Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Yoghurt Panna Cotta with Mango Jelly

Mangoes are the Indian summer's one sweet spot. When the landscape is whitened out by the blinding harshness of the sun and the earth and its people, both wear a pained and parched look, these mangoes are one of the few things that can bring a gleam of satisfaction and a smile of contentment to the faces of most Indians!

India is truly the land of mangoes.. we, literally, have hundreds of varieties. Of the top of my head, I can think of the 'Kesar' and 'Hapus' from the west, the 'Bangenapalli' and 'Totapuri' from down south, the 'Dashehari' and 'Chausa' from the north and the 'Langra' and 'Kishen bhog' from the east, each from a different corner of India and each with its distinctive fragrance, shape, colour and taste!!!

And if you value your peace of mind, you are well advised never to ask a group of Indians which is the best of them all!! Many a discussion has centred on this futile topic that can have no logical conclusion, with each variety being vociferously defended by its admirers!! If you ask me, its the mango that you had as a child that will always be your favourite!! Having grown up in Bombay (now Mumbai), my favourite is the Hapus (Alphonso) that comes from the nearby region of Ratnagiri in western India. I can already hear the snorts of indifference and the grunts of disbelief coming my way at my choice!!

The mango has even earned itself a cheesy sobriquet as the 'King of Fruits'. While I may not be much into royalty, I do enjoy my mango .. and yes, eaten the true Indian way.. with my hands and by sucking on the flesh and the seed!!! If you are an Indian reading know what I am talking about!!

But every once in a while, I like to incorporate it into my desserts. Keeping the season in mind, the palate and the meal crave for a dessert that is light and refreshing. And you also owe it to the ''King'' that he be showcased in the best possible way!! This dessert does all of that beautifully and much more...

A panna cotta is traditionally an Italian all- cream dessert but that would make it just too rich and heavy for the summer. I then came across a yoghurt variation that replaced some of the cream with yoghurt to lighten it. Taking it a step further, I replaced all the cream with yoghurt. The purists will argue that it's not a panna cotta anymore but then, I never claimed I was playing by the rules!!

The mango is beautifully showcased in both the layers. The top layer, a pure mango jelly, highlights the flavour of the fruit that goes on to find a subtler accent in the bottom layer. The flavour of the mango that you use will clearly shine through in this dessert. The yoghurt ensures that you are not left with a heavy, cloying feeling after this dessert, a factor that will be much appreciated in this weather!!

This is a beautiful, light and refreshing dessert for the summer and I insist that you try it atleast once before the mangoes leave the market!!!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Mrs Weasley's Rock Cakes

While I may not have been the target audience, I immensely enjoyed the entire Harry Potter series. I read each book and saw each movie of the franchise. I joined the hordes of little ones waiting for the next instalment of "The-Boy-With-The-Lightning-Scar" and "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named"!! It was a world of wizards and mudbloods , of elfs and muggles, of spells and wands, of quidditch and potions and of butterbeer and Mrs.Weasley's rock cakes!! 

I pretty much assumed that rock cakes, a personal favourite of Harry, were a figment of J.K.Rowling's imagination, much like chocolate frogs, cauldron cakes and cockroach clusters!! However, my mother assures me that "rock cakes" do exist in the muggle world too!! 

She recollects how the nuns in her convent boarding school taught the little women under their care to bake and one of the first things they happened to make were rock cakes. Her eyes lit up and she got really animated talking about them and that put me on the 'Google' rock cake trail to find out more about them!!

Rock cakes are traditional, British, tea-time treats. While today they might be considered retro and hardly talked about, they were quite popular in post-war Britain right until the 1980s. As it happens, these are your no-fuss home-baked goodies made with basic pantry ingredients. Not pretty to look at all and hence, the name 'rock cakes'. There is no grand technique to making them, after all my mother remembers making them as a young lady of ten!! They might look like biscuits but actually have the soft consistency of a cake.

For these rock cakes, I turned to one of my favourite blogs from Down Under, Citrus and Candy. She adds a twist of chocolate chips and lemon zest to the traditional recipe with the original source of her recipe being a 70′s Good Housekeeping bible!! I told you this was a retro recipe!!

Like I said earlier, these have the taste of quintessential home-baked goodies!! The chocolate chip and zest giving them a contemporary feel and look. However, while these cakes may look more like chocolate chip cookies, their texture is nothing like their cookie counterpart. In fact, they have a cake-like consistency that actually made me prefer their soft texture to that of a chewy cookie!!

This was such an easy recipe taking me altogether an hour from start to finish. In fact, it's so easy that if you have a little Potter fan at home, they can easily be recruited to help you!!  Am pretty sure the idea of baking Harry Potter's favourite baked goodies will appeal to them!!

As for my mother, one look at these little cakes had her calling up her elder sister excitedly to reminiscence about them. They might both be grandmothers today but these rock cakes had them giggling like a pair of schoolgirls!!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Orange Cinnamon Sticky Buns : "TWD : Baking with Julia"

I used every excuse I could, to give this Tuesday's Julia Child recipe a miss... from "the weather's just too hot" to "I don't have a stand mixer" to "am not sure I even like the idea of sticky buns" to my favourite..the one that I kept hanging onto.. "this recipe uses just too much butter.. yikes!!!" And am I glad I did not listen to myself and went ahead with this week's Pecan Sticky Buns for our fortnightly bake-together.

The main factor in getting me to go ahead with the recipe was the fact that we would be trying our hand at a new bread dough, specifically, the brioche dough. One of the main reasons I signed up for this group was to push myself as a baker with new recipes and techniques. This recipe promised all of that!!

This recipe is for the enthusiastic baker and definitely NOT for those short on time or those who are counting their calories!! The recipe starts off with making the brioche dough and then the dough is folded and rolled into buns and baked. The recipe stipulates the use of a stand mixer that kneads the dough for 15 minutes before you attain the required consistency.

Me, being me, of course, did not have a stand mixer and bravely decided to make the dough by hand. And while my wrist bore the brunt with all that kneading, I must confess that it was not as bad as I thought it would be!! It did help that I was making only half the recipe!!

Once the dough is made and after one rise, it is refrigerated overnight. The next morning is when the fun starts... if you thought the butter added to the dough was quite a bit, well you use almost the same amount to laminate the dough and then fold it, similar to the technique I've seen people use for puff pastry. The dough is rolled with a filling of cinnamon sugar and nuts to which I added my personal touch of orange zest!! Once rolled like a Swiss roll, it is sliced and placed in a baking dish with pecans, that I substituted with walnuts, since we don't get pecans in India.

And NO, you haven't yet seen the end of the butter!! Before you place the buns in the baking dish, the bottom of the dish is smeared with a thick layer of butter and sugar which will then go on to give those buns their sticky look!! Are you now ready to get your cholesterol tested?????

You have to let the dough rest at each step before you proceed onto the next step and this is what makes the recipe a 24 hour affair!! But once popped into the oven and that buttery, cinnamon aroma invades your kitchen, you are almost ready to forgive the effort that this recipe demands. The best, however, is yet to come.. upturn that baking dish, pop those buns onto a plate and nothing will be able to stop you from yanking out one of them!!

The beauty of these soft, layered, flaky, scrumptious buns is that for all the butter and eggs used, you are not left with an overpowering greasy after taste or for that matter, neither are you left feeling too heavy despite the richness of the dough!! In fact, these buns with their layered texture, thanks to the folding, are an absolute breakfast or tea time delight!! They are not cloyingly sweet nor sticky and that orange zest, in taste and aroma, simply refreshes the senses!! 

You'll be so lost in savouring and enjoying every bite of these buns, that you won't realise when you are done with one of them!! It's only because I knew how much butter had gone into them that I somehow managed to stop myself at one!!

Moreover, as a home baker, this recipe was immensely rewarding . The end result was so professional and beautiful, that when I first bit into them, I couldn't believe I had made these... maybe, all that butter did have a purpose after all!! However.. you'll also understand when I say, after this recipe I have a gym workout that I just cannot afford to miss!!!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Watermelon Mint Ice Lollies

Admit it.. you read the words "ice-lollies" and were instantly transported back to your childhood. It would have been summer, either after school or the holidays would have begun... With your meagre pocket money, you and your motley crew of friends would have bought these brightly coloured ice lollies and then, licked and slurped your way to summer-time bliss!!

Your lips would turn the exact shade of the lollies and every time, despite your best efforts, a tell-tale stain would appear on the front of your clothes!! And you still surmised, in all innocence, that your all-knowing mother had 'special powers' because, in spite of ensuring utmost secrecy, she always seemed to know when you'd had one!!!

We are right in the middle of summer and with ice-creams, sorbets, fro-yos, ice-lollies and granitas all doing the rounds on blogosphere, it was only a matter of time before I got into the act. Caroline from the utterly fabulous blog,  The Patterned Plate, had me on ice-lollies with this beautiful post of hers. It was her words, more than anything, that got me thinking about ice-lollies and their link to our childhood!!

Wanting to go all natural, I pondered over my flavour combinations. I wanted to go for something summery, fresh and vibrant. Watermelon seemed an appropriate choice. .. and its bright red colour the deal-clincher. Mint seemed a natural pairing for the season and the fruit in question. But, honestly, play around with this recipe in any way you want. Use a fruit of your choice.. be it summer berries or mango, add water or yoghurt and if adventurous, spike it with alcohol for an adults-only version!!!

The lollies, when unmoulded, were delightful, to say the least. The taste of the watermelon is heightened with the addition of mint. The mint lends this subtle, refreshing accent to the lollies that is much-appreciated in the summer.

Like I said earlier, play around with this recipe any way you want because the experience as you lick and slurp these lollies, is as enjoyable as it was when you were a child. Except, for one thing, with these natural ice lollies, your lips don't turn colour!!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Hungarian Shortbread : "TWD : Baking with Julia"

We've been travelling vicariously through our baking ..we've travelled from Eastern Europe to Ireland, then to Italy and the Mediterranean coast and we are, now, back in Eastern Europe, Hungary to be precise. Hungarian shortbread was the recipe of choice for the fortnightly bake-together of the "Baking with Julia" group.

The Hungarian shortbread, or omlos teasutemeny, is essentially two layers of buttery, crumbly dough that sandwiches a layer of jam. While the ingredients are your basic, pantry items that are used for most shortbread recipes, what is unique is the technique that is used to make them. One is required to freeze the dough and then, once frozen, it is grated into the baking pan in two layers. This creates that unique, crumbly looking texture that you see.

The recipe is heavy in butter and apparently, it is that butter that oozes during the baking process and binds the grated dough together. I reckon the various crumble bars that we see and eat today bear their origin or at least, draw inspiration from this recipe.

While working through this recipe what also struck me was how the preferences and tastes of the home baker have changed over the years. The book, 'Baking with Julia', is your typical old-school cookbook where the recipes are traditional with an emphasis on butter, cream, flour and sugar that sometimes, feels that it borders on the excessive for the purpose of home baking. Today, I feel, we are more inclined towards recipes that use healthier ingredients such as yoghurt, oil, oats and wholemeal flour to a certain extent!! You agree or is it just me who prefers it that way??

Coming back to the recipe, I did make a few changes. I made only half the recipe and since we don't get rhubarb in India, I used some store-bought, organic plum conserve. Some on the group did point out that the dough was a bit too sweet for their liking, so, I reduced the sugar by a quarter. I did also bake the bottom layer for ten minutes before I spread the jam layer and grated the second layer on.

There were absolutely no issues with the recipe. It came together beautifully. Once cooled and cut, these bars were crumbly and buttery and that layer of plum conserve had just the right amount of tartness to counter the sweet dough.

While the recipe does call for a fair amount of butter and you can even smell it during baking, it is that what gives these bars a beautiful, crumbly texture. While I would have preferred the recipe to have less butter, the unanimous verdict on the bars was that they were excellent. These are your no-holds barred, rich, buttery, delicious crumble bars.
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