It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas… at the All Bengal Women’s Union on Elliot Road. One might assume it’s an unlikely place for moist, dense cake where the taste of brandy and butter linger long after you’ve swallowed that bite. But these rich fruit cakes have been emerging from the old-fashioned oven since 1980. “Every year we receive more and more orders. Last year we made 400 cakes. Many of them are sent out of India,” said Susmita Mitter of All Bengal Women’s Union (ABWU) who has been in charge of the baking for five years. The man who takes the girls under his wing in the large kitchen is Amar Koley, who learnt the art himself in 1991, from Calcutta Club bakers. ABWU is home to girls rescued from trafficking and abusive homes. It also houses a children’s home and after care home under the Juvenile Justice Act as well as an old age home, all on the same premises. There are currently 70 children in the children’s home. It is from amongst them that Koley selects his young bakers.
The girls use an electric beater to blend a kg of butter and castor sugar with eggs. They then bring out the fruit and nuts which they’ve kept soaked in brandy
“When I’m baking, some of them will come to watch. That’s when I know who’s interested in this process. Some of them are shy and will run away if I ask them to do something. Others will come in and want to help. Of course, they have to be supervised strictly, especially when they’re handling knives to chop the fruit and nuts,” explained Koley.The profits from the sales go into the individual fixed deposits of the girls who are still minors. Young adults are encouraged to save their money judiciously.
Amar Koley pre-heats the old, wood-fired oven while the girls pour out the batter into the cake tins
According to Mitter, who is also in charge of the primary school and children’s home, the girls are “battling various degrees of trauma… the baking has been therapeutic for many. Some of them have been able to manage their mood disorders and anger issues by channeling their energy into something positive and productive.” Mitter identifies two sisters who have been rescued from a particularly violent setting and who both started to get better with school work after some months in Koley’s kitchen.