The vintage wood-and-glass cabinets feature a variety of baked goods and fresh bread to suit the curiosities of the house. Ancient wooden tables and chairs occupy the place. There are 1930s advertising paper cuttings lined with butter-yellow walls. An ad, dating to 1933, found in a file with hundreds of others, lists Christmas goodies for sale. There are a variety of tea cakes, vanilla cream tarts, almond macaroons, puff rolls, plum cakes, stuffed roast piglets, with similar sketches of black-and-white items. Time stands still at the American Express Bakery in Biculla, Mumbai, and in the corner of Christmas, the smell of the past is so inviting.
“We couldn’t find a reason to change what made us popular in the first place. We’re an organization that still uses a lot of old recipes from my father and grandfather, “said Ross Carvalho, 75, a third-generation owner of a nearly century-old bakery founded in 1920 by his grandfather, Francesco. Along with his sons, Emil, 47, and Evan, 42, Ross sails a tough ship that offers his clients a piece, a nibble, a bite and a very competitive rate. Not the typical chicken chicken lollipop or gui mayonnaise-laden cut chicken sandwich for carvalhoes; Their delicacies include a chicken bacon and egg crescent, quiche lauren, a pie with each layer of spinach, chicken and scrambled eggs – all under 50 50. Their Viennese truffles and Hungarian coffee cakes share space with Black Forest pastries and cream rolls.
At the heart of the business is a recipe book that his father sent to Ross. Every item in the bakery can find its source there and this Christmas, Emile Stolen borrowed a fruit cake made with bread, dried fruit and marzipan, covered with sugar to try her hand. If the test works, they will stockpile it this festive season. In addition to such occasional experiments, changes to the Christmas menu over the past decade have included some traditional sweets such as guava cheese, marzipan, coconut toffee and florentine, sweets made with dried fruit, chocolate and orange, “because people no longer make them at home. No time to “.
It may seem that the establishment is resistant to change, especially compared to the new, shiny patisserie and bulangers over the last few decades. But the American Express has stood the test of time; Ross describes how the bakery has survived India’s harsh political climate for years – a shortage of sugar, flour and even wrapping paper during World War II; Supply problems during the 1971 war when they had to replace nuts with peanuts in marzipan and other sweets; Police raids during the ban in the 70s, when they mistakenly smelled yeast for making alcohol; Even walnuts have been lost from the market due to the recent floods in Kashmir.
That’s where experience counts, Ross said. “Once, in the 80’s, there was extra flour and we bought it in bulk at a discount. Breads made using that flour would come out nicely but before the breads cooled, the surface would become cavities, ”recalls Ross, who soon realized that the problem was caused by premature rain. Excess moisture caused germination of wheat crop. “I’ve hit on formulas to address the issue – increasing the yeast content,” he says.
A best-selling item, their bread is supplied to several high quality caterers and gyms in Mumbai. But Emil, who runs this part of the business, regrets the loss of their skills and specialization before the trend of mass-produced sliced white bread sold at low prices in the 80s began. “In those days, every bakery would have its own fermentation agent – we used toddy for that strong flavor,” he says.
The Carvalhora are now trying to revive their old recipes as well as reviving the artisan trend. “Bread is sensitive to even the slightest change in mood, temperature, humidity, etc. It takes a few years to fix these,” says Emil.
This year, there is a lack of traditional breasts in the air in Mumbai which signals the start of the festive season but the bakery is busy preparing to make marzipan on the factory floor. The first batch of plum cakes of the year sits on a shelf. As Christmas approaches, production will increase manifold to match demand. “We’re Catholic, but we haven’t built a family tradition of celebrating Christmas since the season is the busiest for us,” says Evan.
Instead, they all work long hours until December 25 and then the family – including Evan and Emil’s other two siblings, a brother and a sister – will come together for Christmas dinner. “This year, my 13-year-old nephew wants to make a pork rib using a recipe that takes more than 12 hours to prepare,” says Emil, “the boy recently discovered his passion for food”. Most likely, it runs in the family.