Monday, December 28, 2015

Jingle All The Way

Christmas is my favourite time of the year. And looks like a lot of people concur because Bombay seems decked out in the best of trees and lights at this time of the year. At the start of December, I asked all of you to send me your favourite Christmas pictures from around the city. And what a visual treat it has been, to see such gorgeous trees and Christmas set ups.

From all the entries I received, I present to you my top 10 picks. There are some trees plus some other fun things folks came up with this year. Trees first:

1. The star studded tree at Inorbit Mall



2. My favourite of the lot - white Christmas at Trident in BKC



3. The wooden tree at Taj Mahal Tea House in Bandra



4. The wine bottle tree at Sofitel in BKC



5. The tree that travelled the furthest - all the way from Four Points Sheraton in Vashi



And now on to other cute Christmassy things:

6. Elf's house at Oberoi Mall



7. Santa's sleigh at Pheonix Market City in Kurla



8. Hamley's London themed snow globe at Phoenix Mills



9. The cutest life sized gingerbread house at JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar



10. The best for the last, the most famous Christmas window in Bombay at Damian in Bandra sports Alice's tea party and other fairy tales




Now for a bonus entry. This home tree from Dipika just because it's so cute.





And finally, the prizes. The best entries came from Huban Kasimi, Dipika and Aniketh Dsouza. The three of them win a goodie bag that I am going to bake come this weekend!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sugarcraft at Home: Marzipan Apples



I was a bit scared when I asked Zeba for a recipe. If there is one thing I haven't managed to learn in years of dessert making, it's tempering chocolate. And I was pretty sure that whatever recipe this chocolatier sends me, it will have me pulling out double boilers and thermometers. In the end, I did temper chocolate and it was easier than I thought it will be. The resulting candy was also super delicious and totally worth it.

This being December, Zeba shared with me her Christmas recipe for marzipan bonbons. What she does is pour tempered chocolate in the mould to create a shell, fills it with home made marzipan and tops it with more chocolate. I decided to play around with the recipe a bit and created these marzipan apples instead. I must admit I am not a fan of marzipan. Commercial marzipan must be blamed here because it is overly sweet and lacks any kind of texture. But Zeba's marzipan isn't too sweet and by rolling my chocolate dipped marzipan apples in pink hued coconut, I'm adding a layer of texture and another flavour that balances out the sweetness. I also divided Zeba's recipe by a fourth so this one makes about 20 marzipan apples.

Ingredients125 grams roasted and ground almonds
63 grams caster sugar
12 grams liquid glucose
1/4 cup water
300 grams dark chocolate (I use Callebaut 70%)
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
2-3 drops red gel color

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, mix ground almonds, sugar, liquid glucose and water. Put on a slow heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is quite thick. Let cool. Lightly grease silicon moulds (apple or another shape). Press the marzipan into the moulds and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes. Take the marzipan out of the molds, arrange in a single layer in a parchment lined tray and let chill in the fridge for half an hour.

In the meantime, make colored coconut. Put desiccated coconut in a bowl and add 2-3 drops of gel color. Mix with a fork until the coconut absorbs the color and is uniformly pink. If you want your apples to be rose red, add more color.

Now temper your chocolate. Heat 1-2 inches of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Pop another bowl on top of the saucepan of simmering water, making sure it doesn't touch the water. I get my chocolate in small chips but chop yours finely if you have bars. This recipe doesn't need all 300 grams of chocolate but it is hard to temper anything less than that. Reserve 60 grams of chocolate and put the rest in the bowl of your makeshift double boiler. Stir until the chocolate melts completely. You are looking for the chocolate to get to about 120F. Take the bowl off the heat, making sure to wipe the condensation at its base. Add the remaining chocolate and stir until the temperature reduces to 82F. Put the chocolate back on top of simmering water and heat back to 90-91F. Your chocolate is now in temper.

One by one, put the marzipan apples on a fork and dip in tempered chocolate. Shake to remove excess chocolate and drop into the bowl of coconut to coat. Remove to a parchment lined baking sheet. Once all the apples are dipped, pop the baking sheet into the freezer for 15 minutes for the chocolate to set.

You will be left with some tempered chocolate. Just pour it into moulds to create solid chocolates or wait until the next post to find out what I did with mine.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sugarcrafter: Zeba Kohli



Zeba Kohli did not head home like other children did after school. She went instead to her grandfather's chocolate shop in Marine Lines. As her grandfather and her mother went about their business of making and selling chocolates from the first 'Fantasie Chocolate', she sat in the office and finished her homework. Maybe she didn't want to become a chocolatier at first - she mentions that she studied Physics. But it was at an early age that Zeba took over the reins of the family business and not much later that she became a chocolatier extraordinaire, creating sweet treats that are synonymous with artisan chocolate in Mumbai.

The transition could not have been easy. After all, Zeba was not trained as a chef. But her inquisitive nature kicked in when she joined the business and she added to all the chocolate knowledge she had absorbed from her family by going to training courses around the world. "My grandfather will call one of his pastry chef friends in France and I will go intern with them for a month", she recalls. Well trained and back in India, Zeba also had to learn finance and accounting and everything else that goes into running a business. "I believe in doing everything well" says Zeba and she really did well as she upgraded her chocolate factory and expanded the franchise to what are now six shops scattered all over Mumbai.

When I go to meet Zeba at the original Marine Lines store her grandfather first opened in 1946, her energy and passion is palpable. Even as we are talking about her life story, she keeps a lookout for any customer who needs a suggestion or little bits out of place that her staff needs to know about. Treating her staff like family is another thing Zeba learned from her grandfather. No wonder then that she bucks the industry trend of high employee turnover - her store manager tells me he's been there for more than a decade.

Fantasie sells the most chocolate during Diwali - I get their almond clusters as gift pretty much every year - and they are just gearing up for the next rush over Christmas and New Year as I visit. Zeba tells me that milk chocolate and almond clusters (or anything with nuts really) continue to remain her bestsellers. That hasn't stopped Zeba from experimenting though. She was a brand ambassador for Barry Callebaut and a judge for the World Chocolate Masters Championship for many years running. At her store, Zeba offers everything from 100% chocolate to unique flavours like wasabi for some of her discerning, well travelled customers. I also spot a chocolate game she has created for kids, while a video shows super creative chocolate projects Zeba has done over the years.

I always ask sugarcrafters if they tire of all the sweets around them. But Zeba, I don't have to ask. As she offers me a taste of her 100% chocolate sweetened only by date slivers, she pops in a couple herself, clearly enjoying the experience. We try her christmas special of chocolate dipped candied orange peel together and then move on to macarons and cookies Zeba has recently added to the menu. I ask her if the bakery is a new addition and she corrects me, telling about the bakery her grandfather ran at the same place the Marine Lines store is at now, and the macaroons he used to make. I don't think Zeba could have found a better way to continue his legacy.

So now that Zeba has met her goals of building a better manufacturing plant and more outlets for her chocolate brand, what's next for Fantasie? Zeba tells me how much she loves teaching and while she no longer mentors the contestants for world chocolate championship, a chocolate academy is very much on the cards. She's already been doing chocolate pairings and gazillion of workshops at Starbucks and Kala Ghoda Festival and what not but soon you might be able to learn chocolate making from her at her Marine Lines store or her Andheri chocolate factory.

I wonder what Zeba's favourite chocolate is, but she refuses to pick one, showing equal affection for the bitter dark and the sweet white chocolate. It must be hard to pick when you are surrounded by such beautiful creations. The ones I'm leaving you with are the specials she's made for christmas this year. Did Zeba share one of these Christmas recipes for me to make at home? Just wait until next post to find out.





Fantasie Fine Chocolate Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Year of the Bao



I will start with a confession. Up until about two years back, I had no clue what a bao is. Yes, I had heard of folks raving about the pork belly bao at The Table but I had it filed away as something steamed and meaty that doesn't really concern me. Then Cafe Nemo opened and a little over a year back, I had my first taste of their tofu and mushroom baos.

Since then, it looks to me that everyone is putting a bao or two on the menu. The Fatty Bao opened earlier this year with a menu that left everyone raving about pork bellies. And The Bao Haus followed a few months later, doing a 'delivery only' business. But not all baos are created equal. There is monkey bar doing a paneer bhurji steamed bun, and Social calls its pita sandwiches 'pita baos' to cash in on the excitement. It can get pretty confusing.

If you are a vegetarian and a bao newbie like me, look no further. I have checked out all the baos and pseudo-baos in town, skipped over the pork bellied ones and picked the top three veggie baos for you to feast on.

The Fatty Bao: With layers of fillings and sauces that offer textural and flavour contrasts, The Fatty Bao's buns pack a punch. My unlikely favourite turned out to be the fried eggplant bao you see up there, with miso marinated eggplant, kimchi and a shot of sriracha. The garlic loaded mushroom bao is also great but I will personally stay a bit far from the mock meat one.

Cafe Nemo: The first one to put a vegetarian bao on its menu, Cafe Nemo still rocks with their mushroom bao that comes loaded with herbs and peanuts. It's a bit on the spicy side though. Your other option is their excellent tofu. Just like the Fatty Bao, I will stay away from the mock meat one. Really folks, if I wanted meat, I will eat meat.

The Bao Haus: The newest kid on the block has set up a delivery only service out of a kitchen in downtown Colaba. They only serve in South Bombay at the moment, so my tasting of their baos happened at their kitchen. I'm saying this because I am not certain how well these baos travel and whether they will be still as soft as hour or so later. But eaten fresh, the baos were flavourful with layers of ingredients and homemade sauces.



My favourite at the Bao Haus is their quinoa bao that comes topped with heaps of arugula and beet chips. The only other vegetarian bao on their menu is the fried tofu one. I loved the flavours and the peanut/herb contrast but this could be bit spicy if you don't each much chilli. You can of course go down the spicy route and promptly follow it up with their chocolate bao. Full of banana slices and marshmallows, the bao is way too sweet but it's new and different and fun to have, at least the first time round.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Dals of Punjab



If your knowledge of Punjabi cuisine comes from visits to dhabas and 'North Indian' restaurants, you can be excused for thinking that dal makhani is the only lentil dish eaten in Punjab. Made with whole black gram and laden with butter and spices, the delicious dal makhani is in fact a special occasion treat. Also, because it is tedious and takes a long time to cook, even Punjabis prefer getting a takeout of dal makhani from one of the many neighbourhood dhabas.

Also, the toor dal or arhar dal, a pulse that most of India (I'm thinking of you Gujarat, Maharashtra and UP) eats every day has no place in Punjabi cooking. My parents didn't even know such a thing existed until the first 'South Indian Dosa' place opened up in the 1980s and starting serving sambhar.

So what lentils do we cook then? A whole variety of them. In my home, where a lentil dish is cooked for dinner pretty much every day, the options range from the 'light' moong dal to both red and brown lentils. But our favourite dal is this combination of yellow split peas (chana dal) and split urad dal. It comes in two avatars that my brother and I dubbed yellow-white dal and black-yellow dal growing up. The first one is a combination of split peas with split and peeled urad dal (hence white). The second one has the same chana dal but uses split urad dal with its husk intact (hence black).

To make my family's favourite yellow-white dal, mix 1/2 cup each of chana dal and white urad dal. Wash thoroughly, then put in a pressure cooker with 4 cups of water, 1 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp red chilli powder and salt to taste. Cook for 6-7 whistles until the dal is soft and cooked through but you can still see individual grains. You need the consistency of a thick soup so if the dal appears too watery, put the pan back on heat and boil until the excess water dries off. You can now set the dal aside until you are ready to eat.

Just before eating, temper the dal. Chop 1 onion finely. Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a small pan. Add 1 tsp cumin seeds and wait until they start to splutter. Add the chopped onion and stir fry until the onion turns golden. Pour the tempering into the dal, stir to mix and sprinkle garam masala and optionally, finely chopped coriander leaves to garnish.

If you are making black-yellow dal, follow exactly the same process but change the mix to 3/4 cup chana dal and 1/4 cup split urad dal.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Contest Alert: The Best Christmas Tree


Today is the first day of the Christmas month, which means that soon enough, the hotels, shopping malls and streets of Bombay will be sparkling with lights. Every year, the city puts up an impressive array of Christmas trees and decorations. This year, you can help Bombay Foodie find the best looking Christmas Tree and win a prize too!

Here's how it works:

1. Click a picture of your favourite Christmas Tree or an interesting christmas decor you spot around town. The picture must be of a tree/christmas decor that is:
(a) set up for 2015 Christmas
(b) within the city limits of Mumbai/Greater Mumbai and
(c) accessible to public (for example, in a shopping mall or a hotel or store)

2. Leave a comment here with a link to the picture or share it with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram by tagging it with #BombayChristmas. Do mention where the picture was taken.

3. Just to make sure I know you and can reach you, please follow BombayFoodie on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram and tag @bombayfoodie when you post.

4. Contest closes at midnight Bombay time on 19th December. Top 3 entries win handcrafted Christmas goodies baked specially for you. If you win, I might even take requests to bake your favourite dessert.

There is more fun in store too. On 20th December, I will pick my favourite entries and go check those trees out. Of course, you are welcome to join the #BombayChristmas trail too. I will post a schedule here when I know where we are going.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

In praise of ID



You will rarely hear me talking about specific food brands on this page. But this one brand in particular needs to be talked about. Because unlike Zomato or Tiny Owl, ID hasn't pulled in zillions of dollars in investment funds. Nor do you see them roping in Shahrukh Khans of the world and advertising on TV.

Quietly, simply, one day the packs of ID idli-dosa batter showed up on the racks of my neighbourhood supermarket. Bombay's used to buying packs of dosa batter already so let me tell you what ID does better. The batter is sealed in a thick, ziplock bag that you can pop in the fridge. It's also already salted, so you can pour ladlefuls of batter out directly onto idli moulds or the dosa tavaa. The batter is also perfectly fermented every single time.

ID batter works equally well for idlis and dosas. Also, on the days you are feeling fanciful or have sudden guests, you can drop spoonfuls of batter into hot oil and deep fry into the vadas you see above. Then a few months back, ID added another product range that has made many a weekend for me. It's their malabar parotha, packaged half cooked, so you can pop it on a pan and get a crispy, flaky parantha in 2-3 minutes. I've had fresh malabar paranthas at restaurants and believe it or not, this packaged version is better than most. Since the parantha launch, ID has also launched things like whole wheat parantha and rotis but I can't say I love those.

For me, the perfect dosa batter and the malabar parantha I eat with pickle or chutney on weekend afternoons are the new constants in life. And that's what good brands do - they become part of who you are.

PS: Contrary to the food blogging trends nowadays, this post is not sponsored by ID. I don't even know who those guys are. I simply love their product!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Bread



India does not have a Thanksgiving tradition. But then, tradition or not, what's the point in ignoring a festival devoted almost entirely to eating and shopping. As a vegetarian, the turkey meal at thanksgiving is not of much interest to me. But there are so many sides to pick from and so many variations on the pumpkin. So for today's thanksgiving special, I bring you a bread roll that's not only shaped like a tiny, squat pumpkin but is also chock full of pumpkin puree and flavour.

The pumpkin bread was the bread of the month at my bread baking group 'We Knead to Bake'. Every recipe I have baked with this group has been a winner and this is no exception. The rolls that come out of the oven are super soft and amazing with a pat a butter. Plus the house smells of cinnamon and ginger and nutmeg for hours. The original recipe makes 8 rolls but I halved it so the one below makes 4 tiny pumpkins, just enough for 1-2 people.

Ingredients3 tbsp. warm milk
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
1/3 cup pureed pumpkin
20 grams butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered dry ginger
2-3 walnuts or pecans sliced into thin sections

If you are using whole pumpkin rather than store bought puree, peel the pumkin, halve and remove all the seeds in the middle. Cut into cubes and steam until soft. Cool, then puree until smooth in a blender. You will get far more puree than you need for this bread even with a tiny pumpkin but you can freeze anything extra for more rolls or pies or countless other pumpkin dishes you can make.

I use my kitchenaid dough hook to make bread doughs but this is also doable by hand. First off, warm the milk to slightly higher than lukewarm. Put in the mixer bowl alongwith honey and yeast and set it aside for 5 minutes for the yeast to bloom. In the meantime, melt your butter and mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Fix the dough hook and pop everything (dry ingredients, pumpkin puree, melted butter) on top of the yeast. Knead until you get a soft, sticky dough. If you started with 1 1/4 cup of flour, you might need to add a bit more if the dough is too wet.

With wet hands, remove the dough to a bowl, cover loosely and set aside for about an hour until doubled. Divide the dough into four equal portions, taking care not to deflate it too much. Shape each portion into a ball and flatten it a little. With a scissor, make 8 cuts at equal distance from the edge towards the centre of the ball, leaving the centre uncut so you have something looking like a flower.

Place the flowers on a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving enough space between them to expand. Let them rise for about 30-40 minutes. Add the walnut or pecan sliver in the centre to make the stem and brush the rolls with milk. Bake in an oven heated to 180C for 20-25 minutes until the rolls are well risen and golden. Let cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before digging in.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Soul of Punjab



The moment you mention to someone that you are a Punjabi and a foodie, you are likely to hear one of the two things in the sentence that follows: 'Butter Chicken' or 'Sarson ka Saag'. Of these two iconic dishes, butter chicken is a year round phenomenon and of little interest to me as a vegetarian. But let's talk of sarson ka saag or mustard greens that are just coming into season and will be a staple diet in Punjab for the next three months.

Before I get to the recipe, I need to add a little preface about the food in Punjab. We are an agrarian state, which means that most of our traditional dishes are peasant food - simple to make and hearty enough to help the men and women brave a hard day of work on the fields. Even though most folks I know no longer sweat it out on the fields, not much has changed food wise. Dainty dishes, small portions and fancy food doesn't really go down well in my hometown and literally everything gets served with a large dollop of homemade butter. Which means that first timers get surprised by how simple in flavour and yet how rich this dish tends to be.

What you won't be surprised by is the process of making saag, since this is my mom's version of recipe, using food processor instead of the tools my grandmother used. Her two favourite aids to making saag, now rusted, still hold a prized place in our kitchen - a daatri or an arc like chopper used to cut the greens and a ghotna, something like a potato masher used to mash the cooked greens later in the process.

One final note before I get to the recipe. Although the name suggests the dish is cooked mustard greens, saag is in fact a mixture of at least three different leaves since mustard is too bitter on its own. Spinach is of course widely available, but the third one - bathua - is harder to get hold of outside north India. Mom says it's ok to leave it to out or add a bit extra spinach if you can't find it.

Ingredients
1 kg mustard greens
1/2 kg spinach
250 grams bathua (optional)
2 green chillies
2 1-inch pieces of ginger
2-3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 medium onion
3 tbsp ghee
salt to taste

Cut off any hard stalks off your mustard greens, leaving only the leaves and small tender stems. Wash all the greens to remove any dirt and cut into thin ribbons. You can also chop them roughly in a food processor to speed up the process.

In a large pan, put the chopped greens along with 4 cups water, green chillies, 1-inch piece of ginger (peeled) and peeled garlic cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let cook until the greens are tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool a bit, then pop the whole mix into your food processor and grind to a smooth puree.

Pop the puree back into a pan and add cornmeal, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until most of the excess water has dried out. You can now temper the saag if you plan to eat immediately, or pop it in the fridge for upto a week.

Just before serving, finely chop the onion and the remaining piece of ginger. Heat ghee in a pan, add onion and ginger and saute until the onions are lightly browned. Add the cooked greens and saute for 5-7 minutes.

The saag is almost always served with a hearty dollop of homemade sweet butter and a cornmeal flatbread called makki ki roti. I really did try to get you the roti recipe as well but mom's description of the process involves specific hand movements and other touchy feely stuff that doesn't quite translate into English. So until I find a way to get you her video making makki ki roti, you might have to make do with your regular rotis. Or plan a trip to Punjab this winter.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Happy Diwali



The last few days, my drive back from work has been brighter than usual with buildings and malls all lit up. The markets are all full of people scrambling for last minute gifts. And any minute now, the air will get thick with smoke of firecrackers, the sky will light up with shooting stars. No wonder then, that Diwali is my favourite time of the year.

Our family has always bought rather than cooked diwali sweets so we don't really have a tradition of any special diwali dishes. This year though, I wanted to create a special dessert. I chose to take on my favourite jalebi. Typically, jalebi spirals are deep fried and then immediately dunked into sugar syrup, making them way too sweet. When I fried my jalebis though, I added a tiny bit of sugar into the dough itself so they were crisp and lightly sweet. And then I spooned over an orange caramel sauce, adding some citrusy goodness. There is more sauce to dunk your jalebis in if you want them sweeter. To round off the hot jalebi with something cold, there is rabdi ice cream in the middle.

Have a sweet, fun filled, happy diwali everyone!

Ingredients
For Jalebis
1 cup plain flour
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 cup curd
oil for deep frying

For orange caramel sauce
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice

For rabdi ice cream
1 litre full fat milk
50 grams sugar
8-10 pistachio nuts
5-6 almonds

Start your jalebi dough the night before you want to make them. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients (except oil of course) and whisk well until you have a thick batter. You might need to add a tbsp or so of water if your batter is too thick but make sure it's of dropping consistency like a pancake batter and not runny. Cover the bowl and set it aside to ferment. The next morning, you will see bubbles all over your batter. If you are not ready to make jalebis immediately, put the batter in the fridge so it doesn't over-ferment. It can also take longer, unto 24 hours in fact, depending on your weather, so be guided by how your batter looks and if there are bubbles to show it is fermented.

Let's get on to the ice cream now. Rabdi is nothing more than thickened milk and that's exactly how we have made this one. Pour the milk into a large, thick bottomed pan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, then cook until the milk is reduced to half, stirring frequently. At this stage, add the sugar and coarsely ground pistachios and almonds. Keep cooking until the milk is reduced to 1/3rd of its original quantity and is quite thick. Chill, then churn in your ice cream maker as you usually do. Pop the rabdi ice cream back in the freezer until ready to eat.

To make the caramel sauce, put sugar and vinegar in a saucepan along with 1/4 cup water. On a medium heat, stir until the sugar dissolves then leave it alone. Watch the pan closely as the sugar bubbles and gets to a deep amber color. At this point, turn off the heat and immediately pour in the orange juice. Step back as the sugar will bubble over and it can splatter. Once the drama dies down, stir your caramel to make sure there are no lumps.

Heat oil in a pan. Put your jalebi batter in a piping bag, snip off the end and pipe rounds directly into hot oil. Fry until golden on both sides and serve immediately with a scoop of rabdi ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce, with more sauce on the side.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Winter Panacotta



We are at that time of the year that's the cusp between summer and winter. It never really gets too cold in Mumbai but the air will start getting a little nippy in the evenings soon. Even when everyone is starting to talk about pumpkins and gingerbread, right now it feels too early to let go of the bright fruits and vegetables of the summer. Which is why this panacotta is a perfect dessert.

The panacotta itself is the 'warm' and wintery element in the dessert, full of cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger. To complement the creamy panacotta, I have added two more components. Well, three if you count the fresh pomegranate seeds. In addition to the pomegranate seeds, there is a pomegranate syrup, made fresh at home and tangy enough to cut through the panacotta's sweetness. The final element - the chocolate soil - provides the much needed textural contrast.

If you have never made panacotta before, let me assure you that this is the easiest dessert to whip together. No good panacotta recipe takes more than 5 minutes of effort but always looks fancy and elegant. And the chocolate soil might be my biggest discovery this year. I first saw the recipe as part of one of the Heston Blumenthal desserts. His version is too sweet so I've tweaked it to make it crunchier. The recipe makes more than you need for your panacotta but I dare you to stop munching on the soil; it's that addictive.

Ingredients
For Panacotta
200 ml cream (I used Amul 25%)
2 sheets or 1 tsp gelatin
30 grams white chocolate
a pinch of cinnamon
a pinch of dry ginger powder
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

For pomegranate syrup
Seeds of 1 large pomegranate (About 1 1/2 cups)
1 tsp lime juice

For chocolate soil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup caster sugar
80 grams dark chocolate (I used Callebaut 72%)
1 tbsp cocoa nibs (optional)

Take a bowl of water and soak your gelatin sheets in it. If using gelatine powder, add the gelatin to 1 tbsp water and set it aside. Heat the cream on a low heat until it's hot (but do not let it get to boiling point). Add the chocolate and the spices and stir until the chocolate melts. Take the cream off the heat and add the powdered gelatin, water and all to the mix. If using sheets, squeeze out the water and add the sheets to the cream. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved in the warm cream. Pour the panacotta mixture into three small ramekins or silicon moulds. Let cool, then put in the fridge for 1-2 hours to set.

While your panacotta is setting, make the other elements of the dessert. Keep a handful of pomegranate seeds aside and put the rest in the blender. Blitz for a few seconds to partly crush the seeds, then pass through a fine mesh sieve to get pomegranate juice. Put the juice in a pan along with the lime juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let the juice cook until it is reduced to half.

For chocolate soil, chop the chocolate into tiny pieces. Combine water and sugar in a non stick frying pan. Put on a medium heat. Stir for the first minute until the sugar dissolves, then leave the boiling syrup on its own until you start to see the start of the caramel color on the edges of the pan. This can take a few minutes so be patient and stay close to the pan. As soon as the sugar starts to color, turn off the heat and add all the chocolate. Keep stirring - at first the chocolate will melt and it will all be one pool of liquid chocolate. But as the mixture cools, it will turn into soil-like crystallised chocolate. Let cool completely and then, if you can find them, add cocoa nibs for some extra crunch.

Invert your set panacotta on a plate. Pour over pomegranate syrup, add a tbsp or so of chocolate soil to the side and sprinkle some of the reserved fresh pomegranate seeds to finish.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Aloo Tikkis and Memories



My favourite memories of college are the time spent with my four friends. There were classes of course, but there were also long gossip sessions in the garden. And when we could afford it (not too often at the time), there was food. I recall our college had a juice guy and we went on a juice kick for a while. And then there was the canteen - fairly basic cafe - dishing out coffee and samosas and other fried snacky stuff.

One dish in particular stands out - the band tikki or potato tikki in a bun. This was the precursor to McDonalds aloo tikki burger; a potato patty fried and encased in a burger-like bun, full of spicy chutneys. I was the nerdy type in school and a friend of mine claims she would offer to buy me band tikki after class, so I could bring her up to speed on whatever got taught that day. Fact or not, a mention of band tikki still brings a smile to all our faces.

I make band tikki often. At first, I used to make the potato patty from scratch. But a few months back, I discovered the frozen aloo tikkis. One in particular, from McCain, ticks all the right boxes for its garlicky flavour and right levels of spice so I now have a package always in the freezer, ready to dish out band tikkis when mood or memories strike. Or when I have fresh green chutney. For while everything else in this dish can be bought or is in your pantry, a good green chutney is make or break here.

To make your band tikki, you need:
One burger bun
Two frozen aloo tikkis
1-2 tbsp sweet tamarind chutney (jarred/packaged is fine)
1-2 tbsp green chutney (see recipe here)
One small onion, sliced thinly

Heat a frying pan and pop the frozen tikkis on it. If you keep the heat low and give them time to cook, there is no need to defrost first. Turn every minute or so, until the tikkis become soft and feel cooked through. Move the patties to the side of a pan to make some space. Halve the burger bun and heat on both sides on the frying pan until lightly browned and toasty. Spread both the chutney on the lower half of the bun and spread onion slices all over. Top with both the potato patties, add more chutneys and onions and top with the other half of the bun.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Barmbrack



Halloween is just around the corner which means that foodies and bloggers have started thinking about spooky foods to put on the table. However, if scary food and candy is not the way you lean, you will be glad to hear of this Irish hallow's eve tradition that my bread baking group 'We Knead to Bake' has found - the barmbrack. The name of the bread literally means speckled bread, on account of the bread being studded with raisins. There are all kinds of dried fruits you can use and I went for a combination of golden raisins and apricots. The original recipe I saw used sultanas and cranberries for a much better colour contrast so pick the ones you like.

Now many bread recipes use dried fruits so you must be wondering what's special about this one. The distinctive feature of barmbrack is that the fruits are first soaked in tea. Some of that tea then also gets incorporated in the dough, giving the bread a warm and delightfully spicy kick, which gets complemented by the sweetness built in the recipe. If you want to go all traditional Irish about barmbrack, drop in small trinkets when shaping the dough. Tradition has it that the object you find tells your fortune. Of course, warn your eaters first lest they break their teeth biting into your toy rings and other fortune tellers.

Here goes the recipe:

Ingredients
3/4 cup dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, cranberries, apricots)
1 1/2 cups strong, hot black tea
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp active dry yeast
2/3 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
30gm salted butter, soft at room temperature
1 lightly beaten egg
1/2 to 3/4 cup warm milk
1 tbsp caster sugar + 1 tbsp boiling water mixed to glaze the top of the bread

Put the dried fruit into a bowl. Cover them with the hot tea and leave overnight or for at least 3 to 4 hours so they plump up. Once they have plumped up, drain the liquid and reserve it to be used later. Also set the fruit aside.

Put the soaking liquid into a 1 cup measure and top up with enough warm milk to make 1 cup. Test the temperature of the resulting 'tea' - it should be slightly warmer than lukewarm. Put the tea and milk mixture in the bowl of your food processor and add yeast. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is all bubbly, then add the flour, sugar and spices. Run the processor for a few seconds to mix everything, then add the beaten egg and the butter.

Knead into a just-sticky-to-touch and elastic dough, adding a little more flour if necessary. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter and flatten it out. Sprinkle the drained fruit over this and fold in half and fold once again. Then gently knead the dough so the fruit is evenly dispersed within the dough. Shape into a ball and place the dough in an oiled bowl. Turn it to coat it well with oil and then let it rise, covered, until it has doubled in volume (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours).

Gently knead the risen dough and divide it into 2 equal portions. Shape each into a round and place on baking trays lined with parchment or shape into a loaf and place in greased 5” x 8" loaf tins as you prefer. Place the ring and trinkets (if you’re using them) into the bread while shaping the loaves. Let the shaped breads rise for another 45 minutes to an hour, covered, until they have puffed up. Heat the oven to 180C and bake the breads for 40-50 minutes until the breads are golden brown and done.

About 5 minutes before finally taking the breads out of the oven, brush the tops of them with the sugar glaze and return to the oven for a few minutes for a sticky and shiny finish. Cool the breads on a wire rack for several hours (overnight, if possible) before cutting into slices.

If you think this is too much bread, don't panic. One, you can halve this recipe. Your only problem will be a leftover half egg but I am sure you can find other uses for it. The other thing you should know is that this bread freezes beautifully. So once I had sliced the bread, I wrapped individual slices in clingfilm, stacked all the slices in a large container and stashed it in the freezer. Now I just take out a slice when I feel like it, apply a little butter on both sides and heat it gently on a pan until it is nice and toasty.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ashtami Food



Yesterday was ashtami, the eighth day of the navratras. Twice a year in my home state of Punjab, in April and then again in October, ashtami is celebrated as kanjak. Technically, this means that it is a day you pray to the Goddess Durga and invite 7 girls to your place to treat them to a meal. But given the logistics of everyone needing to invite girls (there are only so many kids in the neighbourhood after all), here is how it works: my mum and dad will get up early in the morning and make the traditional ashtami meal of puris, semolina halwa and dried black chickpeas. We will then create little snack packs with two puris topped with a scoop of halwa and another scoop of the chickpeas.

One of us will then go out out get hold of neighbourhood kids - both boys and girls are welcome and the more the merrier. They will come in, you will spend 5 minutes doing the puja. My dad will light the traditional lamp, hand over tiny bites of halwa as prasad to the kids and then fill the plates they bring with them with the ashtami food, some gifts and typically some money. For kids, these are the two favourite days of the year. They get all the attention and get nice gifts like toys and bangles and what not. Plus my four year old niece certainly raked in enough money yesterday to keep her high on candy for a week.

As a child, my favourite time was when the puja was over, all the kids had gone home and my mum will fry fresh puris for us to eat. Everyone knows dozens of halwa recipes but my pick of the meal was black chana. For some reason, this curry was only made at our place twice a year and never more. Maybe because it's considered to be too simple compared to other curries. Because the meal is offered in prayer to Goddess Durga, no onions or garlic can be used. But even with dry spices, the curry comes out flavoursome and a great match for oily puris and the rich halwa. Here's how you make some.

Ingredients
1/2 cup black chickpeas
1 tbsp ghee
1 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tbsp amchur (dried mango powder)

Soak the chickpeas overnight in at least 4-5 cups of water. Drain and wash in running water, then set aside. In a pressure cooker, heat the ghee. Add cumin seeds and wait for 15-20 seconds until they start to splutter. Then add haldi and stir it around to take the raw turmeric smell off. Add the soaked chickpeas, salt and chilli powder as well as 2 1/2 cups of water. Put the pressure lid on and cook for 5-6 whistles until the chickpeas are soft. There will still be some water left over from cooking, if not add 1/2 cup water, garam masala and amchur, then put the chickpeas back on heat. Cook on a medium heat until the water dries up and the chickpeas are nicely coated with spices. Serve hot with puris or paranthas.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Field Guide to Avocados



Anyone who thinks fats are unhealthy has surely not met an avocado. High in both calories and fat and yet good for your heart, avocado is one of the most delicious ways to stay healthy. Because I love avocados and can eat guacamole for pretty much every meal, several readers of this blog have asked me where to buy good avocados. I can't vouch for the rest of world but if you live in Mumbai, specifically the western suburbs, read on to find out where and how to buy the best avocados.

Step 1: Local or Imported - There are several variants of avocados. In Mumbai though, storekeepers only know of two varieties. The imported avocado (it's typically haas avocado) or the Indian avocado. I have seen the quality of Indian avocados get better over time so I see little point in paying 3-4 times the price for the imported version.

Step 2: Where to buy - In order of preference, my top 3 locations to buy the avocados are:

Pali Hill Vegetable Market: First get to 5 Spice/Wok Express on Pali Naka and keep walking towards Ambedkar Road. Take the first left just after Modern Chemist and you will see a lane full of fruit and vegetable sellers. Towards the end of this market, on your left and just before the last two fruit sellers, there is the largest vegetable store on the lane called Lalu Vegetables. Ask for Sunil and tell him to pick the avocado for you.

Godrej Nature's Basket: The stores on Bandra Hill Road and Juhu both have a decent collection of avocados. Go early though, specially on weekends, as they run out of the good stuff.

Four Bungalows: This is my least favourite of the three but in case of an avocado emergency, several vegetable vendors in the four bungalow market sell avocados. They only have 2-3 avocados though (unlike the baskets full that Sunil has) so make sure you pick well and try out other vendors if you are unsure of what the first guy is selling you.

Step 3: How to Buy - You will find everything from unripe to too ripe avocados at these stores. Generally, if you buy an unripe one, you can leave it on the kitchen counter for a few days to ripen. But this is not a foolproof strategy with the Indian variety, so it is best to buy ones just ripe to eat. To find those, press the avocado slightly. It should feel soft but not mushy. If it feels as hard as a pear, do not buy it.

To avoid overripe avocados, check the top of the fruit where the stem is. If the little dent left after removing the stem is clear and light in color, you are good to go. If you find it black or mouldy, move on to the next fruit. When buying in Pali market, the guy usually asks me when I want to eat the avocado and finds the right one. He hasn't yet sold me a bad avocado so that might be a good strategy.

That's it folks. Now that you have your supplies of avocados, you are set for everything from guacamole to avocado toast to some delicious smoothies.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lessons in Bread Baking



I remember the first time I baked bread. It was a pizza, and I was nervous as I followed the recipe exactly, wondering if the yeast will work at all and if the dough will rise. Fast forward a few years, to this bread I baked last week. I warmed some water, added a bit of sugar and oil, then eyeballed the quantity of yeast that went in. My kitchenaid made short work of kneading the dough after I added flour and salt, and then it was just a question of waiting for the dough to rise, shaping it and popping it in the oven. So what's changed between then and now, you're thinking, that makes me so confident I don't even need a recipe. It's really just some basic rules and things to keep in mind when you set out to bake breads. So if you are just starting out or still scared of yeast, here are my top tips:

Every yeast is different: Recipes are really just guidelines for baking breads. For everything from how long to wait for the dough to rise to how long it should spend in the oven, please be guided by how your yeast behaves. In India, in general, the rise time will be much shorter than what's mentioned in a recipe written by someone from a colder climate. Also, while it's completely okay to add instant yeast to flour and add liquids later, I prefer 'proofing' my yeast by first adding yeast, sugar and oil to warm liquids and waiting a few minutes until the yeast gets bubbly. I then add everything else to this mixture and knead it into a dough.

Wet is good: When I first started baking bread, I would want a perfect dough and add way too much flour. I've realised over time that my best breads are the ones where I felt that the dough was too wet and shaggy. So resist the temptation to add that extra handful of flour. Keep kneading and eventually the dough will get smooth and come together.

Add salt in the end: If you drop salt right on top of the yeast, it might kill the action. So add your flour first, mix it in and then add the salt.

When in doubt, line the pan: Ever since I lost a fantastic loaf of ciabatta because it stuck to the baking tray, I make it a point to line my baking sheets and loaf pans with parchment paper. Never mind that you have a nonstick pan, just go ahead and add a layer of parchment rather than risk losing the bread.

Add texture: While it's perfectly great to bake a plain white loaf, the beauty of homemade bread is that you can add all the seeds and nuts and dried fruits that you like. While seeds can go on top or mixed into the dough when you shape it, you may not want to add sugary stuff like raisins or cranberries on top because they will burn too quickly so add them when you put the dough out for its first rise.

Wait: Yes, you are really eager to eat that bread but this is something that takes time. Do not take the bread out of the oven until it's really browned and do not cut into a loaf until its completely cooled. Can't wait and want to eat warm bread? I usually bake smaller rolls so I can eat them when warm.

Good luck, then! You may still have an occasional failure (we're dealing with yeast after all) but don't let that stop you from baking some more bread. There really is nothing nicer than the smell of bread baking in a home.

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.

Ingredients
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.

Ingredients

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

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 Custard...my 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).

Ingredients
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

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.