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.