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.

blue hair, black lipstick, crab crostini and lots of dancing

This is not exactly appropriate behaviour expected from 27-year olds, especially those who’ve relatively been scarce in the nightclub circuit so far. Although I’ve had my share (fair or not) of hip-swinging action at loud, obviously dimly lit, smoky discotheques, I’ve never actually warmed to the idea. If I decide to dance, I will need room, I’m allergic to most kinds of smoke, and, music does not have to be all that loud. Hence, I try and restrict nightclubbing for special occasions, for e.g., milestone birthdays, dancing away heartbreaks and New Year celebrations, of course.

So this year, instead of battling the crowds tonight, we decided to get it over with yesterday. And untrue to my real colours, on a whimsy, I inadvertently agreed to sitting under the hairdresser’s mercy as he stuck blue extensions to my curls and stretched them straight. And then I slathered my lips with black lipstick. I didn’t think I had it in me.

The night was a blur. Pretty much a regular routine with a few tequila shots more than I’d like to admit to. The only exception was a good-looking man, probably in his mid-thirties, with visibly thinning hair who raised his glass at me from a nearby couch. In return, I gifted him with a tight-lipped smile which might or might not have made me look slightly constipated.

Its a little after noon right now, and I’m sitting munching on crostinis with my hair slathered in coconut oil and wrapped up in a hot towel, trying to get rid of residual glue. Hopefully everything will return to normal before the dinner party tonight. Yes I enjoyed blue hair, marginally less than the time when my head faintly resembled the inside of a purple potato. But, I honestly don’t think that the black lipstick is going to come out of my beaded purse anytime soon.  Nightclubbing, however, is definitely not off the list. Come next year, the next calorie-loaded birthday or the next man with heartache on his wake, I’ll be ready to shimmy again. Meanwhile, let’s just eat already.

Have a happy new year folks!

Crab and Tomato Crostini

Generally sandwiches for breakfast are preferred over crostinis where I’m from. But this one plays off of what we had for our Christmas dinner. I had frozen fish-sticks in my freezer which I’ve used here, but feel free to use fresh or tinned crab meat, which, would probably taste better. Also if you’re using tinned crab, drain off the liquid before cooking.

Slices of French or Italian baguette
1 tbsp unsalted butter + enough to butter both sides of each baguette slice
1 tbsp olive oil + enough to drizzle some extra on the finished crostini
250gm of fresh or tinned crab meat
2 tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp of dried thyme
Salt, to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste
Tabasco sauce, if you like it hot
Freshly chopped coriander leaves, to garnish

Heat the butter and oil in a non-stick skillet. Add the garlic when the butter melts. Stir till it starts turning colour. Add the tomatoes, crab meat, Worcestershire sauce and thyme. Stir well and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Keep aside to cool.

Heat a griddle pan. Butter both sides of each baguette slice. When the griddle pan is hot enough, plop the pieces on the pan. Each side would need about a minute or minute and half to brown up at the edges. There is no need to continuously flip the slices. Flipping them once is enough. Transfer on to a plate.

Top the slices with the crab mixture. Sprinkle cracked black pepper on top. Drizzle with a few drops of Tabasco sauce and a generous doze of olive oil. Serve with a garnish of chopped coriander leaves.

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.

chili-crusted chicken or how to juice up a breast

Alright. Grab your coffee and pull up a chair because we need to talk about this chicken.

This chicken is hot property. In fact, I can still hear the two leftover pieces sizzling in the baking dish in the kitchen. And its been at least three hours since I’ve had dinner.

Every time I roast whole chickens, I whip up a concoction of ginger-garlic paste, soya sauce, white sugar and Xiaoxing wine and pour it over the chicken and under its skin. And I’ve always served it with roasted red peppers and cucumber salad.

I’ve always felt that as an Indian I should automatically tip towards khichdi or daal as comfort food. But as much as I hate to admit it, it is true — roast chicken calms me down.

If my mother’s reading this, then we’ll have a lot to talk about very soon.

And yes, coming to the subject of breasts and thighs; I’m a thigh-person through and through. I go straight for the dark meat. No apologies. Besides, what is it with all the oohing over chicken breasts? Unless cooked sous vide or doused in sauce, those breasts usually have a tough time staying plump and juicy. I worry about that.

And that is exactly the reason I winced when I read a recipe of black-pepper crusted chicken breasts. I wanted to try making something “crusted” and the recipe seemed appropriate. Except those breasts. They loomed before me with a sneer in their faces.

In the end I settled for smoky chili and garlic instead of black pepper. And to keep the breasts moist, some orange juice. That’s right. You heard me. Orange juice.

Kind of a botched very-weak poulet version of duck a l’orange.

P.S. – If you’re wondering about the strawberries swimming in cream….well, as an homage to my grandmothers who moved to England 70 years back at the tender age of 16 or 17, I decided to have their favourite dessert for breakfast. And also, I had a ton of strawberries lying lonely in the fridge.

Chili-garlic crusted chicken

4 chicken breasts
1-2 tsp of unsalted butter
1-2 tbsp of olive sauce
2 tbsp of minced red chili (leave the seeds in, if like me you like it hot. For a milder taste, remove the seeds)
1 tbsp of dried chili flakes
2 tbsp of minced garlic
1 cup of orange juice (with pulp)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 160 deg C. Prepare a baking tray by greasing it.
Make diagonal cuts on the skin-side of the breasts; each cut just about quarter of an inch deep. Rub in the garlic, chili flakes, minced chili and butter into the cuts. Drizzle orange juice and olive oil over the breasts after placing them in the tray. Add salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for about 30-40 minutes, or till the juices run clear.

In the picture I’ve served it alongside a watercress and arugula salad dressed in a mint-pecorino dressing.

lack of fall…and shoes that kill

It’s like I’m going crazy.

Just when you think things cannot get any worse around here, they do.

Exhibit A: just as I thought how last week’s interview was a breeze and how the interviewers seemed duly impressed, they call this week and say ‘the position has been filled by someone more suited to it’, followed by ‘could they wish me good luck for my future?’.

Bitch. I am not amused.

Meanwhile, to rub salt over the wound, summer’s gone and fall hasn’t even arrived yet. Its just drafty, cloudy and wet all around with sudden bursts of indecisive sunshine. I suspect the sun is not amused either.

My habit of stalking people over the internet is at its strongest when I’m depressed. And yesterday as I furiously went through blog after blog, I came across Athena Plichta’s work. And man, that girl can cook. Stunning, is all I have to say.

Exhibit B: aka, How the Universe Conspires Against You When You’re Broke.
Right at this moment, when I’m surviving on leftovers, wrenching myself away from Miu Miu’s mouth-watering store display, Garance Doré, the beloved trendsetter, has let Elle & the Coveteur photograph her stuff.
And she’s got stuff I could mindlessly kill for.
Take a look at those red Lanvin shoes. The brazennes of the colour apart, just the curve of that heel is enough to suggest the certainty of a great fuck.

on london

I always get excited when I stumble upon videos on London. It’s the curiosity of finding out what others think of my beloved home.

I wake up every morning and go to work. Through the train-window I stare at the Gherkin sparkling in the sun or glittering in the rain. At the station I’m engulfed by the crowd, all suited and booted, rushing towards their workplaces. They don’t have time to stop and notice the city. On the way back home I shake out my umbrella and curse the rain. I stare at couples on their uncomfortable first dates sitting at coffee tables. They stare back at me trying not to look at their partners. But I don’t notice the city. The weekends are filled with hauling around colourful shopping bags and smirking at the attractive woman with chipped fingernails sitting across from me on the tube. The city goes to sleep without a goodnight kiss from me.

And that is why when I come across movies on London made by others, I look. I envy visitors. I envy Londoners who take the time to get to know her. I play the videos over and over again and again, and try and spot all the details.

This movie is by Cyrill Oberholzer.

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.