Sunday, 23 July 2017

Plum Torte

I love a recipe that comes with a story. It just makes things a little more interesting. Like last year, when I came across a New York Times' recipe for a plum torte. This is no ordinary cake, this is NYT's most requested and most loved recipe, in the history of the newspaper. 

In 1983, NYT food columnist, Marian Burros first published this recipe. It was a simple recipe that appeared without any fanfare, accompanying an article on the arrival of plums in the market. It was so popular with the readers that the recipe was printed every September from 1983 to 1987, to coincide with the plum season. In 1989, the newspaper tweaked the amount of sugar in the recipe and announced that this would be the last year they would be printing this recipe. To help matters along, the recipe that year, came with a broken line border to encourage people to cut it out and store it away.

But, the backlash was swift and at times, brutal. Readers couldn't understand why the newspaper was messing with their annual late Summer tradition that for some was as important as the 'Declaration of Independence' on the back page of the Fourth of July issue. Well, with such extreme emotions being evoked by a recipe, the newspaper had no choice but to  dutifully publish the recipe of their Plum Torte, every September. 

With such a back story, how could I not bake this cake. Last year, when they published it in September, the plums had long left the market. So, this year, am getting in on the game early. 


They couldn't be a simpler cake to bake. The ingredients are all pantry staples and the instructions are fuss free. It all comes together beautifully. As the batter rises, the plums sink into it, going all soft and jammy. As always, the slight tartness of the fruit, a lovely counter to a sweet cake. 

It's not as if I haven't made a plum cake before but none have been as simple and fuss-free as this one. You can play around with any soft fruit. Cherries, peaches or if your markets are bursting with berries, those would be perfect too. It is perfect for tea, breakfast or even that picnic in the park. This is a recipe you want to keep with you at all time, simply changing the fruit as the season changes. If there is one cake you make this season, let it be this one. 

Many years later when Marian Burros was asked about the recipe's enduring appeal, she said, "I love that something so simple took off. Of course, I think that’s why it did." I couldn't agree more.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Wine Soaked Peaches With Mint And Vanilla

Every year, I tell myself that when stone fruit season comes around, I'll make all the recipes that I've bookmarked through the year. It's no secret how much I enjoy baking and cooking with the fruit of the season and my cookbooks attest to that. These are usually cookbooks written by authors in the West, whose recipes are usually set in the Summer when their markets are crammed with berries and stone fruits.

Unfortunately, in India we have this really tiny window of opportunity when it comes to stone fruits. The first cherries appear in the last days of May when I frankly couldn't be bothered to do anything in that blistering heat but eat a bowl of chilled cherries every day as a snack. It's only when the rains come that you can think of making something with the fruits before you blink and they just vanish from the markets.

Well, I did try making a cherry cake last week and if you saw my post on Facebook or Instagram, you'd know that it was a disaster. Yes, I tried to pretty up the picture but honestly, that cake didn't have much going for it. Finally, because I hate wasting food, I had to make a batch of chocolate sauce, doused the cake in it to make it palatable so that we could quietly finish it off.

But, my confidence has taken a bit of a beating. So, instead I went with a no-bake dessert from Yossy's book before I get my bearings to bake another cake. This is a simple dessert where the peaches are soaked in white wine for two days along with some mint and vanilla and then served with some lightly whipped cream.

The reason I chose this dessert was because I have usually poached my fruits over heat, never just soaked them in wine. What you get is a simple, chilled, no-fuss dessert to enjoy the peaches in season. This is not a rainy day dessert. This is a dessert for the days when the rain takes a breather and the humidity and heat come back in full force. 

It's very important that you choose your peaches carefully. You are looking for firm peaches that have already ripened. If your peaches are still slightly unripe, they won't soften in the wine. You are then better off poaching them as that will soften them down. Neither will they be able to absorb the flavours of the mint and vanilla nor would the wine get infused with the scent of the peaches. I had a mixture of peaches that were ripe and some slightly under and I realised that while we really enjoyed the ripe slices, the slightly tougher ones needed some work.

I have served them with some lightly whipped cream but some vanilla ice cream will also work fine or you could just have the peaches with their wine syrup alone. But, it is important that you serve them chilled. That's what makes them so special on a hot day.

And here's the best part of the recipe. Once you've enjoyed the peaches, you are going to be left with some peach scented wine. Yossy recommends that you turn that wine into spritzers. Simply top up a glass of wine with some sparkling water (club soda), ice and a twist of lemon and it is just such a refreshing drink for a humid evening. 

Hope you are enjoying the weekend..x!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Turkish Coffee Chocolate Creams

Oh Summer, you made it so difficult. I tried this year to handle you better. I really tried. I woke up earlier than the Sun, while the air was cool from the night gone by and I could hear the birds sing. And as the birds retreated deep within the trees to escape the day's heat, I too, fortunately enough stayed indoors. Only to step out in the evening when a breeze would carry the scent of the flowers - mogras, champas, madhumalati,  brave enough to bloom in the heat. I feasted on the season's bounty - watermelons, cantaloupes, mangoes, litchies, licking their juices off my fingers whilst watching the Gulmohar cover itself with fiery red blossoms. I cooled off with elixirs that are native to my land - aam panna, coconut water, bael sharbat, as I waited all Summer for the Amaltas to bloom with its trademark plumes of yellow flowers. 

And yet none of it was enough. As the days wore on, the sun got brighter, the heat more intense, the days more listless, the earth drier and fatigue set in with just about everything. Even the wind was tired, you could barely feel its presence. Everyone was preoccupied with only one thought, the first rain of the season. The wait was nothing but torturous and yet, the day arrives when the cast after many false starts, gets its act together. 

Dark clouds take over the sky, a cool breeze picks up pace, streaks of lightning light up the sky followed by rolls of thunder and then, the clouds let go. And you do nothing. You simply let your senses be overwhelmed as the rain hits the parched earth, the trees get washed and the earth is perfumed with the scent of wet mud. Because it is only that fragrance that has the power to drive away the frustration, anxiety and misery that Summer inflicts on us. In the euphoria of the first rains, you could almost be tempted to forgive Summer...almost

As I write this, the Monsoon has covered most of India and I retrace my steps back to the kitchen. And before the rains compel me to switch on the oven that's been lying idle all these months, a simple chocolate dessert to get us started. 

It takes the idea of chocolate and cream and infuses it with the flavours of Turkish coffee and cardamom. The mixture is lightened with an egg yolk and cooked like a custard and then set in the cold. Because it is a cream based dessert, a little goes a long way and that is why I set them in demitasse cups. I have mentioned Turkish coffee but for ease, any freshly ground coffee that you enjoy would do.

Depending on how long you steep the coffee and cardamom in the cream, will determine how prominently they reveal themselves in the final product. The cardamom lends a lovely, interesting touch to these little pots de creme that would make a lovely dessert after a heavy meal where you are not in the mood for anything elaborate. Admittedly, the presence of coffee does make these more suited to an adult palate. 

Twas a long Summer and I do hope you are enjoying the rains in your part of the world!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Strawberry Mojito Paletas

Am sure you all read the news where the Met Department has predicted an 'above normal' summer for the year with 'moderate to severe heat wave conditions'. I don't know about you but my mind just went blank as I read the news. Anyone who knows me will tell you of my zero tolerance of the Indian Summer. And I still haven't forgotten last year's Summer. It was brutal, long, unforgiving and there was no respite till June. And to make matters worse, Winter was such a mild one this year. February, that month of blooming flowers and pleasant weather was this year, uncomfortably warm. It is not an one-off event. Freaky weather is increasingly becoming frequent. Every year is turning out as the hottest year ever recorded.

This is just wrong. We need to start thinking more seriously about changing weather patterns. About how we've allowed the green cover of our cities to deplete as they made way for concrete roads and shiny malls or let our rivers dwindle to resemble sewer drains. Of how each one of us has contributed to this mess and needs to make amends personally, however small the effort may seem. We need to make the effort to adopt solar energy for our energy needs at home and take up the responsibility to personally grow more trees. To use less plastic especially those blasted, ugly plastic bags that mar our cities and countryside. To make intelligent food choices that reflect locally grown produce because I think, we all agree, climate change is happening right now and it isn't sparing any of us.

And for any loon out there, who thinks climate change is a hoax, I ask you to come and spend the next three months in India, without any access to any kind of air conditioning or cooling comfort. And once you are done, then we will talk!

While I despaired over the coming onslaught of Summer, I found a recipe for strawberry paletas in Yossy Arefi's 'Sweeter Off The Vine'. Paletas are ice pops made from fresh fruit and Yossy's are made with strawberries and campari. I, instead, took my inspiration from a strawberry mojito. So, in went mint, lime juice and rum to flavour these ice pops. 

You can leave out the rum, if you wish, you will still enjoy them. And for those, who love their rum, don't go overboard or else these pops won't freeze. Be open to experimenting with any other fruit of your choice. And yes, I could have called them ice pops but how much more exotic does paletas sound. Makes you wanna put on a sombrero for the occasion.

The absolute juvenile pleasure of enjoying an ice pop is ever intact. You may not be able to escape Summer but for a few minutes, these have the power to help you ignore it. Summer, Be kind! 

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Orange Loaf

I admire people who pursue a creative passion alongside their regular day jobs. It's as if they have understood one of life's essential lessons that only the very fortunate few get to pursue their creative instinct as their life's work. For the rest of us, it is important that we find that passion/interest/hobby in our lives that keeps that spark of creativity alive and keeps us hungry to learn more. As long as you have that, I believe life will always continue to surprise you and keep you away from the rut of stagnancy.

I was reminded of this when I recently finished with Navtej Sarna's book, 'Second Thoughts'. Sarna is the current Indian Ambassador to the United States, who apart from being a distinguished diplomat has also traversed the journey from writing newspaper features to literary essays to poetic translations to short stories to novels. 

Something to be said of diplomats and their mastery of the written word. Of the top of my head I can think of Vikas Swarup, till recently the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson and now High Commissioner to Canada who is equally well known for his literary body of work, of which 'Q & A' remains his most well known, after it was adapted in film as 'Slumdog Millionaire'. There's Shashi Tharoor, the former UN diplomat and author of a number of widely acclaimed books including the literary masterpiece 'The Great Indian Novel' that is always on my list of personal favourites. And why, even Pablo Neruda was a diplomat!

Coming back to Sarna's book, it is a collection of essays that he's written for the 'Hindu Literary Review', over a period of seven years. His main motivation is to explore the personal lives of the authors of the books he's read, as he puts it, 'to understand the mind of the writer and the process of literary creation'. His quest leads him to Wodehouse's school to Hemingway's home in Cuba to Boris Pasternak's forgotten grave to a drink with Khushwant Singh to the cafe in Cairo where Naguib Mahfouz wrote for four decades only to find it abandoned and boarded up. There are books and authors that you have read and loved, those that you know about but haven't yet read and then, there are those to whom you are introduced to for the first time in this book. 

What makes this book is Sarna's deep love of books that shines through every page. It speaks to the book lover amongst us when he recounts that thrill of discovery in a second hand bookshop or that time he read Gone with the Wind whilst standing against a pole in a crowded 'University Special' bus. Of how there's no greater companion than a book to snuggle up to on a rainy day or after a hike in the mountains. You'll understand his lament of how the beauty, grace and nuances of a language are being lost in today's world of 140 characters and instant downloads. But most importantly, of how over the years, like old friends, the books that we have read have stood witness to the the different phases of our life.

So, between books and finding that balance in life, I baked a cake. It's a simple cake for those times when lost in a book for hours, you look up at one point, looking for something to keep you going. This cake does the job beautifully. I got the recipe for it the old-fashioned way. It comes from my sister who got it from her sister-in-law who got it from her friend and the chain ends here because I have no clue how she got it. It's an orange loaf and when I say orange, it's the whole orange - pith, pips et al. You simply put all the ingredients in a blender, whiz and you have your batter ready. Even by my standards, it doesn't get simpler than this.

And for all your grand efforts, you are rewarded with a beautiful, moist, warm hued cake that speaks of citrus and sunshine. If you are wondering about the pith and pips affecting the taste, there is a hint of bitterness in the cake but it is not at all overpowering. If anything, it balances the sweetness. 

I think you'll enjoy it as much as we did. Have a beautiful weekend!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Pistachio Pound Cake With Strawberries And Cream

If you've read this blog for some time, you must know how much I love to work with recipes where the focus is on the fruit of the season. My first foray of baking with fruit began with Isidora Popovic's 'Popina Book of Baking'. My very first recipe on this blog came from that book. I was absolutely taken in by how the fruit added so much more to the flavour and freshness of my bakes. 

I, then followed it up with Nigel Slater's 'Ripe : A Cook in the Orchard', a book that opened up a collection of recipes that paired fruit in sweet as well as savoury dishes. And my latest addition to this small collection is Yossy Arefi's 'Sweeter off the Vine'. Yossy is the voice behind the blog, 'Apt. 2B Baking Co'. I adore everything about this Brooklyn based baker and photographer's blog..the recipes, the photography and now I'm completely taken in with her book. If you enjoy baking and somehow, haven't yet discovered her blog, I'd seriously recommend it. 

The season of fruits in India may differ from those in these books but each of the books mentioned above always has space for recipes that work with strawberries, the fruit currently in season. Out of all of the book's recipes with strawberries, I zeroed in on the pistachio pound cake that is paired with strawberries and cream. I do have my eye on the strawberry and campari ice pops but those will have to wait for the weather to get a bit warmer.

I was intrigued by the pistachio pound cake. I have used almond meal in my cakes and have loved the depth and richness that it has given my cakes but have never worked with pistachios. And what an absolute delight this pound cake was. 

Who doesn't love a good, hearty pound cake and the pistachios give it that something extra to stand apart from your regular pound cake. You can taste the pistachios but it is not overpowering at all. It just adds a lil something special to the wholesomeness of a pound cake.

The recipe pairs thick slices of this cake with strawberries macerated in a lavender sugar and cream. While the idea of lavender sugar had me really excited, unfortunately I couldn't get my hands on it out here. So, I adapted by macerating the strawberries in vanilla and some liqueur. 

Serving strawberries and cream with this cake immediately elevates it as an elegant dessert. However, if you don't want to serve it with strawberries and cream, I assure you that pound cake, warm out of the oven, with a cup of tea is still a winner.

Hope you all had a lovely weekend..xx!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Orange, Fig And Cardamom Cake

Nothing like a new year to start afresh with this blog. Last year was a nondescript year for me and yours truly is more than ready to welcome the new year. As for this blog, it seems that all I managed was nine posts for the whole of 2016. So, this year will be all about getting all those posts floating around in my head onto this little space of mine. 

And getting straight onto the job with a cake that I baked this weekend. For some reason, almost every post in the latter half of the year was chocolate. So, am taking a break from chocolate and turning to my other love, baking with the fruit of the season.

That would be figs and oranges today. I found this cake in Nigel Slater's 'Ripe', his weighty ode to cooking with the fruit in season. This is essentially an almond cake, flavoured with oranges and cardamom that has a layer of fresh figs, running through the middle of the cake. As the cake bakes, the figs cook into a soft, jammy consistency.

Once baked, a lemon and orange syrup is then poured on top of the hot cake. You will be tempted to give it a miss but don't. You will appreciate the citrus syrup when you help yourself to a slice. 

The cake does not score high on looks but cut yourself a slice and you will realise that all the drama is in the taste and texture of this cake.

This is a moist cake that uses not only almond meal but chopped almonds too and that gives it this nutty, grainy texture, very different from your regular cake. This is a cake where you must wait till it completely cools down or else you won't taste all the flavours that this cake promises. On first taste, it's the orange that will hit you but later you will discern the cardamom as well as a hint of lemon from the citrus syrup. The cake looks so moist that I wondered if it was too sweet but turns out that the syrup in fact infuses it with extra citrus notes that balances out any fears on the sugar front. 

Whist figs are a personal favourite, any other fruit such as strawberries or plums should work just as well.  
As the new year started, articles all over were about how we need to slow down, be mindful and move out of our social media bubbles. I couldn't agree more. So, here's to a new year, where you make the time to discover, connect, embrace and rejoice in life's simpler pleasures. Happy New Year..x!

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