Category Archives: Culinary Arts

Sweet Coconutty Hand-pies

I am now slowly reeling over the indulgent and gluttony-behaviour inducing Christmas celebrations. It has been a good year. When I look back, I am thankful for all the blessings. Crossed many milestones, traveled, made new friends. This year has been close to my heart. I will treasure the memories forever.

I did miss celebrating Christmas back home and with family. But Dubai has given me a new home, new family. And because the year has been so kind, I wanted to make Christmas special and culminate the year on a sweet note. We decided to make all the Christmas sweets at home. Just like the way we do it back in India.

For me it was the first time I made the sweets by myself, with the man being sous chef 😉 And in my attempt to make these treats, I stumbled upon  a lot of tricks and techniques. More on that, I will share with you later.

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For this Christmas, I (or rather we) made and shared goodie boxes with all home-made sweets. We made a mix of modern and traditional christmas sweets. We made Christmas Cake, Marzipan, Tandlache ladoo (red rice ladoos), Date rolls, Shankarpala (or Tukdey), Kaliyo, Gingerbread cookies. And a special fusion item – Sweet Coconuty hand-pies.

I actually wanted to make the traditional Nevries, but like some magical influence, I was drawn towards baking. Well, it was no magic, I just didn’t want to deep-fry the cresent shaped treats and preferred baking instead. Et Voila!

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Sweet Coconuty Hand-pies

Makes approx 8 medium hand-pies that serve well as dessert or snack for high tea.

For the filling:

  • Jaggery grated 2-3 tbsps
  • Fresh Coconut (grated) 1/2 cup
  • Almonds, powdered 1 tbsp
  • Semolina/ Rava 1 tbsp
  • Nigella seeds/ Kalonji 1/2 tbsp
  • Sesame seeds/ Til 1tbsp
  1. In a pan, dry roast the sesame seeds, nigella seeds, semolina, almond powder till fragrant and keep it aside.
  2. In the same pan, dry roast the grated coconut till fragrant and the oil is released a bit. While this is still hot, add the above mix to it. Add the grated jaggery. Use a spoon to stir and ensure the jaggery has melted and combined well with the rest of the mix.
  3. Keep aside to cool.

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For the hand-pie dough:

  • Plain flour/ Maida 200 gms
  • Butter 100 gms, cold and cut into cubes
  • Icing sugar 2 tbsps
  • Egg yolk 1
  • Ice cold water (a few tbsps)
  1. Take the flour and sugar in a bowl, add the cold butter and using your fingers keep cutting through the butter and flour, till the entire flour resembles grainy sand like texture.
  2. Add the yolk and combine. Add a tbsp of cold water at a time, to bring the dough together. Stop, just till the dough comes together. You don’t need a well kneaded smooth dough, just need a lump come together.
  3. Refrigerate it for 30 mins. This will help the butter to remain intact and not melt away while rolling.
  4. After 30 mins, take it out and start rolling it between parchment sheets.
  5. Cut into rectangular shapes and add little bit of the filling ( a tsp maybe).
  6. To seal the edges, dip your finger in water and run through the edges. Fold the hand-pies and using a fork, crinkle them.
  7. Poke a few holes on the top with a fork.
  8. Bake at 175 degrees C for 10-12 mins.
  9. Take it out of the oven and brush with egg wash for a golden hue on top.
  10. Bake again with only top side heat for 5 mins.

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Bottle gourd, clove and yoghurt tea cake

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What would a cake be without the essence that uplifts it? The essence that renders a mellow yet significant depth of flavour. The essence that distinguishes bakes from merely being a lump of sugary/ floury substance. It is no wonder that vanilla forms an integral part of most bakes. Another powerful addition that renders it another dimension is that of spice.

Consider cinnamon, with its heady aroma, the woody sweet flavour and the sublime heat that it provides, makes it a favourite among most bakers. Or cardamom, that blends with bakes equally well to lend it another characteristic flavour profile. Or saffron, that enwraps any dessert with royalty. With such capabilities of making its presence felt even with the almost negligible quantity, the spice addition, I feel remains the unrecognized hero of the baked dish/desserts.

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Recently, I was toying with the idea of using spice for baking. But I had the desire to explore more rather than just going by the universal favourite, cinnamon. I must tell you now, that of all spices, Cloves are my favourite. And aren’t the little dried flower like things a pretty sight as well? Cloves are slightly more pungent compared to cinnamon or cardamom and so I was curious to find out details, from what I could bake using cloves to the different possible flavour combinations. Did you know cloves pair up excellently with bananas and oranges?

I took a few cloves in my hand, inhaled the aroma, popped in my mouth and rolled it around, while doing my research. And that led me to design this recipe. I baked this beautiful tea cake, with bottle gourd (since I had it at hand, and also something I wanted to try baking with) and yoghurt.

This mildly sweet cake, soft and moist, with a gentle hint of spice can be presented as a perfect accompaniment with tea. Below is the recipe for my Bottle gourd, clove and yoghurt tea cake.

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Recipe: Bottle gourd, clove and yoghurt tea cake
Serves 4 (I used a loaf mould – 8″x 4″)

Ingredients:
125 gms plain flour (maida)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp powdered clove
100 gms butter
75 gms castor sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
75 gms plain yoghurt
100 gms bottle gourd (measured after grating)

Method:

1. Peel, de-seed and grate the bottle gourd.
Very very important note: On grating the bottle gourd, it secretes a brown bitter juice that discolours the grated bottle gourd and alters its taste. Ensure you rinse the grated bottle gourd 2-3 times under running water to wash the bitter juices away. Squeeze out any excess water and leave it to drain in a strainer/ colander.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder and powdered clove in a bowl and keep it aside.
3. In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar till light and creamy.
4. Add the egg and beat to incorporate. Add the vanilla essence and mix again.
5. Add the flour mixture and yoghurt alternately, folding it gently into the batter till incorporated. Starting and ending with flour; F-Y-F-Y-F.
6. Gently fold in the grated bottle gourd and add the batter in a baking mould/container lined with parchment paper. If you do not have parchment paper, you can grease the baking mould with butter and dust some flour on it. This is to avoid the cake from sticking to the container.
7. Bake at 175 degrees Celsius for 25-30 mins.
8. Once done, allow the cake to cool for 5 min and remove it from the baking mould on a cooling rack. Leaving it in the mould longer will make the cake soggy from the condensed steam.
9. Dust with some icing sugar and powdered clove. Cut and serve.

You might also want to check another modern Indian/fusion recipe: Pasta in spinach sauce

Baking a Potato Bread

Potato Bread

Baking bread requires heart. Baking bread requires muscle. Baking bread teaches you patience. Baking bread teaches you to have faith and surrender to the unknown. And that’s what I learnt by baking bread.

When it comes to baking, I have always lingered around the safer side of cakes and cookies. They never let me down. I did venture out with some advanced patisserie stuff that didn’t go quite right. But the zeal to learn something new still exists and to take it a notch higher in 2015, I wanted to try out breads.

I checked out some recipes I wanted to try from a book that has been resting on my shelf for the last 2 years! *sigh* The Bread Baker’s Apprentice was a birthday present that my friend Manisha had gifted me. Maybe she believed in my baking abilities more than I did. Thank you Manisha 🙂

As a flipped a few pages, again like some unseen universal magnetic force was drawing me towards looking for a simple recipe. Of course the book says ‘Mastering the art of Extraordinary Bread’ and I don’t know why I was even searching for a simple recipe, in the book of extraordinary bread.

So I gave in to a recipe that intrigued me most, because it uses mashed potatoes. Yes, you read that right, potatoes! The book mentions, the potato starch softens the dough giving the bread a pleasing tenderness, and I vouch for it. This was also the first time I used a pre-ferment (Biga).

Biga

Biga

Throughout the entire process I had my doubts, Was the flour enough? Have I added more water? Will the dough rise? But I took a leap of faith and stuck to the recipe (only reducing the quantity by half) keeping my fingers crossed and hoping everything would turn out just right. And boy did I bake some extraordinary bread! And just like that I started believing that baking a good bread at home is possible.

This bread has a hard crust (more like a kadak paav) and is soft and pillowy on the inside. It is perfect for soups and dishes that have some gravy.

Here I have put down the recipe that I used, which is same as mentioned in the book, the only change being that the quantity has been reduced by half and I skipped adding optional ingredients -rosemary and garlic. The below recipe will provide around 10-12 buns.

proofing

Proofing the dough for the Potato Bread

Biga/ Preferment (I made this the previous day and used a part of it to bake the bread. You can store the remaining in the freezer for about 3 months)
Flour 1 ¼ cup
Instant yeast ¼ tsp
Water ½ cup

• Stir the flour and yeast and keep adding water till the dough comes together.
• Sprinkle flour on the counter and knead for 4-6 minutes.
• Lightly coat the dough with oil and let it rest in a bowl at room temperature for 2 hours.
• Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly and place it back in the bowl covering with cling film.
• Store it in the fridge if using it the next day or just wrap it in cling and store in the freezer.

Second proofing after shaping the dough.

Second proofing after shaping the dough.

Potato Bread:
Biga 100 gms
Flour 1 ½ cup
Salt ¾ tsp
Black pepper ¼ tsp
Instant Yeast 20 gms
Mashed Potatoes ½ cup
Olive oil 1 tbsp
Water ½ cup
Flour for dusting
Olive oil for brushing on top

• Remove the Biga from the fridge (an hour before you start mixing the dough for the bread) and divide it into small pieces. Let it thaw at room temperature.
• Stir together the flour, salt, pepper, and yeast.
• Add the biga pieces, mashed potatoes, oil and water and start kneading the dough till it comes together. On kneading the dough might get a bit sticky, and that’s ok unless its very liquidy sticky then add more flour.
• Sprinkle flour on the counter and start kneading. You might have to keep sprinkling flour on the surface as the dough keeps getting sticky on kneading. But just sprinkle enough so that it avoids sticking but do not add too much of flour. You will have to keep kneading the dough for 10-15 minutes.
• Lightly oil a bowl and keep the dough in it. Cover the bowl with cling film. Set aside at room temperature for 2 hours.
• Remove the dough, knock it a bit. Divide the dough into smaller portions and shape them into balls.
• Place them on a lined baking tray and set aside for 2 hours. Mist the dough and lightly cover with a cloth.
• The dough should double in size.
• Preheat oven to 200 degrees C and bake for 35-40 minutes. Rotate the tray after the first 20 minutes for even baking.
• Once done, allow to cool to room temperature (for atleast 20 minutes). The buns should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
• Tastes best when consumed immediately.

Notes:
• You can use leftover mashed potatoes
• Optional ingredients – add 1 tbsp rosemary and 2 tbsps chopped garlic to the mashed potatoes.
• I stuffed some herbed cheese in a portion of the dough and it tasted just as good. Perfect for a snack in itself.

Quiche – Secrets of a flaky crust revealed! + A beetroot quiche recipe

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When it comes to baking, the first hurdle to cross is the technique, post which you can deal with the recipe. As an enthusiastic home-baker I am always looking out to try new techniques. After conquering cakes, the next on my list was a quiche. Every aspiring baker has heard of the Quiche Lorraine, and so I too wanted to experiment with pastry. Getting a flaky pastry is an art that mostly only the professional bakers get to boast about. But I was determined to learn.

The first few attempts were mainly targeted to perfect my pastry making skills. I started off with kneading the dough like the dough for chapatti. It works fine, but the flakiness was as far as Pluto from Earth. It was only when I actually saw a cooking show on TLC that I learnt the delicate art of cutting the butter with flour, and gently bringing it together and then stepping back to check if it stays like an obedient dog.

While I have finally learnt to get it right, it is only fair to pass on the knowledge. The secret to a flaky crust is to get miniscule portions of fat amidst the flour. Yes, that!

So here is a step by step technique guide to help you get a nice flaky crust for your quiche.

Dough Pastry (8″ pan, Serves 4-6)

Ingredients
200 gms Flour
100 gms Butter
3-4 few cubes of ice and water

Method
1) Cold butter. Solid state. You want a flaky crust you’ve got to follow the rules.

2) As far as possible, use your fingers to cut the butter with the flour. It gives you a better control and your can stop as soon as you reach the bread crumbs like texture. Using a stand mixer is fine, but you might tend to over mix. What happens if you over mix is, because of the Indian climate, the butter tends to soften and gradually will disappear into the dough. You will have just a dough ball and not crumbs.
crumbs

3) When you’ve reached crumb like state, use chilled water and bring it together. Add a tbsp of chilled water at a time, you will need around 3-4 tbsps. Just bring it together, don’t over mix it. The dough should just come together.
bringingdoughtogether

4) Refrigerate. Atleast 15-20 mins. The tiny butter particles are what we are concerned about here and keeping the dough cold will ensure the butter doesn’t melt after all that handling.

5) Flatten it a bit and roll the dough between two sheets of parchment. Do not, I repeat do not roll it like a chapatti to and fro. Avoid rolling multiple times. Just with long strides, roll forward in a direction away from you, lift, roll in a direction towards you. 3-4 times should be enough to get the dough stretched enough to cover an 8” quiche pan.
rolling the dough

6) You will find steaks of white in the dough, that is the butter. Streaks are good, if you don’t find them, the butter has melted and mixed with the dough.
streaks

7) Roll the dough to 1/4″ thickness

8) Gently invert the dough to cover the pan. Trim off the excess from the edges.

7) Blind bake it. Blind baking is the process of baking the crust without the filling. To prevent the dough to puff up because of the butter between the dough, spread cling film and add uncooked grains or rice, as weight, on it. Blind bake for 10 mins at 180 degrees C.
blindbake

8) Remove it from the oven, let it cool slightly, add the filling and bake again till done.
Filling

Recipe: Beetroot and Feta Quiche

quiche

Dough Pastry
200 gms Flour
100 gms Butter
3-4 few cubes of ice and water

Filling
1 tsp olive oil
1tbsp butter
140 gms/ one large onion sliced
250 gms beetroot (3-4 beetroots par boiled, peeled and grated, measured in gms after grating)
1 tsp sugar
½ tbsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 chilly chopped (you can use 1 tsp black pepper powder instead of chilly)
2 ½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
Feta crumbled (approx 3 tbsp)
½ cup cream (I used Amul)
2 eggs
Coriander for garnishing

Method:

  1. Boil the beetroot for around 10 mins, allow it to cool, peel and grate.
  2. In a pan (on heat), add the olive oil and butter.
  3. When the butter melts, add the onions and cook till the onions soften and become translucent in colour.
  4. Add the grated beetroot, sugar, salt, Dijon mustard, chilly and balsamic vinegar and cook for 5-7 mins.
  5. Allow the mixture to cool.
  6. Once cooled down to room temperature, and this filling to the quiche crust that has been blind baked.
  7. Add crumbled Feta over the beetroot mixture.
  8. Beat the eggs with cream and add it to the quiche preparation.
  9. Bake at 180 degree C for 35 mins.
  10. After it has baked, allow it to cool completely.
  11. Garnish with coriander and serve.

7 Tips for a Perfect Pavlova

After watching all those MasterChef series, I too wished to be a part of such cook-offs. The thrill of using your creativity and cooking knowledge to wow the judges, and all that in a limited time frame is just too exciting. As a culinary enthusiast, I love taking up a cooking challenge to learn something new. I found a perfect opportunity when Beacon Holidays organized the #TasteNewZealand cook off challenge.

me

The challenge: To cook a New Zealand dish with atleast one of these ingredients – Lamb chops, Lamb mince and Kiwis. As soon as I read about the challenge, my baking instincts took over and I decided to bake a Kiwi Pavlova.

me in the kitchen

Now I have made pavlova just twice and although a fairly simple dessert to whip up, the trick lies in getting the meringue right. So here is the recipe I used and a few tips to help you bake a perfect pavlova.

kiwis

Serves 4-5 people
Prep time: 15-20 mins
Baking time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 cup whipping cream/double cream
2 ripe kiwis
2 tbsp white chocolate ganache (optional)
milk chocolate for piping (optional)

Method:

1. Separate the eggs whites from the yolks and whip on high speed.
2. When soft peaks form, add sugar 1 tbsp at a time.
3. Once stiff peaks form, add vanilla essence, cornflour and vinegar. Fold in till combined.
4. Spread out on a lined baking tray. Bake at 140 degrees C for an 55-60 mins.
5. Allow to cool completely. Almost an hour.
6. Whip the cream till soft peaks are formed, add in white chocolate ganache, and half a kiwi, finely chopped – almost mashed to puree. (for the ganache, chop a tbsp white chocolate and add a tsp of really hot milk, stir till it melts completely)
7. Spread this mix on the cooled pavlova. Top it with kiwi slices and pipe on some milk chocolate.

Image credit: Shanti Padukone Image credit: Shanti Padukone

7 Tips for a Perfect Pavlova:

1. Egg whites…and just eggs whites! Not even a dot of yolk. Start with a clean bowl and separate the egg white one at a time. I use a different bowl to separate the eggs whites from the yolk and then transfer the egg whites one at a time. This is a very very crucial step because if you don’t get this right, the egg whites won’t whip up to the desired consistency.

2. Consistency: Stiff Peaks. Whip the egg whites with an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer on high speed. Initially, it will just froth up and you will be able to see bubbles and the runny liquid. Be patient, give it some time. After about 5-10 minutes, it will start getting white and gradually soft peak will form. Soft peaks is when the hand mixer moves you can see it leaving a trail of its movement. Start adding the sugar when you see the soft peaks. Once all the sugar has been added, the meringue will look glossy. Keep whipping it till stiff peaks are formed. Stiff peaks: when you lift the hand mixer out a stiff peak will be formed at the tip.

Another famous test is holding the bowl inverted above your head. When you tilt the bowl, if the meringue slides, its not ready yet.

3. Once it has baked, allow it to cool in the oven itself, keeping the over door slightly ajar. After a while you can keep it out to rest, but allow it to cool completely. Even though the surface seems cold, the inside takes a while to cool. It is important to let it cool completely else the whipped cream that you are going to top it with, will melt completely.

4. For mini pavlovas, when you hold it and gently knock on the base, will sound hollow. For a larger pavlova you might not be able to test with this method, but an hour in the oven should be just right for the pavlova to bake completely.

5. Avoid trying to transfer it while it is hot. It will fall apart into pieces. After its cold, you can gently lift it or just slide the parchment itself on the serving plate. Because of the weight of the cream and fruits, it is best to put on the toppings after you have transferred it to the serving plate.

6. Crack are normal. A proper pavlova will have cracks so don’t worry. You can cover it with whipped and fresh fruits.

7. Bake the pavlova in advance, top it with whipped cream and fruits just before serving.

Here is my prize from the cook off, a bottle of New Zealand wine, Sauvignon Blanc 🙂 Thank you Beacon Holidays!

wine bottle

You can view the entire photo album of the cook off here – http://tinyurl.com/ounzxy2

Lessons on Baking Red Velvet

Redvelvet

Baking is a lot more than following a recipe to the T. To me, Baking is so much more about learning through experience. Each time I bake, there is something new I learn.

Earlier this month, I baked over two dozen red velvet cupcakes (regular and mini). Now, this is not the first time I have baked Red Velvets. I have baked Red Velvet cupcakes before and it turned out ok. Yes, just ok, because what turned out good back then seems less compared to the cupcakes I bake now. I have improved 🙂 I have learnt a lot more.

two dozen cupcakes

Here are a few things, I’d like to share about Red Velvets.

1) Although the batter looks reddish, Red Velvets sometimes turn out brown! Yes, its true and others have faced this problem too, you can google. The main culprit here is the quality of colour used.
Always use liquid color, not the powdered form. I have used Tomato Red, Cochineal and Raspberry Red. Of the three, I am quite pleased with the colour that Raspberry Red gives.

Red velvet

2) Most recipes call for a lot of cocoa powder, making the cupcake taste chocolatey. I use just a tsp and half of cocoa powder for 12 cupcakes.

3) Using beaten curd instead of buttermilk, provides a nice soft texture.

4) Prepare a mixture of Red colour, beaten curd, cocoa powder. Use this mixture alternately while adding the flour.

5) Add the flour in 3 parts, mixing it completely after each addition. This ensures that there are no lumps formed while adding flour.

6) F – RM – F – RM – F (F= Flour, RM = Red mixture)

7) For the frosting, in case you find yourself in a hurry and decide to add icing sugar, butter and cream cheese together and then mix, you are doing it wrong and here is what your frosting will look like (a lumpy, runny batter)

Runny frosting mix/batter

Always beat the butter and icing sugar to a smooth mixture. Even if you over beat at this stage, it doesn’t matter. Once you have a smooth mixture, add the cream cheese and just beat it till the cream cheese has mixed evenly (see pic below). Over beating will again make the batter runny.

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8) Refrigerate the frosting for a while before you pipe it out, to get firm swirls.

Hope these pointers will help you make better Red Velvets.
Happy Baking 🙂

Filled Strawberry Cupcakes, Boston Cream Style

Have you had Boston Cream Cupcakes? Well, I have never but I quite like the idea. Cupcakes filled with vanilla pudding. Some day I’m going to try them.

Strawberries

For the time being, I had some Strawberries with me and had this urge to bake some cupcakes.

cupcake

So I just made Strawberry Cupcakes with strawberry butter cream. I used fresh Strawberries…no artificial colours, no artificial flavouring agents!

Cupcaked filled with fresh strawberries

I cut out the crown of the baked vanilla cupcakes. Scooped out cake from the center to make a small well. Filled the well like hole with finely chopped strawberries.

cupcake with strawberry

Put the crown back on and piped the butter cream frosting on top.

cupcakes

And…there you go! 🙂

Strawberry cupcakes