Friday, 31 May 2013

Vietnamese Iced Coffee Panna Cotta

Start writing a food blog and you will find yourself revisiting old food memories. For instance, my daily fix of iced coffee in the Summer traces back to my school days. Coffee was an absolute no-no then, the mysterious substance that was meant only for adults. But, every once in a while, during our summer holidays, as a special treat, we would be allowed to add the teeniest, tiniest amount of coffee powder to our glass of cold milk. We probably wouldn't have been able to taste the caffeine but it did change the colour of milk from white to the palest brown and gave us our rightful place in the adult world!
And the fondness for iced coffee has remained, ever ready to try out different variants. So, if it was the Greek frappe in University, my current fascination lies with the Vietnamese version. Also known as 'Ca phe sua da', it is finely ground roast coffee individually brewed with a small metal filter that drips the brewed coffee into a cup containing sweetened condensed milk and ice. If you haven't tried it till date, it comes highly recommended!!
And talking about Vietnamese iced coffee, reminds me of this recipe by Zoe Francois that I had bookmarked almost a year back. It is a layered panna cotta inspired by the Vietnamese Iced coffee.
You have a panna cotta layer that consists of cream, condensed milk and coffee. And the creamy panna cotta is broken into with a layer of coffee jelly in the middle and on the top. There is nothing complicated about making this dessert but it does get tedious waiting for each layer to set before you can pour the next layer.
But, trust me when I say the effort is worth it. This is an elegant and sophisticated dessert for the adult palate. Needless to say, you have to love your coffee to love this dessert. I feared this would be a cloyingly sweet dessert that would be on the richer side. I couldn't have been more wrong. The panna cotta is as creamy as it should be with the hint of coffee being discernible and not domineering. The after taste is that of coffee and not sugar, just how it should be! 
And don't miss out on the coffee gelee. It is a thin layer but for me, this is the layer that makes the dessert. It not only cuts through the creaminess of the panna cotta but also subtly accentuates the flavour of the coffee, the star of the show!!
Talking about food memories, one look at the coffee jelly had my mother reminiscing about the coffee jelly from her days in the Delhi University canteen of the late 1960s! How's that for a retro food memory?!!
With the monsoons still some days away and the oven out of bounds because of the heat, this dessert is perfect for the season and the mood. Now, how 'bout you share a Summer food memory of yours??

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Mini Pavlovas With Mangoes And Cream

I've been missing in action for the past few weeks. Blame it on the heat.. in fact, these days, I blame the summer heat for everything that doesn't go my way!! Summer is at its peak and if you've ever experienced the Indian summer then you know how the heat has this unique ability to sap you of all enthusiasm that you might have towards life. It induces a certain lassitude and inertia that reduces life to spending much of your days indoors, till the better part of the day is over.

And yet, like the proverbial silver lining, summer has its redeeming features. The first, for me, would be the fragrance of summer flowers that come alive in the evening. As the sun sets and the blinding heat of the day recedes, a gentle wind picks up. And it brings with it the sensual and seductive scent of flowers that are unique to the tropics. Mostly white in colour, these are flowers such as jasmine, mogra, tube roses, champa, raatrani and frangipani. Step out of your indoor confines and as the heady waft of these flowers washes over you, it brings a much-needed relief and calm that makes you understand why poets and writers alike, have waxed lyrically about summer evenings!!

The second redeeming feature of the summer is mangoes. I had written last year about India's love affair with the fruit. The fruit is best enjoyed on its own and if it used in any dessert, it deserves that it remains the star of the show. When I first made a pavlova back in January, not only did I fall in love with this Aussie classic but I remember saying to myself that mangoes would be a good fruit to pair with the pavlova.
So, I went with a miniature version of a pavlova and paired it with a simple combination of mangoes and cream. While I abhor going anywhere near an oven in this weather, the beauty of a pavlova is that it can be made in advance during the cooler part of the day. And it takes no more than fifteen minutes to prepare before you pop it in the oven. Once in the oven, it can be forgotten until the prescribed time tells you to switch off the oven and leave it to cool down.

Mangoes and cream is an unbeatable combination but the pavlova base elevates it to the level of an elegant dessert. The light, chewy base is perfect for the summer where a cake or tart base would have been a tad too heavy for the season. And most importantly, the mango remains the star!!

I reckon and hope that these are the last days of the Indian summer as we count down to the monsoons. As we reel under a heat wave, the rains can't come fast enough!! Till then, simple pleasures remain our last refuge!!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Brownies : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

Work your way through baking blogs, you will notice that some recipes will always find their way into the recipe index. You are almost certain to find a sinful chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies that the author will assure you are the best you've ever had, a creamy cheesecake with a fruit compote, meringues, macarons from those who've figured out the mystery behind making them, blueberry muffins, lemon tarts and lest we forget, gooey, fudgy brownies!

And of course, if you were to look at that list, you'd realise that this blog has a long way to go. So, to set things right, I bring you brownies. These were made by the 'TWD: Baking with Julia' group, way back in October. Having missed making them then, they've been on my mind for a while and finally decided to give them a go. After all, Julia Child does refer to them as the 'best ever' brownies!!
The recipe is not much different from any other recipe that you might have come across. The only difference I noted was that the egg-sugar mixture is beaten until the volume doubles before it is mixed with the chocolate and the butter.
Not sure on the significance of that step, but the brownies that come out of the oven get top marks. They are everything you expect from a brownie - dense, fudgy, chocolaty, soft and creamy. You'll be hard pressed to find fault with these brownies. A small piece of them can make the world seem right again... Yes, they are THAT good!!

So, how do these match up to your favourite brownies that you've had or baked?? I always refrain from using the term 'best ever' because invariably, there is a beautiful memory or story attached, when something becomes your favourite!! In this case, it could be the brownies your mother baked when you were a child or the brownies you and your girlfriends always order for your gossip sessions or for that matter, it could be the brownies that will always remind you of a very special date!

And, no recipe, however good, can compete with those memories. But, I will say this much, this recipe has the power to create some very beautiful memories of its own. That should be reason enough not to miss out on these brownies!!
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