Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mawa Cake & Bolinhas De Coco - Daring Bakers In India!

This month's Daring Bakers challenge takes us to Goa for some semolina and coconut cookies, Bolinhas de coco and to the Irani cafés in India for some mawa cake!

Aparna of  My Diverse Kitchen was our August 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to make some amazing regional Indian desserts. The Mawa Cake, the Bolinhas de Coco cookies and the Masala cookies – beautifully spiced and delicious!
Rich, milky, laced with cardamom, topped with cashew nuts or even almonds, mawa cakes are a trademark of the Irani cafés. The texture is slightly dense, reminiscent of a pound cake says Aparna. She challenged us to make mawa cake with home made mawa. Basundi or rabdi, which I used to make often earlier, is just a couple of steps shy of mawa or khoya, but surprisingly I have not made it at home so far. In case you live somewhere where you do not have easy access to it, take heart, its easy to make, but needs patience.

I have made Mawa cakes earlier, though lighter textured, less rich ones. But I did wanted to bake this one too, just for the fun of making mawa at home and not to miss this challenge hosted by Aparna. It was fun indeed!

Mawa Cake :

I have halved the recipe and baked the cake in an 3 cup capacity bundt pan, remaining batter in 2 small muffin cups.

For the Mawa:
1 litre (4 cups) full fat milk

For the cake:
1/2 cup (1 stick) (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) unsalted Butter (soft at room temperature)
3/4 cup (180 ml) packed crumbled mawa
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) (10 oz) (280 gm) castor sugar
3 large eggs
5 to 6 cardamom pods, powdered, (about 1-1/2 tsp powdered cardamom)
2 cups (500ml) (9 oz) (260 gm) cake flour
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract (optional)
Cashewnuts (or blanched almonds) to decorate (about 18 to 20)

1. First make the “Mawa”. Pour the milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan, preferably a non-stick one. Bring the milk to a boil, stirring it on and off, making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.

Turn down the heat to medium and keep cooking the milk until reduces to about a quarter of its original volume. This should take about an hour to an hour and a half.

2. The important thing during this process is to watch the milk and stir it frequently to make sure it doesn’t stick to the sides or bottom of the pan and get burnt. The danger of this happening increases as the milk reduces and gets thicker.

3. Once the milk it has reduced to about one fourth, 1/4 quantity, lower the heat to low and let cook for a little while longer. Keep stirring regularly, until the milk solids (mawa) take on a lumpy appearance. There should be no visible liquid left in the pan, but the mawa should be moist and not stick to the sides of the pan.

4. Remove the pan from heat and transfer the mawa to a bowl and let it cool completely. Then cover and refrigerate it for a day or two (not more) till you’re ready to make the cake. It will harden in the fridge so let it come to room temperature before using it. You should get about 3/4 to 1 cup of mawa from 1 litre (4 cups) of full-fat milk.

To bake the cake : Pre-heat your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F.
1. Beat the butter, the crumbled mawa and the sugar in a largish bowl, using a hand held electric beater, on high speed until soft and fluffy.

2. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium speed till well incorporated. Add the vanilla and milk and beat till mixed well.

3. Sift the cake flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt onto the batter and beat at medium speed and well blended. If you cannot find cake flour, place 2 tablespoon of cornstarch in the bottom of your 1-cup measure and then fill it with all-purpose (plain) flour to make up to 1 cup.

4. Grease and line only the bottom of an 8 inch (20 cm) spring form pan. Pour the batter into this and lightly smooth the top. Place the cashew nuts (or blanched almonds) on top of the batter randomly. Do not press the nuts down into the batter. A Mawa Cake always has a rustic finished look rather than a decorated look.

5. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 1 hour until the cake is a golden brown and a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean. Do not over bake the cake or it will dry out. If the cake seems to be browning too quickly, cover it will aluminum foil hallway through the baking time.

6. Remove from oven and allow it to cool for 10 min in the tin. Release the cake, peel off the parchment from the base and let it cool completely.

BOLINHAS DE COCO (Cardamom Flavored Coconut Biscuits/ Cookies):

The notable thing about these cookies are they are made entirely out of semolina and fresh coconut (no flour). These cookies are a little crisp, crunchy on the outside and kind of cakey within when freshly baked. Cardamom and coconut make a fab pairing and I loved the flavor of the cookies. Am sure they would have been better texture-wise if I had not goofed up with the dough.

2 cups (500 ml) (5-1/3 oz) (150 gm) fresh grated coconut, packed
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) (9 oz) (250 gm) semolina
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) (8-3/4 oz) (250 gm) granulated sugar
3/4 cup water (180ml) (6 oz) (175 gm) water
A pinch of salt
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (1 oz) (30 gm) ghee (clarified butter) or melted unsalted butter
2 large eggs
8 to 10 pods cardamom, powdered (about 1-1/2 teaspoon)

1. Run the grated coconut in your processor or the small jar of your blender a couple of times so that the flakes are smaller and uniform in texture. Do not grind into a paste. Keep aside.

2. Put the semolina in a pan and toast/ roast it, over low to medium heat, until it starts giving off an aroma, and looks like it’s about to start changing colour. This should take a couple of minutes. Do not brown. Transfer the semolina into a bowl and keep aside.

3. In the same pan, pour the water and add the sugar to it. Place it on medium heat and keep stirring until the sugar dissolves completely. Once the sugar has dissolved, keep stirring the solution and let it cook for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. The sugar solution should just begin to start forming a syrup but is still watery. Do not cook until it forms a thick syrup.

4. Add the toasted/ roasted semolina and mix well. Then add the coconut, salt and ghee (or melted butter) and mix well. Put the pan back on the stove, and over medium heat stir the coconut mixture until it is really hot and easily forms a thick clump. This should take about 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Take the pan off the heat and let the semolina coconut mixture cool to room temperature. Transfer this into a bowl or container, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, ideally overnight. For really fluffy biscuits/ cookies, the overnight rest is recommended.

6. The next day, take the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. ( I did the mistake of warming the mixture slightly to get it to room temperature faster as I had to go out. I should have just let it come to room temperature by itself, had to refrigerate the dough again to firm it up, but it did not come back to the same consistency).  Separate the yolks from the egg whites. Lightly beat the yolks with a fork to break them and add to the dough. Also add the powdered cardamom and mix well with a wooden spoon or fork.

7. Whisk the egg whites by hand until frothy and add to the dough. Mix well till incorporated.
8. You will now have a slightly moist and sticky dough. Refrigerate this dough for about half an hour so it firms up a bit.

9. Pre-heat your oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Line your baking trays with parchment or grease them well with some ghee or melted butter.

10. Take the dough out and pinch off walnut sized bits of dough. The dough should be firm enough to handle without difficulty. If the dough is sticking to your palms, lightly dust your palms with flour before shaping the dough. Roll the bits of dough into balls and then flatten them very slightly.

11. Decorate the top by marking criss-crosses (3 equidistant lines one way and another 3 crossing them at right angles), with a table knife. Press down a bit but not too deep or right through the biscuit/ cookie. Use up all the dough this way.

2. Place the shaped dough on the baking trays leaving a little space between them. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until they’re a golden brown and done. Mine took a little longer probably because the dough was a bit loose. Let them cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then transfer to racks to cool completely.

13. Store the biscuits/ cookies in airtight containers. This recipe makes about 4 dozen Bolinhas de Coco.

Thank you for the lovely challenge Aparna, it was fun doing this!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Quick French Bread

I had honestly not given crusty bread much thought until we some time ago ate, no, devoured crusty toasted bread smeared with basil pesto at a restaurant. My family enjoyed it enough to order a second platter. That pesto smeared bread made me want to bake some and eat it with all my favorite toppings! With fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, EVOO, salt and pepper or sauteed herbed mushrooms, Romesco or the simplest of spreads even from a jar, this would be good. The possibilities for the toppings are limited only to your creativity, imagination and convenience - exactly what lured me into baking a French bread.

Looking at most recipes for quick French bread, this is simply your basic white bread sans the fat, shaped into a log and baked. If you are looking for bread with all those gorgeous irregular holes, this isn't really the recipe as it doesn't have that high percentage of hydration. So essentially, a wet slack dough, which is not as easy to handle, gives you a hole-y bread. I had in fact baked one with higher hydration percentage aeons ago. It looked gorgeous, but something in it did not really work for me. Pictures of such bakes normally end up as just pictures in my feature posts. Ouch!!

Though a slow rise version or one using a pre-ferment would undoubtedly win flavor-wise, its comforting to have these quick versions in your repertoire. Sliced thin, baked or toasted on the griddle ( I like it that way) with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, crispy there and chewy here, this seemed to be reasonably good. One I shall be baking again.

Recipe based on this recipe from All Recipes with slight modifications, hopefully alright. Still sharing this as it made some decent bread.  I have added vital wheat gluten to the flour and omitted the egg wash. I have mixed the dough in my bread machine.

I was able to make a 9'' - 10'' log with the recipe proportions below, feel free to double the recipe if your oven can accommodate. 

All-purpose flour - 195 grams / 1 1/2 cups
Vital wheat gluten - 1.5 tablespoons
Instant yeast - 1 teaspoon
Salt - 3/4 teaspoon
Water, lukewarm - 120 ml / 1/2 cup

Egg white - 1 whisked with 1 tablespoon water for brushing on top (optional, I did not use)


Combine all the ingredients for the dough and knead on a lightly floured surface for about 8-10 minutes or till fairly soft, smooth and elastic. (If using active dried yeast you will need to proof it) Add extra water or flour teaspoon by teaspoon as needed till your dough reaches the consistency.
Place the dough in a greased bowl or dough rising bucket, and turn once. Cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled. This may take 30-40 minutes or more depending on the atmospheric temperature. Go by the indicator as your guide. Note down how long this takes as it may help approximate the time needed for the second rise.

Grease your baking sheet or tray generously with oil. Keep aside.
Once the dough doubles, punch it down. Lightly flour your work surface, transfer the dough onto it. Cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll into a rectangle depending on the size of your baking tray. Roll up, starting from the long side. Moisten edge with water and seal. Taper ends. Place the loaf seam side down on the baking sheet. Brush off any excess flour with a large brush. Let rise in a warm place till it doubles. 
Place the loaf seam side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, 30-40 minutes. A safe bet would be around the same time as the first rise. Towards the end of the second rise pre-heat  oven to 190 degrees C/ 375 degrees F.
I always do a terrible job of slashing loaves, but if you really want to, carefully without deflating the loaf, make 3-4 diagonal slashes before you bake the bread. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or till the internal temperature of the bread registers 200 F.  The bread doesn't brown a lot (unless you use egg wash). The most reliable way to do this would be to approximate the baking time and check the internal temperature.
Remove the bread from the oven, cool to room temperature before slicing. 

The bread goes stale really fast as it has no fat in it, therefore best eaten the day it is baked. But in case you are left with some try throwing it in a savory bread pudding.

Please note: Some recipes for quick French bread are made with slightly wetter dough and a shorter knead time. The shorter knead is for the gluten to develop during the longer rise. The dough when slacker can't hold its shape as it bakes in the oven, hence the second proof is only till the dough 'almost' doubles. My dough wasn't wet or even tacky, so have let it double before baking.

Steam in the oven (by throwing ice cubes on the floor of the oven or sprtizing water on the walls) when you start baking supposedly helps make a crispy crust. I am way too chicken to attempt doing this, so will be content with the crusty enough crust I got. The original recipe calls for all purpose flour, I shall be trying that too. Less yeast, cool water and all that! If things work better, shall update here.

Which is your favorite quick crusty bread recipe? And what according to you really makes a great one? Tell me!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Ottolenghi's Olive Oil Crackers

Wincing, grouchy, irritable, bored beyond belief - that was me last week. Terrible pain in my back and neck put me completely out of action for a couple of days. Followed by the very much dreaded dictum of rest and restricted movement by the orthopedic surgeon. Rest is anathema to me, just beyond me!  Hubby and kids home over the long weekend, ensured enough and more of it. Good in more ways than one, or boredom would have driven me to the kitchen!  Knowing me as a bad patient for 'rest' hubby said, 'Yes, you can't bake, don't even think about it for a few days'!  Sigh! Self pity!

Better this week, the baker and blogger in me kicks back into action! Thank God for crackers and the kind, low fat and exactly what I need to quickly come out of oven and hopefully on to the blog! 

Yotam Ottolenghi's Olive oil crackers from Deeba's had to happen sooner, but as they say, better late than never! Crisp and golden crackers with just about a splash of extra virgin olive oil, these are good! With enough spices to tickle your palate they will be good on their own, milder ones would be good too but with a dip.

Just be sure you do not use excessive flour for rolling as they may taste flour-y. Watch them very carefully as they bake, they bake really fast, burn really fast!  The baking time varies depending on how thin you roll the crackers, so a test batch for tasting is absolutely essential. 
The really simple recipe goes like this.
Olive Oil Crackers
200gms plain flour, plus extra for dusting
50gms whole wheat flour / 50 grams more plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
115ml water
25ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
1 teaspoon salt (vary to taste, a bit less if using salt as topping)
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
2 cloves of garlic, grated
 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Topping suggestions : Maldon flaky salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, minced garlic etc for sprinkling/topping

Sift all dry ingredients, except the sea salt  into a medium sized bowl. Add the oil and water. Bring it together, and then turn onto a work surface and knead briefly until smooth. This makes a fairly soft but stiff dough. Wrap in cling film and leave it to rest for an hour in the fridge.

Line 2-3 trays with baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 220°C / 430 F . On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll a quarter of the dough at a time, as thin as possible. {or you can divide the dough into 25 pieces and roll out thin tongues as described by Ottolenghi.}

Use enough flour to ensure the dough doesn’t stick to the surface. Brush the top generously with olive oil, then sprinkle on the sea salt, or topping of your choice. Cut into shapes, circles or squares or rectangles with a pastry cutter. Squares and rectangles will save you some re-rolling and consequently less light  crackers.

Place the crackers on the prepared tray. Bake for 5 minutes or less, until crisp and golden brown. Allow to cool, taste the test batch to help identify the baking time for the rest of the crackers. Store in an airtight container. 
We loved these and I will be making more of these soon! A word of caution though, the above recipe makes a whole lot of crackers, try halving the recipe if like me, patience is not among your virtues!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Common Basic Baking Terms - Part 2

Close on the heels of my recent post  Common Basic Baking Terms - Part 1 , comes the next part. This again is my just my understanding and compilation from various sources, please feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Dip and sweep method : Different bakers use different methods of measuring flour, one being the dip and sweep method, the other, spoon and sweep method. To measure flour by dip and sweep method, the measuring cup is directly dipped into the flour container to fill it and then leveled out. Flour measured this way weighs 140 grams for a cup as the flour is compacted in the cup when dipped. Its relevant and important to know what method your recipe, book or author uses for measuring flour specially if your recipe doesn't give metric values. Also helps if you measure and not weigh your flour.

Dock : When you do not want your rolled out pie / tart/ cookie/ puff pastry / pizza dough to blister  in the oven as it bakes, you 'dock' the surface of the dough. Docking creates tiny little holes in the pastry, preventing blistering or too much rising of the dough where its not needed. You could use a fork to dock or even better a dough docker which makes your work quick and easy. A dough docker is a spiky little suspicious looking thing which rolls along your dough easily. You may not mind docking your pizza dough, but its great to have a dough docker if you need to bake a large batch of graham crackers or mille fuille  for entertaining.

Dribble : While making custard and custard based dishes, you need to add liquid, like hot milk to whisked eggs. Since you do not want to raise the temperature of the eggs all at once and risk curdling or scrambled eggs, you very slowly pour the hot milk little by little or 'dribble' the hot milk slowly into the egg mixture.

Dust : To dust is to cover the surface with a dry ingredient such as flour or sugar or cocoa for example. You need to dust your baking tin or work surface with flour, dust the top of your Tiramisu with coffee or cocoa, dust the top of your cake  with powdered sugar. Your recipe generally will tell you if you need to be generous or judicious when you dust. Dusting your baking tin with excessive flour unless specified will leave your cake with a slightly undesirable thickish crust. So watch out!

Egg wash : If you have ever wondered what makes the tops or surface of some breads or pastry glisten and shine so invitingly, you are in all probabilities seeing something egg-washed prior to baking. An egg wash is basically just egg and some liquid (like milk or cream) whisked together and brushed on top of bread dough or scones. You normally need very little of the egg wash to cover your dough and you can expect a lot of it to be left over. Think up ways of using it up. If you do not use eggs, a mixture of sugar, oil and milk in equal quantities is supposed to do the trick.

Flour : To 'flour' is to dust (your counter) with flour, lightly or generously as needed and directed.

Fold in : Recipes often direct you to 'fold in'  dry ingredients or whipped egg whites for example into your (cake) batter. Folding in means incorporating ingredients into a mixture very gently but thoroughly, the objective being retaining maximum air which you have carefully created. Its very important to learn this technique as it can make or ruin the texture of your bake, specially in a fatless sponge or genoise or a chiffon cake. Constant practice and probably a few flat sponges is the only way to learn this!
Apart from technique and confidence (don't even remind me about over-confidence and failed cakes please), things which will greatly help here are good quality silicon spatulas (for regular cakes), balloon whisks and slotted skimmers for your genoise or chiffon cakes. A balloon whisk is hard to find here, but you can surely get a good slotted skimmer in your nearby steel store. I recently got myself slotted skimmers in varying sizes for different amounts of batter.

Grease : Greasing is applying grease or fat - oil, butter (preferably with a silicon brush) or using a non-stick spray on your baking tray or muffin cups or cake tins to aid easy release of your bakes from the tin. I like using oil for this. Greasing your pan gorgeously while baking pizza or focaccia helps get a crispy crust, while just enough should be alright when you bake cakes and breads. So you 'grease and flour' and line your tins with baking parchment - all for a neat surface and easy release. 

Heaping : A heaping cup or spoon of something means just a little over a cup or spoon. As opposed to a scant cup or spoon (below)

Kneading : A very important step in bread baking, kneading is a way of developing gluten in the dough, which helps trap gases produced by yeast aiding its rise. So adequate kneading and right kneading is important for good texture of  bread. Practice, practice! A video again of Rose Beranbaum here

Laminated dough : This is dough made with alternating layers of dough and fat, usually butter. Butter is enclosed in the dough and then rolled out, folded (or given 'turns') and re-rolled repeatedly to multiply the number of such layers. The butter melts in the oven creating flaky layers. Puff pastry, croissants and danish pastry are classic examples of  laminated dough.

Line : To line is to cover the base and sometimes sides of your tins / baking sheets with baking parchment. Avoid using wax paper for this as the wax often melts. Lining helps easy release and also get a nice smooth bottom surface and sides, not to mention easy washing up later. Watch this video to see how to cut out and line tins. Though I never really get around to doing it, its helps and is a joy to have parchment cut into standard pan sizes, ready to use. You could also buy these online.

Leavener / Leavening : To leaven means to 'make light or to raise'. A leavener is an agent which helps raise or lighten your bake.  Classic examples are baking powder, baking soda, commercial and wild yeast. Foam cakes and some cakes like Queen Of ShebaAlmost Fudge Gateau have no chemical leaveners, whipped eggs/egg whites do the job.

Mise en place  (meez en plas) : Though not  a baking term as such, this is a French phrase which means ' putting things in place'. As we see in the cookery shows on television. All ingredients measured and lined up. Helps a lot in making sure you have all ingredients for your bake without having to realize you don't have enough eggs as you melt the chocolate.

Marble : The familiar marbled effect with 2 or more colors. Here you will come across this term in marbling cake batters or creating a marbled effect for decorative purposes in desserts. You alternate spoonfuls of batters of two colors in the pan and use a toothpick or skewer or knife to gently swirl the batter. Check this video here  Or marble as shown in this video.  This creates a very interesting effect in the baked cake and each time the 'design' is different.  For a ginko pattern, just scrape all the batter of one one color in your bundt pan in one layer, top with all the batter of the other color and bake. Important to temper your enthusiasm for swirling or you will regret it!

Pipe : Apart from piping butter cream, whipped cream or ganache, you also pipe batter for making ladyfingers or Savioradi , macarons, pavlova, dacquoise etc. Piping bags are very handy to have for this purpose, though cones can be made with parchment too ( too much work, not as convenient). I like disposable bags and slightly large ones at that. You could snip a large one to make it small but not the other way round. Small bags tend to ooze out the cream or batter as you close the other end. A messy situation you could avoid. Most baking supplies store stock these. For very tiny quantities of ganache or cream (while decorating) small ziplock bags are best.

Pre heat : Pre-heating is heating your oven to the needed temperature before placing your bake in. This is to ensure that the oven already is at the temperature you need when you bake goes inside. There are recipes though very rare, which need you to place the bake in a cold oven and then start heating it. Typically OTGs take longer to pre-heat and convection microwaves pre-heat really fast. Read more on this.

Proof : Proofing in bread baking means ensuring your active dried yeast is active, alive and kicking. You normally need to proof active dried yeast, whereas its not necessary to proof instant yeast. Read more about this here. After the dough is kneaded, letting it rise till it doubles is also called proofing. Letting the shaped dough double in the pan is also called proofing!

Pre-ferment, poolish, starter : Bread dough is usually made by mixing all of the flour, yeast and liquid ingredients together at one go. Sometimes, bakers use a mix of commercial yeast (as opposed to wild yeast, this in the next part) flour and water, let it stand for sometime (as indicated in the recipe), sometimes overnight, before mixing it with the rest of the dough ingredients. This helps jump-start the flavor and the rising power of bread.

Poolish is a kind of pre-ferment which is commonly accepted to indicate a combination of equal weights of water, flour and a very small amount of yeast - From King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book.