Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Chocolate Truffle Tarts : 'Baking with Julia'

When I look at all the posts I have done till now, I am kinda puzzled as to how I have not done a single post with chocolate despite being a self-proclaimed chocoholic!! So, it seemed a good time to let my first post with chocolate be these absolutely divine, delicious and decadent chocolate truffle tarts that I had to make for the 'TWD:Baking with Julia' group.

These tarts are a chocolate lover's dream come true. Imagine this if you can -- it is essentially a chocolate dough tart filled with a decadent, truffle-like chocolate filling that also has bits of milk chocolate, white chocolate and biscotti in it!!! Seriously.. imagine that!!!!

I made half the quantity for this recipe, aiming to make 3 out of the 6 tarts that the original recipe made. And then decided instead to make 2 tarts and 2 tartlets. Don't ask me why I did that.. I just did!! For the chocolate dough, I omitted the egg and instead replaced the egg with 2 tbsps of cold water and it did the trick, I think, without altering the texture of the tarts. The filling was pretty straight forward although I left out the biscotti as I did not have any but I did put in the white chocolate and milk chocolate bits. 

When I put these tarts in the oven, I had no idea what to expect on how the filling would transform itself. At first I thought it would have a custard like consistency and then wondered if it would maybe have a brownie-like texture!??!? Well.. the answer was soon before us...

First things first, when I pulled them out, they looked exactly how they looked in the photograph in the book, complete with the little bits of white chocolate poking out of the top. But, the best part came with the first bite. The filling gets transformed into  this dark, intense and divine truffle with the tiny specks of white chocolate providing not only texture but also a beautiful visual contrast in the sea of dark chocolate. Come to think of it, I should have taken photographs of the tarts half-eaten...

If you love chocolate, these tarts are just for you. With a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, they would make a lovely dessert. I had made these just in time for my evening cup of coffee, and something about the intense chocolaty flavor of these tarts combined with the bitterness of the coffee made it an unbeatable combination. That's when I missed all my closest girl friends because these truffle tarts would be the perfect accompaniment for our coffee and gossip sessions!!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Strawberry Oat Crumble Bars

I love strawberries and from the response that these muffins and galettes got, I can safely assume that you pretty much love them too!! Although, much of the western hemisphere celebrates it as a summer berry, we in India get it during the winter months from late december to march. Over the past decade, they've become more easily available and if anything, I wished we got the other berries too - blueberries, raspberries, cranberries... Moreover, I really enjoy baking with the fruit of the season.. apart from the freshness that the fruit imparts, it is also a break from my regular baking, that more often than not, centres around chocolate!! And lets be honest, its also easier on the diet conscience...well..not really...but then, we can always find comfort in our l'il white lies!!!

After all the kneading and excitement over my first loaf of bread that I baked the other day, I wanted to resort back to something more in character i.e. fuss-free and simple!! These bars looked good when I saw them and plus,bars have been on my baking to-do list for some time!! 

I found this recipe on the 'Taste of Home' website when i googled for it and seemed pretty straightforward!! I did tweak the recipe to add some whole wheat flour and instead of store-bought strawberry preserve, I made some home-made strawberry jam!! 

I am no Martha Stewart and nor do I have any ambition to be one but I do have a stash of super-easy recipes that can make me sound like one!! I have added the recipe for the jam here if you wanna give it a go. The first time I made this jam, a few years back, my mother nearly wept tears of joy as she realized that there might still be some hope for her younger daughter on the culinary front!! So, if you are considered the culinary nobody of the family, give this jam recipe a shot and silence the skeptics!!

The verdict on the bars was that they were good but were even better a day or two later. The extra day gave them a chance to 'come together' as opposed to being a bit crumbly when they first came out of the oven. They were so simple and took me, with the baking time, an hour to make!! 
The oat and flour crumble mixture is full of texture and flavour and is healthy without tasting so, if you know what I mean!! The main star,of course, is that layer of strawberry preserve that cuts through the bars and peeks through the crumble mixture on top. Try these to understand why sometimes, the best tasting food is the easiest to make!!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

White Loaves : 'TWD : Baking With Julia'

Today's post is different from my regular ones. For starters, it's my first post for "Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia". What's that, you ask?? Well, its an online community of food bloggers that will bake the same recipe on a tuesday, every two weeks. It will be a recipe from culinary grande-dame Julia Child's baking bible, "Baking with Julia", randomly chosen by a member of the group. Last time I checked, the group had over 350 blogs participating.

The book has a reputation of being quite demanding and technical, putting it quite at odds with the recipes I usually post on this blog. However, this was something I decided to take up to somewhere push myself as a baker and attempt those recipes that "you-look-at-but-never-do-try-out"!! Out of copyright considerations, the recipe for the day will only be posted by the blogger who is hosting the recipe for the fortnight. Hence, many a times, the post will be anecdotal in nature with me describing my tryst with the recipe.

The first recipe for Tueday, February 7th was "White Loaves" (hosted by Laurie & Jules).

I must admit, I silently groaned when I saw the recipe that had been chosen. Yeast and I have never really been friends! And it's not due to lack of effort on my part. I have tried and tried but the yeast would just NOT yield. And then to make things worse, I realised I did not have a bread-loaf pan to bake the loaves in!! I panicked and almost chickened out!! But then reasoned that if there was ever a time to bake a bread, it was NOW and with this recipe!

To make matters interesting, not a single baking equipment shop that I went to had the bread-load pan that I needed. I finally compromised and bought a glass loaf tin and hoped it would do the job!! Before you roll your eyes, I must tell you also about the packet of yeast I bought. Most of the time, it is really tough to buy decent yeast of any variety in India and I decided to put my faith in a tiny packet of yeast that I found in my local neighbourhood store. It had dodgy instructions at the back and kept mis-spelling the words recipe as "receips" and bowl as "below"!! Now, you may go ahead and roll your eyes. But,I insist, please do READ on!!

I read the recipe thrice and decided to make only one loaf. Faith in myself and yeast was so low that I could not get myself to use the 7 cups(!!) of flour that the recipe required to make 2 loaves. With immense trepidation I set out with the recipe and followed it step-by-step. Ideally, the recipe requires a heavy-duty mixer. But, of course, I didn't have one and thought my little hand-mixer with a dough hook would do. It did NOT and I had to knead the dough for most of the time. The story of my forearms I'll leave for another day!!

Call it beginners luck, the stars being in the right place, the strength of my forearms (?) or the beauty of this recipe but that little dodgy packet of yeast performed beyond expectations!! The dough on first rise more than  doubled in size and after that everything was a breeze!! Maybe, fortune does favour the foolish, at times!!

More than 3 hours after I started, my kitchen smelt beautiful and I was in possession of a beautiful, golden loaf of bread!! My limited vocabulary of food cannot do justice to the taste of this loaf. It was, simply put, delicious!! It was soft, airy and you could eat it all by itself!! I put a blob of butter on some hot toasted slices, saw it melt and then took a bite.. sublime!!

Would I recommend this recipe, my answer would be an honest yes and no, depending on how comfortable  you are with baking!! If you are new to it, I'd hold off on this recipe for a bit and wait until you are more comfortable with baking recipes and equipment. However, this is a must-try for the enthusiastic baker who wants to try something beyond the usual cookies, brownies and pound cakes. If there is a recipe for a white loaf you want to try, let it be this one!!!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Nan Khatai - Indian Cardamom Semolina Biscuits

Food has this amazing ability to evoke a variety of emotions and memories. Many a times, it evokes nostalgia of a time when life was simpler and it's memories are fonder. It is not usually so much about the taste of a particular food but more often, the memories it brings back!!

This post remembers a time when neighbourhood bakeries in India were no non-sense establishments with a limited yet memorable product list. There were no brownies, no multi-grain breads, no chocolate chip cookies, no blueberry cheesecakes and definitely, no macarons!! Instead you had mawa cakes, cream rolls, savoury puffs, khari biscuits, coconut macaroons, pastries slathered with sweet cream and canned cherries and these nan khatai biscuits. Today, the legacy of that product list lives on, albeit much diminished, in the oldest bakeries of India's towns and cities, struggling to hold its own against an ever-changing baking landscape!!

Of all the memories I have of eating these biscuits, the one that stands out is of the one during my school summer holidays. Right in the middle of my mother's  afternoon siesta and in the stillness of the afternoon heat, raiding the biscuit tin with my partners-in-crime, as silently as was possible, made it the highlight of our afternoon adventures!!

The recipe is extremely simple with my favourite technique of mixing the dry ingredients into the wet ones. These are very basic biscuits with a short-bread like consistency with the semolina giving it an added texture that an all-flour biscuit would not have. The cardamom is a unique flavouring instead of the regular orange/lemon zest.

The biscuits are not very high on visual appeal (I struggled with the photographs) but that is more than made up with the taste and the memories they conjure up! Winter is still around and so my suggestion is that have these with a steaming cup of tea or milky chai and immerse yourself in nostalgia.

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