What happens when, in launching a new product line, you tap into the culinary heritage of your family while adding your own contemporary sensibilities to the equation? If you create something truly original and delightful, you can hit the zeitgeist, delivering the unexpected in a familiar form. Shefalee Patel is doing just that with her confections company, Sweet Silk, introducing a new rendition of the traditional Indian desserts, commonly called burfis, in an elegant, petit four style.
Patel did not begin her career as a baker. For many years she was a civil and environmental engineer, providing planning and expertise for major building developments, a pursuit that kept her on the move to exciting locations such as Dubai. It was there that she was exposed to an international array of fine chocolatiers– Forrey & Gallard, Patchi, Jeff de Bruges and Al Nassma – and she was moved by the exquisite quality and decadence with which they presented their goods. Having been raised in a community that places importance on abundance and generosity in the context of hospitality, Patel felt a connection to and was inspired by these luxurious brands.
Almond Orange Chocolate
Her family hails from the Indian state of Gujarat, and she learned to cook in the kitchens of her parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents. She was especially drawn to baking and felt she had a talent for it; this affinity found its way into lovingly made holiday packages for friends and family. When the economy collapsed and Patel was laid off, she began making party favors for weddings and other celebrations while simultaneously looking to return to her industry full-time. Well, the sweets took off and she left engineering behind.
I met her at the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s Entrepreneur Space in Long Island City where she runs her kitchen operations. We sampled from a box of confections picked up at Indian sweet shops in Jackson Heights, exploring the continuum of traditional recipes and flavors as they migrate across the globe and through generations. These goodies are fun, colorful and powerfully saccharine – friendly katli, little rolls of flour and simple syrup with spices, jelobi, an exuberantly orange funnel cake, varieties of khoya, milk-based sweets, such as gajjar halwa, refreshing ricotta-based squares featuring pureed vegetables like carrot or squash.
Coconut Cashew Truffles
Although the Patel family is from the western-most corner of India, she makes products that echo regional confectionary treats found all over the country – in the South, where nuts and dried fruits are prevalent, in the North, where different kinds of flours (wheat, lentil, chickpea) are blended with spices. There’s also a selection of milk-based sweets. Through experimentation, Patel has been able to focus these flavors into pieces that are refined and intricate, appropriate for small portions. Part of this lies in a restraint from excessive sugar and butter, and also from a belief that the featured flavors should not overpower the base, whether flour, fruit and nuts or milk. She also introduces chocolate, not a traditionally Indian ingredient, very effectively. Depending on who you are and where you come from, you read these treats either as familiar flavors dressed up in fancy clothes or as fudges and truffles spiked with exotic new tastes.
Vanilla Chai Spice
From the Nut & Dried Fruit category, Sweet Silk offers Coconut Chocolate Ganache, a layer of chocolate on a base of coconut, exceptionally moist with an infusion of cardamom that brings its own refreshing essence, Medjool Date Pistachio, Apricot Honey Nut, and Fig Roasted Cashew, among others. From the Milk Based Sweets, you’ll find Vanilla Chai Spice, which has a maple candy quality from vanilla cream infused with black tea, and a sophisticated blend of chai spices – ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and peppercorn – along with Mango Coconut Cream and Mocha Milk Chocolate. From the website, you can order boxed assortments of 6, 12 or 24 pieces. Sweet Silk will also design and package large orders for special events in beautifully adorned boxes customized for the theme, tone, and color scheme of the occasion.
Vegan Fruit Collection
Corners are not cut with ingredients or techniques. The Sweet Silk team makes its own ricotta to achieve just the right texture and flavor and branches its own pistachios, a step that assures a bright green color in the final product. Seasonal ingredients are featured at appropriate times ensuring maximum flavor – currently, this is found in the Mango Coconut Creams.
Look for the Vegan Fruit Collection – no dairy, eggs, preservatives or sugar – which combine dried fruits such as dates, apricots, and figs with spices, vanilla or a touch of honey with an added crunch of pistachios, cashews or pine nuts.