The sibling-owned bakery in Market 707 puts a personal spin on the mithai box and savoury festival delights
With Diwali coming up on November 4, Little Sister Baking is celebrating by putting a unique spin on holiday treats.
Founders and sisters Akash and Tanvi Swar drew from childhood experiences when creating their mithai (sweets) box – one of the most popular gift items one can send and receive during the Diwali season – as well as the savoury items that are also eaten during the festival of lights.
“The Diwali menu is based on things we’d grown up eating,” says Tanvi. “We would have these Diwali marathon parties, and you would attend five or six of them in one night. This is the kind of stuff that people would give you. They’re really quick, handheld items that you would grab and munch on while you chat.”
The bakery, which recently morphed from an at-home pandemic business to a brick-and-mortar outpost at Market 707, has become known for Indian pastries and street food.
The Diwali menu will be available alongside the usual cakes the bakery became known for – like the ras malai cake with tres leches – for the next two weeks.
From left to right in the top row: Ras Malai Cake, Gulab Jamun Cake and Lonavala Chocolate Lava Cake. Left to right in the bottom row: Coconut Barfi Cake, Gajar Ka Halwa Cake and Pineapple Sooji Halwa Cake.
Similar to Little Sister’s other treats, what makes this limited menu so different from typical Diwali snacks are the ingredients and the combination of French and South Asian baking techniques.
“We use a lot of South Asian traditional techniques with global techniques,” explains Akash, the chef behind the business.
The pineapple sooji halwa cake is made out of pineapple-based semolina that’s toasted and cooked in milk and ghee. It’s then topped with whipped cream and pineapple bits. The Lonavala chocolate fudge cashew cake is filled with a cashew ganache. It’s inspired by the cakes you can get in Lonavala, a hill station town known to be a rest stop while en route to Mumbai. The gulab jamun cake is inspired by traditional gulab jamun and is soaked in a saffron-cardamom-rose water syrup.
The bakery’s savouries consist of items like green chutney khaari, puff pastry bites that are twisted and made with a coriander-lime-mint chutney. There’s also the chili cheese namak para, a fried cracker snack that’s infused with cheese and chilies to give it a “spicy Cheez-it” taste. Chicken and samosa puffs with the bakery’s signature flaky pastry shell are also available.
Tanvi says that the traditional forms of these items are usually eaten and dipped in chai during Diwali card parties, when people play poker or other card games.
Chicken puffs, samosa puffs and chili cheese namak para are part of the limited Diwali menu.
New home for the holidays
This is Little Sister Baking’s first Diwali menu since launching as a permanent bakery in Toronto. Last year, the sisters were operating out of their home kitchen, creating comforting dishes for the community during the pandemic.
Both siblings had been laid off from their jobs when they decided to go into businesses together. Tanvi works in advertising and Akash is a Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef who has worked at Buca and Auberge du Pommier.
“Little Sister Baking was initially an Instagram account that I used to showcase everything that I made in Cordon Bleu in Ottawa,” explains Akash.
She says that both her and Tanvi were missing the Indian comfort food they ate growing up during this time, and so they passed the time creating their spin on the food by using worldly baking techniques. Their chicken tikka and keema buns, a popular street food in India, are made with Japanese-styled milk buns. Their mango lassi Paris-Brest is made with Alphonso mangoes from India and cardamom mousseline sauce.
“People started inquiring about selling some of the stuff we make now. It developed into a full-blown business, which is kind of crazy. From there it just happened organically,” Akash says.
By January, as word got around and as their clientele grew, the sisters rented out a shared kitchen at the Scadding Court Community Centre. The business officially opened its first physical vendor stall at Market 707, a shipping container market at Bathurst and Dundas West, in September.
“It’s kind of a shock actually,” says Tanvi, who manages the marketing aspect of the business. “It always felt like we were never going to be able to start our own restaurant or bakery because [I thought] you need hundreds of thousands of dollars. It always felt inaccessible to us.”
She also says that in a way, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped them get to where they are now.
“[Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,] I think businesses that didn’t have a space weren’t really trusted as much,” she says. “Because everyone was stuck at home and people knew that chefs were out of work or couldn’t find jobs, they would want to support this person that they know. That actually really helped us break into the food scene. People are a lot more open to trying this random business that didn’t have a brick-and-mortar spot.”
Now that they have a physical spot at Market 707, the siblings are pleasantly surprised at how supportive the food community has been. They say that the vendors at the market would offer advice, exchange recipes and actively promote each other’s businesses on their social media pages.
“My concern has always been that the industry would be so cutthroat,” says Tanvi. “But it’s been amazing to connect with these people. It’s especially important because as people of colour in the business we definitely have a much harder time. Building that close-knit community of people who can help each other is just really beautiful.”