The South Indian equivalent of pound cake, the Kerala-style milk cake is a common offering found in old-school bakeries, tea shops (chaya kada) and grocery stores. Here’s everything you need to know about the sweet snack.
For those who grew up in Kerala, enjoying portable squares of milk cake available in bakeries has been an association of childhood memories. The popular phrase, “Bakeryil ninnum pothi cake vangi vannu (Buy pothi cake from the bakery on your way home),” is one that would most often be the demand of children and adults, alike. What is essentially a Kerala-style milk cake, made with all-purpose flour and milk powder as the key ingredients, the pothi cake is a buttery vanilla cake with a similar crumb texture to the English pound cake.
Rectangular cake slabs, cut from a singular slab of sheet cake – eaten plain or studded with raisins, and wrapped into a parcel/bundle – is where its name ‘pothi’ originates from. Also known as mittayi cake, as a way of paying ode to the toffee-like packaging of butter paper that it is wrapped in, the buttery cake has a texture similar to gulab jamun due to the presence of plenty of butter and eggs in the batter. Typically, the pothi cake has a slightly crispy brown crust as a result of granulated sugar used in the batter, it is usually eaten as a treat for breakfast or enjoyed as a quick evening snack, with a cup of tea.
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Available in local bakeries and chaya kadas (tea shops), the pothi cake can also be enjoyed fried and soaked in sugar syrup, for extra decadence. Like the pazhampori and parippu vada, the pothi cake has also found a place in the Kerala tea time experience as the quintessential evening snack. As history has it, Thalassery – the first city in the country where Christmas cake was baked on request in 1883, when Murdoch Brown – a British businessman requested a baker from Malabar to bake a plum cake he bought from England, also holds interesting links to the fame of the pothi cake.
Along with the pothi cake, other varieties like the vettu cake, paal cake and tutti-fruity cake are eaten as some of the key varieties. Local eateries, specialising in particular kinds of cake, have gradually become synonymous with the widely enjoyed dessert. True fans of the pothi cake also suggest that the cake tastes best two days since the day it has been baked. The pothi cake also serves its purpose as the foundational vanilla cake to evolve into many other types of cakes available around the state.