Sunday, 27 January 2013

Cranachan

Every year, on January 25th, Scots around the world remember their most celebrated cultural icon, the poet, Robert Burns. Burns' poetry ranges from the romantic to the satirical, from the patriotic to the liberal and from the idealistic to the egalitarian. Widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, his life and works are commemorated on his birth anniversary with a night of revelry, known as 'Burns Night'.
 
Burns Night is an institution of Scottish life. From traditionally formal to boisterously informal, it is a night that includes Scottish music, a traditional Scottish meal, recitation of Burns' work, all which is washed down with copious amounts of Scotch whisky.

 
I reckoned there was no better time than Burns Night, to try my hand at a traditional Scottish dessert, the cranachan. In it's most simplest version, it is cream flavoured with oatmeal, honey and whiskey and then, much like a trifle, layered with fresh fruit. Since, I have already anointed January as the month of strawberries in India, it would be my fruit of choice.
 

It doesn't get much easier or faster to whip up a dessert than a cranachan. It took me all of fifteen minutes to prepare it. The only cooking you do is to toast the oatmeal. And for the fruit layer, I pureed half of the strawberries and kept the rest as quartered pieces.
 

The dessert is simplicity at its best. Oatmeal gives the cream a certain amount of body to retain shape when it is layered. Flavoured with a touch of honey, the whisky imparts a certain warmth to the cream. And of course, you cannot go wrong with the pairing of strawberries and cream.
 
While this may look like a trifle, this is more like a posh version of strawberries and cream, without the messiness of an 'Eton Mess'. This is a dessert that delivers on simplicity, elegance, practicality, time and most importantly, taste.

 
I leave with you with a few words from one of Burns' most well-known poems, written in 1788, 'Auld Lang Syne'. Popular throughout the world and is sung usually at the stroke of midnight, to bring in the New Year. Burns claimed that he collected the song by writing it down from an old man's singing. The title can be loosely translated as "For (the sake of) old times".


 
Extremely nostalgic, it remembers the times gone by, with a call to remember long-standing friendships. A sentiment that will always find resonance, despite the strains of time and change!!
 
 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne!
 
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

French Apple Tart : 'TWD : Baking With Julia'

Nearly a month after I last baked with the 'TWD : Baking with Julia', I rejoin them this Tuesday with the French cousin of the Apple Pie, a French Apple Tart . Turns out the difference in title of the two desserts is more than just semantics. There is a technical difference between a pie and a tart. A pie with its crisp, flaky crust is much deeper than a tart and served straight from the pie dish. The tart is made in a pan with a removable bottom, only has a bottom crust and the goal a firm, crumbly crust. Honestly, for a non-purist like me, its more like "you say potato, I say potahto"!!


So, now that you've got your baking lesson of the day, we get back to the recipe on hand. The crust is made with the dough that we had used earlier to make this peach leaf pie. The filling is a cinnamon-apple compote that is then topped off with a beautiful, classic arrangement of dark-edged, paper thin apple slices that the French refer to as a 'rosette'.

 
Having worked with the dough before, the crust came together beautifully. The oven-roasted compote, too, is fuss-free and easy to prepare. The rosette, well, was a different story. The photographs say it all. "Quelle horreur, ma cherie!!", I can well imagine the reaction of a horrified patissier at my disastrous, clumsy attempt at recreating his beloved rosette. Instead, I take refuge in the words of Julia Child when it comes to imperfect food presentation. In her own words, "Never apologise, never explain". Amen!!


Apart from the look of the rosette, it all turned out beautifully. You had the buttery, firm crust that yielded to a creamy apple compote with lemon and cinnamon undertones. The thinly sliced, dark-edged apple slices on the top are a welcome textural change to the oven-roasted compote that lies beneath it. I am particularly partial to the combination of cinnamon and apples and went with an additional sprinkling of cinnamon powder on the rosette of apples.


But, here's the thing, there is nothing wrong with this apple tart. Each individual component turned out as it should. But, I think when it comes to the filling, I still prefer the all-apple slices filling of an apple pie as compared to this combination of apple compote with slices just on top. I seem to enjoy the bite of the apple slices much more than the texture of apple compote in my tart. Again, that's just my personal preference!! I'll leave it for you to decide on how you like your apple tart!!

A year ago: Venetian Carrot Cake

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Pavlova

January is my year's sweet spot. You are filled with optimism for the year ahead, with hope that your plans will work out and more importantly, you haven't yet started despairing as to how the days and weeks just seem to fly by. Unless you live in northern India, the weather is just about right at this time of the year. In complete antithesis to snowed-out Europe, we have blue skies, pleasant days, gentle sunshine, flowers in the gardens and the best part, strawberries in the markets!!
 
 
I think I wait all year for January, just for the strawberries that this month brings. I spend the excruciatingly hot Indian summer in envy, as blog after blog in the Western hemisphere goes crazy about their love affair with the summer berries. I make a mental note of all that I want to make with these beautiful red berries and then bide my time patiently till they make their grand entry into our markets.

 
Ever since I've heard about the Pavlova, I've been wanting to make it. I've never eaten it nor ever made it before. All I know is that the Australians are crazy about this meringue dessert that has a crisp shell with a soft, light, marshmallowy inside. It is served with a layer of cream and fresh fruit. With the weather being just right to work with meringue and cream, I reckoned it would also be a perfect choice to showcase the strawberries of the season.
 
For the recipe of this Aussie favourite, I turned to another Aussie favourite, Donna Hay. You already know what a Masterchef Australia junkie I am and this is where I first saw Donna Hay unveil a pavlova and it's been on my 'to-make' list forever!!


Preparation for the pavlova hardly takes much time. Just be precise with your measurements, whisk your egg whites to their desired stiff-peak form and don't let even a tiny speck of moisture come anywhere near the mixture and you are good to go. The baking time is on the longer side and then there is the subsequent cooling time. But, trust me, your patience will be well rewarded!
 
The pavlova was a dessert created in honour of the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, during her tour of Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. Make this dessert and you will understand where this dessert gets its inspiration from. Much like a ballerina, at first glance, this dessert looks feminine, graceful, simple, dainty and pretty. And just as the grace of her movements and the lightness of her step are in sharp contrast to a ballerina's tremendous muscular strength, the light, delicate marshmallow filling of this pavlova also contrasts with its crisp, surprisingly resilient outer shell. The inside filling is so light that it just seems to vanish, leaving you with the fresh fruit and a slightly chewy bits of the shell. It is not cloyingly sweet nor too heavy on the palate.


Strawberries and cream are a 'never-fail' combination and with this pavlova, it creates an elegant, complete dessert. This dessert is so beautifully light and fresh and that makes it ideal as a dessert for a meal that has been on the richer side.
 
Make the pavlova and you will understand why the Australians are crazy about it.This is such a fun, light and elegant dessert and declared an outright winner by all at home. I just wonder why it took me so long to discover it!!

A year ago: Strawberry Galettes
 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Dark Chocolate Strawberry Tart With Port Jelly... Baker-in-Disguise Turns One!

Exactly a year back, armed with a handful of baking recipes, a pocket camera and loads of encouragement from my close friends and family, I decided to start writing a food blog. And much like life, the ensuing year would turn out like nothing I expected. Yes, I baked, I photographed, I wrote but what I did not expect was that this blog would teach me some of life's finest lessons. Lessons that I have read about and I have heard before, but never has it been better understood, by me, than today.

No better time than today to look back at all that this blog has taught me.


I have learnt that when you put your mind to something, there is nothing you can not achieve. But, the even bigger lesson that I've learnt is that all too often when we set our goals, we get too caught up dreaming about the end result. We forget that the end result that we wish for tomorrow is achieved from the small steps that we take today. You start where you are and every day you build on yesterday. And, I promise you the journey will be more exciting than any of your wildest dreams.
 
I have learnt that when you share your best with the world, the biggest beneficiary is you. Because the reality check you will receive, whether good or bad, will be one of the most insightful lessons of your life. Yes, at times, you will falter or fall short on what you want to deliver but there are also times, when you will surprise yourself with what you can achieve.
 
 
I have learnt that for too long in life I have ignored the importance of a hobby in my life. The beauty of a fulfilling hobby is that it takes the edge off the other aspects of life that are not working out the way you want or have let you down in some way. You pursue a hobby only because it makes you happy.
 
I have learnt that you can never stop learning in life. As my mother will always tell me, if there is one thing that will keep you alive and vibrant in life, it is your thirst to know more. Be it the baking, the photography or the blogging, I've repeatedly said the words "I don't know" and it's been one of the most liberating things I have done in my life.



I have learnt that there is always a story to be told, even if it is a simple chocolate cake. Because, food has this amazing ability to evoke our strongest emotions and memories.
 
I have learnt the power of a kind word and how it can brighten up your darkest day. All too often, we get judgemental in life and forget to appreciate another's honest work. Nothing prepares you for the spirit of warmth, sharing, encouragement and generosity that is the world of food blogging.
 
And I would have not learnt any of this, if it had not been for you, the reader of my blog. Whether you came intentionally or you stumbled by, you will never know how much I appreciate that you dropped by my tiny corner of the world. Not only have you bought a smile to my face but you have taught me to believe in myself. And for that, I will be eternally grateful to you.
 

So, to celebrate my first blog birthday, I decided to make this chocolate ganache tart with port jelly and strawberry. It has chocolate, strawberries, wine and truck loads of calories - all the things needed for a celebration. With my love for all things petite, instead of making one large tart, I made four smaller ones.
 
The recipe is from the Masterchef Australia website. It is adapted from the same recipe that got the contestant, Audra into the Top 24. A bite of this tart and the judges didn't need to think twice to let her qualify for the main draw. Make this and you will understand why.


Even if you love chocolate as much as I do, you will agree that a chocolate ganache tart can get a bit too much, almost to the point of making you feel sick. And that's where the port jelly and the strawberries comes in. The port jelly not only adds another layer of texture but has a certain acidity which along with fresh strawberries helps to cut through the richness of the chocolate ganache. And for a non-alcoholic version, substitute the port with pomegranate juice.

It all comes together beautifully, making this a very elegant dessert, worthy of a celebration! 


As I embark on a new year, what do I look forward to? Better photography (much needed), better writing (it could do with fewer exclamation marks!) and as for the baking, I want to bake more with fruit, more savoury and make a tiny foray into gluten-free baking. But more than all of that, I look forward to all the little surprises and lessons that lie ahead that I have no clue about. To say that I am excited would be an understatement. Won't you please come along with me on this road trip?!!?!

A year ago: Dark Chocolate and Strawberry Muffins

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