Monday, July 30, 2012

Almond Brownies

“Other things are just food. But chocolate’s chocolate.”
 Patrick Skene Catling

''Amma, will you teach me how to bake when I grow up?''
''Of course! What will you learn to bake first?''
''Yumm! And I will be following you all around the place, pestering you for some endlessly''.
''But I will take just one photo and give you the brownies.''

Words like this make you feel funny inside and make you almost handover the brownies all-poised over the plate. Well, almost! :)

Between everyday chores and cooking, several shopping trips with sis-in-law, juggling to reach home by the time kids come home (one at lunch time and one late afternoon) its hardly been the most conducive of times for baking and blogging. But bake I must, some bit at least or how will I sleep? I want to feed decent grub to the visiting family, scratch the urge to bake and Jeez I have a blog to feed too! Hubby's 14-year-old niece (a budding food stylist, avid Food Network viewer ) often browses my baking books. Oohs and aahs and 'could we please try this?' punctuate her browsing. She is a firm believer of there can never be too much of chocolate, so chocolate it has been of late!

Our rushed outings make it difficult for me to bake things in the morning, specially those which need to be photographed as soon as they are made. Having 3 little chocolate monsters around, brownies are an easy way out. Bake late in the evening (with a foreword / warning to the kids that I can't cut them immediately) refrigerate the brownies overnight for neat cuts, photograph in the morning. And who says you can't have dessert after breakfast once in a while? So it was time to bake the long-ago bookmarked and a score times drooled over Hazelnut Brownies from Cenk's beautiful blog. Loads of chocolate, hazelnuts, some ground and some chopped ,in a dense brownie, Cenk describes them as biting into your favorite chocolate - Ferraro Rocher? Yumm! Brownie goodness can't get better! Moist, rich, very chocolaty and nutty, these were yumm!!!

Things don't always go as planned, I had no time for pictures the next day. I could of course not deny the waiting kids their brownie pleasure. The day next finally saw me taking pictures of the remaining brownies hidden away, while it rained just long enough to make the all daylight disappear. While I complained about the cloudy weather and mentioned that I had to redo the baking and taking pictures on a couple of occasions, hubby's niece grinned and said 'You could bake these again, I wouldn't really mind eating them'   Neither would I!

Adapted from here. I have used almonds in place of the hazelnuts and thrown in a bit of coffee...

  • Bittersweet chocolate, chopped - 280 grams /10 oz
  • Unsalted butter - 1 stick (1/2 cup) / 113 grams
  • Sugar - 200 grams / 1 cup (read note)
  • Almonds / hazelnuts - 150 plus 75 grams / 8 oz / 1+1/2 cups , blanched & toasted (divided use, read note)
  • Eggs - 3, large (144 grams)
  • Vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon
  • All-purpose flour - 32 grams / 1/4 cup
  • Instant coffee - 1 1/2 teaspoons
Procedure : Center a rack in the oven and preheat your oven to 180 degrees C / 350F . Line bottom and sides of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper and set aside. Mise en place. Toast the almonds till fragrant, cool. Chop roughly 1/2 a cup of almonds and keep aside. Place the remaining one cup of almonds in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin till its chopped into small bits. This helps grind the almonds faster and avoid over-processing. In the smallest jar of your mixer, using about a tablespoon of flour for each batch, grind the bashed almonds in 3 batches in short spurts (about 30-60 seconds). The nuts may not be completely fine, but I do not grind too much as the nuts may release oil. Once all the nuts are ground, mix the entire flour-nut mixture and coffee well. Keep aside. 

Melt butter and chocolate in the microwave or over a bowl over simmering water and let cool for 5 minutes or till its at almost room temperature.

Check this video for an easy way to melt chocolate over the stove-top!

 Add sugar and whisk until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk until combined. Stir in the vanilla extract. Fold in the flour and nut mixture into the batter. Fold in roughly chopped almonds (1/2 cup) into the batter. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, smooth the top with a spatula and bake for 30-35 minutes or till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with some moist (but not wet) crumbs clinging to it . Let cool for a couple of hours or better still overnight. Cut into 3 inch squares.

Please note: I have used ground raw almonds, though toasting them will only make the brownies taste even better. I have skipped the chopped nuts as the the little lady doesn't love them. I will surely add them next time. I felt the brownies were a bit on the sweeter side, could be because of the quality of chocolate or because I have skipped the chopped nuts in the batter. If you would not be adding chopped nuts, step up on the instant coffee by another 1/2 teaspoon and reduce the sugar by about 1 1/2 tablespoons for not-very-sweet but chocolaty brownies.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dark Chocolate Orange Biscotti

Biscotti - Can there be a better way to enjoy crisp, crunchy cookies the low fat way? Even better they keep fresh for days after they are made. A perfect make ahead snack to bake when you have the time, a treat for your self and your kids as well. Eat as is or dunk in milk or coffee or wine. Biscotti, the famous twice baked Italian cookie is also made with absolutely no added fat in the form of butter or oil. You can find recipes for luxurious biscotti as well, read baked with more butter, biscotti recipes with just a smidgen of fat. The ones with more fat make the biscotti tender textured, the ones without any fat are crunchier and noisier too! Having loved snacking on biscotti earlier, I have been looking for a recipe for chocolate biscotti. I am picky when it comes to chocolate. No cocoa biscotti as I LOVE chocolate (big secret revealed, huh?) I wanted biscotti  with melted chocolate in it and not a whole lot of butter. I finally found one right under my nose. In Joanna Farrow's Simply Chocolate which I leaf through a hundred times when I want to read chocolate for dessert.

These biscotti have quite a lot of melted chocolate in them and just a tiny bit of butter, as less as less than a tablespoon of butter for 10 of them! Some orange zest,(oh! I love the orange-chocolate marriage!) some nuts. The biscotti is crispy but not very hard or very crunchy, quite chocolaty making it a wonderful low fat treat. And ahem, when I melted the chocolate, it just formed a kind of semi liquid, shocking and stopping me mid way in the process. The chocolate refused to transform into the molten pool much to my chagrin. Melted more chocolate again, same result! Either something wrong with me or with the chocolate! So be it, I thought.  I was all set to add the chocolate to the dry ingredients when I had to answer the door. I come back to see my five year old very innocently eating the 'melted' chocolate with a spoon as if it were dessert! Exasperated and irritated beyond belief, I chop and melt chocolate again to get the same semi-solid thing!  Well! It can't be that bad surely, lets bake!

 The recipe uses self raising flour plus baking powder and semolina (sooji). When I have previously tried substituting the SRF with flour and baking powder and also added baking powder (as given in the recipe) I have not had great results. So I have used only APF plus baking powder and no semolina, it worked fine for me. I have halved the original recipe to get about 10 biscotti. Since the recipe does not specify the consistency of the dough etc, I have gone by what I normally follow while baking biscotti.

Dark chocolate, chopped - 100 grams / 3.5 oz
Unsalted butter, softened - 12 grams (less than a tablespoon)
All purpose flour - 125 grams
Baking powder - 3/4 teaspoon
Sugar ( I used fine grained) - 50 grams/ 1/4 cup / 1.75 0z ( the recipe uses light muscovado)
Grated orange zest - 1/2 teaspoon
Egg, half ( A whole egg whisked and then weighed) - 24 grams
Pure vanilla extract - 1/2 teaspoon
Walnuts/ Almonds/ hazelnuts, roughly chopped - 50 grams / 1.75 oz

Procedure : Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees C / 325 F/ gas mark 3. Line a baking sheet or tin with parchment. I used a 10 x 6 tin. Sift together the flour and baking powder into a medium sized bowl. Mix in the sugar. Whisk the egg with the orange zest (just to make sure you don't end up with clumped up zest) Add the egg, vanilla extract and the nuts. Melt the chocolate and butter either in a microwave or over a bowl of simmering water. It will be barely warm ideally, so you can add the melted chocolate to the flour mixture and mix to form a dough. The recipe says mix half a tablespoon of water if the mixture feels dry. I had to add 1 1/2 tablespoon water to make the dough sticky (as in most biscotti recipes) When the chocolate melts properly, less water will be needed. So watch this. I made a sticky dough.

Dump the dough on the lined tray. Using an oiled spatula or wet hands, shape the dough into a log, roughly 1.5 cm thick and 11 inches long. ( I made mine about 8x3) Bear in mind that the log will spread when you bake. Bake until the log is risen, firm to the touch, but springy, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven, leave to cool on a rack. If baking in an OTG, do not turn it off, reduce the temperature to 150 degrees C. (If baking in a microwave, it will take you hardly anytime to pre-heat again). Let the log cool at least 15-20 minutes. This log was quite fragile, so careful.

Lift the log along with the parchment. Using a serrated knife, slice the log diagonally into 3/4 inch slices. Lay them on the parchment lined tin on their sides and bake for about 10 -15minutes on each side. The biscotti may not feel crisp or hard when warm but will crisp up as they cool. Watch them carefully and do not bake too long unless you are really sure. Since the biscotti is dark in color, its difficult to make out any change in color (which why I have played safe and used the lined tin for baking them again). If you bake too long, they may taste slightly bitter and burnt.

Cool completely on the wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Variations : Omit the orange zest, use instant coffee say about a teaspoon, sift along with the flour. Use almonds in place of the walnuts add 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla.

The original recipe (for half the recipe) uses 100 grams /3.5 oz SRF, plus 3/4 teaspoon baking powder and  25 grams of ground semolina. The recipe says bake at 160 degrees C (the second time) for 10 minutes. I have reduced the temperature and baked about 15 minutes on each side as I normally bake biscotti. Bake for lesser time or long enough to get the texture of your preference.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Oven Dried Tomatoes

Preserving seasonal fruit and vegetables in various forms is almost as old as civilization itself. Be it pickles, fruit concentrates, jams or simply dried fruit and vegetables. Sun drying gooseberry (amla), raw mango, stuffed green chillies, varieties of happala / sandige are a few things that I have grown up seeing my mother doing religiously every summer. Taking advantage of the blistering sun and preserving the bounty, relishing it through the year is so satisfying! Sadly, I am now among those people who are not lucky enough to have suitable and safe drying areas to do these things!'

Tomato is a favorite fruit vegetable and I love using it in my cooking. So much so I find it difficult to cook certain dishes without it! I have read about and seen sun dried tomatoes only in the past few years. I am sure I would have tasted it in some dish but obviously not enough for me to vividly recall the taste of it.  Drying this luscious fruit with herbs and spices sounds yumm and I tried my hand at making oven dried tomatoes. 

You could use plum tomatoes as I have used or use cherry tomatoes in one or both colors. These are sliced, tossed in oil, salt and pepper and choice of seasoning and slow dried in the oven for several hours. You could use them immediately or preserve them in sterilized jars or in oil if intending to preserve them for longer. You could snack on them and watch the hours of effort disappear in a jiffy or use them in your pasta or salad or even as a topping on your tart or pizza or in your sandwich.

The method is pretty simple and there really is no right or wrong way of doing this really!Select some good quality ripe but firm tomatoes, preferably of the same size for uniform baking time. Wash and slice them into two, de-seed them by pushing the seeds out with your thumb. Toss them in oil, chopped or grated fresh garlic, herbs like oregano and thyme, salt, freshly ground pepper or red chilli flakes. Bake them in the oven pre-heated to a low setting - I set mine at 100 degrees C .

The baking time depends on the temperature you are baking at, the size of the tomatoes and the desired degree of dryness. I have baked them till shriveled and crisp at the edges, dry but still soft at the centers ( as opposed to not juicy). Your dried tomatoes will have a concentrated tomato flavor along with the flavors of the oil, herbs and spices you have used. Think slightly aged very chunky tomato pickle!

This is what I have used, I have baked in both my ovens. Recipe adapted from various similar recipes.

Plum tomatoes, ripe but firm - 1 kilogram
Olive oil or any flavorless oil - 1/4 cup
Salt to taste
Grated fresh garlic - 1 teaspoon ( 5-6 pods)
Dried thyme - 3/4 teaspoon
Freshly ground black pepper - 1/2 teaspoon
Red chilli flakes - 1/2 teaspoon
About 3/4 cup more oil if you wish to preserve them in oil.

Feel free to use as much herbs and seasoning as you wish, but do bear in mind that the tomatoes will shrink a lot and the flavor will be concentrated. Unless you plan to use these as a snack, its better to err on the side of less seasoning as the dish you would be using these in will have more flavors as well. If you find them low on seasoning, its just a matter of sprinkling some on top to eat as is.

Pre-heat oven to the lowest setting , mine at 100 degree C. Line your baking sheet or tin with parchment. Toss the sliced tomatoes in the oil and seasoning. Place them cut side up on the lined sheet. Bake till the tomatoes are almost crisp and shriveled at the edges, dry but still soft in the center. If you press the center firmly with your index finger, it must not feel juicy. It should feel dry but still soft, like a raisin. If you bake it even longer the tomatoes may become rubbery. Some of my tomatoes baked in 3.5 hours, I baked some for almost 5 hours. You could start checking at around 3 hours. Take out the slices which feel done, leave the others to bake longer. Bake some slices for different lengths of time to figure out what texture you will like best the next time you bake these.

Remove the slices from the oven, cool and store in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Store in sterilized jars or in oil if you wish to store them longer.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Julia Child's Crème Renversée au Caramel aka Caramel Custard

Did you just say this only suspiciously looks like Caramel Custard?? Aaww, you break my heart!! Crème Renversée au Caramel aka Caramel Custard it is!!  From Julia Child's Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. I know you are wondering why the caramel looks like it has been using fairness cream. I don't remember making caramel before but thought no big deal about it -  till I made three attempts and did not get it perfectly right (I really don't want to admit it). Now what can be such a big deal about heating sugar and water together and then taking it off the heat at just the right nano second?  Take it off a few seconds too early and the caramel may not be that beautiful amber color.  A few seconds too late and it may burn or harden it or both. Somewhere in between and maybe something like in the pictures here will be the outcome.

So I (naturally) forgive and also laud myself (very naturally) for all the 3 attempts. And yes I have to mention the soak, wait and wash struggle to get the hardened caramel off the ramekins and the hopefully right sized tin. I should not go wrong with the custard as I have successfully made it a few times. Just go on, I tell myself. At last, salvation for my waiting weighed eggs and yolks. The color of the offending caramel is forgotten as I take a spoonful of the velvety smooth baked custard with some sweet caramel syrup for company. Mmm... Julia Child is not Julia Child for nothing ...

Caramel Custard is basically custard baked in caramel swirled ramekins or cake tin or charlotte molds. to give a topping of caramel liquid to the custard when inverted. Either as individual servings or a convenient large sized one, the dessert looks impressive (don't go by my pictures, you won't go wrong with the caramel I know!). Its even more convenient as you could make it ahead and allow it to chill. The dessert will taste just as good - even in the unlikely event that you mess up the caramel as I did. The dessert lends itself to variations like coffee, coconut, cardamom, orange to name a few.

As I learn, one of the most important things for making a good custard is whole milk and not skimping on the eggs or number of yolks in an attempt to lower the calories or make it smell less eggy. Tempering the eggs (heating the eggs by adding the hot milk very gradually) slowly without curdling the eggs and baking the custard for the right amount of time in a water-bath is important as over baked custards will be rubbery and you will miss out on one of the best wow factors, the silky texture.

The recipe is adapted from Julia Child's Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, she has adapted it from Le Cordon Bleu.  Recipe as found on The New York Times

Crème Renversée au Caramel (Caramel Custard)
For the caramel 
Sugar - 1/2 cup
Water - 1/4 cup

For the custard

Sugar - 2/3 cup
Whole milk - 2 cups - 480 ml
Vanilla extract - 1 ½ teaspoons ( I used half a vanilla bean)
Eggs - 2, large - 98 grams
Egg yolks - 4, large - 72 grams

Lets get ready. A 4 cup charlotte pan is used in the original recipe. I have used 4 half cup ramekins and a 7'' round pan which gave me short custards. I think I will use a 7'' round tin next time I bake this. You will need a bigger deep pan in which you will be placing the tin with custard. The water needs to come to 2/3 the height of the pan. A kitchen towel to place inside the bigger tin, mittens, a good medium sized saucepan to make the caramel in. Have a large pot of water to heat to a gentle simmer ( you will be pouring this water around the tin, the water should stay at a low simmer at all times; do not let it boil or the custard will overcook). Have another pot full of tap water to immerse the bottom of the saucepan with the caramel. Have a fine meshed strainer suspended over a medium sized bowl to strain the custard into. 2 silicon spatulas to scrape the custard and caramel.

Procedure: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees. Place the kitchen towel in the bigger pan and spread it evenly.

To make the caramel : In a small saucepan, combine ½ cup sugar with ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to high and cook, without stirring, until the syrup turns a light caramel color. It will boil furiously and you can see the edges change color. Remove the saucepan from the heat and dip the bottom into cold water to stop the cooking ( I did dip once and it was a beautiful color but hardened very quickly) Pour the caramel into a 4-cup charlotte mold, and tilt so that it covers the bottoms and sides. Let cool.

In a small saucepan, bring the milk and vanilla to a boil.  In a heatproof bowl, (using a whisk) beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until blended. Remember, we are not whipping up a volume here, just blending. Whisking constantly, pour the hot milk very gradually, almost as a trickle into the egg mixture. Let rest for a few minutes, then strain ( I strained immediately).  Pour the custard into the caramel-coated mold or pan or ramekins. (The custard will not rise so you could pour a little less than up to the rim)

Place the tin or ramekins in the larger pan. Add the gently simmering water to come about two-thirds up the sides of the mold. Using mittens, carefully transfer the pan to the oven, this is a tricky part as the pan will be very hot and have hot water in it.  Bake until a knife inserted into the center of the custard comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes if baking in a charlotte mold. I baked till the custard had a slight wobble to it, think jelly. If you gently shake the tin the custard must have a slight wobble to it. Do not let the custards cook till completely firm. Keep the custard in the baking pan until the water cools. Remove from the pan to finish cooling. You could serve it at room temperature or chilled. I like it chilled. Refrigerate for 4-5 hours or better still overnight to chill. To serve, run the tip of a knife around the top of the custard to loosen it. Invert a serving platter over the mold and quickly turn it over again. Carefully remove the mold and serve.

This baked custard will surely be made again along with the other custard variations Creme Anglaise and  Chocolate Pots De Creme. If you would like to make a start with custards, Creme Anglaise or home made custard sauce would be a great start.

Read Julia Child's account of how she was asked to write down the recipe for Crème Renversée au Caramel as part of her exam at Le Cordon Bleu, but she could not, how she whips it up in a fury later... and eats!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Herbed Potato Rolls

As I continue to learn my way around my bread machine, here I come with some bad pictures of some nice Herbed Potato Rolls I tried. Used the dough setting of my bread machine to knead the dough. Just dump all the ingredients, set the dough cycle and then later just shape them into rolls, let them rise again and bake - what fun! Made this bread twice more, once in time for the kids to take them to school for the snack break. Once as a loaf with mint, coriander and cumin.  And all I had to do was set the dough cycle on the delay start timer to have the dough ready by 5.45 am. To have a machine do all the dirty work at your bidding to get some fresh home-made bread - am loving this! Freshly baked, the thyme specked rolls were quite moist and tender, smeared with some soft salted butter, they were yum!

These rolls have potato flakes in the dough which makes them tender without any perceptible taste of the potatoes. Apparently, potato flour adds starch to the bread, which will attract and hold water, making the bread moister, help keeping it fresh longer. You could also use potato flour which is dried ground potatoes. Very handy to have them in the pantry indeed! I normally don't like using potato flakes in my cooking, but I guess it will be a staple in my grocery list from now on. Milk powder in place of milk helps get the color, protein milk imparts without fear of milk going sour specially when you use the delay start timer or during long rise periods. The protein helps enhance the structure in high rising loaves. Source - KAF Book.

Here goes the recipe adapted from the King Arthur Flour site. Rosemary and poatoes are supposed to be a match made in heaven, but  I have to admit, rosemary is just not my thing. I normally have dried thyme on hand and it invariably makes its way into my breads! I know you will hate me for writing the procedure and even the list of ingredients in bread machine order, but I guess I have a long way to go before I can give you both ways of making this and the last thing I want to do is write incorrect instructions, I hope you will bear with me and also correct me if I am wrong!


Water (at room temperature) - 1 1/4 cups / 10 oz/ 280 grams (Use lukewarm if making dough by hand)
Olive oil or vegetable oil - 2 tablespoons
All purpose flour - 3 cups / 13 oz/ 365 grams
Non -fat Dry Milk powder  (I used Nandini skimmed milk powder) - 2 tablespoons
Potato flakes ( I used Vegit Aloo Mash) - 1/2 cup / 1 oz/ 28 grams OR Potato flour 1/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces), read note 
Sugar - 1 tablespoon
Dried herbs, I used thyme - 1 teaspoon (alter to suit your taste)
Salt - 1 1/4 teaspoon
Instant yeast - 1 1/2 teaspoons (Use 2 teaspoons if making this by hand)

Procedure : Place all ingredients into the dough pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select the dough cycle and press Start.Check the dough consistency 7 minutes into the first kneading cycle. The dough must be soft and smooth, very slightly tacky. Add water or flour one tablespoon at a time to adjust the dough if needed ( I did not need to). When the cycle is complete, grease your hands, transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface. The dough will be slightly sticky. Fold the dough over a few times to expel any excess carbon dioxide. then divide dough into 12 equal pieces. You could let the dough relax for 10 minutes to help shape easily.
Grease your baking trays or tins . I used one 9'' round tin and another 10x6 tray. Shape the pieces of dough into rolls. Or roll each piece into a 10'' rope, coil each rope and tuck in the end so that it pokes up in the middle. Place the rolls 2 inches apart, place it in a warm place to rise for about 45 minutes or till double.

Towards the end of the rise period, pre-heat oven to 190 degrees C / 375 F. You could brush the tops of the rolls with beaten egg (I did). Bake for 15-20 minutes or till golden brown. Mine took about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool completely before serving.

These rolls are being Yeast Spotted

Note: Potato flour can apparently be substituted with equal quantity of cornstarch or cornflour, do try that if you do not get potato flour/flakes.