Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Venetian Carrot Cake

I have been overwhelmed and touched with the messages of support and encouragement I have received over the past week!! The blog has put me in touch with friends whom I had lost touch with over the years despite the irony of all of us having each other on Facebook. And that's why this post is for one of my oldest and dearest friends - Deblina! She applauded the idea of the blog when I first floated it, thought of its name and when I had all but given up on it, prodded me along gently. Along with school friend, Mariam, she writes a blog - 'Made in Umami' - a definitive guide to Mumbai's (and post-marriage, London's) food landscape.

When I saw the recipe for this Venetian carrot cake, it just had her name written all over it. Carrot cake is her absolute favourite (she even served it at her wedding!). Its Venetian version, an ode to her plans for a honeymoon in Venice! Coincidence?? I'd say Serendipity!!

The recipe is from Nigella Lawson's latest offering, 'Nigella Kitchen'. I must confess, it was Nigella's cooking show that somewhere convinced me to enter the kitchen and try my hand. She made it look all so easy. Yes, the purists might frown at her techniques and she does overdo the cream and butter at times. But then, she also does cut everything from chicken to herbs with a pair of scissors!! She describes this cake as an earlier version to its American counterpart, made by Venetian Jews in their original ghettos.

The recipe is dairy-free and gluten-free. Before you rejoice, remember the flour is replaced by almond-meal and that makes the cake a bit on the richer side. The good news, however, is that a small wedge of it will satisfy you! And for those of you who hate their veggies, you don't taste the carrots but they do provide an added texture and a natural sweetness and moistness.

After baking, the cake turns a lovely, golden orangey - brown on the outside while the inside maintains a paleness owing to the almond meal. This is a lovely, moist and slightly crumbly cake which can be shared among a large group. The plumped-up raisins and the hint of that  zesty lemon (in taste and aroma) are the side acts that almost overshadow the main players! Try this cake while the carrots are in season and before their fresh, pinkish hue is bleached to an unappetising pale orange by the Indian summer!!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Strawberry Galettes

Most of the time when I bake at home, I look for easy, fuss-free recipes. I like whatever I bake to have this homey, rustic feel while leaving the artistry for special occasions or to the professionals. These galettes tick all of the above boxes. Galette, for the uninitiated, is nothing but a fancy, French term for a free-form tart. In simple words, you don't need to have tart moulds to make these!

The pastry used for these tarts is your basic short-crust pastry, or since we are feeling rather French today, we refer to it as pate brisee. Short-crust pastry is much easier to make than you imagine and the recipe I turn to yields a delicious, buttery and flaky pastry. Whilst making the pastry does not take much time, if the pressures of work and time overwhelm you, I'd even recommend that you turn to store-bought pastry just so that you don't miss out on these beauties.

The star of the show is, of course, that luscious, strawberry filling that achieves a jam-like consistency after baking with the hit of the lemon juice helping to accentuate the freshness of the fruit.

Fifteen minutes into baking and your kitchen will be invaded with the warm, buttery aroma of the pastry. But nothing prepares you for the the visual treat that awaits you when you pull these galettes out of the oven. The strawberry filling will be bubbling and some of its vibrant, sticky juices might even over flow and stain that beautiful, golden pastry. At that moment, you'll understand why I love baking!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Christmas Mini Muffins

Don't shake your head!! I do realise Christmas was a while back and we are approaching mid-January..some of your New Year resolutions are probably already crumbling! But here's the story..this blog was to make its debut in December and these muffins were to be its first post, just in time for Christmas, you see!

Unfortunately, yours truly didn't take into account the various technological aspects that go into creating a blog. I thought it would be a breeze and I would be good to go in a day or two ..the perils of naivete, I rue!! To cut a long story short, technology and procrastination saw the blog making its debut only this week. And so I plead leniency on account of being a new blogger to present these Christmas muffins in the middle of January! Because, frankly, the next opportune time to post this recipe is toooo far away!

The recipe is fairly straightforward and adapted from a recipe given on the BBC Food website. The only thing I had to prepare in advance was the mincemeat. And for that I turned to the Web's most popular meatless mincemeat recipe by David Leibovitz. Not only is this mincemeat recipe simple and does not require any meat fat (as the traditional recipes) but it is also a life-saver for last minute Christmas baking as it needs to be made only three days before use. Trust me, a whiff of it once its ready will evoke every Christmas food memory that you treasure!!

The muffins are simple to make and best eaten warm. The mini muffins are a perfect size for a time when festive eating is already creating havoc on the weighing scales. I tried to jazz them up by dunking the top of the muffins in white chocolate and sprinkling them with red and green edible decorations that I had on hand. I'll leave you to decide on which version you prefer!!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Dark Chocolate and Strawberry Muffins

I thought I begin the year with something simple and fresh, much in line with my resolutions for the year to start afresh on many counts whilst keeping it simple all the same! These muffins seemed perfect for the sentiment in mind. The recipe is adapted from the wonderful Popina Book of Baking. If one loves to bake with fresh, seasonal ingredients, then this is your book. The muffins feature enticingly on the back cover complete with the juices from the strawberries overflowing from the muffin cases and you just know you have to make them!!

I find muffins one of the simplest things to bake. All you need is 2 bowls..measure out the ingredients in both the bowls and then mix the two..spoon them into the muffin cases and 25 minutes later..a smile on your face!! It is really that simple!

If anything, do keep in mind, you don't want to over mix the batter or else you will land up with dense, tough muffins.

You'll really enjoy these muffins, after all, nothing with dark chocolate can ever taste bad but the strawberries, slightly tart, cut through the sweetness. In India, January is strawberry season and they've hit the market with a vengeance. It's a refreshing, seasonal twist to the plain chocolate chip muffins.

And if i forgot to mention it earlier, the recipe has vegetable oil and demerara sugar instead of butter and white sugar...well..u know.. doing my bit towards everyone's most popular New Year resolution of "eating healthy"!!

Monday, 9 January 2012

New beginnings, new discoveries...

I simply stumbled into baking one afternoon. I thought I’d bake a chocolate cake to get through a boring afternoon. Little did I know it would lead to the discovery of an unknown facet of myself and the beginning (I think!) of a lifelong passion. Having a mother and an elder sister who are accomplished home cooks, I always stayed clear of the kitchen. “It’s just not my thing”, I said. So imagine my sense of bewilderment when at the end of that afternoon, I of all people should ask my mother for her old baking books to look for something “new to try”!!

Suddenly baking seemed to me appeal in a way that I had never imagined. The precision of measurements and technique required to achieve the end result called out to the fastidious perfectionist in me in a way that cooking never could. I revelled in the fact that I as someone who had never cooked successfully could now produce something that didn’t just look beautiful but tasted fantastic. And nothing prepared me for the wonderful, feel-good and homey aroma that engulfed my kitchen every time I baked.

It roused the dormant baker in me to open my mother’s old cookery books, devour food blogs, follow cooking shows as I searched for recipes, thought of flavour combinations and obsessed over getting the technique just right so that the final result was perfect! I didn’t let the heat and humidity or the lack of ingredients (both common woes that plague bakers across India) deter me. It was as if there was a baker within me all these years, just waiting to be discovered!

This blog is a personal diary of my adventures in baking as I explore the various facets of baking while somewhere, somehow discovering unknown facets of myself along the way. The recipes are ones that I have adapted from various recipe books, blogs or sometimes a handwritten special scribbled on a yellowing piece of paper discovered while flipping through old books and diaries or even recipe boxes!! The photographs are taken with a simple point-and-shoot camera and you’ll have to bear with me while I find my way around. So, do drop by when you can...I look forward to it!!
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