Behind the Baker
The concept of fusion baking came to me several years ago, when I served as Treasurer for my alma mater, Wayne State University’s, Bangladesh Student Association. We had a booth to sell Bangladeshi appetizers and baked goods during the annual culture festival on campus and I noticed that, while biryani, piyajus, and other savory snacks sold rapidly, most customers were a little hesitant towards the South Asian sweets – they were either unfamiliar with traditional mishti or saw them as just too rich for their taste buds.
Over the years, I noticed the same series of events with American desserts at family gatherings. The older generation wouldn’t go near them, as they were unaccustomed to western delicacies and preferred the sweetness they grew up on, while the desi kids were uninterested in trying gulab jamun and roshogollas, opting to reach for the cakes and brownies instead. I remember thinking that if I had fused the richness of our desi sweets into cheesecakes, cupcakes, or cookies, it would bring both generations together in a sugar induced harmony. And spoiler alert, it absolutely did!
I began experimenting with fusion desserts in 2016, after moving to Houston and feeling homesick for the bengali sweets my parents would bring to family gatherings back in Detroit. I ended up bringing a pistachio kulfi cheesecake to a desi potluck dinner party and it was an instant hit! Soon enough, I had older uncles requesting my masala chai cheesecake, friends ordering my pumpkin shaped ladoos for Halloween parties, and aunties expecting my white chocolate dipped Rooh Afza madeleines at upcoming Ramadan dinners.
These kinds of requests, coupled with encouragement from loved ones, have motivated me to finally create my home bakery’s instagram page (@sweets.and.saffron) during the quarantine last year, which eventually turned it into a business. Not only are these fusion desserts a wonderful and heartwarming way to bring people from different walks of life together, they also allow me to play Dr. Frankenstein and just have fun. To me, fusion baking is a celebration of my Bangladeshi heritage and hyphenated American identity. It’s symbolic of who I am and something I am eager to share with everyone. Plus, they’re desserts! Honestly, who can say no to that?
Here is the recipe to a popular and super easy treat that is bound to be a hit with your friends and families:
Sweets & Saffron’s Mango Lassi Mousse
(by Rifath Ahmed)
- Prep – 30 min
- Cook – 10 min
- Ready in – 6 hours
- Yield – 4-6 servings
- 2-3 peeled mangos
- ½ cup water
- 1 tbsp agar agar powder
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp cardamom powder
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup plain full fat yogurt
- 1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
- 2-3 pinches of saffron strands
- First, you’ll want to take the mixing bowl and whisk attachment of your electric mixer and place pop it into your freezer while you prep the rest of the ingredients. A chilled bowl and whisk will make whipping the cream much faster.
- Next, peel and chop mangos. Set aside 1-2 mango slices to dice later for garnish.
- Pour water into a small sauce pan and add the agar agar powder. Place on low heat and stir until the powder fully dissolves. After a minute, take it off the stove and set aside.
- Add the chopped mangos, sugar, cardamom, vanilla, and the agar agar mixture in a blender until thoroughly mixed. Next, add the yogurt and blend until just incorporated. Pour this lassi mixture into a large bowl and set aside.
- Remove the mixing bowl and whisk from the freezer and pour the heavy whipping cream into the bowl. Whisk the cream on medium speed for about 6 minutes or until stiff peaks appear. Add the whipped cream to the mango lassi mixture. Add the saffron strands and gently fold until incorporated.
- Pour the mango lassi into a piping bag and swirl into your dessert bowls. You can skip the piping and spoon it in instead if it’s easier. Chill the mousse in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight. Take the extra 1-2 mango slices and dice them into small cubes to garnish on top. You can also add mint, toasted coconut flakes, or any other topping for extra flavor. You can’t go wrong with this!
- Tag @sweets.and.saffron when you recreate this refreshing dessert! Enjoy!