Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I have a confession to make!! When I first started baking and the recipe would ask for vanilla extract, I would reach out to this tiny bottle labelled 'Vanilla Essence' that was available in most Indian stores. It is only once I started blogging and reading and sharing that I realised that I was doing it all wrong. Turns out that tiny bottle was all fraud! I read closely, and horror of horrors, the label had not a mention of the word "vanilla" in the ingredients list. Instead, I read the word "artificial" and even worse, "caramel flavouring"!!

Well, you learn! While vanilla extract is still not easily available in the Indian market, the even better option is to make the stuff at home. All you need is a clean glass bottle (in my case, an old soya sauce bottle that I sterilised), some vanilla pods and vodka. The only hitch, you have to wait for eight weeks before it is ready for use. Else, you will land up with vanilla-flavoured vodka!! (Label credit, here)
This takes barely about two minutes to put together and you will see the difference for yourself! 

Monday, 15 April 2013

Chocolate Mousse

Watching a chef work with molecular gastronomy is a bit like watching a mad scientist at work. You see unheard of ingredients and never before seen techniques come together to create food that has textures and flavours, beyond anything you can imagine. It challenges and defies all conventional ideas and norms that one has come to accept when it comes to food. While there is a scientific rationale behind it all, to the lay person it is a bit like magic!
It is not only about creating new textures and new flavours, it is also about achieving a conventional result with an unconventional technique. So, while I believe molecular gastronomy is best left to the professionals, I couldn't resist giving this chocolate mousse recipe a shot. This recipe was invented by a French physical chemist, Herve This, also known as the 'Father of Molecular Gastronomy'. It turns on its head everything you know about making chocolate mousse as well as about working with chocolate and yet, results in the creamiest, silkiest and chocolatiest chocolate mousse you've ever had!!
The first rule when you work with chocolate is that it should never come in contact with water. This recipe breaks that rule irreverently by having only two ingredients, water and chocolate. The two are melted together and the resultant mixture is transferred to an ice bath. It is then whisked and as air is introduced into this mixture, it emulsifies like a mayonnaise and achieves the desired mousse like consistency. And you are done!!
It seems strange but that is all that there is to it! No cream, no yolks, no butter, no sugar.. just chocolate and water!! And yet, like I said, this mousse is creamy, satiny and luscious. You won't believe it, until you try it for yourself!! In fact, Monsieur This is said to have remarked, "I invented it — but it was so easy, I'm embarrassed!"

Just keep two things in mind. Use the best chocolate that you can lay yours hands on because that's what you will taste. There is nothing behind which the chocolate can hide itself. And secondly, be very precise with your measurements. If you want to introduce a liqueur, subtract the same amount of water as the amount of liqueur you are going to use and then introduce the liqueur.
This is a very intense, chocolate dessert and a small amount goes a long way! And since I didn't have the requisite serving ramekins, I dug into my shot glass collection. An unconventional dessert deservedly demands an unconventional showcase!!
As the original mad scientist, Einstein once said, "make things as simple as possible, not simpler"! This chocolate mousse is testament to the spirit of that statement.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Victoria Sandwich Sponge Cake

As a young girl, if reading were one of your interests, I have no doubt that Jane Austen and her novels would have figured prominently in your reading list. And one of her most memorable books would be 'Pride and Prejudice'. You realise the enduring appeal of her books, when it comes to light that this year would mark two hundred years(!) since 'Pride and Prejudice' was first published.
It is a testament to the allure of Jane Austen's writing that two hundred years after she published her work, its plot and characters, set in 19th century English society, would not only stand the test of time but also find a certain resonance in today's society, even in 21st century India.
Most young women would identify with 'Elizabeth Bennet', one of the main protagonists of the book. She is intelligent, sensible, witty, not given to frivolous and vacuous considerations, has a mind of her own, is not afraid of voicing her opinion even if goes against the accepted norms of society and marriage is not the only goal of her life. I told you, she could be one of us!!
And then, there was 'Mr.Darcy'! If you ask me, he is the real reason why women will always love this book. In equal measure, he would be handsome and haughty, intelligent and proud, rich and modest, aloof and generous, arrogant and chivalrous as the plot progressed. But his appeal, I believe, would lie in the fact, that he wasn't intimidated by Elizabeth Bennet's wit and intelligence but admired her for it and the very reason for his attraction towards her. Did I just hear a rueful sigh from every intelligent woman out there??

They say, Elizabeth Bennet would be the one character closest in nature to Jane Austen. I then believe, she created the character of Mr.Darcy as the man she was looking for but never found. 
This book would show Jane Austen not only as a keen observer of the society she lived in but would reveal her understanding of the nuances and subtleties that define relationships. And therein lies the inherent strength and appeal of her books!
And this Victoria sponge cake would have found itself both in Mr. Darcy's Pemberley as well as the more modest Bennet home of Longbourn. Much like the book, this cake is a baking classic. A traditional, English, tea-time treat, it is essentially two sponge cakes that sandwich a layer of jam and cream.

The cake is one of the easiest to make. And this recipe by British food legend, Mary Berry, guarantees a perfect result. The sponge cakes rise well and have that quintessential buttery taste that is expected of them. I urge you to use a good quality jam. I went with a homemade strawberry jam that I had made a few weeks back. It made all the difference. The freshness of the jam, where you can taste the fruit helps the flavour profile of the cake, which would otherwise have been just sugar and butter.
There's a reason why some things become classics. Their appeal endures the passage of time, much like this cake and the book!
Thank you Jane Austen! Two hundred years on, Mr. Darcy's appeal hasn't waned and neither has the appeal of your books!!

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