Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Bhapa Doi - Steamed Sweetened Yoghurt

This week, we in India, will celebrate Holi, the festival of colours. Holi marks the arrival of spring, of good harvests and fertile land. It is celebrated in a boisterous manner by throwing water and colour on each other. You may find that either exhilarating or rambunctious, depending on your inclinations. And like every other Indian festival, this is also a time for friends and family and the good food that inevitably goes with it.
But, in these days of global warming and rising temperatures, Holi is beginning to feel like it signals the arrival of summer rather than spring. I won't get into another of my hate speeches about the Indian summer but you will agree that summer is all about food and flavours that are light on the palate. So, this Holi, I decided to make this beautiful yoghurt dessert, from the eastern Indian state of Bengal.
Until my friend Vinati showed me otherwise, this dessert was always shop bought. You can rely on Vini and her collection of recipes, that she has painstakingly collected over the years, to show you a way to replicate the classics at home. What won me over was that this dessert took all of 5 minutes, from start to finish!
This is not a traditional method of making this dessert but is a cheat's version. It uses yoghurt, condensed milk and a microwave. But, when you see and taste the final product, you will never guess at how easily this was made. I turn to a recipe by Tarla Dalal and believe me, the cooking time for this dessert is one minute!! You won't believe me and I too, did not believe it, until I tried it out for myself. One minute... seriously!!!  
The texture of the final product, as Anjum Anand puts it, is between a panna cotta and a ricotta cheesecake. It is neither cloyingly sweet nor heavy on the palate. It is beautifully light and a perfect dessert for the weather. I am partial to cardamom and so, the addition of crushed cardamom powder. But, that is completely optional and according to your taste and liking.
This dessert is ideal after a heavy, Indian meal when you want a sweet ending which is neither greasy nor overpowering. And I am confident that once tried at home, it will be a dessert you return to again and again!!
Wishing all you beautiful people a very Happy Holi!! Much like the bright colours of Holi, I wish you and your loved ones, days full of love, laughter and optimism!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

I believe different cookies appeal to different personalities. This is just my personal conjecture and has no scientific nor psychiatric basis to it. For instance, I like to think the chocolate chip cookie appeals to those who like to keep it basic and don't want to mess with the classics. The white chocolate and dried cranberry cookie is for those who always keep abreast with the latest trends. The oatmeal and raisin cookie is for those who love the rustic ways of country life. The rocky road cookie, for the thrill-seekers who constantly crave for adventure.
And then, Dorie Greenspan tells us that these mocha chocolate chip cookies, that we made for this week's bake-together for the 'TWD:Baking with Julia' group, are the thinking person's chocolate chip cookies!! I figured I needed to bake them to figure out what she was talking about.
This is a regular chocolate chip cookie recipe with a liberal helping of coffee powder in them. It also uses more than a normal amount of chocolate chips. Two things that can never be a bad thing in my book. Coffee and chocolate are one of my favourite flavour combinations and this recipe has both of them in good measure.
The cookie dough spreads quite a bit during baking. The end product is thinner than a regular chocolate chip cookie. You'd imagine a thin cookie to be crisp but it is in fact, soft and chewy.
You will taste the coffee and the intensity of the coffee powder will impact the final product accordingly. I personally found the flavour balance just right.Thanks to the coffee powder and the dark chocolate chips, these are not overtly sweet. And for that reason, it may not find favour with children. These cookies are crammed with chocolate chips and like I said, that's always a good thing!!

These are not the prettiest cookies you will bake. Dorie Greenspan, of course, has a better way with words than me. In her words, these cookies have a 'genteel homeliness'. Like I said, she has a way with words!
The flavours are not as basic as a chocolate chip cookie. It has a subtle adult nuance that while I personally enjoyed may not be appreciated by all. If you enjoy your coffee, you'd enjoy these chocolate chip cookies with a mocha twist. As for being a thinking person's chocolate chip cookie, I prefer to call them chocolate chip cookies for grown-ups!!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Croissants et Petits Pains au Chocolat : 'TWD : Baking with Julia'

When I first started baking from the book, 'Baking with Julia', I remember looking at the recipe for croissants and shaking my head and saying, "It will be a long time before I even muster up the courage to look at this recipe"!! And yet, little over a year after we started with the book, we were ready to tackle the recipe. That I believe is a big compliment to the book, that a bunch of amateur bakers can today muster up the courage to tackle a complex recipe like croissants and achieve reasonable success with it.

A couple of pressing issues saw me missing the deadline of last Tuesday, when this post should have gone up. However, I was extremely keen on baking these croissants along with the rest of the group because then you get to learn from the experiences and tips of others in the group, making it that much simpler for you. So, better late than never!

I won't get into too much detail on the recipe. You can see this video where Esther McManus (the contributing baker) shows Julia Child the entire process of making these croissants. But, I will say this much, the recipe is 6 pages long and took me 3 days from start to finish. There was an obnoxious amount of butter involved that we had beat into submission. The dough is subjected to 3 'folds' so that we can achieve those multitude of layers that one sees in a croissant. If anything, it is almost an anti-climax, when after all that bashing, folding, rolling, shaping and flour all over your clothes, it takes the croissants barely 12-15 minutes to bake!!

The weather out here has gotten hot and dry and that made working with all that butter, tedious and frustrating. For the purpose of making it easier, the final dough is divided into two parts before shaping it. My first attempt with one half of the dough was such a disaster that I despaired about all the effort and butter that had gone into it.

Two days later, with a calmer mind and an air conditioned room, I attempted them again. And this time round, I simply stared at the baking tray, not quite believing that I had actually made croissants. Are they perfect?? Of course NOT!! Owing to my clumsy rolling, these croissants turned out smaller than intended, with fewer folds. But,am I proud of them?? Oh.. You bet I am!!

These beautiful, golden-brown croissants were buttery, flaky and tender. Cut through the centre and you can see all those beautiful layers that you worked hard to achieve. These are so buttery that you can eat them just plain.

But, my attention was won by the immensely delectable petit pain au chocolat. Unlike the traditional crescent-shaped butter croissants, these are rectangular in shape. Take a bite and when you reach the luscious, dark chocolate through the various, pillowy layers of buttery pastry, you can't help close you eyes and smile! You will understand why these are the traditional late afternoon snack for French school children. If it were not for a small issue of metabolism, these would be my favourite tea-time treat!!

Would I make these again?? Initially, right after I pulled them out of the oven, my answer would have been that this was, at best, an academic exercise for an enthusiastic baker. It was just too much work. A few days on, I am feeling a little more pleased with myself and am amenable to giving it another shot at a later date, probably when the weather is cooler and more charitable.

Because there is an inexplicable charm and romance to baking your own croissants. It almost transports you to one of the many quaint sidewalk cafes and patisseries of Paris!!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Strawberries en Papillote

In my neck of the woods, we don't have a gradual thaw when it comes to Winter. It arrives unannounced one fine day in November, when you feel a certain nip in the air. And then just like that, Winter disappears. You wake up, one day in March, to find the sun has gotten harsh and the days, uncomfortable and you know Summer is round the corner. If you know how much I love to hate the torrid, unbearable Indian Summer, then you know how much I am looking forward to the next three months!
And the change of weather signals the end of the strawberry season. So, I wistfully bid adieu to Winter with a simple dessert that celebrates this beautiful berry as it gets ready to leave the Indian markets.
The recipe I turn to is from Beatrice Peltre's beautiful, award-winning blog, La Tartine Gourmande. If you are familiar with the food blogging world, you would be well-acquainted with Bea's blog. I remember the first time I landed up at her blog, it would be a long time before I left. I was completely mesmerised by her stunning photography and her holistic approach to food with an emphasis on seasonal and fresh produce. I was charmed!
Come summer and one can see Bea work her magic with berries and other summer fruit. Time and again, in her posts, I would see her lightly steaming fruit in its own juices in a pouch placed in the oven. The technique is known as "en papillote" and I have seen it being used to mainly steam fish or vegetables. Seeing it being employed with fruit was a first.
This dessert is simple and more importantly, it hardly takes any time and effort. The strawberries are tossed with sugar and vanilla and then placed in a secure parchment-paper parcel and put in the oven for 20 minutes. Allowed to rest for ten minutes, the fruit is then served with vanilla ice-cream. I told you it was simple!!
The best part is the gentle waft of vanilla that creeps into your home while the fruit cooks in the oven. Steaming the fruit in its own juices tends to accentuate its taste and is a beautiful way to celebrate the fruit. The flavour of the vanilla does not burst through but instead provides this dessert with a certain 'je ne sais quoi', a certain elusive, indefinable, but definitely pleasing flavour. And it does not disappoint with the visual. The strawberries leach out a sticky and vibrantly red syrup that not only catches your eye but also threatens to stain everything it comes in contact with.
Looking back, I could have added a herb, like some mint leaves, that would have gone well with the strawberries. You can adapt this dessert with the any other fruit or condiments of your liking.
This dessert will captivate and at the same time, soothe all your senses. It is so beautiful in its simplicity that it is lyrical. It would be a pity to give it a miss!!
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