Burfi is his weakness, but this time around Rahul Verma falls for the irresistible caramel custard sold at the India Habitat Centre
I don't know about you, but I am up to my eyebrows with cakes and pastries. To mark the advent of the New Year, friends have flooded me with all kinds of cakes. Christmas saw a surfeit of plum cakes – rich and oozing with raisins and candied fruit. A birthday at the end of the year led to the arrival of more cakes, all wonderfully chocolaty and gooey.
I am – I might as well confess – a burfi man. Give me a plain khoya burfi, and I am as happy as little Jack Horner. I have always preferred Indian sweets to their rich and flaky counterparts of the West. But this is the season for pastries, tarts and custards – and I can't say I have been complaining much either.
One of the nicest desserts I have had in this season – and plan to continue having next year – is the caramel custard that's sold at the dessert counter at the India Habitat Centre in Lodi Road. Unlike some of the restaurants at the Habitat, the confectionary counter is open to everybody. And for the festive season, they have done up the place really well – with Santas, and buntings, Christmas trees and what have you. The sweets twinkle alluringly at you from behind glass counters – and even a burfi man gets weak at the knees when surrounded by so many different kinds of sweets.
The Habitat counter is turning into one of my favourite dessert corners. Of course, I continue to believe that there is nothing like Wenger's. I have old nostalgic ties with Wenger's. When I was a small boy with scraped knees my mother used to take me to the tea shop above Wenger's. Connaught Place had other lovely dessert spots those days. The other two places I remember vividly were Tea House, above what turned into Cellars, El Arab, DV8 and so on and so forth, and Nanking, which was opposite Madras Hotel.
But the problem with Wenger's these days is parking, and making your way to the cash counter through the huge crowd that gathers there every day, and especially during the festive season. I occasionally go to Nathu's pastry shop, but the sweet counter at Habitat wins on three counts. For one, parking is not a problem. Second, the prices are very reasonable – I would say cheaper than elsewhere (most items are between Rs.30 and 40). And three, the stuff is very good. I like their tangy lemon tarts and flavourful fruit tarts, which brim over with a medley of colourful fruits. And their chocolate éclair, which bursts at the seams with its thick and rich cream, is excellent. But the wobbly caramel custard, if you'd excuse the pun, takes the cake. With just the right amount of the bitter-sweet caramelised liquid surrounding it, I find it perfect. I am a bit nostalgic about caramel custards too, for a childhood treat with my brother meant a meal at Kwality's, which ended with a bowl of caramel custard.
Like the custard, life may be a bit bitter but the overwhelming memory is sweet. And like the caramel custard, let your New Year have a sweet lining. Dig into your dessert – and have a happy New Year.