Thursday, August 27, 2015

SugarCrafters: Kainaz Messman

For the past many years, any time I am near a Theobroma patisserie, I get myself a pain au raisin. Buttery, flaky and full of raisins, it's the best Danish there is. Then, a few months back, Theobroma suddenly stopped baking my favourite pastry. I was so disappointed, I ranted and raved on Twitter. Five minutes later, the owner of Theobroma tweeted back, offering to bake pain au raisin for me on special order. We exchanged some mails, picked a date, and she even coordinated with her store and the central kitchen to make sure I got my treats.

When someone is so passionate not just about baking but also about making customers happy, it beholds you to tell their story. Which is why the sugarcrafter this month is Kainaz Messman. And what a story it is of Kainaz's journey as a pastry chef. For it is a story of a girl growing up in a family that loves food, with a mother who loved to bake. Of a girl who went to France and fell in love with the most classic of cuisines. Of the girl who then went to Oberoi Udaivilas to be their pastry chef. But who finally chose her dreams over that job stability and opened a tiny pastry shop in downtown Colaba.

Theobroma now has many more outlets, most of them with much larger space than the four tables in the Colaba patisserie that are always crowded. But the focus, then and now, remains on two things. Simple, classic flavours presently simply. And customer happiness above everything else.

We get talking about the challenges of running a baking business and Kainaz tells me about things I've experienced myself as a home cook - finding quality ingredients and battling humidity and heat. I've had many a meltdowns trying to buy heavy cream or make puff pastry so I can only imagine how it would be on a much bigger scale. But then Kainaz admits that her food crazy family has been a big support to her in running Theobroma, with all of them involved in some part of this family business.

Kainaz still goes back to France to understand new trends and just soak in the atmosphere. But she doesn't like gimmicks or innovation for innovation's sake. Instead, she is focusing on making desserts less sweet and more complex, adding contrasts in flavour and texture. And with every new outlet, she is customising the flavours to express customer needs. In the office complex that is BKC, for example, the menu now has salads and plenty of takeaways for harried cubicle workers. People linger, on the other hand, at the two storied Bandra store. I've often dropped in there for meetings in fact, and spotted folks enjoying everything from chip butties to the iconic Theobroma brownies.

For someone who is so crazy about cakes and brownies, Kainaz also turns out to be big lover of breads and sandwiches. I can happily make a meal of bread and cheese and wine, says Kainaz like a true French food fan. Which brings us to our our rapid fire questions.

Favourite Dish to Eat: Creme brulee or croissant
Favourite Dish to Bake: Millefeuille
Favourite Indian Dessert: Her mom's kheer, made without cardamom
Bread or Cake: Both (obviously!)
Brownie or Macaron: Brownie, but loves a macaron with a strong cup of coffee
One Indian Flavour she would like to use in her desserts: Tamarind

We end our conversation with a great recipe Kainaz shares for me to try at home. Stay tuned for a little bit of Theobroma magic baked by me, coming up in the next post.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tempura/Pakora



In my home, you don't mess with my mom's kadhi chawal recipe. For starters, it is just about the best version of kadhi you will taste. Plus it's pretty near perfect, with the right amount of tang and spiciness. But there's one thing I've been thinking of trying for a while, and that is to use the techniques of making tempura to make a crisper version of the pakoras.

It's just a couple of tweaks really, but they somehow make the pakoras a lot crisper to bite into. And once you dunk them in the kadhi and wait 15-20 minutes, you get soft pillows that absorb all the kadhi flavours.

So what's different you ask. Nothing much in the onions, which are sliced thinly lengthwise as you would for your regular pakoras. The magic happens in the batter. For one large onion, start with 1/2 cup gramflour (besan). Now add 1 tbsp cornflour to make your flour a bit lighter. To the flour mix, add salt, a pinch of chilli powder, 1/2 tsp ajwain, 1/2 tsp garam masala and 1/2 tsp amchur.

Mix everything well to combine the spices and flours. Now grab a fresh bottle or can of soda water or sparkling water from the fridge - you want it as chilled as possible. Use the cold soda water to make a batter of dropping consistency, it should be like a crepe batter and not too thin. Dunk the onion slices in the batter and drop into a pan with at least 2-3 inches of hot oil. Deep fry until a golden brown. The pakoras will puff up as they hit the oil, possibly because of all the bubbles trapped in the water and you get quite an interesting flavour hit from a combination of bubbly water and cornflour.

Go give this tweak a try before the monsoons and the pakora season ends. Just don't tell my mom!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On Parsis and Vegetarians

You never hear a lot about Parsis if you are in North India. But living in Bombay, you can't help but notice this charming group of people. Known for their vintage cars and quirks, their sense of humour and generosity, the Parsi community has left it's mark on pretty much everything that defines Bombay.

Nothing defines Parsis better than their love of good food. I've had the fortune to meet several Parsi friends and foodies in the years I've spent in the city and come to love their delicious dishes including the famous berry pulao at Britannia and dhansak at countless Parsi cafes around town. But there is one thing no self respecting Parsi will be caught dead with; and that is vegetarian food. So when I got an invite to try out the Parsi food festival at not one but two restaurants, this vegetarian foodie took it on as a challenge.



My first stop was Sofitel in Bandra Kurla Complex. I am sure hotel chefs get bored with serving the same buffet day in day out so Sofitel breaks the monotony by hosting a new festival in their Pondicherry Cafe every month. And Parsi Festival here doesn't just mean Parsi food. They are collaborating with an old Parsi Club - the Ripon Club - and together the two have changed the cafe to an area that reflects Parsi culture and heritage. So as I walked into the cafe, I saw a display with gara sarees, a mockup of a 'Bawajis Cafe' and crates of the famous Pallonji soda on ice.



Quite sensibly, Sofitel has brought in a acclaimed Parsi chef - Tehmtan Dumasia - to cook the feast. And even coming from a vegetarian perspective, what a feast it was! Chef Dumasia admitted that he had to pause a minute to come up with vegetarian food since that's not something he will normally cook. But he adapted well, thinking of variations on favourite Parsi dishes like patra ni paneer. He even took the time out of his busy kitchen to explain to me the difference between dhansak and the very delicious vegetarian pulao dal that he had on the menu that day. The piece de resistance though came at the end of the meal - the best lagan nu custard I've ever tasted. I asked Chef Dumasia what his secret was and he said it was milk. Really, the recipe which the chef gladly shared is only milk, eggs and sugar and I am totally going to recreate it at home soon.



In the meantime, I hopped over to my next stop, the newly opened JW Marriott Hotel Mumbai Sahar. There is a recent trend in hotels to encourage home chefs to do popups, so cooking at JW Cafe was my blogger friend, Perzen, also known to the world as the Bawi Bride. But even before I get to the Parsi food, let me tell you that I was super impressed with this newly opened hotel cafe, featuring one of the largest buffets I've seen.



I love it when buffets feature live counters and the Parsi popup at JW Marriott Sahar was no exception. The day I visited, Perzen had the iconic dish 'salli par eedu' on her menu. Quite literally, it means eggs on potato sticks and that's exactly what Perzen made. She heated up tomato sauce in a small frying pan, add fried potato sticks or salli and cracked an egg. It cooked for a couple of minutes until it was that perfect start to my meal. Perzen also had a sweet and sour stew on her menu that day, reminding me of how much Parsi cuisine draws from Gujarat, Iranian and yes, British food. The stew featured potato, carrots, nuts and no greens (Parsis don't eat greens, says Perzen)



The best part about both the Parsi festivals was that they are part of the larger multi cuisine buffets at these hotels. So if you have any space left after multiple helpings of the bhonu, you can wander off to get some sushi or some freshly made pizza. Both Sofitel and JW Marriott Sahar had extensive dessert menus but JW wins me over with a live waffle and crepe station (live counters, guys - that should be the operative word for buffet designers).

Both Sofitel and JW Marriot Sahar are gearing up for even bigger feasts for the Parsi New Year on 18th August so if you plan to sample this unique mix of Iranian, Gujarati and British cuisines, this just might be your best chance.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Heirlooms



Every year, in the middle of summer, it's pickle season at my home. Usually my mom's the cook in the house but pickle day is one of the five or six times a year my dad chips in. Either he or my brother will bring the mangoes home, as well as the spices and then the day long process of drying and mixing will begin, followed by many days of curing the pickle. This mango pickle is fairly standard in Punjab, which means that you can even get the mangoes pre-cut at the farmer's market and local spice stores sell premixes; you just tell them how many kilos of mangoes you got and they will hand over everything you need.

With this being such a common pickle, you would think it will be easy to get a recipe down. But you can't believe the struggle I had when I first asked my mom for the recipe so I could give it to Srivalli for her Indian Cooking Challenge. Four years later, when mom made this year's batch, I figured I should have the recipe up on my blog too. And guess what, the spice ratios she mentioned came out just a little bit different. Plus, my parents couldn't even agree on how much salt goes into the pickle.

But eventually, I came back to Mumbai with a jar of pickle that looks and tastes awesome so the latest version of the recipe is what I am going to share with you here. If pickle making awes you, just remember that this is actually not that difficult. Once you manage to collect all the ingredients, it's just some drying in the sun and mixing in spices.

Ingredients
Raw Mangoes - 1 kg
Mustard oil - 250 ml
Salt - 100 grams
Methre/ Fenugreek seeds - 25 grams
Kalonji / Nigella seeds - 20 grams
Saunf / Fennel Seeds - 25 grams
Turmeric powder - 25 grams
Whole Peppercorns - 10 grams
Red Chilli Powder – 1 tsp

You will also need a porcelain/ceramic pickle jar or a glass jar big enough to hold the mangoes and the spices.

Recipe

Wash the raw mangoes and wipe dry. Halve the mango, remove the pit/stone and cut into 1 inch pieces. Dry in the sun for 2-3 hours (you can spread them out under a fan if you don't get direct sunlight). At this point, you should also wash the porcelain/ceramic pickle jar that you need to use. Put it out in the sun to dry out any moisture.

In a large pot, mix 100 ml mustard oil with salt and all the spices. Add the mangoes and toss until they are well coated. Put it the jar (a glass jar will do if you don't have ceramic, but no plastics or metal please).

Keep the jar in the sun for a day. Then add the remaining mustard oil; you might need more to ensure that the oil cover the mangoes. While there's nothing stopping you from eating this right away, the flavors will be much better blended if you wait 15-20 days. For these first 15 days, shake the jar once a day. After that, you can pretty much let it be and nothing will happen to your pickle for a year or two.

Friday, July 31, 2015

SugarCraft at Home

At the end of my interviews with Sugarcrafters, I intend to ask them to share one of their signature recipes. Just so I can recreate some of that magic at home. When I asked Chef Deep this question, he didn't give me a recipe, he gave me a jar.



Chef Deep introduced these DIY jars after he took over as the executive pastry chef for the Trident Patisserie for his customers to easily recreate his bakes at home. In fact, everything about these jars defines thoughtfulness and ease. The recipe is printed on the jar itself so you don't have to look around for any extra papers. There's even a wooden spoon attached to the jar to stir your batter and the jar itself will come in handy once you have finished baking your brownies so you can store the goodies.

My only complaint was the recipe - it could have been written a bit more clearly, as I had to mail Chef Deep to clarify a few doubts before I started baking. But all that is excusable when you look at the sheer goodness of these brownies. First off, the layers of ingredients - flour, cocoa powder, sugar, walnuts and chocolate chips - produce a batch of brownies that's a lot more generous than you would guess from looking at this jar. You only need to add some butter, some milk and a tiny bit of water to make the dough. Yes, the thick batter is more like a cookie dough so I took some time adjusting to the fact. But then I just went ahead and pressed the dough into a parchment lined pan. Chef Deep said to keep the brownies undercooked as they will firm up later. So I baked these for 35 minutes, pulled out the tray and let it cool for many, many hours before I could cut squares like these.



And how were the brownies, you ask? These are the darkest, fudgiest brownies I've tasted. These are not the kind you nibble casually between meals. Instead, these are brownies you sit down with, a glass of milk nearby. I ate a few, shared a couple with friends, but I've also stashed some in the freezer for a rainy day. Because brownies as good as these should always be around.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SugarCrafters

In the enchanted village created by the writer of Wishcraft mysteries, every witch and wizard is known by their special skills. But even among all that magic, there is no one as intriguing as the pastry chef who creates a magical world full of candy and chocolate.

SugarCrafters is a brand new series on Bombay Foodie that takes a trip to the sweet worlds of these magicians of the pastry kingdom. Stay tuned to read all about these wizards who make our lives a whole lot sweeter.




Deep Bajaj's love affair with food started early, watching his grandmother find that perfect Chicken Tikka or the best jalebi during his school holidays. Even then, it couldn't have been an easy decision to him to pick hotel management after high school. The only non-doctor in his entirely family tree, Deep went to Institute of Hotel Management and then straight on to the Oberoi Institute. He's stayed with the Oberoi family ever since, working in the pastry kitchens of Udaivilas and properties across Africa.

Chef Deep took over the pastry kitchen at BKC's Trident only a couple of months back. As I walk into this usually buzzing patisserie that's quiet on a Sunday afternoon, Deep's busy consulting with a young kid on the animal cake he wants for his birthday. The display counters already show Chef Deep's mark, housing not just sandwiches and cakes but also his signature hand crafted chocolates and pate de fruit.

His consultation over, I settle down to talk with the soft spoken chef. Chef Deep's food philosophy is clear - bold flavours presently simply. The well-read and well-travelled chef talks passionately about cakes that are easy to eat, meals that busy customers can quickly take away, but everything here comes with flavours that pack a punch.

Deep gets excited about the creativity he gets to show every week at his Sunday Brunch and we talk about his latest creation - a honey meringue that he folded into a mousse cake. He talks about making sure the dessert has elements of crunch (by adding a honey crisp) and balanced flavours that aren't too sweet or flat (by accentuating them with raspberries), and then shows me a presentation that looks as good as it tastes.

Working in a large hotel comes with access to top quality ingredients like single origin chocolates but also come with the responsibility of managing not just the patisserie but guest rooms and buffets and everything else sweet that the hotel needs. I ask him if it's a challenge to come up with new desserts every Sunday and he claims the opposite is true. "I have so many ideas that it is difficult to pick just 5 or 6", says the Chef.

Cake's not all that excites Chef Deep. The Sunday Brunch that day also features a wide variety of breads and Deep talks fondly of Fuzzy, his sourdough starter that's older than him and features in all his breads. I tell him about my own starter named Ms. Tippity and we plan to set these two up on a date.

I end my conversation with a series of rapid fire questions to tell you a little bit more about Chef Deep. And here's what he has to say:
Favourite Dish to Eat: Tandoori Chicken
Favourite Dish to Cook: Chocolate Mousse
Favourite Indian Dessert: Malai Chop
Bread or Cake: Cake
Brownie or Macaron: Brownie
One Indian Flavour he would like to use in his desserts: Kalonji

There is also a part 2 to this conversation; a little bit of chef magic I brought home with me. But you'd just have to wait for the next post to hear about that.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tingmos for 'We Knead to Bake'



A few years back, a group of bakers started 'We Knead to Bake' - a monthly bread baking group. At that time, I was busy moving between countries and student life and work so I had to pass on the bread baking challenges. But I've been following the group's beautiful breads and finally, this month on, I've decided to join in as well.

As luck will have it, the first bread I got to make wasn't baked but steamed. The group chose to make tingmos, a Tibetian/North East Indian steamed bread that's used to mop up everything from hot sauces to noodle soups to curries. The dough came together beautifully and even when risen, was one of the nicest doughs I have worked with.

With a coriander, ginger-garlic and spring onion filling, the buns are good enough to eat on their own. But I chose to make a meal out of it, pairing the buns with a sweet and sour vegetable curry full of flavour from the Tibetian kopan masala. The full recipe follows, but once you've read it, you should also head over to Aparna's to see what versions everyone else came up with.

Ingredients
For Kopan Masala
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
One black cardamom
3 cloves
½ inch piece of cinnamon

For Sweet and Sour Vegetables
1 bunch (5-6) spring onions
200 grams button mushrooms
200 grams babycorn
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp red chilli powder
3 tomatoes, peeled and pureed
1/3 cup tomato ketchup
1 tbsp cider vinegar or white vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
Salt to taste

For Tingmos
¾ cup plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp active dry yeast
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup water
1½ tsp ginger garlic paste
1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped spring onion greens
1 tbsp vegetable oil

To make kopan masala: Heat a small pan and dry roast all the ingredients for 4-5 minutes until fragrant. Grind to a coarse powder.

For sweet and sour vegetables: Slice the spring onions thinly keeping the white (onion) and greens separate. Wash the mushrooms and slice. Also cut the babycorns lengthwise into pieces about as long as the mushroom slices.

Heat oil in a pan. Add the ginger and then the minced garlic. After 1-2 minutes, add the sliced (white part) spring onion. Sprinkle some salt and saute until the onions start to brown. Then add babycorn and after a couple of minutes, mushrooms. Stir fry on a medium heat until the vegetables are partly cooked. Then add the spring onion greens, chilli powder and half the kopan masala. Stir well, then add the fresh tomato puree, vinegar and the ketchup. Bring to a boil and let cook until the raw tomato smells goes away, about 5 minutes. Taste, and add more salt or kopan masala if need be.

For Tingmos: Heat the water so its warmer than lukewarm but not boiling. Add the yeast and let rest for 5 minutes. Now add the flour, baking soda and salt and knead to a smooth dough. Coat with oil and set aside in a covered bowl for 45 minutes to an hour, until the dough doubles in size.

Roll out the risen dough into a square, rolling it as thin as possible. Spread the ginger-garlic paste all over the dough. Mix coriander with spring onion greens and sprinkle all over the rolled out dough. Roll up the dough as you would a swiss roll, and cut into 6-7 slices.

Lightly oil a steamer and place the rolls upright (so cut sides face up and down), leaving enough space between rolls for them to expand. Cover and let sit for about 15 minutes while you set the water in the steamer to boil. Steam the tingmos for 15 minutes until they are puffy, firm and cooked. Serve warm with the vegetable curry.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Balsamic Caramel



As a foodie, I like to keep my eye out for new food trends. And there really wasn't a bigger food trend in the last two years than the food mashups, all started with the croissant-donut hybrid called the cronut. The creator of cronut - Domnique Ansel - still get queues that stretch several blocks. And while I myself have never liked cronuts, you have to hand it to a chef who can become so famous with just one dish.

Turns out Dominique Ansel is more than a one dish wonder because he returned this year with something that's even more fabulous than a cronut - an ice cream bar. The moment I read the description of his burrata ice cream cone at NY Times, I was fascinated. Now good, fresh burrata is tough to come by in Mumbai but I couldn't stop thinking about the balsamic caramel drizzle that went on top of that ice cream.

So as soon as I got home that evening, I set to make my own balsamic caramel sauce. It's simply my regular salted caramel sauce with some balsamic vinegar added in. But somehow that one addition makes the sauce sweet and salty and tangy all at once. It's really hard to explain how good this is so you will just have to make it yourself. Like right now! Here's the recipe.

Ingredients
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup cream (Amul 25% is fine)
2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

Recipe
In a heavy pan, mix sugar, vinegar and water to make a mortar like mixture. Put on a medium heat and let the sugar melt completely. You can stir it a couple of times to make sure the sugar melts evenly. Then step back and watch. Do not stir the pan, just let the sugar boil away on its own. After some time, the sugar will start to change color. Really, caramel making is all about watching sugar boil. Once the sugar turns deep amber, turn off the heat and pour the cream, spreading it as much as you can. The mixture will splutter and bubble so make sure you pick a large enough pan. Once the caramel settles down a bit, stir the sauce to make sure the cream is fully mixed in. If you see chunks of caramel at the bottom of the pan, put it back on a low heat for a couple of minutes for cream to mix in properly.

Immediately remove to a glass or metal bowl (never plastic) to stop the caramel cooking any more. Let cool for about half an hour, then stir in 1/2 tsp sea salt and 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar. Make sure you use good quality balsamic. You don't have to go crazy and buy the most expensive ones but if you do, check for the word tradazionale (indicating this is traditonal balsamic vinegar aged for 12 years or more). I usually go for the one with the IGP certification, which means that it's made in Modena and fairly good quality but won't break the bank.

Once your balsamic is mixed in and the sauce has cooled completely, you can use it over ice creams or pancakes. Of course, eating a spoon straight out of the jar is always an option!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Lychee and Coconut Sorbet


June is clearly a month with a problem of plenty. All the good fruits - cherries, apricots, peaches, lychees and green almonds - descend in the markets at approximately the same time. And don't forget all the different varieties of mangoes. Every time I go to fruit market from end of May to early July, I bring back way too much fruit. It's only when I am unpacking the bags at home that I realise there is no way I could eat that much fruit before it spoils.

I've found multiple ways to solve the problems that arise out of my over enthusiastic fruit shopping. I eat fruits instead of meals. I share. And I cook it into pies and crumbles and jam. But one fruit does not take well to cooking. Lychees have such delicate flavour that any heat will completely destroy it. So when I got back yesterday with yet another fruit haul, I decided to covert some of the lychees into a no-cook sorbet.

The most difficult part of this recipe is getting the flesh off the lychees. But you don't need to be neat here since it will all get blended anyway. Rest of it is just mixing and churning. Super easy!

Ingredients
2 dozen lychees
200 ml coconut milk
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp rum
Juice of 1 lime (the small indian lime, that gives about a tsp of juice)

Peel the lychees and separate the flesh from the seed. Put the deseeded lychees in a blender along with all the other ingredients. Rum is optional but it does give a softer ice cream.

Taste the mix, adding more honey or lime juice to suit your preference. Remember that ice cream gets less sweet as it freezes so the mixture in the blender should be a tad sweeter than you like.

Pour the mix into a container and chill for 2-3 hours. Then churn in your ice cream machine and put back in the freezer to set for a couple of hours before digging in.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Brown Sugar Pound Cake



I've only recently discovered the excellent food community that is Food52. With columns like 'Genius Recipes' and 'For Goodness Cake', there is always new foodie stuff there to explore and experiment. My latest favourite on Food52 is a column called 'Back of the Box'. If, like me, you cut off recipes from custard powder boxes as a kid and swear by the chocolate cake recipe on Hershey's cocoa powder tin, you probably already know that grocery store packets can come up with some real gems. Food52 makes a practice of testing these recipes and showcasing the best of the lot.

So when they discovered this pound cake at the back of a brown sugar box, I instantly bookmarked it and even made it less than two weeks later. I have backlog of recipes that go back several years so for me, this is lightning speed. The cake was so simple and needed so few ingredients that it really intrigued me. It also turned out to be a fantastic cake - completely non-fussy and delicious all at the same time. I made the batter in my new kitchenaid stand mixer but it's totally doable by hand with a whisk or even a sturdy wooden spoon.

Ingredients
(for a 5X3 inch loaf pan; double the recipe for a standard 9 inch loaf pan)
100 grams butter - unsalted is good but I used Amul, left out of fridge for a few hours to soften
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Set the oven to preheat to 180C. Line a 5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper. Add the butter and sugar to the bowl of the stand mixer and beat together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating the mixture after each egg. Add vanilla essence and mix to combine. In a separate bowl, mix together flour and baking powder. If you are using unsalted butter, also add 1/4 tsp salt. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl and beat until just combined.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top. At this stage, the cake is ready to go into the oven but I couldn't let it be so plain and sprinkled some coarsely ground almonds on top. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then turn it out to cool completely on a cooling rack.

You can fancy up the cake with glazes and stuff but I found it just right as it is. Next time though, I'd mix in some more nuts or raisins to something to make the cake more interesting.