DAINIK NATION BUREAU
If you walk through the streets of Doon valley in the morning, you are sure to catch a strong whiff of biscuits and buns being baked for the day. Baking starts at 5 a.m. and goes on till noon. There are bakeries in every part of this city, some old, others new. But you just can’t imagine Dehradun or Mussoorie without this much-cherished tradition of baking, which was started by the Europeans! The tradition is being carried forward by several families of bakers now. The story of how baking started in this picturesque region is as fascinating as the amazing variety of mouth-watering cookies, rusks, cakes, buns, pastries and tarts turned out by the bakeries in the hill towns.
Baking in Mussoorie goes back to the time when Landour (old Mussoorie) became a summer retreat of the British soon after it shaped up as a convalescent depot for the British troops in the 1820s. New colours were added to baking after many American missionaries came to settle in Landour. Landour’s bakers have been known for fudge, stick jaw, marzipan and meringues. Maula Baksh is said to have been the most well-known of them. The recipes, which have been passed down to generations, can be found at various shops in Landour and Mussoorie. Burnt caramel cake, walnut cake, brown sponge and coffee cake are some of these.
It was in the 1930s that the Landour Community Cookbook, an important reminder of Landour’s American connection, was first brought out. It was reprinted in 1938 by the Mussoorie Book Society. Several editions came out after that. In 2001, author Ruskin Bond and his friend Ganesh Saili, both residents of Landour, brought out their version. Though the recipes have a distinctly American flavour, there is an intermingling of European, American and Indian flavours, which created a unique Anglo-Indian aroma in Mussoorie. For those with a sweet tooth, Saili came up with Icing on the Landour Cake: Olde Worlde Cake Recipes, which carries Jean K. Day’s recipe of Swedish orange cake, Virginia Brown’s recipe for banana nut cake, Mrs Charles Merchant’s recipe for Swedish torte and Maxime Burch’s recipe for chiffon cake, just to name a few.
Landour’s famous Prakash’s Store, known for its peanut butter, chutneys and jams, is a living testimony to the amazing power of the Landour Community Cookbook. The taste of their special blackberry jam, cucumber relish and peanut butter never fails to entice the locals as well as visitors, who keep coming back for a bagful of Prakash’s goodies.
According to owner Anil Prakash, the blackberry, gooseberry, apricot and plum jams, tangy pickle relish and soft peanut butter made according to the cookbook recipes are extremely popular. The more than 100-year-old store, named A. Prakash and Co, was set up by Anil Prakash’s grandfather, Shobha Ram. It keeps people in Mussoorie, Landour and Dehradun well-stocked with cheddar cheese, fresh fruit jams, chutneys and peanut butter. From Mussoorie, the baking tradition was passed on to the Indian population by Europeans and Anglo-Indians to the rest of the country. Ever since a few families arrived in the valley after the Partition and set up their ovens to bake bread and cakes, baking has signposted Dehradun as eloquently as basmati rice or litchis, as the Indian Military Academy or the Forest Research Institute. The basmati and litchi have dwindled greatly but baking is still going very strong. All bakers in Doon believe that the special flavour that one finds in the yeast-based products (rusks, breads, buns) baked here is due to the mingling of the limestone content in the valley’s water with the smoke of “bhattis”.
There are more than 200 bakeries in various parts of the valley. Each has its specialties and regular customers. On their days out, the “Welhamites” and “Doscos” can be seen in large numbers at the Rajpur Road bakeries savouring the goodies to their hearts’ content, besides getting bagsful of their favourites packed for the week. Among the top items on their list are chocolate walnut brownies, coconut cookies and coffee-flavoured biscuits. The stick-jaws, also known as butter toffees (plain or chocolate flavoured), are easily the most popular. Cake makers, who are mostly Muslims, at the old bakeries come from villages in Tehri. Five brothers (Ahmeds) from the Durbali village in Tehri district have been the pride of Elloras, the most famous of them. Diwan Singh from Almora at Melting Moments has been working with the Gulati family since 1964. In Ghoghas village, most people are expert at baking cakes and pastries.
At Sunrise Bakery in Paltan Bazaar, one can find long queues of customers, who come here to buy rusks, brown bread and atta cookies that this bakery specialises in.
There was a time when all bakeries of Doon worked manually but now most have mechanised operations. Giant electric ovens, huge mixers for mixing dough for bread or buns and mechanised cutters have made things a lot easier in the trade. The exquisite cakes are, however, still set by hand and the little icing roses are deftly turned and twisted by fingers of highly skilled workers. Christmas and New Year, besides the wedding season, remain a busy time for bakers in the two towns. Special effort goes into making Xmas cakes and heavily iced, multi-storeyed wedding cakes. People place orders for Xmas cakes as early as November.
So when you are in Dehradun, just look around for a bakery. Chances are you will find it at a walking distance from where you would be at that moment. In Doon, as they say, just stand still for some time, and they’ll build a bakery around you!
And the favourites are…
Started by Harnam Singh around 1954, Sunrise Bakery is one of the oldest and most loved bakeries in Doon.
Elloras’ Melting Moments on Rajpur Road is a favourite with students. Owner Virendra Gulati says that many old students often come back even after 10 to 20 years to relish their favourites goodies. Nany’s, also a unit of Elloras, located on the East Canal Road, is another favourite.
Those on their way to Hardwar or back to Delhi from the bypass road find it convenient to visit Uniyal Bakers, who are known for their “organic cookies” made from mandua (finger millet), jowar, bajra, maize and chaulai. The bakery was started, with one small oven, singlehandedly by Govind Ram Uniyal in 1969.
Gaylord in Paltan Bazaar (near Clock Tower) is popular for its ice-creams.
The Casa Mia Bakery on Mall Road is a popualr for its croissants, pies and Danish pastries while Chic Chocolate has delightful homemade chocolates and waffles.
Tourists on their way to Mussoorie often stop at Standard Bakers in Jakhan to relax and relish the freshly baked goodies, says owner Karan Mata.