Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lemon Poppy Seed Thins

Lemon and lime. They just aren't the same.  Or are they? Never gave it much thought really! Thick skin, thin skin, yellow and green, tart, sweeter, small and big.  Most of us here are more familiar with the small, thin skinned ones.  Lemon, oops, lime rice, lime juice, lime pickle are so much part of our culinary culture.  I am just opening my eyes to lemon and lemon based desserts.  When the sister visited in July, I pestered her to carry some lemons for me across the seas. Lemons of all things !? Well ! The exasperated busy doctor made a last minute trip to the supermarket to get them as fresh as she could get for me. 

Aromatic and bright hued, they looked gorgeous indeed! Wish they were as commonplace here as well. Snugly wrapped in cling film, they sat in the fridge much longer than I meant them to. Worried they might lose their charm, I hastened to make some Lemon Thins from my favorite cookie book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Cookies.  In contrast to the much smaller thin skinned ones we get here, the lemons gave their zest and juice so generously! Times when I wish I had more than just a passing interest in gardening!

These cookies, Medrich claims, are more lemony than most. The recipe is from her friend Maya Klein, hence the name Maya's Lemon Thins. She reduces the lemon juice, concentrating the flavor, thereby producing buttery, tender-crisp thin cookies with a pleasant lemony taste. If you love all things lime and lemon, you must give these a try! I made these with lime as well and they taste just as good, but be sure you use the freshest and best you can find.

Ingredients : To make sixty-four 2 1/2 inch cookies.  

Freshly squeezed lemon / lime juice - 60 ml / 1/4 cup 
Unsalted butter, soft and cut into pieces - 170 grams / 1.5 sticks / 12 tablespoons
All purpose flour - 315 grams / 11.25 ounces
Baking soda - 1/4 teaspoon
Egg whole - one / 48 grams 
Egg yolk - one / 18 grams 
Vanilla Sugar - 200 grams / 1 cup ( I use powdered)
Freshly grated lemon zest - 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon
Salt - 1/4 teaspoon

Method : Mise en place. 

Whisk together the flour and baking soda. Set aside.

In a heavy sauce pan, heat the lemon juice on medium heat till it becomes thick and syrupy and reduces to 1 tablespoon. This will take hardly anytime, so stick around. Measure it sooner than later, you can always put it back on heat to reduce further if needed. Turn off the heat. 

Add the butter, stir till it melts. I have cooled this and then whisked in the zest. 

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk and sugar till homogeneous. Whisk in the butter mixture.  I find my tiny whisk very handy here.

Tip in the flour. Using  a spatula, stir until just incorporated. The dough will be very very soft. Wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate at least 20 minutes. Once you refrigerate the dough, you can store it for up to 2 days. The dough will firm up. You want it firm enough to roll out easily without it being too hard. If you refrigerate longer, keep portions of the dough out at room temperature till it is fairly firm, but soft enough to roll easily. 

(After the first 20 minutes of chilling, Alice directs to divide the dough into 4 portions, roll each piece 1/16 inch thick between 2 sheets of plastic or wax paper. Slide a cookie sheet under each plastic sheet, refrigerate till firm, cut and bake) Since I found the dough too tender to to do this,  I have divided the dough into smaller portions and rolled out the chilled dough.

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment. 

Take out one small portion of the dough from the fridge. Lightly dust your counter. Carefully, roll the dough thin, about 2 mm.  Cut the cookies with a 2 1/2 inch cookie cutter. Transfer the cut outs to one sheet, chill briefly (about 20 minutes) and then bake them on another lined sheet. I find my large and small metal dough scrapers very useful for lifting the rolled dough and transferring the cookies to the sheet. 

Re-roll scraps.  When ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 200 C / 400 F. Carefully transfer the cookies to the lined sheet, spacing them 1 inch apart. Bake for about 6-7 minutes or till golden around the edges. Watch carefully as they burn quickly. A test batch will tell you the exact baking time. Cookies crisp up as they cool. 

Can store the cookies air-tight for at least  a week. The dough freezes well Alice says, which is an added bonus. 


Lemon Poppy Seed Thins : Add 1/4 cup of poppy seeds to the flour mixture.

Lemon Ginger Thins - Omit the lemon juice and the boiling step. Melt the butter and add 2 tablespoons finely grated ginger. Mix one teaspoon ground ginger with the flour and baking soda. Proceed as directed.

Dainty, crisp and lemony, don't you want these in your cookie jar?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Carrot Halwa / Gajar Ka Halwa

carrot halwa, gajar ka halwa

Carrot Halwa. One of Inida's most adored traditional desserts despite being fairly ubiquitous. An easy and versatile dessert made practically in every home and restaurant. Effortlessly goes from homey to rich and richer to suit individual preferences. But hardly ever fails to please! Not surprisingly, even mothers in our Bollywood movies make Gajar Ka Halwa so often. Its a favorite comfort dessert during winter, a convenient make ahead sweet dish for guests. Grated carrots slowly cooked in milk, sugar and ghee, garnished liberally with nuts, fragrant with cardamom and saffron. What's not to love?  

Carrot halwa is one of those 'safe' desserts which requires very little by way of technique nor needs you to spend a great deal of time. So even if you are a reluctant cook, you can easily win a thumbs up for your first attempt at it. Unless of course you burn it while you are busy WhatsApping or Instagramming about the halwa during its last few minutes on the stove! With the festival of lights around the corner, how about trying this simple dessert if you haven't  tried your hand at it yet? I like it less rich, not very sweet. If you do not approve, tweak it every possible way and we will still remain friends. 

So what we do is cook the carrots in a lot of milk till it is reduced and absorbed quite a bit to make a creamy halwa. You could cook the carrots in a pressure cooker or microwave but then it would not taste quite the same. If you ask me that is.

Carrot Halwa 

Ingredients - To make about 6 servings, half cup each

Grated carrots - 4 cups ( 1/2 kg approximately)
Ghee - 4 tablespoons or more as desired (divided use)
Cashew nuts - 1/4 cup, broken or halved
Whole milk (3.5%) - 4 cups / 1 liter (no low fat please!) 
Sugar - 6-7 tablespoons 
Saffron - a generous pinch
Crushed cardamom - 1/2 teaspoon

Method : Peel and wash the carrots. Grate them using a grater with medium sized holes, measure. Soak the saffron in a teaspoon of warm milk. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons ghee in a heavy bottomed pan. Fry the cashew nuts till golden, drain and keep aside. Add the carrots to the remaining ghee and saute for a couple of minutes on low heat. 

Add the milk and cook on medium heat. Stir occasionally. The carrots will soften and cook as the milk reduces slowly. Keep scraping back the milk solids which accumulate at the sides of the pan back into the halwa. This will give it more richness.

Cook about 20 minutes. When there is still about 1/4 cup of milk left, add the sugar. Start with 6 tablespoons, add more if needed. The mixture will turn more liquid. Continue to cook, stirring often till you don't see any more thin milk at the bottom of the pan. About 10-15 minutes. It will be homogeneous and will come together in a nice mass. You can either let it remain slightly pudding like or let the moisture evaporate some more. In the pictures here, the moisture has been absorbed quite a bit. No I wasn't Instagramming,  just another variation I did not quite relish. I like my halwa very moist and creamy.  

Stir in the soaked saffron, nuts, ghee and cardamom. Cook for a couple of minutes, turn off the heat. Best eaten warm.

Carrot halwa, gajar ka halwa

Time to bring out the diyas, the fairy lights and candles.  Isn't it sheer joy just to behold the beauty of something as simple as light? Hope this Diwali brings you a lot of happiness, have a happy and safe one!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pioneer Woman's Easy Pizza Crust - With Basil, Cherry Tomatoes & Mozzarella

Pizza crust

Gooey, stringy cheese melting on a crisp thin crust warm from the oven.  Flavorful home-made tomato sauce and fresh basil.  As fresh as it can be, home-made pizza!  I have ended up baking pizza 3 times last month as I love feeding people the made from-scratch-ones. Surprisingly I had not made pizza for my family though I have been making them since quite some time.  So recently it was a jalapeno flecked one for my father who loves his food hot. And then again for my sister for whom making pizza at home was an  intimidating thought. Of course I had to show her that it was not!

When I bake pizza at home, it often surprises people that the crust can be good too.  More reasons for me to try out more recipes! My favorites are Peter Reinhart's amazing crust when I can plan well ahead. Cold flour, cold water and a really slow rise in the fridge. The really quick No-Knead Pizza when I need pizza in a hurry.  Just dump all ingredients in a bowl, give 20 energetic stokes and pat the dough right on the pan. Pizza from inspiration to the table in 1 hour! And now Pioneer Woman's pizza crust for times when I have just enough time and energy to stir the dough and dump it in the fridge. Refrigerate and use it over the next 3 days.  Just the dough for times like super busy weekdays followed by your child's birthday party over the weekend.

I like a crust which tastes good, bakes up thin, crisp and crunchy. And Ree Drummond's easy recipe gives you just that. Her pizzas feature this crust often, so we can safely assume it is a favorite. Indeed, when you have a good crust, the toppings are only limited to your imagination! Grilled Eggplant, Tomato and Basil or Three Cheese or  Pesto and Grilled Vegetables or Harissa, Roasted peppers and Cheese - well, just about anything you fancy! A real pleasure for those who take the pains to bake at home. 

Pizza with basil, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella

Here is Ree's crust topped with with tomato sauce, garlicky cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella which is merely a suggestion. Please do have it your way!

PIONEER WOMAN'S EASY NO KNEAD PIZZA CRUST. Recipe here. The below proportions  make a quarter of the recipe on her site.

Ingredients: To make 2 thin 9'' crusts or one large pizza. Double to make 4 nine inch crusts. 

All purpose flour - 130 grams / 1 cup
Salt - slightly heaping 1/2 teaspoon 
Extra virgin olive oil - 20 ml / 4 teaspoons
Water, at room temperature - 90 ml (Take 100 ml minus 2 teaspoons)
Instant yeast - 1/4 teaspoon

 Make the dough
  • Grease your dough rising bucket lightly but thoroughly. You need one large enough to hold the dough when it doubles.
  • Whisk the salt and flour, keep aside. 
  • Take the water in a medium sized bowl. Add the yeast, stir to mix, add the oil next and mix. 
  • Tip in the flour. I used my Danish whisk to mix. You can stir with a wooden spoon or mix with your hands.
  • The dough will look like its crumbly at first, but it will come together fine as you mix. Do not add more water in a hurry. Better to err on the side of the dough being less sticky than making it too sticky or wet.
  • The dough when mixed will be slightly sticky (not wet), but not very much so. If its dry, add a teaspoon of water at a time.  Once mixed, gently rotate it for about 30 seconds to a minute in the same bowl to make it smooth. Lightly grease your hands if needed. The dough will feel very soft and not as sticky now. ( Will update pictures next time I make it)
  • Place the dough in a greased dough rising bucket, close the lid leaving it very slightly open. The dough will almost double in the fridge gradually.
Topping: I have used homemade pizza sauce, cherry tomatoes tossed in garlicky extra virgin olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper and basil. 

  • To make the pizza : Invert two 9'' round or square tins, grease well using a teaspoon of oil for each pan.  Do not skimp as this is important for a crisp crust and easy release of the pizza. 
  • Remove the dough from the fridge, it would have firmed up. Using a dough scraper divide it into 2 equal parts.  
  • Hold the dough in your stretch and pull gently. 
  • Then place it on the pan. Push the dough around gently and spread to make a thin circle or square. If the dough resists, go back to it after a couple of minutes and then spread. Try to keep the thickness uniform as much as possible. Patch any holes.
  • Let the dough rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes. The dough will be puffy. (Ree doesn't rest the dough, bakes straightaway) 
  • Start pre-heating the oven to 250 C (or higher if your own has a setting) 10 minutes after you pat the dough on the pan.
  • After 30 minutes, top the puffed up crust with slightly thickly sliced vegetables of your choice. Cherry tomatoes cut side up here.
  • Bake the pizza for 13-15 minutes or till the crust is a dark golden at the edges. The time may vary depending on the oven. Watch carefully as the pizza will burn quickly at this temperature. If you lift the pizza the bottom should look golden and crisp. If it is not done yet, put it back for a minute or two more.  
  • Carefully remove the pizza (still on the pan) from the oven. 
  • Do not turn the oven off. Maintain the temperature at 250 C. 
  • Spread tomato sauce evenly. Top generously with grated mozzarella and fresh basil leaves. 
  • Bake for 2 more minutes or till the cheese melts.  Careful again as the cheese tends to turn hard if over baked. 
  • Remove from the oven. Let the cheese set for a minute. Slice with a pizza cutter and serve immediately. 
  • Of course within that one minute you will put the next pizza to bake! 
  • The first pizza will tell you if its baked long enough. If it is not crisp enough, bake the next one a minute or two more before you top with cheese. 
pioneer womans easy pizza crust

Please note : Ree uses lukewarm water for the dough, recommends using the dough after at least 24 hours in the fridge. She bakes the pizza soon after spreading it on the pan, I let it rise for 1/2 an hour. 

If your oven sets at a higher temperature, your pizza will bake faster. 

I find Amul mozzarella much better than other brands, though its been a bit inconsistent in quality a couple of times (like the cheese here). I prefer to bake the cheese for just 2 or 3 minutes at most as I find it turns rubbery when baked longer. 

Different crusts for different pizza emergencies . You can never have enough in your repertoire, can you? Which is your favorite crust?