cricket, oranges and garam masala

I hope you’ve brushed up on your theology, because I am about to quiz you.

What would you say is India’s largest religion?

Try not to waste your time by thinking of Hinduism or Islam. Or even Sikhism for that matter, because you’d just be wrong.

India’s most important religion with the largest number followers is cricket.

Most of you will know what I’m talking about, but for those un-English, cricket is the summer-shirt clad, Pimm’s sipping, willow-wood plank holding, gentlemanly great-grand daddy of your beloved baseball.

The cricket World Cup is wired into us the same way I assume Super Bowl is wired into you. A cricket match on the telly calls for immediate action. The men run around gathering as many bottles of beer as they can, the women go on a potato chip hunt. Plump cushions are brought into the scene. They’re fluffed up and thrown on the floor. Corn kernels and butter stand by, waiting patiently for their turn in the microwave. Children decide to skip ballet classes and swimming lessons. And hosting responsibilities are thrusted upon the family with the largest TV set in the neighbourhood.

On a global scale, cricket only comes second to football – or soccer [whatever that is] – in popularity. But you wouldn’t be able to tell when you watch cricket around Indians. There’s a whole lot of tongue lashing, teeth gnashing, fist clenching, cussing, crying, painful wails and hair tearing, that goes on during a match.Trust me when I say, even if you’re not much of a cricket connoisseur, it doesn’t take much for all the electricity to get to you. Don’t be surprised if you start off determined to be bored at the beginning of a match and then somewhere in the middle find yourself yelling out at the players, too busy notice that you’ve spilt precious beer on the floor and that you’re actually standing in a bowl of potato chips.

You might, like me, find it very difficult to leave all the excited discussions and rush to the kitchen at half-time just to squeeze some orange juice, rummage for a bit of garam masala and to whip up some cupcakes.

There isn’t much to say about these cupcakes. Except that they’re citrus-y with orange and smoky with garam masala. Apparently that wasn’t my last orange. Drizzle the tops with some sweet white chocolate and you’re set for the rest of the match. These popped out of the oven twenty minutes into the game – in this case, KKR’s well-deserved win over CSK, last Sunday’s final league match – and was gone even before the white chocolate had time to set.

I would like to patent these as my official cricket-match cupcakes, but I’m pretty sure I’d be fighting for copyrights if you decide to make them for the next Super Bowl. Or Olympic event. Or the next ManU appearance. Or maybe for your next bocce ball tournament.

And if you do, save some for me.

Orange Cupcakes with Garam Masala

NOTE: The total amount of fresh orange juice needed should ideally be 1/2 a cup. But after juicing a large orange I was left with an amount only two tablespoons short of 1/2 a cup. So I added 2 tablespoons of milk to the juice. If your orange is big enough to produce a full 1/2 cup of juice, well then, fantastic.

Zest and juice of 1 very large orange [see head note]
2 tbsp of milk or as needed [see head note]
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground garam masala [I toast whole spices at home and make a powder out of them in a mortar and pestle, but store-bought is just fine]
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
3 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
White chocolate, to garnish

Pre-heat oven to 170 deg C and line a muffin tin with cupcake shells. In a bowl, mix zest, baking powder, garam masala, flour and salt. Stir lightly with a fork. In a bigger bowl, whisk 3 eggs till frothy. Add sugar in three installments, whisking continuously. Do this in a stand mixer or with electric beaters. Whisk in butter and orange-milk mixture. Dump in the dry ingredients and fold gently with a whisk till just combined. Do not overwork the batter. Spoon into cupcake shells, about 3/4 of the way. Bake for 20-25 minutes or till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out  cleans. Cool completely on rack. Melt white chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler and drizzle over cupcakes, when cool. Ideally, put the cupcakes in the refrigerator for a few minutes till the chocolate solidifies, but I doubt you’ll get the chance.

embellished with sea salt

So apparently, I suffer from insomnia. I have recently taken to waking up at 2 am in the morning to bake vodka-brownies and cook mint-garlic chicken.

This is what happens when you have illusions about food-ful weekends. When you think that you can work all you want throughout a week and then spend the whole weekend in food — spend a Saturday afternoon baking yogurt cake and a Saturday evening with friends at Bohemian. You look forward spending to spending a Sunday soaking in mango chutney and a cookbook that’s been sitting on your shelf unread since last winter. Since last winter.

But pretty soon you realize that the dream of a weekend spent by the oven is only that – a dream.

By the time Friday rolls around, you’re out of juice. You drag your feet heavily on the way to work on Saturday [because the idea of a half-day at work is still alive and well in India], you droop dramatically over your workstation and you hope against all the signs that you’d be back home before tea. By the time you do get home, you’re so freaking tired that you kick off your shoes, wolf down something that looks a lot like lunch and hit the bed. 24 hours later when you manage to wake up, the weekend is over. Your mother looks relieved because sleeping for hours like the dead made her half-suspect that you were suffering from a deadly brain disease [apparently she had been poking her head around the study-room door, where I’d made my makeshift bed, every hour or so to see if I’d started foaming at the mouth]. And before you know it, another sucky Monday comes bounding through your door with a sneer plastered all over its pock-marked face.

Before you know it, you’ve ignored your loving food blog and its readers for a whole week. You haven’t baked or cooked or even eaten well for quite sometime and no amount of cake can pacify your stress. Under such situations, you need something darker and deeper. Something that makes your teeth work and jolts your taste-buds awake and sends a large consignment of sugar to your half-asleep brain. You need brownies. With vodka, no less.

I made these at 1 am in the morning. When else would I have had the time?! But the good news is, these are the kind of brownies that can handle late night pressure. In fact, to be completely fair, all kinds of brownies can handle late night pressure. I have a sneaking suspicion that brownies were invented just to handle high stress, wild-eyed-frenzy-I’m-mad-enough-to-bite-you sort of situations.

These come from Donna Hay and are spiked with vodka – which is an obvious after-effect of having a half-empty bottle of Smirnoff that somebody forgot to put away, sitting on your dining table. They’re sweet, fudgy, intensely chocolate-y, immensely satisfying and come embellished with sea salt, which is exactly how I take my brownies, thank you.

1 am Brownies with Vodka and Sea Salt
brownie recipe adapted from Donna Hay

150gm (1 1/2 stick or 3/4 cup) of salted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 cup granulated sugar [try loosely-packed brown sugar like Demerara]
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
3 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp vodka
Sea salt, to sprinkle on top

Grease and line a brownie pan an pre-heat oven to 170 deg C. In a pan, on very low heat melt the butter. Once the butter has melted, stir in the sugar, cocoa powder and coffee. Take the pan off heat and stir vigorously for about a minute to bring the temperature down a little. Whisk in the 3 eggs till no white or yellow streaks remain. Add flour and vodka and whisk again. Pour into the brownie pan and bake for 20-25 minutes till a toothpick inserted into centre comes out slightly greasy. Let the pan cool completely, before cutting the baked batter into pieces. The brownies taste even better after an hour-long spell in the refrigerator. Serve either dusted with sugar or with sea salt sprinkles on top [preferred].

when a bunch of bananas call

I’ve been having a difficult time getting here for the last few days. Let’s blame it on day jobs for now.

Mornings are spent hurtling headlong towards a deadline that’s looming up like a monster, getting bigger every second. And evenings…or late late evenings, are spent dreaming about cake and hogging down cereal. Yes. Sometimes I like cereal for dinner.

I’ve noticed something about myself lately. Every time the office turns into a loudly humming, hissing, spitting pressure cooker, I start craving cake. Moist, fudgy, chocolate-y, fruity, nutty, puffed up, sunk low. Dense and thick, tarted and spiced up. Tooth-achingly sweet and smothered in cream to the point where you get goosebumps underneath your chin. It’s a vicious cycle that can lead to unimaginable things like breaking open a packet of store-bought chocolate slice-cake — the ones that come with sugar-crunchy crusts and medicinal after-tastes — and stuffing its entire contents down one’s throat at 1 am in the morning.

On such occasions, you wait patiently for a weekend to appear, which proceeds to disappear within a blink of an eyelid, but within that blink you catch a couple of hours. And in those two hours, you convince your mother to help you make cake. And not just any ordinary everyday cake, that would be a waste of time when you don’t have any, but cake spiced with chillies and split bananas nestled cozily within the batter.

I could have gone completely seasonal you know. Chucked the chocolate out the window and turned my attention towards a hoard of chikoos [or zapotas] in my refrigerator. I could also have sliced up kiwis and baked a cake topped with those, drenched in sugar glaze. And then there are always mangoes.

But believe me, when a bunch of bananas call, they really call. They yell and make sure you listen. They’re like that song by Dolores O’Riordan which grates on your ears but you find it impossible to stop listening to it. That song then takes a permanent spot on your playlist for months or years to come.

Bananas. They make you hallucinate about banana bread, cake, smoothies, fro-yos and what nots. And before you know it, you’re at a risk of losing those precious two hours standing and staring into the depths of your over-stuffed refrigerator just thinking about what could be. The cake uses whole bananas. Un-mashed and un-pureed. To be honest, I was avoiding steering towards the stalwart of the baking world – the banana bread. Banana breads are remedies. They’re personal, family-specific and come with stories that are close to everyone’s hearts. It sounded like a stellar idea but I did not have a bunch that was starting to spot. Not one gave off over-ripe signals. Each and every banana in the bunch was too pert to be mashed. They rested peacefully, all pretty showing no signs of decay.

The bastards.

So instead, I did what I suppose every banana-loving baker would do to improvise. Slit them right through the centre and pushed them down the loaf tin, deep into the cake mix. I figured I’d settle for solid chunks and they might be remedy enough for a rotten week. In the oven, the batter puffed up around the long pieces of fruit and proceeded to caramelize their edges, soften them into submission, melt them into spoon-licking-ness. Oh happy day.

This cake also comes with chilli. I almost typed “a secret ingredient”, but the notion of a dish having a secret ingredient makes me roll my eyes.

Dried red chillies snipped right into the batter, seeds and all. These chillies disperse through the crumbs and show up in every other bite smarting you tongue only for a fleeting second. They paired well with the almonds.

We dug into the cake as soon as it came out of the oven. As if the Indian summer wasn’t hot enough to make us sweat – like pigs, let me add – we had to go turn it up by eating chilli inside a steaming cake. But such a cake only demands immediate attention. So we went at it with spoons and serious dollops of whipped cream. The crumbs were more caramel-y than chocolate-y for some reason and each slice was pleasantly studded with spongy pieces of fruit. And, as suspected, in the end it turned out to be a powerful remedy for torturous weekdays. This, dear readers, is a keeper.

Chilli Chocolate Banana Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
A pinch of salt
2 tbsp of unsweetened natural cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar + more to sprinkle on top
2 dried red chillies, stems removed
1/2 vegetable oil [peanut, canola, sunflower, etc]
1/2 cup espresso [use 2 tsp coffee powder for 1/2 cup boiling water]
3 bananas, split longitudinally
Whipped cream or maple syrup, to garnish

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C and grease a loaf tin. In a bowl, combine the flour, almond flour, salt, cocoa and baking powder with a fork. In a bigger bowl, start beating the eggs with an electric beater (or in a stand-mixer). Beat for two minutes till light and frothy. Add in the sugar in three parts, beating for a minute after each addition. With scissors, snip in the red chillies, seeds and all, right into the egg batter and beat again for a few seconds. Dump in the flour mix and with a balloon whisk fold for a couple of times. Pour in the oil and coffee and mix till just combined. Do not overwork the mixture. Pour a third of the batter into the loaf tin and place two banana halves on top of it. Repeat this two more times so you have two banana slices sitting on top of the cake batter in the end. Sprinkle a spoonful of sugar on top. Bake for 50-60 minutes till a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out slightly greasy. Set your timer for 40 minutes and then keep an eye on it. Let the cake cool completely in its tin before turning it out onto a stand/plate. Serve with loosely whipped cream or a drizzle of maple syrup.

how light and turmeric-y the curry is

Some days require plain curry and warm rice. And that’s it. You don’t need jewelled bread or cream-crowned cakes.

You turn on the air conditioning, look out at the setting sun and wait for your brother to finish laying the table.

You know it’s going to be good when you see you father making his way towards the table with the TV Guide tucked under his arm. He is excited about tonight’s cricket match. He has already set up the living room for his friends. He sits at the table and immediately he and my brother start having an animated discussion about the best batting lineup in the league.

My mother draws the curtains. Its hot and way too sunny for anyone’s comfort.

And then you dig into lunch.

Its a lunch of steamed rice and yellow chicken curry. It makes you forget about weekend cupcakes and makes you wonder why you ever needed a multi-layered birthday cake.

I chat a little with my family. We talk about summer fruits. My mum says she needs a smoothie a little while later. My brother says he needs fried chicken. Who on earth needs fried chicken when its a 100 degrees outside, I chuckle out loud. But mostly we concentrate on how light and turmeric-y the curry is.

The curry in question is your typical Indian chicken curry, except that it’s softened with yogurt and doesn’t have the resonant smokiness of garam masala. It also has one of my favourite ingredients – fenugreek. I cannot tell you enough about the magic of fenugreek, seeds or leaves or ground or anything.

You know how one of the best things in the world is the sound of bacon sizzling in the pan? The sound when it hits the hot pan? And then the second best thing is the smell of sizzling bacon reaching your nostrils?

Well, cooking with fenugreek is like one of those things. It looks unassuming. Not homely like spinach or surly like kale. It’s not as sharp as rocket or versatile like basil. But it’s a small piece of heaven alright. It hits your curry and then after a few seconds you get this really strong urge to dunk your head into the boiling curry just so you can take in all of its aroma.

Instead, you raise our nose, take a loooong breath and wait for lunch.

Yellow Chicken Curry with Fenugreek

500gm chicken breast pieces, or 4 chicken breast cut up in 1-inch cubes
3/4 cup of natural yogurt
1 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
2 small onions
1 tbsp of garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tsp of turmeric powder
1/2 tsp of red chili powder [more, if like us, you can handle the heat]
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
Salt, to taste
Chopped coriander leaves or parsley leaves, to garnish

In a large bowl, mix the chicken well with the yogurt. Make sure all the pieces are coated well with yogurt. Cover with cling film and rest in the refrigerator for 2-12 hours. Quarter the onions and blitz them in a blender along with a tablespoon of water, till it turns into a paste. You might need more water than a tablespoon.

Heat ghee/oil in a skillet. Add the onion, garlic and ginger in and stir on high-heat for about 3-4 minutes or till the mixture starts to turn colour. Add in the turmeric and chili and stir for a couple of minutes more. Lower the heat to medium. Add the chicken along with its yogurt-marinade and tomato puree. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes or till you cut open the biggest piece of chicken and it’s all white in the center. If the curry looks too dry, add a few tablespoons of water to i and let it cook for 2 minutes more. Add the fenugreek leaves and season with salt. Stir for a minute and take it off heat. Garnish with leafage and serve with steamed rice.

make our summer

There are a few things you are never allowed to do in my house. You never turn away a puppy who comes sniffing for attention. You never run out of chocolate. And you do not ever say no to a cupcake.

I don’t want to be too strict because I have been away from this place for sometime – a total of five days, to be exact. But I do hope everyone’s OK with that cupcake-rule because that’s what we’re enforcing at breakfast today.

Actually those are what we had for Mothers’ Day yesterday. And we stashed a few in the freezer for inevitable next-morning-consumption. Even when we’re mostly a family of salty-breakfast eaters.

Saturday afternoon I returned from work to a refrigerator chock full of Gulabkhas mangoes, so called because of its rosy flavour and blushing skin. Gulab is “rose” in Hindi. Now many people will tell you many things but believe me when I say that you haven’t had good mangoes if you haven’t had any from India. We are, after all, the fruit’s parentage. We’ve loved it, grown it, named it after ourselves and shared it with the world. We eat them skinned and whole, we slice them, cube them, juice them, puree them, stew them into chutneys, fire-roast them into drinks, dry them into pickles and in this case, fold them into flour and semolina to make cupcakes.

Mangoes basically make our summer.

OK. So I’m a messy cupcake-batter pourer. Read on please.

The cupcakes start innocently enough with softened butter added to whipped eggs and sugar. A mixture of flour and semolina is dumped in. And then shredded mangoes are folded softly into the batter. In the end, the cupcakes while warm get cloaked in a film of ganache. After a short spell in the cool, when the ganache pauses mid-drip, there’s nothing else left to do but to eat them. The semolina adds a bit of unexpected crunch to the cupcakes. Unexpected because I had expected it to bake as well as the flour does. It was quite a pleasant surprised punctuated only with bits of jelly-like mangoes.

The recipe also allows you to adjust the sugar content depending on the sweetness or tartness of the mangoes you use. Normally I would go with a whole cup of granulated sugar. But Gulabhkhas is sweet. Sweet with multiple e’s. And so I reduced the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoonfuls worth.

Mango and Semolina Cupcakes with Chocolate Caps

Note: Choosing mangoes can be a tricky thing for first-timers. Try choosing ones that have hints of red and yellow to them and those that smell sweet when you sniff their navels (the point where they’ve been broken from the branches). Be careful while blitzing the mangoes – you don’t want a purée, you want shreds.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina
Pinch of salt
2 tsp of baking powder
3 eggs
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
120gm (or approx. 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract
1 cup mango cubes (approx 1 1/2 to 2 medium-sized mangoes)
Try this for the ganache

Combine, flour, semolina, salt and baking powder in a bowl and mix with a fork. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric beater for 2 minutes till foamy. Add the sugar in three parts while beating constantly till the mixture has doubled and is pale. Beat in the butter till no lumps remain. Pulse the mango cubes briefly in a blender/processor till they’re disintegrated but not puréed. Dump in the flour-semolina mixture along with the mangoes into the butter-egg batter. Fold till the mixture just comes together. Do not overwork the mixture. Cover the mixture with cling film and rest at room-temperature for 15 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C. Line a cupcake tin with wrappers and using two spoons or an ice-cream scoop, divide up the batter into each wrapper. Bake for 20-22 minutes till the tops are slightly cracked and a toothpick inserted in the centres come out clean. Cool the cupcakes on the rack. Top with a thin layer of ganache and cool in the refrigerator till the ganache sets. Serve.

lately

I like lists. They make me feel like I’m all grown-up. Even when I never seem to able to follow them to a tee or most of my wishes just stay wishes. Here’s what I’ve been loving lately.

– Breakfasting with my brother. Try the eggplant and tomato hash or the tuna and potato salad.

– Homemade ginger wine for sweltering summer days. For those who are equipped.

– Someday I want to own a community kitchen and host community dinners. Someday. So far I have this for inspiration.

– Bengalis have a particular soft corner for bone marrows. On my to-try list.

– Milk bottle measuring cups from Anthropologie. How cute are they?!

– This bag from Saskia Diez. Repeat after me. Synthetic.Paper.Bag.

– My current crush – Lillie from Butter Me Up Brooklyn.

Have a happy day people!

pots of serious indulgence

Any dessert that starts with chocolate and cream can only be a good thing. One of those things that demand immediate and undivided attention. And alcohol.

After a lot of marinating in butter, re-usage of leftover tamarind sauce and coming up with a very Taylor Swift-esque post title, we ended the weekend with another potluck featuring Arpi’s chicken makhani that made me weep with pleasure, eggs in mustard sauce and some more rosogollas [as if we weren’t Bengali enough the first time around]. And Sunday morning the only way I was able to get out of bed was the promise of Tums with a glass of water.

But the only thing that can cure over-indulgence, dear readers, is more indulgence. In the form of cream. With chocolate. And cognac. In a dessert that’s brazenly named Pot de crème. As if a pot of cream is the most natural thing to eat in the world. I don’t think any other dessert comes with a in-your-face name like that. Pot of cream. As simple as that. Take it or leave it.

In my world that is ruled by quickies such as chocolate mousse and cocoa, waiting around for something that require the setting up of a bain marie, or needs about an hour in the oven and then a couple of hours more in the refrigerator to set, can be voluminously unattractive. But the idea of a luscious pot de creme has been in my mind for quite sometime. More accurately, since Nik (of A Brown Table) posted an unbaked version of rose and almond pot de crème. Rose and almond. It sounds like something ancient Indian royalty would have for breakfast.

But anyway. That happened more than a month ago. And now this. The idea has finally culminated. I, apparently have no problems with delayed gratification.

These pots de crème start ordinarily enough, by heating milk and cream together, followed by the addition of chocolate and the whisking in of eggs. And then comes the cognac. Anything majorly chocolate is always a blank canvas for creativity. And normally, I like that. I like adding chilli to my chocolate. Or the occasional citrus. Or nuts and berries. But these pots are devoid of such froufrou-ness. They are serious, snooty and formal. They take 40% alcohol and they can hold their drink quite well, thank you.

Chocolate and Cognac Pots de Creme
adapted from a recipe by Stefano Faita 

120gm (4oz) dark chocolate (60-70%)
3/4 cup double cream
1/2 cup whole milk
Yolks from 3 large eggs
Pinch of salt
3 tbsp of cognac
Whipping cream, to garnish

Pre-heat the oven to 170° C. Place 4-6 small ramekins/cups into a baking tray with high edges. Chop the chocolate and sit aside. Heat the cream and milk in a saucepan till the mixture just starts to bubble up. Don’t let it boil over. Add the chopped chocolate to this mixture and stir till the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Let it sit for a minute. Meanwhile in a separate bowl whisk the egg yolks with a pinch of salt till pale. Pour in the chocolate-cream mixture into the yolks whisking continuously. Stir in the cognac. Strain into ramekins, cups or moulds. Fill up the baking tray with boiling water till the water comes half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Loosely cover the entire tray with foil and punch a few holes in it with a fork. Bake for 50-60 minutes or till the edges are set and the centres are still wobbly. Take out of the water and cool for 30 minutes before popping them into the refrigerator. The pots need to set in the fridge for at least a couple of hours before serving. For best results try chilling them overnight. Serve with softly whipped cream or with sea salt sprinkled on top.