not your normal everyday snack

Two words. Lamb fritters.

They’re new to me but I can assure you that I will be keeping them around for a long time.

I have so far been slavishly devoted, as much as one can be, to lamb. Especially lamb curry. They conjure up memories of my childhood and of my grandmother who could easily make your toes curl with her version of lamb curry. And after a spell in the kitchen she used to smell of talcum powder, books and turmeric. She was a bespectacled professor of Organic Chemistry, a lover of all things chocolate and she used to cook lamb curry for me.

I never really learnt to regret anything. Blame it on my laziness. Unfortunately for me, my grandmother passed away only a couple of years before I even wanted to learn how to cook. I would have liked to learn about lamb curry from her. I think she would have liked that too.

But far from despair, I’m pleased to tell you that she taught it to my mother sometime after my parents got married. And that curry has shown up on my mother’s dining table every holiday and special occasion since. I feel silly saying this, but along with a priceless gold neck-piece and  a silver powder case, the recipe is almost an heirloom. It would be brutal of me not to share it would you.

Not today though. Don’t look at me like that…I promise to do so very soon in the near future. But I have here with me these fritters, which with a little effort could easily give lamb curry a run for its money.

I’m writing to you after recovering from a colour-soaked Holi, one of India’s many festivals in which the goal is to end up looking like the entire PANTONE colour library threw up on you. But it always ends with a feast, which, I don’t think you’d deny, is the best part. We showered and tried to scrub ourselves back to normal. And then we sat down to peas pilaf, a South Indian egg curry and crispy golden-on-the-outside-meaty-on-the-inside lamb fritters. They’re like nuggets really, that are shallow fried till golden. And they do very well when dunked in a sweet mint sauce.

Ideally they make fantastic starters, just something your friends can nibble on over swigs of beer and I discovered yesterday that they never actually last on the platter for more than 15 minutes. But these fritters are not normal everyday snacks. They display special powers one day later when you can just add them to a dal or a chana masala and they quickly turn into a gorgeous lunch. Their crispy coats soak up all the gravy and gives away under your teeth to reveal soft moist centres. It’s the kind of lunch you want to have after an especially tedious morning of chores that leave you hot and bothered. Be warned though, when mixed with curried lentils in gravy and an ever-rising humidity, the fritters can become potent sleep-inducers. You might just want to spent the rest of the afternoon lying spread-eagle on your back.

And while I was doing exactly that on the floor of my bedroom, I had visions of my grandmother – of both of us – pottering about in the kitchen exchanging notes on perfect lamb curry and shallow-frying skills. I’m pretty sure she would have downed a large portion of these nuggets and asked for more.

Lamb Fritters

You might be tempted, but I would strongly advise you against using cooked/canned chickpeas for this one. Using cooked chickpeas would only make the fritters soggy. Sunflower, canola, peanut/groundnut oil have higher smoking points than olive oil, and hence ideal for shallow or deep-frying. When heating the oil make sure it doesn’t start smoking though. If it does, then turn off the heat, wait till the smoke clears from the top of the skillet and turn the heat on again. Start frying immediately.

300 gm of chickpeas (about 10 oz), soaked in water overnight
500 gm of minced lamb or mutton (about 1/2 lb)
2 medium-sized green chilies
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 onion, chopped finely
Sunflower oil, to fry
Salt, to taste

Drain the chickpeas and discard the water. Blitz the chickpeas along with the lamb and chilies in a food processor till you have a coarse mixture that clumps together. You don’t want the chickpeas to turn into a paste. Put the ginger paste in a strainer and squeeze the juices out into the chickpea-lamb mixture. Discard the ginger pulp. Add garlic, onion and salt to the mixture. Use your hands to knead the mixture till everything is well-combined. Form into balls or nuggets. Heat oil in a non-stick skillet. The oil should come 2-inches up the walls of the skillet. To check if the oil is hot enough drop a pinch of the lamb mixture in and if it sizzles with a lot of noise then the oil is ready. Drop in the patties in batches and fry till golden brown. This takes about 6-8 minutes. Fish them out of the oil and onto a plate lined with paper napkins. Serve piping hot with dip. Dips with coriander or mint in them would go well with these fritters.

  

this week: olives for breakfast and superbly ruined eggs

All this time that I’ve been supposedly taking it easy in the heat, the truth is I’ve actually been holding out on you.

I have been eating. And eating quite a lot. By day I’m a glorified blue-print maker, design researcher, building material hunter and client pacifier. By night I’m too exhausted to even butter my own toast or air out my wet shoes. Or stow away my duvet, which is overdue. I have so far ended up with messed up eggs on toast, really wet shoes and a very dry throat courtesy of mild snoring habits.

For now, I’ll leave you with a few photographs from the last two days.

Oh, and I’ve also discovered that bowls of olives with spicy mayo make perfectly fantastic breakfasts. Honest.

happy sunday

Lazy Sunday morning.

– My contribution to Honest Cooking so far. Working on a piece that simplifies curry for beginners and enthusiasts.

– Dreaming about Jensen Ackles. Because he is just the right amount of dreamy. Enough not to distract you from work and yet, make you hurry home and snatch the TV remote away from other family members just so you can watch him in all his demon-busting glory.

– Making green tomato sabji…or something you have with flat breads. Or in my case, on slices of bread.

– Can’t believe how perfect these are for me. Putting them on my “must-try” list, even though I haven’t had much success getting through the list so far.

– Sliced a whole bunch of onions for lunch today. Potluck at our place. Word on the street is that there’s a large pot of Chicken Makhni (butter chicken) making its way over here in sometime. Can’t wait.

Happy Sunday everyone.

heat, mushroom, weekend

Looking forward to lying low this weekend. Its only just March and the heat is already numbing my oral skills. I know I should say something like “no pun intended” right here, but I’m feeling slow.

It’s hard to concentrate on anything with constantly having to wipe your sweat-drenched brow and I’d rather starve than spend time in the kitchen right now which has recently turned into a life-size walk-in oven. Every time Cook comes out of the kitchen I glance at her to check if her skin’s turned golden brown and crackly.

Spring, is it? My foot, that’s what.

But I haven’t come here today completely empty-handed. Rio (my banana-crazy brother…and yes, he is named after the city) has helped me plug in our portable mini-oven on the multipurpose counter, halfway between the dining table and the kitchen. And I’ve been happily chomping on roasted oyster mushrooms since.

To be honest, you won’t even need to bother with a proper recipe. Trust me. My brain is too fried to be making up lies.

All you need to do is pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Mix together 4-5 tablespoons of tomato ketchup with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Coat the mushrooms in this sauce and lay out on a greased/parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle sea salt, a teaspoon of dried thyme and a generous amount of black pepper over. Drizzle some olive oil on top and roast for 15 minutes. And at this point relax, have a popsicle if you can and try not to think too much. At least that’s what I did.

Ciao and have a happy weekend you lot.

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.

lately

For some people pleasure means sleeping in on Sundays, a trip to Alton Towers with the family, fluffy yorkie puds, chocolate ganache, shopping at Westfield, or a tall glass of something with Pimm’s at the beach. For me however, pleasure means watching old reruns of Frasier, nibbling on baking chocolate, the only kind currently lurking in my cupboard, and eating Jus-like-Crab — frozen fritters that need to be deep-fried; inexplicably fake and fishy and yet addictive in a twisted sort of way. Taking a trashy-food-eating break is good for the soul. And the tummy. Trust me. Meanwhile:

– We’re still reeling from a weekend of beef stew and pear salad.

– I have been using my lunch hours at work combing the city for 6V batts to use with my father’s old Yashica Electro 35. It’s high-time someone started experimenting with it.

– I’m planning a birthday-for-Meghna-cum-Oscar night with family friends. I think this calls for my spice-roasted chicken.

– Can’t stop thinking of this buttercream….will have to make some of this very soon before my head explodes.

– I have sneaked out a couple of over-ripe bananas from the funny-looking basket from which we hang our bunches. They’re pleasantly spotted with black and now resting in the freezer waiting for me to get started on some banana bread — something I’ve always wanted to make, and yet have always failed due to my brother’s slavish devotion to the fruit. He can effortlessly inhale a dozen bananas in two days flat, even before I can get my hands on a single one.

– I also don’t think Ghost Rider: Spirit of Whatever is worth a watch. Seriously.

bring it on, beef

This may come across as weird but here goes. I have always been intimidated by beef.

I still eat it though. I love the way a beef stew smells wholesome and robust. I enjoy the way a rare steak gives away under the pressure of my teeth. Having been brought up in a liberal Hindu family, eating beef is not really uncommon on this  side of the Chowdhury legacy. But eating it somehow makes me feel reckless. Just ordering a New York strip makes me feel as if I dare to defy all the pundits, gurus and holy men who’ve made it blasphemous for us to murder cows and then, just to rub their noses in it, I brazenly pop a humongous cheeseburger patty into my mouth and chew hungrily while frowning comically at them.

In spite of all this noisy beef-eating I’m still in awe of it. Mostly because I never know what to do with it.

Beef, asparagus, meringues and raspberries. These are just a few things that I’ve felt this way about. I’ve read through a hundred recipes involving at least one of these and I’ve never had the will-power (I’m deliberately not using the word ‘courage’ here) to make any of them. I’d eat any of those in a heartbeat though.

Now if I had to try out some clueless psychiatry, I would blame it on my childhood. I didn’t ‘grow up’ eating any of those things mentioned above, and that is probably why I feel uncomfortable whenever I’m presented with the prospect of using any one of them in a dish. Though I must say at this point, that I have spent the last three summers with my head in vats of raspberries, and last year I willed myself to learn how to make a mean pavlova.

But beef?

Beef, is still slumped in his high-backed winged armchair, the corners of his lips drooping downwards, silently staring at me with his heavy-lidded eyes.

Getting to be a pro at handling beef is definitely going to take some time and if I’m asked to cook a steak soon, I’d probably spent the rest of day whining and flailing about in the kitchen without achieving any damn thing. So, as soon as I got some time away from all the sweetness, I was up for a challenge. Sort of. I knew I had to bite the bullet and take a chance with something huge…not wimpy hamburgers made out of mince beef. But something more refined and complicated. And then it came forth — a boeuf bourgignon recipe…from a couple of French women, naturally.

First it was Julia Child warbling instructions at me. And then there was Clotilde Dusoulier, with her wide-eyed smile waving at me with a copy of Chocolate & Zucchini. I also consulted Robert Carrier and then set off to chart my own route.

This Burgundian beef stew cloaked in light amber is only slightly less relaxing that a quick chicken soup. I pleasantly stand corrected for thinking that the process would be complicated. The result was rich in texture and deep in flavour, that was induced by the cognac I used instead of red wine, even while my stock was running out. The bacon plays a huge role, even considering that I used just a couple of strips of it. But the cake is taken away by the chocolate. My hand slipped (*wink*) as I was adding the cocoa powder and I added a teaspoon more than was required. Heavenly. I would suggest you to allow your hand to slip as well. Served with a side of steamed rice the meaty stew is perfect to warm the cockles of your heart.

Well then. Bring it on, beef.

Boeuf Bourgignon
From a variety of sources including Julia Child, Clotilde Dusoulier and Robert Carrier

NOTE: The wine used can be a good Burgundy, a young Chianti or even Pinot Noir. I’ve used Renault cognac here. Different recipes use different amounts of wine and beef stock, and then there are recipes which don’t use stock at all. Ideally use equal amounts of red wine and beef stock (about 2-3 cups each). However, since I ran out of cognac, the recipe below uses only about 1 cup of it.
The beef chunks need to be dried in paper towels; any dampness will prevent them from browning. The consistency of the stew depends on your taste really. i wanted something runny instead of thick and gravy-like so I added about 1 tablespoon of flour. If you require the gravy to be thick, increase the amount of flour to 2 tablespoons and for the last 20 minutes of cooking time in the oven, remove the lid and turn up the oven temperature.
Boeuf Bourgignon is best with steamed rice or crusty bread. Can be served with buttered noodles as well.

1 pound button mushrooms, quartered
2 tbsp butter
2 strips of un-smoked bacon, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
3 pounds well-trimmed boneless beef chuck, cut into 2″ cubes
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp flour (see head note)
1 cup cognac, (see head note)
3 cups beef stock (see head note)
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 160 °C (325 °F).
In a pan sauté the mushrooms in butter till brown and soft. Keep aside.
In a deep-bottomed pot/cesserole, sauté the bacon in 1 tbsp oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Reheat the pan until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef. Sauté the beef in the bacon fat in batches making sure not to crowd the pieces (the pieces need to brown on all sides, not sweat). Add the browned pieces of beef to the bacon. Lower the heat to medium. In the same fat, add the onions, shallots and carrots. Cook till the carrots soften. Add the cooked veggies to the beef and bacon. Pour out the sautéing fat.
Return beef to the casserole. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Stir everything around till the flour is cooked and no white traces of it remain. Add the bacon and veggies and season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the cognac and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered. Add the garlic, thyme, parsley, tomato paste and bay leaf. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Cover the casserole and set it in the oven. Cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. About 1 hour into the cooking add the mushrooms and stir in the cocoa powder. Return to the oven. The stew is done when the meat is fork-soft.

 

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.

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.