Call it Alwar Kalakand, Alwar ka Mawa or Alwar ka Milk cake and it tastes just as delicious. It comes as a surprise that Alwar in Rajasthan is so popular for a milk-based sweet. I am promptly told, 'Alwar is a milk-surplus area.' The picturesque little town nestled in the foothills of the Aravalli Ranges does seem greener than the other parts of the State.
There are plenty of shops that sell Kalakand; Nandu Milk Cake Centre, Sudhama Milk Cake, Mansingh Kripaldayal Sweets, Sanjay Sweet House, Deendayal Aggarwal & Sons. The common question is, 'How many kilos do you want?'
But, from what I heard, the pioneer is Baba Thakur Das & Sons, located on Hope Circus at the Kalakand Market, which first brought Kalakand to Alwar and has been around since 1947. It is a nondescript place except that the milk cakes from here sell like hot cakes. It is to Baba Thakur Das’s credit that the milk cake from Alwar has spawned such a huge industry that today there are over 5,000 persons associated with it and more than 200 shops that sell it.
Baba Thakur Dasji came to India from Pakistan, after the Partition. He was a halwai (sweet maker) in Dera Ismail Khan Gaon in Pakistan and, when he reached India, he was sent to Alwar. Milk cakes also called dodha barfi or palang tor is a popular item in Punjab and possibly it was made by him in Pakistan also.
The story is recounted to me by Abhishek who manages the shop with his father, while his younger brother Ashish and an uncle man the shop. Abhishek Taneja says, 'Then the sweet was made on the footpath. When Dadaji put the milk to boil, it curdled. He let it thicken and filled the thickened sweet in a mould. When it was opened, it emerged with a delicious brown centre. When people asked Babaji what it was, he said, ‘yehi to kala hai’, meaning that is the skill. From that time onwards the sweet came to be called Kalakand.'
The sweet became famous and the area came to be called Kalakand Market as it was available only there. The market today sells clothes and knick knacks also.
For the uninitiated, it is similar to the 'South Indian therati paal', only thicker. The hallmark of the cake is the wonderful brown layer inside. Initially people would not believe that it was made only from milk and presumed that, as they were from Pakistan, meat was actually being put inside to give it the brown colour. Abhishek adds, 'My dadaji started making the sweet in front of people, so that they could see that only milk and sugar were used.'
Others also learnt the recipe and set up their own sweet shops. Abhishek adds, 'We have not lost a single worker in all these years. They have stayed with us. The suppliers of milk have also been with us for a long time.'
In the last 10 years or so, the demand has shot up. Today, Baba Thakur Das sells anywhere between 800 to 1,000 kg of Kalakand a day and uses about 4,000 kg or more of milk. The milk comes from nearby villages and the quality is tested by them personally. The family is involved directly in the entire process of preparation. The shop is open throughout the year.
I am taken to the factory which is a comfortable huge space on the ground floor. The sweet is made by using bhattis. There are 16 bhattis manned by 16 karighars. Each is in a different stage of completion. One man weighs the sugar and gives it to another stirring the milk, while another puts it into bottles and passes it on to another karighar.
A balti with five litres of milk is kept aside for use. Each karighar at one time uses five litres to make 1.6 kg Kalakand. What ensures the trademark brown middle is the high temperature. The outsides cool faster while the heat trapped in the centre thickens the milk further making it brown.
Though I have eaten milkcake by the dozen, this one wins hands down. Abhishek offers me the still-warm kalakand to taste; it is many notches above the cool hardened ones sold in the shop outside. He says, 'Kalakand is best eaten warm.'
What adds to its taste is the water of Alwar, which is sweet and the soil, which adds richness to the milk. Abhishek challenges, 'Try making it at home and it will not be a patch on the original.' The moulds are made of heavy aluminium. With all that goes into its making, the price is an affordable Rs.230 per kg.