Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Coffee Break



This post is about a delicious coffee flavoured sponge cake, sure, but it's also about another important topic bakers worry about - baking accidents. Cakes that don't rise, cakes that sink or crack or burn; I've seen them all. And here's the most important lesson I've learnt about baking disasters - you have to stop panicking and embrace them! Even if they happen half an hour before you have to leave for a party and this cake was meant to be your hostess gift. It's guaranteed that whatever you baked with butter, sugar, eggs and flour is going to be edible. Yes, it may not meet your standards for a perfect sponge but here's the thing - almost nobody in that party knows what a perfect sponge looks like. Which brings me to my second important lesson - ganache can cover almost any flaw and people will love what you end up with. Ganache, my friends, is a baker's best friend.

So here's what happened with this one. I followed a Mary Berry recipe to create her perfect coffee sponge. It rose well in the oven but as soon as it came out of the oven, it sank. And I had a cake sized crater to deal with. So I did what I do best; filled it up with white chocolate ganache. Just when I'd poured tons of ganache in, I figured it might get too sweet. So I sprinkled some cinnamon on top, correctly assuming that the spiciness with cut through the sweetness. And while the cake was dense and too sweet, loads of folks said it reminded them of Cinnabon. And that's never a bad thing!

Good luck baking this one, and hope your cake doesn't sink. But even if it does, you know how to fix it now!

Ingredients
For Coffee Sponge
2 eggs
100 grams butter, softened
100 grams caster sugar
100 grams flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp coffee essence (or 1 tbsp warm water mixed with 1 tsp instant coffee)
50 grams chopped walnuts

For ganache
100 grams white chocolate
100 grams heavy cream
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

To bake the coffee sponge, heat your oven to 180C. Grease a 6 inch round cake tin and line the base with parchment. Beat butter and sugar until pale, then whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in flour, baking powder and coffee essence, Beat well, then fold in chopped nuts. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes, then turn it out, peel off the parchment and cool completely on a wire rack.

In the meantime, chop white chocolate. Heat the cream on a gentle heat until its hot but not boiling. Pour the cream on top of the chocolate, let sit for a couple of minutes and then stir until you get a smooth ganache. Pour the ganache on top of the cake; it will be thin enough to spread but use a spatula to get it all over the top of the cake if you need to. Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp cinnamon on top of the ganache.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Arancini



All cultures have dishes that use leftovers creatively. Some are so good that you make extra food and therefore, leftovers, just to have that dish. I was always told that arancini, the Italian rice balls that are made from leftover risotto, is one such dish. Alas, my first taste of arancini at a London farmer's market was underwhelming. Lukewarm rice and a soggy coating surely didn't make me an arancini fan. I had arancini again on my trip to Italy, but it was always pre-cooked and reheated so I really didn't see what the big deal is.

Then yesterday, while making risotto for lunch, I decided I'd make some extra and figure once for all what the deal with real arancini is. And finally, eating this carb loaded, cheesy dish right out of deep frying, I finally get it! Arancini can be truly wonderful when it's piping hot and just fried. You should try it too.

The base of a good arancini is good risotto. Mine was spinach and three cheese risotto but you can cook plain risotto if that's what you like, or whip up your favourite version. Whatever type you make, take out one cup cooked risotto and leave it in the fridge for several hours for any liquid to get absorbed in the rice. Apart from the rice, you will need 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, some finely diced mozzarella and either an egg or 2 tbsp milk. Plus oil for deep frying of course.

Make golf ball sized portions of your rice. Pick each one, make a dent in the middle and add some cheese. Roll back into a ball to cover the cheese, adding more rice if needed. Spread the breadcrumbs in a shallow plate. With a pastry brush, add a layer of beaten egg or milk to your arancini - egg is traditional but I personally prefer milk. Now dip the balls in the breadcrumbs, rolling them around to coat evenly. Put the arancini back in the fridge to chill for a few minutes.

Heat oil in a pan to smoking point - about a 1-2 inch layer so you can get the arancini crispy. Drop 2-3 arancini into the pan at a time and fry until golden brown. Eat immediately to get the full flavour of a crispy, carb loaded, gooey snack.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Molecular Mousse



Ever since I first heard about El Bulli and Alinea, I have been a huge fan of molecular gastronomy. It's an interest that's only increased over the years as I dined at Heston Bluementhal's restaurants and even tried the experiments some Indian restaurants are doing with liquid nitrogen and foams. But follow the trail of molecular gastronomy long enough and you soon realise that it goes far beyond the theatrical drama of spheres and gels and foams. Molecular gastronomy, in its true form, is the art of using science to make food taste better. And it does so by brilliant innovations like antigriddles and sous vide cooking.

Some of the molecular gastronomy techniques are so counter intuitive and yet so simple that they awe me. One such recipe, created by Herve This (the original brain behind this whole school of cooking) is the chocolate mousse. Traditional wisdom says that water and chocolate don't mix. But This melds the two together and somehow manages to create a light, smooth chocolate mousse.

To make this chocolate mousse, pour 3/4 cup water in a saucepan. Heat gently and while it's still on a medium heat, whisk in 240 grams of chopped dark chocolate. Since you won't add anything else to the mousse, pick the best and the tastiest chocolate you can buy. Whisk until you have a smooth sauce.

Fill a bowl large enough to hold the saucepan with ice cubes, and put the saucepan on the ice cubes. Whisk manually or with a hand beater until the mousse thickens and also has some air incorporated in it. I personally tried the whisk first but nothing much happened so I switched to the electric version and the mousse thickened in about a minute.

Pour the mousse into ramekins and chill to set. I had some tart cases I'd baked and left in the freezer so I poured my mousse onto those to make an indulgent chocolate tart.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Indian Accent

In a quiet residential neighbourhood in Delhi, there is a boutique hotel called The Manor. Several years ago, Manish Mehrotra set up shop there, cooking good Indian food. It's not molecular gastronomy but instead, it's a great combination of flavours and textures, plated in a style that's now called 'modern Indian'. Word spread slowly but steadily and Indian Accent is now universally recognised as the best restaurant in India. As I found out on my recent visit, this is a title that the restaurant truly deserves.

I opted for an early 7.30 seating and surprisingly, the restaurant was already full. What was also very pleasantly surprising was seeing Manish himself as I walked in. Despite the acclaim, this is a chef who's modest and humble, even bringing dishes to the tables himself.

A chef's tasting is the best way to experience the place but I was coming in after days of partying so I went ala carte. Manish was sweet enough to give me a starters tasting anyway and I followed it up with a main course, then walked away too full and regretting my inability to eat desserts. I'm gonna show you a lineup of pictures now, because there really is no better way to describe the food.

It starts with an amuse bouche of blue cheese naan and pea shorba.



Then followed an array of starters. The first one was a crispy potato sphere, Manish's take on ragda pattice.



The next one was my favourite of the evening, a khandavi ravioli with arbi and cheese mash.



There was also a baingan bhartha cornetto and a pulled jackfruit phulka (which the chef brought himself and so I forgot to click). Finally, there was this extremely good looking tofu wada with kafir lime gunpowder.



What followed next was a palate cleansing sorbet that has become standard for all these restaurants. At this point, I only had space for one more course so I chose the mains, keeping desserts in reserve for my next visit. What a revelation it turned out to be. I ordered simple dal roti, except the soupy dal came topped with some fried dal and chutneys for textural and flavour contrast.



And the roti was chur chur parantha with Parmesan and pesto.



All in all, every single dish was genius, the service was great and there was attention to detail right upto the churan served on a mini charpoy. When you eat out as often as I do, it keeps getting harder and harder to be surprised with food. Indian Accent, with its fabulous menu and impeccable execution was truly a pleasant surprise. So it may be in unfashionable New Friends Colony, but make it your destination your next trip to Delhi. I may even plan a special trip just to catch up on those desserts I missed.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Stories, Stories



Oh! what a week it was. I arrived in Delhi on April 15, all set to meet the other 7 finalists of the kitchenaid probaker contest. But the star of the show was chef Peachy Juban, who had flown in all the way from Manila to teach us cake decorating. It's a good thing she thought of starting with the very basics, specially for someone like me who hadn't even seen fondant before, let alone work with some.

And so it started, five days of cake decoration. For the first two days, we made all the flowers you see on top of my cake. And then we went into things I didn't even know existed; like sugar quilling and brushwork embroidery. It was super tiring but super fun. All through the five days, the kitchenaid team made sure we were enjoying our evenings. One day, we went to the show at Kingdom of Dreams, another day it was dinner with the owner and chief menu designer of Johnny Rockets. There was also a dinner at Gurgaon's only Goan restaurant. The highlight of the whole week of evening socialising though, was the dinner at Farzi Cafe. With molecular gastronomy expertly applied to Indian food and dishes like dal chawal arancini and molecular phirni, the restaurant impressed with both presentation and flavour.

Five days later, each of us had assembled the cake you see above. It was clearly the biggest food project I'd undertaken and it led straight to finals day. The theme of the finals day was haute couture and each of us were meant to use all we learnt to create a fashion inspired cake. I drew JJ Valaya, and I tried my best to replicate one of his wedding lehngas onto a cake. Didn't win in the end, but I won so many friends - not just the other seven contestants, but other folks (kitchenaid team, cake decorators, hotel management students) who volunteered to help during the week. All in all, one of the most fun weeks of my life. But doesn't that always happen where there's cake, and also in this case, tons of sugar!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Bakeoff

It's been ten days since the bakeoff and I am a little off the high of winning the regional round so let's sit and chat about that very exciting day. Kitchenaid had told us in advance that this will be a mystery box round and we will have half an hour to go through our books and iPads before they take it all away and we start baking. So early morning on March 18, I joined nine other exceptionally good bakers at the Callebaut chocolate academy. It was so exciting just to be in a professional looking kitchen with all workstations set up with kitchenaid mixers and so many ovens and so much bakeware floating around.

For the first half an hour, I read through the mystery box ingredients list and then started sifting through recipes. That's when the struggle started. We had five mystery box ingredients (chocolate, peanut butter, orange, kiwi, chilli) and the kitchenaid team had assembled a whole lot of basic ingredients but every recipe I came up with had something missing. There were no nuts, no vinegar, no coffee. So I immediately fell back upon my favourite recipe that I had memorised before coming to the competition - a flourless chocolate cake. I'd first made this cake for masterchef auditions many years ago and it was lovely but never baked it since. A big gamble you'd think but it seemed to be the only recipe to occur to me at that time.

The next three hours were a whirlwind of expermenting and baking. I personally was completely awed by the variety of skills on display. We were supposed to make any one dessert of choice and the finished products ranged from eclairs to layered chocolate cakes that looked as if they just came off a professional bakery. I'd decided from the start to stay true to my style of baking and create different elements that provide flavour and textural contrast. And here's my dish that the judges loved enough to pick as a winner: a flourless chocolate cake with peanut butter caramel and streusel.



Ingredients

For Flourless Chocolate Cake
170 grams dark chocolate
3 eggs, separated
86 grams butter
6 tbsp caster sugar sugar

For Peanut Butter Caramel
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup cream
3 tbsp creamy peanut butter

For Peanut Butter Struesel
4 tbsp plain flour
3 tbsp caster sugar
30 grams butter
30 grams crunchy peanut butter

Ideally, line muffin tins with paper liners. We didn't have any on the day so I just buttered and floured six ramekins and hoped for the best. Melt butter and chocolate over a low heat and let cool to lukewarm. Beat egg yolks with 3 tbsp sugar until pale in color. Add the melted chocolate and mix well. Separately, beat the egg whites with remaininjg 3 tbsp sugar to stiff peaks. Fold into the yolk mixture in three additions. Bake at 175 C for 20-25 minutes. The cake will rise and then dip and crack as it cools.

For the caramel, mix sugar and water until it resembles wet mortar. If you have white vinegar, add a dash to the mix. Put on a medium heat and cook without stirring until you get an amber colored caramel. Take off the heat and immediately add the cream. Mix well and then beat in the peanut butter.

Mix all the ingredients for the streusel, spread in an even layer on a nonstick baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes at 180C until golden. To assemble, unmould the cake and put it in the centre of the plate. Add a layer of caramel and sprinkle streusel to add crunch.

I personally loved the streusel the best since it wasn't too sweet and added a nice balance to the cake. In the end, it was a fun day with lots of interaction with other contestants, jury and the super helpful chefs from kitchenaid and Callebaut. I also won the red kitchenaid mixer as a prize so I am all excited about the desserts I am now going to create. And yes, don't forget the national finals in third week of April. With a wedding cake designer flying in from Philippines and focus on cake decoration, an alien topic for me, that one should be a doozy!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

On popcorn, coke and desserts



If you follow me on any of my social media accounts, you probably know already that I sent in an entry for Kitchenaid's probaker contest and was shortlisted in the top 50. Then I went to the regional bakeoffs and much to everyone's surprise, specially mine, I was one of the two winners. So now I get to go to Delhi in April to compete one last time in the national finale. By then, they will also have winners from Delhi and Bangalore who look like a serious set of bakers, so I am both excited and terrified at the same time.

Before I get practising baking with my shiny new red kitchenaid mixer that I won as a prize in the regional bakeoff, I wanted to share the two recipes that got me here. First, the recipe I created and sent for the first round. I thought that instead of just baking a dessert, I'd pick a theme and create a plate around it.

The theme I picked was 'Day at the Movies' which captures my favourite part of going to the movies - obviously, food. After all, what’s a trip to a movie theatre without the popcorn and a big glass of coke. And you can’t forget the candy bars. I always pick something that has caramel and/or nuts so Rolo or Snickers are a frequent choice. The dessert I created captures this movie theatre experience with a cocoa cola cake topped with a chocolate and nut praline frosting. Completing the moviegoer food trio is a butter popcorn ice cream. Enjoy the show!

Ingredients

For Popcorn Ice Cream
300 grams heavy cream (I used Amul whipping cream)
½ cup popping corn
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
½ tin condensed milk

For Cocoa Cola Cake
125 grams plain flour
120 grams dark brown sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
120 grams butter – you can use unsalted but I use plain salted Amul butter
125 ml coke
60 ml buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp vanilla extract

For Chocolate Frosting
200 grams dark chocolate
200 grams cream (I used Amul 25% cream)

For Nut Praline
1/3 cup almonds, thinly sliced or slivered
1 cup sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
¼ cup water

Recipe

Popcorn Ice Cream
Start with the popcorn ice cream the night before you make this dessert because it takes the longest. Melt butter in a large saucepan (my mother always used a pressure cooker and so do I). Add salt and popping corn and stir until the butter coats the corn kernels. Cover, and let cook over a medium heat. Give the pan an occasional shake. After a couple of minutes, you will start hearing popping sounds. Reduce the heat to low and let the corn pop until there is several seconds between each pop. Turn of the heat but leave the popcorn in the pan. Pour cream into another saucepan and heat gently. Add the warm cream to the pan with the popcorn and let infuse for an hour. After one hour, strain through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing onto the popcorn to extract all flavor. Add the condensed milk and whisk until you have a smooth mixture. Cover and let chill overnight. The next day, churn the cream mixture in your ice cream machine. Pack it back into an airtight container and freeze until required.

Cocoa Cola Cake

Preheat oven to 180C and line a 6 inch cake tin with parchment. Sift all the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder) into a bowl. Heat butter and coke together in a saucepan until the butter melts. Add this to the dry ingredients alongwith the egg, buttermilk and vanilla extract. Whisk until you have a smooth batter and pour into your prepared cake tin. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out with no crumbs attached. Let cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then peel off the paper and move to a cooling rack while you make your frosting.

Chocolate Frosting

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Heat the cream on a low heat until it’s warm. Add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts and you have a smooth ganache. Remove from heat. At this stage, move the cake to your serving plate and pour ganache to cover the cake completely. Some of it will spill over to cover the sides and that looks really pretty. Refrigerate the cake for an hour for the frosting to set.

Nut Praline

Line a baking sheet with parchment and arrange the sliced almonds in a single layer. In a saucepan, mix the sugar, vinegar and water – it should be the consistency of wet mortar. Put the saucepan on a medium heat and stir until the sugar melts. From that point on, let the sugar cook without a stir but watch it closely. After a few minutes, the sugar will turn an amber color. Your caramel is ready. Turn off the heat and pour the caramel over the nuts. Once it cools, the caramel will harden. Break the set caramel-nuts mixture into small pieces and grind into a coarse powder in your food processor or spice grinder. Put the ground praline into an airtight container until you are ready to eat the cake. Do not put this in the fridge as the moisture will play havoc with the texture.

Plating

Cut a slice of the cake, sprinkle with nut praline and serve with a scoop of popcorn ice cream.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Rise of the Food Blogger

I remember the first time I met another food blogger. After months of back and forth over emails and commenting on each other's blogs, Harini, Alka and I landed up at Bandra's Carter Road on a mildly cold afternoon in December 2008. Sitting on a bench on the promenade, Alka unwrapped her box of koki. I passed around cookies I had baked for them to take home, and Harini brought out a vegan cake she had baked just that morning. We chatted for hours, feeling that we already knew the other two from their blogs and when the bill finally arrived at Cafe Coffee Day, each of us fought to pay but ended up sharing it.

Fast forward seven years. Bombay's food blogging scene is buzzing and there must be at least a hundred blogs being written from the city. A lot of these bloggers only write reviews so restaurants have jumped onto the bandwagon. I must admit I quite like the excitement of being invited to launches and menu previews, specially because you get to meet the chefs as well as fellow foodies. Sometimes the event that follows is amazingly good; many other times the food is a let down so I've become quite picky about which invites I accept. From past experience, I know that JW Marriott always put on a good show and so it was with great expectations that I accepted the invite to go to the Spices restaurant at Juhu's Marriott.

The occasion was a new dimsum menu being launched by Chef Tenzin KheChok, the latest addition to the chef lineup at the hotel. When we got there, the chef was in the kitchen making the dimsums himself. But we had the private dining room to ourselves and soon enough, 15 food bloggers showed up. Now here's the thing about there being so many bloggers in the city - every event, there are some familiar faces who I count as good acquaintances, even friends. But more than half the people are new each time, and it's exciting but also a little bit strange meeting folks whose blogs I know nothing about.

Well, with intros out of the way, the steamer baskets of dimsums started to arrive. The chef opened with a mushroom dimsum and over the next hour, some ten other types followed - everything from chicken to prawns to veggies. My personal favourite was an edamame and truffle dimsum shaped like tiny money bags, and I didn't mind the pan fried mixed vegetable version either. The chef also had some interesting takes on the dimsums and there was universal praise for the one where spinach leaves were used as a wrapper. Every basket of dimsums was beautiful, the chef's skills showing in impeccably shaped morsels.

Service though, was a very different ball game. When the first steamer basket arrived, the servers put on their fine dining hats and started serving dimsums around the table. But this was a table of food bloggers and they had a very different idea of how a dinner works. Every blogger on the table wanted to take a picture of the perfectly arranged dimsums and so we patiently waited for 15 pictures to be clicked. Now dimsums being what they are, they turned cold and a little gummy by the time the photo session was over. Of course, this was repeated for every single basket of dimsums coming in, which was hilarious because anyone who had already clicked the picture was clamouring to start eating. A few dimsums later, the service got a little bit smarter and they started to bring in smaller baskets so photos could get taken quicker. But the overall reaction of the servers throughout the meal was bafflement and a lot of confusion.

In the end, the whole experience was like these hot chocolate buns chef Tenzin served us at the end of our dimsum meal. Something new, a little bit exciting but overall, just a tiny bit bizarre.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Indian Edamame


Edamame, the steamed green soybeans coated with salt, are my standard order at a Japanese restaurant. Even more than the flavour, I like the lingering, casual atmosphere this dish creates as you and your friends dig into the pile of green beans.

Then yesterday, I spotted the green chana at the vegetable market. As childhood memories of stalks of green chana roasting over open fire came rushing back, it stuck me that India has always had its own version of the edmame - the roasted green chana. You only spot these beans for a few weeks, so I promptly bought these back home with me to make the most of the short lived season.

Open fire seemed unlikely as an option so for my Sunday afternoon snack, I present the oven roasted green chana. First off, wash the green chana pods. Drain and wipe with paper towels. Spread in a single layer on a baking tray and pop in the oven heated to 230C. Ten minutes later, bring out the tray and give the pods a stir so they cook evenly. Bake for another ten minutes until they start to brown, then remove from the oven and sprinkle with salt. You can also add chilli powder or any other seasoning you like. Wait a few minutes, then spent a leisurely afternoon cracking open the pods.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Strawberries and Cream Redux



Over the years, I have created several desserts that play on the combination of strawberries and cream. Because these berries show up in India towards the end of the winter rather than summer, these desserts also have a tendency to crop up on the blog around Valentine's Day. Totally appropriate you will say, and this year, with the addition of some other of my favourite ingredients, the best version as well.

The base of the dessert is basil white chocolate cream. Pour 200 ml of heavy cream in a small saucepan. Now that Amul is finally selling whipping cream in India, that's the one I have used. Heat gently until the cream is warm, then add 4-5 basil leaves. Cover and leave to infuse for half an hour. Remove the basil leaves and put the cream back on heat. Add 200 grams of chopped white chocolate - use the best you can find - and stir until the cream and chocolate combine into a smooth ganache. Remove from the heat and pour into small bowls or ramekins. Let cool a little, then cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Topping the cream are balsamic roasted strawberries that you can make at the same time and serve chilled. Or make them just before you eat this dessert so you have the warm berries contrasting the cold basil cream. Either way, wash and hull 400 grams of strawberries. Quarter the large berries and cut any smaller berries into half. In a bowl, mix berries with 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar. Leave the bowl aside for 10-15 minutes, then spread the berries on a baking tray in a single layer. Also add any juice left in the bowl and cook in an oven heated to 200C for 30-35 minutes until the berries are soft. Serve immediately over chilled cream or let both the cream and berries chill separately and assemble just before eating.