Friday, 29 November 2013

Lemon Meringue Pie

I wonder, at times, that if it were not for my thoroughly biased friends, whether this blog would have continued beyond a few months. These rockstars, champion me like I can do no wrong with this blog. They refuse to see the photographs that are unsharp and grainy or the writing that at times, is unimaginative and cheesy or when the baking is sloppy and messy!! It's a different matter that they are way more creative and talented than yours truly, and definitely, always better cooks and bakers!!
And the best part is, that most of them, now live across the world and have never tasted my baking and yet, they encourage, compliment and feed the ego like only friends can. We may not celebrate Thanksgiving, here in India, but I can always bake a pie for my friends, the one thing I got right in life!!
So, why did I choose a lemon meringue pie?! Well, invariably these friends have a few suggestions for my future posts. It could be an old favourite of theirs or something they have recently tried. This pie has been on a friend's wish list and long overdue! (Yes Debi, this one has your name on it!!)

What goes in a lemon meringue pie?? It is a pie filled with a lemon custard and then topped off with a meringue topping that is reminiscent of a pavlova - crisp exterior with a marshmallowy inside.
And for all you baking enthusiasts, here's your trivia for the day, if the lemon custard were replaced with lemon curd, this would have been called a 'lemon meringue tart'!! Well, you learn something new every day!!
The pie shell is your usual buttery, short-crust pastry. The lemon custard is strictly for the citrus lovers or maybe, I went over board with the amount of lemon juice used. The lemon tang will hit your tongue, zing up your nose and pop your eyes wide open! Yes, it's not for the faint-hearted or the citrus non-believers!
The citrus layer is then moderated with that meringue that tones down all excesses of the custard it hides beneath itself. It is delightfully light on the palate and is much needed to balance the dish.
Anything I'd do differently? When you place the meringue on top of the custard, be sure to see that it touches the pastry shell on the edges, to anchor it and stop it from sliding once it's baked. Secondly, I wonder whether I should have baked the custard layer first and then baked the meringue layer. You can then be surer that the custard layer has set as desired. Any experts want to weigh in??
Else, this is a pie where a tiny slice goes a long way, making it perfect for a large group of friends. It is a pie that will jolt you out of your lethargy and invigorate with its vibrancy and zing!!
So, this weekend, a huge shout out to my friends, wherever in the world you are. Love you all heaps, even if I am utterly hopeless when it comes to picking up the phone!!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Baked Eggs With Ham And Spinach

I am a 'morning' person. You will never hear me grumble about an early start to the day. If anything, I am a happier, more productive person when the day starts early. I can imagine how this fact is beyond the realm of understanding for many of you owls out there. I am friends with some of you!!
And so it is natural, that I enjoy a good breakfast. Not for me is just a hurried cup of coffee on the go. Weekday mornings maybe a boring, monotonous affair but the weekends are a different matter altogether. Life lets you a breathe a little easier, so grab the opportunity and indulge yourself!

Eggs are a favourite and for some, a natural choice for breakfast. And it offers so many choices. You could have it boiled, half-boiled, fried, scrambled, poached, as an omelette, as French toast or as I made them, baked!
Adapt the baked eggs recipe according to your taste and to what's available in your fridge. Me, I went all the way. I started with a slice of ham, then some wilted spinach, some cheese and then topped it off with an egg.

You do have to wait for 10-15 minutes, while the ramekins are in the oven. But, it's Sunday morning, you can take it easy.. straighten out those cushions in the living room, change your bed sheets, make a grocery list, please don't think of Monday morning, call up Mom, see what your friends are telling/showing you on Facebook and hey presto, the eggs are ready!!!
Put away everything else and savour these eggs.. they deserve that much for the good mood they are going to put you in, once you are done! The saltiness of the ham, the creaminess of the cheese, the vibrancy of the spinach and then there's the perfection of the eggs...there is not only the different tastes from all the components but also the different textures that simply complement each other.

Make these for breakfast and with a couple of buttered toasts, it is a complete meal that you can have any time of the day. Soo, what are you waiting for?? Now, how 'bout you telling me if you had/did anything interesting this weekend, breakfast or otherwise??

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Cucidati | X-Cookies : 'TWD : Baking With Julia'

I have been most erratic with baking along with 'TWD : Baking with Julia', these past few months. With the year drawing to a close, I think I still have some time to catch up with a few of the interesting ones I missed out on. For instance, I have had my eye on these X-cookies, ever since I bought the book, last year.

Turns out these fig stuffed, hand-shaped cookies originate from Sicily. The distinctive X-shape that this batch has, is contributing baker, Nick Maglieri's, special touch in shaping these cookies. Apparently, for Sicilians all over the world, there is no Christmas without cucidati.
The dominant ingredient in the stuffing is figs. The rest you can take liberties with. My filling was much like Nick's, except that I replaced the apricot preserve with some homemade strawberry jam that I had lying around in the fridge.
The biscuit that holds this filling is a buttery, short-crusty kind of  pastry. Both the components can be made in a processor, so there is nothing tedious about it.
My issue was with the time consuming process involved in filling and then shaping these cookies. If anything, while working with these cookies, I had a vision of a Sicilian Nonna, sitting around with her friends, shaping these cookies while they indulged in a round of gossip and match making. As you might have guessed, this recipe is definitely not for those short on time or patience!!
But, if you manage to get through that tedious process, rest assured, the fruits of your labour will have many admirers. You will definitely taste the figs but the rest of the filling has a complexity that will not be easily distinguishable. The entire sweetness comes from the dried fruits, as there is no sugar added to the filling. That ensures that there is no cloying sweet after taste.
Give it a day or two, and the flavours meld and mature beautifully together and if you are discerning enough, you might get a hint of the alcohol used. The pastry that encases is buttery and a perfect foil for the filling.
These cookies are traditionally made for Christmas. If you have it in you to put yourself through the time consuming process of making these cookies, for your platter at home, you can be sure that these will be the star of the show!!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Night Express To Paris With Marvin The Martian

I never really know what my next blog post will be. All I know is that I prefer it to be something I've never tried before. A new technique, a new flavour combination or simply put, anything that looks like it will be fun to work with. For instance, in mid-July, the man at the fruit stall, pointed to a couple of boxes of cherries and told me they were the last of the season. I, then, remembered someone once telling me about homemade fruit wines and liqueurs.

Well.. it seemed the perfect opportunity to try my hand at it. From the response that initial photograph of the bottle of cherry liqueur got on my Facebook page, I wasn't the only one excited with my little experiment. Three months on, I didn't just stop at one bottle of cherry liqueur. There's now even a bottle of orange liqueur and coffee liqueur!! The bar's been getting a bit crowded!!

It's Friday time for baking a cake.. but perfect time for some cocktails!! The perfect excuse to put my bottle of cherry liqueur to work. There is no real reason why I chose these two particular cocktails other than they sounded fun and their names would give an interesting title to this post!!
Naturally, the cherry liqueur is the main star of the show. In the first drink, 'Night Express To Paris', the cherry liqueur is paired with brandy to transform into a beautiful, seductive drink, fittingly served in a cocktail glass. The deep ruby red liqueur lends this drink an amorous hue and the brandy added makes it deliciously, deceptively and devilishly potent!
In contrast, Marvin the Martian, is relatively well-behaved. The citrus soda brings out the fruitiness of the liqueur. It also results in a lighter, pretty hue which also reflects in its taste. This is a fresher, lighter drink that screams fun!
Whatever your mood this Friday evening, one of these drinks will match it. Because, while Diwali got over last week, the season of celebration has just begun!! Cheers!!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Flourless Chocolate and Hazelnut Cake (Torta Gianduia)

It's that special time of the year .. Diwali is here!! Walk around any Indian city, town or village, you just can't miss the spirit of bonhomie and excitement that overtakes all of India. A time when all of India is lit up with lamps and lights to welcome the Goddess of prosperity in all aspects of our lives. A time when you reach out with the warmest wishes not only to your friends and family but even to random strangers that pass you by.
It is also a time when all kinds of deliciousness is being rustled up in kitchens across India, to be shared with family and friends. In the ideal world, you would want to make all that deliciousness in your kitchen. In the modern, practical world, you may outsource all that deliciousness, from people who are more adept than you. What remains important is that your home remains welcoming and warm to all!!
But that doesn't mean I can't bake a cake and share it with you this Diwali. And it's not just any cake, it is the most decadent and luscious chocolate cake that I've ever baked. Perfect for any celebration!!
This is a flour-less, chocolate and hazelnut cake that I had seen the 'Hairy Bikers' bake in Italy when they baked their way through Europe. I have never worked with hazelnuts before and wasn't sure how they tasted or for that matter, how they paired with chocolate. This cake explains and justifies why chocolate and hazelnuts are one of the most favoured and celebrated food pairings.
There is nothing complicated with the recipe. The cake will not rise much as there is no baking powder used. Instead it rises on account of the eggs used and how well you whisk those egg whites. Do be prepared for the top to sink a bit when you take it out of the oven.
The flavours of the toasted hazelnuts melded with the dark chocolate results in a dense, luscious chocolate cake where the taste and sensuality of chocolate is heightened without being overpowering. Even better, there is no cloying after taste and a small piece of this rich cake goes a long way.
The cake works well on its own but to finish it off for presentation, I added a small layer of my tried-and-tested frosting on the top of the cake. This is not an everyday cake but a cake for a celebration!!
This festive season, I wish you love, luck, happiness and prosperity in all aspects of your life. Wishing you a very happy and blessed Diwali, from my home to yours!! 
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