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.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Rise of the Food Blogger

I remember the first time I met another food blogger. After months of back and forth over emails and commenting on each other's blogs, Harini, Alka and I landed up at Bandra's Carter Road on a mildly cold afternoon in December 2008. Sitting on a bench on the promenade, Alka unwrapped her box of koki. I passed around cookies I had baked for them to take home, and Harini brought out a vegan cake she had baked just that morning. We chatted for hours, feeling that we already knew the other two from their blogs and when the bill finally arrived at Cafe Coffee Day, each of us fought to pay but ended up sharing it.

Fast forward seven years. Bombay's food blogging scene is buzzing and there must be at least a hundred blogs being written from the city. A lot of these bloggers only write reviews so restaurants have jumped onto the bandwagon. I must admit I quite like the excitement of being invited to launches and menu previews, specially because you get to meet the chefs as well as fellow foodies. Sometimes the event that follows is amazingly good; many other times the food is a let down so I've become quite picky about which invites I accept. From past experience, I know that JW Marriott always put on a good show and so it was with great expectations that I accepted the invite to go to the Spices restaurant at Juhu's Marriott.

The occasion was a new dimsum menu being launched by Chef Tenzin KheChok, the latest addition to the chef lineup at the hotel. When we got there, the chef was in the kitchen making the dimsums himself. But we had the private dining room to ourselves and soon enough, 15 food bloggers showed up. Now here's the thing about there being so many bloggers in the city - every event, there are some familiar faces who I count as good acquaintances, even friends. But more than half the people are new each time, and it's exciting but also a little bit strange meeting folks whose blogs I know nothing about.

Well, with intros out of the way, the steamer baskets of dimsums started to arrive. The chef opened with a mushroom dimsum and over the next hour, some ten other types followed - everything from chicken to prawns to veggies. My personal favourite was an edamame and truffle dimsum shaped like tiny money bags, and I didn't mind the pan fried mixed vegetable version either. The chef also had some interesting takes on the dimsums and there was universal praise for the one where spinach leaves were used as a wrapper. Every basket of dimsums was beautiful, the chef's skills showing in impeccably shaped morsels.

Service though, was a very different ball game. When the first steamer basket arrived, the servers put on their fine dining hats and started serving dimsums around the table. But this was a table of food bloggers and they had a very different idea of how a dinner works. Every blogger on the table wanted to take a picture of the perfectly arranged dimsums and so we patiently waited for 15 pictures to be clicked. Now dimsums being what they are, they turned cold and a little gummy by the time the photo session was over. Of course, this was repeated for every single basket of dimsums coming in, which was hilarious because anyone who had already clicked the picture was clamouring to start eating. A few dimsums later, the service got a little bit smarter and they started to bring in smaller baskets so photos could get taken quicker. But the overall reaction of the servers throughout the meal was bafflement and a lot of confusion.

In the end, the whole experience was like these hot chocolate buns chef Tenzin served us at the end of our dimsum meal. Something new, a little bit exciting but overall, just a tiny bit bizarre.