This is going to be the lengthiest and the most special post I’ve written till date, because I’m going to write about the person I hold closest to my heart. My grandmother, dida or Teesta, as I call her. This is because she calls me Teesta. I had a habit back in childhood of calling people by the very same names as they would call me by. So yeah, I am Teesta to her, and she is Teesta to me. 🙂
It was Teesta’s birthday yesterday. She turned 82. She is one woman who juggles her talents in a way I have never seen before. An exceptional singer, a brilliant artist, a captivating theatre-actor, a cook par excellence, a poet with enviable lucidity of words, an organiser of superhuman abilities and of course the enterpreneur of her boutique of woollen garments. But age has got the better of her. She now suffers from high sugar (requires insulin thrice a day), has 85% of her heart blocked (she is on pacemaker for nearly two decades). Renal dysfunction has also caught up with her already weary body.
During the time I was in Delhi, I would talk to her regularly over the phone. I would catch up with her health and she would get privy to the nitty-gritties of my otherwise mundane work life. Throughout last year I was looking forward to a transfer back home which was on the cards. It finally materialised in November. I was elated as now I could drop by at her place (she stays with my mama and mami at a distance of around 2.5 km from our place) on my way to office nearly everyday. We had two long years of stories to exchange and my stint in Calcutta was in every way worth looking forward to.
I was barely a fortnight into my stay in Calcutta when came that dreaded night. The night of November 20th. I came back home from work at midnight to find my mother in tears, her face red, her voice trembling. I heard that Teesta has had a cerebral attack and was admitted in the ICCU. Only I know how that night passed. The next morning we headed to the nursing home where we were told that she has lost her speech and mobility in the right side of her body. Given that she was 81 and already plagued with so many diseases, chances of recovery was almost negligible. We went and stood beside her bed. She stared at us blankly, her eyelids not batting. Two days passed like that. Gradually she gained her senses back, but not her speech or mobility.
We got her back home on December 1, bought for her a hospital bed with a ripple mattress which could give her comfort and prevent bed sore, and arranged for a physiotherapist who would try and restore some sensation in her paralysed limbs.
Over the last seven months I’ve been waiting everyday for her to talk. She started uttering a few words, mostly names, 3-4 months back…but soon lost the ability again. So now whenever I go over to her place I chat to her, not with her. I tell her everything I think she might be eager to know and she, in her sign language, reciprocates and how! Even till date, she retains her supreme organisational skills. She would remind you when to give her medicines and insulin, won’t eat till the exact time between insulin and food hasn’t lapsed, and point at the ruffled end of the bed indicating that the bedcover needs to be stretched.
A woman who has battled so bravely against so many physical odds definitely deserved a special cake on her birthday. It is a completely different story that she wouldn’t be able to touch even a crumb of it. But we don’t always bake cakes to eat, cakes are a means to celebrate as well.
The idea of this cake struck me a couple of days back. I have read about Chai cakes in many of the blogs that I follow, but hadn’t been too enthusiastic about trying it. But that changed when I saw Amrita’s adorable little chai spiced cupcakes adapted from Pooja Dhingra’s the Big Book of Treats. Ace baker that Amrita is, her little cuppies completely moulded my mind and I was determined to try it out for Teesta’s birthday. I had made this eggless treat last week which turned out pretty well. So I went bold this time as well and substituted eggs with condensed milk and baking soda. The cake turned out light, moist and completely melt-in-your-mouth. The buttercream frosting added that extra hint of chai. A rich Indian flavour married perfectly to a western-style dessert! Teesta cut the cake in the evening, a cake she could never taste. But I still feel that of all the people I have baked for and will bake for, this birthday cake will always, always be dearest to me. Happy Birthday Teesta! May this be just the beginning of a series of “Guilt Free” birthday cakes for you. 🙂
Recipe inspired and partly adapted from Pooja Dhingra’s Big Book of Treats via Amrita and Vishal’s Sweet ‘n’ Savoury. (Check out Amrita’s delicious chai spiced cupcakes here.)
For the cake:
Flour: 125 gm
Caster Sugar: 25 gm
Condensed milk: 225 gm
Butter: 60 gm
Vegetable oil: 40 ml
Cardamom powder: 1/2 tsp
Baking powder: 1 1/2 tsp
Baking soda: 1/2 tsp
Chai/milk tea (or masala tea if you so wish): 80 ml (without sugar)
For the frosting:
Butter, softened at room temperature: 4 tbsp
Icing sugar: 4 tbsp
Green cardamom, powdered: 1
Cinnamon powder: 1/4 tsp
Chai/tea (made with 2-3 tbsp milk and 1 tsp chai, boiled till reduced to half): 1 tbsp
1. In a bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and set aside. Mix cardamom powder with sugar.
2. Cream butter and sugar using a hand blender. Add oil and continue mixing till smooth and fluffy.
3. Add the condensed milk and beat till well incorporated. Now add the chai/tea and continue blending till pale and creamy.
4. Put away the blender and add flour gradually folding it into the batter until just combined.
5. Preheat oven to 180º Celsius and line a round cake tin with baking parchment. Butter the base and sides thoroughly.
5. Pour the batter inside the pan and bake for 22-24 minutes till a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to rest on wire rack for 10-15 minutes before unmoulding it.
6. In the meantime, make the frosting. Take butter and sugar in a bowl and whisk well.
7. Add cardamom and cinnamon powder. Add the prepared chai mixture through a sieve and mix gently. Make sure you add exactly 1 tbsp and not a bit more or else, your frosting will curdle.
8. Refrigerate for an hour for the buttercream to absorb all the flavours and colour from the chai.
9. Spread it all over the surface of the cake with a spatula. You can have it straightaway or refrigerate it for 2-3 hours before cutting it.
10. Enjoy a slice of chai cake with a hot cup of chai!