Pears for Autumn

Late September and its already impossible to walk down the pedestrian pathway without ending up with leaves on your shoulders. I can literally smell the fumes emanating from the dhunuchi and the air is filled with sound of a dhak playing…radio stations trying to get everyone into the Durga Puja mood.

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. Neither is it sweltering hot, nor unreasonably chilly. I feel lazy and excited at the same time, now that the Indian festive season is upon us. I can’t wait for October!

Meanwhile, here’s an almost “funky” pear fruit recipe, to make mid-morning a little fizzier.

The pears in our refrigerator have been ripening since last Tuesday. I know.

So I pulled a couple of them out. Poached ’em in a lime-vanilla-cinnamon bath and added some fizz (which I honestly didn’t think would work)…but amazingly, it turned out yummy and fun!

Fizzy Pear fruit Drink (or soup, if you may) – Serves 2

– 2 medium sized pears

– 3 cloves

– 1 medium-sized cinnamon stick

– Half a pod of vanilla, bruised slightly (you could also use vanilla essence)

– Juice of 1 lime

– 2 cardamoms, flattened with your knife

– 2 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup

– 1 cup of water

– 7Up or Sprite to serve

Halve the pears and remove the seeds. I did not peel the skin off, but you can, of course, if you want. Set the water to simmer on low heat. Add the cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, lime juice, cardamoms and honey. Drop the pear halves in the simmering water, cut side down. Cover and cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the pears have softened considerably. Turn them over (skin-side down) and poach for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for a few minutes. Chill the fruit in the refrigerator. Cut the halves into thirds. Put them in a shot glass and fill it up with 7up or Sprite. Top with crushed ice (optional) and serve.

Coffee-Caramel Crème Mini-Puffs

The lazy afternoon stretched forever. I didn’t feel like putting down my book and pulling the curtains apart to let in the sun. But the room had become cold…it had been raining all morning. I had been craving creme puffs since an early breakfast, but had somehow resisted rushing off to the kitchen. Instead, I went through all the cookbooks looking up all the cream puff recipes. And I made these mini-puffs with a coffee creme filling and icing, for tea.

For the puffs I like using David Lebovitz’s recipe for pâte à choux, or Pierre Hermé’s choux recipe for his Chocolate Éclairs.

I added an extra tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar to make the mini-puffs sweeter.

Coffee Caramel Crème:

– Half cup heavy cream

– 3 tablespoons of brown sugar

– Half a teaspoon of freshly ground coffee (or espresso powder)

– 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

– 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

– Half a teaspoon ground cinnamon

Bring the cream to a boil. Add the coffee, butter, vanilla essence and cinnamon and stir well. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool for five minutes. Meanwhile, melt the sugar in a bain-marie until it becomes toffee-like (I’m a certified expert in burning caramel at this point, but I’m sure you’ll be more careful!).

Add the caramel to the cream mixture and stir well. I like to keep the icing (or if you use it as a filling) a little swirly, but that depends on you really. Smother the mini-puffs in the creme and chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.

Saying “No” to Brownies!

No. I’m not actually saying “no” to brownies! I couldn’t possibly do that…ever!!

But I’ve noticed how every time I prowl around the kitchen, pantry and stick my nose into the refrigerator looking for something to snack on, I mostly choose things that I can just pop into my mouth, rather than those which would require the use of forks and spoons and plates. So I came up with brownie squares. Yes, its just a brownie tart chopped up into pieces for my convenience.

Its technically not the end of the week, I know, but I just couldn’t stand “no-baking-for-a-week” anymore!

This one’s a simple 3-layers recipe really; 1 layer of chocolate brownie crust, 1 layer of lemon pudding and the topmost layer is a chewy mocha meringue.

Chocolate Brownie Tart:

– 75gms of unsalted butter, cold and cut into chunks

– 1/2 cup flour, regular all-purpose

– 3 tablespoons of semisweet cocoa powder

– 1/2 cup of granulated white sugar

– 1 egg yolk, well beaten

– two tablespoons of cold water

– 1/2 teaspoon of salt

Blitz to mix the flour, sugar, salt and cocoa powder in a processor. Add the butter and mix again till the mixture becomes crumby. Pour it out on a working surface or a bowl. Add the egg yolk and start kneading gently. Gradually add the cold water to form the dough. Wrap with cling foil and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees. Prepare a baking tin. Roll out the brownie crust carefully and place it into the baking tin, trimming the edges accordingly. With a fork make piercing all over the crust (so it doesn’t rise up while baking). Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Lemon Pudding:

– Juice and zest of 1 lemon

– two tablespoons of warm water

– 1 egg beaten

– 1/2 cup double cream at room temperature

– 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

– 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

– 3 tablespoons of icing sugar

Combine the cream, butter, vanilla essence and sugar in a bain-marie and stir it into a uniform mixture. Take it off the heat and beat in the egg vigorously (you don’t want your egg to scramble). Combine the lemon juice, zest and water separately and stir it into the cream-butter mixture. Adding the lemon juice directly will just make the cream curdle.

Chewy Mocha “Meringue”:

– 2 egg whites

– 1/4 cup icing sugar

– 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground coffee (you could also use instant coffee mix, the taste would alter though)

This layer’s technically not meringue-like, since we whip the egg white to a frothy texture, rather than a shiny one. The frothiness makes it turn chewy while baking. Add the coffee and sugar gradually while whipping the whites till they form soft frothy peaks.

Assembling the Brownie Tart:

Pour the lemon pudding over the pre-baked crust and pipe out the mocha “meringue” on top. Bake for 12-15 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degrees oven or till the meringue is dry and chewy.

Cool completely and cut into bite-sized squares.

My Sweetness and Sourness

Since last Saturday I’ve been craving lemon rice and ANYTHING Vietnamese…but somehow I have been too busy to even step into the kitchen for the last few days. I know, I miss my darling spatulas!

Besides, I’ve promised myself, I will not be baking anything during the course of this week. I’ve been hogging on strawberry ice-cream so far to satisfy my sweet cravings. But today I’ve finally managed to whip up some special lemon rice for myself and made it go along with honey prawns with a dash of sour-n-salty.

Lemon Rice:

– 1 cup of cooked rice

– 1 tablespoon mustard seeds

– 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

– 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi)

– 1 large whole dry red chili

– 2 tablespoons of lemon juice

– A pinch of salt to taste

– 1 tablespoon of toasted peanuts/almonds/cashews

– 1 tablespoon of curry leaves

Heat oil in a pan. On medium heat, add the red chili, mustard seeds, curry leaves and fenugreek seeds and let them crackle. Stir till the fenugreek seeds start to brown. Add the cooked rice and lemon juice. Stir to mix well and remove from heat taking care so the rice does not stick to the sides and bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with toasted nuts.

Honey Prawns:

– 500gms medium-sized prawns

– 2 medium-sized onions finely chopped

– 2 tablespoons chopped garlic

– 1 teaspoon ginger, sliced in strips

– 1/4 cup soy sauce

– 5 tablespoons of honey

– 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder

– 2 green chilies finely chopped

– 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce

– 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

– salt and pepper to taste

– 3 tablespoons of olive oil

– Chopped coriander to garnish

– 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Marinate the prawns with a teaspoon of salt. Heat oil in a pan. Fry the prawns till the edges turn golden brown and remove them from the pan. Add the onions, garlic and ginger and fry till the onions start to brown. Add the red chili powder, chopped green chilies, vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and cook over medium heat for a minute. Put the fried prawns back into the pan and add the honey. Add half a cup of water and the cornstarch. Cover and cook on low heat for 15 minutes. If you need a thicker gravy just boil it  uncovered, to reduce. Garnish with chopped coriander.

My sweet-n-sour lunch and a whole afternoon of food porn!!

Cashew & Cheese Cakelets

“But this is plain !” complained my brother with his eyebrows knit closely together. He put the piece of sponge cake back on the plate and pushed it away. Yes, I know…he pushed away cake!

This is what happens when you whip up desserts too often in our household. Everybody gets used to it and expects everything to be stuffed with nuts, or smothered in chocolate or topped with fruity cream. Whatever happened to enjoying the good ol’ plum cake with tea or a plain vanilla sponge cake, for that matter?

On my mother’s request, (why does she have to be so partial towards her son…that kid has it easy, I tell you…not fair at all!) I set to make one of my favorites of all times – Cashew & Cream Cheese Cakelets.

Usually, we’ve always liked it with ice-cream or some kind of jam/jelly glazing on top; this time I’ve dunked them in a crème fraîche bath.

For each cakelet:

1 egg

– 60gms all-purpose flour

– 2 tablespoons ground cashew nuts

– 50gms unsalted butter

– 3 tablespoons cream cheese

– 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt (thick, hung, sour curd would do too)

– 4 tablespoons granulated sugar

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

– 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat the oven to 350° C. Blitz all the ingredients in a processor till nice and smooth. Fill greased ramekins with the batter and bake for 15-20 minutes. You could also bake the batter in parts to make layered cakelets, like I did. Cool the cakelets in their ramekins, on the rack.

The icing (and filling) is a plain ganache, made by heating double cream with sugar and cocoa powder in equal parts. Add whipped cream or ice-cream with a sprinkling of chopped cashews before serving.

And I swear, I’m never baking again! Ever!

People just have to get use to plain old fruit cake now.