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The Falooda Cake That Won Royal Hearts: Shabnam Russo Shares Inspiration, Recipe

Shabnam Russo on how she made her historic rose falooda cake for Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee pudding contest.

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The Falooda Cake That Won Royal Hearts: Shabnam Russo Shares Inspiration, Recipe
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On the 12th of May, in celebration of Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, a Pudding Competition was held in London, in which a Rose Falooda cake prepared by Shabnam Russo, a resident of north London was declared as one of the top five puddings out of a total of five thousand entries.

The contestants were asked to prepare something that was celebratory, joyful and would bring a smile to people’s face. And Shabnam’s pudding was a picture of sweet joy.

It was iced with mascarpone vanilla cream and adorned with edible petals and fresh flowers in hues of red, baby pink and white.

Shabnam had created history. It was the first time that a cake with a desi flavour broke into the top five at such a competition.
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'The win had a balming effect on me.'

(Photo courtesy: Shabnam Russo)

Her joy was palpable. “I cannot find the right words to express what it means to be a part of making history on such a momentous occasion."

"I feel immense gratitude and pride and to be told by Chef Roger Pizey, Executive Chef at Fortnum & Mason, that my cake was worthy of the Queens Platinum Jubilee," she says.

"The pandemic had really brought me down, almost difficult to bounce back. However, the win had a balming effect on me – it made believe in myself and brought me back to life."
Shabnam Russo

Shabnam takes us through her story, her chidlhood, the trials of the pandemic, and the inspiration behind her original rose falooda cake recipe.

Tell Us a Little About Yourself.

I live in north London with my husband, Dr Mario Luca Russo, and two children, India, and Giorgio.

I named my daughter India as she was born in Mumbai. My son, Giorgio, is named after my husband’s favourite designer Giorgio Armani.

I work part-time at my husband’s skincare clinic and as a hobby cater to parties for friends and family.

Though I have no formal training in baking, I earned a scholarship at the Taj Hotel in Business Management and have worked in finance at the Four Seasons Hotel London.

I am an amateur baker, but always had a great interest in gourmet food so I have travelled to France and Italy mainly to sample Michelin starred pastry.

My love for cooking comes from my grandparents with whom my sister and I used to spend our summers.

We would sneak into the kitchen and open the larder and bring out all the ingredients – sometimes with very disastrous results but my grandfather was always a very good sport.

"There was an incredible encyclopaedia of cooking and that’s where I learned all about puddings."
Shabnam Russo

Where did the Inspiration for this cake come from?

It all started when I found a bottle of Rooh Afza in a local Indian store that the idea of a falooda cake was planted in my head.

"I have always enjoyed falooda as a child, growing up in Mumbai. Though we never went out and ate in restaurants unless it was a special birthday, this drink cum dessert spelt father-daughter bonding. "

My father who travelled a lot for work would take me to have some as a Sunday treat when he was in town.

Even my grandfather would pamper me with falooda with whatever little pension he received from his job.

This drink is pure nostalgia. I can almost smell the rose syrup and taste the jelly.

"Sadly, falooda is not known to London which is why I wanted to immortalise the recipe with the royal warrant holders Fortnum & Mason, the organisers of the competition."
Shabnam Russo

'It all started when I found a bottle of Rooh Afza.'

(Photo courtesy: Shabnam Russo)

What trial and error did you employ to achieve the final recipe?

To change a milky liquid dessert like the falooda into stable cream for the cake was a challenge.

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I learned the Italian Mascarpone cream from my Italian mother-in-law. She made the best Tiramisu in the world so I wanted to make a similar dessert but with rose pistachio saffron flavour rather than coffee.

It took me a few tries to perfect the flavour and cream.

"I created a wall of stabilised cream around the cake and then filled the falooda cream inside it like a jewel in the crown."

Mascarpone Vanilla Cream has always been my go to icing in all my cakes since my wedding day.

In fact my Venetian husband had to be coaxed to make me a tiramisu cake in the heat and humidity of a July Wedding.

It's the same recipe for the cream that I have used in my Platinum Pudding. Every layer is a walk down memory lane!

Why do you think the Queen liked the cake?

Through this cake, I tried to display the multicultural and diverse character of Britain encapsulating different cultures.

There were a few elements in my cake which I think the Queen liked.

My cake was adorned with edible petals, roses in gold and real flowers in a myriad hues to mimic the royal gardens that are a spectacle of delight.

"Featuring rambling roses, perfectly lined lawns, fragrant beds of seasonal flowers and lush, vibrant greenery, the Queen and many other senior members of the royal family are known for their love of horticulture."

Also I ensured my cake was round not square or rectangle with edges as a nod to the superstition passed down through generations that if the royal family are presented with pointed edge food it’s a sign they are going to be overthrown. This was a little design secret I followed.

The falooda is a royal dessert, and this pink and white cake is my interpretation of silky vermicelli and basil seeds steeped in a fragrant creamy mascarpone rose bath layered between burnished saffron sponges and topped with rose petal jelly and chopped nuts and glacé fruit.

When it comes to this pudding the whole is greater than the sum of its parts . Sweet, smooth, cool, crunchy, velvety it engages the palate on all levels, a pudding truly fit for the queen.

'My cake was adorned with edible petals.'

(Photo courtesy: Shabnam Russo)

"I have always seen the Queen cut beautiful cakes and I always imagined her cutting into mine one day."
Shabnam Russo

Tell us more about your India connection.

Though I visit India every Christmas, I haven’t been able to for the past two years because of the pandemic. I recently went over Easter in April for my father's birthday.

One of our favourite falooda spots is Elco on Hill Road. It serves one of the finest faloodas in Mumbai.

My parents live in Bandstand, Bandra, next to Shah Rukh Khan's house. My daughter, India, is a big fan of Shah Rukh Khan so my mother once sent a letter to him explaining him the same.

He wrote back saying she was welcome to join him anytime for tea at his place.

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What message would you like to give the budding bakers out there?

I would like them to be inspired. I think a lot of people suffer from an impostor syndrome - they are afraid to fail so they are afraid to try things.

But I think if you don't try something, you are going to fail and it is important that you grab the opportunities when they come by.

Seeing what the finalists have achieved would inspire people to chase their dreams.

'A pudding truly fit for the queen.'

(Photo courtesy: Shabnam Russo)

Okay, now to we've been waiting for. Can you share the recipe with us?

Here is my original recipe,

Ingredients

For the sponges

  • 225g/8oz unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

  • 2 tbsp full-fat milk

  • few strands saffron

  • 225g/8oz caster sugar

  • 200g/7oz plain flour

  • 25g/1oz cornflour

  • 2½ tsp baking powder

  • pinch salt

  • 4 large free-range eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the icing

  • 1 tsp basil seeds

  • 240ml/8¾fl oz double cream

  • 120g/4¼oz icing sugar, sieved

  • 500g/1lb 2oz mascarpone, at room temperature

  • 4 tbsp rose syrup

For the falooda

  • 25g/1oz vermicelli noodles (½ nest)

  • 1 tsp rose syrup

To assemble

  • 2 tbsp rose syrup

  • 100g/3½oz rose petal jelly

  • 100g/3½oz glacé fruits, finely chopped

  • 25g/1oz flaked almonds

  • edible flowers or rose petals

  • flaked pistachios

  • gold leaf (optional)

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180oC/160oC Fan/Gas 4.

  • Grease two 20cm (8 inch) cake tins lightly with butter and line them with baking paper.

  • Heat the milk. Add the saffron strands and leave to cool to room temperature.

  • Mix the butter and sugar in a large bowl, whisking together until very light and fluffy.

  • In another bowl, mix together the flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt.

  • One at a time, add an egg with a tablespoon of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar, mixing well between each addition.

  • Scrape down the sides and gently whisk in the rest of the flour mixture, followed by the saffron infused milk. Add in vanilla.

  • Divide the cake batter evenly between the two lined tins and smooth the tops.

  • Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted to the centre of the cakes comes out clean.

  • Leave on a rack to cool for 10 minutes before removing the baking paper and let them cool completely.

To make the icing, in a small bowl, soak the basil seeds in cold water for 15 minutes and the dry them.

  • In a medium bowl, beat the cream and icing sugar together.

  • Whisk in the mascarpone until smooth. Set 4 tablespoons aside in a small bowl.

  • Divide the rest into two bowls, one with slightly more than the other.

  • To the bowl with slightly less fold in the basil seeds and 3 tablespoons rose syrup. Leave the larger bowl plain.

  • To the bow you set aside before with 4 tablespoons of the mixture in, add 1 tablespoon rose syrup.

  • Put them all in the fridge to firm up for 20 minutes.

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To make the falooda, cook the noodles in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and cool the noodles under cold running water.

Leave to dry before mixing with the rose syrup.

To assemble the cake

  • Use a pastry brush to brush 1 tablespoon rose syrup onto the flat side of each sponge.

  • Place one sponge syrup-side up onto a serving plate.

  • Spread over most of the basil seed and rose cream.

  • Using a piping bag with a wide nozzle, pipe the remaining cream all the way around the edge (to create a wall which will keep all the filling in place).

  • Add the vermicelli mixture, rose petal jelly, chopped glacé fruit and almonds to the centre, then place the second sponge on top, syrup-side down.

  • Ice the top and sides with the plain bowl of cream covering the entire surface.

  • Use the small bowl of pink icing to create decorative pink streaks up the sides.

  • Chill in the fridge for 1 hour or so to firm up.

  • Decorate the cake with edible flowers or rose petals, flaked pistachios and gold leaf, to your liking.

(A freelance food and fashion blogger, Pranjali Bhonde Pethe aims at getting people and their favourite food and style closer through her blog moipalate. Email her at pranjali.bhonde@gmail.com and follow her on @moipalate.)

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