Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Whole Wheat Bread : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

What a difference eight months has made! It was in February that we started baking from the 'Baking with Julia' book. And I clearly remember how I almost chickened out of the group when I saw that they had chosen 'White Loaves' to be their very first recipe. Yeast had never been my friend and my melodramatic post at the time was about how I still went ahead and was, surprise, surprise, successful. I still remember how I fretted through that whole recipe and patted myself on the back, with a certain amount of relief and wonder, when that loaf emerged from the oven!!
All these months on and a number of bread recipes with yeast under my belt (all thanks to the 'Baking with Julia' group), I made a go at the whole wheat version of the white loaf!! And what a breeze it was! I am now happy to announce that yours truly has conquered the beast called yeast. I may have lost my fear of yeast, but evidently, I haven't lost the touch of drama in my writing!!

The recipe for this whole-wheat bread is more or less along the lines of the white loaf of bread with the ratio of the whole wheat and plain flour being roughly 50:50. Because of the presence of the whole wheat, we add a bit of honey to help the yeast along. And no, the bread does not taste sweet!!

A shade darker in colour than the white loaf of bread, this bread can simply be described as a wholesome and tasty bread. As with any homemade bread, there is a certain freshness of flavour that is always appreciated. You can also clearly see the tight crumb of this bread from the photographs.

Importantly, the presence of whole wheat makes it a tad healthier than its all white flour counterpart. As I have become more comfortable with yeast, I can easily see myself revisiting this recipe again and again.

Dorie Greenspan writes how this bread is ideal for sandwiches. It is such a flavourful bread that when taken out fresh from the oven, you can eat it plain. So, I simply toasted a few slices and slathered some butter that just melted on the hot toast. Paired that with a steaming cup of chai, that uniquely Indian  concoction of milky, sweet tea that is flavoured with a whole lot of spices. It really doesn't get better than that!!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Poires Belle Hélène : Spice-Poached Pears with Warm Chocolate Sauce

Recently, I bought myself a copy of Nigel Slater's 'Ripe'. For someone who has increasingly found herself enjoying baking with the fruit of the season, I thought this book would be a valuable addition to my tiny cookbook collection. And for once, I got it right!!
To call this book a cookbook would be doing it gross injustice. This book is much much more. Divided into chapters, with one chapter being dedicated to one fruit, this book celebrates the world of fruit like none other. With his characteristic, evocative style, Slater draws you into the magical world of fruit trees that grow in his backyard, jostling with each other for space. And then as the seasons change, he introduces you to each fruit tree as an unique personality.
From the tree to its blossoms to its fruit, from its shape to its colour to its taste, he describes the appeal of each fruit, almost as if it were a person. Elaborating on the appropriate pairings for each fruit, he shares recipes that celebrate the fruit. Along with rustic photographs, this book engrosses and enchants you so completely in its world, that you can't help long for a little patch of fruit trees to call your own!! 
I was keen on giving one of the recipes from the book a shot. I was looking for something easy and fuss-free and it had to be with pears - the one fruit along with apples that is dominating the market right now. Nigel talks about the pairing of pears and chocolate as a "marriage made in heaven"!! And that's how I zeroed in on this recipe of poached pears along with warm chocolate sauce that has a hint of coffee in it.

As it turns out, this recipe of poached pears with chocolate sauce is a classic French bistro dessert. Created in 1864 by the legendary Auguste Escoffier, this dessert was inspired by the operetta, La belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach. The operetta parodied the story of the infamous Helen whose face launched a thousand ships and set off the Trojan war!! And so in French, this dessert is called 'Poires Belle Hélène'!!
Don't you just love these French names?!!? They make something simple sound so elegant and classy, that it makes you want to pull out your high heels and pearls for the occasion!!! 

The dessert is nothing too elaborate. The recipe in the book poaches the pears in a simple sugar syrup with vanilla. I took it further and added some spices - star anise, cinnamon and cloves. The chocolate sauce is more of a chocolate ganache with a hint of coffee. I love coffee but if it's not to your liking, you can leave it out.
As you poach the pears, the gentle waft of those spices, namely the star anise and cinnamon, will invade your kitchen and soothe the senses. So delicate is the aroma of the poached pears, that I did wonder, while making the chocolate sauce, if it would overpower and dominate the pears.  

And that's where I was surprised. The dessert is something of a 'tango' between the two components. If initially your taste buds are led by the more powerful chocolate sauce, the delicate pear follows with the spices and a certain freshness of the fruit that stands up quite effortlessly to the chocolate. Much like the classical dance, the components embrace each other to create a dessert that is elegant and captivating!

You can have it with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream but the opinion at home was that it could easily be done away with.. the choice is, of course, yours!! Either way, the simplicity and elegance of this dessert asks that you try it at least once and you won't be disappointed!!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Bagels : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

My first brush with bagels was in University. Every friday night, before heading out for the night, my Brazilian flatmate and his friend would have the same dinner of beer and bagels. And it never changed. It was almost like a weekly bonding ritual between them. Even the bagels would have the same filling!! It would start of classically with a layer of cream cheese, then a layer of smoked salmon and then, get this.. a layer of the red-packet 'Kettle Chips'!!! Dude food, anyone???
It's been a while since University, but that food memory with bagels has endured. And then Hollywood and American television would imprint the bagel as the classic 'on-the-move' breakfast along with that towering cup of coffee!!! And that's how I've always seen them, as something that is bought and left to the professionals. But, there's always a first time. So, it was time to make bagels for the 'TWD : Baking with Julia' bake-together.

For anyone contemplating this recipe, a 'heads-up' on the fact that the recipe is almost 4 pages long!!! Coming back... bagels are made with the usual suspects - flour, yeast and water. The dough is proofed, shaped into their distinctive round shapes, boiled in hot water and then baked. All sounded pretty straight forward, albeit tedious, when I read it.

Now, I don't know if it was only me, but I found dough extremely wet and sticky to work with. And that made the whole thing a verry messy affair. Apart from that sticky issue, no complaints really with the process!!

The verdict : the bagels looked like how they should, but, as you can see from the photographs, uniformity in size is not one of my strengths. The slightly wrinkly crust had a crunch when you bit into it, before you encountered the soft bread inside. I did wonder though, should the bagels have been plumper and smoother?? Any thoughts on that...

There are tons of fillings to go with your bagels, varying with the time of day. I went with a simple schmear of butter and a cheese slice to go along with my morning cuppa. Have one and it will fill you up for a while...

But, I'll be honest, I'd only recommend this recipe for the enthusiastic baker, to understand the entire process that goes behind making a bagel. Personally, while I enjoyed the bagels, I found the recipe, especially the dough, a bit too tedious to work with. And it is one of those instances where the practicality and convenience of buying bagels from a good bakery wins over making them at home. 

Friday, 5 October 2012

Chocolate Mousse Tart with Orange Caramel

There are days when only chocolate will do.
It is non-negotiable. Nothing else will do. Nothing else will suffice. Nothing else will assuage. None of that talk about complex carbohydrates and whole grains and probiotic yoghurt and fresh fruits and raw vegetables. No, none of that. Non. Ne. Nahin. Nie. Nyet. Na.
Only. Chocolate. Will. Do.
For days like this, I had bookmarked this chocolate mousse tart. The recipe was created by Masterchef Aussie contestant, Mindy and went on to win her the challenge and appeared on the August cover of the Masterchef Magazine.
Ever since I saw it on that episode, it was a no-brainer. The judges ooh-ed and aah-ed and talked about going to heaven after a bite. And then you read the recipe, it is a chocolate mousse in a chocolate pastry crust and topped with some orange caramel. I mean there is not much convincing required after reading that.
I have made something similar earlier.. these chocolate truffle tarts from the 'Baking with Julia' book. I wondered if this tart improved on that or fell short or would it be more or less the same thing.
I halved the original recipe to get two smaller 4.5-inch tarts and a couple of smaller tartlets. The reason there are no photographs of the tartlets is because.. well.. by the time I got the camera out, there were none left. Yes, the craving for chocolate was pretty intense that day!!
If you bake on a regular basis, you will find the recipe pretty straightforward. Although when it comes to the pastry dough, I found this one is a little more wet than what I am used to working with. So, if you have a tried and tested chocolate short-crust dough, I'll recommend that you go with that.
But for all the talk about the crust, the star of the show is that beautiful, luscious chocolate mousse filling. If it is chocolate you want, then this will meet all your demands. The filling is dark, rich and chocolaty - the type that will coat your tongue with only one flavour, chocolate!! And just when you imagine that it might get a bit too much, there is the zest of an orange to perk it up and save it from being overpowering!! In fact, these were lighter than the chocolate truffle tarts I was talking about earlier!!
And carrying on with the orange theme, it is served with an orange caramel. Not only is it easy to make but it transforms this dish into a refined, sophisticated and elegant dinner party dessert!! A slice of this and the eyes of your guests will be twinkling!!
As for me, I could hardly wait to finish taking the photographs ... the joy and burden of being a food blogger .. you photograph before you eat!!! And after I savoured this tart, I promise you, the world was a better place!!! Yes, some days ... only chocolate will do!!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Cranberry-Walnut-Pumpkin Loaf : "TWD : Baking with Julia"

Although America has a grand tradition of baking with pumpkin around this time of the year, the idea has never really appealed to me. It's not that we don't get pumpkins in India. Oh we do and plenty of it!! Drive through the rural countryside and you will see them growing on a vine along the roofs of people's homes!! But it's largely cooked as a savoury dish and for someone who till very recently thought about baking only in terms of chocolate, the very idea of pumpkin in a cake was a bit off-putting, to be honest.

But lately, I have been intrigued ... I have seen pumpkin pies, muffins, cheesecakes, candy, bread, cake on every other blog I've been to in the past two weeks ...I've read the recipes, gawked at the photographs and finally, told myself 'the time has come'!! So, this week's 'TWD:Baking with Julia' choice of recipe, Cranberry-Walnut-Pumpkin Loaf, could not have come at a more opportune time!!

The recipe is a yeasted bread dough that has roasted pumpkin puree, egg, toasted walnuts, raisins and cranberries (I used dried ones) added to it. Much like the brioche dough that we used for these buns, the dough is kept overnight in the refrigerator after one rise and before it is rolled into shape for the second rise.
This is an extremely sticky and wet dough to work with but apart from that there is nothing difficult about this recipe. However, with all the waiting required, it does take almost a day to make from the time you first start.

The dough rises beautifully and because of the presence of the egg, it bakes into a beautiful golden-brown crust, complete with some of the cranberries peeking out from the top. It helps that with the cinnamon and nutmeg present in the dough, your kitchen smells beautiful!!
As for the taste, no, you do not taste the pumpkin. My question.. is that normal, for when you bake with pumpkin?? Is it just there for texture and volume and not so much for flavour??? But apart for that, this bread is along the lines of a sweet fruit bread. With the toasted nuts, sweet raisins, tangy cranberries and cinnamon, it begins to evoke the flavours of Christmas, just a teeny bit!! You can have a slice of it plain or lightly toasted. We preferred the latter option!!

My issue with this bread is not so much with the recipe. It is more to do with the fact that with the same flavour combinations, instead of a yeasted dough, this could have been made along the lines of a 'quick bread'. The texture would have been more cake-like, saved us a lot of time and it would have still tasted just as good. In fact, I've seen recipes where orange juice has been added to a similar quick bread .. now, how good would that have been??? Just a thought....  
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