“Chetna is the queen of spice”.
All throughout her journey through the British Bake Off competition Chetna Makan manages to pull off great flavour combinations. In her crispy lentil kachori “the volume of spices (…) was frankly staggering, that’s lovely”. “The flavour is absolutely delicious” in her onion and pine nut rolls. And her rolled and filled twin loaf, despite being cakey instead of bready, has “wonderful flavours, and they all blend together”.
Her smart use of spices and flavours, intermingling Indian flavours with British techniques (and vice versa) make her cooking and baking style unique. It shows strongly in her two first books: Chai, chaat & chutney and The cardamom trail.
Long before participating in the Great British Bake Off Chetna wasn’t as much involved in food. She grew up in India where she studied fashion design and worked as a fashion designer. Only after moving to the UK and having her children, did she really get into baking especially.
In the Great British Bake Off, a British baking competition, Chetna made it into the semifinals in the 2014 season. She made a wide variety of delicious looking bakes and has stayed within the baking world ever since. Her unique skill: being able to combine English foods such as hearty pies with Indian flavours.
In 2016 she published her first cookbook, The Cardamom Trail. Shortly after, in 2017 she published her second one, Chai, Chaat Chutney. In 2019 she published a third (Healthy Indian) which we haven’t read or tried yet.
Design & Lay out
Her first two books have a clear consistent style between them. Both have ample photos (over 75% of the recipes has a photo). Recipes don’t tend to take up more than one page and are easy to follow. The books are full of colour and somehow come across as very positive and happy.
Even though the design and lay out can make or break a book, it’s not what pulls me into these two books over an over again. For this book, the recipes are what keep me coming back over and over again.
The Cardamom Trail
The Cardamom Trail is definitely focused on baking. Aside from the sweet that the book starts with (which is actually special in and by itself, generally sweet is put towards the end!), there are a lot of savory recipes. There are no ‘basic’ recipes, instead, all bakes use unique flavour combinations, that work really well.
If anything, the sweet recipes remind me of Yotam Ottolenghi’s book ‘Sweet’. Those recipes also aren’t groundbreaking, but they rely upon their flavour. Whereas Ottolenghi’s book focuses on Mediterranean flavours, Chenta combines her Indian upbringing with British classics. How about a pear and cardamom caramel upside-down cake?
The next chapter pie, is the ultimate combination of Indian & British cuisine. Who would have thought of putting moong dal into a British Pie? Or flavouring an onion tart with curry leaves and mustard seeds (and some chilis)?
The recurring stars of the book are the spices. Throughout, short sections highlight the qualities of the most common spices and provides you with some background on them. It is a fun way to combine those bakes and flavours into a coherent book.
Chai, Chaat, Chutney
Chetna’s second book explores the street food of India. India is a huge country and as such cuisines between the major cities vary considerably. Street food in Mumbai is not that same as that in Delhi or Kerala.
In the book Chetna shares her favorite street food dishes from the major cities. A welcome side effect of street food is that the recipes tend to be considerably simple. They have to be prepared on the street, so things can’t be too complex. However, competition for street food is intense, so the quality is great. The same can be said for the recipes in the book.
Whereas the foods from some areas are purely vegetarian, others contain seafood or chicken dishes. Again, reflecting India. The intermittent sections discussing the differences between the cities, as well as the great photography of street food in India make it a very appealing book overall.
Cooking the books
Both books are books I return to regularly. Since I’ve had Chai, Chaat, Chutney for a longer period of time, I’ve made more of the recipes. Both books provide me with recipes that I wouldn’t be able to find in my other books.
Of all the recipes we’ve tried the pear upside down cake is one of our favorite sweets. However, the pakora’s and filled parathas are likely our overall favourites. Also, thanks to Chenta we now have a pantry full of different types of lentils! They are great to cook with and can give you some very surprising flavours.
In case you haven’t noticed, those books really are some of our favorites. They’ve opened up a whole world of dishes that I always had trouble finding good recipes for. Also, I’ve tried a lot of amazing new flavour combinations that I wouldn’t have come up with myself. These are the types of things that help you improve your cooking & baking overall!
I believe most people will enjoy these books, even if you might not like Indian food. Indian food is more that just curries and flatbreads or rice. The cuisine is so rich and varied that there’s probably a good amount of inspiration you will get from it!
The Great British Bake off, season 2014, episode 7 (pastry) & 3 (bread), link ; all quotes in the intro are from the show
Chetna Makan, About me, link
Chetna Makan, The Great British Bake Off Community, a list of all what Chetna made on the show, link