with a book and some chocolate wafers


I think I left you quite abruptly with the last post and a large serving of strong coffee cake. I had meant to elaborate a little on how we fawn over big fat Indian weddings, but lately I’ve been terrified at the thought of them. The problem with attending any Indian wedding when you’re on this side of twenty-seven is that every auntiji and grandmother you come across at the party automatically expects you to be answerable to them about your own non-existent marriage plans. While the lack of a prospective groom is always the first observation, they soon move onto more pressing matters, such as how I’m heading for thirty and how I should take a chapter out of my friends’ lives; find an obedient, bespectacled, USA-based Bengali banker or rocket scientist, settle down and breed more bespectacled rice-and-curry-inhaling Bengalis. It doesn’t really help that according to Indian standards I’m bordering on becoming a certified man-repeller. The conversation soon turns awkward with the annoying mention of the horror-inducing, forever-ticking body clock. Before long they make me sound like a ticking bomb and stare at me as if I would explode at any second. Cue end of conversation.
After a week of ceremony-laden schedule, we’ve spent the last two days going easy on our tummies with boiled sausages, roasted eggplants in a newly-acquired vinaigrette. And luscious chocolate wafers. But let’s go into that in sometime. We also spent most of the weekend at the Book Fair, weaving our way through the crowd, from book stall to book stall, stopping only to inspect rare editions on display at stall windows or to exclaim at old Wren & Martin’s grammar books in their red paperbacks. Before long I realized that I was hovering over certain specific shops more than the others — those that had been my childhood favourites. Shops in which I had discovered Miss Frank’s diary and Dahl’s Madeleine.
After a long dusty day that felt almost like a treasure hunt interrupted with several cups of coffee and a couple of very greasy chicken pasties, we trudged back home heaving under a large shopper full of books. Among them were Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown which automatically detoured to my brother’s room before I could even start on it, Trisha Ashley’s Chocolate Wishes, The Mainland China Cookbook by Anjan Chakraborty. The next day I went back and faced a mini dust-storm to bring back Molly Birnbaum’s Season to Taste, The Calcutta Cookbook, Kitchen Counter Cooking School by the always fabulous Kathleen Flinn and Dan Brown’s  Digital Fortress.
I should probably, at this stage, wax lyrical about my favourite Chinese restaurant of all time. I am and always will be, without a doubt, a Chinese-takeaway girl than a fish-n-chips one. And even though I haven’t yet stepped foot in China, something that’s on my bucket list, Mainland China’s food is by far the best Chinese food I’ve had both in India and UK. My brother having been the only one in the family whose ever visited the US of A, easily chooses Mainland China over any Chinese restaurant he’s visited there. And although, by the looks of it, a few of their dishes do use copious amounts of cornflour, owner Anjan Chakraborty does quite a good job of briefing over the different Chinese provinces and their food habits and respective flavour profiles and a simple list of vital Chinese ingredients before starting on the recipes. I skimmed over the cookbook reluctantly before deciding to start on on Trisha Ashley’s book. 12 am in the morning really isn’t the ideal time to start reading a cookbook packed with stuff that can make you a ravenous lunatic, unless you’re willing to tackle the dish-washing at the end of it all. But let me quickly say that the spring onion pancakes on the first page of Starters already look promising.
The wafers that nursed me through all the stress of someone else’s wedding are from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert (that I found on Smitten Kitchenand trust me, they don’t need much convincing to make or eat. And this is coming from someone who’s never, I repeat never, made anything remotely resembling cookies or biscuits or crisps or…well, you get the idea. The dough is brought together much like that of a Pâte Sucrée’s, which would, in the past, have intimidated me but there’s honestly nothing to shy away from. The cocoa powder in it is what makes the wafer and is also what made me sigh. A good-quality cocoa, something from Valrhona or Ghirardelli is suggested. The recipe mentions using 3 tbsp of milk, which works fine when you’re bringing it together in a food processor. However, since I made it by hand, I required almost double (5-6tbsp) the amount of milk.

Chocolate Wafers
from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich via Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 sticks (175gm) unsalted butter, slightly softened
6 tbsp whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Pulse flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and baking soda in the food processor several times till their mixed well. Cut the butter into 10-12 cubes and add them to the flour mixture. Pulse several times till the mixture looks like coarse sand. Combine the milk and vanilla in a small cup. With the processor running, add the milk mixture and continue to pulse until the mixture clumps around the blade or the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a large bowl and knead a few times to make sure it is evenly blended. Form the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in cling film or foil and refrigerate for at least one hour or till firm enough to slice neatly.

If you’re making the dough by hand, like me:
Sieve flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Mix well with a fork. Rub the cubes of butter into the flour mix with your fingers, as you would while making pie dough, till the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add the milk tablespoon by tablespoon till the mixture just come together. Like the recipe states, I needed about 5-6 tablespoons of milk, but you might require less. Do not overwork the dough. Gather into a log, wrap and chill as mentioned above.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the log of dough into slices about 1/4 inch thick and place them one inch apart on the lined sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes. The cookies will puff up a little and deflate and they’ll be done  1 to 1 1/2 minutes after they deflate. Cool the cookies on racks. The cookies turn crisp on cooling completely. If they still remain a little spongy in the middle they haven’t been baked long enough. Pop them into the oven for a couple more minutes and then cool again. Grab a book and sink into the bed with a handful of them.
The cookies will stay in an airtight container for a couple of weeks and can be frozen for up to two months.

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seriously coffee cake


I must say that drafting an unnecessarily long ‘About’ page was not the original plan. But in my defense, I was high on an exceptionally strong dose of frozen chocolate, and I’m nearing insanity with the wedding season upon us.
The best part of attending a wedding is when you discuss the food on your way back home. I don’t really know about the rest of the world, but we Indians like to sample each dish served at the reception, complain about the dessert, gossip about the budget dedicated to the catering and all in all have a full-on executive meeting on dissecting the menu. We haven’t really had anything home-cooked since last week. Indian weddings do not last hours…they last for days and its a little about the bride’s trousseau, a little about running around making sure the flowers are set up, the caterer knows what to do and monitoring who the car has to pick up from the airport. But mostly its about food. For the last few days its been fried fish, steamed fish in mustard sauce, yogurt chicken, mutton curry, fried rice, pilaf, luchi, naan, dal, grilled prawns, Mughlai chicken, an array of ice-cream, the best of Bengali sweetmeats and paan, of course. Followed by heavy doses of antacid. And I still found time to bake for you.
Now, since I’m running late for the next party, I’ll quickly deal with this seriously strong coffee cake before I go.

Coffee, Cinnamon and Cardamom Cake

1 1/2 cups of plain all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp instant coffee powder
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup strongly brewed espresso
1/2 cup vegetable oil (like canola or sunflower)
3 eggs

Pre-heat the oven to 170 deg C. In a large bowl whisk together the sugar, espresso, oil and eggs till the sugar dissolves. In a smaller bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa powder and coffee together. Mix well with a fork. Add the dry ingredients into the wet and stir till everything is just combined. Pour in a greased 8-9″ baking tin and bake for 35-40 minutes or till a toothpick inserted through the center comes out clean. Top with some cream cheese frosting and grated chocolate after the cake’s cooled. I find that resting the cake in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving makes it infinitely better.

Cream Cheese Frosting

100gm (1 stick) unsalted butter
100gm cream cheese
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Whisk together the butter and cream cheese till pale and creamy. It is best if you use an electric beater since whisking by hand would be a little tedious. Beat in the sugar spoonful by spoonful till its combined well. Beat in the vanilla essence.

in which I try and invent by trial & error

Getting intimidated, although undesirable, can sometimes keep you grounded. Especially so if you happen to be the headstrong cannot-be-saddle-broken wild-child of the family. Lately however, I’ve been experiencing some intimidation – from my cousin Arpita. Just a couple of months older to me, almost motherly and with a raucous laugh, she, when it comes to cooking, sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from me. She matured in the kitchen department and filled out her pots and pans when we were nearing adulthood, much before I did.

While I’m allergic to recipes, she would hang herself promptly before deviating from one. She was also the first one to develop social skills. I have spent countless afternoons as a kid, discussing domestic chores around a dollhouse and she in turn educated me on how to make a sixth-grader, who knew his way around a bubble-gum (so naturally a total hottie by our standards), fall in love with me. Since then I’ve made up for all that I lacked in sixth-grade, my standards have changed and I have, on occasions, even dispensed dating advice to her. I am also a mildly more experienced baker than her. But, I am still envious of her ability to whip up a gorgeous biryani while she fries chicken-cheese balls at the same time. She would easily do brilliantly in the marriage market with those mad skills under her wings

Lately, I have been trying my hand at authentic Indian cooking, high time I did I suppose, she’s dispensed valuable advice on meat marination and ground masala mixes. It has also been raining in Kolkata non-stop for the last four days and that calls for some serious rainy-day activity. Winter’s being an unbelievably bad sport and damp and chilly days like the ones we’ve been having require piping hot pakodas, steaming cups of milky tea and a couple of experimental cakes. Experimental, being the key word here.

The yogurt cake was a milestone of sorts. After I made it, I wanted to keep a go-to base cake in my repertoire and started looking for a good pound cake (or otherwise) recipe that can be made to twist and turn to my satisfaction, act as a stable support to a vast variety of flavours. And after going through a host of culinary goddesses from Ina to Donna, I managed to concoct a formula for myself. Now, it is admittedly dicey to experiment with baking, unless you have a firm grasp of how butter, eggs and flour react to each other, precisely the reason anyone would stick firmly to their measuring cups and scales. But Saturday morning saw Arpi and me slavishly whisking cake batters and staring into the oven door till late evening. By the end of the day we had a very densely crumbed clementine cake, a success by its own standards considering how the last time went, and a slightly oily upside-down pineapple cake, both laced around the same recipe. The second time around we cut the amount of butter down, added some rosemary and clapped our flour-coated hands with joy when it slid out of the cake-tin shyly.

Upside-down Pineapple Cake
adapted from all sorts of recipes

As a compulsive chocoholic, I added 2 tbsp of cocoa powder sifted in with the flour. This is totally optional, so I haven’t included it in the recipe below.

Caramel is obviously tricky. Or at least, I find it so, given the amount of disasters it has put me through. More importantly, caramel can smell fear. So the less confident you are, the more finicky it gets. In the beginning I used to make caramel on a double-boiler, so you can easily try that. If you already have your own way of making it, by all means, do that. It is also important not to stir it when it starts bubbling. But keep an eye on it, it turns bitter when overcooked.

I use this old-fashioned aluminum cake tin that my Mum inherited from my Grandma and it can easily sit on top of a stove fire, which, as I understand, many cake-tins cannot. In that case, prepare your cake tin by brushing the inner surfaces with butter or oil. Keep aside. Make the rosemary-caramel in a separate pan and pour it into the cake tin. Arrange the fruit tightly and pour the cake mixture on top.

The recipe below uses oil, but feel free to substitute that with 100gm (1 stick) of unsalted butter. If you do use butter, however, the method changes slightly. You would need to soften the butter at room temperature and then cream it with the sugar till light and fluffy. Add the eggs (also kept at room temperature) one by one, whisking to incorporate after each addition. When the eggs are fully incorporated, add milk and vanilla. Mix. Fold in dry ingredients as mentioned below.

The pineapple can easily be replaced with pears or apples.


1 medium-sized pineapple,
2 tbsp unsalted butter,
3 1/2 tbsp granulated white sugar,
1 tsp of dried rosemary (or 2 tsp of fresh rosemary leaves),
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour,
2 tsp baking powder,
Pinch of salt,
3 eggs,
1/2 cup of tasteless vegetable oil (like castor oil or groundnut oil),
1/2 cup of milk,
1 cup caster sugar,
2 tsp of vanilla extract,
Double cream, whipped (optional)

Peel and clean the pineapple and slice it into 1/2 slices. Remove the cores of each slice. In a 8-9″ cake-tin/flan mold sprinkle sugar evenly and plop the butter in the middle. Over low heat, melt the sugar and butter together stirring till the caramel starts bubbling at the edges. Stop stirring and only tilt the pan in all directions so that the heat is evenly distributed all over, till the caramel turns amber in colour. Sprinkle the rosemary over evenly. Arrange the pineapple slices in a decorative manner and spoon a little bit of the caramel over each slice. Take the tin off heat and cool a bit. With a pastry brush, brush the sides of the tin lightly with oil or butter.
Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Sift in flour, salt and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl. In a larger bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, milk, sugar and vanilla extract till the sugar dissolves. Add dry mix to wet mix and whisk gently together. Do not overwork the mixture. Pour into the tin with the caramel in it. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, depending on how your oven behaves, or till a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool the cake in the tin itself and turn out on a serving plate/cake-stand, pineapple side up. Serve with softly whipped cream.

6th January, 2011…oops, 2012

Almost a year ago, right about this time, I was getting ready to move to London. A new job, a new place, new friends and old. It seemed daunting and exciting at the same time, although, to be honest at the time I wasn’t really feeling anything. Instead of frazzling up, my mind just went into this Zero G-ish trance. I packed the boxes, I paid the bills, spoke to my future landlord, printed out my appointment letter and booked tickets. The last day was a quiet one, even as I rushed through the house folding this and stuffing that. And all through it I kept thinking why I wasn’t more nervous. Every job was tucked away neatly in their places when my taxi came to take me to Nottingham Central. And yet, it didn’t seem like I’d done anything in a conscious effort. I think this is what people mean when they say ‘Auto-Pilot Mode’.

But I did leave Nottingham with a last disaster. It was 1 am in the morning, and there was a grapefruit and orange cake in the oven. The only problem however was sleep. Or the lack of it. I hadn’t slept for 48 hours at that point, and my calculations went haywire. Lost in weight-to-volume conversions, I used the wrong amount of everything, from butter to flour to eggs and orange juice. The result deceptively appeared successful, as evident by the photograph I took of it then. The cake was anything but. It made a squeaky noise as I cut into it. And more alarmingly, there were no crumbs. It was a monolithic body of a pinkish hue, with the sort of texture that erasers have. It was laid to rest in the garbage.

Its a been a year since then. Its a little after lunch now, and I’m sitting with my legs propped up on the futon again, watching an especially gruesome episode of CSI. Its a quiet afternoon again with the exception of the soft tick-tick of the oven timer. I have a clementine cake in the oven and I will let you know how it goes this time.

in need of reassurance

Let’s just talk about cake already.

More importantly this lime and yogurt cake.

Now, I’ll be honest. You cannot walk into an Indian household, throw the refrigerator door open and expect to find a leftover piece of cake or a greasy glass bowl of leftover cherry trifle. Only because Indians don’t really run to cake when they need comforting. They run to dal or khichdi, and more often than not we make do with milky cardamom-infused tea.

No Indian princess ever said, “Let them eat cake.” There was however, an Indian queen who once suggested that her courtiers be served tandoori naan for every meal, but that’s another story.

Cake, in all its glory, has always been associated with celebration. If we do find a lonesome piece loitering around inside a friend’s refrigerator, we immediately pop our heads up and ask, “Whose birthday cake is that?”

…followed by “Can I have that last piece?”

It was a little different for me and my friends though when we were all of nineteen and in college. Shreya, Fauri and I had just moved into three separate flats, in three buildings right next to each other. Each flat had two bedrooms each, a kitchen and living space and teeny-tiny bathrooms. Just enough for two people to live in. However, neither of us knew how to cook and the kitchens remained unfurnished and lonely. The counter-tops were converted into racks for rolls of paper, drawing sheets and modelling materials.

With all the heartbreaks, disappointments, all the drama of messed up love-lives flying through the air, it was getting very tedious to drag ourselves all the way to Fauri’s parents house (which was two hours away) just for a comforting dose of khichdi. As luck would have it, our favorite bakery at the time, Bread & More, opened up an outlet just on the opposite side of the road along which our flats used to be. Their black forest cake, chocolate tarts and tubs of ice-cream quickly replaced homemade khichdi. Afternoons that we had been spending drinking tea from the local tea stall, were now spent sprawled on my bedroom floor tucking into molten brownies from the bakery.

And today, I must admit that although khichdi remains my go-to comfort food, cake has occupied a special corner of my heart. The one that also houses memories of my college-life, my first kiss, angry Gujarati summers, lentil fritters and lassi. I think it has more to do with how measuring ingredients, whisking and stirring comforts me immediately, than the actual cake itself.  Its reassuring just to know that your sloppy batter will rise into a moist and fluffy cake in just a few minutes.

I had read a version of gâteau au yaourt when I was about sixteen, in a French cookbook that had accompanied my grandmother when she returned to India from London in the 1970s, and I had immediately turned down the prospect of ever baking something so plain and uninteresting. The next time I came across any version of yogurt cake was when I read Molly Wizenberg’s My Homemade Life. The cake has a very moist and delicate crumb, a faint nuttiness from the almonds, and the twang of lime. After spending the last three days in bed as a prisoner of a ghastly cold and three khichdi lunches, this cake seemed exactly what I needed for some extra-gratification.

And it was.

Lime & Yogurt Cake with a Chocolate Ganache glaze
adapted from My Homemade Life

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
Juice and zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup of yogurt, well-stirred
1/2 cup of vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 cup of caster sugar
3 eggs

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C.
Mix yogurt, oil, sugar and eggs in a large bowl. Sift flour, almond flour, baking powder & salt in a separate bowl and then fold it into the wet oil mixture. Add zest and juice of the limes and stir them in with a spatula.  Do not overwork the mixture.
Pour into a greased cake tin (I used one with a 9″ dia.) and bake for about 25-30 minutes or till a fork run through the center comes out clean.
Cool cake on the rack before pouring ganache on top.

For the ganache

3/4 cup of dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup of sour cream

Heat cream and chips in a double-boiler till combined into a smooth mixture. Cool before glazing the cake.

looking for confidence

I should probably rename the post title to “Chocolate cake for unemployed singles”.

I get compulsive and impulsive and all sorts of other ‘-ulsives’ when I’m bored or disappointed. And most of the time the solution to all that, involves food. If you need evidence, you need only to look at my ever-increasingly wobbly backside.

And boring has been happening a lot lately. Since I left my last job, I’ve had a whole week’s worth of free-time on my hands. And guess what. I’ve been going around town visiting all the specialty food shops I can find – an activity which had only been dream until last week. Usually, my daily routine includes a visit to Waitrose on my way home from office and a tour of the Selfridges Food Hall on the weekends. Don’t you dare look down on me because I visit “food halls”….Selfridges has an Italian  porchetta collection to die for.

But I digress. I’m not here to talk about porchetta, I’m here to talk about the 300gm-bar of Valhrona 70% that I bought from the chocolate section. It features in my Gâteau Au Chocolat. Now it has been ages since I’ve baked. Not since, I packed up my kitchen and left for a three-month tour of India. So when one of my housemates left a wire whisk on the kitchen counter, the temptation was too much to resist. However, I realized that I’d almost lost the confidence to bake. It’s not really like riding a bicycle…or a bicyclist *wink*. I’ve lost the patience to measure the ingredients, the strength to whisk the whites, the rules to remember while melting chocolate and I’ve forgotten to not be afraid of folding egg whites into batter. Whisked egg whites can smell fear.

And that’s why the the cake turned out flatter than normal, and downright soggy than lusciously moist. It was like the cake was ratting me out to be a novice baker!

The chocolate however, did not disappoint. The only irony is, the recipe comes from Green & Black’s.

Claudia Roden’s Gâteau Au Chocolat
 from Ultimate Chocolate Collection

250gm dark chocolate (70% at least, please)
100gm unslated butter, plus extra for greasing
6 large eggs, separated
75gm caster sugar
100gms ground almonds
Flour for dusting

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Grease a baking tin and dust lightly with flour to prep it. Melt chocolate and butter on a double-boiler (or microwave) and cool for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile beat the egg yolks with sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and almond flour to the chocolate mixture and mix well. Beat the egg whites till stiff and fold the mass into the chocolate mixture, gently but with confidence! Pour into the tin and bake for 20-30 minutes (depending on how your oven heats up) or till a skewer inserted in the middle comes out slightly greasy. The cake does not rise much and the middle should still be a little under-baked when you take it out to cool. Cool. Cut up in slices and serve with lightly whipped cream, berries, or nothing at all.