Friday, June 28, 2013

Chocolate Mousse Tart - A Daring Bakers Challenge

I am pie and tart-shy! The last one (and psst...the only one) I baked was an Apple Pie way back in 2011!  But when you have to bake a pie for the Daring Bakers, you got to bake one. I am glad I did not shy away from the challenge and got decent results to boot - or to eat in this case!

Rachael from pizzarossa was our lovely June 2013 Daring Bakers’ host and she had us whipping up delicious pies in our kitchens! Cream pies, fruit pies, chocolate pies, even crack pies! There’s nothing like pie!

 Rachael gave us the options to bake either a Crack Pie (a rich, salty-sweet pie with a oat crust) or a French Chocolate and Caramel tart or an Italian  Crostata or a Double Crust fruit pie. Bake one of them or more! I chose to bake the French Chocolate tart, a buttery pastry with rich chocolate mousse as the filling. I loved the filling in particular, reminded me of Chocolate Pots De Creme. I did not make the caramel layer as I felt that would make it even richer and sweeter of course. 

The crust is a matter of technique, something which only practice can help improvise and learn. Considering that I baked the crust the second time in my life after 2 1/2 years, I would say it was a good enough attempt. The making of the Pâte sablée involved the fraisage technique, i.e, smearing the dough on the counter so as to help get a flaky pastry. I baked one 9'' tart and about 4 mini ones. Found that I could have baked the 9'' tart shell a little longer. The tartlet shells though were quite flaky, crumbly and buttery as well. That sure gave me a high!

The mantra, I learn 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.

For the Pâte sablée
The deviation I made here is resting the pastry overnight after mixing, and then a one hour rest after rolling.


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)

For the caramel 

Granulated sugar - 7 tablespoons (105 ml) (100 gm) (3½ oz)
Whole cream, hot - 7 tablespoons (100ml

For the chocolate mousse

Eggs - 96 grams / 2 large
Whole milk  - 7 tablespoons / 100ml
Powdered sugar - 75 grams /1/3 cup / 2½ oz ( 50 grams gives mousse just about sweet)
Whole cream ( I used Amul, 25%) - 200 ml / 13 tablespoons
Dark chocolate, broken into pieces -  200 grams / 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons / 7 oz

For the pastry : Cube the butter first and then chill it, so that its really cold. Chill your pastry cutter or bench scraper or knives and a large metal bowl as well.

1. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4. ( If resting the pastry like I did, wait until later) Grease a 9"/24cm or 10"/26cm tart pan, ideally a fluted metal one with a removable bottom.

2. 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.

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

4. 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 fingers, rub it in until it resembles breadcrumbs. ( I used a cold metal bench scraper to do this, till I had some small flour mixture like bread crumbs and some with slightly larger pieces).  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.

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

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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. After resting the dough, place it on the counter for sometime if its not malleable enough to roll. Excessive pressure while rolling will make the flaky layers disappear!

9. Lightly flour your work surface and lightly roll the dough out to about 3mm thick ( mine was rolled into a 12'' diameter circle, used scraps to make tartlets) in a circle to fit your pan. Press the dough gently into the pan, prick all over the bottom with a fork. I have covered this again airtight and refrigerated for about 1 hour.

10. Line the tart pan with baking paper and fill with dry beans or pie weights and bake until set, around 9 minutes. Remove pie weights and paper and bake another 6 minutes, until dry. Mine took longer - a total of about 20 minutes, longer would have been better. Pricking the base and baking without the weights till the crust turned golden brown around the edges seemed to work best for me. I baked the tartlet shells for 18 minutes.

11. Remove the pastry from the oven and allow to cool in the pan. Leave the oven on.


For the caramel ( I skipped this)
1. Spread the sugar evenly across the bottom of a small, heavy-based, non-coated saucepan (it needs to be metallic so you can see the color). Heat over a medium-low heat without stirring until the sugar starts to melt and becomes liquid around the edges. Once about a quarter of it has melted, gently stir continuously with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula until it turns a deep amber color, a few minutes depending on how high the heat is.
2. Remove from heat and very slowly and carefully pour all (100ml) of the hot cream into the caramel, stirring continuously - it will splutter and steam so be very careful as it is extremely hot. The cream needs to hot and poured very slowly, otherwise the caramel will seize. Keep stirring until it stops bubbling and is well combined then set aside to cool.

For the chocolate mousse

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs together with the milk and sugar.

2. In a small heavy-based saucepan, bring all (200ml) of the cream to a boil.

3. Remove cream from heat and add the broken chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted completely and the mixture is smooth. Let cool a few minutes. I cooled it to almost room temperature.

4. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg and milk mixture and stir gently with a spatula to obtain a smooth cream.

5. Spread the cooled caramel in the bottom of the cooked tart shell.

6. Gently pour the chocolate cream over the caramel so you don't disturb it.

7. Place the tart into the hot oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the filling has set but is still wobbly in the center. Mine took about 28 minutes, the tartlets about 18 minutes. Do not over bake or the texture of the mousse will be firm.

10. Remove the tart from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. If using a tart pan with removable bottom, un mold before serving. I prefer serving this at room temperature, sliced into thin wedges.

Loved the ease and simplicity of the creamy mousse filling and the pastry dough as well. I am sure to be using both the recipes again!  Need to work on keeping the base as crisp as the sides once baked. Loved doing this challenge, thanks for pushing me to bake these Rachael!

Guess I will be baking more pies and tarts after all!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bloggers Table - Barbeque Friday, Alila Bangalore Hotel

Alila Bangalore hosted a barbeque last week and we were invited as part of the Chef At Large Bloggers Table.  Normally invites make my kids envious, but this was one was with family, so they were excited at the prospect of attending one of them.

We braved our way through the Friday evening traffic, one long drive it was to Whitefield, a test of patience really! Tummies rumbling , ravenous, we reached Alila.  The appetite whetting aroma of the barbeque wafting down the long corridor led us where we wanted to go. Spotted familiar faces at the table in the corner next to the bar, cameras and all.  Whoever said its tough to spot a food blogger, much less a bunch on them work!

My daughter wanted something to eat and not drink, but the pretty pink Raspberry drink charmed her. Sweet and slightly tart, more appealing to a kid naturally.  My son's ginger ale was appreciated, playing on the IPad with Neha's son's seemed to make it even more enjoyable!

We made a beeline to the barbeque, with separate counters and grills for the appetizers, salads and desserts. Not  particularly impressive were the  Maple Glazed Potatoes and the Pommes Persilles. The  Parprika  smoked Vegetable Brochettes were just barely seasoned almost raw vegetables – bah!!  Even the extra sprinkling of paprika we asked for did nothing to revive them.

Char Grill Corn on The Cob was really tender corn with minimal seasoning, but still good! I later realized that I entirely missed going back to taste the Grilled Summer Squash and Marinated beetroot.  And oh, how did I miss the salads?  Having kids around you kind of does it to you I guess. Have made a mental note to make it a point to at least a bite of each dish next time on a review. 

At the Tandoori station, I had a generous second helping of the Tandoori Phool, grilled cauliflower in a very flavorful marinade. Tulsi Paneer Tikka was very soft paneer but sadly not a good enough marinade to do justice to it. Grilled Tomatoes were so so, the garlic mayonnaise quite nice. I enjoyed every spoon of Vegetable Maklouba Rice, subtle yet truly aromatic and scrumptious!  Achari anything normally is not something I relish, but the Achari Tandoori Aloo was delicious indeed! The pitas were OK-ish, but then I must admit I like bread only when it is really fresh.

Not withstanding the fairly cool evening, it got uncomfortably hot without air conditioning.  The best of food doesn’t get its due if its actually uncomfortable to sit down while you eat.
The much awaited desserts were a great disappointment . I love malpua and was really looking forward to eating Mango Malpua. It was quite hard to the bite, though the taste was not bad, though we could not taste the mango in it.  I don't enjoy  grilled bananas so I gave it a skip.  The children enjoyed the grilled cupcakes with sauce and ice cream. The Barbequed Fruit Brochettes and assorted ice creams were the other desserts on the menu.  I find it disappointing in the extreme when places like this serve ice cream of very mediocre quality. Can we have these better please! 

To sum up, I can say I enjoyed a handful of the dishes, though there were lots more which left a lot to be desired.  Fellow bloggers who tasted the non-vegetarian fare seemed to have enjoyed their food, at least most of it. The dessert menu in particular could be a lot more innovative and better.  Last but not the least, air conditioning please, lest you want food to be wolfed down in a hurry to rush out for some air!

Thanks Alila for having us over! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fiadone - Corsican Cheesecake

Sounds crazy or not, but when I have something particular in mind, its so like me to browse for recipes till I can't browse anymore, shortlist many, get all muddled up about which of those to try, procrastinate and procrastinate. Then most of the times, try the simplest of them all. The ricotta I made recently was begging to be used up before it could no longer be called fresh. An image of Fiadone caught my eye.  Okay, lets be honest, apart from the tempting images, 'easy' sounded so good, considering my really sore back. Curiosity and Google led me to Helene's Tartelette. Look no further!

Fiadone is a cheesecake from the island of Corsica, a French Island. Its made out of brocciu or brousse, which is whey cheese made out of goat's milk.  Helene's description of fiadone being a cross between a  flan and a cheesecake had me! I love flans though I can't say I have fallen in love with every cheesecake I have met. But then  a cheesecake is something I have wanted to bake since long, but never quite got to baking it. And now a promisng recipe so very easy, Fiadone it would be then!

Its entirely another matter that I made Fiadone thrice within a week, but thankfully I had company to help finish it! The first two attempts produced cheesecakes which ballooned in the oven - what on earth! Did I over beat the eggs or blitzing the ricotta for a smoother cake added to it? Wrote to Helene. Apparently nothing wrong with the procedure, oven hot spot may be?  Alright, I can’t sleep till this is right! Baked the cheesecake yet again in my old OTG and yes! the cake behaved itself! The texture was predictably more gritty in comparison to the cheesecake with the blitzed ricotta having a smoother texture (image below).

Not your usual cheesecake, but delicious nevertheless! So very easy to make, the ingredients, pantry staples.

The recipe is one you can’t forget in a hurry, barely 4 ingredients and hardly any steps. Here goes. The best part is you could bake this with ricotta or even well drained yogurt says Helene!

Fiadone – Corsican Cheesecake
Minimally adapted from here

Serves 6-9

Sugar – ½ cup minus 1 tablespoon (measured and powdered)
Eggs - 3 large / 144 grams
Finely grated lemon zest – 1 teaspoon
Pure vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
Cornstarch  - 1 tablespoon
pinch of salt
Ricotta cheese or faisselle - 1 cup drained ( weighed about 225 grams)

Procedure : Line an 8x8-inch square pan with parchment paper, butter  lightly and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C / 375F and position a rack in the middle.  In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and the eggs until pale ( I did this on speed 4 of my hand mixer  for about  1.5 minutes, did not want to whip longer in case it ballooned again). Add the lemon zest, cornstarch, vanilla and salt and whisk until blended.  Add the drained cheese and whisk well ( I used a wire whisk). Pour into your prepared pan, place into the oven and lower the heat to 180 degrees C / 350F.  Bake for 40-45 minutes (mine baked in 35 minutes). The cake does not rise, it gets dark around the edges and a knife inserted in the middle should come out clean. Let cool for a few minutes before cutting into squares.

I must admit, though it may not be the done thing,  I loved the smooth texture  the blended ricotta  lent to  the cheesecakes that ballooned.  But rest assured, smooth or not,  set or ballooned, its unlikely that you will dislike this dessert.  Go ahead, give it a try! You have no excuse not to bake yourself a cheesecake when you crave for one, albeit not your usual kind.  And yes, let me know how you made it and how you liked it!

Thanks again Ajay for the pictures! Have been telling him, I should resume taking pictures or I am likely to forget how to take them :)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cherry, Almond & Chocolate Chunk Muffins

'Muffins' we wrote with a flourish in the weekly  'menu' for the things I could make for the kids' school snack box. This snack went on the day of the week when they could take 'junk' food.  I know, if I were a kid, I would have probably wanted them at least 2 days a week to school. Too bad, we had no snack break at school and my mother did not bake either. 
My children would surely be excited to take muffins to school, home-made ones at that! I would be equally happy at the thought of starting my day with smell of vanilla and the sight of little fresh muffins materializing out of the oven in so little time with even lesser effort! The rewards - delighted kids who 'just can't wait for short break' and a happy mother. The simple pleasures of life often come in tiny packages - in this case some simple but versatile muffins. 

 Now I must include that a good, dependable muffin recipe is a must have in every home-baker's repertoire. Joy to make these little treats at a moment's notice with whatever you have on hand or whatever your kids fancy at the moment. Relatively healthy these are as is, you could sneak in some whole wheat or almond meal and some chopped  fresh fruit for some more goodness. I see more muffins landing in the snack boxes!

With cherries in season, I made some with fresh cherries, almond meal and dark chocolate. Yum!

Recipe adapted from Better Homes And Gardens Homemade Bread Book. This recipe appears as Best Ever Muffins in this book,  variations below.

Ingredients -
All purpose flour - 162 grams / 1 1/4 cup
Almond meal - 1/2 cup (or whole wheat flour or more APF)
Baking powder - 2 1/2 teaspoons
Salt -  1/2 teaspoon
Sugar, super fine - 6-8 tablespoons (read note)
Egg, beaten - 1
Milk - 3/4 cup
Vegetable oil - 1/3 cup
Vanilla - 1 teaspoon

Add ins -
2/3 cup pitted, chopped fresh cherries
Dark chocolate chunks - 1/2 cup
Procedure: Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C / 400 degrees F. Line your muffin cups with liners (12 for this recipe).

Whisk or sieve together the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar into a large bowl. In another small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, oil and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, dump the wet ingredients all at once in the well. Stir until just before the flour disappears. Add the cherries and chocolate. Stir till just moistened. Do not over mix.
Fill the greased liners 2/3 full. Bake for about 18-20 minutes or till risen and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Variations :
Lemon Blueberry muffins : Fold in 3/4 to 1 cup fresh blueberries or frozen berries, thawed and drained along with 1 teaspoon lemon zest.
Cheese muffins : Reduce sugar to 1/4 cup, stir in 1/2 cup grated sharp natural cheddar cheese into the dry ingredients.
Date and Orange muffins : Substitute 3/4 cup orange juice for the milk, whisk in 1 teaspoon orange peel in it. Stir in 1/2 cup finely chopped dates, 1/2 cup chopped nuts.

Fresh fruit, juice, coffee and walnuts, Nutella swirl or chocolate swirl. And of course more variations as you please.
Sugar : Add sugar according to taste and with the other add ins in mind.

PS: The pictures here are taken by Ajay, my neighbor who happens to be a very keen photographer. These are the first few  of his food photography shots. Thanks so much Ajay for the lovely pictures and all the time and effort you put into this! The chocolate chunk and mint muffins above are some this shining new baker just stepping out of IIT made for himself!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Homemade Ricotta

Say cheese and we in India are most familiar with three kinds. Mozzarella on our omnipresent pizzas. Cottage cheese without which our restaurants would be out of business! The other of course is processed cheese in slices and cubes stacked in the fridge for our white sauce and for the kids' sandwiches. The past decade or so has seen more of cheese with the culinary revolution, increasing popularity and interest in food. We can now safely say we know Parmesan, mascarpone, ricotta, quark, feta, cream cheese and Gorgonzola to name a few, at least by name. They don't sound all that much alien as they pop out of the menus and television shows all the time, we can actually pretend we know them!

The availability of exotic varieties of cheese is truly heartening with these dotting the aisles of the newer specialty supermarkets and the virtual aisles of online food stores. But truth be said, the prices kill the joy of buying them! The wallet effect apart, it would not really hurt to run to the near by store and buy a tub of fat free cream cheese for your cheese cake on the way back from work. Thankfully there are at-least some of these which are best consumed fresh - and the making of which need not be a study in itself. Home made ricotta is one of them.

Ricotta means 'twice cooked'  and is traditionally made using left over whey which is a by-product of cheese making. Below is the recipe for homemade ricotta for folk like us who have no access to cheese making by- products. Again homemade ricotta can be made using lemon juice or vinegar or buttermilk to curdle the milk, with obvious subtle difference in taste.

It was a joy to discover that ricotta is oh-so-easy-to-make with just a handful of easily available ingredients. When really fresh, it has a very soft and creamy texture. Can be made quickly subject to the availability of whole milk and cream. You could use ricotta in cheesecakes, cakes, muffins, desserts, in your savory tarts or eat just as is with a drizzle of honey and nuts. Delightful soft cheese, ridiculously easy to make, supposedly super versatile in use and very cost effective - who in their right mind will now say no to this cheese!
Adapted from here, recipe by David Lebovitz.
You will need :
Whole milk - 960 ml / 4 cups ( I used 3.5%)
Plain whole milk yogurt - 120 ml/ 1/2 cup
Heavy cream ( I have used Amul, 25%) - 60 ml / 1/4 cup (optional )
White vinegar - 1 teaspoon
Salt - 1/2 teaspoon (1 teaspoon if using the cheese for savory recipes)
Position a strainer over a large deep bowl, line with a few layers of cheese cloth. In a medium sized heavy pot, lightly whisk together the milk and cream, tip in the yogurt, vinegar and salt. Bring this to a boil ( I boiled on medium heat). It took about 5 minutes for the milk to rise and the milk to start separating around the edges. Once it comes to a boil (when it rises), boil for another 2 minutes or till the milk curdles. You can now see whey and bits of curd over the surface too. Do not boil for longer as it may make your cheese rubbery.
Pour into the lined strainer and drain for 15 minutes. Gather the cheesecloth around the cheese and squeeze gently to drain excess liquid. Guess we have to remember that you if you drain it longer it makes for a drier cheese and you only need to squeeze it gently and not actually wring it dry!

Home made ricotta is best served warm, refrigerated for up to 3 days. Not sure if this freezes well.

Please note: David Lebovitz recommends whole milk, heavy cream and whole milk yogurt - the higher fat percentage in all these contributes to the creamy texture. You may use low fat milk, yogurt and cream but can't expect the same texture. I have used milk at room temperature as I thought it would take longer for cold milk to boil ( Did not want risk boiling long along with the acidic ingredients, fearing tough cheese)

I actually have some ricotta in my fridge, lets see what I can do with it!