Cross-Cultures & Desserts


When I was a wee little thing living in a tiny two-family house in Clifton, New Jersey the one thing I loved beyond anything else…was chocolate pudding. 

We had only been in the United States for a few years and we weren’t exactly adventurous eaters yet, though we are now.

But back then, our diet rarely strayed from traditional Pakistani food and Western style desserts were an even rarer thing, besides store bought stuff like ice cream and cookies.

I remember, though, when my mom used to bring home these magical little boxes full of mysterious powders which would turn into different colors and consistencies when mixed with water or milk…pudding and jello!

My little child-mind could not handle the excitement. While jello was cool and everything, pudding was the real deal. That’s what got me hooked on chocolate (more or less addicted to dark chocolate, especially).

My mother made them rather well. As well as you could out of a box, anyway. But there were nights when both my father and mother were out working or studying and my grandmother would take care of my sister and I.

She has no idea how to make anything chocolate! But she is an extraordinary cook otherwise.

We asked her to make us some pudding and, well, she did.

Except every time she’d make it, she’d accidentally burn it. Where there should have been smooth creamy pudding, there were bits of char that stubbornly stuck to the tongue.

But, you know, I have that wonderful memory of my grandmother making us something she knew we enjoyed, even though she hadn’t the faintest idea how to make it or what the hell kind of child would eat instant-anything.

I don’t care. I love her for it. I love that pudding with the  burnt pieces of something or other.

And I adored my mother’s chocolate chip cookies, which, if you didn’t eat them straight away, you’d probably break a tooth.

But have you ever had my mother’s halva? Her doodh savai?   Her feerni? Her carrot halva? Everything prepared with love and butter and sugar,  painstakingly stirred over a blindingly hot stove for hours until it reduces, reduces, reduces…to perfection?

Try my grandmother’s desserts. Sure to blow your mind.

And to think, I would even compare my little party tricks with cake and cookies to what my mother and grandmother can do with a packet of crushed vermicelli. While I do bake rather well and rather often, alhamdulillah, I have made some pretty exquisite desserts (if I do say so myself, ahem ahem, mashAllah), but none of them, in their formulaic stirring and pouring, none of them compare to a cold rasmalai. Or a dish of kheer sprinkled with pistachios and almonds.

Or a glistening globe of gulab jamun.

Which, to this day, I haven’t the faintest idea how to make. None of it! I have no idea how to make any of it. Well..the halva I can manage with my mother standing watch..

…But, I pride myself in my chocolate  and flour adventures…because I’m a bit too nervous and scared to even touch upon Indo-Pakistani desserts.

The picture above is of the cupcakes I made this morning for my youngest sister. They’re from-scratch chocolate coffee cupcakes, topped with homemade pink cream cheese frosting, and drizzled with a homemade chocolate sauce, and then sprinkled with M&M’s (storebought, merf).

Assalamu Alaikum.


Nesha’s Lunchbox Cake


Nesha’s Lunchbox Cake

  Tonight, my mother had one of her dinner parties. Her dinner parties are always fantastic, delicious, cozy, and VERY Pakistani, desserts being no exception. Not that Pakistani desserts aren’t great…I mean…gulab jamun, anyone? However, nary a chocolate morsel would be seen if my mother had her way…and so for the sake of the children…those poor, poor children (think of the children!!), I decided to whip up…this.

A banana-chocolate-chip-peanut butter cake with peanut butter-chocolate sauce (I do not like icing or frosting, I refuse to use the terms). Or as I like to call it: Lunchbox cake, because it reminds me of my childhood and the bananas, cookies, and pb and j’s i would eat at school. I was a bit wary of using crunchy peanut butter because I thought the texture would be weird, but it turned out amazing (Alhamdulillah).

So here it is, in all its chocolatey-banana-y-peanut buttery glory.

Don’t worry about the calories. If you’re reading this…just give in. 🙂


2/3 cup butter, softened

3 eggs

3 yellow bananas, cut up

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter

1 tbsp honey

1 1/2 cup chocolate chips

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup milk

1 tbsp vinegar

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp salt (optional)


3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1/3 cup powdered sugar, or more to taste.


Preheat oven to 350F

Cover a large sheet pan with parchement paper and set aside.

In a standmixer, mix bananas, butter, and sugar until combined. Then, add the eggs one at a time, mixing between each addition. Add crunchy peanut butter, honey, and vanilla, and mix again until combined and small chunks of banana remain. Set aside peanut butter-banana mixture.

In a measuring cup, measure out milk, add vinegar, and set aside to allow it to turn to buttermilk, about 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, sift together flours, nutmeg, allspice, and baking powder. If you chose to add the salt, sift it in now with the dry ingredients.

To the peanut butter-banana mixture, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk. DO NOT OVER MIX! Mix just until combined and no flour can be seen. Gently stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour batter into the sheet pan, smooth and even out with a cake knife, and gently tap the sheet pan against a hard surface to force air bubbles to the surface.

Bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes, or until edges turn golden brown. Let the cake cool while preparing sauce.


Heat milk in a saucepan on the stove on medium heat. To the milk, add the smooth peanut butter and gently whisk until combined. Once the mixture begins to bubble, take it off the heat and add the chocolate chips. Whisk to melt and combine. Add in powdered sugar, whisk to combine.

Pour over the top of the cake in drizzles, or coat it completely. Put the cake in the fridge until cake cools and sauce hardens, about 1 hour.

Serve cold for a brownie-like texture, or warm.