There’s no way that any resident of Kolkata who claims to have a sweet tooth won’t know of Patisserie by Franziska. The tiny, charming cafe with a chequered floor and pink pouffes for seating, tucked away on Park Street, has in a very short time become popular for its fresh and authentic European desserts — the Belgian Dark Chocolate Tart is made with 70 percent dark Belgian chocolate, and the Blueberry and Vanilla tart uses fresh fruits and organic vanilla. And behind it is 24-year-old Franziska Oppel.
The newest kid on the baking block, the young German has been wooing the city since she set up her joint in 2018. On offer here are baked goods that use the freshest and most authentic ingredients available; seasonal fruit-based pastries; great coffee, and a range of fragrant teas. Last month, Oppel expanded her venture to include a full-fledged café a floor above.
“When I moved to Kolkata, I noticed that all the cakes available had a lot of fondant and food colouring, and not enough fresh fruits. So, I started baking at home and there were a lot of consulates around where I lived. Somehow they found out that there was a lady baking all day. It was through them that I started to get my first orders,” says Oppel, who started small, believing that she was the only one who felt a gap in the market. Initially people only ordered chocolate cake and she had to throw away her blueberry tarts or give them away to charity.
Patisserie by Franziska is also one of the first places in the city to offer seasonal desserts. This was because Oppel was very clear that she did not want to use any canned fruits, and so, today, the menu depends entirely on what is available at the grocers. Even the chocolate products don’t have any compounds so that the cocoa quality is not compromised. This remains their ethos even with their new café menu. They make their own sourdough and work with local vendors for ingredients.
Oppel moved to the city in 2015, when she was only 20 (“I guess it was love that brought me to Calcutta,” she says blushing furiously); bustling Kolkata couldn’t be more different from the tiny town in Bavaria where she grew up. She soon fell in love with the City of Joy, drawn to its architecture and old-world charm. “I love the secular fabric of Calcutta. I love that there are so many communities living here and how this city celebrates every festival on earth.”
Many of us who have lost our hearts to her delicious desserts would be surprised to know that she never had any formal training. In fact, her university degree that she is currently completing through correspondence is in Economic Development from London School of Economics. Initially baking was just an activity that helped her de-stress and reminded her of home. Her love for it stems from the time she helped her grandmother around the kitchen when she was a child. “My grandfather had to have cake everyday,” she says. “So we baked a lot, especially during Christmas. In fact a lot of the Christmas specials I have at the café are my grandma’s recipes.”
It is extremely important to Oppel that the local community benefit in any way it can through her cafe. “When I conceptualised the café, I was most excited to work with so many cool women. Our head chef is a girl who left her job at a five star to build this up with me. Our logo was designed by a young graphic designer who came back to Calcutta from London to work. I could have gone with a design firm from Delhi or Bombay but I wanted to work with her because it’s important to support young people who are trying to do something in the city. Most people leave and move to bigger cities with more professional opportunities but if we do not support the ones who stay how will the city thrive?”
At present there are no plans to expand — Oppel feels that brands that open multiple outlets lose some of their essence in the process. “If you have five outlets you have to compromise on your creative freedom which I am not willing to do. You can no longer have, say a raspberry tart on the menu just for a couple of days because you happened to come across some great raspberries. You have to plan everything in advance. At this moment I want to focus on making this café the best that it can be,” she says firmly.
All images: Courtesy Patisserie by Franziska Instagram