Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Spiced Cappuccino Biscotti

It's been a while around here. I wish I had some funky, exciting reason for why I've been missing from this space but instead all I have to say is that I fell sick. It's been a while since I've fallen sick, so when I got hit, I got hit realll bad! Of course, with perfect timing, I fell sick a few days before Diwali and its been a slow and cautious recovery since then. And with that, my Diwali post for which I had grand plans were junked because forget going near the kitchen, I wasn't going near any food! And while this is a bit late in the day, I hope you had a beautiful Diwali with your family and friends!!
And like I said earlier, it's been a slow recovery out here. The food cravings have returned but I have been advised to take it easy. And then, just like that, this week, I have been feeling good enough to want to pre-heat the oven!!
Not wanting to risk the recovery by baking something that would be too heavy or rich, I decided to ease back into things by zeroing in on these biscotti. These are coffee biscotti that have been flavoured with cinnamon and cloves and then, for good measure, some chocolate chips. And what works in their favour is how easy it is to make them.
These biscotti do not really score on their looks but you can't fault them on their flavour. The dominant flavour is that of cloves which is a refreshing change to the usual cinnamon that I tend to lean towards. The coffee got a bit lost but then maybe I should have gone for a stronger brew. And those chocolate chips can only make everything better.
Since, there is no butter, these biscotti are crunchy which means they are perfect for dipping into those steaming cuppas that this season calls for.
I should hopefully be getting back into the groove with the blog over the next few days. In the meanwhile, how have you been?? Hope life's been treating you well!!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Khaman Dhokla - Steamed Savoury Cake

These days, every morning, the area outside the porch of my mother's home is carpeted by these delicate white flowers with orange stems. These fragile flowers belong to the Parijat (Harsingar) trees planted just outside the gate. They bloom as the sun sets, perfume the night air with their fragrance and then as dawn arrives, they fall to the ground. It is magical sight to wake up to. Carefully collected from the ground, they are offered to the Gods. They flower from September to November, just in time for India's festive season, from Ganesh Chaturthi to Navratri to Diwali.

And talking about Navratri, if there is one festival that Gujaratis wait for all year round, it has to be Navratri. As someone who traces half her roots back to Gujarat, I have been privy to the sheer madness that overtakes the community for the nine nights of Navratri. The rest of the country celebrates Navratri too, but the Gujaratis take it to new, and if I might admit, embarrassing heights. You may bemoan the crass commercialism that has crept in and overtaken the festival but you can't take away the excitement and euphoria that fills the air as they dance the night away.
So, I couldn't let Navratri go by and not pay homage to my Gujarati roots. If there is one dish the country associates with Gujarat, it is the dhokla. While the Gujarati and his dhokla has been the topic of many a joke, it is a dish very close to the Gujarati palate and rightly so! 
It is a steamed cake made from gram flour, flavoured with green chillies and ginger and topped with a tempering of mustard and sesame seeds. Like every other Gujarati dish, the heat in the dish is countered with a little bit of sugar. Extremely simple to make and made in under thirty minutes, this is a delightful tea-time snack.
You can taste the spice with a hint of a sugar and it does not overpower the palate. It is steamed and resultant lightness in texture is always a good thing. The tempering on top provides its own flavours and texture that complete the flavours of this dish. Paired with coriander chutney, you discover its charm for yourself!!
Navratri is the celebration of good over evil but, more importantly, it is nine days when we celebrate the power of our Goddesses. I said it last year and I'll say it again, it is one of India's cruel ironies that in a country that worships her Goddesses so fervently, women have to face their biggest challenges on a daily basis.
I invoke the words of the Mahatma who said, "To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, woman is less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman."
With those words, I wish you and yours a very happy Dussera. May we overcome all the evil that befalls our lives and emerge stronger and more prosperous!!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Pomegranate And Saffron Labneh

If you buy a pomegranate,
buy one whose ripeness
has caused it to be cleft open
with a seed-revealing smile.
Its laughter is a blessing,
for through its wide-open mouth
it shows its heart,
like a pearl in the jewel box of spirit.
A laughing pomegranate
brings the whole garden to life.
Whether you are stone or marble,
you will become a jewel
when you reach a human being of heart.

As I told you last week, I was introduced to 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi in Elif Shafak's 'Forty Rules of Love'. Am still in the early pages of the book but I am already getting entranced by his words that keep playing in my mind.
So, when I saw a whole mound of pomegranates at the fruit stall and then these words by Rumi, this post had to be next!
Tis the season of pomegranates right now and it is on my list of fruits that are best eaten alone. I enjoy its many contrasts. It is sweet and tangy at the same time just as it is juicy and crunchy at the same time. And then there's it's colour, that beautiful, luscious, sensual red that stains and changes all it comes in contact with, much like the 'human being of heart' that Rumi writes about.
It deserves a dessert that celebrates its unique personality. I found this beautiful dessert that paired the pomegranate with labneh on a fantastic blog by an ex-chef from Sydney, 'He Needs Food'. Drop by for a visit for gorgeous recipes and even more gorgeous photography.
Labneh is a yoghurt cheese, popular in the Middle East and is essentially yoghurt drained of its whey. Here, it is flavoured with saffron, cinnamon, cardamom and orange zest and then layered with pomegranate arils and juice. The original recipe has orange blossom water which I unfortunately could not find anywhere out here. A pity because that would have accentuated the Middle eastern character of this dessert.
And what a beautiful dessert this is. It will remind Indians of 'shrikhand' and that is what it essentially is. The labneh is light and refreshing on the palate without being cloyingly sweet. You then have the pomegranate that provides a textural and visual contrast that is most welcome. I do wish I had the orange blossom water. It would have mellowed the citrus tone of this dessert which was quite assertive because of the orange zest used.
This dessert is perfect to cleanse and cool the palate after a meal that has been heavy on spices. It is perfect for the all-vegetarian diktat that is now in place at home because of Navratri. And most importantly, it is perfect for the weather we are experiencing right now where the monsoons have retreated but winter is still some time away!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

Despite being such a retro classic, I have never gotten round to making a bread pudding. It's just never appealed to me. There are so many better things to make than a pudding made out of stale bread, I have always reasoned. And yet, last week I found myself with these hot cross buns I had baked, getting a bit old. They were delicious but it was one of those rare times, when I couldn't find anyone to share them with. And really, there's only that much hot cross buns one can have, however gorgeous they may have been. So, bread pudding it was going to be!!
Googled around and zeroed in on a Nigella recipe. She takes a traditional bread pudding recipe and jazzes it up with chocolate chip, milk, cream and a good splosh of dark rum. Perfect recipe, I reckoned for the cross buns I had, which were themselves studded with raisins and chocolate chips and flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla. My own little touch was the zest of an orange because I just love how an orange refreshes and livens up a dessert.
There is hardly much for you to do for a bread pudding. Maybe, that's why they are so popular. I'll come to how it tasted but can I just say that the kitchen smelled divine!!
Before, you pop the pudding in the oven, you've got to sprinkle some brown sugar all over the top. So, while the pudding bakes, this sugar on top caramelises and forms this golden brown, crispy crust. And underneath that crust is this soft, custardy bread that has soaked up all those beautiful flavours along with those molten chocolate chips. And yes, the orange zest does its job to ensure that all that cream, milk and eggs does not get too rich and heavy on the palate.
It helped that I used the cross buns which already had their own flavour profile that just added bags of flavour. I might have left it in the oven for five minutes more than what was needed. It felt slightly dry and could have done with some vanilla custard or for that matter, ice-cream.
This bread pudding lays no claim to being an on-trend dessert but it endears itself to you with a familiarity that is comforting in a way only a warm pudding can be on a cool night or a rainy day!!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Hot Cross Buns

The other day, I stopped by my local bookstore. Going there after what seemed like ages, I realised how much I miss this whole experience, of which I seem to be doing much lesser these days. I have fallen for the practicality and convenience offered by e-retailers that deliver books right to my doorstep and honestly, I haven't been able to resist their phenomenal discounts either. And yet that day I understood why an hour or two at a bookstore is so precious. You walk around the aisles, peep into the shelves, browse through the books and then pick up one at random. Not because the book is on some bestsellers' list but because maybe the title caught your eye or the author is an old favourite or the book jacket is eye catching or even better, it is the compelling synopsis at the back.
And then there's the personal equation with the bookstore owner who not only gives you your time and space to browse around but every once in a while directs your attention to a book that he thinks might interest you. Not guided by some algorithm based on your browsing history but as someone who has seen your sensibilities mature and your interests develop. Agree??

Talking about things I haven't done in a while, I realised baking bread is one of them. So, I baked a batch of these hot cross buns, studded with raisins and dark chocolate. Traditionally, these buns are baked for Easter and that's when I first tried them this year but never got round to blogging about them. These are adapted from a recipe by the Bake Club's Anneka Manning. It's a simple one that any baker reasonably comfortable with yeast can attempt.
Never judge a book by its cover and don't judge these buns by my clumsy piping of the crosses or for that matter, my not-so-clever idea of squishing them in a round tin that resulted in these slightly misshapen buns. Because the end result is simply delicious, for lack of a better word. The milk, eggs and butter in the dough ensure that the final buns are soft, tasty and have that beautiful golden crust. You can have them slathered with butter but do remember, they are best had warm and plain, straight out of the oven,  when the little chocolate chunks have not yet set and still molten and melting. Ah heaven!!
These are best made for a leisurely weekend morning when you can indulge yourself after a week of muesli-yoghurt breakfasts!!
I am currently reading Elif Shafak's 'Forty Rules of Love', highly recommended by the guy at the book store. What's been occupying your bed side table??

Wednesday, 3 September 2014


".. .. one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell....No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses..." 

"..And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before church-time), when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea. And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me... ..the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea. "
And with these evocative words on the power of food to evoke memories in his novel 'In Search of Lost Time', Marcel Proust would ensure that food writers and with time, food bloggers, would mention him every time they encounter a batch of madeleines. And yours truly is no different. I couldn't resist the opportunity to sound literary high brow!

Madeleines are dainty, French tea time cakes with a distinctive shell-like shape which is achieved by using a distinctive madeleine pan to bake them. The literary cliché aside, I have wanted to bake madeleines ever since I started writing this blog but not being able to find the appropriate pan has meant waiting till now. Finally, after two years of searching and a horrendously exorbitant price tag, I found my pan and you get to see my first batch of madeleines.

Madeleines are made using a genoise batter where, as opposed to a traditional sponge cake batter, melted, warm butter is used. This ensures that the madeleines, fresh from the oven, were crisp around the edges and soft, light and buttery on the inside. They are much easier to make than you think and this recipe from 'Joy of Baking' delivers beautifully.  I do wish I had been more generous with the lemon zest. These are elegant and dainty and moreish, and if like me, you bake them in a mini madeleine tin, it is easy to lose count of how many you've had!

Proust had his with tea, I had mine with coffee. And talking about coffee, have a little peek at the coffee mugs and platters I have used in this post. They were a surprise gift in the mail from my favourite lifestyle brand, 'Good Earth'. Eight times out of ten, the props such as the mugs and glasses that I use in my posts are from Good Earth. And these are from their collection titled 'Serendib', one of their most elegant collections, designed by the fabulously talented Pavitra Rajaram. I can't remember ever getting a surprise gift in the mail, let alone something so fabulously beautiful. To say that I was thrilled would be an obvious and gross understatement. Hopefully, these madeleines do them justice!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Chocolate Caramel Bars

Am not really sure I have an answer for why there's been only one post all this month. I'd like to believe it's the weather, the excessively sticky humidity that holds the promise of rain but hasn't really delivered much of it this month. But then, I have pretty much used up all of my quota of complaining about the weather in the Summer. So, no, I don't why there haven't been any posts.

But, I am going to blame the weather for marring these chocolate caramel bars that I made yesterday. I figured these were perfect to shake off my baking ennui. Fuss free recipe, easy technique, readily available ingredients and basic flavours that you know you can't go wrong with.

And true to form, everything went according to plan. These bars have three layers - it starts off with a layer of shortbread, then a layer of caramel and finally, a layer of chocolate. I made all the layers and then I put them in the fridge to set the final chocolate layer. Once set, I pulled them out to slice them and that's when the difference in temperature spoilt the look of these bars. The high humidity meant that what should have looked like a shiny, glossy layer of chocolate was instead covered with droplets of water. Yup, that's what you are seeing in the photographs.

While it doesn't look great, those little droplets are harmless. They neither affected the chocolate nor did they affect the taste of these bars. Each of these layers consists of simple, basic flavours that on their own are typical and ordinary but combine the three layers together and it's a party for your taste buds! And each of these individual layers is quite rich, so a small piece hits the right notes. It would be ideal when you wanna serve up something sweet to a large group of people. I can't see how anyone can not like them. Give them a shot!

How's August been treating you?? Have you travelled to somewhere new or read an interesting book or seen a new movie?? Tell me!!
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