With mouth-watering flavors and gorgeously artistic and realistic scenes, Anuradha Dasi’s cakes – made for devotee life events and festivals at Bhaktivedanta Manor, UK – are astonishing, and have to be seen to be believed.
Anuradha started learning her craft by helping out temple devotees when she joined the ashram at ISKCON’s Bhaktivedanta Manor, near London, in 1988. After getting married, she assisted her husband, Manor head pujari Gadadhara Das, who remains her baking partner.
She then took a three-year part-time course in Creative Sugar Decorative Crafts at West Herts College to refine her skills – learning piping techniques, how to make sugar flowers, and how to cover a cake with buttercream, sugarpaste, or marzipan.
But for Anuradha, making her cakes is about something much deeper than just being the best baker or decorator in town.
“I remember the first cake I helped decorate was for Radhastami,” she says. “I was so intrigued to find that I could use my art to create something solely for the Lord’s pleasure. It’s so personal. Just like if you’re making a cake for someone’s birthday, you’d use the flavors and colors they like – so in the same way I try to make what the Lord likes to please Him.”
While making cakes for Vaishnava festival days at the Manor, Anuradha works with a team that includes her husband, baker Gadadhara Das, her daughters Vraja Mohini and Nayika, art college graduate Vraja-Vilasini Dasi, Divya Radhika Dasi, and Vraja Bhumi Dasi. She also enlists others when a specific talent is needed.
Each cake is unique. For Radha Londonisvara’s 25th anniversary festival, the late Tribhuvanath Das enlisted the team to bake a cake large enough that every single one of the thousand plus attendees could have a slice. The resulting carob sponge cake was 6ft x 2ft, took two days to make, and was so big it had to be transported in a separate van.
A cake made for Krishna Balarama at the Krishna Avanti School
More recently, for Radha-Londonisvara’s 40th anniversary, Anuradha’s team made a series of themed cakes, displayed at London Rathayatra. One was made to look like the exterior of the Soho St. temple, one featured Srila Prabhupada’s vyasasana with all his books surrounding it, and another depicted the major attractions of London. All of them were traditional fruitcakes, made with dried fruit, cherries, and mixed spice, and covered with marzipan and sugarpaste.
“When we make elaborate cakes that we know will take a long time to decorate, we use a light version of fruitcake, which keeps really well and actually improves in taste over a couple of days,” says Anuradha. “Fruitcake is also easier to carve and holds its shape.”
On the 50th anniversary of ISKCON’s incorporation, Anuradha made a stunning two-tier caramel sponge cake layered with buttercream and raspberry jam, covered in gradient pink and white sugarpaste and topped with the ISKCON 50 logo.
The incredible cake made for the 50th anniversary of ISKCON’s incorporation, showing the seven purposes of ISKCON
Around it, made out of fruitcake, were seven lotus petals with sugarpaste creations showing Prabhupada’s seven purposes of ISKCON. These included a Manor goshala building and Gita Nagari creamery to depict ‘teaching a simpler and more natural way of life’; TOVP and Krishna Balarama Mandir to depict “erecting holy places of Lord Krishna’s pastimes’; and miniature kirtan instruments to depict ‘encouraging the sankirtan movement,’ among others.
“The cake took four or five days to make, because of all the intricate details,” says Anuradha. “It was one of my favorites, as it was such an amazing mediatation and appreciation to Srila Prabhupada for everything he has given us.”
Another cake, made for the 50th anniversary of Prabhupada’s arrival in New York, was a three-tiered caramel, carob and orange sponge cake with buttercream filling. Decorating it were detailed sugarpaste depictions of Srila Prabhupada’s humble possessions such as his suitcase, books, beadbag and cereal box on the bottom layer; New York skyscrapers on the middle layer; and the Matchless Gifts storefront and Tompkins Square Park on the top layer.
“We wanted to make it personal to Srila Prabhupada, and also use it to tell the history of Prabhupada’s journey to guests,” Anuradha says.
A cake for the 50th anniversary of Prabhupada’s arrival in America
Every festival is a chance to get creative. On Janmastami, Anuradha’s team made a cake featuring Krishna and the cowherd boys having a picnic while the gopis peer at them from behind the bushes. As always, the animals and worshipable personalities were made from porcelain dolls. The boys’ picnic, however, was 100% real – made not with sugarpaste but with actual mini samosas, puris and sweets prepared with glee by the Manor kitchen chefs.
On Radha Gokulananda’s 40th anniversary, the team made six cakes, each with a different theme – one showed Radha and Krishna on a little throne; one featured Their shoes upon a cushion; one had Krishna’s flute resting on silk cloth; one depicted overflowing butter pots; one showed presents for Their Lordships; and one was a treasure chest overflowing with jewelry. Each item was sculpted with the utmost detail and care, and painted with edible vegan food colors.
The astonishing cakes offered for Radha Gokulananda’s 40th anniversary
However it’s Radhastami that’s the biggest effort for Anuradha, her crew and the Bhaktivedanta Manor community, who put everything they have into it.
“It started because we wanted to do twenty-five cakes to glorify Srimati Radharani’s qualities,” says Anuradha. “All the devotees got really inspired by seeing the cakes, because they were so personal. Everyone wanted to help. So now I welcome anyone who asks if they can assist us, and engage them according to their ability. It’s developed into a really nice family atmosphere.”
Up to fifteen people come to help decorate between twenty and twenty-five cakes every Radhastami, each person racking their brains to think what Radharani would like. The creativity that comes from this outpouring of love is nothing short of astounding.
A cake depicting Radharani’s birthplace, Varshana, for Radhastami
Devotees have created a temple of Varshana, where Radharni was born; a Jhulan or swing scene with Radha and Krishna; and a boat scene, all with sugarpaste, marzipan and porcelain figures on cake. One cake featured Radharani cooking in her kitchen; another of inestimable sweetness showed baby Krishna coming to visit baby Radha in her crib. There have also been incredibly realistic cakes made to look like fruit baskets and garlands of flowers.
“If I’m making a lily, I’ll pull up a picture of one and really concentrate on the dimensions, the colors, the thickness of the leaves,” says Anuradha. “Often each petal has to be whirled out and attached individually to the bud. One flower can take an hour to make. It’s amazing what you can make just from lumps of sugarpaste. They come to life.”
With so much attention to detail put into every step of the process, the Radhastami cakes can take up to five days to make. For the last two days leading up to the festival, Anuradha and her core team work nonstop, pulling all-nighters and ignoring bodily needs to eat or go to the bathroom in order to keep brahminical levels of cleanliness.
This cake of almost unbearable sweetness shows baby Krishna coming to see baby Radha for the first time
Anuradha also bakes cakes for weddings, birthdays, and baby showers in the devotee community, in the shape of everything from a detailed lifesize Canon camera for a photographer, to a scene of the 24-Hour Kirtan in Vrindavan for kirtaniyas Amala Harinama and Nadiya Mani. Flavors range from zesty lemon sponge with lemon curd filling, to caramel sponge with mocha buttercream filling, to dense chocolate with peanut butter mouse.
Serving the devotees in this way is close to Anuradha’s heart. But it’s her festival cakes that give her and her assistants a special connection to Krishna.
“It’s an honor that I can use my abilities to glorify the Lord, and work with likeminded devotees,” she says. “It’s such a lovely meditation. We’ll read the relevant pastime together, and we’re always challenging each other, ‘What should we do this time? What would the Lord like?’ It’s an offering that I feel so thankful to be able to give.”
Jan 22, 2022
Sunanda Das, tovp.org