A caramel worth its salt

creme_caramel

It is perfectly understandable that I cannot just come back to this space after two whole years and let a crème caramel wobble under your noses, just like that.

You’ll want an explanation. You’ll want to know why I disappeared. And all that is fair.

But before I tell you how I’ve spent the last two years travelling and eating and starting a new travel venture and getting my heart-broken, I have to tell you about crème caramel.

In case you happen to be a child from the colorful 70s or the padded-shouldered 80s, you will remember crème caramel with the fondness with which you recall the pink of prawn cocktails, or the nauseating cheesy-ness of an au gratin. Or chunks of white bread soaked in warm, sweet milk that mum made on a wintry evening, right before she’d tell you to do your homework.

With its Gallic roots, crème caramel can be quite the charmer. If the inner-thigh quibble is not enough to convince you of its sex appeal, then think of bittersweet caramel mindlessly dribbling down its sides into a wet, sticky pool around that eggy custard. You wield your spoon and the custard surrenders.

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best eaten cold.

It’s the middle of May and I’m here today to talk about Christmas.
Yes, I’m 5 months and a whole season too late, but this is how we roll over here. So, here’s a picture.

BREADPUD1

If you’ve guessed bread pudding, then you’re right. A large vat of messy, melt-y, boozy chocolate bread pudding with crusty bits at the edges.I made my first last Christmas and this one a couple of days back. We’ve been high on alcohol and carbohydrates (and episodes of Game of Thrones) for the last 36 hours.

My mother, though not much of an enthusiast in the kitchen, is a hostess to her bones. She doesn’t even need a reason to call up a handful of people in a moment’s notice for an impromptu dinner party and have them show up for a guaranteed good time. Read More »

quintessential. tomato. date. sultanas. sugar.

Today is Monday and it’s Election Day here in Kolkata.

cloud2

India’s voting for her CEO and we’re all busy holding our breaths. Yes, me too, considering that I’m not allowed to vote in this country. But all the excitement is more than merely contagious. You might find it difficult to pass a tea shanty without overhearing retired sixty-year-old men sitting around drinking their morning cuppa and bad mouthing the candidates. Even the ladies get into heated debates on occasions. Their’s aren’t as animated or vigorous as that of the men, but the debates are most definitely punctuated with a lot of eye-rolling and pursing of lips.

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Sundaying

Well hellooo Sunday!

It’s too hot to go outside and a perfect day to eat an insane amount of chocolate (which, make no mistake, I am going to do), I am also going to take exactly fifteen minutes to marinate some chicken for Chicken Masala. Fifteen minutes and that’s it.

I really wanted to give you a recipe today, believe me. But I feel a nap coming on already, so I’ll leave you with this photograph instead along with a list of stuff that I’ve been drooling at lately. I hope you find orchids pretty.

orchids

This article on writing exercises that help when you’re stuck in a rut with the words. The second and the fourth ones are particularly effective. I have written many a post on this blog, starting with a comment I made on someone else’s.

Just bought this. One more bright spot in my cloudy cloudy days. Apparently I’m trying to attract bees to make it seem like Spring again.

The last time I made panna cotta was during a breezy 2009 summer in Mumbai. It had vanilla and mint in it and it turned out in two very distinct layers, sweet, grainy and inedible. It probably wouldn’t have gone this wrong if this was around. Or this. Don’t go around making panna cottas without reading those.

Kate Christensen and the latest from her. I want briny oysters in mignonette and cocktail sauce now. Like right now. And I want a ‘Boat Day’ too.

Elissa Altman talks of toast and gluten-free biscuits. She makes me want to talk about toast all day. Her writing is stuff I like to spend Sunday afternoons with. Or any afternoon.

Happy Sundaying y’all.

to the sailor, on his 57th

Dear readers,

It’s been three weeks and I’ve missed you. And although this post is sorely outdated, I thought maybe you’d like to read it.

I think I was about two years old.

Yeah about that much, when I went into my parents’ room and found my father sitting on the floor next to a towering wooden cupboard. The cupboard was stacked top to bottom with his collection of music. The room was dimly lit and my mother lay on the bed reading a book by the light of bedside lamp. I waddled over to my father and promptly climbed into his lap. He pulled me up and made me sit straight. Then he took the headphones off himself and put them over my ears. The headphones were bright orange in colour and bigger than my whole head. They not only covered my ears, they completely covered my eyes as well. That was probably my first experience with the phenomenon that is Pink Floyd.

As you can tell…I looked mostly like a boy for the first ten years of my life.

Pink Floyd was one of the few firsts of my life with my dad around. He wasn’t there for a lot of other firsts.

He’s a sailor, you see.

According to my mother, that profession should come with a disclaimer notice.

He wasn’t around for my PTA meetings. Always a no-show for my dance recitals. My brother learnt to play cricket from what his friends’ dads taught him. I missed him on birthdays. My mother missed him everyday they were not together.

The part that I hated the most was when after I’d been particularly naughty, my teachers would demand to see my dad for a your-child-did-this and your-child-did-that session. And every time, I had to stand red-faced in front of them explaining to them for the umpteenth time that it would be close to a miracle if they could contact him while he was floating on an iron prison in the middle of some sea some where. Life was somewhat difficult given the standards of a fourth grader.

But it wasn’t really. As much as you would like to complain about your father not being there for your first basketball match, it’s not possible to do so if he makes it up to you by being there when you bake your first cake.

He was there when I baked my first cake. Vanilla pound. With atta instead of flour. As rabid as we Indians are using atta for everything from rotis to naans, atta’s a complete no-no when it comes to cakes and at 18, I didn’t know that. Its got something to do with the hard gluten content of atta. The cake came out of the oven resembling a polished rock, the kind of stuff jawbreakers are made of.

As it sat abandoned on the cooling rack sometime late afternoon, I found my father with a steak knife trying to cut into the cake. He’d set the cake up sideways like a wheel and was hand-thumping the back of the knife into the cake so that a piece could be carved out. Carved out. Not cut out. That’s how bad it was. I didn’t want him to break his teeth so I hurried over to him in a state of panic with a “Don’t eat that! That’s awful!” He just smiled at me and said, “You made it ma. How can I go without eating it!!”

Over the years he’s been around for the important parts. Always. He sat at the dining table with me poring over college applications. Waited patiently in the lobby to take me out to lunch on the first day of work. Over the years we’ve spent unaccounted hours watching Pink Floyd videos over handfuls of dates and walnuts. He’s the only who can pacify my mother and I when we’re in the middle of an argument. His was the first face I saw when I walked down the podium with my degree. Ruddy, bearded, brimming with tears and he kept on clapping like a maniac. And he turned 57 this year.

Happy Birthday Babai.

Walnut, Date and Olive Oil Cake

1 cup of all-purpose flour
3/4 cup of chopped walnuts
2 tsps baking powder
1 pinch of salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of boiled water
1 cup of pitted dates
Whipped cream or frosting of choice, to serve

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C. Grease and line a 8-9″ baking tin with parchment paper. Grease the paper as well. In a bowl combine flour, walnuts, baking powder and salt and mix with a fork. In a larger bowl whisk the eggs till light and fluffy, for about 3 minutes. Add in the sugar gradually, whisking continuously.  Pour in oil and boiled water, fold in the flour mix with a whisk till just combined. Do not overwork the batter. Pour the batter into the greased tin. Place the dates in a layer on top and bake for 30-40 minutes till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is firm and springy to touch. Cool completely on the rack.

The cake is fine just by itself, but you could spread a bit of frosting on top or serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

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.

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.