Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Baking Stuff From The USA Every Baker Dreams Of!

A question I am asked quite often, my husband or friend will be traveling to the USA, what baking stuff can I get from there? Counting my blessings, the scenario is much better now in India, but here are some things you might want to buy from the USA or elsewhere. Way better prices, great quality, all those premium brands. They are also so much more easier to find and shop. This Black Friday, 24th November, (and later) don't miss that chance to get some precious things you will love using!

I haven't personally used all of the products and brands mentioned below, I have used a few. I have mentioned the brands after referring books from David Lebovitz and Rose Beranbaum.

Watch the video!

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Oven thermometer - Helps you cross check the temperature inside your oven and helps you set it accordingly. Especially important if you use an OTG (Oven Toaster Griller).These thermometers go from simple to sophisticated and expensive, check these out. 
 I use a simple one from Taylor.

Baking pans: Good quality non-stick pans of standard sizes, 8 and 9 inch round and square tins(unbelievably not so commonly available here!), springform tins, gorgeous bundt pans. I would kill for those from Nordicware! Standard size loaf pans, standard and mini size muffin trays, Madeleine pans, mini loaf pans, mini bundt pans, tart tins, tube pans, Pullman loaf pans and lots more! 
Check Chicago Metallic, USA Pan, Wilton, Nordicware.

Non-stick baking mats: Silpat is the most popular brand. Get them in the size suitable for your oven size. You could use it for baking cookies, breads etc.

Vanilla extract: You can make your vanilla extract own at home of course, but commercially made extract is supposed to be far superior, so get this if you have the chance. Premium vanilla beans like Madagascar, Bourbon, Tahitian. Sigh! Check out vanilla paste. Good vanilla is expensive, so beware of cheap vanilla. 
Sources - Nielsen Massey, Vanilla Queen, Rain's Choice

Other flavored oils, essences and extracts: Citrus oils from Boyajian are supposed to have pure flavor without bitterness. Would be great in frostings, cookies and the kind. Rose Beranbaum recommends essences from perfumer Mandy Aftel. Check organic extracts from Flavorganics. 

Chocolate, chocolate chips: You get lots of premium brands and variety, with labels specifying the chocolate mass and more details. You can get Bittersweet, semi-sweet and even unsweetened chocolate. Good quality semi-sweet chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, cinnamon chips etc. 

Lindt,Valrhona, Callebaut,Guittard, Scharffen Berger are a few good brands you could check. 
Be sure to use chocolate with the cacoa percentage recommended in the recipe for best results.

Liquid & solid measuring cups: Get a good quality heat proof one.Those from POURfect and Achor Hocking are supposed to be very accurate and recommended by Rose Beranbaum. Also check Oven Basics. 

Measuring spoons: Get standard size spoon set of a good brand( I use sets from Oxo), get one with a 1/8 tsp measure included. There is also an odd size spoon set and yeast spoon, but those are not absolutely essential. Nice to have though. Also check POURfect.

Zester: A good zester is a great tool to have to make those desserts and bakes with citrus zest. I love my Microplane zester. Check ZestN'est by Rose Levy Beranbaum too. 

Cocoa, Dutch processed cocoa: Dutch process cocoa has always been on my wishlist to try. You can use this in recipes which specify the use of this cocoa and get those cakes with that gorgeous color! Valrhona, Scharffen Berger, Green & Black's, Van Houten, Pernigotti, King Arthur Flour,  Droste are some brands of cocoa you could check.

Baking powder: Aluminum free baking powder is recommended for better tasting bakes. Especially helpful in recipes like muffins where more of baking powder is used as more of baking powder leaves a kind of aftertaste. Get multiple smallest size boxes available, bigger ones if you bake commercially. Rumford, Bob's Red Mill. I use Rumford.

Baking spray: Basically a mixture of flour and fat, this makes preparing your pans easy, really neat release of your cakes and other bakes from the baking pans. You do absolutely want those bundt cakes to come out intact, don't you? I use Bakers Joy.

Cooling racks: Check racks which have the wire spaced close together as these racks are designed to support delicate cakes and cookies. A good one to have! Check those tiered ones if you bake professionally. 

Candy thermometer: A candy thermometer for making those candies, caramels, custards and more. 

Pastry blender: For making your pie crusts. 

Speciality Flours: You can make your own cake flour and pastry flour, bread flour, but commercially sold ones are supposed to give way better results. Check out whole wheat pastry flour, Wondra flour, white whole wheat flour, almond flour, coconut flour and what not! King Arthur Flour  is a well known name. 

Color gel: Good quality gel colors for your cakes and desserts. Unless you bake professionally a small pack should last a long time. I use Wilton. 

Instant read thermometer: An instant-read thermometer is especially useful for checking if your bread is baked. In most recipes, if you insert the thermometer into the center of the loaf, the temperature must read 200F or more. Go by recipe instructions. I love using mine from Taylor.

Books: Books by renowned authors like Rose Beranbaum, Dorie Greenspan, DavidLebovitzz, Alice Medrich, Pierre Herme, Peter Reinhart. I could go on and on! Start building that precious collection! 

Cake lifter: Can help you lift your cakes easily, but I love using it for making puff pastry. Makes it so much more easier to move around the rolled pastry without tearing it. Check this non-stick one from Nordicware here

Danish dough whisk : Helps mix that sticky batter bread dough very easily. You can also use it for muffins and pancakes where you don't want to over mix the batter. 

Cake caddy: Store and transport cakes easily. No fridge odors, no accidentally spoiling the decoration. Get one with firm clasps, a large round one may be more useful than a square one. Check Wilton.

Molasses: Grandma's unsulphured is recommended by many bakers. You could use it in breads, cookies,cakes etc for that dark color and flavor. 

Yeast: You do get good instant yeast here thankfully, Gloripan is the most commonly available one. But it comes in big 500-gram packs. Once opened the pack needs to be stored in the freezer. Lack of freezer space and power cuts give me the nightmares. I find these single-use sachets very handy. If freezer space and power is not a problem, try SAF instant yeast. Also check Red Star, Fleischmann's.

  • Cake decorating Am no cake decorator, but I think you surely must check those cake decorating tools, rolled fondantCrystallized flowers from Sweetfield, leveling knives, meringue powder and a zillion other things!
  • Dried fruits and nuts - Check Trader Joe's.
More miscellaneous things! 
  • Pumpkin pie spice 
  • Almond paste, praline paste,
  • Sheet gelatin
  • Maple syrup, agave syrup, 
  • Cheese powder,
  • Canned pumpkin puree, 
  • Egg replacer powder(such as EnerG) 
  • Framboise, Kirsch, kahlua, Orange Flower water, 
  • Thai Canned coconut Milk ( check Chaokoh brand)  
The list goes on and on!

This post is going to be work-in-progress for sure, I will add more with links as I come across stuff. Make your list quick, Black Friday or not! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Unbelievably Easy Eggless Yogurt Cheesecake! 4 Ingredients, No Fail (Video Recipe)

So you have yawned your way through all those videos, posts and manuals about ovens, those tins, tools, ingredients. You got your oven. Now you just can't wait to bake in it! 

Who in their right minds wouldn't love an impossibly easy recipe which also gives delectable results as the first ever bake? Take it as just saying hello to your oven and actually doing all that preheating stuff blah, blah. No great list of ingredients, no fussy weighing, preparing pans, no nerve-racking tricky techniques. The best thing - this will be all done in 15 minutes flat. You can style the dessert and serve it feeling very Mastercheffy( I know there is no such word!). Then sit back and enjoy the compliments.

So let us call this the Unbelievably Easy Cheesecake with just 3-4 ingredients, no eggs. This may not be the 'real' cheesecake, but it is called one and tastes pretty good. You can play around with the recipe, flavor it as you please. This is a recipe everyone must know, as a dessert emergency knows no novice and veteran!

Watch the video! 

Unbelievably Easy Yogurt Cheesecake. Based on Tarla Dalal's recipe. You can also watch my 90-second video of the recipe.
Condensed milk - 3/4 cup/180ml (I have used Amul Mithaimate)
Full fat yogurt - 1 cup / 240 ml ( I have used Nestle A plus, do not use low fat)
Cornflour / cornstarch - 1 tablespoon
Vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon
Flavor variations - Stir into the cheesecake mixture 1 tablespoon thick strawberry puree/plum puree, orange/lime zest, saffron, cardamom, vanilla bean. Make sure the consistency of the mixture doesn't get diluted by the addition of the fruit puree or sauce. Serve it with a sauce which complements the flavor of the cheesecake.
  • Preheat oven to 180C/350F. 
  • Place 4 small 120 ml/ 1/2 cup capacity tart tins( or 1 large tart tin) on a baking tray. Do not use tins with loose/removable bottoms. There is no need to grease or line the tins with baking parchment. 
  • Placing the tin on a tray makes it easier to keep in and remove the cheesecake out of the oven.
  • Whisk together the condensed milk, yogurt, cornflour and vanilla extract, ensuring there are no lumps.
  • Pour the cheesecake mixture into the tin up to till it reaches 3/4 way up.
  • Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the cheesecake sets gently. If you touch the center of the cheesecake, it should feel firm and not liquidy at all. It will rise only slightly in the oven and settle down again.
  • The baking time will vary if you would be using a tin of a different size. Do not overbake.
  • Remove the cheesecake from the oven. Place the cheesecake tins on a cooling rack, cool completely
  • Cover the cheesecake(still in the tin) with clingfilm and chill for at least 3-4 hours or overnight.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the cheesecake. Invert on a serving plate and tap to release it.
  • The baked cheesecake can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 days. Go out for the strawberries and prepare the sauce while the cheesecake is chilling.

Strawberry Sauce
10-12 strawberries
Sugar - 3-4 tablespoons or as needed

  • Wash and hull the berries, chop them roughly. Take the berries and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Cook on low heat till they are mushy, about 5 minutes. Keep stirring in between. Smash with a fork. Add a tablespoon of water or so if needed. Cool and refrigerate.

Mango Rum Sauce. Adapted from David Lebovitz
Mangoes - 250 gms, peeled, pitted and cubed 
Water - 1 tablespoon
Sugar - 2 to 4 tablespoons 
Rum - 2 teaspoons
Freshly squeezed lime juice - 2 teaspoons
Blitz together all the ingredients, add more sugar/water to adjust the taste and consistency.

Serve the cheesecake topped with fresh strawberry /mango-rum/plum/cherry sauce. Be sure to have more sauce to pass around later. 

That is it! I can't think of a simpler recipe for anyone to try as the first bake. So if you have that can of condensed milk and yogurt, try this soon! And yes, please do leave your comments for me. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How To Preheat A Convection Microwave(Video Post) | Oven Series | Baking For Beginners

Most recipes in baking begin with instructions to pre-heat your oven, a very important step. I have written about this in brief in my post How To Use A Convection Microwave. A little more in detail about pre-heating a convection microwave in this post. You can also watch my video on preheating(above).

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Whenever we bake anything, before we keep the batter in to bake, we need to bring the microwave to the temperature specified in the recipe. This is called as pre-heating. This is an important step and the first thing you do even before you start mixing your batter. We want the oven hot and ready so that the tin with the cake/brownie batter can go in without any delay. Never keep the cake or brownie batter waiting as it can alter the texture.

But remember to follow recipe instructions always as there may be a few exceptions.  Some cookies and pie crusts can be baked soon after the dough is mixed. Sometimes you may need to chill the cookie/pie dough before rolling and baking. 

Oven Thermometer: When we talk about pre-heating and oven temperatures, I must definitely mention an oven thermometer. This helps you cross-check the temperature inside the oven. Ovens can sometimes act funny. You set it at 180, the actual temperature may be 200C ! So you may end up ruining your bakes. Get yourself one of a reliable brand, you can buy online, do read reviews from other users.  Of course, all of these things are better purchased on if someone can carry it for you.

Oven Thermometer Brands I use one by Taylor. Rose Levy Beranbaum, renowned baker and author recommends infrared or point and shoot thermometers. She uses a laboratory cable thermometer from Omega ( model HH22).These thermometers are sophisticated, accurate and yes expensive too! No harm in checking it out and putting it on your wish list though!

So here is how I pre-heat my LG convection microwave (MC 8040NSR), please take this as a general guide. Of course, to know how to pre-heat your microwave of a different brand and model, you would need to refer that boring manual to see how you pre-heat it. If you can't find it as it happens often, look for it online. 

Preheating Time Microwaves usually take about 5 minutes to pre-heat, so I have the luxury of waiting till my batter is almost ready. But safer not to. I tend to forget once I get involved in the mixing process, so I start pre-heating ahead. If you are not as forgetful as me, by all means, wait until you have 5 minutes to go before the batter gets ready.

How-To Preheat (Finally!): To pre-heat, we will first need to keep the short rack inside. We need to keep the oven thermometer on the rack and put the microwave in convection mode. By default, the microwave will set at 180C. If you want to increase the temperature, keep pressing the same button. It will keep increasing by 10 degrees every time you press until it reaches 250C. That is the maximum in my microwave, I wish it went up higher, would be great for making pizza from scratch.

Then press start. Now the turntable will start rotating. When the oven reaches 180 C it will display the temperature on the panel and sound a beep too. The oven will stay on(at 180C in this example) for about 20-30 minutes. In case you do not put something in and set the timer, it will get switched off after 20-30 minutes.  If that happens as it sometimes does, you will need to preheat again.

Normally in my microwave, the temperature on the thermometer and the panel match and I have no serious complaints about the way things bake in it. Touchwood!  If there is a lot of variation between the temperature you set and the temperature the thermometer displays, and your bakes are not turning out properly, please get your oven checked by a qualified technician. 

Once you hear the beep, quickly remove the oven thermometer( as there isn't enough space to keep it on the rack along with the baking tin). Make sure the rack is in the center of the glass turntable and steady. Keep your baking tray in, set the timer as needed and press the Start button.

One great thing about convection microwaves is it takes very little time to pre-heat. About 5 minutes to pre-heat to the maximum temperature of 250C.  Once you turn the oven off, you can hear the sound of the oven cooling.

Assume your recipe specifies 'bake 30 minutes at 180 C'. You set the timer for 30 minutes and remove the cake, you find that it needs a few minutes more. So, if you have just removed it from the oven just a few seconds earlier, immediately put it back in, set the temperature and the timer for say 5 minutes and press start. I don't find the need to pre-heat all over again. If the oven is turned off, be sure to put the oven back in convection mode, and then set the temperature and the timer.

But if has already been a couple of minutes, the oven will have started cooling( you can hear the fan). You will need to pre-heat again and bake as needed. Check how your oven works, how long it maintains the temperature once it is turned off and you will get a better idea. 

If you would be baking multiple trays of cookies, try to keep next tray ready before the one inside the oven comes out.  If in doubt, pre-heating the oven again is a safe bet. 

So this was about pre-heating, here are a few more videos about ovens you may like to watch. 

How To Use A Convection Microwave. 

Compare  A Convection Microwave And OTG

Please share these videos if you find them helpful, it will help me in reaching out to more people! And of course, do not forget to subscribe to my channel for more videos! 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Quick Kesar Kalakand (Without Condensed Milk). Happy Diwali!

Hello folks! Surely you have all those sweets and festive munchies ready and stored away in boxes, waiting to be devoured? Surely all those delectable sweets you are seeing on your social media feed and phone are just ideas for the next festival? You have planned and prepared well ahead, just adding those final touches to the festive spread?  If you are thinking I am someone like that, sorry to disappoint you! 

Sometimes, I forget that I have to actually make something and not just drool over all those food images on my screen. It is most of the times the last minute mad dashing around to make ‘something at least’ as it is Diwali.

If you are like me, the tantalizing aromas from the neighbors’ kitchen begin to tease your senses and you are looking for one of those quick and easy recipes. Hey, no tricky ones okay? Good enough to make you and your family happy.  Decent enough to post on social media, impressive enough to call and tell your mother and sister all about it.

Good news! I have one such recipe here, perfect for procrastinating foodies.  Quick Kalakand, courtesy Tarla Dalal. Kalakand is traditionally made by cooking milk down for an hour or two. You will also find recipes for quicker versions of this sweet using condensed milk.  I sometimes find that condensed milk makes sweets too sweet, so tried this one.

In this recipe, milk powder, cream, grated paneer and sugar are simply cooked together for 10-15 minutes. I was a bit skeptical but found it pretty good, so had to share with you. But of course, the taste will not be exactly the same as the traditional version, but close enough!

Ingredients (to make  8-9 pieces). All ingredients measured using standard measuring cups. The recipe can easily be doubled.

Milk powder – ¾ cup
Soft paneer, crumbled – 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
(I used fresh, homemade)
Sugar  - ½ cup / 100 grams
Fresh cream ( I used Amul 25% fat) ¾ cup / 180 ml 
Saffron  - a generous pinch (soaked in 1 tablespoon hot milk)
Cardamom powder – ¼  teaspoon (optional)
Sliced pistachios and almonds for garnish

  • Start with making the paneer (if using homemade, see method below)

  • Grease a small thali (about 4'') lightly with ghee.  Alternatively, use small pretty silicon molds, you can simply unmold the pieces once set.

  • Take the milk powder, paneer, cream, saffron and sugar in a wide non-stick pan. Cook on medium heat stirring constantly for 10-15 minutes. 

  • The mixture will be liquidy to start with, but will gradually come together, leaving the sides of the pan.  Test taste for sweetness. I like kalakand slightly moist so prefer to take it off the heat earlier than later. If you overcook, it will dry out.
  • If you don’t need much convincing that it is fine to eat kalakand with a spoon as long as it is delicious, spoon the mixture into small dessert bowls.  If particular about cutting it into squares, transfer the mixture to the thali.  Sprinkle the pistachios and almonds. 
  • Cover with cling film and smooth the surface.  Chill for 2-3 hours, this makes it easier to cut the kalakand into pieces.

  • Best served at room temperature if you ask me. Take it out of the refrigerator about ½ hour before serving.  Leftovers can be stored airtight in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

To make the paneer.  Heat 1-liter full-fat milk, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, stir till the milk solids separate and you see clear whey. Drain immediately and wash well under running water so the lemony smell is gone. Drain the cottage cheese for about 15-30 minutes or till most of the whey drains away and then proceed with the recipe.  Use this time to prep the rest of the ingredients. 

Wish you a very Happy Diwali! 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Easy Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake - It Can't Get Easier Than This!

Lack of peace and quiet, the pandemonium our house constantly is  - you have read about these and is all coming out your ears now. The kids now have holidays and are with their grand parents at our home town since the past few days. After all the excitement of packing and getting ready to leave with Granny, the son had cold feet at the last moment, but my 4-year-old daughter surprised us by waving away enthusiastically and gleefully (a little too much for my comfort!) from the train. The one who came home teary-eyed was me! 

"You got to teach them to fly'' was the amused hubby's philosophical remark on the silent drive back home. By the next morning I was excited about all that I could do in these few days without having to worry about the kids. Bake, blog, read up, catch a movie, a quiet dinner out with hubby.. oh yes!! In came the maid who does the dishes and washes clothes for me. She remarked how silent the house was without them.. Errr. yes its trying to sip and enjoy my coffee and reading my baking book as early as at 8 a.m. My other house help, the neighbor, the vegetable vendor - all of them had something along similar lines to say.. sighing and 'tching' too much and too often for comfort. Well!!

Though I have hardly been home, I find the house all too silent when we come back, not much to clean up after. For all the grand plans I had to bake and blog about, there is nobody to hover over my shoulders as I take the pictures and then give me a thumbs up after eating. Feels weird and disconcerting, is this a small glimpse of the empty-nest syndrome during the later years? Funny, am now not seriously looking forward to see the kids growing up fast now!

Watch my video! 

Did I just say I have nobody to bake for? Well, this is the time to bake a couple of batches of brownies for the brother's colleagues, my colleagues, my cousins, freeze some of it for the kids, make some cookie dough, make home-made cake and bread mixes. These can really help get things in the oven real fast. And the frozen stuff would be great to feed the kids when they come back, my son is surely going to have questions for me when he 'checks' my blog for what I have been baking while he was away! 

What freezes well, awaits and this one comes from my drafts which means something they have already eaten, sparing me the sad and incredulous ''You baked this while we were away?''  The joys of being a blogger Mom!

Here is a cake which is really easy, tasty, can be put together with minimum fuss, slices beautifully and can feed a good number of people too. The beginner's perfect entertaining cake? Not just for the baking part, but also decorating it - by just slathering on some cooled ganache, garnish with some bright cherries or strawberries and you can confidently let that party crowd in!

 Recipe from Citrus And Candy. Please weigh ingredients for best results

Unsalted butter - 150 grams, cut up
Brown sugar - 220 grams 
Good quality dark chocolate, chopped - 100 grams
Cocoa powder - 50 grams
Instant coffee - 1 teaspoon (optional)
Milk - 160 ml
Large eggs, 3 / 150 grams (without shell) at room temperature
Plain flour -170 grams

Baking powder - 1.5 tsp
Baking soda - 1/2 tsp
Salt - tiny pinch

Ganache : Recipe here. 

Method : Pre heat oven to 170 degrees C / 340 degree F.  Grease your bundt pan thoroughly.( I have used a  7.5 cup pan from Alda ) You could use baking spray or grease with ghee and dust with flour. Tap to remove excess flour. 

You could also use an 8'' or 9'' square tin lined with baking parchment, grease and flour the sides. 

Mise en place .

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt , set aside.

Take the butter, milk, cocoa, sugar, coffee and chocolate in a heavy saucepan.. Heat on low till the chocolate, butter and sugar melt completely and you have a smooth mixture.. You could do also do this in a large glass bowl in the microwave. Allow the mixture to cool. 

Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture  one by one and whisk to combine. Sift over the flour mixture and then gently fold it in. Scrape batter into tin and bake for 25 -30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. 

Do not over bake. Cool in tin for 10 minutes then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.

Invert the cake tin on the cake, then re-invert on the serving platter and pour the ganache. (Watch video above to get a better idea) 

If you end up with an overbaked slightly dryish cake, brush the cake with some simple syrup.
Heat 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water, bring to a boil and cool.

Watch my video How to make ganache 

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