Friday, July 31, 2015

SugarCraft at Home

At the end of my interviews with Sugarcrafters, I intend to ask them to share one of their signature recipes. Just so I can recreate some of that magic at home. When I asked Chef Deep this question, he didn't give me a recipe, he gave me a jar.



Chef Deep introduced these DIY jars after he took over as the executive pastry chef for the Trident Patisserie for his customers to easily recreate his bakes at home. In fact, everything about these jars defines thoughtfulness and ease. The recipe is printed on the jar itself so you don't have to look around for any extra papers. There's even a wooden spoon attached to the jar to stir your batter and the jar itself will come in handy once you have finished baking your brownies so you can store the goodies.

My only complaint was the recipe - it could have been written a bit more clearly, as I had to mail Chef Deep to clarify a few doubts before I started baking. But all that is excusable when you look at the sheer goodness of these brownies. First off, the layers of ingredients - flour, cocoa powder, sugar, walnuts and chocolate chips - produce a batch of brownies that's a lot more generous than you would guess from looking at this jar. You only need to add some butter, some milk and a tiny bit of water to make the dough. Yes, the thick batter is more like a cookie dough so I took some time adjusting to the fact. But then I just went ahead and pressed the dough into a parchment lined pan. Chef Deep said to keep the brownies undercooked as they will firm up later. So I baked these for 35 minutes, pulled out the tray and let it cool for many, many hours before I could cut squares like these.



And how were the brownies, you ask? These are the darkest, fudgiest brownies I've tasted. These are not the kind you nibble casually between meals. Instead, these are brownies you sit down with, a glass of milk nearby. I ate a few, shared a couple with friends, but I've also stashed some in the freezer for a rainy day. Because brownies as good as these should always be around.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SugarCrafters

In the enchanted village created by the writer of Wishcraft mysteries, every witch and wizard is known by their special skills. But even among all that magic, there is no one as intriguing as the pastry chef who creates a magical world full of candy and chocolate.

SugarCrafters is a brand new series on Bombay Foodie that takes a trip to the sweet worlds of these magicians of the pastry kingdom. Stay tuned to read all about these wizards who make our lives a whole lot sweeter.




Deep Bajaj's love affair with food started early, watching his grandmother find that perfect Chicken Tikka or the best jalebi during his school holidays. Even then, it couldn't have been an easy decision to him to pick hotel management after high school. The only non-doctor in his entirely family tree, Deep went to Institute of Hotel Management and then straight on to the Oberoi Institute. He's stayed with the Oberoi family ever since, working in the pastry kitchens of Udaivilas and properties across Africa.

Chef Deep took over the pastry kitchen at BKC's Trident only a couple of months back. As I walk into this usually buzzing patisserie that's quiet on a Sunday afternoon, Deep's busy consulting with a young kid on the animal cake he wants for his birthday. The display counters already show Chef Deep's mark, housing not just sandwiches and cakes but also his signature hand crafted chocolates and pate de fruit.

His consultation over, I settle down to talk with the soft spoken chef. Chef Deep's food philosophy is clear - bold flavours presently simply. The well-read and well-travelled chef talks passionately about cakes that are easy to eat, meals that busy customers can quickly take away, but everything here comes with flavours that pack a punch.

Deep gets excited about the creativity he gets to show every week at his Sunday Brunch and we talk about his latest creation - a honey meringue that he folded into a mousse cake. He talks about making sure the dessert has elements of crunch (by adding a honey crisp) and balanced flavours that aren't too sweet or flat (by accentuating them with raspberries), and then shows me a presentation that looks as good as it tastes.

Working in a large hotel comes with access to top quality ingredients like single origin chocolates but also come with the responsibility of managing not just the patisserie but guest rooms and buffets and everything else sweet that the hotel needs. I ask him if it's a challenge to come up with new desserts every Sunday and he claims the opposite is true. "I have so many ideas that it is difficult to pick just 5 or 6", says the Chef.

Cake's not all that excites Chef Deep. The Sunday Brunch that day also features a wide variety of breads and Deep talks fondly of Fuzzy, his sourdough starter that's older than him and features in all his breads. I tell him about my own starter named Ms. Tippity and we plan to set these two up on a date.

I end my conversation with a series of rapid fire questions to tell you a little bit more about Chef Deep. And here's what he has to say:
Favourite Dish to Eat: Tandoori Chicken
Favourite Dish to Cook: Chocolate Mousse
Favourite Indian Dessert: Malai Chop
Bread or Cake: Cake
Brownie or Macaron: Brownie
One Indian Flavour he would like to use in his desserts: Kalonji

There is also a part 2 to this conversation; a little bit of chef magic I brought home with me. But you'd just have to wait for the next post to hear about that.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tingmos for 'We Knead to Bake'



A few years back, a group of bakers started 'We Knead to Bake' - a monthly bread baking group. At that time, I was busy moving between countries and student life and work so I had to pass on the bread baking challenges. But I've been following the group's beautiful breads and finally, this month on, I've decided to join in as well.

As luck will have it, the first bread I got to make wasn't baked but steamed. The group chose to make tingmos, a Tibetian/North East Indian steamed bread that's used to mop up everything from hot sauces to noodle soups to curries. The dough came together beautifully and even when risen, was one of the nicest doughs I have worked with.

With a coriander, ginger-garlic and spring onion filling, the buns are good enough to eat on their own. But I chose to make a meal out of it, pairing the buns with a sweet and sour vegetable curry full of flavour from the Tibetian kopan masala. The full recipe follows, but once you've read it, you should also head over to Aparna's to see what versions everyone else came up with.

Ingredients
For Kopan Masala
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
One black cardamom
3 cloves
½ inch piece of cinnamon

For Sweet and Sour Vegetables
1 bunch (5-6) spring onions
200 grams button mushrooms
200 grams babycorn
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp red chilli powder
3 tomatoes, peeled and pureed
1/3 cup tomato ketchup
1 tbsp cider vinegar or white vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
Salt to taste

For Tingmos
¾ cup plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp active dry yeast
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup water
1½ tsp ginger garlic paste
1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped spring onion greens
1 tbsp vegetable oil

To make kopan masala: Heat a small pan and dry roast all the ingredients for 4-5 minutes until fragrant. Grind to a coarse powder.

For sweet and sour vegetables: Slice the spring onions thinly keeping the white (onion) and greens separate. Wash the mushrooms and slice. Also cut the babycorns lengthwise into pieces about as long as the mushroom slices.

Heat oil in a pan. Add the ginger and then the minced garlic. After 1-2 minutes, add the sliced (white part) spring onion. Sprinkle some salt and saute until the onions start to brown. Then add babycorn and after a couple of minutes, mushrooms. Stir fry on a medium heat until the vegetables are partly cooked. Then add the spring onion greens, chilli powder and half the kopan masala. Stir well, then add the fresh tomato puree, vinegar and the ketchup. Bring to a boil and let cook until the raw tomato smells goes away, about 5 minutes. Taste, and add more salt or kopan masala if need be.

For Tingmos: Heat the water so its warmer than lukewarm but not boiling. Add the yeast and let rest for 5 minutes. Now add the flour, baking soda and salt and knead to a smooth dough. Coat with oil and set aside in a covered bowl for 45 minutes to an hour, until the dough doubles in size.

Roll out the risen dough into a square, rolling it as thin as possible. Spread the ginger-garlic paste all over the dough. Mix coriander with spring onion greens and sprinkle all over the rolled out dough. Roll up the dough as you would a swiss roll, and cut into 6-7 slices.

Lightly oil a steamer and place the rolls upright (so cut sides face up and down), leaving enough space between rolls for them to expand. Cover and let sit for about 15 minutes while you set the water in the steamer to boil. Steam the tingmos for 15 minutes until they are puffy, firm and cooked. Serve warm with the vegetable curry.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Balsamic Caramel



As a foodie, I like to keep my eye out for new food trends. And there really wasn't a bigger food trend in the last two years than the food mashups, all started with the croissant-donut hybrid called the cronut. The creator of cronut - Domnique Ansel - still gets queues that stretch several blocks. And while I myself have never liked cronuts, you have to hand it to a chef who can become so famous with just one dish.

Turns out Dominique Ansel is more than a one dish wonder because he returned this year with something that's even more fabulous than a cronut - an ice cream bar. The moment I read the description of his burrata ice cream cone at NY Times, I was fascinated. Now good, fresh burrata is tough to come by in Mumbai but I couldn't stop thinking about the balsamic caramel drizzle that went on top of that ice cream.

So as soon as I got home that evening, I set to make my own balsamic caramel sauce. It's simply my regular salted caramel sauce with some balsamic vinegar added in. But somehow that one addition makes the sauce sweet and salty and tangy all at once. It's really hard to explain how good this is so you will just have to make it yourself. Like right now! Here's the recipe.

Ingredients
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup cream (Amul 25% is fine)
2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

Recipe
In a heavy pan, mix sugar, vinegar and water to make a mortar like mixture. Put on a medium heat and let the sugar melt completely. You can stir it a couple of times to make sure the sugar melts evenly. Then step back and watch. Do not stir the pan, just let the sugar boil away on its own. After some time, the sugar will start to change color. Really, caramel making is all about watching sugar boil. Once the sugar turns deep amber, turn off the heat and pour the cream, spreading it as much as you can. The mixture will splutter and bubble so make sure you pick a large enough pan. Once the caramel settles down a bit, stir the sauce to make sure the cream is fully mixed in. If you see chunks of caramel at the bottom of the pan, put it back on a low heat for a couple of minutes for cream to mix in properly.

Immediately remove to a glass or metal bowl (never plastic) to stop the caramel cooking any more. Let cool for about half an hour, then stir in 1/2 tsp sea salt and 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar. Make sure you use good quality balsamic. You don't have to go crazy and buy the most expensive ones but if you do, check for the word tradazionale (indicating this is traditonal balsamic vinegar aged for 12 years or more). I usually go for the one with the IGP certification, which means that it's made in Modena and fairly good quality but won't break the bank.

Once your balsamic is mixed in and the sauce has cooled completely, you can use it over ice creams or pancakes. Of course, eating a spoon straight out of the jar is always an option!