Memories of Christmas will always revolve around Midnight Mass, giving gifts, and spending time with family. Another integral part of this festival is the aroma of freshly prepared Christmas sweets, which are binged on all day. Plum cake, kalkals, guava cheese, milk sweets, and marzipan – the list is both long and delicious. The unfortunate part is that my family has stopped making sweets at home, and this is true of several other Catholic households in Mumbai too. The people who come to our rescue are home cooks who make sweets not just for their own families, but also to sell them!
In Mahim, I meet freelance marketing consultant and home baker Sharlet Mariados, who runs Sweet Nothings along with her cousin Sunita Keny. The duo begins their work a month and a half in advance to ensure that the taste of their cakes is authentic. “When it comes to making traditional Christmas cakes, our preparations start from mid-October. That is when we start soaking dry fruits, raisins, and cranberries in rum. By the first week of December, we start baking cakes as and when we receive orders,” she says. When asked about the process of making cakes, she says, “Every day, we work for about 12 to 15 hours, and sometimes, we even forget to eat our meals. My mother has to remind us to go and have lunch!” Baking cakes has helped her to learn a lot, express her creativity, and taught her to be patient at all times. “Today, when I see my cakes, I am really proud of myself,” says an excited Sharlet.
Although Sweet Nothings is just one and a half years old, it is doing wonders because of its premium traditional Christmas cakes. Chocolate brownies, chocolate cakes, and bubble gum cupcakes are some of their specialties. They also offer about 10 to 12 other varieties of cupcakes for those with a sweet tooth.
Homemaker Hemali Shah is the founder of Chocolate House, which attracts customers all the way from Vashi, Malad, and South Mumbai. The aroma of chocolates wafts through her house because of the workshop that she has set up inside it. “I make dark chocolate sweets and even chocolates that are customised based on the customers’ requirements,” she says. She offers two chocolates shaped like Santa Claus and bells to me, which I wolf down instantly. From chocolates shaped like stockings, bells, and wine bottles to Maritose, you will find all sorts of cocoa-based goodies in her refrigerator.
“During Christmas, I work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and sometimes, if we receive a large number of orders, then my family chips in too. While my son helps me make the chocolates, my husband looks after the packaging,” says Hemali.
Thirty-three-year-old Antonette Naronha has been in this business for the last eight years and the response she has received has been really good thus far. When you hear about the sheer amount of sweets she prepares each year, this is not surprising at all. On average, she sells 20 to 30 kg of kalkals, 15 kg of milk cream, and 5 to 10 kg of marzipan. “The number of orders increases every year. Sometimes, when people come home to place orders, they end up asking for more. I can’t say no to my customers, so I have to end up giving them the sweets I have saved up for family and neighbours. Then, I sit to prepare a new batch from scratch for my own home,” she says. Certain sweets are sold by the piece and certain are sold by the kilo. Her list of goodies also includes bebinca and coconut cake, and the latter is loved by most customers.
Though making sweets has now become a business, it is not just about the money for these home cooks. They value and eagerly await the reviews and appreciation of their clients. “Every penny spent on chocolates from Chocolate House is an investment”, “I relish the coconut cake made by you”, and “When are you starting your own bakery?” are some of the best compliments they have received till date.