Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ladyfingers And Candycane Cookies - With The Daring Bakers!


 Its that time of the year with the welcome nip in the air, the air of festivity and more importantly the air of baking and Christmas! Don't you just love having Christmas around the corner? Though we do not actually celebrate the festival, I find the infectious spirit of baking more and more irresistible - this year more than the last, every year! The The Daring Bakers challenge this month turned out to be cookies, some of them Christmassy too!

Holiday season is the time for sharing and Peta of Peta Eats is sharing a dozen cookies, some classics and some of her own, from all over the world with us. She challenged us to make at least one of the dozen recipes plus another which could be any of our favorite celebration cookie/sweet/bar..  I chose to bake ladyfingers as I have never baked them before, been on the to-bake list since forever! It takes something like a DB challenge plus a deadline to beat for the reluctant baker to get those ladyfingers in the oven! Oh yes, the added bonus here is these can be a very versatile base for so many more cakes and desserts. I just can't wait!

And then one more festive cookie, which one shall I bake? Scouting for recipes without the quintessential mixed spices and ginger, I zeroed in on simple but fun candy cane cookies.  Rich, colorful,  butter cookies shaped into canes and baked. Gift wrap them for the kiddos!


 Ladyfingers, also known as biscuits la cuiller, Savoiardi, sponge fingers or Boudoir biscuits are oval-shaped cookies baked with a sponge batter. The sponge cake batter is prepared by whipping egg yolks and sugar to a volume, folding in flour and whipped egg whites. The batter is spooned into a pastry bag and piped into fingers and baked. Though I did not really fancy eating them as is, I moistened one of these and chilled it, stayed good, moist and firm even after 2 days! Cakes, trifles, charlottes and yumm..Tiramisu!

Ladyfingers

Recipe adapted from Joy Of Baking. This recipe is supposed to make 4 1/2 dozen cookies. I wouldn't recommend halving the recipe as whipping the egg-yolk mixture would get really difficult. I have used 2 pans, baked simultaneously in both my ovens. 


Ingredients:
 

All purpose flour - 54 grams plus cornstarch - 8 grams OR Cake flour, sifted - 1/2 cup (65 grams)
Egg yolks - 54 grams / 3 large at room temperature
Granulated white sugar, divided  - 2 tablespoons (25 grams)
Vanilla extract - 1/2 teaspoon 
Egg whites - 90 grams / 3 large, at room temperature
Cream of tartar - 1/8 teaspoon
Granulated white sugar - 3 tablespoons (36 grams)
Powdered (icing or confectioners) sugar for dusting the tops of the cookies
Procedure : Mise en place. Have your beaters, a cup (to drop the egg whites in) and a medium sized bowl (to beat the egg whites in) squeaky clean and ready. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking trays with parchment. Using a pencil, draw 3 inch rows, with an inch of space in between. ( I could draw only 2 rows on my 9'' square and 8'' square baking tins). Flip the sheets and then line your trays with them. Keep aside. Fit your piping bags with a 1.25 cm round tip. I used a bigger one (about 1.8 cm) as that is what I have, probably why I got about 3 1/2 dozen or so ladyfingers. Have a strainer and the powdered sugar ready.Weigh your flour, cornflour, sift thrice. Keep aside. Weigh the sugar (keep the 2 tbsp and the 3 tablespoons separately), egg whites and then last the yolks.  

Take the egg whites in a medium sized bowl, beat with the hand mixer.  When it starts foaming well, add the cream of tartar. If you add it beforehand, the whites will not foam. Once you add the cream of tartar, continue to beat gradually increasing the speed to medium high. When the beater marks show distinctly and soft peaks form, add the 3 tablespoons of sugar you have reserved.

 You could add the sugar beforehand, but whites whip faster to soft peaks without the sugar. Continue beating for a minute more till the whites form stiff peaks. To check, stop your mixer, slowly lift the beaters from the whites, you should be able to see peaks which stand straight. If they droop right away and fall back, you have to beat a little more. Be careful here, stop and check after a minute or so, as you do not want to beat the egg whites till they dry out. If they dry out, it will not easy to incorporate into the batter and your cookies will not be light. Once the whites are whipped to the right consistency, keep the bowl aside.  

 In the  large bowl,(preferably one which will allow you to tilt and beat), take the egg yolks and the 2 tablespoons sugar sugar.  Beat on high speed till the mixture turns thick and pale yellow. ( about 5 minutes says Stephanie, but mine took about 8-9 minutes at a guess, please be go by the indicator as your guide - when you raise the beaters the batter should fall back into the bowl in a slow ribbon.)  Beat in the vanilla extract.  Sift the cake flour over the batter but do not fold in.  Fold the whites into the egg yolk and flour mixture in three additions, mixing only until incorporated. If you over-do this, you will be deflating the batter, knocking off the air and volume.

 Fill the batter (with a large spoon) into the piping bag/bags. Holding the bag at about a 45 degree angle to the baking sheet, pipe the batter into 3 inch (7.5 cm) long ladyfingers, using the lines drawn on the parchment paper as your guide.  Pipe the batter leaving about a 1 inch (2.54 cm) space between the cookies.  When you have piped all the cookies, place the powdered sugar in a wire strainer, and lightly sift the sugar over the tops of the cookies.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the ladyfingers are firm but barely browned and are still spongy when pressed with a finger. (I intend to use these in a dessert, so I have baked them longer to err on the crispier side, for 12 minutes, think its better to slightly over bake than under bake these)

Remove the baking sheets from the oven and slide the parchment paper from the baking sheets onto a wire rack.  Let the ladyfingers cool for a few minutes and release them from the parchment paper, with a flat spatula, while they are still warm. If they have grown into each other, use a pizza cutter to cut.  If you left them completely cool before removing them from the parchment they stick and hard to remove without breaking.  Finish cooling the ladyfingers on the wire rack before using or storing.  If you are not using the ladyfingers right away, freeze them.  Ladyfingers stale very quickly unless they are soaked in a liquid.  To store, place in a plastic bag between layers of wax or parchment paper and freeze up to 2 weeks. 


 Please note: The cookies look quite good to me. But since I have never seen or used ladyfingers earlier, I am not sure how they are supposed to turn out.  I would ideally ahve liked to bake these once agin before posting, but I coud not. Will be baking these shortly and update notes if any.
  
Candy Cane cookies : Cute looking buttery cookies, which have a soft-tender, texture (think benne biscuits), just about sweet. The recipe does not have baking powder in it as the cookies have to remain undistorted as they bake.

 
From Joy Of Baking

 
Ingredients;
All purpose flour - 325 grams / 2 1/2 cups
Salt - 1/4 teaspoon
Unsalted butter - at room temperature - 227 grams / 1 cup
Powdered sugar - 120 grams / 1 cup (for just about sweet)
Egg yolks, 2 large - 36 grams
Pure vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon
Pure almond extract - 1/2 teaspoon
Red food coloring - 1/2 teaspoon ( I used Wilton no-taste red gel)

Procedure: Sift the salt and flour into a bowl, keep aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar till creamy ( I quartered the recipe, did 3 1/2 minutes on speed 2 on my hand mixer). Add the egg yolks, the extracts and beat till combined. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture in 2 additions, on low speed beat until you have a smooth dough.  Remove half the dough and set aside. Add the red color to the remaining half and mix till well combined. The dough was very soft at this point, so I have refrigerated it for a couple of hours.  You could use earlier if its firm enough.

Pre-heat oven to 190 degrees C/ 375 F.  Line your baking sheets with parchment. Divide dough of each color into walnut sized balls. Keep them covered. If making a large batch, take out just enough dough from the fridge when needed. Keep a clean kitchen cloth nearby to wipe your hands as you touch the red dough. Lightly flour your work surface, roll each ball of dough into a rope of 4-5 inches. Place one rope of red dough and one of white beside each other. Press them together lightly. Twist the ropes to form a spiral. Place on the sheet, bend the twisted rope to form a cane shape. Space the shaped cookies 5 cm apart. If the shaped cookies feel very soft, put the tray with the cookies in the fridge for 15 minutes and then bake. If the ropes break as u twist, try refrigerating the dough for sometime and then  resume. Mine kept breaking, I could make only a few without clumping the dough back together and starting again. But the cookies were still tender and not tough, forgiving dough!

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the cookies are just beginning to brown. Do not over bake. The baking time varies depending on the thickness of the ropes, so bake a test batch and try to keep the size of the walnut sized balls uniform.



Please note : Don't even think of transporting these anywhere as they are quite fragile! I broke half of them while taking the pictures...

Thanks Peta for the lovely challenge, it has got me into the spirit of Christmas baking!!


 

 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Kobbari Tovve / South Indian Style Coconut And Lentils


'' Today the tovve is really good Amma!'' declares my ten year old son at the dinner table. Before I can smile a modest thank-you he promptly asks  ''Ajji sent it right?''.  I try not to sound like an indignant ten-year-old with a deflated ego and say  ''No, I made it!''. His spontaneous 'Oh!'' in reply is hastily replaced with a placating ''Great job Amma, looks like you have a bit of Ajji's touch in your cooking today, what say?''. When you are a foodie, take not any chances and irk the cook. Specially if she happens to be the only cook around!!

These instances happen, though not very often in my home. Pitting 40 years of solid experience against 12 stumbling years of it - tough competition! But then I guess even when I graduate to having 40 years of experience, I will still think my mother's cooking had that extra bit of yumminess to it...


Guess being born a South Indian invariably brings with it the fondness for rice and all things coconut. From chutneys to payasams to simple everyday garnishes, coconut finds its way into most cooking. And when life hands us more coconut than we normally use, more often than not, it goes into Kobbari Tovve. Tovve is basically a lentils based dish either with or without vegetables, mostly without sambar powder in it. Needless to say, kobbari or coconut is the star ingredient in this dish.  A spice mix made with roasted coriander seeds, cumin and fenugreek seeds add that subtle but very certainly there aroma and taste to the dish.

These spices are roasted and ground together and stored for a couple of months like sambar powder, rasam powder and the rest. But since everyone doesn't have this spice mix at home, I have made it using the three individually. The taste of the tovve is pretty much close to what my mother makes, though may not be exactly the same. If she lived closer by,  probably I could have got each of these dishes made by her..sigh!


Spicy with the green chillies, subtle but flavorful and loaded with fresh coconut, it may not be entirely disappointing to try this. This makes about 4 1/4 cups of tovve, I would suggest to maintain the level of spices (the coriander, cumin and fenugreek) and alter the amount of the rest to suit your taste. This tastes good with good quality hing, generous amount of chillies and enough tamarind and jaggery to balance it out.

Ingredients :
Toor dal - Pigeon pea Dal - 3/4 cup
Oil - 1 teaspoon
Fresh tomatoes (sour or plum), chopped - 1 cup
Turmeric powder - 1/4 teaspoon
Roasted coriander powder - 1 teaspoon
Roasted cumin powder - 3/4 teaspoon
Roasted methi / fenugreek powder - 1/8 teaspoon
Green chillies, 6-7 (or even more) - ground to a paste, smooth or coarse
Thick tamarind pulp - 1/4 cup (If using sour tomatoes, use less, say 3 tablespoons)
Grated jaggery - 3/4 tablespoon
Grated fresh coconut - 1 cup
Water - 1/2 cup if needed.
Salt to taste

For the tempering
Oil - 2 teaspoons
Mustard - 1 teaspoon
Hing, good quality - a good pinch
Curry leaves - a few

Pressure cook the dal with the turmeric and enough water till the lentils are well cooked and soft, but not completely mushy (this cooked dal will be about 3 cups and a little more) Set aside till the pressure drops completely. In a thick bottomed pan, heat a teaspoon of oil. Add a dash of hing, add the chopped tomatoes and a bit of salt. Cover with about 1/4 cup of water and cook covered till the tomatoes are very soft.  Add the cooked dal,  the spice powders, jaggery, tamarind pulp and the chilli paste. Add the coconut and salt to taste. The tovve is meant to be on the thicker side. Add about 1/2 cup of water if needed to adjust the consistency. Bring to a simmer, cook for about 10 minutes on low heat. Check and adjust the seasoning if needed. Turn off the heat.

Heat the remaining oil, add the mustard. Once it sputters, add the curry leaves and the hing, Pour over the dal and mix. Serve with hot rice, ghee and uppu hacchida menasinakayi (deep fried sun-dried stuffed chillies). I like the flavor best when it is warm (not hot), even better a few hours after its cooked.




Thursday, November 15, 2012

Paneer Tikka Tart



Like me, if you had thought that a tart concept can be done with either with home made/ store brought old fashioned buttery crusts or phyllo pastry or puff pastry, you will be happy to know that you can make something nice with the humble yeast dough as well. Meaning, you don't have to slave over making phyllo or puff pastry (or be lucky enough to easily buy them) or master the art of baking the perfect pie crust and still get away with making something that classifies as a tart and a pretty good one at that. Without having to plan ahead for it. As in you can get up in the morning or come back from work and still decide to bake yourself a tart. Easy and quick.

I have realized that when you bake something like a pizza or tart with a slow-risen base like Peter Reinhart's pizza dough, you can get away with minimal and the simplest of toppings as the very flavorful base takes center-stage here. And when you bake with the faster ones, you are better off allowing the topping to take center-stage. Bake with a flavorful base and flavorful toppings, danger is you will end up making it every now and then, for very given excuse. Did I tell you that Peter R's crust has become a real real favorite with me and have made it at least about 5-6 times by now?


When Madhuli invited us to bake tarts for an event at Chef At Large, I wanted to play around with a quick yeast dough base and top it with something delicious and indulgent too - the festive air squarely to blame. Hmm... may be a tart topped with mint and coriander chutney, loaded with some flavorful paneer tikka? Why not? A bit of work with the tikka and some time to marinate the cheese and veggies, but the dough is a breeze as always these days with my bread machine! 

The paneer tikka turned out good and I had a tough time keeping the kids away till I put it all together and took the mandatory pics, but it sure made me happy! This said, the base and the tikka is only a suggestion, feel free to use your favorite pizza base and your favorite tikka topping!



Paneer Tikka Tart

You will need :
One recipe pizza base (recipe below)
Paneer Tikka
Coriander and mint chutney - 4 tablespoons plus more to serve on the side.

Getting ready
: To make the tart, make sure the paneer and veggies are marinated and ready to go on the tawa before you make the dough. Generously grease your baking tray or trays with oil. I place my pizzas and tarts on the back of my 9'' square/round tins, for ease to slice them later.

Paneer Tikka : Adapted from a Sanjeev Kapoor recipe. Good quality paneer, needless to say makes a lot of difference. I used Nandini, Milky Mist is supposed to be good too. Do use home-made paneer if you have it on hand. Do not cube the cottage cheese too small or it will be difficult to thread the cubes through a skewer or flip them when directly placed on the tawa.

Ingredients:
Cottage cheese/ paneer - cut into 3/4'' cubes - 200 grams (about 1 1/2 cups)
Green or colored capsicum, cubed - 3/4 cup
Onion, peeled and cubed - 1 cup (divided use)
Firm plum tomatoes, de-seeded and cubed - 1/2 cup

For the marinade: Please vary the amount of spices to taste and preference

Fresh, thick hung curd or ready set curd - 6 tablespoons
Oil - 1 tablespoon
Red chilli powder - 1 teaspoon
Turmeric powder - 1/4 teaspoon
Ginger, freshly grated - 3/4 teaspoon
Garlic, freshly grated - 1 teaspoon
Chaat masala - 3/4 teaspoon
Tandoori masala - 1 teaspoon
Kasuri methi, crushed - 1 heaping teaspoon
Gram flour - 1 tablespoon
Salt to taste (go easy, the chaat masala is quite salty)

More oil for grilling the paneer and vegetables

Procedure : Whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade in a wide bowl, gently toss in the paneer and capsicum cubes to coat with the marinade well. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. You could toss in the onions and tomatoes later (after you fish out the paneer and capsicum), there will still be marinade left. I did not add them earlier as they will leave out more water, wanted the paneer generously coated with the marinade.

Heat a non-stick pan, brush oil generously using a silicon brush. Thread the paneer and the vegetables through skewers (or just place directly, flipping now and then using 2 spoons) and cook on medium-low heat, turning them to cook all sides till a nice golden and done (this will not take more than a say, 3-4 minutes) Do not over-cook as this will make the paneer tough. Reserve.

Coriander and mint chutney
Fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped - 1 1/2 cups
Fresh mint leaves - 3/4 cup
Green chillies - 3-4
Sugar - a tiny pinch
Lemon juice - to taste
Salt - to taste

Blend everything using little or no water. Check and adjust seasoning. Reserve.

Tart base, adapted from Purple Foodie original recipe from Popina Book Of Baking  I have used yogurt in place of the egg, stepped up on the salt and yeast, and added a bit of garlic to the base.

Pizza dough base:

All purpose flour / maida - 220 grams
Instant yeast - 1 1 /4 tsp ( if using Active dried yeast, proof first and then carry on)
Salt - 3/4 teaspoon
Sugar - 1 teaspoon
Extra virgin olive oil (or any flavorless oil like sunflower or canola oil) - 2 tablespoons
Garlic, grated - 2 pods
Yogurt - 1/4 cup OR 1 Egg
Warm water - 70 -80 ml (start with the lesser amount, add remaining, by the teaspoon if needed)

Procedure : Mise en place. Sift together the flour and salt. Take the oil and garlic in a small pan, warm the oil. Take off the heat. If using crushed garlic, you can discard it once the flavor is infused into the oil. Take the warm water in a wide medium sized bowl, mix together all the dough ingredients and knead to form a soft, smooth dough, about 8-10 minutes. If using a bread machine dump all ingredients together and knead on dough cycle for 10 minutes.  Lightly grease your dough rising bucket, place the dough in it, turn it once to coat the dough with oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place till double in volume, about 40 minutes to one hour.

Towards the end of the rise period, pre-heat oven to 190 degrees C / 375 degrees F. Gently punch down the dough, divide into 2 equal portions. Dust your work surface lightly with flour. Roll one portion of the dough about 5-6mm thick and about 7 '' inches in diameter. This will give you a slightly crisp, bread-y base. Place the rolled dough on the greased tray. Spread about 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons chutney and place about 1/4 cup cubed onion on it evenly. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or till the edges turn a nice golden brown. If you bake longer, the base will be crunchy-crisp. Remove from the oven, cool for about 10 minutes. Brush with more chutney, top with half the warm paneer tikka, sprinkle some chaat masala, cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Repeat with the other portion of dough. I bake simultaneously in my microwave and OTG.


Make ahead : Make the chutney, marinate the paneer and veggies. Refrigerate both. Make the dough when needed and you are ready to go!

The paneer-tikka tart is Yeast-spotted!!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mawa, Saffron And Cardamom Cakes




Rich, milky, cardamom laced cakes with mawa / khoya - these are mawa cakes for you. Mention these and most likely people will recall Irani cafés in Mumbai famous for mawa cakes, bun maska (bread and butter) and Irani chai among other things. No, I haven't been to Mumbai in ages, much less to one of these Persian cafés. The city supposedly had a good number of these little cafés, but now the numbers have substantially dwindled down, thanks to the ever growing numbers of new age restaurants and coffee shops.

Milk, cream and mawa. You either love them or hate them. I love them!! How about you? My affinity for these milky things and the urge to bake something with a traditional twist during Diwali, led me to bake these little cakes. Perfect for the very festive mood in the air! Honestly, when beauties like these peek out of a blog as stunning as Helen's Tartelette, you don't really need Diwali around the corner to bake a batch of mawa cakes!


 These cakes are among those meant to be slightly dense I suppose, given the khoya that goes into it. But I wanted the cakes a little lighter, so I have increased the amount of baking powder, threw in a pinch of saffron for good measure! Saffron, cardamom and mawa - can't go wrong together really!  For once, when I baked, I felt happy that I live in India with the luxury of being able to simply buy some khoya at a one of the sweet shops around the corner. If you don't have access to ready mawa, you would have to make it as Helen does.

The cakes are rich, so small they would have to be for me. Bake them as bigger cupcakes, or in charming canele moulds (really pretty) or maybe in mini cake tins or mini bundt pans. The baking time would then vary of course. Chopped toasted nuts folded into the batter will add a nice crunch and complement the flavors of saffron and cardamom very well. Some chopped nuts sprinkled on top before baking are just the perfect adornment for these tea-cakes.


As mentioned above, I have increased the amount of baking powder, added a bit of baking soda (for color) and added a pinch of saffron to the milk. I would ideally have loved to make these egg-free and an egg-less version is on the cards to try. If you have a tried and tested substitute suitable for use in the recipe, please do try...

I got 8 small cupcakes from the recipe below (this half of the original recipe). You can find Helen's recipe here

Ingredients
  
For the cakes:
All purpose flour / maida - 78 grams 
 Baking powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Baking soda - 1/8 teaspoon
Green cardamom - seeds from 2 pods
Unsweetened mava / khoya, at room temperature - 1/4 cup /50grams (zap in the microwave to soften for 10-20 seconds if hard)
Fine grained sugar - 50 grams (just about sweet), use 60 grams for slightly sweeter ones 
 Unsalted butter, at room temperature - 3 tablespoons / 42 grams
 Egg, large - 1
Whole milk / low fat milk, warm - 3 tablespoons
Saffron strands - 1/8 teaspoon
cashew halves to place on top
Or
chopped toasted cashews/pistachios, tossed in 1/2 tsp flour (optional)

Procedure : Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees F. Spray your muffin tray or cupcake moulds with baking spray or lightly grease and flour the tins you would use.

Grind the cardamom with a tablespoon sugar (out of the 50 grams). Soak the saffron strands in the warm milk, allow it to release its flavors and come to room temperature. Sift the flour, baking powder and soda 2-3 times. Keep aside.

In a medium sized bowl, place the butter, mawa and sugar and the crushed cardamom-sugar. With your hand held mixer, mix on low for a few seconds (the ingredients will at first look like they won't come together, but they will) and then increase the speed to medium (speed 3) and cream the mixture till pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. The mixture will be fluffy, but you can still feel the slight grittiness of the khoya.

On low speed (speed one) add the egg, beat till it disappears into the butter mixture (this will take just a few seconds). Turn speed to medium, beat for a minute. Add the flour mixture and the milk in two additions. The batter will be of dropping consistency. Fold in the toasted nuts if using. Sprinkle nuts on top.

Bake for about 15-16 minutes (for mini muffins) longer if baking bigger ones, even longer if baking as one cake. The tops will be light golden and a tooth pick inserted in the center will come out clean. Do not over bake or they will be dry. Better to check a minute early than late.

Cool in the tins for a couple of minutes, then remove and cool completely on the rack. They were soft immediately on cooling, picture below not exactly pretty, but want you to see the crumb. Were relatively dense later, but still delicious! I loved them soft!


So, this Diwali if you want to take a break from the usual mithai and chocolate, bake something deliciously different, try these cakes!

Happy Diwali!!






Monday, November 5, 2012

Basic Baking Ingredients - Part 1


The little building blocks which go into cakes, breads, cookies, cream puffs and flaky pies, the staples from a baker's pantry. I must confess, I bake purely for the fun of it, the science behind it is something I try (hard) to learn just enough to get by.  There isn't much of science here, just some bits and pieces from a no-geek, self taught, still-learning home-baker. Here is some info for the new baker about what is what, compiled from various baking books and sites. Also included is info about local sources and brands. As the list is way too big for one post, I have made this into two. Lets go in alphabetical order. Most images are from the internet.

Almond meal : Very finely ground almonds (image below), not commonly available in India, these are used in macaroons, cakes and cookies. You could make your own almond meal but as the nuts release oil when ground, its a great deal of effort to get even a small quantity of  not-so-finely ground almonds.

For recipes where you need to use blanched ground almonds, you need to blanch, peel, dry, grind almonds, sift it.  You are better off asking someone to get this for you. However, if I am using ground almonds in a dark colored bake like Queen Of Sheba or Almond Brownies, I do not bother blanching and peeling them. Just put the almonds in a plastic bag, bash to pieces with a rolling pin and grind in very short spurts with part of the sugar in the recipe. Use the smallest jar of your blender.



Baking powder : The common chemical leavening agent, i.e, the thing which causes your bakes to rise, get lightness and volume. It is made of baking soda, acids like cream of tartar and sodium aluminum sulphate and edible starch. The baking powder we get here is mostly double acting (mentioned on the box), that is, it reacts twice. Once when it comes in contact with the liquids (like milk, buttermilk, eggs, yogurt) when the batter is mixed and then again when the batter is placed in the heat of the oven. When baking powder comes in contact with liquids and again when its subjected to the oven heat, carbon-di-oxide is produced, which further expands in the heat, causing the batter to rise. Always remember to sift the baking powder with the flour (unless otherwise specified in the recipe) for even mixing.

Add just the specified amount of baking powder, adding too much will make your bake bitter, your cake to rise too much and then fall.

Make sure your box comes with a recent manufacturing date and is well closed after use. Its important to protect the baking powder from humidity, so store in a cool, dry place. Also buy a small box unless you are a professional baker. Replace your box 6 months after you open it. To test the effectiveness of baking powder, mix 1 teaspoon baking powder with 1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water . The mixture should bubble immediately. If it does not, discard and get a fresh pack. I use Weikfield most of the times.

If you come across aluminum free baking powder (like Rumford), grab it! Its supposed to help avoid the metallic taste you sometimes experience in some quick breads and also enhance the flavor of your bakes.

Baking soda : This is bi carbonate of soda or sodium bi carbonate also called as cooking soda here. It gets leavening power with the help of acids in the recipe, adds tenderness and color to baked goods. Its used in recipes containing acidic ingredients like yogurt, natural cocoa (not Dutch process), citrus juices, buttermilk, chocolate, honey etc. It reacts immediately after its moistened when you mix the batter, releasing carbon di oxide. So you must use the batter immediately once mixed.

Baking soda has an indefinite shelf life if stored in a sealed container and stored in a cool place. To test the effectiveness of baking soda, mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 2 teaspoons vinegar, the mixture should bubble immediately. If it does not, discard and get a fresh pack.

I use the small sachets we get as cooking soda in the supermarket.


Butter : When recipes call for butter, its usually the unsalted kind. Use freshly packed butter, make sure its not smelly. I normally buy 200 gram packs of Nandini unsalted butter available at super markets and milk booths. I store it in the refrigerator and keep the needed quantity of butter at room temperature (after cutting it into cubes) for about 1/2 hour to one hour to soften it when a recipe calls for butter at room temperature. Butter should be slightly cool to the touch and just pliable and not gooey or oily when it reaches room temperature. You could soften butter in the microwave, but a few seconds too much and you have melted butter!

Buttermilk: This is thick buttermilk which can be made by mixing 2 parts of yogurt/ curd with one part water and whisked till homogenous. Or add  2 teaspoons vinegar (white/distilled) to 120 ml/ half cup milk at room temperature and let stand undisturbed for 10 minutes. It will curdle, will remain thick. Whisk with and fork and use the needed quantity.

Brown sugar (picture above) : This sugar adds a slight butterscotch flavor and moisture to baked goods. Brown sugar could be light or dark brown sugar, depending on the amount of molasses added to the sugar, changing the taste slightly. Not to be confused with demerara sugar (which is also a kind of brown sugar but coarse and large grained) good quality brown sugar dissolves quickly, is fine grained and moist. Which is why recipes specify this ingredient in packed measures as in 1 packed cup. Premium quality brown sugar (like Waitrose) is quite expensive (and nice too!) .You could also make your own if you can lay your hands on molasses (very expensive stuff again, at Godrej Nature's Basket). You could mostly swap brown sugar for granulated white sugar, but there would be a slight variation in the color, texture and taste of the end product.

Granulated sugar : This is the regular sugar we use. I mostly use powdered sugar of the same weight as the sugar we get here doesn't dissolve quickly.

Confectioner's sugar :Used in making meringues and icings. This is finely ground sugar to which some amount of cornstarch has been added to prevent clumping. You could substitute this with finely ground sugar made at home. Sift before measuring as it clumps.

Caster Sugar : Super fine granulated white sugar which dissolves quickly, relatively expensive. You could use powdered sugar in its place, but IMHO creaming is better when you use caster sugar. I use super fine sugar I get at Spar, its very reasonably priced and works well for me.


  
Demerara sugar : Coarse, large grained golden colored granulated sugar above. If you ask for brown sugar at your local super market, you will mostly be handed a pack of this. I like to use this only as a crunchy topping and never in a cake or cookie batter. It takes you forever to dissolve it, the results are not great.

Clarified butter: This is ghee we normally stock in most Indian homes.


Chocolate: The path to chocolate heaven is paved with this! Chocolate can be dark, white or milk. The better the quality of chocolate, the better the taste of the end product. I have baked with only compound chocolate so far, I like the brand Morde. So far and I have had no real complaints with the taste. Couverture is chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter (32-39%) and has more sheen and flavor when tempered. You can order this online from Delicious Now. Thanks to a dear friend, I must gloat that I now have some couverture chocolate with me (picture me rubbing my hands in glee!) and I just can't wait to use it!

Chocolatier and author Alice Medrich says, when chocolate is melted and used in cookies and brownies the cacao percentage is really important for the right texture and moistness. But when you are using them as chips or chunks in the batter, you can use chocolate with any percentage of cacao. Cacao percentage is the total of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor in the chocolate. Meaning chocolate with higher cacao percentage, will be darker and have a more assertive, more intense chocolate flavor, less sugar and less milk solids, hence less sweet. She says success rates are higher when the chocolate with the specified cacao percentage mentioned in the recipe is used.

If a recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate and you use dark chocolate with same amount of sugar, your cake will be sweeter. If you must substitute dark for bitter,  try adding some instant coffee to temper the sweetness instead of reducing the sugar. You may still find it on the sweeter side.


Cocoa : This unsweetened powder made from cacao beans is not be confused with drinking chocolate. What we mostly get here in India is natural cocoa (on the right) as opposed to Dutch processed cocoa (on the left). Natural cocoa is acidic. Dutch process cocoa is Dutched or alkalized to reduce its acidity, looks reddish brown in color, is less bitter. As it is not acidic, it must be used in recipes which have baking powder. It can however be used in recipes if they have other acidic ingredients to help the cocoa react and help leavening.

You can't use these interchangeably unless  a) you know what you are doing   b) the recipes specifies either kind is OK.  I use Nilgiris brand of cocoa available at Nilgiris outlets here. Remember to sift cocoa before measuring as it tends to be lumpy.

Cornflour : Also called as cornstarch. This is used in baking for making cake flour and also becomes a substitute for eggs (when used for binding purposes only) when mixed with warm water.

Cream of tartar : Since Potassium hydrogen tartrate and Potassium bitartrate sound not very friendly to me, I shall stick to the name cream of tartar.  Don't be fooled, this doesn't look or taste even very remotely like cream, this is actually white powder like substance. Its a by-product of wine-making and also a component of baking powder. This can be found in the aisles of your supermarket with the rest of boring sounding ingredients like MSG, CMC, gelatine etc. This is a wonderful ingredient to have on hand for whipping egg whites. When added in the right quantity to egg whites, its virtually impossible to over beat them.


Cheese - Mascarpone, ricotta, mozzarella, cream cheese, cottage cheese, quark - just a few varieties of cheese which can up the taste factor exponentially. Some as toppings and some as fillings and some in the batter itself. With the exception of cottage cheese and mozzarella, the rest of the clan sold in supermarkets is very expensive. Cottage cheese is our very desi paneer which we are all familiar with. I made my own mascarpone and was happy with the results. It can be used in ice creams or folded into some whipped cream and used as a filling to make amazing cakes. Ricotta is the creamy dreamy cousin of cottage cheese, I made this too and loved it! This is used in cakes, in calzones, puddings, desserts etc. I like to use Amul mozzarella for my pizza.Though freshly made, churned paneer / churned paneer and yogurt is used as a substitute for cream cheese, I am still on the look-out for a satisfactory substitute. Quark again is on the list to try.



Cream : When recipes call for heavy cream or cream, I like to use Amul fresh cream which has 25% butterfat. Good heavy cream is not commonly available in India. Heavy cream has 33-36% butterfat and when used in baking, it gives more tenderness in your bakes, makes your mascarpone more luxurious, your ice creams more creamy.

Having said that, though some local brands available in the supermarket claim to have more butterfat, I would prefer the quality and consistency of Amul. I normally do not use cream from top of the milk for my baking or desserts. I stock 200 ml tetra-packs of Amul. You could whip this but its a challenge specially when its hot.

  
Whipping cream: This is meant for use as a topping for cakes and desserts, is mostly sweetened. Its liquid and is stored frozen. When whipped, it easily becomes airy and light. I get mine from IBCA (Merry whip or Gold Top, Rich's is good too but difficult to get a kg pack nearby), a kilo lasts a long time!

 I normally open the pack, divide the contents among 2-3 freezer safe containers and return to the freezer immediately, store it for about 3 months (hoping and praying there aren't any historical, long power-cuts). I simply thaw the needed quantity in the fridge overnight and use. Since its sweetened, this may not be ideal when you mix more sweet stuff into the cream. Maybe Amul for that?

Half and half : Is half milk and half cream. We do not get anything labelled as half and half here, so I just use half whole milk and half Amul cream for recipes which call for half and half.

Sour cream:  Unless using it for making pastry like quick puff pastry and the kind (the fat really matters here)  You could easily substitute this with yogurt.

Creme Fraiche : Made by mixing cream and buttermilk and letting it stand at room temperature for 24 hours, this ingredient is quite expensive (at Godrej Nature's Basket). Make your own, its delicious as a topping on fresh fruit and you could use it in baking too. Unlike sour cream, this can be whipped and doesn't curdle when heated. Recipe here


Coconut - dessicated / shredded / flaked : A common staple in most South Indian homes. Make super easy macaroons or tuiles or use them in cookies and cakes. Dessicated coconut is also called as coconut powder here. Some supermarkets and baking stores stock these. When a recipe calls for shredded coconut, I use grated copra. Check for these again at our baking stores or peel your own copra (ouch!!) and grate it. Store it in the fridge or freezer as it turn smelly pretty fast.

Eggs : I have a couple of hens at home which supply me with eggs on a daily basis...you got to believe me ;) Though, hubby keeps telling me it may not be a bad idea considering I buy eggs too often. I weigh eggs and use as there is no packing based on size or weight. One large egg is 48 grams without shell, one large yolk is 18 grams and one egg white is 30 grams.


Egg Replacer: Good news for those who do not want to use eggs in baking! A natural egg replacer made with potato starch and other ingredients, its supposed to work well in place of eggs...but may not be a great idea for bakes such as chiffon cakes or flourless cakes. Available here at MK Retail and Godrej Nature's Basket as Orgran No Egg. At Rs. 310 to replace 66 eggs, a reasonable product to buy. Soon to be tried!

Essence/extract: Essence is mostly synthetic. Extracts and oils are natural. I used to use synthetic vanilla essence (still do in an emergency) but have now switched to real vanilla extract. Extracts and oils give better flavor and aroma to your bakes and desserts, so once you spoil yourself with these, you will look down upon the synthetic ones. Be wary of cheap imitations specially ones like pistachio, coconut and  fruity ones likes mango and strawberry. Nilgiris, Brigade Road has some good brands (Black White, La Belle Vie) of essences like pista, coffee, strawberry.



Food color: A drop or a streak of this in your cake batter or piping gel or creamy desserts to play with colors. Or to dress up and paint your Christmas cookies. I like to use gel color from Wilton, a small pack goes a long way. You could get some liquid colors of Black White brand at Nilgiris, Brigade Road and IBCA too. But Wilton is the best for all the colors and shades. Use a fresh toothpick to take out a tiny bit of color, dip the toothpick in your batter and swirl. Use a fresh toothpick for more color. Stay away from the powder colors locally available.

Can see you stifling a yawn, promise we reach the end of the boring but necessary post soon!

Flour : The very basic ingredient in almost all bakes. Flour normally refers to All Purpose Flour or maida. Use freshly packed flour, sieve it with other dry ingredients like salt, baking powder and soda for even mixing.

Cake flour : To make cake flour, measure out a cup of  plain flour (scoop in the flour into the cup and level method) or 130 grams, taken out 2 tablespoons of flour, added 2 tablespoons cornflour. This makes one cup of cake flour. Sift 3-4 times. If you can find good quality cake flour where you live, do use it.

 

Bread flour : This is also called as strong flour and is used in yeasted breads. Adding this to whole wheat breads makes the bread lighter in texture. To make bread flour at home, I add one tablespoon vital wheat gluten to every cup of All Purpose flour or whole wheat flour as Champa does.

Self rising flour: Used in cakes mostly, this can be made by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt to each cup / 130 grams of All purpose flour. I normally do not add additional baking powder and soda to the recipe again (worked fine for me in the Cappuccino Muffins and Jaffa Drizzle Loaf Cake). Packaged self rising flour is available at some stores including Nilgiris, but have never used it so far.

Please note: The above information can at best be described as brief and just enough for a beginner to get acquainted. There is enough and more on all the above ingredients if you seek..please do if you wish, the sky is the limit!

For Part 2Please check this post