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Jap cakes

I went to school in Ooty and one of my earliest food memories was Jap cakes. These little pastries were craved by all of us in school and there was a never-ending supply of them from my classmate, Sanjay Zachariah's, home. To this date, no trip to Ooty is complete without a visit to his lovely and charming mother, Aunty Molly, and there are always Jap cakes with tea.

Jap cakes are a misnomer for these pastries. they are neither Japanese nor a true cake. They are from the French school of baking where two meringues are sandwiched with butter, margarine or icing. In addition, how these little beauties showed up in Ooty 40+ years ago is another mystery. As the legend goes, according to the owner of the famed King Star Bakery in Ooty, his father was a chef for an Englishman who craved British desserts from his homeland. He had his cook learn a number of his favourite pastries to satisfy his sweet tooth and one of these was the Jap cake. Unfortunately, today King Star Bakery only does these to order and these desserts are slowly fading from the region. Radhakrishnan the baker has been baking these cakes for 40 years. He learned to make them at a small bakery before he joined Aunty Molly as a chef at the Cliff School. He has been baking them ever since and I was lucky enough to get to both taste these and learn how to make these on my last trip. Radhakrishnan was full of energy, his love for baking has not diminished and we had a great time talking while we made these cakes.

They are simply a delight and to me they flashback to the old school days, when I was always getting into trouble. Creamy, crunchy from the delicate meringue, and nutty from the cashew nuts, one cake is never enough!

For more recipes created by Zafar, click here.

ingredients: (Makes about 2 dozen)

For the cakes:

1/2 lb roasted cashew nuts, coarsley ground

1/2 lb fine sugar

6-7 egg whites

For the icing:

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1/4 cup confectioners sugar

3-4 tablespoons oil

For the cocoa dressing:

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 200° F

Mix the cashew crumble and the sugar well.

Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites till you have stiff peaks. Quickly fold in the cashew-sugar mix. Scoop into a cone and squeeze out small discs about 1 1/2 inches in size. Bake in the oven for 75-90 minutes till they are crisp and completely cooked through.

Meanwhile, to make the icing, mix all the ingredients till well integrated. Assemble the cake by layering the top of the meringue with the icing. Top it with an inverted cookie. Add more icing on the sides making a smooth surface around the two cookies.

Crumble 4-5 meringues to a coarse powder. Roll the iced cookies in the crumble pressing down to have the crumble stick to the sides. To make the cocoa dressing, mix the ingredients and heat on a very low flame till the cocoa powder dissolves. Do not cook the butter to ghee.

Dot with a drop on each cake and allow to sit for 30 minutes till the sauce sets and dries up. If you living in a warm place, set it in the fridge.

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