in praise of beets

Inherent glutton I may be, but as a kid I did push away a fair amount of food at the table.

I was never a picky-eater and my mother had strict rules about wasting food – hence my brother and I grew up eating almost everything that was served to us. Almost. There was a list of things that I found difficult to ingest happily. It was, however, a short list. And the list has grown considerably shorter over the years. There are only a couple of things left on it now – rice pudding and porridge.

I have tried in the past, believe me, to make friends with rice pudding. Its tradition to stir up vats of sweet milky rice pudding on every birthday in a typically Bengali household – a minor torture I have to undergo every birthday I spend at my parents’. I once even allowed Hana, one of my ex-housemates, to cook me a Vietnamese version of savoury rice porridge when I was down with the flu. I figured that its Asian heritage might make me warm up to it. Sadly, it didn’t. There’s just something about rice and milk together that’s off-putting. It is a marriage I do not support.

But I’m not here to talk about what’s on the list. I’m here to talk about something that made it out of the list quite successfully a long time ago. Beetroots.

I could quote Nigel Slater to Alice Waters on beets and their lust-inducing earthiness, but beets do not need anyone to speak for them. They know what they have and they know how to flaunt it. Beets are in the business of being sexy.

When steamed they bleed and stain everything with ruby red. When roasted they go all nutty and yet hold their own. They don’t disintegrate like potatoes do  and they don’t give into caramelisation as easily as parsnips do. To channel Tom Robins, “the beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot”.

If beetroots are still a part of your list, I have half a mind to push you out of the plane without a parachute. But fear not. Try these cupcakes for an introduction to them and I promise they’ll set your juices flowing. And I’m not in the habit of throwing around such promises carelessly.

It is by no means breaking news that chocolate and beetroot have always had a roaring affair. But so far, I’ve only been an eavesdropper trying to listen in on conversations involving the pair of them […and drooling over my keyboard at the same time].

Have you heard of Harry Eastwood? She, along with four other super-chic female chefs – including Gizzi Erskin [tattooed, punked-up & fabulous] – hosted Cook Yourself Thin on Channel 4, a while back. I used to hurry home from my classes to watch the girls whip up butter-less brownies made moist with mashed pumpkins and sugarless-butterless lemon cakes. The show was discontinued for a bit in the middle after which Gizzi Erskine came back to host a brand new version of it – alone, armed with recipes such as Beaconhill cookies and skinny Thai curry. That is when I first heard about how beets moisten up chocolate cakes and watching Harry Eastwood groan with pleasure at the end results was quite enough to convince me.

I know I could have come up with a salad or a spicy beet masala as means to convince you. But cake does a much better job. In fact, cake will always do a much better job than anything else.

But you didn’t think I was going to end it with a simple cake did you? This time I spooned the batter into home-made cups and studded the centres of each cupcake with chocolates. And I mean chocolates. Not chocolate. Molded, injected with fillings, wrapped in shiny bits of paper milk chocolates. That came out of a purple bag emblazoned with the words ‘Quality Street’. Remember those? My last trip to the market included a) grabbing an enormous bag of Nestlé’s Quality Street chocolates and b) consequently giving up hope of ever shedding a few kilos.

Anyway. With a bit of research, poring over Nigel Slater’s moist beetroot and chocolate cake in his book Tender and then flipping through a post on chocolate and beet cupcakes by 3191’s Stephanie, I stuck to Stephanie’s version because it used cocoa powder that I already had in hand – because as we all know, the chocolate keeps disappearing. Her recipe also uses plain water which, and I’m guessing here, adds extra moisture and workability to the batter. Nigel Slater’s recipe uses hot espresso. And that, trust me, is a winning substitution if you want to attempt it. That man should be voted King of the World.

After 50 painful minutes of working and waiting, I bit into deeply moist, earth-fragrant, still-warm-from-the-oven beet-chocolate cupcakes that were dark brown with red red edges and molten centres. And I am more than happy to confess that they were miles better than certain men I’ve kissed in my lifetime.

In-the-business-of-being-sexy beet & chocolate cupcakes
adapted from Stephanie and inspired by Tender by Nigel Slater

The recipe produces about 6 cupcakes and can easily be doubled for a 8-9″ cake.

Note on cocoa & chocolates: The original recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder which I used for my first batch. The cupcakes came out too chocolaty thereby diminishing the beet-flavour. In my second batch however, I halved the amount of cocoa powder and replaced the other half with flour.
Any kind of chocolates would do for these cupcakes. You could use the molded 1 oz (30g) chocolates that you get in gourmet chocolate shops or you could just chop your favourite candy bars into bite-sized pieces. I haven’t tried this, but now that I think of it, studding the unbaked batter with chocolate truffles may also be a great idea. If you do not have candy or chocolates at home, just break squares of a chocolate bar and use. Seriously, go crazy with this one.

Note on beets: For the beet puree, peel and trim 2 medium-sized beets and simmer them in a sauce pan, with the lid on, for about 45-50 minutes or till tender. I use a pressure cooker which takes only 15 minutes. The beets can then be cooled and pureed in a blender or processor.

Note on espresso: When making hot espresso, instead of using plain water try using the liquid that remains once you’ve cooked the beets.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup hot espresso
1 cup + 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 tbsp unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup beet puree (see head note)

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C and line 8 cupcake tins.
In a big bowl combine butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and espresso. In a smaller bowl sift in flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Mix well with a fork. Pour dry ingredients into wet and stir till just combined. Do not overwork the mixture. Gently fold in the beet puree. Fill the liners about 3/4 of the way and bake for 20-30 minutes till the tops are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out slightly greasy. Cool the cupcakes in their tins before serving.

To serve, you could always dust the cupcakes with powdered sugar or add whipped cream or pipe some cream cheese frosting on top. But like I said earlier, these cupcakes don’t really need accompaniments and can hold their own very well, thank you.

  

so, here it is: chocolate birthday cake

Well.

Before I start on how summer’s come blasting through the door here, I’m happy to report that “it” was an immense success. The little darling held together beautifully!

As soon as the cake was transported to Meghna’s apartment, which thankfully is only a minute away, we were off to celebrate. It made its way safely into her refrigerator and sat there, as a good little birthday-cake should, sans drippy ganache or semi-collapsed bottom layer. The chill did it good.

Dinner involved platters of deep-fried baby corn along with lamb crumb-chops and a smooth flow of Old Monk. There was the gift-giving ceremony, a whole lot of talk about nudity and also a small incident with a broken martini glass. We made our way back to her place and not being able to help ourselves, pulled the cake out of the refrigerator and set it on the table. Then we leered at it obscenely till Meghna could fish a decent knife out of her soapy sink. And then…divinity.

The ground almonds in the batter made the crumb rich and nutty and chocolate cake always tastes better with a hint of coffee. And did I not tell you that I was itching to make this buttercream? The smooth, luscious, wondrous Mousseline buttercream that I did not even know existed. I filled the layers in with a test batch of it…and I solemnly swear to use that buttercream in every birthday cake that I make from now on. I’m crossing my heart here.

At the last moment I shaved a white chocolate bar with a vegetable peeler and arranged the curls on top. Nowhere near anything highly polished…but a curly crown is better than a bald one. The cake tasted even better after its spell in the refrigerator.

But our celebrations did not really end there. The next afternoon begged for a potluck lunch. I contributed roasted oyster mushrooms and complained about having to wake up at 5 am in the morning to watch the Oscars live. After an extra-large bowl of egg curry and peas pilaf we dug our forks again into the last slice of the remaining chocolate cake and that, my dears, was the last of it.

Chocolate Cake with Swiss Buttercream and Dark Chocolate Ganache Frosting

NOTE: The best part of this cake is that it uses cocoa powder. And I don’t know about you but every time I raid the pantry for bars of chocolate when I need them for emergency chocolate cake, I never seem to find any. And no one ever owns up to eating the stock. The batter turns out pretty thin than a normal sponge or pound cake but that’s what makes the cake really moist. The cake is delicate when it comes out of the oven so make sure to wait till the cake cools considerably in its tin before turning it out onto the rack (15 minutes cooling time would work fine). I also bake the layers in sandwich tins wrapped with homemade cake strips in order to ensure the cake doesn’t dome in the middle. A level cake can be stacked perfectly. You can buy these strips from any baking supply shop or just check out Rose Levy Beranbaum’s tips on making your own. This cake honestly does not require much in terms of icing or buttercream, so you could easily serve it as it is with some unsweetened and softly whipped cream. I’ve shamelessly nicked the buttercream recipe from The Kitchn.

Chocolate Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ground almonds (can be coarsely ground or fine)
1 1/4 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup pure cocoa powder
1 tbsp instant coffee powder
1 cup boiling water
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2 cups caster sugar
6 eggs, room temperature

Grease and two 8″ sandwich tins and line their bottoms with parchment. Grease the parchments too. Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C.
In a medium bowl sift in flour, salt and baking powder. Add ground almonds and stir everything with a fork to combine. Pour the boiling water in a mug and stir in cocoa powder and coffee till the mixture is smooth and without lumps. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add an egg and whisk to incorporate. Add a little of the cocoa mixture and whisk again. Do the same with the rest of the eggs and the cocoa alternating between both and whisking after each addition. After the batter is smooth, tip in the flour mix and stir with a whisk till just combined. Do not overwork the batter. Divide equally between the sandwich tins and bake for 40-45 minutes till the layers are springy to the touch or a skewer poked into the centres come out clean. I usually start checking after the 30-minute mark. Cool the cakes in their tins for 15-20 minutes before turning them out onto racks and cool them for a further half hour.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
adapted from Martha Stewart

2 cups of double cream
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (70% would do great)
1 tsp salt

Chop the chocolate into a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a saucepan till it starts to steam and tiny bubbles appear on the edges. Do not let the cream boil over. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let the bowl stand for a minute. Add the salt and slowly stir outwards from the centre till the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Try not to incorporate any air into the mixture by stirring too vigorously. Let the ganache cool on the counter-top for 15 minutes. Wrap the bowl with cling film and pop it into the fridge for an hour or till the mixture is spreadable.

Layering Up

The cake layers need to be chilled in the refrigerator for at least an hour before any buttercream or frosting is slapped on, because you don’t want cream melting on down the sides. Place one of the layers on the cake stand with strips of parchment paper along the edges to catch the frosting. Spread the buttercream with a spatula on in a thick layer. Place the second cake layer on top. Use half the chocolate ganache to frost the top and the other half to frost the sides. I made a huge batch of ganache, so I did have leftovers. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the merits of having leftover ganache, but let’s just say that for the next two days your breakfast is going to be pretty awesome.

The cake tastes best when its been rested in the fridge overnight. Pull it out half an hour before you want to serve it.

 

disaster and cake

The cake is made. It rests tottering dangerously on one side, threatening to slide off its base any moment now. I can only hope everything holds till midnight today when we put a knife through and put it out of its misery.
The chocolate ganache icing is immensely forgiving. It has done its job beautifully by holding the layers together. I’m grateful to it for distracting me from the memory of a disastrous Sunday evening.

We’re heading off to Meghna’s birthday dinner, double-layered chocolate birthday cake in tow, something she requested me to bake for her as a gift. As far as I’m concerned, this beats buying jewelry for gifting any day.

Although, my principles were put to test yesterday. The cakes came out looking demure and perfect in their sandwich tins. And in my unwisely unconcealed excitement, I attempted to turn them over on the rack. Horror hit when I realized that one of the layers had smoothly broken in half. Not the kind of even halves that can be put back together, but the kind that requires cake crumbs to be plastered and stuffed between the cracks. Brilliant.

After three harrowing hours, I emerged with a cake that had a wonky lower layer, chocolate ganache icing that wasn’t enough for a good thick coating…and I won’t even mention my favourite Guiness T-shirt that took the brunt of molten buttercream. At what point did I think a 32 C full-on Indian summer would help me in frosting a cake peacefully?

As I write this, the ceiling fan is on at its highest setting, the cake is wrapped up in foil and waiting to be whisked away, and I’m praying for everything to stay perched perfectly till the end of the night.

Will be reporting back with recipe within 24 hours.

Tuesday

There is nothing special about Tuesdays. They’re not like Mondays that get grumbled about. They’re not like Fridays that get looked forward to, and they most definitely cannot compare up to the weekends. Even Wednesdays have their chance at being referred to as midweek. And Thursdays too have their significance when we’re all at work in full swing. Tuesdays are sandwiched somewhere in between all this mayhem like an extra in an action movie.

This Tuesday and the last however have been quite momentous. Last Tuesday we made impromptu dinner plans to eat out, always the best kind, after an especially trying day that included work and a half-hearted evening walk that ended in semi-pulled hamstrings. The weather made it worse by being indecisive and twitchy, irritatingly a la Bella Swan. So naturally, the only thing to provide a stiff remedy to that kind of horror, is food. We headed to Flame & Grill, only another one of Anjan Chakraborty’s culinary babies.

spitting grille sits pretty at the center of each table nestling white hot pieces of charcoal. Pretty soon the waiter dawdles over politely to arrange 5 or 6 hot iron rods with knobby wooden handles, or sheeks, that’s wrapped with either meat, chicken or fish. The smoke from the grill keeps the sheeks hot till we fork the food onto our plates, dunk each morsel into a tongue-clucking coriander sauce and we bite into them risking burning the roofs of our mouths.

The empty rods are soon replenished with more tandoorean glory and the process repeats itself, till we’re too full to even go and peruse the contents of the buffet. We’ve rarely ever made it to the buffet table. Though the length of their kebab menu isn’t long or innovative enough, it is hard to complain about shortcomings when we’re busy stuffing our faces with succulent yogurt-softened pieces of chicken reshmi kebabs. All of that leads to appeased stomachs, satiated minds and a very good night of sleep.

Today’s Tuesday however, has left me gobsmacked with a discovery. My mother, my own flesh and blood has declared that she is not too fond of pesto. And THAT my dear friends is nothing short of sacrilege! I did not think that such heresy could be hidden deep in the all-consuming appetite of my family.

The first thing I did in the morning was to pull out a batch of mini cakes topped with spoonfuls of cream cheese. A request from Arpi and also something for my single friends to look forward to. We singletons don’t really mind Valentine’s Day. But then how could anyone mind it if there was a whole lot of booze, kilos of chocolate and some dirty hip-gyration involved. It would definitely be a significant improvement from at least two V-Day celebrations I’ve experienced in the past. The first included a classmate in college in our first year coming up to me a declaring his friendship to me. When I pointed out that the red rose he had handed to me signified love, he quickly explained that the nearest florist was all out of yellow roses (yellow roses being the true signs of friendship). The second V-Day was three years later, when I spent all of five hours on the phone with a charming Naval Officer that I was in love with, cooing sweet nothings. In retrospect, they were nothing, as I would come to realize the very next year.

But I digress. Hours after I had poked and prodded the cheese knobs atop the cakelets, I came home lugging groceries, that included a jar of pesto and wholewheat spaghetti, my mother said something from her room that sounded a lot like too pungent and oily. She could have been referring to a number of things but she wasn’t. Gasp! I pacified myself by remembering the fact that all the Italian food she’s ever had included spag-bol and wood-oven baked thin-crust pizzas…which she seemed to have enjoyed immensely. Anything pasta that’s ever been made in our house has always been served robed heavily with cheese or saline tomato sauce. I briefly had visions of me making a garlic-scented spaghetti dish speckled with pink cubes of salmon that my Vietnamese housemate had taught me when we were living in Nottingham. I imagined my mother sniffing softly at it, putting a small forkful into her mouth, chewing tentatively and then…magic. Her skepticism would melt away, an expression of pleasure would take over her face and she would declare that Italian cuisine was worth living and dying for.

Then I quickly snapped out of it when she came out of her room. I blamed this punch-to-the-plexus on her limited experience of Italian cuisine and was greeted by a nonchalant shrug.  She only needs to taste some really good pasta, I told myself and silently frowned at Tuesday for being unpredictable.

Chocolate and Fennel Seed Cakelets

The recipe doubles easily to make two rich and moist layers for a layer cake. You could also multiply the quantities specified for every ingredient by 1.5 to make a single-layered cake. The baking time increase for about 15 minutes if baked as a single-layered cake. The ground fennel seeds are obviously optional and can easily be done away with. I generally use whole fennel seeds, dry-roast them in a non-stick pan on medium heat till they give of a woody smell and cool them immediately, before grinding them into fine powder. The oil used is sunflower oil, but any odourless, taste-less vegetable oil will do.

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup of ground almonds
1/4 cup of cocoa powder
1 tbsp of ground fennel seeds
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 tsp of baking powder
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup of caster sugar
80ml of vegetable oil
80ml of sour cream or well-stirred yogurt
Softened cream cheese, to garnish

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C and grease four medium-sized ramekins. Combine flour, ground almonds, cocoa powder, fennel powder (if using any), salt and baking powder, in a bowl with a fork. Whisk eggs, vanilla, sugar, oil and sour curd (or yogurt) in a bigger bowl till the sugar dissolves. Pour the flour mixture into this egg mixture and mix till just combined. Do not overwork the mixture. Pour into prepped ramekins and bake for about 15-20 minutes or till the center is set. Cool on racks and top with cream cheese before serving.

 

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.

switch off the lights and serve

Like everything watched in the dark, on a computer screen with the volume on the lowest setting, this chocolate sorbet could easily make you bite your lips. It’s the kind that makes you want to roll it around inside your mouth and take it to bed.

Honestly, I’m more likely to turn to my dear friends Ben & Jerry, or a tub of Green & Black’s than make ice-cream at home. I’ve never owned an ice-cream machine and I never spent my childhood summers churning an ice-cream-making crank by hand. In 2008, one sweat-laden summer afternoon after working on a project for 24 hours – without sleep, I must add – my friend Aditya convinced me to make some custard for his experimental white chocolate and cinnamon ice-cream (now that I think of it, its almost weird how many people around me are always whipping up food on a whim).  I dozed off halfway through his instructions while he toiled away at it. My making the custard was an achievement, considering back then, the only other thing I could make apart from custard, was coffee.  Five hours later I woke up to a buff-colored something that tasted more of salt than sugar. It has been almost four years since then and Aditya has moved on from instructing lazy architecture students to managing financial trading teams, and I have moved on to lustier things. Like this chocolate sorbet.

As a half-hearted confession, I must admit that I’ve yearned to try my hand at this sorbet for quite a long time; ever since spotting it over at Clotilde Dusoulier’s, actually. And the recipe belongs to ice-cream whisperer David Lebovitz. Two very strong reasons why I shouldn’t have waited this long. But apparently, my pantry needed to be stocked with both cocoa powder and dark chocolate at the same time, which somehow, unbelievably, it wasn’t so far. I know, I can’t believe it either.

Adding to that misfortune, the weather has angrily nipping at our ankles all this week. It needed quite a bit of persuasion from Arpi, she of the delectable chicken-cheese balls, the reinforced dowry and my partner in cake-making, to make me find the time to potter through my pantry. I’m pleased to report that there is a tin of cocoa powder rolling about at the back of the kitchen cupboard and I have a bar of dark chocolate lurking in the refrigerator as well. Let’s change into something racy and wait in breathless anticipation till the sorbet sets.

Kindly be warned – this particular charmer is not for the faint-hearted.

The I’m-in-Lust Chocolate Sorbet
Inspired by David Lebovitz’s recipe

The chocolate you use is key here. So don’t skimp on the quality, try for a 62-70% dark from Ghirardelli, Green & Black’s or Valrhona. The cocoa powder should ideally be Dutch processed, but again any good-quality will do.

100gm of good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup of cocoa powder
1/2 cup of granulated white sugar
1 1/2 cup of water
1 tbsp instant coffee powder

Boil the water in a saucepan along with the cocoa powder, sugar and coffee, stirring continuously. As soon as the sugar dissolves and there are no cocoa lumps left, take the pan off heat and add in the chopped dark chocolate. Let the mixture rest for a minute and then stir to dissolve the chocolate. Pour the mixture in your ice-cream machine, churn and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you, like me, do not have an ice-cream machine, just pout the mixture into a reasonably shallow container and freeze for 2-3 hours uncovered. Scrape the frozen sorbet into a processor and blitz on high till the mixture resembles a thick lava-like smoothie. You might need to blitz in short pulses and stir with a fork between pulses, to make sure all the frozen lumps are broken down. Pour the mixture back into the container. Cover and freeze for 4-5 hours or more. Arrange scoops of the sorbet in wine glasses, switch off the lights and serve.

 

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.

on growing up at 27

I’m trying to get away from turning 27.

Yes, it was my birthday on the 6th, Tuesday. And like last year, it was a quiet one.

Now, in my circle, birthdays usually come with a butter-loaded cake, waves of tequila and lots of arse-to-arse dancing. But after my quarter-life crisis drama a couple of years back, I’ve tuned it down, choosing to hang out with my family for the whole day (much preferable, I might add). The craziness is reserved for the next day, when my friends take me out.

Note: the quarter-life crisis drama included freaking out on meeting this 22-yr old co-ed dating a 29-yr old doctor for whom I had the proverbial “hots”.

Yesterday started off with a breakfast-almost-brunch with family and family friends, at Flury’s — an eternal favourite and a classic symbol for Calcutta. A must-visit for anybody who steps foot in the city.

That led to a shopping spree with my folks. Now has always the perfect time to glam up for Christmas.

And against my better judgement, I went for flat shoes. Flat, sequined, ankle tie-backs from Metro. And that was a shocker for my mother, considering the fact that she has never seen me without high heeled shoes in the last 4-5 years. I may not wear the shortest skirts, my face may not be made up 24/7, I may not have the shoulders to carry off a sleek halter-neck, but I would literally sleep & run for errands, in my heels. And I have.

But, I saw these flats on the window and fell in love…more so with the half-suede half-satin ribbon ties than the sequined panels. I guess, I’m going to consider this as my ‘something different’ for this year. The other ‘something different’ would be my departure from red and wine coloured nail varnishes, that I have been faithful to all these years. I got myself some gold luxe.

This is suddenly starting to seem like the more older I grow, the more bling-iness I crave. Yeow.

Anyways, I think I can work these two as my Christmas pieces. For now, just have some sinfully dark brownies I made to start the day.

Under normal circumstances I would go for a rich Fondant Au Chocolat…but these brownies have been a keeper ever since the first gorgeous batch I made during a Slovenia vs England FIFA match last year. Their dense, overpowered with cocoa, with a shot of coffee, addictive and almost a comfort to an ageing 27-yr old.

Sinful Chocolate Brownies

160gm 70% cocoa powder
120gm all-purpose flour
240gm caster sugar
120gm unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
2 tsp instant coffee powder
A big fat pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Prepare a 9″ x 9″ tin by greasing the bottom and sides with some butter. Sift the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat in the butter and eggs, till the lumps disappear and the mixture is thick and spreadable. Pour batter in the prepared tin and level the surface. Bake for 18-20 minutes or till the center is slightly greasy. Cool and cut into pieces.

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.

of crossroads and chocolate

It doesn’t feel like October here. I’m reporting dank, drowsy and drizzly from London. And here I am, with the first full-fledged food post on The Subjectivist.

I need a place to store everything that catches my eye. Everything that sounds in my ears and fills my tummy to the brim. I need to write. I need to photograph. I need to cook and make. I need to sketch and dance every one in a while. And I need to share it with all of you. But there is only so much a single girl can do or remember. And hence, a blog.

While I drool over Ralph Lauren’s fall-winter collection this year, I sit in my white-washed room trying to chose between two crossroads. Should I continue walking alone along the platforms of Liverpool Street, straight to my day-job as an Architect? Or should I head back to India, back to my family, back to my old friends? Back to an old life?

But while I contemplate all that over a steaming hot cup of coffee and a virus-infected laptop, let me tell you how Nigella Lawson has helped me improve my mood.

Strawberries still dot the shelf at the supermarkets. So I stuffed a couple of boxes in my bag and came home trying to decide between a berry crumble or a strawberry sauce to accompany cakes and meringues. In the end, the weather convinced me to go for something hot, gooey and chocolatey (insert sarcastic quip about fickle-mindedness here).

The strawberries stared up at me forlornly from the shopper bag. So as an immense act of gluttony, I dunked all of them in a lusciously honeyed serving of cream. Some of them even made it to the top of the hot pots. The recipe can make about 4 hot pots, although I had to downsize the quantities to make for one.

Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Hot Pots

1 cup of chocolate chips (or chopped dark chocolate about one and a half 100gm bars)
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
Icing sugar, to dust
Strawberries and cream, to garnish

(The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of dark chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of white chocolate chips, but since my addiction to dark chocolate leaves no room for its white cousin, I’ve used up a whole cup of dark)

Pre-heat the oven to 170-180 deg C. Grease 4 ramekins and place them on a baking tray. I find that leftover butter-wrappers, or fingers dipped in olive oil work best for greasing ramekins/tins.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double-boiler and set aside to cool a little. Combine eggs, sugar and flour in a bowl and mix in the chocolate mixture.
Divide the mixture equally into the ramekins and pop the tray into the oven. bake for about 15-20 minutes or till the tops are cracked . On inserting a toothpick or skewer, it should come out greasy and smothered in chocolate goop.
Sprinkle the tops with icing sugar. Garnish with strawberries and serve with some lightly whipped cream.