Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Peach Leaf Pie : "TWD : Baking with Julia"

With the US Presidential elections looming ahead, here's a bit of trivia for you. They say the most-ordered dessert by US presidential candidates whilst on the campaign trail is... Pie!!! President Obama loves his pie and according to his pastry chef, Bill Yosses, Banana Cream Pie is his favourite. In fact, such is the appeal of the humble pie for the Americans, that his rival, Mitt Romney, has not only declared his love for pies but was also seen rolling out one at a recent campaign stop!

Sitting in India and reading all about America's love affair with pies, helps me understand why this week's "TWD: Baking with Julia" choice of recipe - Blueberry Nectarine Pie, had such popular backing!!  

The original recipe calls for a pie dough much similar to a short crust pastry but instead of an all-butter dough uses a combination of butter and vegetable shortening to achieve a flakier crust. The book uses a filling of nectarines and blueberries for this double-crusted pie.

Since, we get neither nectarines nor blueberries in India, I went with peaches. Not comfortable with using vegetable shortening, I decided to go for an all-butter crust, much like a pate brisee.

And as you can see from the photographs, I had a lot of time on my hands to attempt a leaf pattern for the top layer of the pie. It is an idea that I got from this book by Martha Day.  

I already have a 'tried-and-tested' short-crust pastry recipe that's been used to make these beautiful galettes and tarts. I was keen to see if this pie dough improves upon that. Honestly, it did not!! If any thing, it was a tad too delicate to work with but that could have been largely due to the high humidity in the air these days. But even on the taste and texture front, I'd prefer the recipe I already use.

The peach filling, on the other hand, was a good choice. The hint of lemon juice added to the filling ensures a certain balance in flavour.

But, truth be told, the high point of this pie for me was that leaf pattern I attempted. There is no denying its visual appeal. While it may not be something you attempt for a regular, family dinner, it does have that 'wow-factor' to impress the guests at a dinner party!! A word of caution though, attempt it only if patience is one of your virtues!!

There is no denying the appeal of a good pie and that's what this pie was. It just has this warm, cosy and comforting feel about it that lends itself naturally as a dessert of choice for a get-together with family and friends. No wonder Americans love their pie!!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Trifle with Plum Compote and Vanilla Custard

Events in Britain have been capturing our news space for some time now. It started with a certain Royal Wedding last year, then the Jubilee Celebrations over the summer and now for the 'Greatest Sporting Event' of our times. So, in the spirit of the Olympics due to be inaugurated in London day after tomorrow, I share with you my version of the classic English dessert, the Trifle. It has even been listed as one of the 'Top Ten Great British Dishes'!!

A trifle is a layered dessert, that starts off with a layer of cake, soaked in some spirits, followed by layers of fruit (jam), custard and cream. The best part of it is that you can play around with your choices on the type of cake, fruit, custard or even spirits that should be used.

So, when it came down to me deciding on the layers of my version of the trifle, I knew there had to be fresh fruit. I zeroed in on plums, the one stone fruit that I have not worked with this season. To figure out my other layers, I looked for flavours that paired well with plums. I came across this beautiful resource online, that informed me that plums pair well with cinnamon and vanilla.

Keeping that in mind, I decided on a regular, vanilla pound cake and a vanilla custard for the other layers. As for the plums, I found this gem of a recipe for a plum compote by model-turned-cook book author, Sophie Dahl. The recipe caught my eye, not only because it uses fresh plums, but more so because it is flavoured with cinnamon and star anise.

A trifle is about getting all the components ready, because once done, they just have to be layered. No fancy technique really!! The plum compote takes no more than 15 minutes to make. In the interest of time and convenience, you can cheat with this recipe and use store-bought cake and 'custard-powder' custard. Stop wrinkling up your noses, all ye purists out there!!!

A traditional trifle is made in a large bowl. But, there is something rather ungainly about a trifle when it is spooned out of the bowl and put on a plate. There just isn't a pretty way of doing it!! So, with my penchant for individual dessert servings, I went for individual trifle glasses.

My earlier encounters with trifles had left me unimpressed with their insipid layers of cake, jelly, custard and cream. I was a trifle-sceptic going into this dessert. But, such is the power of fresh fruit in a dessert that I am now a surprised convert.

That plum compote is what makes this trifle a winner. The slight tart taste of the compote on account of the plums contrasts beautifully with the other sweet layers and prevents this dessert from being cloyingly sweet. The addition of cinnamon and star anise adds a completely new, exotic dimension to a regular fruit compote. The vanilla custard harmonises and lightens the dessert by toning down the intensity of the compote.

Even if you decide not to make this trifle, I'd tell you not to miss out on the plum compote. It celebrates the fruit beautifully and can be paired with Greek yoghurt or ice-cream for an easy and light, summer dessert.

The trifle with its layers of different textures and flavours in a way represents the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society that is modern Britain today. And, I think, no other city in Britain celebrates that better than London - an apt choice to host an event that celebrates "the spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play"!! Nothing more to say except "Let the Games begin"!!!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Chocolate Blancmange

June and July are 'back-to-school' months, here in India.  The school buses get ready to hit the roads, mothers grateful to get their peace of mind back and the kids get set to immerse themselves in a mundane routine that in a decade or two, they will look back at as straightforward and uncomplicated.

It is that time of the year when little minds have to make BIG decisions like choosing the appropriate school bag, stationary, lunch box and other such accoutrements. The underlying principle guiding these decision ... "Neighbour's Envy, Owner's Pride"!! For some reason, I remember the pencil box, that little box that stored all your stationary essentials, playing a big role in cementing your 'cool quotient' amongst your peers during the wonder years!! Do you have any special 'back-to-school' memory??

So, in the spirit of things, I share this dessert, Chocolate Blancmange, which was a regular for me and my sister through our school years. I found it while rummaging through my mother's recipe box. She has this green-checked tin box that is a treasure trove of hand-written recipes, on pieces of paper, that she has collected over the years. Today, the box has rusted around the edges, the paper has yellowed and the ink might have faded but the recipes, a mix of the traditional and the contemporary, remain timeless!!

This dessert is not for the purists but for the busy, time-strapped mother who wants to make a post-dinner sweet treat for the kids. This recipe is a mix of milk, cocoa, custard powder and sugar that is heated and then set with gelatine. Poured into moulds and then inverted and revealed right in front of the child, it has the makings of a winner that will remain embedded in your memory forever!! Look at the photograph of the stained and torn paper of this recipe and you'll get an idea of how popular it was at home!

So, after all these years, what's the verdict on the dessert. Well... it ticks all the boxes of a kiddie dessert.. it is sweet, chocolaty and milky, shiny with a slight wobble and most importantly, has an adult-sounding fancy-schmansy name!!!

While it is just as how I remember it, my adult palate does notice two things about the dessert that a child could not care about. Firstly, do keep in mind that the flavour of the cocoa powder that you use will come across very clearly. And secondly, what I really appreciated this time was that this is a very light dessert.. honestly, it was almost like having chocolate milk, albeit set with gelatine!!

If you have children around or are looking for a dessert that evokes the basic flavours and tastes of childhood, do give this dessert a shot. This is after all a simple, basic, fuss-free, uncomplicated, clean, comforting dessert....pretty much like childhood itself, I'd say!!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Roasted Almond and Chocolate Chip Biscotti : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

With their Italian heritage and the unique twice-baked process, biscotti have been on my mind ever since I've started writing this blog. They almost seemed like a grown-up, refined version of the basic, humble cookie that I usually bake. And what better than a Julia Child recipe for my first biscotti post!!

Hazelnut Biscotti was the recipe chosen for this fortnight's TWD:Baking with Julia post. With hazelnuts not that easily available in India, I decided to go with the classic combination of roasted almonds and chocolate to flavour these biscotti.

For those wondering why biscotti are called 'twice-baked' cookies, it is because at first the dough is baked in a log shape, then sliced and baked again to achieve their characteristic crunchy texture.

What I did not know and the recipe taught me is that these cookies have no butter or fat in them except that which is present in the eggs. It is this lack of fat that makes these biscotti in Dorie Greenspan's words "unexceptionally dry and crackly"!!

For all the talk about the technique behind these biscotti, I found them really simple to make. The recipe for the dough followed the simple technique of mixing the dry ingredients with the wet - a technique you will come across with a number of recipes that I post on this blog.

I've come to the conclusion that recipes from this Julia Child book rarely disappoint and this one is no exception. Not too sweet in taste, these biscotti engage you with their crunchy and crackly texture. The roasted almonds along with the chocolate chips were an excellent addition to these moreish biscotti. Roasting the almonds intensified their nuttiness and elevated these cookies from the ordinary.

With their crunchy texture, these biscotti are made to be dipped, making them perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. Make a batch of these highly addictive biscotti and I reckon that neither will you just stop at one nor will they last long at your home!!

As for me, I am writing this post on a Sunday evening where the dark clouds that have been gathering all afternoon are finally giving way to some much-anticipated rain. I'm comfortably ensconsed at home, by the window, with a beautiful book, a steaming cup of coffee and a jar of these scrumptious biscotti to keep me company. Afterall, someone did say, "Life's pleasures often lie in the simplest things!!".
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