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.

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.