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.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Another Coffee Cake



You may not believe by the looks of it but this is the same cake that I baked last week. This time around, I decided to bake the coffee nut sponge in foil lined ramekins to give me mini cakes. Then I got thinking about what to fill these cakes with. I'd already tried the version with ganache, and try as I might, I simply can't get myself to like buttercream. It's too rich, too sweet, just too much of everything. Now, if you dislike the cloyingly sweet buttercream as much as I do, I think I've found a genius solution. I filled and topped my sponge with pastry cream.

More specifically, this is peanut butter pastry cream from Johhny Iuzzini's Sugar Rush. I am a big Iuzzini fan ever since I saw him on Top Chef Just Desserts and I've become an even bigger fan after reading his latest book. Sugar Rush has some fantastic flavour combinations. And it's full of gems like this peanut butter pastry cream that goes so well with the coffee flavoured cake.

Ingredients
1 cup milk
1/4 cup peanut butter
50 grams honey
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
2 egg yolks
pinch of salt

Pour the milk and peanut butter in a blender and whiz it into a smooth mix. Transfer the milk to a saucepan and add honey and salt. Heat on a medium flame until the mixture is hot but not boiling. Mix sugar and cornflour in a small bowl. Beat the egg yolks until well mixed. Whisk the sugar/cornflour mixture into the eggs until well combined and fluffy.

Keep on whisking as you pour 1/3rd of the warm milk over the yolks. Once it's well combined, add another 1/3rd and whisk well. Add the remaining milk and pour the whole thing back into the saucepan. Put the pan back on medium heat and whisk continuously until the mixture begins to boil. Cook for another couple of minutes so the pastry cream is well cooked.

Immediately pass through a fine mesh strainer. This is a thickish cream so sieving it is a bit of a pain. You will be thankful later though, because the pastry cream will taste eggy if you leave it unstrained. Cover the sieved pastry cream and cool in the fridge for a couple of hours.

To use instead of buttercream for mini cakes, split the cakes into two. Spread a thin layer of pastry cream on the bottom cake layer and top with the other half. Spread the pastry cream to cover the top of the cake and sprinkle chopped nuts and cranberries to finish.

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.