Football and Brownies

It’s 3 p.m. in the afternoon. The outdoors is at a sunny 22° C. I’m snuggled against a 1984 Argos couch in the living room watching England play against Slovenia, hoping that this time it wouldn’t be as painful as it was the last time.

Earlier today , I had tried….tried desperately to cook myself a decent meal of grilled chicken breasts stuffed with mozarella. It wasn’t as successful as I had wanted it to be. Due to lack of string or toothpicks to hold the damn breasts together.

Somehow, this day is not agreeing with me. My room is currently not very different from a blast furnace, which makes it absolutely impossible to work in it. Last night’s party has contributed to very little sleep and hence it is with difficulty that I’m trying to focus on the goal Dafoe just scored for England. But all is not lost. I am looking forward to the grocery store trip I’m planning to conduct in an hour. And also I’m looking forward to downing a few pieces of ‘luxurious’ brownies (shamelessly nicking the name from Tamami), I whipped up early in the morning. Inspired heavily by Fanny’s recipe.

If I start describing how the brownies turned out, it would probably bleed over to two or more posts. All I can say, is that, they’re luxurious indeed. The dark chocolate leaves a heavenly after-taste in your mouth and the amount of sugar is just right, especially for someone like me (who’s compulsively picky about anything sweet). I did modify the recipe according to my taste, of course. My allergy to following recipes word-to-word kicked in, I suppose.

I replaced plain flour with self-rising flour which makes the brownie slightly less dense, but gorgeously chewy nevertheless. The cocoa powder was Green & Black’s 70% and a tablespoon of instant coffee makes all the difference. It transforms the simple brownie into an indulgent and strangely addictive dessert (the word ‘snack’ here would be a complete understatement). Its sticky to the right texture, dark, handsome, chewy, fluffy and unforgiving. I won’t lie to you….this brownie will make you feel seriously guilty.

I’ll stop writing now and make another trip to my refrigerator.

P.S.: – England – 1, Slovenia – 0, Half-time.

Chocoholics Anonymous, anyone?

 

I’m not a stickler for recipes. In fact, I’m almost allergic to them. And I’ve lost count of the number of times my experiments in the kitchen have ended with disastrous results. And yet, I don’t learn.

I keep twisting a recipe. I keep playing and there are times when I go into creating a dish without any knowledge or planning whatsoever. Are there alarms going off in your head? Don’t worry, all the recipes I’ve put up on the blog are tried and tested. And have been very successful.

Now you know, how I excel at cold desserts and how I steer clear of baking. But recently I’ve been inspired to bake. Blame it on Hana. Damn, that girl can bake!

While I still haven’t had the pleasure of pulling French-Macarons-With-Feet out of the oven, I did successfully produce a sour-cream moistened, dense double-chocolate gastrocity yesterday. Its complete with a layer of ganache and sprinkles of fleur de sel. I’m still in disbelief.

The lower layer, as you can probably guess is plain dark-chocolate brownie. It was meant to be a fluffy crumbful cake initially, but I changed courses…and clothes, considering how I tipped batter all over myself during the first attempt. Creaming unsalted butter (a stick and a half of it, softened) together with two egg yolks and a cup of sugar, was easy enough. Though quite a work-out for my arms – I abstained from using the electric whisk. Aren’t I a saint?

The second step including sifting the flour (a cup and a half), a pinch of cream of tartare, half a teaspoon of baking powder and a half a cup of sinful Dutch process cocoa together, before combining it with the butter mixture. And then in went my cup of lush sour cream. Soury, gorgeous, silky. My pièce de résistance, totally the star of the recipe and blatantly inspired by Nigella Lawson’s chocolate cake.

The batter was left to sit in its bowl, a little clumpy and impatient, while I proceeded to beat the two egg whites into fluffy clouds (soft peaks, please). I plopped the clouds on top of the batter and followed up with fast and determined turns with the balloon whisk, till it was smooth and fell into ribbons. I also added one-third of a cup of boiling water, which keeps the batter workable and the brownie moist. Onto a greased square pan which was about 20 x 20 (I’m using centimeters) and baked for about 20 minutes at 180 °C and another 20 minutes at 150 °C (or till a skewer run through the centre comes out clean…but greasy). Let the cake cool, before icing it with sour-cream chocolate. For the icing, I broke up an entire dark chocolate bar and let it melt in a bain-marie along with a tablespoon of unsalted butter and two tablespoons of muscovado sugar. As soon as everything combines, let the mixture cool before adding (slowly, please) 2 tablespoons of sour-cream that’s all at room-temperature. Spreading evenly on the cake wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, especially as I was using a butter knife! But I’m sure you’ll have better luck if you own an icing spatula…lucky you.

The cake was finally cut into rectangular pieces after the ganache was cool and rested, decorated with rough curls and fleur de sel, photographed properly and promptly gobbled up by five hungry adults.

Its apparent how chocolate has finally taken over my life. Is there a Chocoholics Anonymous somewhere I can join and does this qualify as substance abuse, I’m not sure?

But yes, I’m officially baking now.

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!

Lemon Cake

We have quite a baker at the 189.

Hana. Vietnamese. Management post-grad. The cutest thing. And excellent with flour, eggs and sugar.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve trudged home after a long day at the University, only to find a chocolate cake waiting on the kitchen counter. Or a plate of blueberry muffins on the top shelf of the refrigerator. And I’ve shamelessly gobbled up most of them. They’re always delicious and somehow the perfect fix for my bouts of ‘munchies’. And it doesn’t end there. She brings on Pho just when you need it, sushi just when you’re craving it and of course, she just happens to be my Salmon Queen.

Another reason I love her so much….she gushes about my cooking and photography enough to put me on the ninth heaven.

The weekend slipping by right now has been an extremely sweet one. One birthday including a wholesome cheesecake and Hana’s spoon-licking lemon cake. Not to mention store-bought tiramisu (yes, store-bought). And now, I’ll be starving myself for the next week.

Lemon cake with Blueberry spread

Inspired by the Paris Pastry

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup of milk
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs

How-To:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans.
  • Sift together the flours, baking powder and salt.
  • Combine sour cream with lemon zest and juice.
  • Beat the butter on medium-high speed until fluffy (about a minute) with an electric-whisk. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.
  • Add the flour mixture and sour cream and beat on low-speed until just combined. Do not overmix.
  • Divide batter between prepared pans until the top are golden and a fork run through the center, comes out clean. This takes about 30-40 minutes.
  • Cool pans completely.
  • Level the top of one cake and spread blueberry jam evenly all over. Place the other cake on top of it. And enjoy with tea or coffee!

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.