From the oven to online storytelling: Meet Pooja Khanna, the blissful baker who writes a blog!
Pooja Khanna is a self-taught baker who thinks about baked food more than any average person would. For her, the aroma and flavour of fresh-baked goodies is about making memories, a comfort zone that is rewarding. She records her passion for baking and photographs her creations, for her blog, 2blissofbaking, sharing her stories and inspirations with her audience. Meet the baker who blogs…
There was no specific day that she decided to become a baker, Pooja says. “I have been in love with the aroma of fresh bakes since childhood. Growing up, I naturally veered towards the TV shows and magazines showcasing food.” The magic of baking gradually grew on her and she started learning techniques and creating recipes through trial and error in her mother’s kitchen.
“Baking fascinates me. Every perfect bake that comes out of my oven makes me more alive.”
Fast-forward to Mumbai, where she enjoys being part of a community of foodies that celebrates food. “It gave me the confidence to showcase my interest and talent at 2BlissofBaking. Having a recipe and sharing it on the blog with readers is a part of blogging,” she explains.
Taking tempting pictures
As an artist, Pooja found that composing images using the perfect colour schemes was built into her thought processes. She aimed to make every picture she shared on her blog look appealing. “I visualise my food all the time, which angle looks good on what food, etc.” But there was some learning required in this process, especially in the techniques of food photography. She managed everything using the Internet, she smiles. “The camera on manual, the lights, triggers and receivers, and even Photoshop and Lightroom. I did it thanks to Google Uncle. I learned everything sitting at home. I must also thank friends like Mulchand Dedhia and Girish whom I call for guidelines - their feedback helps me improve.” Of course, she made sure that she got lots of practice taking pictures of whatever she cooked and ate.
Finding inspiration for creating food
Beyond food itself, her father has been a big inspiration for her. “He is an amazing cook. My learning began at a very early age from him. He would talk about vegetables and fruits; which ingredient requires what kind of cooking method, the availability and the seasons, the texture and the flavours. My DNA has good sense when it comes to food. I got that intuition from my father and I kept learning and moving forward,” says Pooja. But there was also some formal training that went into making her the baker that she is. “I did one year of cooking and baking in college as a part of the curriculum. Beyond that, there was a lot of learning done in my mother’s kitchen with lots of experimentation.” There was also a little inspiration from watching others cook, like Jaime Oliver. “I am a big fan; he is kind of cute in the kitchen. For breads, I love Paul Hollywood, and Gordon Ramsay for his tips and tricks in the kitchen,” says the self-made baker.
Sinful chocolate and simple flavours
Like a lot of people, chocolate is a favourite food, to cook with, and to eat. “Especially when soft and gooey, it’s awesome! Chocolate is always a relaxing thing to eat whenever you are tired. It is creamy and rich and will always calm your nerves.” She also has a special passion for bread. “Home-baked, fresh, just-out-of-my-oven, bread is something I can do lifelong. Cakes and cookies and tarts are also very often made.” Each new batch is showcased as an update on her blog. While she loves food of almost any kind, especially that which is cooked properly with balanced seasoning, what she does not like is ‘complicated flavours’. “Simple, clear textures and flavours are my choice. The ingredients should talk about themselves when you take a bite.” And the complete no-no in her kitchen has to be ‘baked goodies from outside, and a mess”.
On December 3, 2014, a day she remembers well, Pooja was in the club with her husband and a family friend, who suggested that she should start a blog on food as she is so interested in this space. She called it 2 Bliss of Baking because according to her, “Baking is a happy space, and my audience also relates to the bliss when baking”. Somewhere at the back of her very active mind there is an idea brewing for a book, though that will happen later on. “I want to tell stories of ovens in home kitchens. Baking is a tradition and families come together over food. A family that cooks together sticks together.”
Keeping it healthy and happy
Baking is not just about calories and sugar, insists Pooja. “I try to take health into consideration for every recipe.” After all, she will be the one eating it, as and when she bakes for her blog. But she does add a little less sugar than the recipe has indicated. “That is what I do when baking for home. But at the same time, you can’t skip on fat and sugar completely. Moderation is the key when indulging.” Her blog includes a few healthy recipes that use no refined flour and no refined sugar, but incorporates interesting substitutes for unhealthy ingredients. “My absolute favourite are raagi cookies. I indulge in them very often to satisfy my sweet tooth. There is always is a jar of raagi cookies at home.”
Rules for new bakers
Pooja suggests that every new baker follow a few simple rules:
- Always measure the ingredients accurately.
- Don’t over-mix the batter.
- Know your oven when it comes to temperature. Every oven is different and you will have to bake more to know the actual temperature inside of the oven, the hot spot in the oven, air circulation in your oven and how the elements are working at what settings.
- A lot of this she has learned by experimenting in her kitchen. Her idea is to make every recipe easy to replicate, even by a novice baker. As she says, “I enjoy doing it. Interesting sauces, pizza muffins, healthy brownies, healthy cookies, my own version of Panforte, gingerbread man, chocolate tart and few more dishes have come out of my oven in this quest.” And the oven is the centre of her creative world - she has a secret desire for a wood fired oven, where all the food bakes slowly and the flavours are unique, though for now “I would love a bigger oven from say Siemens.”
Delicious treats that delight the senses
Modern cuisine is not a bad thing, Pooja feels, but ‘fusion’ is a balance that is not easy to achieve. “Fusing different cuisines together can be really successful and exciting, but becomes so much more noticeable if you get it wrong. There is a very fine line between getting it right and overdoing it.” Instead, traditional desserts tick off all the boxes on her sweet list. “A tres leches cake, also known as pan tres leches (three milks bread) is an absolute delight. A very light sponge with many air bubbles in the texture, it is soaked in three kinds of milk (evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream). It has a distinct texture without a soggy consistency,” and is absolutely delicious, she says.
What the heart needs
Pooja firmly believes that if someone cannot decide to be a chef or something else, the choice is clear. And no, it is not a career in the kitchen. “Listen to your heart. Do what you enjoy most,” she advises. While her career choice was simple, her strongest support comes from her husband. “All the credit and appreciation goes to him. I am very lucky to have him as my life partner.” And their children? “My daughters are my little elves whose hands appear in my photographs!” says the proud mother.
Do you bake? Tell us about your favourite treats hot out of the oven…