?

I think it is the comfort of home-baked/cooked. Also, there’s a sense of quality but most importantly, it’s the safety because it’s a more controlled environment, and there are fewer people going in and out. 

FLAVIA LEWIS of Salt By Flavia

FLAVIA LEWIS

Flavia Lewis’ story goes in reverse — she turned her business into a passion project. She started Flavia’s Confectionery in 2014, which became Salt by Flavia last year, and one of her best recipes is one that she created using leftovers from recipes 

Bestseller: Frankenstein 

Frankenstein 

While most dessert places are big on the brownie and cupcake culture, you created a unique offering with a mix of many things. Can you tell us about the dessert Frankenstein, and how you came up with it?

The Frankenstein is a layered dessert made of chocolate chip cookie base, baked cheesecake, caramel, and sea salt, with a chocolate whiskey glaze. This dish is both a happy mistake, and a labour of love. It was made bit by bit out of leftovers from recipes nearly seven years ago. It’s my monster, my creation, hence the name Frankenstein.

How has the baking culture and dessert choices for people changed during the pandemic?

With the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot more home chefs and bakers enter the market. Customers are open to trying new things now, as well as ordering more often than they would earlier. If a cake was ordered for an occasion or birthday pre-pandemic, now people are ordering a whole cake just because it’s Thursday.

Why do you think people are now trusting homegrown, artisanal dessert brands as much as we would trust popular commercial chains?

Safety is currently a bigger issue than it used to be, and it’s maybe easier to trust food coming from a home as opposed to a commercial kitchen. Personally, social media has been a great help to me in being able to access people I would never have been able to reach otherwise.