Sitting pretty on a marble tray, 20 different mithais tempt you with their textures, colours and forms. The sweet caramel centre of a Mathura peda surprises the palate. Next, besan ladoo, interrupts your trip down memory lane, of your summer outings at your grandmom’s, with its centre of seventy per cent Valrhona chocolate ganache.
Over a cup of coffee at Constitution Club of India’s Preamble restaurant, chefs Ashay Dhopatkar (34) and Neha Lakhani (33), better known as the Troublesome Duo, after their brand name, talk to LuxeBook about their new venture Arq, a line of artisanal mithais, launched in March; sampled by Shilpa Shetty and Aditi Rao Hydari.
“When we saw stores like La Maison Du Chocolat in London and Laduree in Paris, we wanted to do something similar with Indian mithai, without compromising its essence,” says Dhopatkar. La Maison Du Chocolat made the world take chocolate seriously since it first launched in Paris in 1977 and Louis Ernest Ladurée of Laduree put macaroons on the global map in 1862.
The idea is to add value to Indian mithai by giving it a better texture and finesse and maintaining the consistency. “Our recipes are age-old, sourced from aunts, grandmothers and mothers. But, not many youngsters prefer them. Arq, gives it a different twist, making it more appealing to the youngsters as well. The project is an attempt in popularising Indian sweets,” says Dhopatkar.
The making of Arq began 18 months ago in halwai workshops, owned by family and friends. The duo learnt to make Indian sweets, in the pursuit of first mastering the traditional recipes and then adding their touch to it.
“Halwais are difficult to work with because they guard their recipes, and don’t follow fixed measurements. They rely on their own judgement,” says Lakhani. But the chefs kept at it nevertheless and in the process also found inspirations for their innovations.
While learning to make chenna in Kolkata, one of the halwais made a fried chenna gaja. This became the reference point for their chenna jalebi, which is topped with a fig and date compote.
In Arq’s workshop, it was new for the four in-house halwais to dip a khoya barfi in chocolate and enrobe it in a hazelnut pailleté feuilletine (crumbly broken pieces of dried caramelised lacy crepes). The chefs had to invest a lot of time teaching new ways of doing things.
“Instead of manually pounding almonds, we taught them to use machines, which increased productivity. Now, they can make 40 pieces of a sweet in the same time they used to make 20,” says Lakhani.
Maharashtrian boy Dhopatkar made sure to add the garden cress ladoo or the halim seeds ladoo to the menu, which his maternal grandmother would make for Diwali. In Arq’s version the seeds are soaked in coconut water to bring out the brilliant colours, which Dhopatkar remembers seeing on his grandmother’s pan, after gur (jaggery) and freshly grated coconut were mixed. Another classic is the pinni, which took over 15 to 20 trials. Lakhani had to ensure her Punjabi mother gave it her approval. “Many people pass off pinni as a darker version of the besan ladoo. But it is not. It has to be robust; it has to have a grainy yet an equal texture and the flour has to be roasted to perfection. When my mother gave a nod, I knew we had hit jackpot!”says Lakhani.
They also have Good Walnut, an acrot barfi. Our favourite is the Eden Rose, a pista and almond soft shell holding a decadent gulkand compote.
While most mithais stick to classic ingredients, the duo has taken the international route with a few. Take for instance, dulce de leche, a Latin American confection, finds its way into a Mathura peda, and a raspberry coulis (raspberry sauce) into the centre of a Goan cashew and khoya barfi. The homemade khoya is enrobed in Belgian chocolate and rolled in hazelnut Pailleté Feuilletine. The chennas have a crisp coat, a pillowy centre and toffy texture of fig and date completes the bite.
The most interesting combination is that of sweet and sour Malterine Marmalade in Nagpur speciality — santre (orange) barfi. “Instead of adding orange juice and pieces, we have made a marmalade of malta oranges and tangerines, using French techniques of dehydrating oranges, and making a compote,” says Dhopatkar.
The ingredients for the line is sourced from all across the country — lacha kesar from Kashmir, Gurbandi almonds, nolen gur from Kolkata and ghee from Gir, in Gujarat.
On offer are 20 mithais, available in Petit box of four (`600), Sparkler Box of 12 (`1,600) and Tiara Box of 18 (`2,600) and Famille of 30 pieces (`3,600).