March 22, 2017
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Why Are There No Eggs in Indian Cakes?

Eggs, to most, might seem like a fundamental component of baked goods. But not to me. And not to a lot of Indians.

Growing up, I ate all the usual stuff—cakes, brownies, cookies, and the like. But when I had cake at a friend’s birthday party, I’d always notice something a little…off. It was richer than I was used to. More moist. Not as airy. Then I figured it out: My mom’s chocolate torte, our waffle batter, the Ghirardelli brownie mix we bought at Costco—none of it had eggs. All the desserts served in my house were eggless.

My family probably despises eggs more than most. We hate flan. We definitely don’t do quiche. The most common complaint we have about a food is that it’s “too eggy.” But we’re not exactly unique: Much of India eats only eggless desserts.

The phenomenon of eggless pastries in India has a relatively straightforward explanation: A large portion of the population is Hindu and therefore vegetarian; eggs, as potential living beings, have long been considered nonvegetarian. We’re not vegans, mind you—we consume milk and yogurt at the rate that most Americans Google chicken recipes online. But eggless baking has become a general practice throughout India. My dad tells me that just as most restaurants in India don’t serve beef—even though it’s primarily the Hindu and Jain communities that don’t eat it—most pastry shops in India omit the eggs from their recipes, usually replacing them with yogurt, simply because that’s what much of the population prefers and is now accustomed to.

Another key reason the Indian palate might not be fond of eggy pastries is that essentially all traditional Indian desserts are eggless. Think of gulab jamun, deep-fried doughnuts soaked in rosewater syrup, or kheer, a cardamom-tinged rice pudding, or burfi, a milk- and sugar-based fudge. You’ll never see someone in a mithai shop whipping egg whites or separating out yolks. More likely, they’ll be grinding nuts into a paste, boiling down milk and sugar, or dunking something spherical into syrup. If there is a fundamental ingredient in Indian sweets, it’s milk. It’s worth mentioning here that there are plenty of savory egg dishes in Indian cuisine—from bhurji to keema to akuri. But in baking, still, eggs are notably absent.

Eggless pastries are lighter and gentler than your average eggy confection. The cakes don’t rise quite as much, and they aren’t nearly as filling. You won’t find buttercream or cream cheese icing on top, either; the standard cake frosting in Indian pastry shops is whipped cream–based. The widespread presence of pastries themselves in India, my dad supposes, is, like tea, a relic of British colonization. He went to boarding school in Dehradun, and he recalls that the most popular desserts in the dining hall were not halwa or gulab jamun, but the eggless apple and strawberry tarts—British standards that had been adapted to suit local tastes.

You’ll never see someone in a mithai shop whipping egg whites or separating out yolks. More likely, they’ll be grinding nuts into a paste, boiling down milk and sugar, or dunking something spherical into syrup.

A little over a decade ago, a no-frills eggless pastry shop called Hot Breads—promising “Indian-style confections”—opened up in my hometown of Dallas. The Indian community practically broke down its doors, and the place delivered, offering the kind of understated, not-too-sweet cakes that my parents had come to love in India. The shop quickly became the dessert go-to for any kind of celebration among our family. Out of all of Hot Breads’ offerings, the one that still induces major hunger pangs for me is the pineapple cake.

Pineapple cake, in general, is the most popular item at almost all Indian pastry shops, though none of the family members and Indian friends I spoke to could tell me exactly why this is the case. The one at Hot Breads appears unremarkable, just folding in diced pineapples to a standard eggless cake batter. It doesn’t have dozens of layers, a decadent icing, or fancy decorations. It’s just a fluffy cake with a sweet, mildly acidic kick. But it’s delicious in its airiness and simplicity—it’s not the sort of confection that will weigh you down or have you immediately reaching for a glass of milk. Oftentimes, that’s exactly what I want.

I called Hot Breads every single day for two weeks to get the recipe for the pineapple cake, and each time the employee who picked up would either hang up or say the owner was busy. Finally, I got my dad to call and speak to the store employees in Hindi. He found out, to my dismay, that the owner was in no way ready to part with his pineapple cake recipe. Thankfully, I found a woman named Madhuram who runs a blog called Eggless Cooking, and she claimed to have developed a recipe that reproduces Hot Breads’ pineapple cake to a T. I self-consciously baked the cake for my roommates, who were extremely skeptical as they watched me puree tofu and yogurt and add it to the batter. My baker boyfriend protested as I blended the pineapples directly into the mix, not putting them on the bottom of the pan to caramelize, as is done with a pineapple upside down cake. “It’s just not that kind of cake!” I kept telling him defensively.

Thankfully, the end result was a hit. And I knew on the first, feathery bite that this was the cake from my childhood.

Eggless Pineapple Cake

Eggless Pineapple Cake

12-15 Servings


  • 2.5 cups diced (canned) pineapple
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • ½ cup pureed silken tofu
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2.5 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1.25 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • ¼ cup white sugar

This pineapple cake is adapted from one of my favorite eggless pastry shops in Dallas, Hot Breads. It’s lighter and less sweet than your average birthday cake, but it still feels decadent—I’ve been known to polish off a couple slices in a single sitting. I especially love the layer of pineapples in the middle—they’re like the refreshing à la mode topper to an apple pie.

Photos by Linda Schneider

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C for 15 minutes. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with parchment paper (here's a helpful guide).
  2. Drain the pineapple chunks and reserve the juice in a separate bowl.
  3. Mix together the yogurt, tofu, and milk in a bowl and set aside.
  4. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and creamy. If the butter is not soft enough, the creamed mixture will resemble coarse crumbs. Adding some of the wet ingredients and then creaming it should solve the problem.
  6. Add the tofu-yogurt-milk mixture in 3 portions, beating after each addition. The mixture will look curdled, but that should not be a problem. It will be fine once we add the flour mixture.
  7. Add the dry mix and combine well. Fold in 1/2 cup pineapple chunks.
  8. Spread the batter in the prepared pan.
  9. Bake for about 21-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Mine was done in 21 minutes.
  10. Transfer the pan to cooling racks. Since we have lined the pan with parchment paper, the cake should come off the pan within 15 minutes. Let it cool completely before frosting.
  11. Before making the icing, put the bowl that you are going to use and the electric beaters in the freezer for at least 15-30 minutes.
  12. Place the cream, sugar, and a teaspoon of the reserved pineapple juice in the bowl and whip until stiff peaks form.
  13. Once the cake is completely cool, slice it in half crosswise, forming two thin layers.
  14. Using a pastry brush, dust off the crumbs from each of the two leveled sides of the cake layers. Use the reserved pineapple juice to brush the insides of both cakes so that the cake will absorb it and be moist for days. Do not fear too much syrup on the cakes. The cake will keep absorbing it. Leave the cakes to soak the syrup for at least 15 minutes.
  15. Place one slice/cake on a serving platter or cake stand. The neat and flat side should be on the bottom and the syrup-brushed side should be on the top. Spread the rest of the pineapple chunks on the cake and cover it with half of the frosting.
  16. Place the other cake on top of the filling. The syrup side should be facing down and the smooth side should be on top for this one. Cover it with the rest of the whipped cream and garnish it with pineapple pieces as you please.

Priya Krishna

Priya Krishna is a food writer and the author of the college-centric cookbook Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks, as well as the upcoming cookbook, Indianish, out in Spring 2019

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