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.