Monday, 31 December 2012

Best of 2012...

This is my last post for the year. I'll keep it simple.. I leave you with a list of the ten most-read posts of 2012. Whilst these posts have all been related to baking and the kitchen, there are also posts where I have revealed a little bit of myself with each post! I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I've enjoyed writing them!!

But, before that, a tiny mention that Baker-in-Disguise and yours truly were featured on 'Cut Out + Keep' all this week, with one popular recipe from this blog being featured every day of the week.
You can see the whole feature, here :

No matter how the past year went by, the eternal optimist in me believes that you have to look upon the new year with renewed enthusiasm and hope!! Because as the inimitable Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes, once said, It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy...Let’s go exploring!!

Wishing you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year!! May your year be filled with laughter, love, luck and good health!! Stay safe and be happy! I'll see you in 2013 and we'll go exploring!!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Fruit Cake

And... Christmas is here!! Even if you don't celebrate Christmas like me, you cannot escape its infectious spirit of joy and celebration that it brings. So close to the New Year, it is just one more reason to celebrate, forget your worries and indulge yourself!
Christmas is a baker's delight. This time of the year is made for the oven. Food blogs are crammed with stories with people rushing against the clock to do their holiday baking, buying their gifts, catching up with friends and family and then there's not only the mammoth Christmas Feast but the breakfast the morning after!!!
Life's a bit simpler out here. Since, we don't celebrate Christmas, I get into the spirit of things by baking a Christmas Fruit Cake. It's traditional, Christmassy and reason enough to surround myself with family and close friends.
The recipe I turn to is Nigella's Chocolate Fruit Cake. Nigella and her recipes are no brand ambassador for Weight Watchers and that's what makes them perfect for Christmas. And her recipes not only deliver as promised but are almost, always crowd-pleasers!!
The recipe cannot get simpler even if you tried. This is not one of those recipes where you should have steeped your dried fruits in alcohol weeks or months in advance. Nigella cheats her way by simmering the dried fruits in an alcohol mix over heat, for ten minutes. This may not meet the approval of the purists but it definitely meets the approval of the harried, practical and pragmatic cook.
Talking about how simple this cake is, it does not even use a hand-held mixer. You simply mix everything with a wooden spoon. It really can't get easier than that!!
The cake hardly takes much time to put together but it does have a fairly lengthy baking time. But, that's a good thing because by the time it is baked, your whole house is filled with the fragrance of Christmas. If for some reason you are not in the mood of things, this will definitely get you in the mood.
The cake is everything a Christmas cake should be. It is dark, dense, moist, slightly sticky and tastes of Christmas. Its all in there -  the alcohol, the spice, the dried fruits, the oranges, all the traditional flavours you associate with Christmas. If the chocolate in her title makes you wary, then worry not, because it is hardly discernible but just adds to the darkness and depth of this cake. A small slice goes a long way so this cake feeds a lot of people.
I cannot recommend this cake enough. With hardly any effort, you will have a Christmas cake that will become a family favourite and an integral part of your Christmas memories.

Wishing you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas. May the magic of Christmas brighten every part of your lives with love, laughter and happiness!!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Lemon Curd Thumprint Cookies

If you live near the tropics as I do, you look forward to Winter. We have none of that freezing temperatures, grey landscape, 'havent-seen-sunshine-in-days' kind of weather. Winter is about gentle sunshine that prompts happier moods and wider smiles. It is about weather that tempts you to organise lunch in the garden, if you have that luxury. It is about searching for that one odd sweater in the deep recesses of your cupboard because that one sweater represents your entire winter clothing. It is about gardens being filled with flowers of all colours. It is about markets bursting with fresh produce. Yes, we get strawberries around this time of the year! But, not just strawberries, every fruit and vegetable looks healthier, fresher and plumper than it does all year round.
So, when I saw a mound of huge, plump, yellow lemons, I knew I had to make something with them. It's a winter thing! As winter turns to summer, in India, these huge, yellow lemons will shrink and disappear from the markets to be replaced by tiny, green limes. So, Winter is the time to enjoy this citrus!

My mother is a big fan of lemon and all things citrusy. She's been after me for something lemony.. 'how 'bout making a lemon meringue pie, lemon sponge pudding or even, lemon curd tartlets??', she's told me pointedly, time and again, when asked for suggestions on what to bake.
Way back in the summer, I had spotted these lemon bar cookie cups on 'Barbara Bakes' - that brilliant treasure trove of impressive yet doable recipes!! I had bookmarked it then and finally got around to making them.

Barbara gives a brilliant resource for making the lemon curd. If you have never made lemon curd before, I recommend that you turn to this recipe. It yields a beautiful, silky smooth lemon curd, and more importantly, without any fuss.
For the cookies, I used Rachel Allen's basic shortbread cookie recipe. And to bring it all together, I turned to Barbara's brilliant technique of using mini-muffin tins to make these thumprint cookies. If you are as hopeless as me in getting the dough into mini circles and then, making an indent in it, this technique is a God-send!

I had made the lemon curd a day before, so baking the cookies and assembling the whole thing took me a little more than an hour. Although I wish the lemon curd would have yielded a more yellow, sunnier colour!
The lemon curd is lemony and fresh, with enough sweetness to help cut through the obvious tartness and tangy enough, to remind you who is the star of the show!! The petite size is just right for this cookie. This is lemon curd not chocolate, so there is only that much you can have at one go!!

If you love lemons, you will love these cookies. I am not a big fan of lemons and even, I loved these cookies. And, it definitely got Ma's seal of approval!!

Food blogs are right now engulfed by cookie madness. These cookies are a good addition to a cookie platter packed with overtly sweet jam-filled or chocolate/caramel cookies.

If you are lucky enough to live near the tropics, these cookies will match your mood. And if you haven't seen the Sun for a few days, these little drops of sunshine will perk up your day!!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Finnish Pulla : 'TWD : Baking With Julia'

As far as 2012 goes, we are in the home stretch now. Your time to ponder on what you could've, should've and would've done with the year, has come and gone ... You should have already done that by now! Now, all eyes are on 2013 and all that remains for us to do is bring in the new year with hope, excitement, optimism and of course, a party!!
And for the last 'TWD : Baking with Julia' post of the year, the group has chosen the Finnish Pulla. The book describes it as a celebration loaf, apt for the mood of the season. In this version, it is braided into a wreath which fits in beautifully with the Christmas theme.

I was quite excited to try my hand at this bread because of its Finnish origin. For us in India, Scandinavia seems so far away. It's not the physical distance as much as how different  the culture, the people, the climate, the landscape and the food is compared to ours.. it all seems so different and exotic to us. And am pretty sure, the feeling is mutual from their end towards India.
And yet, this Finnish recipe has a tiny Indian component, cardamom. Grown in abundance in southern India, cardamom is used extensively in Indian cuisine. I reckon, the spice trade of yore was responsible to taking it to Northern Europe. My guess is that coming from so far, it must have been considered exotic and used mainly for times of celebration, such as in this pulla. Do correct me if I've got it wrong!! 

Much like the brioche dough that was used to make these sticky buns, this loaf is also made from an egg and butter-rich dough. Fairly simple to put together, the stand-out feature of the recipe is the addition of crushed cardamom seeds to the dough.
The dough performs beautifully and even clumsy fingers like mine could shape it into a wreath without much fuss.

Pull the bread out of the oven and you know you are onto a winner. This bread scores the maximum when it comes to its visual appeal. That beautiful, golden-brown crusted bread accompanied with the faint smell of cardamom looks so impressive that you can't help pat yourself on the back. That's the beauty of this recipe and the book that a novice like me can attempt this bread and actually pull it off!!

While the egg and butter keeps the bread soft and light, it also makes this bread a wee bit rich. It is slightly sweet tasting with the flavour of the cardamom shining through. Although a familiar flavour for me, I can well imagine the cardamom being an exotic taste for others. If you've never tried cardamom before, you are missing a good thing!! A piece of this bread would be ideal with your morning coffee!!

If you are an enthusiastic baker, keen on trying out new recipes, I'd recommend that you make this bread atleast once. It is definitely one to be added to your repertoire! 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Some Of My Favourite Blogs...

December is 'rewind' month. A time when amidst all the partying, you look back at the year gone by. You relive the moments when things went your way and you ponder at those times when you can't fathom how you lost your way.

As I look back on 2012, this blog has been the surprising, exciting highlight of my year! It will have to be another post where I explain how what started out as a tentative experiment turned out be a definitive outlet to expressing myself.
But today, I am going to introduce you to some of my favourite blogs that I have discovered over the past year. Needless to say that each of these blogs has beautiful recipes and captivating photographs. But, they also had 'something else', something that got me hooked onto the blog and I now, look forward to each new post of theirs. In some cases, I got to know the individual behind them and in some, I remain a distant admirer.
So, in no particular order, these are some of my favourite blogs...
  • Chef In Disguise : I discovered this beautiful blog from the Middle East within a few weeks of debuting my blog. I was 'googling' the name of my blog (Don't judge me.. we have all done it some time!!) and instead of 'Baker-in-Disguise', 'Chef-in-Disguise' popped up. Written by Sawsan, who hails from Jordan, this is a blog packed with all sorts of recipes. But what I most adore about this blog is how Sawsan introduces us to life and the cuisine of the Middle East (I have my eye on her Kibbeh, Barazek and Mamoul). She makes you want to try each of her recipes, the easy ones as well as the more complex ones. And be ready to be impressed, she's an orthodontist, home-maker, wife, mother and one of the most active bloggers I know!!
  • Baker Street : Simply put, this blog is my 'Baking Wikipedia'!! Written by Anuradha, a Television executive from Mumbai, this blog has it all. If you are looking for some of the most gorgeous and eye-catching baking recipes on the Web, or if you want to know how to unmould a bundt cake from its tin, or if you want to know how various bloggers bake their bread or simply, want to know how to package cookies, this is the blog you go to. And if that's not enough, Anuradha has also initiated two unique baking groups - One, is 'Muffin Monday' and the other is 'Bundt-A-Month'. Drop by her blog and you'll understand what I am talking about.
  • The Patterned Plate: In her own words, Caroline, the lady behind this blog, is "Indian born, Abu Dhabi bred, married to 'The Scotsman' with two kids and is now based in Doha". Yes, her blog has a beautiful mix of recipes and eye-catching photographs but what attracts my attention with every post of hers is her evocative style of writing. She has a beautiful way with words, whether it is about reliving an old food memory or giving you a peek into her everyday life or sharing with you her travel memories, she holds your attention and invariably, will evoke a response. And lately, what's been catching my eye are her attempts at cake decoration. She has a beautiful, elegant and 'less-is-more' style that calls out to me. Why don't you go and see for yourself??!
  • Citrus And Candy : This one comes all way from 'Down Under'! Born to Chinese parents from Malaysia and now, based in Sydney, Karen has this fun, informal and sometimes, irreverent way of writing that makes you feel as if she is talking to you in person rather than through the written word. Her recipes are a mix of Malaysian, Aussie, Italian and English food. But above all, it is her style of photography that enthrals me each time. Her photos are a knockout each time.. they will have you staring at the screen for a long time!  Just go and see her latest post on a Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake!!
  • Passionate About Baking : I'll be surprised if you tell me that you haven't heard of Deeba Rajpal or this beautiful blog of hers. She is pretty much the Grand Diva of food bloggers, here in India. And yet what stands out most about her is her humility and generosity with which she shares her expertise. There is honesty when she talks about the odd baking mishap and how she salvages it and there is modesty amidst all the accolades that she receives and deserves. Hers is also one of the most beautifully photographed blogs. In fact, her blog was one of the few that not only got me thinking about writing a blog but also got me thinking about how one can get creative while photographing food. Yes, she's been an inspiration!!
  • Verses From My Kitchen : This is the only blog on this list that is written by a man. Based in Toronto, Michael combines his love for food and writing in this blog. And boy, does he do a fantastic job at it!! His photographs have a clean, simple and sharp style that is riveting. While his recipes are a diverse mix, what I enjoy are the introductory paragraphs to each post of his. Written with his restrained and clean style of writing, they are expressive, redolent, evocative and reminiscent. A must-read!!
This is by no means, a complete list. There are so many other blogs that I enjoy reading and I will share those with you in the days and months to come. The list is so long that this would turn out to be a never-ending post. So, for now, I will leave you with these delightful blogs that promise to beguile, charm and win you over!! 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ginger Lime Syrup

As a city dweller heading out to the countryside, the one word that will recur with frequency is, abundance. The countryside is about the abundance of space, the abundance of fresh air, the abundance of nature, the abundance of fresh produce and the abundance of spirit of the people who live there. And invariably, we humour them with our stories of how we, in the cities, pay an exorbitant premium for produce that is available to them freely and in abundance. We talk about how we search our cities, high and low, for organic produce that is, well, growing in their backyards.
And invariably, we come back home with our bags crammed with all sorts of fresh farm and garden produce. We profusely thank the host who waves us off with a bemused smile, shaking their head at the ways of the deprived, of us who live in the cities.

That's what happened to me recently. On a quick trip to a cousin brother's estate, I stood admiring the lime trees in his backyard. The trees were flush with fruit and the morning air was redolent with a slight, citrusy fragrance as you walked by the trees. The city dweller in me gawked, exclaimed and gulped down mouthfuls of that fresh air. The next morning, while we were leaving, we were promptly handed over a bag stuffed with fresh limes. We protested weakly that this was all too much and they ..well.. rolled their eyes and laughed us off!!

So, as always, as I pondered on what to with the limes, Ma came to the rescue. Out came a little book and the recipe for a ginger-lime syrup that was given to her by a friend. And in under an hour, we had a bottle of this beautiful, delicately-coloured ginger-lime syrup.

This is a concoction of lime, ginger, sugar and water that is boiled into a syrup. And how does it taste?? It has the kick of ginger, a zesty pickup from the limes and a certain amount of sweetness to stop it from being overpowering. The end result.. it will leave you refreshed and smacking your lips!!

Take a tiny peg of it with water, plain or sparkling. Depending on the weather, you could add ice or if you are down with a sore throat like me, top it off with some warm water as a soothing night-time tot. The ginger and lime are said to be a natural antidote to counter that nasty cough/cold. If the ginger is a wee bit strong for you, you could sweeten it with a dash of honey.

This ginger-lime syrup provides a winter-counterpart to the classic summer lemonade. It is also a throwback to a time when our mothers and grand-mothers made all this seasonal home-made produce that was not only enticing but packed with health benefits. Of course, these days we look for the very same stuff at independent, boutique organic-produce shops. So, on a cold, wintry day, when the Sun comes out and you are in the mood for a dainty drink from the days gone by, may I recommend a bottle of this ginger-lime syrup.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Gingerbread Baby Cakes : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

So, I've been noticing a trend among food blogs. October was all about a pumpkin overdrive. November went by with everyone wondering where the year had gone by and how it was November already. No prizes for guessing what December is going to be about ... why, Christmas of course!!!

In keeping with the mood of the month, the 'TWD :  Baking with Julia' group zeroed in on Gingerbread Baby Cakes for our first recipe of the month. Gingerbread recipes, with their Christmas association, are the quintessential December recipes. The list includes gingerbread cakes, gingerbread houses and everyone's favourite, gingerbread cookies aka the gingerbread men and women. 

In this recipe, the gingerbread is in the avatar of baby cakes. For someone, who enjoys petite-sized individual cakes and desserts, this recipe was written for me.

The recipe was much like the other gingerbread cake recipes that I've seen. The standout points were the generous helpings of coffee powder, molasses and of course, ginger (powder as well as fresh).


Fifteen minutes into baking and the aroma of the coffee and ginger will take over your kitchen. Out of the oven, unmould these dark and moist baby cakes and as promised by the recipe, you will be deceived into thinking that these look like harmless, little chocolate cakes.

One bite later and you'll be proved wrong. This is a ginger cake and ginger is what will hit you from the very first bite. There is also the hint of the coffee that comes through. Apart from that, there is a certain denseness of flavour that unless you've made these cakes, will hold a certain mystery for you. The molasses, black pepper and cocoa powder provide a certain depth and darkness that is not easily identified.

These cakes promise a punch and they deliver a punch. I'd recommend these cakes for an adult and mature palate.

These can be served with some whipped cream and candied lemon. Instead, I served these with vanilla custard. It was a good choice. It helped mellow the overt spiciness of these cakes.
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