Saturday, October 15, 2011

Picking up the strings…

It’s almost two months to the date I last posted. Much has happened in between. I celebrated my father’s birthday in Baroda with a buttery cinnamon cake. A few days after I returned, I left home to catch Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara(*) with a friend. In my hurry, I tripped on the steps, fell and fractured my ankle. The following weeks I was confined to my bed with my left foot in an electric blue fiberglass cast. I was cut off from the world with minimum access to people, my kitchen, the internet, etc. Of course with all that time on my hands, I quickly found new favourite musicians (Mat Kearney, Snow Patrol), TV shows (Masterchef Australia, Gilmore Girls), authors (C.S.Lewis), movies (Cool Hand Luke, Flyboys, The Shawshank Redemption) Being alone at home, I was forced to learn to make domestic decisions, plan meals, keep the maid happy, etc. But most of all, I missed baking and blogsurfing. 

But all that is behind me now. The cast is off, my ankle is healing and I can walk without assistance. And now I have returned; to pick up the strings of my life: my lectures at the university, blogging and baking. To celebrate this return, I made my favourite baked product: Brownies. Few things can work magic on the spirit as a square of dark chocolatey, walnut studded goodie.  

As I stand in my kitchen stirring the chocolate-butter mixture or gently fold flour into the goey chocolate batter, I am reassured that my passion for baking is alive and well. The past two months were just a blip and I know I am still quite serious about baking. 

(* I did watch the movie at home and it was superb. Hrithik Roshan, Abhay Deol and Farhan Akhtar’s antics in the picturesque locales of Spain made for excellent entertainment)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chocolate Walnut Biscotti

It was really just the name and the photos that made me wanna bake these little treats. And as earlier mentioned, I’m a sucker for intriguing, foreign sounding names. Biscotti. Big smile.:)

So I used Deeba’s adapted version of this recipe. She has tweaked the recipe into healthiness by mixing some atta into the flour, adding olive oil and reducing the quantity of sugar. I swapped out the almonds for walnuts. I’m also happy coz it a’int got no butter. Which should please my father, to whom these are dedicated. Happy 55th Dad!!!

While these were baking, the house smelled exactly like a cookie shop should. Mine turned out to be a little too dry and hard. I’d recommend one try out both versions of the recipe to find the one that suits your taste. 


These biscotti are best eaten with coffee. They make for an excellent emergency chocolate fix. Interesting trivia: Biscotti is a traditionally Italian treat which is baked twice over.They are also very long lasting when stored in an airtight container.

My First Cookbook Review

I am not the kind of person who re-reads a book till it falls apart. I enjoy the first read; where I get to meet characters, imagine locations, follow plotlines and revel in surprise endings. Now having studied literature, I also mentally make notes; forming critiques, applying theories, noting illustrations, etc. So, a book that makes me lose track ‘cause I’m laughing my heart out comes rarely. And ‘The Sweet Life in Paris’ by David Lebovitz is just such a book. Published in 2009 by a division of Random House, its 29 chapters are filled with the author’s stories along with 50 recipes.
As a popular blogger turned author, living in Paris no less, it would be easy to dismiss his work as yet another clichéd work on ‘French food’. Nothing could be further away from the truth. His engaging and charming narration of personal stories quickly draws the reader in. What keeps that attention is the totally unique, fresh perspective to this ancient, historical city. It is his aim to show Paris as ‘a big city with flaws just like any other major metropolis’. And he succeeds with anecdotes about the salesmen, bureaucracy, street manners, the ritualistic hazing he must undergo to fit in, etc. Thus through his work, Lebovitz is able to take a city replete with clichés and humanize it.

As a migrant from San Francisco, USA, Lebovitz shows an admirable ability to critique his fellow Americans as much as he does the locals. He lightly mocks the fanny pack carrying, culture ignorant American tourist. At the same time, he bursts out against the poor customer service in banks, supermarkets, etc. Even if one does not enjoy baking, this book is a highly entertaining read.

But it is really the food gyaan that Lebovitz excels in. His food tips and recipes have been meticulously researched and tested. In fact, it is his ‘friendly and approachable style’ to food that makes him popular among chefs and bakers across the world. He provides comprehensive cooking tips on storage, serving, etc. At the end of the book is a detailed list of resources for products in France and USA. My only grouse with the book is the black and white photographs. Any reader of his blog can attest to his exceptional food photography skills. 

I have baked a number of dishes from this gem of a book. Example: Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Spice Bread, Hot Chocolate, Dulche De Leche Brownies, etc. As a novice baker, I can assure anyone of the technical information it provides. If one is passionate about this craft, I’d strongly recommend this book. It is easily available here.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Not Just Another Lemon Tree

As a child, summer vacations always meant a long stay with my grandparents in Baroda, Gujarat. Now, most Gujarati residences would be a bungalow made complete with a ‘hichka’ (swing) and a garden. The daily cooking would use ingredients like curry leaf, mint, lime, raw mango, etc easily available in the house garden.  One of my favorite memories of that home is me relaxing with a book on the swing in the front yard. The hichka was set up in the shade of a large, flourishing lime tree. I have experienced few moments as peaceful and calming as those spent on that swing; the song of the koyal filling my dull city ears; the citrusy smell of the lime mixed with that of the flowers.

Of course now, the concept of a summer vacation is over. The entire structure, texture and feel of the house have changed. However, the lime tree still stands, still giving plentiful of its fruit. As is custom, I returned from Baroda recently with a few kilos of limes. As a sort of tribute to these memories, I baked a lime meringue tart. The recipe is available here. And although it was way to tart for my liking, it turned out quite well. 
I still have two jars of the lime filling in the fridge, begging to be used. Once sweetened further, I hope to experience again the childhood memories the fragrance evokes. 

Totally unrelated but fun to listen:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Apricot Jam Tart

I recently joined a book club called ‘This Book Makes Me Cook’. It combines two of my favorite activities: reading and cooking. And this month’s selection was the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton. Now it seems appropriate that I should begin here. Let me explain:

As a child, I was a voracious reader and Enid Blyton single handedly shaped the way I was to view the world for a few years. I grew up believing that boarding school trumped day school, that vacations should always involve adventure, freedom and food. Lots of food! As far as I was concerned there was nothing as glorious as ‘foreign food’. Clotted cream, hunks of bread, potted meat, scones and cake were the only enjoyable food. 

Now of course, I know that clotted cream is malai which I detest. My first encounter with a British styled tea left me thoroughly disappointed. It just was not as I had imagined it. All my grand ideas crumbled down in the face of my very obvious post colonial reality.
Yet, traces of these desires stay with me and creep up from time to time in my baking. Any success in such an endeavor leads to much rejoicing. And today was one such time. 

In the second novel of the series, the girls at Malory Towers are enjoying half term by the swimming pool. To add to the special occasion the kitchen had provided jam tarts, strawberries and ice cream. I choose to make a jam tart as that particular scene stayed with me long after I had finished reading the novel.
(It also reminded me of the little jam tarts that were available at a bakery near my office.)

I chose this recipe by Monsieur Lebovitz. As I did not have cornmeal on hand, I just used flour instead. I also used an organic apricot conserve purchased from FabIndia. I added some ground cloves and ginger juice to the jam to bring in some spice and so reduce the tanginess.
Making the tart itself was quite simple and the result lived up to the expectation. Next time though, I am going to take David’s suggestion and serve it with some ice cream. 


Blyton’s works today are a symbol to me: of my childhood, of fanciful imaginations, of desires for culinary reality to match those imaginations, of a gradual disillusionment and of accepting reality. I think today my baking too reflects a similar pattern. Words in a food blog or magazine bring to life a certain dish or ingredient. My baking is an attempt to realize that magic for myself. I look forward to more such magic wafting around in this blog. :D

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Using My Senses

Thanks to a friend's suggestion, that is gonna be the theme for today’s post. 

It began with seeing this photo. The sight of that silky, smooth ganache made me lusty for a slice. I had to make that tart. 
Which brings me to the next sense. While thankfully one can’t hear desserts, (Bake Me, Eat Me!), the word ‘tart’ when said aloud, whispers mischief, inappropriateness and decadence.
And so, I set about making this easy Chocolate Ganache Tart. The beauty of this dessert is it’s no fuss base. It’s simple to make and results in a crisp, buttery crust. It’s such a joy to firmly press the dough with one’s palms into a pie plate. I can still feel the warmth and softness of the dough in my hands. It was smooth and did not cling to the fingers as dough is sometimes likely to.

But the most sensual part has to be stirring a big bowl of molten dark chocolate, just like Vianne does in Chocolat. The aroma of that concoction as I add various ingredients to it is really the high point of my baking. The smell stays with me long after the dessert is gone. To amp up the flavor, I decided to add some ground cardamom after reading this

And that ruined the taste for me. The elaichi gave the dark chocolate a bitter, unpleasant edge. In order to salvage the taste and to add decorative value, I sprinkled some sliced almonds over it. Sadly, the tart was beyond repair. 
Yup, that gorgeous looking tart you see on my FB page does not live upto its impression. Yet, it’s a start and here’s hoping that I’ll be back soon to report on a chocolate tart that satisfies.

Notes: I used this recipe for the tart base. I have learnt that the elaichi should be added to the base and not to the chocolate. I found my ganache too rich and creamy for my liking. So, till I find and post my favourite ganache recipe, its Google Zindabad!.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Everything's Upside Down

So, according to the plan, I was supposed to bake an upside down cake. 
This was an attempt to move away from an exclusive use of chocolate to that of fruits, spices, etc. I am a novice in the area of fruits. They do not excite me much. This experiment further added to the disinterest.
As usual, I had to blog surf to get a recipe..(Someone please gift me a good bake book!) This recipe seemed perfect as I knew that plums and pears were in season. I also added some apples that I had at home. While making the cake itself was a novel experience, I was terribly disappointed by it. The brown sugar did not caramelize well, the fruits were undercooked, the cake batter was still too gooey to be done. The ' Clean Toothpick' moniker seemed to be mocking me.

The only redemption was the taste of the cake. Served in a lumpy mess, my family members quickly polished it off. I also discovered that butter melted with brown sugar in a fruity syrup tastes quite good!!

With this still left to check off my list, I shortlisted this recipe. I purchased all the ingredients. However, I had to leave the city at short notice. 
By now, my brother was tired of hearing me brag about my baking. So, he took it on himself to bake the Banana Upside Down Cake. More like humble pie for me, because it turned out to be superb!! I returned home to a slice of dense, moist chocolatey banana cake topped with perfectly caramelized bananas. The cinnamon added the right touch of flavour to it. So there you are coz 'Anybody can cook' :P  
I, of course, am too traumatized to think about upside down anything!!!

Je suis retourné

I have returned!
I was away on exam leave followed by a vacation where I was baking too much to pause and record it all down. But here I am now. And I am back with a plan. Yup, a plan for the next few posts which will decide the action in the kitchen. Of course whether I will stick to said plan is another matter altogether. 

But before I get into the future, I feel a quick update is required. I was on a self imposed baking ban till I finished my exams. This ended in the first week of May with a simple chocolate cake. Nothing fancy. What was exciting, though, was the Chocolate Chip Pound Cake I made for someone’s birthday. I am going to consider that my first proper (paid!) baking assignment. 

It’s obvious by now, that I go to the Purple Foodie site quite often. It makes up for all those snazzy baking books that I do not have. More relevant though is the Brownie craze that she sent me into. I began with the ‘Baked’ Brownies. I made these especially for my father who was coming home after a long break. And they were perfect! Just the way I wanted ‘em to be!! A thin crisp crust over a chocolately square made better the next day!  This really sent me on a baking high. I immediately followed this up with the 24 Carat Brownies. These, however brought me back to earth with the monumental failure that they were. 

Soon after, I had to stay away from home for a few days. When I returned, I had a lot to think about. I sought respite from all that emotion and thought in my kitchen. Yet my baking misadventures continued. I attempted the Chocolate Hazelnut Marbled Cake for my mother’s birthday. I followed most of the recipe to the T. Yet I messed up at the marbling stage. Hence, my darling mother had a cake that tasted like Nutella. Not that anybody complained about that! 

In the lull that followed, I tried, unsuccessfully, to make a Hot Chocolate that I really enjoyed. My only respite came in the form of this book. (More on that later!) 

I had read about Dulce De Leche a lot. So when my parents bought me a jar from Brazil, I decided to venture again into the kitchen. I used David Lebovitz’s recipe for Dulce De Leche Brownies. All my misery was washed away and I could bake once again! They were sinfully chocolately with dollops of the creamy DDL. This success led me to scour through his book again for recipes I could use. From there I attempted a Flourless Chocolate Cake for a friend with gluten allergy.

I finally discovered a recipe for Hot Chocolate that makes me understand all the fuss around it. I ventured into the unfamiliar cookie territory only to be surprised at how easy and satisfying they are! I learnt that coarsely chopped chocolate works just as well as normal chocolate chips. I also found that adding a pinch of cinnamon takes it to a new level altogether. A chocolate mint brownie I tried out was a bit of a flop as I didn’t get the After 8 mints that I needed.

All in all, I am very pleased with myself. The vacation was not a total waste of time. Hopefully, in the coming days I will be able to use and share all that I have learnt in the past few weeks. I look forward to executing most of my baking and blogging plan for the month.
I have returned and I hope I stay.