Monday, June 25, 2012

Almost Fudge Gateau

Given that I adore chocolate, its really difficult to resist baking this French style chocolate cake which Dorie Greenspan describes as 'moist, dense and definitively chocolate, just the thing for all oven owners (and chocolate lovers)'! I have been devouring the book,  Baking - From My Home To Yours since days and it did not take long for me to zero in on this dessert cake. The recipe is from her Parisian friend, Hélène Samuel, owner of the restaurant Delicabar. When Hélène got an oven for her home, she would for the first few weeks, bake this cake everyday, watch the cake puff up sitting cross-legged in front of the oven, giving up watching television!

The cake is quite a quick and easy one, given you can whip egg whites, fold them in and have a spring form tin on hand. And of course a good deal of chocolate too, 250 grams / 9 ounces to be precise for this cake! Chocolate, butter, sugar and coffee are melted together, the little bit of flour folded in. Finally whipped egg whites go into the chocolate mixture and then baked. The cake puffs up as it bakes, cracks on the top. While you invert it and cool, it sinks quite a lot. I would say, if you have the patience, you must leave it overnight and by then the cake would have meta morphed into a dense, almost creamy, smooth one. Pour some glaze over it, allow it to set, slice and serve with some softly whipped cream. Its texture being very different from most chocolate cakes, its sure to please most chocolate loving, discerning palates.

Ingredients :

Eggs - 5, large, separated ( Yolk - 90 grams, Whites - 150 grams)
Bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped - 252 grams / 9 oz ( I used dark compound)
Sugar - 1 cup / 200 grams ( I used super fine)
Unsalted butter, cut into chunks - 5 tablespoons / 70 grams aprox
Coffee or water - 2 tablespoons ( I used 1 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 2 tbsp warm water)
All purpose flour - 1/3 cup - 44 grams aprox
Pure vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon (my addition)

For the optional glaze - Dorie makes a glaze with chocolate, cream and corn syrup. I used ganache.

Procedure : Mise en place. Wash and dry the blades of your hand mixer and the bowl in which you will drop the whites in. If weighing ingredients, making sure your weighing bowl is squeaky clean and free of grease. Separate the eggs and weigh the whites first, next the yolks. Wash, dry the bowl, and weigh the rest. (I always like to have extra eggs on hand while separating, just in case, I do an oops!)

Center a rack and pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C / 350 F. Grease a 9'' round spring form tin, line it with parchment, grease the parchment, flour the sides of the tin, tap lightly to shake off any excess flour. Place the pan on a baking sheet (or another bigger cake tin) lined with parchment or a silicone mat. I used an 8'' round tin as I do not have a 9'' round tin, used some of the batter to make 4 small cupcakes.

Place the chocolate, butter, sugar and coffee in a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stir occasionally till the chocolate and butter are melted. If the sugar is still grainy, its fine (mine was). Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl and let it sit for 3 minutes. ( the mixture will cool) Stir in the yolks one by one, using a rubber spatula, add the vanilla. Fold in the flour.  Set aside.

Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer or a hand mixer on medium high speed, beat the egg whites till they hold firm but glossy peaks. Make sure you do not over whip or let the whites dry out. Using the spatula, stir about a quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Gently fold in the rest.  I used my slotted skimmer for this. (The batter was neither thin nor thick) Scrape the batter into the pan and jiggle the pan from side to side a couple of times to even the batter.

The cake will rise at the edges as well as the center too. The top will firm up, it may crack, mine cracked quite a bit. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the cake has risen evenly, the top firms up and doesn't wobble when tapped. A cake tester or thin knife inserted int o the center should come out just slightly streaked with chocolate. I prefer my chocolate cakes slightly under baked to over-baked ones. Mine took about 40 minutes to bake. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack, let it cool for about 10 minutes.

Run a blunt knife ( like a butter knife) around the edges of the cake, and remove the sides of the pan. carefully turn the cake on to another rack. Remove the pan bottom and parchment paper (this will be hot as you handle, be careful) Invert the cake on the rack and cool to room temperature right side up. The cake may cool as it sinks ( mine did)

Place the completely cooled cake on a rack flat side up. Place the rack over a large piece of parchment or another clean plate to catch the delicious drips. Pour the glaze or ganache on the cake, tilt slightly and carefully, (use a thin spatula to just coax the glaze to the sides only if need ) to coat the cake completely. Allow the glaze to set ( I did not wait, was in a hurry to finish the pics before I went to the bus stop to pick up my daughter). Lift the cake carefully to the serving platter using a giant spatula. Decorate, slice into thin slices and serve with softly whipped cream or even ice cream or crème fraîche if you prefer.

The cake when wrapped airtight, will keep for about 3 days at room temperature or for 2 months when frozen. I have not tried refrigerating the cake and will not do so too as it may change the texture. It tasted better as it sat at room temperature.

The cake was rich, chocolaty, smooth and creamy, mousse-like sort of, with whipped cream and the glaze, its definitely dessert!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Simple Bread - Saying 'Hello' To My Bread Machine!

I have been waiting to show (off ) my bread machine!  Westbend HiRise with dual blades. Ever since I got it recently, I have been waiting to bake a decent enough bread and tell you all about it. Of course it took time, beginning from getting a step-up converter to figuring out how the machine works and what recipes work best. And some more time as I made the big mistake of ignoring instructions and thinking that baking bread in a machine (after baking bread by hand all along) is going to be a breeze ( to the extent that I kept planning for the next post to be that bread) until the first one turned out to be a brick (Oh No!!!) and the next couple of them just about OK.

Problem with assuming that bread machine baking is exactly the same as baking bread by hand and trying to compare it with the rules or fundas you are used to for hand made bread. Then ending up thoroughly confused, bewildering people around you by obsessively talking about it and baking more breads..till you bake a decent one. Hope rekindled in this wonder gadget so many people successfully use - in different ways. Hope - the desperate bread baker's bread!

To me, a bread machine is a really really new gadget, having read about it first on Champa' s blog. A machine in which I can just dump in the bread ingredients in a certain order, select a cycle, the color of the crust I want, the size of the loaf and then press start. Then get on with my business till the machine sounds a beep to signal that the bread is baked and ready. As simple as that. This is the Basic cycle, takes 3.20 minutes in my machine. Or use the machine to just do the dirty work of kneading the dough, allow it to rise, punch down, knead again (this second knead truly shocked me, but it works!) and let it rise again, sound a beep when done. This is the dough cycle, takes 1.50 minutes in my machine. All you then need to do is shape the dough into loaves or rolls or sticks or pizza or whatever you fancy and bake. No mess. Home-baked bread with minimal effort and time.

There is also a feature called as a delay start timer. Allows you to set a basic cycle or dough cycle among others so that you can just dump in the ingredients in the order and command the genie to either fully bake your bread or just knead the dough (till its ready to shape) by a specific time. Really cool. No perishable ingredients on the delay start cycle of course. There is also a Rapid cycle which bakes your bread in about 2 hours, but with more yeast (no thanks!). And yes, another cycle called as home-made which is for seasoned bread-machine users. Allows you to customize each of the knead, rise and bake settings. I think this will be great.

As I gather, a lot of bakers prefer only the kneading to be done in the machine, the shaping, final rise and baking done in the oven.  As bread baking veterans say, baking entirely in the bread machine gives an odd shaped loaf, less of taste, less moist breads as compared to bread baked in the oven. Taste and texture is better when baked the latter way. And its not very surprising if you aren't highly impressed with breads baked within the machine. Think a little better than your typical packaged bread. But of course, you could make it in varying flavors, sans a load of preservatives. So if you buy bread regularly and have no time to bake breads at home, then baking in the bread machine is good enough. If you don't want the hassle of kneading but can spend time on shaping and baking, the dough cycle is of great help. I baked 3-4 breads quite successfully, one of them baked in my oven. And yes, the one baked outside tastes much better!

Well, I did read the manual, but completely ignored the recipes in it, as I always do, who ever reads or follows them? But obviously bread machine recipes are an exception. And then I wrote a distress mail to Champa and she suggested that I try a recipe from the manual so that I can get the hang of it. It worked!! I baked one when I was almost asleep, the success shook off the sleep! I wanted to bake another one, and since it was already midnight, I set the machine on delay start and went to bed. Of course, the bread was waiting when I woke up lazily at 7.30 on a Saturday morning!

Here is the recipe from the manual, which I baked on the basic cycle, meaning bread dough kneaded and baked in the machine itself. A recipe which worked for me, the texture was quite good, the flavor could have been better. That I guess can be remedied to a certain extent by adding herbs and spices.

Ingredients :

Milk - 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons  (80 degree F, which is almost room temperature)
All purpose flour - 3 1/3 cups / 434 grams
Vital wheat gluten - 3 tbsp plus 1 teaspoon
Salt - 1 1/4 teaspoon
Sugar - 1 1/2 tablespoon
Butter - 2 tablespoons
Instant yeast - 1 1/2 teaspoons

Procedure: Place ingredients in the bread machine pan in the order specified by the manufacturer. Liquid first, then dry ingredients. Level the dry ingredients, quarter the butter and add to the corners. Make an impression the the center of the dry ingredients and add the yeast. Close the lid, bake on the Basic cycle. This made a 1.5 pound loaf, I selected a medium color crust which sets the temperature at 199 degree C /390 degree F.

Thanks to Champa for her post on bread machines, it helped me pick out one for myself. I hope to bake lots of  breads like her some day and without the sweat! Here is another useful blog which tells you why a bread machine is better for baking yeast breads. So as I continue to experiment with my machine, find answers to my questions, more breads will appear here, hopefully better ones. The bread machine also comes with a learning curve and I hope to learn my way with the machine better over a period of time, discover good recipes and learn techniques which work better. If you use a bread machine, please do share your most helpful tips and tricks.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hayagreeva - For My Santa In June!

 June has been a much awaited month for more reasons than one! Very obvious one, school re-opened after a particularly difficult ( for me, not the kids) summer break. If you wondered what that blast of warm air was that hit you on 4th of June, it was just me heaving a sigh of relief! My sister-in-law arrived soon after from the US, lugging along my much-awaited bread machine and lots of other baking goodies, yaaay! According to her, when I saw all my goodies, I looked like someone who got her Christmas and Diwali gifts all at once! Well, it certainly felt like it! Thank God she keeps picking up stuff for me or I can't imagine how tough my baking life would be!

Summer was a busy time at work, daughter refusing to go to a summer camp adding to my woes :(.  With my son's swimming and cricket camps, going in and out, getting on with routine, effectively put a dampener on my baking / blogging plans.  Life will continue to be on the fast track for some more time with some amount of shopping and outings with the visiting family (did I mention, my sister is visiting too!) Maybe this will explain the lull in the posts here, hopefully I shall bounce back soon, while I make use of my new baking toys!

Now to Hayagreeva ,one of my sister-in-law's favorite sweet dishes we made as part of the welcome-home meal along with another of her favorites Menthya Bele Huli. (Not that jet lag is the best state for folk to relish food). Its basically cooked Chana Dal simmered with jaggery, some poppy seeds thrown in along with grated dry coconut.  Lord Hayagreeva or Hayavadana, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, was fed this dish everyday by the great saint and composer, Sree Vadhiraja.

If you like the taste of jaggery and dal, this is a very simple, easy and tasty dish to make, the taste akin to the filling of some kinds of obbattus.. Here goes the simple recipe

Ingredients :
Chana dal (uncooked) - 1 cup
Jaggery, crushed - 1cup or more (depending on the sweetness of jaggery and taste, less may make the sweet taste bland)
Poppy seeds -  1 1/2 teaspoons
Grated Dry coconut - 2 -3 tablespoons
Cardamom powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Cashew nuts - a few
Ghee - 2 tablespoons

Procedure : Wash the dal thoroughly. Cook in a pressure cooker with enough water and a pinch of turmeric, add a tiny pinch of cooking soda if you wish. Cook for about 3 whistles. When the pressure drops, drain the liquid, reserve it for another use. The dal must be soft and cooked, but not mushy. The dish must have some texture when you are done cooking it. Place the jaggery in a heavy bottomed vessel, cover it with about 1/4 cup of water and place it on the stove on low heat. Let the jaggery dissolve. Add the cooked dal and stir. Let cook on low heat till it turns a nice homogenous consistency. Mash some of the dal with a masher as it helps it come together. Cook till most of the liquid is evaporated, stirring frequently. (You could of course let more or less liquid remain, depending on the consistency you prefer.) The presence of water helps the dal and jaggery cook together for some time till the dal takes on a bit of the sweetness, without getting a burnt taste. In the meantime, lightly toast the poppy seeds. ( My mother doesn't toast, adds them as is in the beginning). Add the poppy seeds and the coconut. Cook for about 10 minutes, add the cardamom. Heat the ghee and fry the cashews. Tip it in, mix. (Imagine some in the pictures, will you, they are conspicuous by their absence I know!) Take off the heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

An Introduction To Baking - For New Wanna Be Bakers!

Watch my video! Please follow my page on Facebook for updates on new videos , every Monday! Click here to subscribe to my You Tube Channel, Cakes And More -Baking For Beginners . Subscribe for free, click here!

There are somethings I find tremendously inspiring and I wish I could learn them. Photography and gardening for example. But as I read articles or blogs about them, I end up feeling quite confused. For the very obvious reasons that I don't know the most basic of basics or where to make a start as a complete newbie.

The amazing world of baking beckons so many, but an intimidating thought for most of us as beginners. Ovens, ingredients, baking tools, tins, and pans. All those recipes for cakes, cookies, bread and hundreds of inspiring things we see every day! It can be so confusing and overwhelming. 

You so want to start baking but have no idea where to begin. Especially in the absence of any prior exposure to baking, an introduction to baking may help. 

Baking is a science : In my opinion, cooking is more of an art, we don't need to follow precise measurements or stick to lot of rules to create something tasty. But baking is a science, where different ingredients come together in certain proportions or measures, following certain methods of baking, resulting in chemical reactions in order to get a certain end product.
The product needs to have the right texture along with taste. For example, we want cookies crisp and crunchy, cakes soft and airy, caramel custard creamy and smooth. So how do we get there?
We have to play by the rules, stick to measures and methods recommended to get the best results. This applies even if you are excellent at cooking! You may be surprised to know that even the best of pastry chefs measure, weigh and bake. 

Accurate measurements :  Accurate measurements among other things, are critical to the success of any recipe in baking. Of course, it is not disastrous to add a bit more or less sugar, nuts or spices in your cake. But less of baking powder may not give your cake enough rise and the texture you are looking for, more yeast may make your bread smell funny, a little too much cocoa may make your brownies taste bitter. So, absolutely no eyeballing here please!

Measuring cups and spoons: Cups and spoons, mentioned in baking recipes, always refer to standard measuring cups and spoons. Most certainly, these are not the tea cups we drink from or the spoons we eat out of. One teaspoon is 5 ml, one tablespoon is 15 ml, one cup is 240 ml and so on. It is really, seriously important that you get yourself these before you begin. Use one cup to measure a cup, 1/2 cup to measure half a cup and so on.  Use a liquid measuring cup for measuring liquids.

Unless otherwise specified  one measure of anything, for example, one teaspoon of baking powder, always means a level teaspoon. A scant teaspoon means a 'little less than' a heaping teaspoon means a 'little more than' of that particular ingredient. Unless otherwise specified in the recipe as warm, hot or cold, all ingredients must be at room temperature.

Measuring methods : The best and the most accurate way to measure ingredients is to weigh them using kitchen scales, I prefer digital ones to analog. You can get reasonably priced, simple digital ones from a nearby departmental store or order one online. 

Measuring using cups, with special importance to flour could be either by the spoon and level method or dip and scoop method.  When following a recipe where ingredients are not mentioned in weight, it may help to know what method is followed by the author or book. 

Watch my video on measuring flour here 

Appropriate pans : Baking tins meant for baking, in the size recommended in the recipe are a must. A pan too big and your cake may be overcooked, hard and shorter. A pan too small and your cake may not be well cooked or the batter could over-flow from the pan! If you use a pan of a different size, the baking time will change too. 

A cake meant to be baked in an 8'' square tin will bake faster in a 9'' square tin and vice versa. So you should be able to tell when the cake is done. Best to stick to whatever the recipe recommends when you start baking.

To start with, invest in good quality standard size tins such as 8 and 9'' round and square tins, a regular muffin tray, a couple of cookie sheets. Heavy-duty aluminum is best, you could also use silicone or oven-safe glassware (for both OTG and convection microwave) whatever works best for you.

BASIC BAKING TOOLS: Using the right tools even as simple as a spatula can make a difference. To start with, you don't need to have more than weighing scales, whisks, silicone spatulas, measuring cups and spoons, liquid measuring cup, baking parchment and other small things. Hand mixers, stand mixers and the rest can come in a little later.

BAKING INGREDIENTS: Always, use good quality, fresh ingredients. Baking powder, baking soda, and yeast must be always properly stored in order to give the best results. The best brands of yeast or baking powder will be no use if they are old or improperly stored. Buy small boxes of baking powder and soda if you do not bake very often. Store in a cool, dry place (not in the refrigerator) Buy from stores which sell stuff faster. If in doubt, test your baking powder and soda for effectiveness.

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. To test the effectiveness of baking soda, mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda with 2 teaspoons vinegar, the mixture should bubble immediately. If not, discard and get fresh packs.

Baking temperature : This may be given in Celsius or Fahrenheit or both. Ovens in India come with temperature readings in Celsius. Set your oven temperature accordingly. Use an oven thermometer to cross check if it is heating properly, particularly if using an OTG. This is mentioned in Celsius or Fahrenheit or both. Here is a conversion chart

What gadget do I choose : You could bake in a convection microwave or an OTG, according to me, both work fine. Choose an oven to suit your needs. You could bake in a convection microwave or an OTG, according to me, both work fine. You can try baking in a pressure cooker, yes, but if you really want to try baking everything that you possibly can, invest in an OTG or convection microwave. Please refer this post for more details. 

Should I always pre-heat the oven?
Yes! Irrespective of whether you bake in an OTG or in a convection microwave, you must always pre-heat the oven. Place the cake or cookie tray in the oven only after is pre-heated ( after it reaches the desired temperature). About 20 minutes for an OTG and till you hear the beep go off if baking in a microwave.

One exception I have come across is a cold oven cream cheese pound cake, which needs the oven to be turned on after placing the batter in the oven. Interesting! When baking in an OTG, place the cake tin on the lower rack, in a convection microwave, place the cake tin or cookie sheet on the lower of the 2 round racks provided. This post tells you how to use your convection microwave. 

ATTENTION TO DETAIL: The small things in a recipe make more difference than you would imagine! As they say, God is in the details. Taking an egg based custard off the heat just at the right moment, folding in those egg whites just right etc. You will appreciate this as you continue to bake.

WHAT RECIPES ARE BEST TO START WITH Simplest and best would be granola, cakes and brownies. Choose cakes which need simple mixing of ingredients rather than creaming of butter, or whipping and folding in eggs or egg whites, heating eggs using indirect heat etc. Try recipes which use simple methods rather than those which need more technique, you can try these later! I would not suggest making a start with yeast breads as the variables for success are more here. 

Tasting success with your initial bakes will thrill you and keep you going. Bake small quantities of recipes wherever possible so you get to bake more often.

Reading recipes: I know we can't wait to get to the fun part of baking, but  please do read recipes fully, notes if any, not once but twice before you start. Plan ahead, gather your ingredients, paraphernalia and then bake.

FOLLOWING RECIPES: Please choose recipes from well known, reliable sources, be it books, blogs or websites. And yes, please do follow the recipe. Every ingredient, every step has a role to play here. Try not to knock off ingredients or substitute (especially eggs) too many unless of course, you know what you are doing!

Baking at home gives you innumerable options to customize your baked goods, but within limits. I promise, you can have fun and play around later. Weigh and line up your ingredients on the counter before you start mixing.

Mise en place : Its most important to weigh or measure all your ingredients, line them up before you begin.

Noting down. As you bake and measure out ingredients, note down any changes you have made, the time you baked them for, your observations about the taste or texture. This will help you create the same result again or improvise to your taste the next time you bake.

Practice, practice! Learning baking requires some amount of patience, perseverance and practice! No amount of watching videos or reading up equals hands-on experience. You will get the hang of it if you practice enough with your heart in it. So where are your guinea pigs? :)

Is baking unhealthy? Egg less baking and Savory baking
: Contrary to popular belief, baking is not always unhealthy as there are loads of healthy stuff you can bake. In fact, home baked 'junk' is far healthier than store-bought 'healthy' bake! There is plenty of healthy, lower fat and whole grain baking you could do.

Please do not compare homemade bakes with the ones we buy. They are loaded with preservatives and other things which may make them stay soft etc, but harmful to health.

Baking is not always about cakes, cookies and brownies.  If savory is your thing, you could bake a whole lot of breads, crackers, tarts, puffs,  muffins, appetizers etc to tickle your taste buds.

If you do not consume eggs, check, Eggless CookingVersatile Kitchen and Divine Taste for some egg less recipes you could try. What you can bake at home, can't be bought at any store ( most of the times at least!). Most importantly, bake for the high you will get out of it. 

Home-baking allows you to bake to your taste and need, tastes much fresher than store bought and is infinitely rewarding and satisfying. So get your paraphernalia, don your aprons and have fun!