To Run A Bakehouse
To bake a cake is like crafting joy out of thin air. That is something I’ve always considered true. As far as I’m concerned, people who run bakehouses are in the business of happiness. Happiness and carbs. Some could argue that deriving happinesses from food is rather destructive. So much so that it could lead to health problems.
I urge those people to click away. There’s no room for your pessimism here, Polly. Besides, one bite is all it takes, falling in love with….. ahem. Got carried away there.
Anyway, one bite of a truly well-made cake is all you need. Sliding your spoon (or fork if you’re one of ‘those’ people) through the delicate layers, carefully scooping it up and sending it down the hatch. Instantly, you’re transported to the most relaxing, secluded retreat up in the mountains. Or even by the beach, where it’s just you, a massaging recliner and the decadence that is cake.
Trust me, less is definitely more here.
I mean can you imagine all the jealous people flocking around you if they knew you had more cake? There’d be riots, and you’ll be running like never before, holding on to the slice for dear life. Because no Beenish, I will not share!
Ahem. You can see cake is a pretty touchy subject around here. You’d be safe to assume that I have a list of favourites too. Beyond that, if you’ve clicked on this page, you are expecting me to share said list.
Well, then read on good Ser. Read on.
The OG Nando’s cake. My entire generation grew up coveting Shama’s chocolate malt cakes, hoping our parents would pick up the not-so-subtle hints we’ve been dropping. Hoping that when we blew out the candles on our birthdays, they’d be protruding from the surface of one of those dreamy cakes. Besides, who would reprimand the birthday kid for eating their own cake?
Nostalgia aside, that cake and many others that Shama’s sell, still hold up very well even today. For me though, the chocolate malt cake was one of the first gateways towards truly enjoying food. Yes, every child loves cake but that doesn’t usually extend beyond the taste. These cakes represent the first few times I began noticing texture.
After that it was a whole new world.
Jeez, what’s with the song references today? Back to noticing texture! Shama’s chocolate malt cake possesses two defining characteristics. A moist, fluffy sponge and a thick, dense and rich icing. Your spoon slides through the dense outer layers to reach the light cake within. Both richly chocolate, the two textures contrast so beautifully. I mean, I could write a thesis about how the crumb of the sponge bursts apart and melds with the melt-in-your-mouth icing. That would be hardly fair to the other three.
All of that joy was bursting in the mind of an 11 year old, just barely discovering what would be a lifelong passion. Pro tip, heat up a slice for 30 seconds in a microwave and watch as a third, purely luxurious texture emerges.
Uff what a heavenly thought, and we’re just getting started.
Yes, I know primarily Thyme is a restaurant, but dare I say it…their desserts are way better than their savouries. I said it, it’s out there, can’t take it back now. Yes, Thyme is the only place that can make me enjoy pineapple. HOWEVER, and I capitalise for emphasis, when I think of Thyme, I think of one thing. Tiramisu! Orange Chocolate Cake! Walnut Pie! Salted Caramel Cake! Lotus Cheesecake! Okay, that’s more than one thing. If I keep going, I’ll have to make a list just for that.
I made my point though, didn’t I?
Plus, they do sell their cakes as stand-alone items, hence a bakehouse. All the cake-loving foundations laid by Shama’s in my mind are further built upon at Thyme. Moist, fluffy sponge with a delicate crumb and a rich icing. Their layering game is a step up though, as seen in their excellent Chocolate Orange Cake. Delicate, alternating layers of cake, filling and more cake, topped off with impeccably smooth ganache. The rich, decadent earthiness of the chocolate enhanced by the floral sweetness of the orange.
Yum, yum! Nothing else I can say…
Okay, that reference was a little more obscure, if you got it, we can be friends. Thyme has also mastered providing solid, clean flavours in spite of providing some of the dreamiest cakes and desserts around. I mean, it is the only place that can make me eat lotus as well. That’s two things I’ll never eat, but I do at Thyme. The lotus cheesecake is like a beautiful dream, a not overly sweet but still ostentatious fever dream. Their mastery however, truly shines by ways of their tiramisu. Intense coffee, check. Pillowy mascarpone, check. Delicately soaked ladyfingers, double check. Pure pick-me-up heaven, no sodden cakes in sight.
Houston, We Have a Problem.
Two entries down and Houston, we have a problem. When formulating this list, picking the four entries was easy enough. Ranking the first two was also a relative breeze. The top two however present me with a problem. Firstly, while yes, economics does designate a unit to measure utility, I find it hard to quantify what is in essence, a very qualitative feeling.
Okay, let me dial back the nerd. Basically, I cannot put a number on the joy and satisfaction that I derive from anything. Be it food or movies, or anything. I mean I used to, I gave the movie Cake a perfect score. It never really sat well with me though. The act of scoring, not Cake’s score, that was well-deserved. Now, let’s say I can give a score, both my top picks sit at a cool 15/10. Therein lies the second issue. So you see, I couldn’t just pick one bakehouse.
To resolve this mess, only one thing made sense at the moment. That being, I give both Ma’s Bakehouse and Delicious by Lailumah the top spot. And I do so without the bitter-sweet tang of regret. Both places meet my albeit very subjective requirements for a good bakehouse. Both have also gone above and beyond to fulfil my orders, in trying circumstances where no one would fault them for not meeting them.
Yet they did, and their dedication cemented their position at the very top.
1. Delicious By Lailumah
I have been ordering from Delicious ever since their amazing Tiramisu tres leches cake stole my heart. I mean it, I generally despise tres leches. Always having found it to be overly sweet, I feel the texture also goes unbearably mushy if left out too long. Not this one though. A cake that still kept its integrity while being thoroughly deluged by an intense, coffee-filled milk. It is the best in town, no aunty can change my mind on this.
They also make some of the best mousse in town, and are one of the few places serving really good bagels too. What makes them stand out though is the owner’s personal touch. Lailumah takes every order herself, making sure she’s fully aware of each client’s specifications. Yes, even those of overly particular weirdos like myself. She then makes each order herself, ensuring perfect quality.
Thus, when an accident happened that caused a very particular order of mine to be ruined, no one freaked out more than Lailumah. I mean hey, accidents happen. Most other bakehouses would have either just not told me and tried to pass off the cake like nothing happened. Or they would have cancelled and apologised. Delicious very clearly isn’t most places.
As if I haven’t made that obvious enough.
Lailumah, after spending the day making one intricate and glorious cake, stayed up during Ramadan to make another equally glorious cake. Just see for yourself. A truly epic vanilla cake with alternating ganache layers, cherry compote and a beautifully light icing. All made for the most amazing comeback ever! I say bakers bake joy out of thin air when they make cakes. Yet not many could have done so with such finesse as Lailumah!
And yes, the cross-section was lovely too.
Also 1. Ma’s Bakehouse
My story with Ma’s Bakehouse is similar. It has to be for it to be at the top. And you know me, good food and sentimentality is all it takes for me to be swept off my feet. I started ordering from Ma’s when I found out they were delivering pasteis de nata to Karachiites’ doorsteps. For the uninitiated, Portugese custard tarts and one of the most decadent desserts imaginable.
And Ma’s makes them the best in the city.
Cakes, cookies, tarts, they make a little bit of everything. What really caught my eye were their brownies. Honestly, despite such an overabundance of places selling them, Karachi doesn’t have many good brownie options. Some claim to be magical but they only deliver a magical amount of disappointment. Ma’s brownies looked the part though. Coloured a deep, chocolatey brown with all the appearance of warmth and goo. The texture I mean.
But then, I decided to be healthy!
Just as my desire to order them peaked, I gave up sugar. You can imagine how many funerals for my desires I attended after that. In the eulogy for the desire for brownies, I promised myself something. Once I can eat sugar again, I am ordering from Ma’s Bakehouse. Six months later, I did so.
Then as Bilawal would put it: aur barish ayi to aur pani aya.
As the heavens poured deluges down on my hopes and dreams, I messaged Ma’s saying it would be okay to move my 5 p.m. order to the next day. At 8 p.m. however, I had freshly baked brownies handed to me, despite the urban flooding. I guess all the anticipation and six degrees of separation made them taste even better. These are my favourite brownies in the city, from a place run by some of the nicest and most dedicated people too. They are like Mr. Darcy and Mr. Whickam brought together, with both the appearance of goodness and the goodness itself, in harmonious, delicious unity.