Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Few things can match up to the comfort of being indoors on a cold day, wearing something warm and relishing steaming hot food. Particularly food which is believed to warm your body and help brave the cold, at least momentarily. In our country,  we have zillions of such foods. One of South India's most commonly made dish during this season is Huggi or Khara Pongal. This simple, peppery rice and moong dal preparation is offered to God with a dollop of butter on top, a sprig of tulsi and some jaggery. Huggi  distributed as prasadam in temples tastes especially good as its cooked on wood fire. Pongal served with chutney is invariably found on the menu of most eateries.

Traditionally served  with hunse gojju, a kind of tamarind and jaggery sweet-sour sauce, huggi is eaten on a number of days in the season as part of the meal. The meal is served really early, imagine eating lunch at 6.30 am! Proportions of moong dal and rice range from 1:1 to 3:1, though my mother and mother-in-law both use 3/4 measure of moong dal to a measure of rice. A matter of taste, nothing more to it.

Here is how we make it. The amounts of spices given are just indicative, use as you wish. Just remember not to overcook the rice and dal or you will end up with a pasty mass. Enough pepper, cumin and ghee are absolutely imperative if you ask me, specially if there isn't gojju or chutney to eat alongside. And yes, please do eat it hot or at least warm!

Ingredients: This serves about 4 people.
Moong dal - 3/4 cup
Rice - 1 cup
Ghee - 4 tablespoons (or more to taste) plus a teaspoon or two for sauteing.
Turmeric - 1 teaspoon
Pepper, whole - 1 teaspoon
Crushed pepper - 1 - 1.5 teaspoons (more to taste)
Cumin / Jeera - 2 - 3 teaspoons
Grated dry coconut - 1/2 cup
Hing / Asafoetida - a generous pinch
Salt to taste
Cashewnuts, broken - 1/3 cup

Heat 2 teaspoons of ghee in your pressure cooker. Fry the cashew nuts till golden, drain and keep aside. Saute crushed pepper, cumin and the dal and rice. Saute till you get a good aroma, taking care not to over do it, just enough to toast them lightly. Now add the turmeric and 4 cups of water. Cook for 2-3 whistles. You want the rice and dal slightly undercooked. You can cook it to the consistency you need.

Once the pressure drops, gently stir in about a cup of water to adjust the consistency. Huggi gets thicker as it cools, so adjust the consistency depending on when you would be eating it. Add the asafoetida, coconut, salt to taste and the cashew nuts. Taste. If you need more pepper or jeera, you can heat the remaining ghee, add the jeera / pepper. Add this to the huggi and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remember not to cook it for too long as it tends to get mushier and thicker. Or just add the remaining ghee and heat covered on sim for 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh coriander.

Serve hot with gojju or chutney. A little extra ghee on top when you eat takes it to another level! 

Variations : You could add grated ginger to huggi when you saute the pepper and jeera. Use a couple of chopped green chillies and reduce the amount of pepper. My mother sometimes uses tiny pieces of dried coconut for some more bite. Try peanuts pressure cooked with dal and rice, give the cashew nuts a skip. Though the classic combination is huggi - hunse gojju, you could also serve this with coconut chutney or Nimbe Hannina Gojju.

 I know I keep disappearing from here more often than I care to admit. Am pretty much around, yes. But I seem to be terribly busy all day, just don't ask me doing what! Does this happen to you too? I hope to be more regular here with lots baking!

Wishing you a very happy new year and great times ahead!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Special Lunch | the Square, Novotel

Santa was listening when I wished for a Christmas event I guess! Fruit mixing - oh yes, I would have loved that! But he was still getting his sleigh ready at that time of the year I reckon. Well, next year for sure. You listening Santa?  I was happy to receive an invite from Abanti, Manager Marketing Services, Ibis and Novotel, for a Christmas special lunch. Super! Specially excited since this was going to be a first for me!

Expectations were high as we had thoroughly enjoyed a very delectable spread previously . And had then heard very good things about the brunch there. More of Chef  Kailash Gundupalli's fare!

A huge Gingerbread house, more red and green greet you as you enter. A Gingerbread house I think, is one the most charming Christmas sights. Wonder when I will actually get to making one! Much as I would have loved to, I did not stop for a picture as I was already late. the Square decked with Christmas trees beckoned! With mulled wine, cocktails and mock tails for the less adventurous like me, the meal began. I had an Orange Fizz, a pleasant mildly fizzy tall drink to sip on.
The amuse bouche was one which made all of us sigh! Goat's cheese with balsamic, garnished with a bright chip of beetroot. Creamy, subtle, delicious.

Next came the Roasted Pumpkin Soup With Truffle Oil. Subtle, hearty, not at all sweet, very nice!  We ate it with the selection of crusty breads. Simple yet satisfying, could happily have a large bowl of it for a meal ! With the temperature dipping, I guess I would have to make some of it soon.

I am not a huge fan of salads, though I do enjoy them once in a while. The French Bean Salad was salad with beans, poached pears, orange segments, blue cheese, pine nuts and honey mustard dressing.  It would have tasted better if the beans had been really tender. Sadly not, the beans were anything but tender, made me leave my salad unfinished. The slightly on the sweeter side Pineapple And Black Pepper Sorbet felt more as a misfit in the meal served after the salad. Sorbet lovers may appreciate it, but maybe at the end of the meal?

I was really looking forward to the main course as it read Mille Fueille Of Crisp Potato, Cottage Cheese and Vegetables with Herb Cream Sauce . The layer of grated potatoes was a struggle to cut it as it was very chewy. Gave up on the potato layer, relished the cottage cheese and  vegetables with the creamy herb sauce. The dish was mild but flavorful, a savory mille feuille is an idea I loved and would like to try. Had the potato layers been crisp and delicate it would have made a huge difference to the dish.  

Then came the dessert platter, with enough dessert for at least 2 people! A slice of the Christmas Cake, very rich, sweet, dense, loaded with fruit. If that's how you like your cake, you may enjoy it. Unfortunately, I fall into the category who like the cake less dense, less rich.

Plum pudding with brandy sauce was a tad lighter compared to the cake. Since the brandy was not very assertive, I did not find the sauce a deterrent to have more than a couple of spoonfuls! The stollen (a fruit studded rich bread) was toasted with generous amounts of butter, seriously indulgent, but you will enjoy a couple of bites of it. The vanilla bean gelato was pleasant enough, helped cut down the sweetness and richness of the other desserts. I certainly would have appreciated a more assertive flavor of the bean in it.

It can't be a Christmas dessert platter without mince pie! Mincemeat filled in a buttery pie crust and baked. Again, very rich. The heavy dessert platter ensured I was way too full to think of having coffee, though it did seem like the perfect way to end the meal on a cold day.

Going by the previous experience at Novotel, this experience was a bit of a let down. If you are a vegetarian, your choices are really limited. You stand a better chance of enjoying the experience if you are open to both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options and of course enjoy the alcohol - mulled wine and in the desserts.  Fruit cake, mince pie,  plum pudding all seem to be a category in themselves, leaving little by way of variety. A slice of Yule Log or Pecan pie or even Pavlova would be lovely and add more variety. 

Apparently, it was thumbs-up for a few dishes and not-quite-there for the other dishes in the non-vegetarian options.

Thanks Novotel for having us over, we had fun! The special Christmas 4 course menu will be served for lunch and dinner on 25th December, the price 999 + taxes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Winter Solstice Cookies

The baker's most awaited magical month is here! The time when compulsive bakers bake more than usual, reluctant bakers bake at least something! And those who don't bake wish they did! Come December, and you can feel Christmas in the air. If you did miss it - a one in a hundred chance, the magical, inspiring blogosphere constantly throws up gorgeous Christmassy  reminders saying 'Bake, bake'!

Stained glass window cookies, in my opinion, make fantastic festive edible decorations. Cookies you take delight in making, things your kids squeal over. Though the cookies taste good, what I don't enjoy eating is the stick-to-your teeth candy centers. Not that I can imagine I will relish eating sugar cookies decorated with royal icing. But the decorative part is the best part when we talk about these edible ornaments. Don't you agree? I have made these earlier, crisp eggless whole wheat cookies with candy centers. And this time, some chocolate cookies with caramel centers. These probably don't look as pretty as the non-chocolate ones, but then there are very few things which chocolate can't make up for!

Alice Medrich calls these Winter Solstice Cookies. Crisp cocoa cookies with amber centers letting the sun shine through. The cookies indeed bake up crisp and taste intensely of cocoa. If you are a cocoa lover,  you will love these. The dough is pretty simple, a slice and bake one. The cookies puff and spread quite a bit as they bake, so your only choice is to cut of the center after the cookies bake. And yes, you need to be careful when you make the caramel, the slightest bit of distraction or delay can cause it to overcook like mine and look darker (and slightly bitter) than you need it to be.

Winter Solstice Cookies - Adapted minimally from the book Chocolate Holidays

All purpose flour - 130 grams / 1 cup
Unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch process or natural - 1/2 cup (weighs 40 grams aprox)
Baking soda - 1/2 teaspoon
Baking powder - 1/4 teaspoon
Salt - 1/8 teaspoon
Unsalted butter, softened - 113 grams / 1 stick / 1/2 cup
Brown sugar, lump free - 1/2 cup, packed
White sugar - 1/2 cup ( I have used all white sugar, weighed and powdered fine)
Egg - 48 grams / 1 large
Vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon

To make the cookies (I made half of the below quantity)
  • Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and the salt. Set aside. 
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and the sugar(s) with a hand mixer until smooth and creamy but not fluffy - about 1.5 minutes on speed 3. Mix in the egg and vanilla. 
  • Add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. I used my hand mixer on the lowest speed for a few seconds. The dough will be sticky. 
  • Form it into a log, 6 inches for the full recipe( 3 inches for half), 2 1/2 inches in diameter. (Do not make the logs thinner as it will be tough to cut out the windows later). 
  • Wrap the dough well in clingfilm and chill it for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. (I chilled it overnight)
Before you start baking the cookies, keep a sharp metal 1 inch round cookie cutter nearby. If you do not have one, try cutting with the sharp side of a metal piping nozzle as I did.

  • Line your cookie sheets with baking parchment. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C / 350 F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. 
  • Using a sharp knife. cut the logs into 1/4 inch thick slices. Do bake one test cookie first, cut it out, check the window and cookie size and done-ness, the best way and time to cut out the center and then bake the rest. You are better off baking these in batches of  2 - 3 cookies. 
  • Place them spaced 1.5 inches apart on the baking sheet (they spread). Wrap and refrigerate the remaining part of the log till your oven is free for the next batch. Or slice and place the remaining slices side by side on a baking sheet, cover well with clingfilm and refrigerate.
  • Bake till the cookies puff up and settle down again, 10-12 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheets halfway through. I found that the cookies were easiest to cut immediately out of the oven. Let the cookies remain on the sheet when they come out, too fragile to slip out now.  Hold the tray with a small towel, and cut out the centers, using a repetitive turning motion( as you would twist open a bottle cap). Be gentle but decisive. The cookies tend to break as they crisp up quite fast.
  • Carefully ease out the centers. The cookies crisp up as they cool. If they are not crisp, it means they needed more baking time.
  • Transfer the cookies to an airtight container, placing them in a single layer. When all the cookies are done and you are ready to make the caramel, place them on a sheet of parchment. Space them an inch apart.
To make the caramel : Have a bowl of ice cold water ready near the stove. You will plunge the saucepan with the caramel in it to arrest further cooking. Check to be sure the water level is just enough, more may cause the water to splash in the caramel, the caramel will then seize. You will need a cup of water and a good silicon brush to dip and wash down the sugar crystals down the sides of the saucepan. A fork or skewer, a largish spoon  and a large white plate to test the caramel.

Sugar - 1 cup
Water - 1/2 cup
Lemon juice - 1/4 teaspoon

  • In a light colored heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, water and the lime juice. Wash down any sugar crystals on the insides of the pan using the brush. 
  • Over medium heat, stir gently (do not whisk) until most of the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes to dissolve the sugar. 
  • Uncover and wash down the insides with the brush. Without further stirring, continue to simmer until the syrup begins to color. This will take a couple of minutes, be patient. 
  • Swirl the pan if needed to distribute the color evenly. Using a skewer or fork put a drop on the plate, the color will go from light amber to reddish to dark very quickly. Be really attentive. 
  • When you see a nice reddish amber color, immediately take the pan off the heat and carefully plunge the saucepan in the cold water. This will arrest further cooking and help the caramel stay liquid for a few minutes. 
  • Working quickly, spoon the caramel in the 'windows'. Let cool and harden. Store the cookies airtight.

Caramel tastes way better than candy pieces in the windows for sure, but it still remains hard and sticks to your teeth. That said, they still make pretty pieces on your tree with the sun shining through! So you do have a reason to bake these for Christmas.

Happy Baking!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Homemade Crème Fraîche

Crème fraîche (pronounced krem fresh), is an often used ingredient in cooking and baking. Think thick cream with a gentle tang. Its very versatile as it lends itself to use in both sweet and savory dishes and bakes. Lightly whisked sweetened crème fraîche  is often used as a topping for cakes, fresh fruit, sweet and savory pies, tarts, ice creams and other desserts. When made with heavy cream with high butterfat content (35- 40%), it doesn't separate when heated, making it suitable for use in baking and cooking. 

Sour cream is apparently much more tangy and may curdle when heated. It has lower fat content usually, sometimes has thickening agents added.

Try crème fraîche in your pasta, soups and salad dressings. It probably is the easiest and closest thing you could use in place of mayonnaise. Seasoned, herbed crème fraîche on your baked potatoes - yum!  I am yet to use it in baking to test if 25% butterfat is good enough, but it should work. Fingers crossed!

Before we start feeling all envious, let me tell you that its apparently expensive and not all that commonly available even in other countries. But the good news is, its ridiculously simple to make your own at home! All it takes is some cream and buttermilk and some inactive time, 12-14 hours. Just like making yogurt at home. Can't be simpler right?

Most recipes you will find broadly follow the same procedure. Buttermilk or yogurt in varying proportions added to cream either at room temperature or slightly warmed cream, kept loosely covered or tightly closed in a jar, placed in a warm place or at room temperature. I have followed the recipe and proportions given in The Cake Bible. The fat content in the cream obviously contributes to the richness and thickness of the crème fraiche. I have used Amul 25% cream as I find the local cream with higher butterfat content already a bit tangy. Please do try it with any local brands (Nilgiris, Milky Mist) you like, but expect tangier crème fraiche.    

Watch my video here! You can find lots more such recipes, basics and tips on my channel, Cakes and More!

What we need

Please subscribe to my channel to watch a new video every Monday! Click here to subscribe! 

Heavy cream at room temperature - 240 ml / 1 cup (I have used Amul 25% fat, 35-40% would work better)
Buttermilk, at room temperature - 1 tablespoon (mix 2 teaspoons fresh yogurt and 1 teaspoon water)
Sugar  - 1 tablespoon (optional) to be whisked in once the crème fraîche is ready. 

If using cream in a tetra-pack, let it sit on the counter for sometime undisturbed. Then drain the watery part and measure out only the thick cream to get 240 ml. If the cream is chilled, heat it just enough to get it to room temperature. Stir to combine the cream and buttermilk in a jar with a tight fitting lid. notice the thickness of the cream so that you can see the difference after 12 hours. Place it in a warm spot, say in your kitchen cabinet.

Let it sit undisturbed for 12-14 hours or until thickened but still pourable. Ultra pasteurized cream may take as long as 36 hours says Rose. The time it takes to thicken depends on the temperature, longer in winter, sooner in summer. Check the cream after about 10-12 hours (sooner in summer). If the cream is still not quite thick or slightly tangy, let it sit for a couple of hours more. It had not set quite like yogurt, but thicker than it was. Be sure to not leave it out for much longer unless you need it tangy. Refrigerate when its ready.

Storage : 3 weeks refrigerated. Crème fraîche will continue to thicken on chilling, may get tangier too I guess. The pictures here are after about 24 hours of refrigeration. If you need it sweetened, when ready to use, add the sugar and whisk lightly until soft mounds form when dropped from the spoon.

Can't wait to try what's left of the crème fraîche in the jar! What is your favorite way to use it ?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Olive Oil Citrus Syrup Mini Bundt Cakes (Video Recipe)

Watch my video! Please follow my page on Facebook for updates on new videos for beginners in baking, every Monday! Click here to subscribe to my You Tube Channel. Click to subscribe now!

Picture this. Having heard folk rave so much about blueberries, you have been waiting for some in a can . Santa warns that you may not exactly fall in love with them, but you believe it should be fairly good. You have decided on the recipe, you just need those berries. Finally they arrive, yaay! You eagerly open the can, expecting tart-sweet, plump fruit. But wait, errr...umm...well, can't decide if this tastes like berries people rave about or something fruity, squishy, reminiscent of, hate to say, calpol syrup? How thoughtless of me to say that! May be calpol in an exciting new fruity flavor? There came crashing down my dreams of baking that moist lime and blueberry cake, wiping out all visions of the blue stained lovely cake it would make. Sob! Don't know if its the berries or me, it was a sad story!

But then, since I had set my mind on that citrus yogurt cake on Smitten Kitchen, yes, the third or fourth yogurt cake here, I had to bake it. Another matter that I had little time or energy to bake anything which would take more than an hour and half at the most, for the prep, baking, pics and all. These whisk and bake, moist little cakes made with olive oil, lots of yogurt, baked and drenched in hot syrup make delicious warm treats on the fast track if you ever fancy syrup cakes on a whim. Just the recipe I needed, even without the berries. Isn't it great to have one for syrup cakes made with oil? Eat them warm, plump with the syrup, they  really are at their best then, may be with some vanilla ice cream if you want dessert.

This recipe is quite similar to Dorie Greenspan's EVOO Yogurt cake, but has more yogurt in it, making it more moist. Apart from citrus syrup cakes, you could do more with this recipe as Deb very helpfully suggests. Fold in your favorite berries ( I will get there one day!) or bake coconut topped lime cakes using coconut oil in place of the olive oil, orange chocolate chunk or citrus poppy seed cake or one with sliced almonds added in.

You can find the recipe here, original recipe from Ina Garten. I have halved the recipe, which made 7 mini bundts and one slightly bigger one. You could use your muffin tray, the baking  time would vary depending on the size. If making the full recipe, bake in an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan for about 50 minutes as Deb does.


All-purpose flour - 195 grams
Baking powder - 2 teaspoons (aluminum free like Rumford will be great)
Salt - 1/2 teaspoon
Whole-milk yogurt - 240 ml / 1 cup
Sugar, granulated - 200 grams / 1 cup ( I have weighed and powdered)
Eggs - 144 grams / 3 large
Freshly grated citrus zest - 2 teaspoons
Pure vanilla extract - 1/2 teaspoon
Olive Oil (or vegetable oil )- 120 ml / 1/2 cup

(Please note, use the freshest oranges /limes you can find and zest with a citrus zester for maximum citrus zing. You may otherwise find the cake lacking flavor)

For the syrup (alter according to how tart or sweet you want the cake to be, better to have more syrup on hand than less. If making orange syrup cakes, you will need to use more juice, lesser sugar, lesser water). This is for half the recipe.

Lime juice - 1 tablespoon
Sugar - 3 tablespoons
Water - 3 tablespoons

  • Pre heat oven to 180 degrees C / 350 F. Spray your loaf tin or mini bundt pan. My mini bundt pan is about 5 tablespoons capacity per cup.  You could also bake in a muffin tin of 1/4 cup / 60 ml capacity.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, zest (ensure no lumps), vanilla, yogurt and the eggs. 
  • Whisk just enough to combine, no need to work up a volume. Whisk in the flour mixture gently (in 2 additions) but thoroughly. If adding berries or nuts, toss them in a teaspoon of flour, fold them in once the dry ingredients are almost combined. 
  • Fill the mini bundt pan using a cookie scoop, the batter coming half way up. Bake for about 14-15 minutes in the mini bundt pan, (9-10 minutes in the muffin tin, 50 minutes in the loaf pan) or till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Be careful to not over bake. 
  • Cool the bundts for 2-3 minutes in the pan, (if baking in a loaf pan, cool the cake in the tin for about 10 minutes) then turn out on a rack. Place a baking sheet underneath to catch the drips.
  • While the cake is baking, combine the ingredients for the syrup in a saucepan. Heat till the sugar dissolves. 
  • You could prick the cakes with a toothpick all over. Brush the hot syrup on the cakes. Serve the mini cakes slightly warm or at room temperature.  

 I loved these baked in my mini bundt pan, best warm! If you love citrus syrup cakes, don't let butter or the fear of creaming stop you. Try these!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cinnamon Cornmeal Biscotti

Biscotti, the twice baked Italian cookies, are made with fat and without. For me, ones with less fat are the everyday kind and the more luxurious, considerably higher fat ones would make a lovely make ahead weekend indulgence. Biscotti with no added fat are loud, noisy and crunchy, great for dipping in wine I gather. The addition of butter or oil, makes them a little tender, less loud but still crunchy, crispy depending on the recipe.

After trying out a few recipes, realization dawns that I like biscotti with fat in them. These tender crisp kind are what I like to dunk in my tea/coffee when I feel like eating something light, but don't exactly know what. The kind of healthier cookies I like in my cookie jar for the kids to dip in their glass of milk. The bonus - these are really easy compared to the regular cookies, more substantial and keep well for days. You could  bake them at leisure and rest assured you have something not-too-sweet or fat loaded to nibble on over the next few days.

Looking for a new biscotti  recipe, I baked David Lebovitz's cornmeal biscotti . The gritty cornmeal in the biscotti , gives them a slightly different texture. Since the butter doesn't need to be creamed, you could get away making a really small batch easily. Made a couple of batches of these, one with cinnamon and some with citrus zest. Biscotti with cinnamon and butter taste great when really fresh, you must try these if cinnamon is your spice. Baked a batch with oil in place of the butter. Since using butter or oil did not make a great deal of difference, I think I shall stick to using oil.

I have made small batches (a fourth of the below recipe) just to play around. Have sneaked in a tiny bit of baking powder as well.

  • All purpose  flour -  210 grams / 1 1/2 cups
  • Cornmeal, preferably stone-ground - 70 grams / 1/2 cup
  • Sugar- 200 grams / 1 cup ( I have powdered after weighing)
  • Baking soda- 1 teaspoon
  • Baking powder - 1/2 teaspoon (I have added this)
  • Salt - 1/4 teaspoon
  • Eggs- 2 large / 98 grams
  • Butter (salted or unsalted), melted - 55 grams / 4 tablespoons (weigh and melt) OR 60 ml / 1/4 cup oil
  • Ground Cinnamon - 1 heaping teaspoon 
  • Vanilla - 1 teaspoon 
      • zest of one lemon
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
      • Walnuts (or almonds) toasted and coarsely chopped - 1 cup (100g)

      1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

      2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, cinnamon, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

      3. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the beaten eggs. Add the butter, then mix until the dough is wet and crumbly. Add the nuts and stir to get them mixed well into the dough. The dough will feel dry but will come together. Its not as wet as the usual biscotti dough, the dough with oil felt a bit dry, but worked just fine.

      4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead a few times until smooth. Divide the dough in two, and roll each portion into a 13-inch (33cm) long or according to the size of your batch and baking tray (these spread, so leave at least around 2'' space all around the log to be safe) , then transfer them to the baking sheet. Leave ample space between the two logs as the dough will spread a bit during baking.

      5. Bake the logs for 20 minutes, or until they feel firm but springs back when you press the top. Remove them from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes. You could, at this point, leave the baked log covered and come back to it even the next day ! Reduce the heat of the oven to 150 degree / 300 F.  (250ºF /120ºC in the original recipe)

      6. Using a sharp bread knife, slice the longs crosswise into individual cookies, each about 1/3-inch (1cm.) Place the biscotti on the baking sheet, standing them up on their back (imagine slicing the log and separating the slices) and bake for 20-25 minutes. The cookies will feel soft when hot, will crisp as they cool. Vary the baking time to your preference, baking longer dries them out further, making them crunchier.

      Let cookies cool completely, then store in an airtight container. The biscotti will keep for at least two weeks.

      Tender-crunchy, I liked these as a change from the normal textured biscotti. Do make yourself a small batch of these with cinnamon and butter. If eating immediately, brush the warm baked slices with a tiny bit of butter and cinnamon as the baker's treat. Storing biscotti brushed with butter is not a great idea, the butter kind of solidifies later. Just happen to know.

      Tuesday, October 29, 2013

      Creamy, Cheesy Savory Pot Pie - A Daring Bakers Challenge

      When winter starts knocking on the doors, a convenient, filling, savory one pot meal bake is just the thing you need! The Daring Bakers went savory this month challenging us to bake pot-pies. Though savory pies, tarts and galettes now are quite familiar, at least by sight, name and recipe if not taste, pies with gravy are indeed  new to me. Says Hannah our hostess this month, 'An American pot pie typically has a top and bottom crust with a filling of meat, mixed vegetables and gravy. In the US, a single crusted savory pie would be closer to what we call a casserole, and in parts of the world what we call a “pot pie” would simply be known as a “pie” with many variations.'

      Hannah of Rise and Shine was our October 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to bake our own double crusted savory pot pies. Using any from-scratch crust and filling we choose, we were allowed to get completely creative with our recipe, showing off the savory flavors and fillings from our own home or region. Any kind of savory filling, but with gravy!

      The from-scratch crust could be pie-crust, puff pastry, filo, biscuit dough or yeast dough. Pot pies can be large enough to serve many, think cozy dinners on lazy cold winter evenings or small single serve portions with a rich filling, a nice appetizer. I fear sogginess with the other crusts, so a yeast crust was my choice. If baking this with a yeast dough  be sure it is one which bakes into a tender bread, so that you can easily cut through it or dig with your fork. Since potato flakes in the dough makes it tender, I baked with the dough for the Potato Rolls I had baked earlier.

      The funny part when I made the pot pie - since I had used much more sauce and lesser veggies,  it leaked out of the dough while it baked as I watched in horror! The bread part floated right to the top later. Not exactly what our hostess had in mind, but it can't be bad really when you still have tender golden bread  floating on top of some warm, cheesy sauce, can it? The filling can be made ahead and refrigerated, the dough is hardly anything if I use my bread machine. So, isn't this a dish to play around and make often?

      I made a small portion of this to fit my 2.5 cup capacity Borosil pie dish. I wasn't sure if it would stay good enough till evening, but it surprisingly was still good after a couple of hours at room temperature. 

      1/4 recipe - of the dough here.  (make the full portion, freeze remaining dough once you knead) 

      The amount of dough you will need depends on the size of your pie dish, or the number of servings you need. Or whether you want to make it a double crust or just a single top crust. Just roll the dough thin, 2-3mm and you should be fine. Sorry, find it hard to be specific here!

      For the filling:

      Vary the amounts of vegetables, cheese and sauce according to your preference. I would not use any vegetable which would leave a lot of liquid, like mushrooms or tomatoes. Less sauce, more veggies and cheese should give you a pot pie you could slice. The other way round may make for floating bread as in my case. Either ways, it should taste just fine, so don't lose sleep over it. Do check Hannah's recipe to get a better idea, with special attention to the proportion of sauce to the vegetables.

      For the sauce - This makes a little more than a cup, make more rather than less, use any extra for pasta. I have used the recipe for the white sauce I make for my pasta, but thicker with more flour and cheese. You could use your recipe with your choice of cheese, use milk or part milk and part cream depending on how rich you want it to be, the portion size, the amount of cheese you will be using. The sauce needs to be thick, it gets thicker when you refrigerate, but I would not like it too floury.

      All purpose flour - 1.5 tablespoons (recipe uses 3 tablespoons)
      Butter - 1 tablespoon (recipe uses 3 tbsp)
      Garlic, grated - 2 cloves
      Cool milk (or part milk and part cream) - 240 ml / 1 cup
      Cheese - 2 slices ( I used low fat Britannia processed cheese)
      Dried thyme - 1/4 tsp
      salt and pepper to taste

      Melt the butter on low heat in a heavy bottomed pan, add the grated garlic. Saute. Tip in the flour. Whisk to blend. Cook till it turns golden and the raw smell is gone. Whisk in the milk, ensuring there are no lumps. Simmer for a couple of minutes or till thick and creamy. Take off the heat. Push through a strainer if needed. Stir in the salt, pepper, herbs and cheese. Refrigerate if not using immediately.

      To assemble I have used :

      Sauce (above) - 3/4 cup
      Colored capsicum, chopped - 3/4 cup
      Cottage cheese, cubed -  1/2 cup
      Extra seasoning and herbs to taste

      Make the bread dough as directed here. Let it rest till double in volume. Flour your counter or the dough will stick. Grease your pie pan generously. Deflate it and take a small orange sized ball of the dough, the amount depends on the size of your pan. Roll the dough very thin about 2 -3 mm into a big circle. The idea is to put it in the pan to line the sides, leaving lots of overhang around, dump the filling in and enclose the filling with the overhang. Paratha style. Tightly twist and snip off the excess dough. I meant to snip the top to allow the steam to escape, but forgot. I have brushed the top with egg wash. Best and safest would be to put the filling directly in the pie dish or ramekin, grease the edges of the dish in and out thoroughly and then seal the top with the rolled dough.

      Decorate if you wish with the bits of dough. You could bake immediately as Hannah does or let it rest - I let it rest for about 15 minutes.

      Pre-heat oven to 220 C / 425°F/gas mark 7.  Bake for about 30-35 minutes or till the top is a very good golden brown. Watch carefully as the baking temperature is high and the dough thin. Brush the top with melted butter to keep it soft. Let cool for a few minutes and serve.

      Very obviously, I did not get this as its intended to be. I know I could have done a better job of the filling, used better cheese (the cottage cheese and peppers are a fav combo of mine). I could have used more veggies, more cheese, lesser sauce and got a more luxurious pie out as a whole. But we loved this as it turned out, rich enough, floating bread, sauce at the bottom and all! The egg wash added an eggy taste complimenting the dish really well. Kind of easy savory bread pudding. Thanks Hannah, this is an idea I absolutely am going to be trying again, may be also hope the dough tears - again!! 

      Variations : You could try a tomato basil cheese sauce (with ready tomato puree as its thick) or with creamy basil pesto sauce, brush garlic herb butter on top. Or a rich Indian style paneer gravy or may be even pav-bhaji in a pot...oops ramekin or pie-tin! If you do not want the filling coming out, be sure that you use less sauce, more vegetables and cheese. Do not roll the dough thicker as it will be too bread-y.

      Play around, this is a recipe good to have. I see this going to school this week with my kids!

      The pot-pie is Yeast-spotted!

      Thursday, October 24, 2013

      Best Way To Melt Chocolate Over The Stove-top! How To Melt Chocolate (Video Post)

      Best Way To Melt Chocolate Over The Stove-top! How To Melt Chocolate / Easy Way to Melt Chocolate. Watch my video! Please follow my page on Facebook for updates on new videos for beginners in baking, every Monday! Click here to subscribe to my You Tube Channel. Click to subscribe now!

      Melting chocolate is a big deal for some and isn't really for some others.  I have messed this up a few times, a couple of times during my first few attempts at melting chocolate and then later too. Specially while trying to melt small quantities of it. Well melted, smooth chocolate can make a difference to the texture of your bakes and desserts, so its helpful to know how.

      The microwave has been my method all along, I have been fairly successful mostly. Its quite simple, but not always. Just chop your chocolate coarsely and heat it in a microwave safe container on MEDIUM (50% power, am guilty of doing it on HIGH mostly) for dark chocolate and LOW (30% power) for milk and white chocolate, stirring in between till the chocolate is mostly melted.  The remaining heat melts the rest of the chocolate. Disadvantage is, its not always possible to estimate the time accurately as it depends on the wattage of your microwave, the quality of chocolate, voltage fluctuations etc. You risk scorching the chocolate if you microwave it for longer than necessary. You can't see what's happening in the bowl as you heat. Checking the progress more often has ruined the smoothness of the melted chocolate for me a few times.

      And then, since I use the microwave for baking too, I sometimes need to remember to melt the chocolate before I pre-heat it and make sure it stays liquid till the stage I need it that way. I do not use a double boiler as I do not have one, I don't always have the right sized utensils for the amount of chocolate I need to melt. The bowl with the chocolate has to sit on top of a larger bowl containing barely simmering water, without the water actually touching the bowl. You can't see the water level underneath the bowl as you heat.
      Then I came across this method of melting chocolate wherein the bowl with the chopped chocolate is placed  right  in a skillet of barely simmering water. What??? This is exactly what you have been warned not to do!! But then, when the person who is recommending this method is none other than Alice Medrich, you sit up and take notice. I tried it, it worked and I had to share it with you!
      No matter which method of melting chocolate you choose, you must remember
      • Chocolate should be melted uncovered at low temperatures always.
      • The chocolate must not come in contact with moisture. Make sure the container, the knife, the cutting board, the bowl, the spoon, the spatula (Gawd!) everything is dry. I prefer to chop it fine so that it melts faster.
      • Any moisture (unless specified in the recipe) will cause the chocolate to seize up and turn into one lumpy mass of it. If that happens, start with fresh chocolate. Unless the chocolate tastes burnt, take heart, you could still use it where you need to heat it with cream or milk to make ganache or chocolate sauce.  
      • At least one tablespoon of liquid for 2 ounce or 56 grams (aprox) of chocolate is compatible when your recipe directs you to melt both together.
      • The objective is to melt the chocolate to make it warm, never hot.
      So here is how to do it the skillet way

      Place the chocolate in a dry stainless steel bowl or saucepan (with a handle will help). Of course one of a suitable size which will allow you to stir the chocolate comfortably with out it spilling out. A larger one would be better than a smaller one. Only may be you will have more chocolate on the bowl than you could scrape out and actually use.

      Have your spatula ready.

      Take a wide skillet ( if it is not wide enough, you can't see the simmer and adjust the heat as needed) with some water in it on your gas stove. Induction stove is tricky,  can't sustain the bare simmer long enough. If you keep the bowl with the chocolate in it, the water should come up may be half an inch or so. (watch the video) Make sure the water level is not too high up the sides of the bowl as the water may get into the bowl (and cause the chocolate to seize) as you stir and move the bowl or lift it out.
      Bring the water to a bare simmer, reduce the heat to low. Place the bowl with the chocolate in the water. The bowl must sit in the water. Do it! the pool of chocolate favors the brave here!

      Keep stirring the chocolate with the spatula, you are mixing the warmest pieces of melted chocolate with the unmelted pieces.
      When most of the chocolate is melted, carefully take the bowl out of the skillet. Stir to melt the rest. The water under the skillet forms a thin film preventing the chocolate from getting scorched says Alice. The best part is here you can see the level of the water, can see the chocolate melting (and take it off the heat immediately) and can control the heat level better.

      Medrich cautions that white and milk chocolate are more delicate and hence you need to turn off the heat under the skillet for 30 seconds before placing the bowl in, then stir almost constantly, the book doesn't mention anymore.  Melted white and milk chocolate should fee barely warm to the touch, dark chocolate warm to very warm, but not hot.
      You could use the same methods as above when you need to melt chocolate with butter or other liquids in adequate quantities. The above information has been compiled from Alice Medrich's Chocolate Holidays.

      Watch Alice Medrich doing this here, the video is titled the ' The Best Way To Melt Chocolate'

      If you are a beginner, this is one method way safer than the others. Try it and then chose the microwave way or double boiler down the line if that's more convenient. As with most things, you will get better with practice. Then there is no stopping you from baking those perfect moist brownies or that simple Eggless Chocolate Mousse!

      Wednesday, October 16, 2013

      Almond & Ricotta Brioche Danish - For World Bread Day!

      So, we celebrate another World Bread Day! October 16th was declared as the World Bread Day by the International Union of Bakers and Bakers-Confectioners (IUB). Zorra at Kochtopf  hosts this day as an event on food blogs. This is the 8th edition and I am glad to baking my bit of bread for this!

      Very predictably, staying true to my indecisive nature, I contemplated a whole bunch of grand recipes and then finally decided to be lazy. Baked Brioche Danish with an almond and ricotta filling dressed them up with some glaze. Brioche made dainty and taken to the next level really! This is not danish as in the laminated yeasted pastry, though you could use Danish pastry to make an extremely luxurious and super delectable version of this recipe. These are far less luxurious, but very tasty nonetheless.  Danish pastry shapes like these are called as spandauer I gather, but I guess I will just call them brioche danish as bakes like these are commonly called. Ahem. I expect you to either be fine with the name or tell me the right one!

      With passing time, I realize how valuable it is to learn and be comfortable with some basic recipes like pie crusts, puff pastry, bread doughs, sponges and the kind. Am getting greedier for such recipes and techniques as they are amazingly versatile and you could churn out so much out of these!  Like this brioche dough here. An enriched dough, but not a whole lot of butter or eggs, allowing you to get away with a rich filling as your indulgence. As compulsive, obsessed bakers, we sometimes do need to divide the fat between bakes!
      Here is a recipe for a small batch of about 10-12 danish. These are best eaten warm and fresh, as they tend to dry out rather quickly like small rolls always do. So better to bake only as much as you need for the day, though leftovers do not taste bad, just a bit dry.

      Get the filling ready before you do anything else. Line your baking sheets with parchment. 

      Almond filling 
      From Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess . This can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for up to a week.
      Blanched almonds, toasted (I have used some blanched and some with skin) - 150 grams
      Icing sugar - 80 grams
      Egg White - 2 tablespoons
      Almond extract - 1/2 teaspoon
      Unsalted butter, at room temperature -  2 tablespoons / 30 grams
      If using whole almonds with skin, put them in a ziplock bag and bash them into large pieces. Process the almonds with the sugar till finely ground.  Add the butter, almond extract and egg and process again. You can make this ahead and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

      Fresh Ricotta : 1/2 cup, well drained ( not wrung dry), but moist. 
      You could use just the almond filling (found this a bit dry on its own) or mix equal parts of the ricotta and almond. In this case, taste and add extra powdered sugar to taste.

      For the Brioche dough

      All purpose flour -172 grams
      Salt - 1/4 teaspoon
      Sugar, granulated - 3 tablespoons
      Instant yeast - 1 1/4 teaspoon
      Milk, lukewarm - 45 ml / 3 tablespoons
      Egg - 48 grams / 1, large
      Unsalted butter - 30 grams / 2 tablespoons, melted and cooled
      Orange zest - 1 teaspoon
      Vanilla - 1/2 a bean scraped
      1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water for the egg wash.

      For the glaze
      Icing sugar - 50 grams
      Orange juice -1/2 to 1 tbsp orange juice
      • Whisk the zest and the vanilla caviar into the egg and the melted butter ensuring there are no clumps. Mix the yeast in the milk, add it to the egg and butter.
      •  Dump in the flour, salt and sugar. Mix to bring it all together. This will be sticky, but will get easier to handle as you knead. This is where I appreciate having a bread machine to knead more than ever! You can knead a sticky dough without having to add more flour, whereas with your hands you would find it very difficult to do the same. If kneading with your hands, oil your counter and hands, try not to add more than 1 1/2 to 3 teaspoons flour at the most. It really does make a difference.
      • The dough must be smooth, silky and tacky (sticks to your hands but peels off easily). If you add too much flour, the bread will be dry-ish. Put the dough in a dough rising bucket and let it double at room temperature. This will take about an hour or more. Note down how long it takes to double. 
      • Once the dough doubles, deflate it gently. (If your tray is small, use half dough at a time, cover the other half, let double again, continue the process) 
      • Dust your counter lightly with flour. Roll the dough into a 3 mm thick approximately 10/10'' square. ( I have given the dough 'turns' as in puff pastry, that's why you see layers here. Silly of me not to note down the details properly but you could try brushing a teaspoon of soft butter and folding the dough into three as in a business letter, roll again , brush with butter, repeat 2 more times, before rolling it 3 mm thick again. If the dough is resistant, allow to rest covered for a few minutes before rolling . You will get a slightly flaky dough, not exactly Danish pastry) Using a pizza cutter or a dough scraper, mark and cut it into 3'' squares. This works fine too.
      • Slightly elongate two opposite ends of the square. Take a tablespoon of the filling, shape into a log, place it in the middle of the square. Dab a tiny bit of egg on the elongated ends and close to cover the filling, with a little of it peeking out. Press gently but firmly to seal. Be sure you do a good job of this or it will come loose later.  Not totally disastrous, but not pretty and the filling will dry during baking.
      • Place the danish on the lined baking sheet and let rise again for approximately the same time as the first rise, 45 minutes to an hour works well for me. Since the dough is not very thick, its tough to make out when they double. 
      • Towards the end of the rise period, pre-heat oven to 190 degrees C / 375 degree F. Gently brush the Danish with the egg wash. 
      • Bake for about 12-15 minutes or till a nice golden brown. The time varies depending on the thickness of the dough. Do not over over-bake. These bake up quite fast, so better to check at 12 minutes. Even if you do over bake, they will still taste good. But under cooked doughy bread is ugghh!
      • Combine the juice and sugar to make the glaze.
      • Drizzle the icing when the danish cools slightly. Serve immediately.

      These little sweet treats are Yeast-spotted!!

      Please note : You could use your favorite sweet roll recipe (or laminated yeasted pastry or puff pastry) in place of the brioche dough here. Filling could be a brownie filling or zesty cream cheese or almond or ricotta or just about anything you please as long as it will cook in 15 minutes or needs no cooking.

      Thursday, October 3, 2013

      Crème Patissière Tartlets

      Pie crust and me seem to be liking each other after all! The Chocolate Mousse Tart we made for the Daring Bakers challenge gave me a boost of confidence with pie crusts. Also gave me a sweet pastry crust a bit less buttery. Strange as it may seem, intense buttery tasting bakes aren't quite my thing. This crust is as buttery as I can take (lesser would probably make it a cracker, so hardly dessert), but still, bite-sized please!

       Though I was happy with the light and flaky crust of the Chocolate Mousse Tart , the sogginess of it after it was baked with the filling was a put off. I have tried painting the crust with egg wash, but it did not seem to retain the crispiness fully. So this time, I wanted to bake a tart, bake it fully till light and crisp, then fill it to be eaten straightaway! Then happened these. Little buttery crispy tartlets filled with lightened and chilled vanilla bean pastry cream or Crème Patissière. If you love buttery tarts, this is a dessert you will love!

      Please do not go by the length of the recipe below. Its fairly do-able, if you plan ahead and split the work over 2 days.

      I have made the pastry and frozen in smaller portions in plastic wrap, placed in an freezer safe container. Thawed it in the refrigerator, still fully wrapped in a box. I have used a quarter of the recipe below to give me about 8 small tartlets. 

      It is about keeping your ingredients COLD. Cold butter, ice cold water, cold tools, a cool marble counter, rolling pin. This is to help prevent the butter from melting, keeping it in bits and pieces even after the pastry is rolled out. The butter melts in the oven creating pockets in the pastry - your flaky layers. Working quickly, handling the dough gently throughout helps keep it tender.  Start with less water and add more if needed as more water can make your pastry tough


      Egg yolk - 18 grams / 1 large
      Granulated or powdered sugar - 5 tablespoons/ 70 gm / 2½ oz ( I powdered granulated sugar after weighing)
      All-purpose flour - 1¾ cups (420 ml) (250 gm) (8¾ oz)
      pinch salt
      Diced Cold butter (diced and then chilled), cut into 1/2'' cubes - 125 grams / 9 tablespoons / 4 ½ oz
      Ice Cold water - 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (50 ml) ( I used 2 1/2 tablespoons,will add a teaspoon of vanilla next time and chill the water)
      For the pastry : Cube the butter first and then chill it, so that its really cold. Chill your pastry cutter or metal  bench scraper or knives. Have a largish flat box with a lid ready. Just in case you need to refrigerate the flour-butter mixture in between.
      1. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and sugar together with a teaspoon of the water until pale and fluffy, for about 2 minutes with a fork. Set aside.

      2. Sift the flour and salt together into a mound on a work surface.

      3. Scatter the diced butter over the top of the flour. Quickly toss the butter in the flour so it's all coated. Then using your pastry cutter or bench scraper, cut the butter till you have a  flour mixture with some small and some slightly larger pea sized bits of butter. Work quickly but decisively. If you feel your butter going soft, try refrigerating the entire mixture in the metal bowl covered for sometime till the butter is cold again.

      4. Gather the flour mixture into a mound and make a well in the center.

      5. Pour the egg mixture and the rest of the water into the well. Working quickly, incorporate the wet ingredients into the flour, first with your fingertips then with a bench scraper until just mixed but not brought together.

      6. Gently gather dough together into a rough ball between your palms. If it stays together, it is sufficiently moist. If it doesn't stay together, add a teaspoon more water and repeat the process.

      7. Using the palm of your hand, push away from you to smear the dough across the work surface, gather it up and repeat until it comes together into a smooth, soft ball. ( I smeared the dough in parts smearing each part only once gently) You aren't kneading, you are using the smearing action to bind the elements of the dough without developing the gluten in the flour. The dough ball shouldn't spring back when pressed. 
      At this point, I have wrapped the dough in cling film and refrigerated it overnight.( At this stage, you can freeze the pastry in smaller portions as needed, wrap really well in plastic wrap and put in a freezer safe container, thaw still wrapped in the fridge over night before proceeding) After resting the dough, place it on the counter for sometime if its not malleable enough to roll. This may take upto 1/2 an hour if its cold, keep checking now and then. If it gets too soft or starts oozing butter when you roll, cover and put it back in the fridge to firm up sufficiently again, about 10 minutes.

      8. Lightly grease a 6 or 8 small holed muffin tin, mine is hardly 1/3 cup capacity. Lightly flour your work surface. Do not do this next to your hot oven or gas stove as it will make the butter melt. Using gentle pressure, roll the dough out to about 3mm thick circle Excessive pressure while rolling will make the flaky layers disappear! Cut into five or six  3'' circles (according to the size of the hole) with a sharp round cookie cutter. Press the circles gently into the muffin holes, prick all over the bottom with a fork. Use the scraps to roll out 2 more. Cover airtight and refrigerate for about 1 hour or more.

      9. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees F. Place the muffin tin in the oven straight out of the refrigerator. Bake for about 18-20 minutes or till light golden and crisp. Err on the side of over baking, but do not burn or let them turn dark golden. The baking time depends on the thickness of the crust. Let cool slightly. Gently remove the shells and cool on a rack completely.

      You can at this point, store them in an air tight box for 2 days, though I find them best the day they are baked.
      For the pastry cream : I have used pastry cream and whipped cream in the ratio of  2:1. Alter it to your preference. Or simply fill the tarts with chilled pastry cream.
      Whipped cream, fairly stiff, but not very stiff - 1/2 cup ( I have used sweetened) Please read note.
      Julia Child's Pastry cream recipe from Smitten Kitchen

      Whole milk - 1 cup / 240 ml
      Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
      Egg yolks - 54 grams / 3 large
      Granulated sugar - 1/4 cup
      All-purpose flour  - 24 grams - 3 tablespoons
      Unsalted butter - 15 grams / 1 tablespoon (another 15 grams for a more luxurious cream)

      • Suspend a fine meshed strainer over a medium sized heat proof bowl. Set this near your stove. Have a spatula ready nearby.
      • In a small saucepan, combine your milk and vanilla bean flecks (if using extract instead, don’t add it yet). Heat the milk and vanilla bean till just before the boiling point. Turn off the heat.
      • In the bottom of a heavy saucepan, off the heat, beat or whisk your egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar.  Whisk in the flour until fully incorporated. (recipe directs to whisk till it forms ribbons, I have simply whisked)
      • Whisking the whole time, drizzle the hot vanilla-milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, just a tiny bit at a time at first. Once you’ve added about 1/4 of the milk, you can add the rest in a thin stream, whisking constantly.
      • Bring the saucepan to your stove and heat it over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it begins to bubble. Once bubbling, whisk it for 1 to 2 more minutes, then remove it from the heat. Immediately stir in vanilla extract (if using) and butter until combined. Press through the strainer.
      • To cool your custard quickly, place the saucepan in a larger bowl of ice water that will go halfway up the sides of the saucepan (i.e. water should not spill in) and stir the custard till its cool. Press press wrap to the surface, chill till needed. You could refrigerate this for upto 3 days.
      • Gently fold in the whipped cream into the cooled pastry cream. Keep this covered and chilled until serving time.
      •  Just before serving (a minute before I mean) fill in the tart shells, garnish as you like it. Serve immediately!

      Please note : I had made the pastry cream already with only 2 tablespoons of flour as I did not want it very thick ( I was wrong of course). If using the cream for lightening with whipped cream, I will add 3 tablespoons next time. Since I have used sweetened whipping cream, the result was a tiny bit on the sweeter side. Will use a tablespoon less in the pastry cream next time. If using unsweetened heavy cream, sweeten it to taste, keeping in mind the sugar in the pastry cream.

      I have also whipped the cream to the just soft peak stage (wrong again!), and then folded it into the less thick pastry cream which is why its a little runny. Do whip the cream to slightly stiff peaks and use the 3 tbsp flour in the pastry cream.

      Though I am not a raving fan of pastry cream, I loved it with the whipped cream folded in, giving it a lovely, rich, vanilla flavor and texture. I shall be using it again as it actually made me eat a couple of buttery tartlets! As for the pastry, use your favorite sweet pastry crust. Chocolate pie crust will work great too, will add orange zest to the pastry cream in this case. Or may be coffee! This recipe is just an idea.

      One the side, Cakes And More crossed a million visitors! Thanks so much for your encouragement, for helping me get here!

      Wednesday, September 25, 2013

      Common Basic Baking Terms - Part 3

      Before you wonder, no, there won't be a part 4 in this series! Only once I started writing, did I realize there is no way I could put this in one or two posts without having you dozing on your laptop even before you make it halfway through. Here is the last part for you. Images from the internet.

      Ribbon stage : This term is commonly used while whipping eggs or yolks and sugar for foam cakes. You need to whip till the egg mixture looks pale, turns thick and forms a ribbon or falls in a ribbon like pattern. When you have whipped for the approximate time as directed and lift the beaters away from the egg mixture, it will fall or drop from the beaters in a flat ribbon like pattern, stays on the surface for a few seconds before disappearing back into the mixture. This shows that the mixture has been sufficiently beaten. Watch the first 30 seconds of this video.

      Room temperature, butter : Recipes for butter cakes, cookies etc specify that butter should be at 'room temperature'. This means that the butter should be slightly cool and just pliable. It should only give slightly when pressed with your index finger. It should never be gooey or oily. The stick in the middle seems to be the one at the optimum temperature.

      I have never really checked, but it should be 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) and 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) as mentioned in Joy Of Baking. This temperature allows the maximum amount of air to be beaten into your batter. To bring refrigerated butter to room temperature, cut in into cubes and leave it on the counter for about 30 minutes approximately. You could soften it in the microwave, but its very tricky, so best avoided. Rolling butter in between parchment is also done.

      Stiff peaks and soft peaks, egg whites : Recipes guide you to whip whites till they form either soft or stiff peaks. As you whip, stop and lift the beaters slowly. If the peaks stand up but droop back (NOT the same as flopping back right away) you have reached the soft peak stage. Beat and wee bit more (30 seconds to a minute) and the peaks will stand up in shiny, pointed peaks and not droop back. Stop right there! If you whip any longer, the whites will dry out and be very difficult to fold in. Adding cream of tartar in the right quantity to the whites helps prevent over beating. 

      Watch Rose here  4.30 minutes into the video.

      Scant : A scant teaspoon means just about a teaspoon, a teeny little less than a teaspoon (as opposed to a heaping teaspoon). These measures are not really accurate, but work fine as a rough guide where you can add ingredients to taste.

      Scrape down: When you mix batter for cakes and the kind, the recipes direct you to 'scrape down the sides'. This is just taking your spatula and turning it around in your mixing bowl, so as to scrape the batter or any unmixed ingredients in the bowl back into the batter. Important as this helps ensure that all the ingredients in your recipe are well incorporated into the batter.

      Stir : Your stir together ingredients when you just mix them with a spoon or something similar in a circular motion. Note, this again is just for simple mixing, not for creating volume.

      Spoon and sweep method: This is a commonly used method for measuring flour, I used to follow this before I got my kitchen scales.  Keep the measuring cup on a level surface like your counter. Loosen the flour in your flour container, scoop out the flour with a large spoon and spoon it lightly into the cup. Do not shake or tap the cup. When the flour is a bit over the rim, take a knife or a scale and sweep off the excess flour. This gives you 130 grams of flour.

      Sift : Sifting dry ingredients in baking is for aerating and incorporating them into each other. You also need to sift cocoa, cornflour and powdered sugar to get rid of lumps before you measure. Since sifting increases volume of flour, pay attention to whether the recipe states the flour as 'sifted flour' or 'flour, sifted'. If its sifted flour, you first sift the flour and then measure. If its flour sifted, you first measure and then sift. This is specially relevant if you do not weigh ingredients and just measure them using standard measuring cups and spoons.  

      A cup of all sifted purpose flour weighs 115 grams, a cup of all purpose flour measured by dip and sweep method weighs 140 grams, a cup of APF measured by spoon and sweep method weighs 130 grams. 

      Simple syrup : This is just water and sugar heated together (till the sugar dissolves) in varying proportions to get different density of the syrup. Used for brushing on foam cakes and the kind to moisten it, to poach fruit etc, the standard usually is a ratio of 1:1. You could always alter the amount of  sugar to taste. Nothing to stop you from flavoring it with herbs or lime or cinnamon or anything you please!

      Sponge: This could as a baking term refer to (a) kind of cake (b) a component of yeast dough.

      Sponge Cake : One which uses eggs as their main leaveners. Whole eggs as in foam cakes like genoise and fatless sponge or with beaten egg whites as in chiffon cakes. 

      Sponge (as part of yeast dough)/ starter : Usually a mix of yeast, liquid and flour that's allowed to sit for some time before adding it to the rest of the dough ingredients. Called by different names, this helps develop more flavor in the bread. Again, slight differences in the components, the consistency, the duration of fermentation, gives these different names. Read this to know more.

      Sourdough (above) : Have never tasted one or ventured to bake one yet! Supposedly, in sourdough breads., the dough and the bread have a high level of acidity. The pre-ferment here is a sourdough starter which you cultivate at home mixing flour and water (no yeast) and let natural or wild yeast grow in it. This starter is 'maintained' (a big story!) and used as a leavener for baking breads, either with just the sourdough starter or sourdough starter plus commercial yeast making it a 'mixed starter'.  Sourdough breads have complex flavors and a distinct crumb, more here. I hope to get there someday!

      Straight rise : This refers to the method of baking bread the simplest way without using any kind of starter. Just mix all ingredients, let the dough proof twice and bake!

      Torte : A torte (as a  kind of cake ) usually refers to one with very little flour, more of ground nuts or bread crumbs.

      To 'torte' a cake means to slice the layers into thinner layers for filling and then frosting the cake.

      Toss : You normally toss one thing into another so as to coat the ingredients. Cubes of cold butter are tossed in flour to coat the butter with flour while making puff pastry, pie crusts etc.

      Temper : One of the reasons why chocolate is tempered is to get that superb gloss to your decorations. Read more about this here. You also temper egg mixture while you make custard and custard based desserts as given under 'Dribble' in my previous post.

      Unleavened : Usually used in the context of flat breads and crackers, these are made without any kind of leaveners like baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar or yeast in them, hence they do not rise much. Chapati or rotis are classic examples of unleavened Indian breads.

      Water bath / Bain marie : In my previous post here

      Whip : You use a hand held electric mixer or a stand mixer for whipping cream or eggs. Whipping helps incorporate air into your cream or eggs.

      : You could whisk liquids to just combine them or whisk vigorously with a wire whisk to incorporate air. Go by the recipe directions and the objective of whisking.

      Zest : Removing the outermost part of the rind of citrus fruits like oranges, limes and lemons is called zesting. The zest gives amazing aroma to your bakes. Best tool to use is a citrus zester.