Sunday, 24 June 2012

Cherry Frangipane Tarts

When I first started blogging, I did not have a clue on how this blog would shape up. All I knew was that I loved baking and I wanted to have my little corner where I could share my experiences, as I experimented and expanded my baking repertoire. I wondered, at first, on how I would decide which recipe to tackle and worried that I would overload on chocolate-centric recipes. After all, I came into this blog with one chocolate cake, one chocolate brownie and one chocolate-chip cookie recipe in my baking kitty!


And what a revelation it has been .... apart from the baking experience, I just did not anticipate how much I would enjoy weaving these little stories around my baking, whether it be with my writing or with the photographs that would accompany them. I've amazed myself as I've found inspiration for my posts from food memories, places, books and the seasons.

I found myself repeatedly turning to the fruit in season for inspiration and searching for recipes that incorporated them. I suspect that has much to do with the changes that I have brought about in my own diet over the past few years, to increase my intake of fresh and seasonal produce, which brings me to today's post.

We are right now in the middle of stone fruit season which occupies a tiny space in India's fruit calendar. Much of India lies in the tropics, except for a few northern states  that have the climate to grow these fruits. So when the plums, peaches and cherries make their annual appearance in the fruit market, you have to move fast or the season will just pass you by!!

The cherries from Kashmir, our northernmost state, have arrived and I knew I had to make something with them. I zeroed in on these tarts. Time and again, I have come across various frangipane tarts that have fruits in them and these juicy, deep red cherries called out to me!!

These tarts start off with a short crust base with a frangipane filling, which is essentially a mix of almond meal, vanilla, eggs and sugar. They are then topped of with pitted cherries which get immersed in the filling as these tarts bake!!

Before I go on to tell you how these tarts tasted, can I just to tell you that these tarts looked beautiful and dainty. They had me captivated the moment I pulled them out of the oven, with the dark cherries peeking out of the puffed-up golden brown filling, .

And they did not disappoint on the taste front either. The pastry was the same one I used for these galettes, a tried and tested one, that produces these lovely, flaky tarts. The frangipane filling with a slightly nutty taste and a delicate, vanilla flavour is a winner.

The juicy cherries, in my opinion, provide a balance of freshness as well as they lighten up a filling that could otherwise risk being a bit too rich, owing to the almond meal. And the best part, these tarts are not cloyingly sweet and the jam glaze on top finishes them off perfectly!!

What I would change the next time I make them and I ask you to keep in mind is to add more cherries. These are, after all, cherry tarts and you would want to encounter this juicy, beautiful fruit with every mouthful that you take. So, my suggestion, don't go stingy on the fruit!!

For someone who is increasingly enjoying baking with fruit, I can't stop praising these beautiful tarts that would make a perfect tea time treat. Pair them with cream or custard and they'd make a delightful dessert for a summer meal. Cherries are in season across much of the world right now, so try these before the season ends!!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

French Mango Cake : "TWD : Baking with Julia"

When it comes to recipes from the Julia Child baking bible, I follow the recipe to the last word. I am still a novice baker, finding my way around and haven't yet developed the confidence to play around with recipes. It's also my way of giving the true blue baking recipes a shot, something I would normally be tempted to give a miss considering all the fuss and emphasis on technique that usually accompany them. But then there are recipes like today's where adapting the recipe has been the only way!! But am getting a bit ahead of myself...

This week's recipe for our bake-together was the French Strawberry Cake. That's when I faced my first hurdle. Strawberries are long gone from the Indian market with January-March being strawberry season for us. So, I turned to the one fruit that takes over our fruit markets during the summer - the mango!! I figured its soft texture would make it a suitable substitution for strawberries and a good seasonal choice!!

"What's french about this cake??", you ask. Well, for the cake we turn to a 'perfect genoise' batter and as the book points out, "...the genoise is to a French baker what the sponge cake is to the American baker...". It's also, apparently, the first cake a French patissier learns to make!!

However, in practical terms, it also means this cake does not use any leavening agent like baking powder/soda to help it rise. It does that with the help of the eggs or rather, should I say, on how well you beat the eggs. For the baking technician, that would be beating the eggs till you get '10-second ribbons', in case, you haven't figured it out, this cake is all about technique, technique and technique!! Should you get the technique wrong, be prepared for your cake to fall flat, literally!!!

So, I followed this part of the recipe to the last word and the results were good - the cake rose, did not sink and maintained its height even after cooling down. But, after this the script well all awry. The recipe demands three layers out of this cake i.e. each layer would be a centimetre high. With temperatures soaring and an absolute lack of confidence in my skills, I stuck to two.

And then the recipe asked that we fill the layers with the fruit and cream and then cover the cake on the top and its sides with more cream and if that wasn't enough, we also had to pipe cream rosettes for decoration. For someone who is not a big fan of cream, I read on in absolute horror!!

But, my problem was something even more fundamental. To cover the cake with cream, we need to whip it and for that we need double cream, something that is not easily available in India in the packaged form. All we get is packaged low-fat cream which just can not be whipped into submission. Many a home baker before me has tried and failed... and as for yours truly, I tried whipping the cream for close to an hour before finally throwing in the towel in utter exasperation and frustration!!

With no choice left, I simple decided to sandwich a layer of mango and cream between the two layers and then dust some icing sugar on top. The heat (the temperature that day was 41 deg C), the excessive emphasis on the technique of how the cake had to be made and then my run-in with the cream, I was more than happy to be just done with this recipe!!!

My verdict - for all the fuss that this recipe demands, the cake, I felt, did not live up to the hype!! It felt a tad dry and the mango with its syrup did not do much to help the situation. Maybe the berries would have been better. And while I did not use all the cream as specified, I am not sure I even missed it. I doubt that much cream would have been appreciated in this weather. Not that this cake was bad but I'd say I've had better!!!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Eggless Chocolate Cake with Fudge Frosting

The beauty of a mother-daughter relationship is that, as time progresses, a relationship that begins with the conventionality of a parent-child bond blossoms into a beautiful friendship between two women. Like fine wine, it gets better with age, with the ties of love and blood strengthened each day with mutual admiration, trust, respect, tenderness and camaraderie. In my life, it is the one relationship where I can confide without the fear of judgement, cry without the fear of pity, fight without the fear of recrimination, love without the fear of restraint and of course, gossip without the fear of contempt!!

A few days back, it was my mother's birthday and this cake that I share with you is one of her favourites. Ever since I've discovered it, I make it for her birthday each year and am pretty convinced that once you give it a shot, it will be a regular at your home too!!

For the cake, I turn to this absolutely gorgeous, egg less cake recipe that I discovered on one of my favourite blogs, 'Barbara Bakes'. Not for a minute should you think that the lack of eggs compromises the final product of this cake in any way. If any thing, this recipe produces one of the most moist, chocolaty cakes that I've come across. This recipe dates back to the post-War era of rationed supplies and thus, it is does not use butter but oil.

It is also one of the easiest cakes to make. It follows the 'quick bread' method - where the dry ingredients are simply combined with the wet ingredients, there is no creaming, no beating, no sifting .. all you need is a hand whisk to bring together the two sets of ingredients... that simple!!

While not a big fan of butter cream frosting, I turned to this uber-simple, uber-chocolaty and uber-gorgeous fudge frosting by Nigella - my one-stop destination for easy, fuss-free, no-fail and delicious recipes!!

Once made, there is not a single fault that one can find with this cake. The cake is beautifully moist, chocolaty and light. The frosting just takes it up a notch higher on the scale of 'chocolate love'. This cake holds its own even without the frosting as I usually keep the frosting only for special occasions.

Every time I make this cake, it has always been appreciated and complimented. Considering the ease with which this cake is made, it makes this recipe even more of a winner. And don't just take my word for it....

A while back, I sent this recipe to an old, school friend who was looking for an easy chocolate cake recipe. She mailed back, effusive with gratitude and appreciation and in her words..."this cake has become the biggest hit with all my friends and family.... it has also set a high standard of what people expect from me...!!!". With such high praise, this cake demands that you give it a shot!!

And before I sign off, I share with you three important lessons of life that I've learnt from my mother -- Live your life truthfully with no pretence, face adversity with dignity and no matter how old you are, never stop in your quest to learn new things and expand your horizons!!!

Happy Birthday Mama .. While I might be the single biggest cause of all your white hair, I am simply blessed to have you as my mother!!

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