Tart Schmart

I should say this upfront. I’m not a baker. Never have been. Every attempt I’ve made to bake something have always taken disastrous turns. And hence, I steer clear from anything to do that involves mixing eggs, butter, flour and sugar together.

Now that I’ve established this fact, I’m gonna follow up by saying: Whooppee!! I made pie!!

For the last few days, I’ve been ashamed to call myself a blogger…considering that I’ve done nothing but post photographs from my gorgeous *insert orgasmic sound here* vacation in Paris. But, I intend to change that very soon. I’ve drowned myself in more coursework and in learning how to make Parisian Macarons. That’s right. Just when you thought I couldn’t get any cuter.

Over the batches of flat, soggy meringues that came out of my uncontrollable oven, I have wondered whether all French bakers (specializing in macarons) have filthy mouths. Because I sure have developed one, trying to whip up ‘magma-like’ batter.

Its not that my mouth was any un-filthier before, than it is now, but I sure have learnt a few choice words in French.

But with any luck I will succeed…and you will know about it. For now, let the egg whites rest for another day.

My earliest memory of baking is the one when I baked my first cake at the age of 10. A chocolate one too. And it was a disaster.

Given that I don’t have much of a sweet-tooth (not as much as my friends and family), I wanted my cake to taste just right and I doubled the recipe, without doubling the amount of sugar. I still remember that the recipe asked for 220gms of flour and 200gms of sugar. And I put in 200gms of sugar alright, but doubled the flour to 400gms. The cake came out beautifully…out of one of those old aluminum toaster ovens. It was soft, melt-in-your-mouth and was the perfect shade of chocolate. Except that you couldn’t eat it without gagging.

I should have known then, but no…I waited 15 years to finally learn that I’m no baker.

However, cravings have a way of creeping up on you from behind. And then the Universe does everything to make every parameter fall into place. I was greeted by Chocolate & Zucchini when I came back home from the library yesterday. I had umpteen bars of chocolate in the refrigerator (as I always do). I had a full block of unsalted butter, along with a fresh carton of eggs and a can of double cream. And moreover, I also had dessicated coconut that I had bought a few days back — all waiting for me to gather them into a pie!

So I faced the nagging voice at the back of my head that kept murmuring, “You know what happens when you try to bake….”, rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

I’m not trying to be ambitious, so you’ll forgive me for using tiny moulds to make tartlets rather than a full-on pie, aren’t you?

The filling is a dark chocolate ganache (did I just hear someone say, “Playing it safe, bitch?”). And yes, in my eagerness to tuck into the tartlet I burned my tongue on the hot ganache, so, do let it rest to cool, after you’ve filled the tartlets in, and definitely before you plop whipped cream on it (warm ganache = oozy cream for garnish = mess).

Chocolate Espresso Tartlets

To make the crust:

Adopted from Clotilde’s Pâte Sablée recipe

Ingredients:

  • 75gms chilled unsalted butter, diced
  • 75gms sugar
  • 150gms plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1-2 tbsp cold milk

Combine the sugar, flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter into the mixture with fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add a tablespoon of milk and blen it in, handling the dough as lightly as possible. The dough should be crumbly but should clump if squeezed in a handful. If not, then add some more milk (teaspoon by teaspoon) and mix in, till it reaches the clumpy stage. Plop a bit of mixture into a greased tartlet mould, and use the back of a spoon or the heels of your hands to press down the dough to make the crust. The dough might feel a bit dry, but that’s normal (at this point, I used quite a bit of milk, so my dough wasn’t as dry as I thought it would be). Cover tightly with film wrap and chill for 30 minutes, or upto a day. The remaining dough (left after you’ve lined as many moulds as you want) can be wrapped tightly in cling film and frozen for later.

With a fork, puncture the base and sides of the chilled crust. The crust will still puff up a bit while baking, but it’ll be fine once it cools down. Alternatively, place ceramic baking balls in it before popping it in the oven.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (fan-assisted) and bake the tart for 15-20 minutes, till the edges are a nice golden colour. Given that my oven is moody about temperature, I kept a sharp eye on the colour. Cool on a rack.

To make the filling:

Ingredients:

70gms dark chocolate, good quality and chopped into bits (This is enough to fill two tartlets)

80ml double cream

2 tbsp sugar

1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules

1 tablespoon water, warm

Whipped cream and/or dessicated coconut to garnish

Place the chopped up chocolate in a bowl, stainless steel preferably. Make espresso out of warm water and coffee. Put the cream in a saucepan to heat. At this point mix in the sugar. Heat the mixture till it just begins to boil, but do not let it boil over!

Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolatee bits and let stand for about minute. Start stirring from the center of the bowl outwards to incorporate the cream and chocolate and mix well till no streaks remain. Stir in the espresso. Pour the ganache into the baked (and cooled) tartlets. Garnish with caramel tuiles, whipped cream or coconut shavings. As you can see….I opted for a smiley face!

Hi, with something sweet

sugar donuts with coffee glaze

I know I know….you can hear a pin drop here. That’s how silent I’ve been for the last month and a half.

But, to justify, I wasn’t well really and until last week it was taking me five minutes flat to walk from one room to the other.

A bad tummy, sky-high fever and heavy doses of antibiotics for fifteen days can do that to me. The good thing that came out of it is that I’m back home to recover and rest…prescribed by the Doctor! Anyway, I’m not allowed street-food (imagine that!) and now I’m strong enough to stand, long enough to deep-fry donuts. Oh, and I’m ready to bite someone…anyone, considering the fact that I’ve been cooped up in the house for the last three weeks!

And Kolkata is currently drowning in its own monsoon. As is Mumbai. Gray mornings, chilly evenings, the steady sound of rain and the occasional thunder rumbling by. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous! No wonder monsoon’s my favorite season. I’m trying not to think of muddy puddles, damp clothes and traffic jam.

It almost feels like winter in a way….I could curl up in a blanket with a mug of hot chocolate. Although winter doesn’t come with the uncontrollable urge to make paper boats and watch them sail away on the larger water puddles, wobbling from one side to the other!

Donuts seemed like nice and sweet things to say “hi” with after all this time. I’ve always found them to be a mood-lifter somehow. I spent 1st January this year munching on one (after rounds of “new year” hugs) smothered in chocolate, from Barista. But then, I have to admit, it never actually crossed my mind to whip up a batch. And even though I’ve been craving them for the last 3-4 weeks…yes, that long…I was a little apprehensive, mostly because the prospect of deep-frying anything makes me nervous. Yes, I’m one of those women who blow up an inch, every time they look at something deep-fried…nothing new there.

The sugar sprinkles make all the difference really

I also whipped up a creamy coffee-glaze to go along with the donuts which, to my mild surprise, turned out nicely crisp on the outside and light and airy inside.

Mild surprise, because I’m famous for not following recipes. Or twisting them somehow or the other. And then end up in a mess most of the time, but that’s another story.

This one I grabbed from Gourmet Magazine. The first batch turned out slightly deflated, so I increase the amount of baking soda and baking powder in the dough for the second batch. And magic. There was none left to photograph. You’ll have to be satisfied with the photos of the “deflated” ones.

The garam masala adds a very earthy tone to the otherwise vanilla-flavored donuts. But too much of it may bitter out and turn too strong. Use with caution and discard if you prefer using just cinnamon and nutmeg.

Donuts

Recipe adapted (and tweaked) from Gourmet magazine

Ingredients:

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (if garam masala’s too strong for your taste, use a teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg)
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups vegetable oil, to deep-fry (I used groundnut)
How-to:
  • Cream the butter with sugar till soft and fluffy. Add the egg and beat in well. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, garam masala (or cinnamon and nutmeg) together.
  • Add the flour mixture and yogurt alternatively, into the butter-sugar mixture to form the dough. A sticky, but workable dough.
  • Take the dough out on a well-floured work surface and knead it till it just comes together. Roll it out to a 1/3 inch thickness.
  • Cut the donut shapes out with either a donut cutter or just a sharp-edged bowl and a bottlecap.
  • Heat the oil in a deep-bottomed pan or skillet till it reaches a temperature of 375 degree F.
  • Fry the donuts in batches of 6 or 7, flipping them once, till golden brown. The first side takes about a minute and the second about 30-45 seconds. Be careful to maintain the temperature. Too hot and the donuts will come out well-browned!
  • Take them out and drain the excess oil.
  • Dredge them through icing sugar or add any glaze/icing of your choice. Chocolate, coffee-glaze, jam works well.
The doughnuts (unglazed/un-dredged) can be reheated on a baking sheet in a preheated 250°F oven 10 to 15 minutes.
The coffee glaze was a no-brainer really. Just a 30 ml espresso shot stirred well into 200 ml of sweetened condensed milk.

Cookies and Bandhani

I’ve been obsessed with my mother’s closet since I don’t remember when.

Its weird if you think about it – I’m a full-grown twenty-three (almost twenty-four) year old woman who can cook and housekeep like an expert (at least, by now I can), but I still cannot resist rummaging through my Mum’s dressing table or try on her saris, whenever I get a chance.

I know, I need help.

Anyway, while my dark chocolate & walnut cookies were baking, I pulled out all Ma’s old dupattas. Cottons, silks, chiffons, crepes, lace and what not…she even had one in a ‘fishnetty’ lycra material.

OK.

Most of them have faded and some have huge holes in them and some are torn in half, literally. But what caught my eye was this hot pink bandhani-work dupatta, which was surprisingly intact, kept twisted properly and not the slightest bit faded. The color just popped and said “HI!” to me!

For all who’re wondering what on earth is “bandhani” – bandhani work is a type of tie-dyeing art particular to Gujarat and Rajasthan, India.

As for the cookies – well, they’ve got chocolate, walnuts and honey in them.

What You Need –

1 and a half cups regular, all-purpose flour

– 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder (Dutch is preferable, but any good quality cocoa powder would do)

– Half cup of walnuts, chopped coarsely

– 1 teaspoon salt

– 3/4 tsp baking soda

– 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

– 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

– 3 tablespoons of honey

– 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

– 2 large eggs

How-To:

– Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Prepare cookie sheets.

-Sift the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda together.

– Cream the butter with sugar till smooth and fluffy.

– Add the eggs one at a time beating continuously. Add the vanilla essence and honey.

– Add in the dry ingredients an stir to make a creamy batter.

– Add in the chopped walnuts and mix well.

– Spoon out the batter (1 tablespoon for each cookie) onto the sheets leaving enough gap between each lump.

– Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes. Cool the cookies on cooling racks and serve with…uh milk? I prefer vanilla ice-cream though.

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.

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.

Sugar-Kissed Goodness

I am currently completely hooked on to Cafe Coffee Day’s Cookies. They have a range of Chocolate Chip, Honey & Oatmeal, and “Completely Eggless!” ones in pretty brown and yellow tins. Super fattening and not cheap.

My kind of food, ye-ah!

Anyway, my brother and I managed to polish off the last of the cookies yesterday and two hours later I was already craving for more. So…I watched some television, got some butter and eggs home-delivered and…made cookies! The generous amount of cinnamon in these warms up your throat and the raisins add chewyness.

These cookies remind me of college, when we’d try out sugar-cookie recipes at Adi’s place with a microwave (they used to turn out super-soggy) and make spinach & feta dim sums (a watery lot) with the help of an old idli steamer.

Cookie batter:

– 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

– 1/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder

– 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder

– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

– 2 teaspoons cornstarch

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

– 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

– 2/3 cup granulated sugar

– 1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon

– 3 teaspoons finely chopped raisins

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 2 eggs

– 2 teaspoons honey

Mix the butter and sugar well till the mixture turns almost white…almost. Add the eggs and beat well.

Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add the butter-egg mixture in. Add honey and stir hard. I like my cookies to be lumpy, but for a smoother batter you could pop it into the processor. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.

Spoon out dollops of batter on a greased baking tin, leaving enough space between each dollop to allow them to spread. Bake for 15 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 350° C. Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle generously with icing sugar.