Cake sprinkles and birthday mirth

I write this blog post amidst the greenery of a university campus, one which is my husband’s alma mater and where my sister works. Visiting her on a mini vacation and being overwhelmed with the desire to be a student again. There is something undoubtedly alluring about the peace induced by the leafy avenues; time somehow floats gentler, carrying with it echoes of aspirations and laughter of several generations of students. The library holds the same awe as a church or any quiet place of worship and while one can quibble that “solid and ageless” can mean “stodgy and rigid”, I prefer the former.

Now contrast this sense of quiet and venerability with where I was last Sunday – the birthday party of a six year old – several cities and a world apart. The prep was marginally more hectic than the actual party as the SIL and I put it together literally overnight. While I am famed to letting things come down to the wire, cooking a couple of dishes for ten people, baking a cake and multiple batches of cookies (the rolling and cutting out of which required a zillion trips to the fridge), finding enough tins and bowls to carry all the food to the party venue, changing my mind twice about which luggage to carry, and catching a flight straight out of the party was a bit much even for me. All’s well, though, if it ends in cake sprinkles and the sunny smiles of a six year old.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

The cake was to David Lebovitz upside down cake recipe. Note to self, must try with these other fruits – think pear or peaches. Note 2 to self. Buy a large cake pan or else prepare to wash of hardened caramelized sugar from all those spring form crevices, the baking tray etc. No amount of aluminum foil keeps the sugar in.

The cookies were rather last minute and out of Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen cookbook, shall share the recipe with you next week. They were called chocolate sugar cookies if I recall correctly, am calling them chocolate heart cookies.

With chocolate heart cookies

With chocolate heart cookies

The cake was a hit as was the birthday party. Ah, that reminds me, I watched a 100 foot journey yesterday. A decent enough movie, and while it is a bit of cliché, food does create memories. We created some great memories last Sunday using cake sprinkles and Nutella. Here is wishing my niece a very happy birthday and many more visits from her fairy godmother.

My husband kept saying “scary godmother”. Well then.

Remembering Tomorrow and Putting up Tibetan Prayer Flags

‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday — but never jam to-day.’
‘It MUST come sometimes to “jam to-day,”‘ Alice objected.
‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’
‘I don’t understand you,’ said Alice. ‘It’s dreadfully confusing!’
‘That’s the effect of living backwards,’ the Queen said kindly: ‘it always makes one a little giddy at first —’
‘Living backwards!’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. ‘I never heard of such a thing!’
‘— but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.’
‘I’m sure MINE only works one way,’ Alice remarked. ‘I can’t remember things before they happen.’
‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.

Stay with me and this quote from Alice in Wonderland for a moment. Get your memory to work backwards. Remember how I have a steak, paneer and apple pie aficionado friend? Remember how he came for lunch one day and I made an apple ricotta cake for him? And how one thing led to another and resulted in this blog. Fast forward a few months. This friend gifts a set of prayer flags to me.

Tibetan Prayer Flags

Tibetan Prayer Flags

Now remember tomorrow…

No, wait, hit the pause button. Like Alice, I find it horrendously confusing when time shuffles around in strange ways and the day after comes before the day before. What I do get, however, is Jung’s concept of synchronicity. For me, Jung is a rock star psychiatrist (second only to my personal shrink, Terry Pratchett). To simplify the jargon, synchronicity is a ‘meaningful coincidence’, in yet other words, the universe is sending you a message by making two apparently co-incidental but meaningfully connected events happen.

I like to believe that it was synchronous that I came across the prayer flags again on a particularly difficult day this last week. It was a sunny and windy morning, when I strung them up. And now we have much needed messages of peace, compassion, strength and wisdom blowing in the wind.

Now coming to tomorrow, yet again.

It is my ‘helpful’ niece’s birthday. She turns six and believes that ‘pink and bling’ is the only complete fashion statement. Through some deep discussions, we have established that carrot is her favorite vegetable and pineapple her favorite fruit, and she must have both in her cake. She has agreed to this with the single condition that the cake must have every color imaginable to mankind on it. A tall, albeit colorful, order. To keep my littlest customer happy, better get down to it soon. While I am at it, wonder if I should throw in some jam and, in keeping with the Queen’s rules, make it jam tomorrow.

On coming home

I have a big confession to make. Promise not to judge me. For all my dreams and love for traveling, I get homesick a week into the nicest vacation. I could be on top of some hill gazing onto a field of loveliness and be filled with wistfulness for my couch and the view of the television. The feel of the bathroom slippers, the pleasures of warming a glass of milk, the glad nodding of the garden flowers, the tinkle of the wind chimes, a few of the things I miss dreadfully when I am away.

A glimpse of our garden

A glimpse of our garden

The best bit about going away, though, is the coming back. I can write poems to describe the joy I felt last evening landing back in town after a work week away. Or rather, I would have written poems if knew how. Suffice to say, it’s a warm vanilla dessert feeling.

To celebrate the homecoming, I put together one of my favorite comfort food, a banana smoothie, this morning. You can pretty much blitz any ingredients you have on hand to go with the bananas – cacao powder, caster sugar, some chocolate chips – whatever gets you going. Today, I used 2 baby bananas, about 300 ml cold full-milk, a few dates and almonds. Blitz for a minute. You can use the hand held blender or the blender attachment of the mixer. Add ice cubes while blitzing for a much colder and creamier finish.

Banana Smoothie

Banana Smoothie

Adieu for now, I need to go hug the couch, gaze at the garden and pick a book to read.

In which we make Mocha Bundt Cake and some good memories

I was reading the other day (I forget where) the differences in making a ‘living’ and making a ‘life’. It resonated with me and hence stayed, and set me wondering about what makes a ‘life’. Central to a life well lived would be the little actions and gestures which impact the people around us for better. Making them laugh a little, feel a little special and letting them know that they are loved. Taking the thought further, a good life will be peppered with golden moments that leave behind their glow in the form of cozy memories. Such days may or may not be the big ones – birthdays, weddings – they easily can be the ones that are serendipitous. A lunch with a good friend, a walk hand in hand with someone special while the sun sets on a quiet day or a bottle of wine with a great salad enjoyed under warm sunshine. I had a couple of such great times with the sister in law recently. The fact that she has been recently very ill (and is still recovering) makes time together all the more precious and somehow, more appreciated.

We met one Sunday and baked together after a long time, this Mocha Bundt Cake. Or rather, she baked while I helped. Or rather, she tried to bake while I kept her little one out of her hair. I had promised to take my niece for a swim, who assumed that sticking her head into the mixing bowl at every opportune moment was the easiest way to expedite the cake and advance the swimming lesson. Anyone who has tried baking with an energetic six year old who insists on ‘helping’, knows that while it is infinitely more fun, it takes that much longer and requires more cleaning up. So we sped through the cake the best we could and stuffed it into the oven and went for a swim. Coming back to a slice of this – sticky and cool with its coffee liqueur icing – was perfect. We iced only three quarters of it to make the remaining child friendly. Swimming is hungry work, you know.

Chocolate Mocha Bundt Cake

Chocolate Mocha Bundt Cake

The other golden moment was helping the SIL prep for a birthday party. Remember, how last year this time, I folded those kusudama flowers for an origami themed party? This time around, the theme was jungle animals and we had a pleasant Saturday morning cutting some adorable elephants out. (We also did this strange cut out of a confused cross between a duck and a chick, complete with feathers for wings. Since I don’t want to scar you with mutated animals, those are not pictured here.) Of course, the niece ‘helped’ – she was in charge of gluing all the ears onto the elephants and she kept urging us to keep the assembly line going. Slave driver, I say.

Brithday elephantsComing back to the cake – the icing does get too thin with the quantities of coffee liqueur mentioned, so go light on it and mix some bits of it at a time till you get the desired consistency. The cake itself was a bit dry (perhaps we over-baked it, what with the intervening swimming lesson) and the coffee could have shouted louder. Brew a strong decoction, I suggest.

Be it elephant cut outs, other mutant beings, or a cake which is neither coffee nor chocolate, go get the craft scissors or the baking pans out. There is a life to be made, and memories waiting to be created.

Aside: I wonder what kind of noise a mutant-duck-chick would make? Chuak or Queep?

Dreams of the Last Homely House in Kerala

Oh dear! This is a post with yet another list. A pretty straightforward one at that. What I love about Kerala, or why I believe Kerala will be where I retire to my own organic garden (microbrewery attached), a gigantic flat screen and a little place called the Last Homely House which shall be open to all friends who want to share laughter and break bread together, or anybody who needs a quiet place to listen to the stream and watch the monsoons drench the hibiscus flowers.

Arabian Sea at Bekal

Arabian Sea at Bekal

The list

  • The green, oh the green. Any season, any time of the year, the green drapes itself over every surface and sends little tendrils of peace into the heart
  • The green is because the water is – the heavenly sheets of rain which turns mud roads into flowing rivers of silt, the backwaters where time flows to a different music, the sudden waterfalls, the vast lakes and of course, the Arabian Sea being the perfect backdrop for all those palm trees. Kerala is where I first saw the ocean as a ten year old (who had just learnt to swim). I still have the tan from that day!
  • Perfect for reading. Those who like reading, know how the right ambience, the quiet surroundings, though not critical to the pleasure of reading, just completely dial it up. Here’s something from the Lake of Dreams, which was my company by the river which flowed behind our cottage in Vythri “Rows and rows of books lined the shelves and I let my eyes linger on the sturdy spines, thinking how human books were, so full of ideas and images, worlds imagined, worlds perceived; full of fingerprints and sudden laughter and the sighs of readers, too.”
  • Where else can you go from a long lazy swim into a world class spa and pamper yourself silly with a sensual Ayurvedic treatment. Ten minutes into the shirodhara or better still, snehadhara – I promise – you will discover the peace attained after hours of meditation
  • The food, my god, the food! Iddiyapam, appams, kerala parathas, the kadala (chickpeas) curry, fried plantains, the avial, the thorans, the… some of my best food memories are from the numerous Kerala vacations – the parathas made by the lone caretaker of the lopsided guesthouse perched atop the most gorgeous valley, the freshly cooked lunch on the houseboat in the Vembanad lake while the monsoons provided background music, or the kadala curry which the hotel-owner-main-chef insisted on personally dishing up for us for breakfast. Am telling you, if you could choose one state to eat food from for the rest of your life – Kerala won’t be a bad choice
Dialing up the Reading Pleasure (Bekal, 2014)

Dialing up the Reading Pleasure (Bekal, 2014)

So yes, it was a perfect weekend at Bekal a couple of weeks back, where the back waters meet the ocean, the hibiscus reach out to the palm trees and where god chooses to bestow his touch on earth.

Tragedy of Errors or How Not to Make Snickery Squares at Home

My favourite cousin and his family are in town, people. I love them but for the fact that they don’t eat eggs. A choice which I heartily endorse except when it comes to baking for them. Not only do they love dessert, but my SIL was my go to person in my younger “I don’t know how to boil water” days. Barely out of college, pretending at my first job, I was perpetually hungry and mostly broke. I had keys to their place and a standing invite to every home cooked meal, a licence which I shamelessly made the most of. When I started dating SG, they were the first family I introduced him to. They heartily approved, rather they insisted that I married him. You can see them beaming in our wedding pictures and we went onto live literally a few doors away from them. Many meals (I wisely kept the keys) and many years later, we moved cities, leaving a great relationship behind, albeit with some wonderful memories. So then tell me, if such people roll into town, is it not cause to bring out the baking pans and whip up some dessert?


Homemade Snickers

Snickery Squares

Yes. But I should have done it the night before. I was due into work on Saturday afternoon and the morning was the only window we had to meet and greet. So I get up nice and early, and…

    • Realize over the morning cuppa that I don’t have the cream to make the cinnamon roll biscuits I was planning to make. Panic. The tea turns cold
    • Scramble for another eggless recipe that does not involve fruits, cream, yeast, and too much time or patience – all being in short supply
    • Find this recipe courtesy Smitten Kitchen and heave a sigh of relief
    • Decide to substitute the shortbread recipe with this eggless one and believe if I have done it before (I have some photos for proof), I possibly cannot go wrong. Error #1

      Cashewnut Butterscotch Bars

      Cashewnut Butterscotch Bars

    • Proceed to make the dulce de leche using the oven. The only thing I got right in the entire disaster. Oh wait, I made only 1 cup, 2/3 of what I should have. Error #2
    • Make the dough for the shortbread. Figure that if I have to scale down from 9 by 13 to 7 by 7, halving everything should do the trick. Error #3 was not paying enough attention when they taught volume and area math back in school. Thus, end up with an oddly thick shortbread base
    • Bake the pastry for 30 minutes. Error #4. Scale down the recipe but not reduce baking time. End up with a hard biscuit base, but blithely not realize and continue. Like a train wreck
    • Get on with the nuts. Replace peanuts with cashews. Actually get the complicated sugar process bang on. But Error #5. Inadvertently get the pinky into hot sugar. CURSE.
    • Proceed to go from bad to worse
    • Not having silpat, choose butter paper to lay out the candied cashews. Error #6. Paper adheres to the sugar and refuses to come off. SWEAR
    • Not wanting to poison favourite family with bits of paper, patiently remove bits of paper with careful application of water. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and I am already late. Call up and inform SIL. Sob a little
    • The husband is ready to leave, but does not have the heart to be angry looking at my piteous condition. I now have bits of candy, some cashew, and lots of flour decorating my person and adding character to my hair. (Little known fact: Hot sugar is stronger than superglue.) By now, I also have a wide eyed look and am periodically waving the burnt pinky at the clock in order to slow it down. 
    • Gloop on the ducle de leche and scatter broken bits of cashew onto the short bread base
    • Start on the chocolate layer. Error #7. Use ¾ the chocolate dictated, as I am low on chocolate and very low on patience. Error #8 Ask the husband to break up the chocolate bar while I get the butter on. He eats a lot of the chocolate
    • Frantically pour the chocolate layer and grind up the remaining candied cashew for a sprinkle. Refrigerate. Call again and inform that we will be later than the late previously estimated. Run for a shower
    • Error #9 Husband leaves to start the car, while I cut the bars. Ahem. Hack the bars. Stand on them and thump them! Throw them against the wall! Okay, I do only the first. But cry quietly as they refuse to cut. Realize all the errors I have made while the husband starts to glower
    • Depart and keep crying. Collapse into SIL’s arms on arriving and plead her to bin the bars

To be honest, they don’t taste that bad. I can only imagine how great these will be if I got the proportions and the shortbread right. Once I get over the trauma and feel less sticky, I shall make these again. Give or take a year.

Mirthful cackles and the best ever brownies

You know how you need different types of friends? That someone with whom you can share tequila shots with (if the tequila is handy, well enough, if not they will figure out a way in the dead of the night, at 3:30 AM, to get their hands on some. And they will remember the lime). Goes without saying, you need a 3:30 AM friend for reasons more serious than an absence of tequila. Then there is someone who you can giggle hysterically with, regardless of your age and whatever the situation. And someone who you can call after reading a good book because they probably insisted you read it in the first place. Of course, you need someone you can trade recipes with or ring when you have a bit of kitchen disaster on your hands. What about the one person who you can depend on will kick your butt very hard when you screw up? Not to forget, that kid who people thought (when you were growing up) that you were related to – because you always bunked at their place or vice a versa.

Now tell me that this list did not make you smile and think of specific people. Of laughter, giggles, memories, scarred knees, hearts mended over tubs of drink or of ice cream, and dappled sunlight (my husband, SG, insisted that I use dappled sunlight in my next blog post – so there).

I am grateful to the powers that be to be blessed with several friends who answer to the above descriptions. Some whom I know since the diaper days, and some with whom friendships were forged over school desks or college playgrounds. It gets harder as you grow up, but there are people you meet at work or bump into at a party or in my case, neighbors, who can go on to become peeps you treasure for life. But this blog post is not about all those people. It is about one person. That one person who is all of the above and more.

My powers of writing cannot even begin to describe the quality of her cackling laughter. You will recall Anthony Lane on Scarlett Johansson “Then came the laugh: dry and dirty, as if this were a drama class and her task was to play a Martini.” Now take every drink you have in the cabinet/bar and pour it into a big drum, shake in a lot of apples and cayenne pepper and.. let’s just say there isn’t a cocktail in the world that will come close as a description. In a memorable school prank involving blonde wigs and that mad raucous laugh, we were one decibel away from detention. I know for a fact, that a studio insisted on doing a track solely of her cackle.

She now does theater full time, teaches drama to children, and through her comic timing has both the big and the little people in splits. Her latest is her own production company, Habijabi, and their play, ‘Eat!’ (involving an apple core, a banana peel and the rat patrol.) If you are in Mumbai, check her out at NCPA on June 21st. Else contact her for a show at a school in your city.

She called me last week as she was going to be in my town, and politely inquired after any hypothetical leftovers from any baking binge which she could gorge on. I had to bake after that, right? So it was dulce de leche brownies from David L.

Dulce de Leche Brownies with Honey Nut Ice cream

Dulce de Leche Brownies with Honey Nut Ice cream

This was the third time I made dulce de leche. The first time was using a pressure cooker – while the results were fine, I did damage the cooker and the tin had to be cooled down overnight. The second time was in the microwave and yes, despite watching it like a hawk, it boiled over. This time I tried the oven as David suggests and this method is a keeper.

Dulce de Leche
Makes 1 cup
Pour 1 can (400 gm approx., I think mine was a little lesser) into a glass baking dish and cover with foil. Place in a larger tray and pour water (the recipe says hot water, I forgot that bit, but no apparent harm done) around it and bake in a preheated 220 c oven for about an hour. Check occasionally and top the water. Cool and whisk  to smoothness.

Dulce de Leche Brownies
Chop 170 gm chocolate. Melt 115 gm (8 tbsp of butter) in a saucepan and add the chopped chocolate to it. Stir till the chocolate melts. Remove from heat. Whisk in ¼ cup (25 gm) cocoa powder. Add 3 large eggs (I used 4 smalls) one at a time. Gently stir in 1 cup (200 gm) sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 cup (140 gm) AP flour. I also added about a cup (100 gm) of roasted walnuts. The last is optional.

Since I used a large stainless steel bowl with a copper bottom for melting the butter and chocolate, it doubled up as a mixing bowl. That and the kitchen scales, meant very little washing, always a bonus.

Coming back to the brownies, prepare an 8 inch square pan by lining it with foil. Ensure there is enough to come up the sides by which you can lift the brownies out. Grease the foil.

Pour half the batter in and dollop 1/3 of the dulce de leche in. With a fork gently swirl the mix. Follow with the remaining batter and repeat with the dulce de leche and the swirling. Bake for 40 minutes. I think mine were slightly overdone so check at the 35 minute mark. The brownies should feel just firm.

Pictured here are the brownies with store bought honey-nut ice-cream.

Seriously, make the brownies as soon as possible, with or without the dulce de leche. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself gorging on them at the kitchen counter with crumbs raining all over. Listen carefully – you will hear echoes of someone cackling with glee at your obvious enjoyment.

My Top of the Pops list and what to do when you have batter oozing out of a supposedly baked cake

I know, I know, you missed me. My witty writing, those little stories, all those yummilicious pictures, and those so easy to do recipes!

Not particularly?

Well even if you did not miss me, I sure missed writing. I was on a blogging break you see. It has been a couple of crazy months, most of which has been spent in hospitals, or by the bedside (family medical emergencies in multiple), or in flights and at airports (work and personal travel in multiples of multiples raised to the power multiples). It is difficult to choose which is worse – airline food, hospital cafeteria food, or vegetarian food in the UK. Let’s just say I shall be happy if I never encountered again, a raw under-seasoned tomato styling itself as a salad.

I needed to let off some steam. Rant over.

Does not mean I did not get some good experiences, food and otherwise, though. So here goes, top of my pops.

#1 learning: Health is wealth. Am I lacing up my running shoes and gearing up to boost the immunity system? Watch this space. Hopefully, I will surprise myself.

#1 book I read: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, DESPITE his ““Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.” The chef at the UK hotel I stayed in, probably worships Anthony and believes in slowly starving, through tomatoes, all vegetarians. That said, the book is an awesome read and firmly recommended for all who want a glimpse of the (mostly hairy) underbelly of professional cooking.

#1 re-discovery: Pakistani television dramas. My mum loves them and I watched a bunch of them with her as a child. So when she was recuperating from surgery, I hunted up the more contemporary ones and in the bargain, discovered a treasure trove. If you do one thing this weekend, watch at least one episode of Humsafar.

#1 pleasant experience: An afternoon walk, through a quintessentially Brit town center, while a street performer played the sax, and the sun shone gently on. Remember, how I told you that Terry Pratchett is my personal shrink? I found a Discworld boardgame, in a quiet quaint games shop tucked into a corner. Not the same as meeting TP, but the next best thing. I take what I can get.

#1 embarrassing moment: Trying to check into the wrong airline at the airport (in my defense it was my third flight, third city, in less than 36 hours, and on very few hours of sleep in many days) and then TOTALLY panicking. Oh wait, that was not as embarrassing as inadvertently stumbling into the gents’ loo at yet another airport, and saying sorry in a very small voice. (Again, in my defense, it was in the middle of an overseas transit and I have brain-malfunctions even at the thought of jet lag). Thankfully, I shall never encounter again, that airline check in lady or all those shocked men.

#1 nostalgia inducing moment: my mum insisted I cleaned out some of my old stuff when I stayed with her. I had a wonderful walk down memory lane paved with hand-made greeting cards, air mail onion paper, notes scribbled at the back of school notebooks, flowers carefully preserved between pages of teenage diaries, and letters received from out-of-town friends

back when people picked up the pen instead of the phone when they missed you

Back when people picked up the pen when they missed you

Top FnB experiences (since this is a STILL a food blog): In no particular order:

  • Riding an auto rickshaw complete with psychedelic neon lights and bollywood posters to have Gobhi parathas (I would say cauliflower stuffed flatbread, but it does not have the same ring), a huge blob of freshly churned butter, with spiced buttermilk , at Jassi da parathas in Ahmedabad. Meeting the sister after a long time!
  • Catching a pint, with the girls, in the coziest Irish pub around the corner from the hotel in England. They did a mean kidney bean and sweet potato burger with a ton of fries. And thankfully, did not serve raw tomatoes. An opportune group selfie moment
  • A perfect cheese omelette with bell peppers, wholewheat toast and fresh Parsi dairy butter, after a long Sunday at work, while gate crashing a friend’s house. The small mercies of kind people who get a meal (and a bed) ready for you with minimal notice
  • Meeting the husband after practically a month over late night Som Tam at Benjarong in Kolkata. They held a table and kept the kitchen open for us when his incoming flight was delayed. I do believe Som Tam is BSF (Best Salad Forever)
  • Dinner I dished up for Mother’s Day: whole-wheat penne in béchamel; garlic and thyme roasted cauliflower, carrots and beans with walnuts; and roasted bell pepper in balsamic vinaigrette over store-bought garlic bread

The mother’s day dinner was followed by a slice of Pear Spice Cake with a Praline Topping, baked for the husband’s birthday. This recipe from Joy the Baker is not the easiest to do in terms of work (making the buttermilk, subbing the all spice by grinding cloves and more nutmeg, roasting the nuts, separating the eggs, doing the praline, prepping the pears, washing the resulting ton of bowls, pots and pans, phew phew phew!) and the first time I de-panned the cake it was severely under-done (think oozing mutant, albeit buttery, batter). But oh my god, that batter is good enough to eat by itself and the cake (after I covered it with foil and baked another 30 minutes) is seriously melt-in-the-mouth-gooey-goodness. PS I ran out of walnuts, so the praline has cashew nuts.

Pear Spice Cake with Praline

Pear Spice Cake with Praline

To end, while the last few weeks have not been as savoury (or as sweet) as one would want, I did get out with a few great memories, the re-enforced belief that family and friends are what make it all worth it, a few happy food moments, and a Discworld Board game. Not bad at all.

Followed by everything Sunday should be and sunbursts of orange and chocolate

I get really annoyed when I start on a book which sounds eminently interesting, only to find it is a sequel. It is like going to a party the morning after for brunch. Sure, brunch is good, but I wanted in on all the excitement of the evening before and not pretend to be mildly amused at all the little inside jokes – “you had to be there” and “you should have seen…!”

In short, I feel left out.

Therefore, before you read further, please read this.

So the next day, a cheery if a little warm Sunday, I set out to buy all the ingredients for the layered hummingbird cake. My favorite store yielded everything I needed – the nuts, the can of pineapple, even the bananas at the right level of ripeness for baking – except the cream cheese. They never stock it anyway so there was no reason to lose heart. There was another store down the road which almost always has it. Except, of course, you guessed it, they did not. So onward to another store, a bit further off, the personnel of which seemed rather miffed to be disturbed out of their Sunday somnolence. By this point, the day had stopped being cheery and was merely warm. So I ditched all the hummingandsingingbird plans and bought oranges instead. Triumphant, I returned, only to realize an hour later that, of course, I did not have enough chocolate to go both inside and on top of the cake. A few distinctly unladylike swear words later – because I am still unsure of my ganache making skills and besides who wants to spend the entire week eating fruit salad – it was decided we shall go with orange cake with chocolate chunks but without chocolate ganache.

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake

Now I may never know how this tastes with ganache, but I will attest to the fact that this cake, the way I made it, is stop-in-your-tracks-holy-moly-guacamole-are-you-kidding-me good. The crisp crust, the moistness and the fresh orange tang, the little bits of chocolate, only a few of the reasons you should go get oranges now. For me, there were three additional bonuses:
1) I used the zester. If you don’t find zesting heaps of fun, honestly go see a shrink
2) The first time I experimented with buttermilk. And not the last time. We live and learn
3) The bundt pan was inaugurated. The beautiful little thud with which the cake says goodbye to the pan – highly addictive.

I made the buttermilk at home and grated chocolate all over. Ate a slice and left for the stand-up comedy show. The husband gracefully took me out and lots of drinks, fried potatoes and quite a few laughs later, this tasted even better.

My recipe was a mix of Smitten Kitchen and Barefoot Contessa’s. I went with proportions that felt right and am glad I did. Since my bundt pan is an 8 inch, I halved Deb’s recipe but went with the entire amount of orange juice for the syrup.

To begin, get the buttermilk going by adding a little over a teaspoon of lemon juice to a little under a half cup of whole milk. I microwaved the milk (straight from the fridge) for about 15 seconds before adding the lemon. Ten minutes later, it will look slightly curdled.

Meanwhile zest two large oranges (two and a half normal oranges) for about 1/8 cup of orange zest. Squeeze out 3/8 cup of orange juice, keeping ¼ cup aside for the syrup topping and 1/8 cup for the cake. Complicated? Baking is a crash course in fractions.

Cream together 113 gm of butter with 1 cup of sugar, till light and fluffy (about five minutes). Add three eggs, one at a time, and then the orange zest.
While the mixer is doing its thing, sift 1 and ½ cups of AP flour with ¼ tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp baking soda and ½ tsp salt. Chop a little over 200 gm of chocolate to yield 1 cup of chunks, and toss them in a tbsp of flour. In a bowl, mix the orange juice, buttermilk and ½ tsp vanilla.

Add the flour mix and liquids to the mixer, alternating (flour-liquid-flour-liquid-flour). Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl between additions. Add the chocolate.
Pour the batter into a greased-and-floured pan. Mine did not gracefully pour, I had to sort of coax it into the pan. Smooth the top and bake in a pre-heated oven for about 50 minutes at 175 degree. Test it at the 45 minute mark, mine needed another 10 minutes.

Heat the ¼ cup of juice with ¼ cup of icing (confectioner’s) sugar, till the sugar dissolves. Once the cake has cooled down (ten minutes out of the oven), take it out of the pan and spoon the orange syrup over it.

I grated left over chocolate bits over it. If possible, it tasted better the next day. I stored it covered at room temperature. It dried out slightly by the third day which strangely, I liked even more.

Later in the week, I had another ingredients hunt, courtesy my 40-something-chemistry tutor friend, who needed mini burger buns and a particular brand of frozen corn and cheese nuggets for dishing out 30 burgers for her daughter’s class party to be sent off at 6 AM in the morning. I, of course, faithfully checked everywhere for the cream cheese.

Lonesome Saturday Evening and the Promise of Summer Desserts

This pleasant Saturday evening, I wanted to go watch a stand-up comedy with the following description: “Having turned 40 this year, Vaz (the comedienne) focuses her wit on the challenges of ageing in a culture that worships youth, her decision not to have children and the stress that accompanies this choice, as well as her constant struggle to overcome her obsession with housework.”

First, I spent half an hour on the phone convincing my recently turned 40 friend (with an obsessive compulsive cleaning disorder) to do a girls’ night out. Despite my earnest promises to get out of my pajamas and get into a presentable dress and heels (the things we do as trade-offs), she refused. Turns out that she had to stay at home and tutor her son before his history exam. And probably obsess over cleaning the dinner dishes.

Mango Kulfi

Mango Kulfi

Next, I dished up my husband’s favorite snack, trying to persuade him into being company. I would never ask someone to accompany me if I did not think they would enjoy themselves more than I would. Given our decision to be part-time aunt and uncle and not full time mom and dad, and his absolute belief in cleanliness coming before godliness, you would think that he would jump at the offer. But no, he would rather play a round of tennis and then do a round of dusting around the house.

My plans to laugh hysterically scuttled, I decided to spend the evening baking. Yesterday, I had resolved, that this weekend I would learn to bake layered cakes and had was looking forward to trying the hummingbird cake. Going out to buy the cake pans (which I have been meaning to for a long time), I ended up purchasing additionally a bundt pan (which I have been resisting to for a long time). Side note: Was psycho-ecstatic at seeing the first mangoes of the season at the departmental store.

Fact: If you have a newly bought bundt pan, you shall day dream about and google/food blog search gorgeous looking bundt cakes and fail to do a single thing about buying any of the ingredients you need to actually make them. Not wanting to give up hummingbird cake dreams, I found the perfect sounding bundt recipe for it. Only to be unable to make it, not having either pineapple or cream cheese at home. Darn. Not to be so easily dissuaded, after some feverish browsing, I stumbled across this delicious looking chocolate chunk orange cake. Now normally, not being big fans of the fruit, we never ever have fresh oranges lying around. But lo and behold, we have today, the exact number needed to make the cake. I sighed, because I was certain I was out of fresh cream. I bet you can imagine my excitement, when my desultory poking around in the kitchen cupboard, actually unearthed a tetrapack of usable cream and some dark chocolate. Hallelujah! I could practically smell the organgey-chocolatey baking aromas.

Except we are out of eggs. Or rather, we have only egg nestled in its container, lonely and morose. Like someone else’s friends, the egg’s near and dear ones were probably doing housework (in that special heaven where eggs went, after they became omelets.)

I have settled, therefore, to blog. Having no exciting or new recipes or pictures or baking stories to share with you – I turn to an old one from last year. I had meant to blog about mango kulfi last year, but missed doing so during the mango season. This is seriously too great a summer dessert to not sample, at least once in your life. And so easy-peasy, I bet you will not get it wrong, even if you tried to.

Mango Kulfi

Mango Kulfi

To make this, simply combine 2 ½ cups (500 ml) whole milk, ¼ cup milk powder, ½ cup condensed milk and ¼ cup sugar in a pan and bring it to a boil. Reduce and simmer for a while, till the mix thickens. Though the recipe does not call for you to do, I kept stirring it and anxiously peering at it and sniffing it. It smells divine, by the way. Once the mix has thickened (mine took twenty minutes), take it off heat and let it cool completely. If you get onto the phone with your mom, at this point, like I did, to share kulfi making excitement, she will stress on the cooling part, like mine did. You see, if you add an acidic fruit like mango to anything hot, it will instantly split. Now don’t say you already knew that. I did not, so was quite taken in by the science of it all. While waiting for the mix to cool, chop and puree some mangoes. You need about 1 cup of pulp. Mix the pulp in. At this stage you can add some chopped or slivered almonds and some saffron infused milk. Set into kulfi moulds (6 as per the recipe) – or pour into ramekins or porcelain dishes. If using the latter, cover with some foil. Freeze. Resist opening the freezer every ten minutes to check whether it has set.

So there you have it. A great dessert to usher in the summers. Go get some mangoes now. And let me know if you are free tomorrow evening and do not have any plans to lovingly vacuum the house. Game for tomorrow’s show?