Monday, 31 December 2012

Best of 2012...

This is my last post for the year. I'll keep it simple.. I leave you with a list of the ten most-read posts of 2012. Whilst these posts have all been related to baking and the kitchen, there are also posts where I have revealed a little bit of myself with each post! I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I've enjoyed writing them!!

But, before that, a tiny mention that Baker-in-Disguise and yours truly were featured on 'Cut Out + Keep' all this week, with one popular recipe from this blog being featured every day of the week.
You can see the whole feature, here :

No matter how the past year went by, the eternal optimist in me believes that you have to look upon the new year with renewed enthusiasm and hope!! Because as the inimitable Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes, once said, It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy...Let’s go exploring!!

Wishing you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year!! May your year be filled with laughter, love, luck and good health!! Stay safe and be happy! I'll see you in 2013 and we'll go exploring!!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Fruit Cake

And... Christmas is here!! Even if you don't celebrate Christmas like me, you cannot escape its infectious spirit of joy and celebration that it brings. So close to the New Year, it is just one more reason to celebrate, forget your worries and indulge yourself!
Christmas is a baker's delight. This time of the year is made for the oven. Food blogs are crammed with stories with people rushing against the clock to do their holiday baking, buying their gifts, catching up with friends and family and then there's not only the mammoth Christmas Feast but the breakfast the morning after!!!
Life's a bit simpler out here. Since, we don't celebrate Christmas, I get into the spirit of things by baking a Christmas Fruit Cake. It's traditional, Christmassy and reason enough to surround myself with family and close friends.
The recipe I turn to is Nigella's Chocolate Fruit Cake. Nigella and her recipes are no brand ambassador for Weight Watchers and that's what makes them perfect for Christmas. And her recipes not only deliver as promised but are almost, always crowd-pleasers!!
The recipe cannot get simpler even if you tried. This is not one of those recipes where you should have steeped your dried fruits in alcohol weeks or months in advance. Nigella cheats her way by simmering the dried fruits in an alcohol mix over heat, for ten minutes. This may not meet the approval of the purists but it definitely meets the approval of the harried, practical and pragmatic cook.
Talking about how simple this cake is, it does not even use a hand-held mixer. You simply mix everything with a wooden spoon. It really can't get easier than that!!
The cake hardly takes much time to put together but it does have a fairly lengthy baking time. But, that's a good thing because by the time it is baked, your whole house is filled with the fragrance of Christmas. If for some reason you are not in the mood of things, this will definitely get you in the mood.
The cake is everything a Christmas cake should be. It is dark, dense, moist, slightly sticky and tastes of Christmas. Its all in there -  the alcohol, the spice, the dried fruits, the oranges, all the traditional flavours you associate with Christmas. If the chocolate in her title makes you wary, then worry not, because it is hardly discernible but just adds to the darkness and depth of this cake. A small slice goes a long way so this cake feeds a lot of people.
I cannot recommend this cake enough. With hardly any effort, you will have a Christmas cake that will become a family favourite and an integral part of your Christmas memories.

Wishing you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas. May the magic of Christmas brighten every part of your lives with love, laughter and happiness!!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Lemon Curd Thumprint Cookies

If you live near the tropics as I do, you look forward to Winter. We have none of that freezing temperatures, grey landscape, 'havent-seen-sunshine-in-days' kind of weather. Winter is about gentle sunshine that prompts happier moods and wider smiles. It is about weather that tempts you to organise lunch in the garden, if you have that luxury. It is about searching for that one odd sweater in the deep recesses of your cupboard because that one sweater represents your entire winter clothing. It is about gardens being filled with flowers of all colours. It is about markets bursting with fresh produce. Yes, we get strawberries around this time of the year! But, not just strawberries, every fruit and vegetable looks healthier, fresher and plumper than it does all year round.
So, when I saw a mound of huge, plump, yellow lemons, I knew I had to make something with them. It's a winter thing! As winter turns to summer, in India, these huge, yellow lemons will shrink and disappear from the markets to be replaced by tiny, green limes. So, Winter is the time to enjoy this citrus!

My mother is a big fan of lemon and all things citrusy. She's been after me for something lemony.. 'how 'bout making a lemon meringue pie, lemon sponge pudding or even, lemon curd tartlets??', she's told me pointedly, time and again, when asked for suggestions on what to bake.
Way back in the summer, I had spotted these lemon bar cookie cups on 'Barbara Bakes' - that brilliant treasure trove of impressive yet doable recipes!! I had bookmarked it then and finally got around to making them.

Barbara gives a brilliant resource for making the lemon curd. If you have never made lemon curd before, I recommend that you turn to this recipe. It yields a beautiful, silky smooth lemon curd, and more importantly, without any fuss.
For the cookies, I used Rachel Allen's basic shortbread cookie recipe. And to bring it all together, I turned to Barbara's brilliant technique of using mini-muffin tins to make these thumprint cookies. If you are as hopeless as me in getting the dough into mini circles and then, making an indent in it, this technique is a God-send!

I had made the lemon curd a day before, so baking the cookies and assembling the whole thing took me a little more than an hour. Although I wish the lemon curd would have yielded a more yellow, sunnier colour!
The lemon curd is lemony and fresh, with enough sweetness to help cut through the obvious tartness and tangy enough, to remind you who is the star of the show!! The petite size is just right for this cookie. This is lemon curd not chocolate, so there is only that much you can have at one go!!

If you love lemons, you will love these cookies. I am not a big fan of lemons and even, I loved these cookies. And, it definitely got Ma's seal of approval!!

Food blogs are right now engulfed by cookie madness. These cookies are a good addition to a cookie platter packed with overtly sweet jam-filled or chocolate/caramel cookies.

If you are lucky enough to live near the tropics, these cookies will match your mood. And if you haven't seen the Sun for a few days, these little drops of sunshine will perk up your day!!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Finnish Pulla : 'TWD : Baking With Julia'

As far as 2012 goes, we are in the home stretch now. Your time to ponder on what you could've, should've and would've done with the year, has come and gone ... You should have already done that by now! Now, all eyes are on 2013 and all that remains for us to do is bring in the new year with hope, excitement, optimism and of course, a party!!
And for the last 'TWD : Baking with Julia' post of the year, the group has chosen the Finnish Pulla. The book describes it as a celebration loaf, apt for the mood of the season. In this version, it is braided into a wreath which fits in beautifully with the Christmas theme.

I was quite excited to try my hand at this bread because of its Finnish origin. For us in India, Scandinavia seems so far away. It's not the physical distance as much as how different  the culture, the people, the climate, the landscape and the food is compared to ours.. it all seems so different and exotic to us. And am pretty sure, the feeling is mutual from their end towards India.
And yet, this Finnish recipe has a tiny Indian component, cardamom. Grown in abundance in southern India, cardamom is used extensively in Indian cuisine. I reckon, the spice trade of yore was responsible to taking it to Northern Europe. My guess is that coming from so far, it must have been considered exotic and used mainly for times of celebration, such as in this pulla. Do correct me if I've got it wrong!! 

Much like the brioche dough that was used to make these sticky buns, this loaf is also made from an egg and butter-rich dough. Fairly simple to put together, the stand-out feature of the recipe is the addition of crushed cardamom seeds to the dough.
The dough performs beautifully and even clumsy fingers like mine could shape it into a wreath without much fuss.

Pull the bread out of the oven and you know you are onto a winner. This bread scores the maximum when it comes to its visual appeal. That beautiful, golden-brown crusted bread accompanied with the faint smell of cardamom looks so impressive that you can't help pat yourself on the back. That's the beauty of this recipe and the book that a novice like me can attempt this bread and actually pull it off!!

While the egg and butter keeps the bread soft and light, it also makes this bread a wee bit rich. It is slightly sweet tasting with the flavour of the cardamom shining through. Although a familiar flavour for me, I can well imagine the cardamom being an exotic taste for others. If you've never tried cardamom before, you are missing a good thing!! A piece of this bread would be ideal with your morning coffee!!

If you are an enthusiastic baker, keen on trying out new recipes, I'd recommend that you make this bread atleast once. It is definitely one to be added to your repertoire! 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Some Of My Favourite Blogs...

December is 'rewind' month. A time when amidst all the partying, you look back at the year gone by. You relive the moments when things went your way and you ponder at those times when you can't fathom how you lost your way.

As I look back on 2012, this blog has been the surprising, exciting highlight of my year! It will have to be another post where I explain how what started out as a tentative experiment turned out be a definitive outlet to expressing myself.
But today, I am going to introduce you to some of my favourite blogs that I have discovered over the past year. Needless to say that each of these blogs has beautiful recipes and captivating photographs. But, they also had 'something else', something that got me hooked onto the blog and I now, look forward to each new post of theirs. In some cases, I got to know the individual behind them and in some, I remain a distant admirer.
So, in no particular order, these are some of my favourite blogs...
  • Chef In Disguise : I discovered this beautiful blog from the Middle East within a few weeks of debuting my blog. I was 'googling' the name of my blog (Don't judge me.. we have all done it some time!!) and instead of 'Baker-in-Disguise', 'Chef-in-Disguise' popped up. Written by Sawsan, who hails from Jordan, this is a blog packed with all sorts of recipes. But what I most adore about this blog is how Sawsan introduces us to life and the cuisine of the Middle East (I have my eye on her Kibbeh, Barazek and Mamoul). She makes you want to try each of her recipes, the easy ones as well as the more complex ones. And be ready to be impressed, she's an orthodontist, home-maker, wife, mother and one of the most active bloggers I know!!
  • Baker Street : Simply put, this blog is my 'Baking Wikipedia'!! Written by Anuradha, a Television executive from Mumbai, this blog has it all. If you are looking for some of the most gorgeous and eye-catching baking recipes on the Web, or if you want to know how to unmould a bundt cake from its tin, or if you want to know how various bloggers bake their bread or simply, want to know how to package cookies, this is the blog you go to. And if that's not enough, Anuradha has also initiated two unique baking groups - One, is 'Muffin Monday' and the other is 'Bundt-A-Month'. Drop by her blog and you'll understand what I am talking about.
  • The Patterned Plate: In her own words, Caroline, the lady behind this blog, is "Indian born, Abu Dhabi bred, married to 'The Scotsman' with two kids and is now based in Doha". Yes, her blog has a beautiful mix of recipes and eye-catching photographs but what attracts my attention with every post of hers is her evocative style of writing. She has a beautiful way with words, whether it is about reliving an old food memory or giving you a peek into her everyday life or sharing with you her travel memories, she holds your attention and invariably, will evoke a response. And lately, what's been catching my eye are her attempts at cake decoration. She has a beautiful, elegant and 'less-is-more' style that calls out to me. Why don't you go and see for yourself??!
  • Citrus And Candy : This one comes all way from 'Down Under'! Born to Chinese parents from Malaysia and now, based in Sydney, Karen has this fun, informal and sometimes, irreverent way of writing that makes you feel as if she is talking to you in person rather than through the written word. Her recipes are a mix of Malaysian, Aussie, Italian and English food. But above all, it is her style of photography that enthrals me each time. Her photos are a knockout each time.. they will have you staring at the screen for a long time!  Just go and see her latest post on a Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake!!
  • Passionate About Baking : I'll be surprised if you tell me that you haven't heard of Deeba Rajpal or this beautiful blog of hers. She is pretty much the Grand Diva of food bloggers, here in India. And yet what stands out most about her is her humility and generosity with which she shares her expertise. There is honesty when she talks about the odd baking mishap and how she salvages it and there is modesty amidst all the accolades that she receives and deserves. Hers is also one of the most beautifully photographed blogs. In fact, her blog was one of the few that not only got me thinking about writing a blog but also got me thinking about how one can get creative while photographing food. Yes, she's been an inspiration!!
  • Verses From My Kitchen : This is the only blog on this list that is written by a man. Based in Toronto, Michael combines his love for food and writing in this blog. And boy, does he do a fantastic job at it!! His photographs have a clean, simple and sharp style that is riveting. While his recipes are a diverse mix, what I enjoy are the introductory paragraphs to each post of his. Written with his restrained and clean style of writing, they are expressive, redolent, evocative and reminiscent. A must-read!!
This is by no means, a complete list. There are so many other blogs that I enjoy reading and I will share those with you in the days and months to come. The list is so long that this would turn out to be a never-ending post. So, for now, I will leave you with these delightful blogs that promise to beguile, charm and win you over!! 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ginger Lime Syrup

As a city dweller heading out to the countryside, the one word that will recur with frequency is, abundance. The countryside is about the abundance of space, the abundance of fresh air, the abundance of nature, the abundance of fresh produce and the abundance of spirit of the people who live there. And invariably, we humour them with our stories of how we, in the cities, pay an exorbitant premium for produce that is available to them freely and in abundance. We talk about how we search our cities, high and low, for organic produce that is, well, growing in their backyards.
And invariably, we come back home with our bags crammed with all sorts of fresh farm and garden produce. We profusely thank the host who waves us off with a bemused smile, shaking their head at the ways of the deprived, of us who live in the cities.

That's what happened to me recently. On a quick trip to a cousin brother's estate, I stood admiring the lime trees in his backyard. The trees were flush with fruit and the morning air was redolent with a slight, citrusy fragrance as you walked by the trees. The city dweller in me gawked, exclaimed and gulped down mouthfuls of that fresh air. The next morning, while we were leaving, we were promptly handed over a bag stuffed with fresh limes. We protested weakly that this was all too much and they ..well.. rolled their eyes and laughed us off!!

So, as always, as I pondered on what to with the limes, Ma came to the rescue. Out came a little book and the recipe for a ginger-lime syrup that was given to her by a friend. And in under an hour, we had a bottle of this beautiful, delicately-coloured ginger-lime syrup.

This is a concoction of lime, ginger, sugar and water that is boiled into a syrup. And how does it taste?? It has the kick of ginger, a zesty pickup from the limes and a certain amount of sweetness to stop it from being overpowering. The end result.. it will leave you refreshed and smacking your lips!!

Take a tiny peg of it with water, plain or sparkling. Depending on the weather, you could add ice or if you are down with a sore throat like me, top it off with some warm water as a soothing night-time tot. The ginger and lime are said to be a natural antidote to counter that nasty cough/cold. If the ginger is a wee bit strong for you, you could sweeten it with a dash of honey.

This ginger-lime syrup provides a winter-counterpart to the classic summer lemonade. It is also a throwback to a time when our mothers and grand-mothers made all this seasonal home-made produce that was not only enticing but packed with health benefits. Of course, these days we look for the very same stuff at independent, boutique organic-produce shops. So, on a cold, wintry day, when the Sun comes out and you are in the mood for a dainty drink from the days gone by, may I recommend a bottle of this ginger-lime syrup.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Gingerbread Baby Cakes : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

So, I've been noticing a trend among food blogs. October was all about a pumpkin overdrive. November went by with everyone wondering where the year had gone by and how it was November already. No prizes for guessing what December is going to be about ... why, Christmas of course!!!

In keeping with the mood of the month, the 'TWD :  Baking with Julia' group zeroed in on Gingerbread Baby Cakes for our first recipe of the month. Gingerbread recipes, with their Christmas association, are the quintessential December recipes. The list includes gingerbread cakes, gingerbread houses and everyone's favourite, gingerbread cookies aka the gingerbread men and women. 

In this recipe, the gingerbread is in the avatar of baby cakes. For someone, who enjoys petite-sized individual cakes and desserts, this recipe was written for me.

The recipe was much like the other gingerbread cake recipes that I've seen. The standout points were the generous helpings of coffee powder, molasses and of course, ginger (powder as well as fresh).


Fifteen minutes into baking and the aroma of the coffee and ginger will take over your kitchen. Out of the oven, unmould these dark and moist baby cakes and as promised by the recipe, you will be deceived into thinking that these look like harmless, little chocolate cakes.

One bite later and you'll be proved wrong. This is a ginger cake and ginger is what will hit you from the very first bite. There is also the hint of the coffee that comes through. Apart from that, there is a certain denseness of flavour that unless you've made these cakes, will hold a certain mystery for you. The molasses, black pepper and cocoa powder provide a certain depth and darkness that is not easily identified.

These cakes promise a punch and they deliver a punch. I'd recommend these cakes for an adult and mature palate.

These can be served with some whipped cream and candied lemon. Instead, I served these with vanilla custard. It was a good choice. It helped mellow the overt spiciness of these cakes.

Friday, 30 November 2012

White Chocolate and Dried Cranberries Cookies

Food blogs are more than a collection of recipes. In their unique, individual style, each blogger allows us a little peek into their lives, homes and thoughts. They share with us the excitement of the special days and the mundaneness of every day. They tell us about the joy of their happy times and their anguish during the hard times. They take us along with them on their travels, from a journey back to their roots to some of the most beautiful places in the world. They reveal what is occupying their thoughts from the philosophical and sublime to the humdrum and banal. As a reader, you smile, discover, empathise, identify and move on.
And then you come across someone whose story stays with you. Their life is about channelling their toughest adversity for a greater cause. Of a personal loss that has inspired a lifelong mission. Today's post is about one such couple.

Sometime last year, Dorie Greenspan wrote about the launch of a book on bake-sale recipes by Gretchen Witt. It led me to their website and to the inspirational work they do. In 2007, Gretchen and Larry Witt's two-year old son, Liam was diagnosed with Stage-4 Cancer. As they grappled with their son's illness, they discovered that one of the main reasons why children with cancer do not survive is because of lack of funding for research into effective therapies for them. So, during the holiday season in 2007, Gretchen along with 250 volunteers organised a larger-than-life bake sale with the goal of baking 96,000 cookies. That event raised US$ 400,000 for paediatric cancer research.
Inspired by the success of that bake sale, the Witts founded 'Cookies for Kids' Cancer' in 2008. Sadly, Liam lost his battle to cancer in 2011. However, his parents remain committed to continue their work, to raise funds for research and support through bake sales. Drop by the website to learn more about them and their  work. It is also full of information on how to organise a bake sale.

While browsing through their website, I came upon the recipe section that has a little collection of cookie recipes that one could use for a bake sale. That was when I decided I would try one of their recipes as a way to introduce you to the Witts and their work.
I zeroed in on the white chocolate and dried cranberries cookies. For the past month, this 'trendy' combination of white chocolate and cranberries has caught my attention from almost every second blog I've visited.

The recipe is as straightforward as any cookie recipe. Being a bake sale recipe ensures that it is easy to follow and the results will be a crowd-pleaser. The tart, dried cranberries provide a beautiful counter-balance to the sweetness of the white chocolate, something my palate really appreciated.
What I enjoyed most about these buttery, slightly crumbly cookies is the abundance of the white chocolate and cranberries in each cookie. This is not one of those cookies where you have to go searching for the chocolate chips or the cranberries. Much to your delight, you will encounter them generously with each bite. If anything, I should have made them smaller. Mine turned out slightly on the jumbo side. Not that anyone complained!!

These cookies are a welcome change to the regular chocolate-chip cookies and warrant that you give them a shot. But more than that, drop by the website of 'Cookies for Kids' Cancer' and be inspired. As for me, a bake sale just got on my list of things 'to do'!!  

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Baked Methi Puris (Baked Whole Wheat Mini Flatbreads)

This week, Indians will celebrate Diwali, our biggest festival of the year.  It is a special day devoted to the worship of Goddess Lakshmi - the Goddess of Wealth. And for all those who think of wealth only in terms of 'benjamins', this festival celebrates the Goddess as a provider of wealth in many forms : Knowledge, intelligence, strength, valor, beauty, victory, fame, ambition, morality, wealth, food, bliss, happiness, health and progeny.

Diwali is a time for tradition and celebration, a time for prayer and hope, a time to go back home, a time for family and friends, a time for lamps and fireworks and of course, a time for good food!! And Indians love their food. Food is about sharing, love, abundance, tradition and definitely not for the weight-watchers. And for all the sweet that is made for such times, there is the savoury too. Because, thats what Indian food is all about.. balance!!

And yet amidst all the bonhomie and madness, balance is the last thing on your mind. And everyone knows how tough it is to shed holiday weight gain. So, lately a number of Indians have tried to make healthier versions of their favourite sweets and snacks without compromising on taste.
The oven does not find a place in traditional, Indian cuisine. Yet increasingly, as a lot of us have become more health-conscious, we use the oven as a way to achieve the same results with a lot less oil. So, today I attempted to make a baked version of these puris, a popular savoury snack, that would otherwise be deep-fried.

The recipe is courtesy, one of India's best-selling, most popular cookbook authors, Tarla Dalal. Before the Internet and the food blogs, her books, largely focussed on Indian cuisine and catered to India's vast vegetarian population. And at a time when the world was not such a small place as it is now, she introduced Indians to global cuisine, even if it was a vegetarian, Indianised version!!

These puris are made from whole wheat and flavoured with a few powdered spices and methi (fenugreek) leaves. And the best part, there is only a teaspoon of oil. To serve, I paired it with some coriander chutney.
The results were as I hoped they would be. The puris were crispy, spicy and just the thing needed to counter the avalanche of sweets during this time. And no, you do not miss that they are not deep-fried. And it hardly takes any time to make them, making them a perfect tea-time snack, all-year round.

Wishing you and your loved ones a very Happy Diwali. May this festival of lights brighten up every part of your life with joy and happiness!!!

** Over the next two weeks, I will have sporadic Internet access and will respond to your mails with a lag or when I get back home!!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Buttermilk Crumb Muffins with Rum-Soaked Raisins : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

Is anybody else wondering, where did 2012 go?!!? How have we already reached November, when I can clearly remember reading those cheesy newspaper horoscopes at the beginning of the year?? As a close friend wrote on Facebook the other day, "Even when it feels like nothing is happening . . . something is happening."
Anyhow, getting back to the post of the day. After a month of dealing with yeast, the 'TWD: Baking with Julia' group decided to go for something simple and easy. The choice for this fortnight is Buttermilk Crumb Muffins.

I really enjoy baking muffins. I see them as one of the easiest things to bake and with zillions of muffin recipes on the Web, there's a muffin to suit every occassion and every mood. So, I was intrigued to find out if the book could come up with something interesting, in terms of flavour, texture or technique. Unfortunately not!!

Reading the recipe, I felt a bit underwhelmed. It didn't seem to have anything to excite me enough to want to give it a shot. Don't get me wrong, you know me enough to know how much I enjoy a fuss-free recipe but this recipe just seemed a bit old school. I think it was the use of vegetable shortening that first got me all sceptical.

And as I said earlier, at a time when muffin recipes have gotten so interesting with the addition of fruits, spices, vegetables, dried fruits, oil and now gluten-free, these muffins just seemed to lack the necessary pizzazz. But considering how wrong I can be, more often than not, I thought I reserve judgement until I gave the recipe a shot.

Substituted the vegetable shortening with butter and to jazz up these muffins, I added a few tablespoons of rum-soaked raisins. The muffins turned out as the book said they would, "sweet, tender muffins with a light, open crumb", with a very subtle hit of the cinnamon and nutmeg. There is the addition of a crumb on top of each muffin, but am not sure if mine turned out looking as it should have. I would have preferred a more interesting streusel topping, if any!!

These are good, fuss-free, no-frills muffins, probably best made and consumed for breakfast. But my initial thought about them proved right. They just didn't excite me enough to put them in my folder of "keeper" recipes!! I like my muffins to have more depth of flavour. In this case, even the rum-soaked raisins didn't help!!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Whole Wheat Bread : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

What a difference eight months has made! It was in February that we started baking from the 'Baking with Julia' book. And I clearly remember how I almost chickened out of the group when I saw that they had chosen 'White Loaves' to be their very first recipe. Yeast had never been my friend and my melodramatic post at the time was about how I still went ahead and was, surprise, surprise, successful. I still remember how I fretted through that whole recipe and patted myself on the back, with a certain amount of relief and wonder, when that loaf emerged from the oven!!
All these months on and a number of bread recipes with yeast under my belt (all thanks to the 'Baking with Julia' group), I made a go at the whole wheat version of the white loaf!! And what a breeze it was! I am now happy to announce that yours truly has conquered the beast called yeast. I may have lost my fear of yeast, but evidently, I haven't lost the touch of drama in my writing!!

The recipe for this whole-wheat bread is more or less along the lines of the white loaf of bread with the ratio of the whole wheat and plain flour being roughly 50:50. Because of the presence of the whole wheat, we add a bit of honey to help the yeast along. And no, the bread does not taste sweet!!

A shade darker in colour than the white loaf of bread, this bread can simply be described as a wholesome and tasty bread. As with any homemade bread, there is a certain freshness of flavour that is always appreciated. You can also clearly see the tight crumb of this bread from the photographs.

Importantly, the presence of whole wheat makes it a tad healthier than its all white flour counterpart. As I have become more comfortable with yeast, I can easily see myself revisiting this recipe again and again.

Dorie Greenspan writes how this bread is ideal for sandwiches. It is such a flavourful bread that when taken out fresh from the oven, you can eat it plain. So, I simply toasted a few slices and slathered some butter that just melted on the hot toast. Paired that with a steaming cup of chai, that uniquely Indian  concoction of milky, sweet tea that is flavoured with a whole lot of spices. It really doesn't get better than that!!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Poires Belle Hélène : Spice-Poached Pears with Warm Chocolate Sauce

Recently, I bought myself a copy of Nigel Slater's 'Ripe'. For someone who has increasingly found herself enjoying baking with the fruit of the season, I thought this book would be a valuable addition to my tiny cookbook collection. And for once, I got it right!!
To call this book a cookbook would be doing it gross injustice. This book is much much more. Divided into chapters, with one chapter being dedicated to one fruit, this book celebrates the world of fruit like none other. With his characteristic, evocative style, Slater draws you into the magical world of fruit trees that grow in his backyard, jostling with each other for space. And then as the seasons change, he introduces you to each fruit tree as an unique personality.
From the tree to its blossoms to its fruit, from its shape to its colour to its taste, he describes the appeal of each fruit, almost as if it were a person. Elaborating on the appropriate pairings for each fruit, he shares recipes that celebrate the fruit. Along with rustic photographs, this book engrosses and enchants you so completely in its world, that you can't help long for a little patch of fruit trees to call your own!! 
I was keen on giving one of the recipes from the book a shot. I was looking for something easy and fuss-free and it had to be with pears - the one fruit along with apples that is dominating the market right now. Nigel talks about the pairing of pears and chocolate as a "marriage made in heaven"!! And that's how I zeroed in on this recipe of poached pears along with warm chocolate sauce that has a hint of coffee in it.

As it turns out, this recipe of poached pears with chocolate sauce is a classic French bistro dessert. Created in 1864 by the legendary Auguste Escoffier, this dessert was inspired by the operetta, La belle Hélène by Jacques Offenbach. The operetta parodied the story of the infamous Helen whose face launched a thousand ships and set off the Trojan war!! And so in French, this dessert is called 'Poires Belle Hélène'!!
Don't you just love these French names?!!? They make something simple sound so elegant and classy, that it makes you want to pull out your high heels and pearls for the occasion!!! 

The dessert is nothing too elaborate. The recipe in the book poaches the pears in a simple sugar syrup with vanilla. I took it further and added some spices - star anise, cinnamon and cloves. The chocolate sauce is more of a chocolate ganache with a hint of coffee. I love coffee but if it's not to your liking, you can leave it out.
As you poach the pears, the gentle waft of those spices, namely the star anise and cinnamon, will invade your kitchen and soothe the senses. So delicate is the aroma of the poached pears, that I did wonder, while making the chocolate sauce, if it would overpower and dominate the pears.  

And that's where I was surprised. The dessert is something of a 'tango' between the two components. If initially your taste buds are led by the more powerful chocolate sauce, the delicate pear follows with the spices and a certain freshness of the fruit that stands up quite effortlessly to the chocolate. Much like the classical dance, the components embrace each other to create a dessert that is elegant and captivating!

You can have it with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream but the opinion at home was that it could easily be done away with.. the choice is, of course, yours!! Either way, the simplicity and elegance of this dessert asks that you try it at least once and you won't be disappointed!!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Bagels : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

My first brush with bagels was in University. Every friday night, before heading out for the night, my Brazilian flatmate and his friend would have the same dinner of beer and bagels. And it never changed. It was almost like a weekly bonding ritual between them. Even the bagels would have the same filling!! It would start of classically with a layer of cream cheese, then a layer of smoked salmon and then, get this.. a layer of the red-packet 'Kettle Chips'!!! Dude food, anyone???
It's been a while since University, but that food memory with bagels has endured. And then Hollywood and American television would imprint the bagel as the classic 'on-the-move' breakfast along with that towering cup of coffee!!! And that's how I've always seen them, as something that is bought and left to the professionals. But, there's always a first time. So, it was time to make bagels for the 'TWD : Baking with Julia' bake-together.

For anyone contemplating this recipe, a 'heads-up' on the fact that the recipe is almost 4 pages long!!! Coming back... bagels are made with the usual suspects - flour, yeast and water. The dough is proofed, shaped into their distinctive round shapes, boiled in hot water and then baked. All sounded pretty straight forward, albeit tedious, when I read it.

Now, I don't know if it was only me, but I found dough extremely wet and sticky to work with. And that made the whole thing a verry messy affair. Apart from that sticky issue, no complaints really with the process!!

The verdict : the bagels looked like how they should, but, as you can see from the photographs, uniformity in size is not one of my strengths. The slightly wrinkly crust had a crunch when you bit into it, before you encountered the soft bread inside. I did wonder though, should the bagels have been plumper and smoother?? Any thoughts on that...

There are tons of fillings to go with your bagels, varying with the time of day. I went with a simple schmear of butter and a cheese slice to go along with my morning cuppa. Have one and it will fill you up for a while...

But, I'll be honest, I'd only recommend this recipe for the enthusiastic baker, to understand the entire process that goes behind making a bagel. Personally, while I enjoyed the bagels, I found the recipe, especially the dough, a bit too tedious to work with. And it is one of those instances where the practicality and convenience of buying bagels from a good bakery wins over making them at home. 

Friday, 5 October 2012

Chocolate Mousse Tart with Orange Caramel

There are days when only chocolate will do.
It is non-negotiable. Nothing else will do. Nothing else will suffice. Nothing else will assuage. None of that talk about complex carbohydrates and whole grains and probiotic yoghurt and fresh fruits and raw vegetables. No, none of that. Non. Ne. Nahin. Nie. Nyet. Na.
Only. Chocolate. Will. Do.
For days like this, I had bookmarked this chocolate mousse tart. The recipe was created by Masterchef Aussie contestant, Mindy and went on to win her the challenge and appeared on the August cover of the Masterchef Magazine.
Ever since I saw it on that episode, it was a no-brainer. The judges ooh-ed and aah-ed and talked about going to heaven after a bite. And then you read the recipe, it is a chocolate mousse in a chocolate pastry crust and topped with some orange caramel. I mean there is not much convincing required after reading that.
I have made something similar earlier.. these chocolate truffle tarts from the 'Baking with Julia' book. I wondered if this tart improved on that or fell short or would it be more or less the same thing.
I halved the original recipe to get two smaller 4.5-inch tarts and a couple of smaller tartlets. The reason there are no photographs of the tartlets is because.. well.. by the time I got the camera out, there were none left. Yes, the craving for chocolate was pretty intense that day!!
If you bake on a regular basis, you will find the recipe pretty straightforward. Although when it comes to the pastry dough, I found this one is a little more wet than what I am used to working with. So, if you have a tried and tested chocolate short-crust dough, I'll recommend that you go with that.
But for all the talk about the crust, the star of the show is that beautiful, luscious chocolate mousse filling. If it is chocolate you want, then this will meet all your demands. The filling is dark, rich and chocolaty - the type that will coat your tongue with only one flavour, chocolate!! And just when you imagine that it might get a bit too much, there is the zest of an orange to perk it up and save it from being overpowering!! In fact, these were lighter than the chocolate truffle tarts I was talking about earlier!!
And carrying on with the orange theme, it is served with an orange caramel. Not only is it easy to make but it transforms this dish into a refined, sophisticated and elegant dinner party dessert!! A slice of this and the eyes of your guests will be twinkling!!
As for me, I could hardly wait to finish taking the photographs ... the joy and burden of being a food blogger .. you photograph before you eat!!! And after I savoured this tart, I promise you, the world was a better place!!! Yes, some days ... only chocolate will do!!
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