Friday, October 2, 2015

Sugarcraft at Home: Fougasse

You were expecting jam, weren't you? And quite rightly too. Chef Anees makes a lovely range of quirky jams and he first shared with me a recipe for his red pepper and chilli jam. But I couldn't find any pectin at short notice so he sent along a second recipe for a cherry tomato and onion fougasse.

The dough was easy to make and an absolute delight to work with. I've made some adjustments to allow for how my yeast works, and I ended up using sundried tomatoes but it's a lovely, lovey bread either way. The original recipe was for 4 fougasse breads but I have halved it here to make two.

1 cup flour
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dried or fresh oregano
2-3 sundried tomatoes (the ones that come in oil)
1 small onion. thinly sliced
sea salt

Heat the water to a little bit warmer than lukewarm. Add olive oil, sugar and yeast. Leave it aside for 5 minutes until the yeast is all bubbly. Add the flour, salt and oregano and knead the dough until smooth. Roll into a ball, cover with a damp cloth and set it aside for 30-45 minutes until doubled. Divide the risen dough into two equal parts. Roll each part out to a rough rectangle, then make the slashes on both sides of the rectangle with a pizza cutter or a very sharp knife. Lift up the dough from the top so the cuts will open up into the fougasse shape. Pop the fougasse onto an oiled baking sheet and let rest for 30 minutes.

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 220C. Brush the oil from the jar of sundried tomatoes all over the shaped bread. Top with thinly sliced sundried tomatoes and onions and sprinkle some flaky sea salt. Pop into the oven and bake until browned.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sugarcrafter: Anees Khan

Growing up in Berhampur, a small town on Orissa, Anees Khan wanted to be a doctor. He made it to dental school but not wanting to be a dentist, he started looking for other options. One day, his dad brought home a flyer for hotel management degree. Why not, thought Anees, did some research and soon became the first student from his school to go to Institute of Hotel Management. The rest, as they say, is history.

Before he opened his classic French patisserie called Star Anise on Bandra's Linking Road about a month ago, chef Anees got himself years of experience all around the world. On his first day of his first job at the Leela, he asked to cook continental food and was promptly shipped to the pastry kitchen. It took him several months and a meeting with Beat Loffel, a Swiss pastry chef whom Anees counts as a mentor, to convert him to a life of pastry. Chef Anees then went on to head pastry kitchens all over the world. Everything from his stint in Canada, the newly set up restaurant in Tanzania to an opulent five star kitchen in Oman added to his pastry repertoire that he first showcased through his catering business. Now five years old, his central kitchen in Sewri caters to clientele with global tastebuds.

But large scale catering didn't give Chef Anees the opportunity to create intricate, technically challenging French desserts. It's impossible to do this chocolate dome for 1000 people, says Anees pointing to a piece of art on Star Anise's display case. I try his raspberry dessert, made eggless to cater to a large non-egg eating population in the city. The mousse is set firm but the liquid centre, full of melon caviar, surprises me.

Anees promises to stay close to his classical French training and shudders at the thought of adding a black forest cake to the menu. He says he stays close to the recipes from the 18th century France but presents them in a modern setting, adding all the whimsical touches we've come to know as molecular gastronomy (after all, didn't a French chemist first invent that!). It must be different from a five star kitchen, I ask him and he mentions his biggest challenge is transporting his creations from the central kitchen, braving the Bombay heat and traffic.

But the creations that travel well and make Chef Anees really come alive are his breads. Star Anise is full of some beautiful loafs and sweet pastries. The apple turnover I brought home one day is just the right amount of crispiness and his garlic loaf has a beautiful crumb. The secret he says is the ingredients he uses, right down to the French butter that makes the croissants at Star Anise flaky.

Curious then, to hear what Chef Anees has to say to our rapid fire questions?

Favourite Dish to Eat: His mother's chicken curry
Favourite Dish to Bake: Croissant
Favourite Indian Dessert: Chhena Pura
Bread or Cake: Bread
Brownie or Macaron: Macaron
One Indian Flavour he would like to use in his desserts: Paprika

I should have mentioned this earlier that Star Anise is also full of jars of jams with some really creative flavours. Is one of those jam recipes the one that Chef Anees shares with us? Just wait until the next post to find out.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Upma 'Polenta' Cakes with Mushroom Sauce

I seem to be getting quite a flair for competitions this year. First there was Kitchenaid Probaker. And then, a couple of months back, I saw this Facebook post for a contest that Lufthansa was running, called Cook and Fly. Since all you needed to do was send in an Indian inspired main course dish that could potentially go on the Lufthansa in-flight menu, I send out several entries from the blog's archives. Then, with just a day to go for the contest, I created a new dish - the one you see above. As luck would have it, this dish went on to win the 'dish of the week' contest for the last week and then got picked as the top 8 entry for the finals.

The finals at The Leela in Gurgaon were pretty much like the masterchef. We had an hour to recreate the same dish that we sent from home. When I got there in the morning of the contest, the folks at Leela had already prepped and laid out all the ingredients so all we had to do was cook. And pose for interviews and stuff. Did I say this is going to be a show on NDTV Good Times. Super exciting stuff all the way.

But the most exciting thing to me in the whole process is this recipe. It's a dish I've made four times since I sent the first entry in. And I really enjoy eating it so I hope you do too.


For Upma
1/2 cup sooji
3/4 cup coconut milk
3 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds

For mushroom sauce
10-12 mushrooms
3 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of ginger
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup coconut milk
5-6 basil leaves
salt and fresh ground black pepper

4-6 hours before you want to eat this, make your upma. Take 1/2 cup sooji and dry roast in a pan for about 10 minutes until it is lightly browned. My mum always tested the sooji is roasted enough by going into the next room - if you can smell toasty cereal, it's done. Remove the sooji to a bowl. In the same pan, heat 1/2 tbsp oil. Add 1 tsp cumin seeds and 1 tsp mustard seeds and let cook for a couple of minutes until they start to splutter. Add the roasted sooji. Mix 3/4 cup coconut milk with 3/4 cup water and add the liquid to the pan, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Add salt and keep stirring until your upma is like a thick porridge. Immediately spread in a thin layer on a small baking sheet, making it as smooth as possible. Let cool, then cover and put it in the fridge for 4-6 hours.

When you are ready to cook the cakes, take the pan out of fridge and cut the upma into squares. You can also use a cookie cutter to make round cakes. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a nonstick frying pan. Shallow fry the cakes 2-3 at a time, making sure not to crowd the pan so you have room to turn the cakes (they will get quite soft as they cook). Make sure the cakes are lightly browned on both sides.

To make the curry to go with the upma cakes, wash and thinly slice 10-12 mushrooms. Finely chop 3 garlic cloves and a 1 inch piece of ginger. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan. Add the ginger and garlic and stir fry until it gets golden brown. Add mushrooms and stir fry for 5-6 minutes. The mushrooms will exude water as they cook so let most of the water dry up before you add 1/2 cup coconut milk. Also add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste and let the sauce cook until the gravy is a bit thick. Turn off the heat and add 4-5 basil leaves, chopped into thin slivers. Pour the sauce over the upma cakes and garnish with basil.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lagan nu style

When I went to the Parsi food festival at Sofitel, Chef Tehmtan Dumasia gladly shared his recipe for lagan nu custard, a delicious baked dessert. The recipe is so simple it's hard to believe you get something so sublime at the end of it. While I stuck to the classic recipe for the custard, I'm topping it with Heston Bluementhal inspired crystallised nuts to add some crunch and texture.

First the custard. Pour one litre milk, preferably the full fat variety, into a thick bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer until the milk reduces to half. This can take a really long time but be sure to stir every few minutes. Towards the end of the cooking time, add 50 grams sugar and stir well to mix it all in. Take the saucepan off the heat and add in 1/2 tsp each of rose water and vanilla essence.

Let cool. Separately, beat two eggs lightly. Add to the cold milk and whisk well. Chef Dumasia did not say this but if you see any cooked egg bits, even tiny ones, strain the mixture once. Pour the custard into ramekins, arrange them on a baking tray and bake in an oven preheated to 180C until the custard is all bubbly and browned on top. Chef Dumasia said it will take 20 minutes but it took closer to 35 minutes in mine so please be guided by how your custard looks and only take it out once browned. Let cool, then pop in the fridge for a few hours or overnight to chill.

Chef Dumasia sprinkled chironji seeds on top of his custard before he baked it but I left it plain for a reason. We are going to add a mad Heston touch here. Heston has used the crystallisation technique to make chocolate soil and pistachios. I used it to make crystallised chironji.

Spread 50 grams chironji in a hot nonstick pan and lightly toast for 5-10 minutes. Remove the seeds to a plate. I the same pan, mix 50 grams caster sugar with 50 grams water. Bring to a boil and let cook, without stirring, until the  sugar syrup starts to brown on the sides. Turn off the heat and immediately add the toasted nuts. For a while, the sugar will be sticky and the nuts will all clump together. But don't be scared; keep stirring and eventually the nuts will get coated with a white sugar layer. At this point, you can store them in a jar.

But we will take our custards out of the fridge and sprinkle nuts on top - a crunchy, sweet companion to the smooth  custard!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

SugarCraft at Home: Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

When I asked Kainaz for a recipe of hers that I could recreate at home, I was wondering if she will share a brownie recipe. Or maybe the recipe for her unique orange loaf cake. Instead, she sent me something that's better than both - an orange chocolate cupcake with a spiced chocolate ganache. The cupcakes, with very little cocoa and loads of orange - both zest and orange juice - come out the color of brown sugar and taste quite distinctly of citrus. And while I make ganache regularly, this is one of the best versions I have come across. Kainaz not only adds more orange to the dark chocolate but also add spices like nutmeg and star anise that pop up as little flavour notes as you bite into the cupcake.

The batter is pretty easy to put together. Don't worry if it feels thinner than your regular cupcake batter; the cupcakes rise quite nicely in the oven. The only trouble I had was that my chocolate chips all sank to the bottom and stuck to the wrappers but if you are willing to get your hands on the last crumbs - as the tasters in my office were - it's not entirely a bad thing. So if you are looking for a little citrus kick to your chocolate, here goes the recipe for a dozen cupcakes (but it's easily halved).

For Cupcake base
Sugar- 125 gms
Butter- 125 gms
Flour- 115gms
Cocoa- 10 gms
Baking powder- 5 gms
Eggs- 4 (55gms each)
Chocolate chips- 50 gms
Orange zest- from 2 oranges
Orange juice- 1 orange (approx 40ml of juice)

For Spiced Orange Ganache
Dark chocolate -180gms (Kainaz says 55% but I used 70%)
Fresh dairy cream- 120gms
Cinnamon sticks- 1 noz
Star anise- 1/2 noz
Nutmeg powder- 1/2 tsp
Butter- 30 gms
Orange zest- from 2 oranges
Orange essence - 1/2 tsp

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C. Line 12 cupcake tins with cupcake wrappers. Cream butter and sugar till smooth. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Beat eggs and orange juice together till homogeneous, slowly add it to the beaten butter mixture. Fold in flour mixture and chocolate chips and zest. Pour into lined cupcake moulds and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cupcake comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool while you make the ganache.

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Heat the cream along with the spices except the nutmeg powder. Bring to the boil and turn off the gas. Cling wrap the vessel and leave the cream to infuse for about 2 hours. Strain the cream, then weigh it. Cream should weigh a little less than 120 grams, add
more cream to make up for any loss during heating. Bring back to boil and pour over the chopped chocolate along with the nutmeg powder. Leave for 15 minutes. Whisk the mixture from the middle towards the outside of the vessel to get a smooth chocolate ganache. Add the butter and blend it in. Add zest of one orange and the orange essence. Leave to cool.

Once cooled, ice the cupcake bases with chocolate ganache and sprinkle remaining zest to decorate.

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


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


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.

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.


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.