Category Archives: Dessert

I Dream of Nutella

There are numerous subjects I could blog about today. Should I talk about the wanderlust induced by reading Dan Brown’s Inferno, which frustratingly (for a thriller), I can read only few pages of, before I get thoroughly bored. How, during impressionable teenage, I read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy and started building my bucket list. Or should I talk to you about more earthly matters such as my expertly curated list of the best nacho recipes, involving tater tots, grilled zucchini, roasted tomato salsa, pressure cooked refried beans, and a creamy cheesy yoghurt dip to bind it all together into a bite of heaven? Or I could tell you about the orange chocolate cake baked two weekends in a row and that practice does make perfect but does not care of zested but whole oranges which take over all the fridge space. Or we could talk about my shocking discovery of the number of calories in a pint of beer which takes me 10 minutes to drink but 20 minutes on the treadmill to burn, which in turn has led me to intensely dislike the people who invented calories and math.

All of it – my love for travel, nachos, orange-chocolate, beer – pales in comparison when stacked against my one true and forever soul-mate *drumroll* Nutella. God made those people who invented calories, and then as repentance created Nutella. You can feel the love in every ooh-and-aah creating spoonful. We can continue to be friends if you don’t like little puppies and kittens, even if you don’t care for watching cooking shows ad-nauseum. But if you don’t intensely love Nutella, am afraid, we’ll have to have a ‘conversation’ followed by an unfriend request. We don’t have anything in common, in fact we don’t even orbit the same sun. Go away.

Nutella Mascarpone Cheesecake
Nutella Mascarpone Cheesecake

If you are still here, you would know that the world celebrated World Nutella Day this week. In fact, since serendipity has such a crucial role to play in soul-mates meeting, it is no co-incidence that I rediscovered Nutella in a department store aisle exactly on Feb 5, four years ago – making it our anniversary day. The rest, as they say, is history. We have not looked back since.

As a reminder of the good times, dug into my archives, to share this Nutella Mascarpone Cheesecake with you. A simple chocolate biscuit base, topped with whipped mascarpone and Nutella. Hits the spot like nothing else does. If you are feeling ambitious, you can always make your own chocolate wafers – a dozen times better the store-bought version.

Don’t have Mascarpone at hand? Don’t possess a regular oven? Fear not, for you have this four-ingredient Nutella Mug Cake, ready in exactly five minutes, from conceptualization to paradise.

Don’t have Nutella at home?! Remind me again, why are we friends?

I was forced to let the anniversary pass by this year, unmarked. To make up, I plan to spend some quality time with the Nutella jar this evening. What did you do to celebrate? If you missed it, please join me this evening. I’ll get the mugs ready.

Mid-week Wanderlust and Daydreams

Some mid-week serendipitous resonance earned me a few moments of day-dreaming, and you a bonus blog post.

I got off early from work, and instead of scurrying back home, I stopped at a neighborhood café (which you must check out if you live/visit Bangalore, for its quaint charm and cream of mushroom soup!). Ordered myself some soup and presently there was the aroma of sizzling garlic, which can warm even the coldest day. And this is how it came to pass, that I found myself, in an island of calm, in a busy city in the middle of the week, reading Bill Bryson’s “Neither Here Nor There” and day dreaming of the Northern Lights.

“I had an itch to roam.
I wanted to wander through Europe, to see movie posters for films that would never come to (my country), gaze wonderingly at billboards and shop notices full of exotic umlauts and cedillas and No Parking sign O’s, hear pop songs that could not by even the most charitable stretch of the imagination be a hit in any country but their own, encounter people whose lives would never again intersect with mine, be hopelessly unfamiliar with everything, from the workings of a phone box to the identity of a foodstuff. I wanted to be puzzled and charmed, to experience the endless, beguiling variety of a continent where you can board a train and an hour later be somewhere where the inhabitants speak a different language, eat different foods, work different hours, live lives that are at once so different and yet so oddly similar.
I wanted to be a tourist.”

On wanting to share the extract with you, I stumbled across the Homesick Wanderlust blog, proving yet again, that technology like the internet can unite, more than it can divide.

Apart from listening for resonance, eating better is a part of my ‘go slow’ new-year resolution. Hence, sharing with you the recipe for a whole-wheat carrot cake, baked a couple of weeks back, to make the most of the seasonal ‘spindly red carrots’ (duly inspired).

IMG_20150110_172525349Grease a nine inch baking pan, and get some buttermilk going by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice to about 3/8 cup of whole milk. Grate 1 ½ cup of carrot. Whisk together a cup of whole wheat flour, about a teaspoon of baking soda, a pinch of salt, and some cinnamon powder and nutmeg (1 combined teaspoon). Using your stand/electric mixer, whip together 2 small eggs and ¾ cup of Demerara sugar. Add the buttermilk and ½ teaspoon of vanilla. Fold the dry and wet and add the carrots. Sprinkle on some optional almond. Bake for 30 minutes and check for done-ness.

Easy, right? We will not mention the spring-form tin which I failed to fit properly, resulting in carrot cake batter oozing across my kitchen counter. Not when we are thinking positive thoughts.

A good book to read, a café to eat at, a blog to visit, a cake to bake, and inspiration to day dream – now that you have several choices, what is it going to be? Am returning to Paris, where I left Bill attempting to navigate the traffic.

A Berrylicious Guest Blog

Being a colleague and unapologetic admirer of the blog and the person that is, The Pootler Chef, has its advantages. A periodic stream of her delightful witticisms (Bridget Jones in Gujarat a.k.a. Bridget Ben comes foremost to mind) and a very personal, unpretentious insight into her latest food escapades- be it Ahmedabad, Ireland or in her own kitchen in Bangalore. Over the course of the past few months I’d be audacious enough to also say that I’ve found in her a like-minded friend, with a common love of David Lebovitz and Neil Gaiman, although as she once pointed out, we belong to different generations and have vastly disparate tastes in music. I can live with that though – I tell myself that a complete package with those elements included would be the kind of anomaly, the absence of which makes the world go round; or at least makes our complex web of equations and inter-relationships thrive and prosper.

When she asked me if I’d write a guest column right here, in this space, I swear, for a while I felt like a Nobel laureate – or contextualizing it further, like Julia Child had said she liked my soup or something.

Anyway, the workings of my head aside – having thought about what I’d like to present here for a while, I decided to focus on a few safe bets – seasons and family. Propagated by the likes of my food idols like Alice Waters and Darina Allen, not to forget the new and very endearing kids on the block like Jamie (Oliver), seasonal cooking is as much a philosophy as it is a habit. Stone fruits in summer, spindly long red carrots in winter, flavourful hilsa fish during the monsoon – the list is endless, when viewed within the culinary radar I have been exposed to through my childhood in Calcutta and Jamshedpur and currently in Bombay. Cooking for family is a pleasure and an enabling laboratory of sorts, when your family like mine, lives to eat and never shies away from exploring new flavour combinations.

There are a number of ingredients that are in wonderful plenty whilst cooking in India, and others that one pines for, wishing that they were more readily available across geography and season. Strawberries are one such luxury, that you have access to in plenty during ‘season’ in Maharashtra (and some parts of the hills in the North, I’ve heard). I am not sure about the precise start and end date of strawberry season here – ‘here’ being primarily Mahabaleshwar and neighbouring areas – but I’m banking on whenever I start seeing cartfuls of little red piles appearing in the markets, beginning roughly around November.

Strawberries are flamboyant, with consistent allusions to bowlfuls of accompanying cream or dunkings in champagne and the likes. Their primary allure being the dense splotch of red colour, they can be equally pleasing when baked into a rustic strawberry pie or whizzed into a yoghurt smoothie. While the hipsters can pulverize them into avocado-flax seed-coconut water-almond milk-chia seed concoctions of ‘health’, I find that leaving them whole and unexposed to heat and too much flavour, harnesses their best (Note: I embrace the occasional smoothie binge, so excuse the hypocrisy here).

One of my favourite pairings with tart fleshy berries are a) gently whipped cream to soothe, and b) crumbly sweet meringue to shatter in your mouth and add some incredible textural contrast. Hence, I baked – The Pavlova.

Strawberry Pavlova
Strawberry Pavlova

Originally conceived in New Zealand, a pavlova or ‘pav’ is essentially a large meringue, that is crisp and brittle on the outside and chewy and marshmallow-like on the inside, owing to an acidic addition like vinegar (and typically some cornflour as well).

You start off with whisking egg whites to stiff peaks and then proceed to hold the bowl upside down over your head, displaying appropriate chef-like theatrics to your kitchen wall. Standard rules apply such as ensuring that the bowl and whisk / beater are completely dry and free of impurities, failing which chemistry will humble you with its might and your eggs will not fluff. I adhered to proportions indicated by the biblical BBC Good Food (a Gregg Wallace recipe – link below) using four egg whites. I did reduce the 250g of castor sugar to a more conservative 180g, and it worked. If no castor sugar is at hand, you can pulverize regular sugar in a grinder like I did, but do pulverize it, since it seems risky to use large granules for something as delicate as a pav. The sugar turns your egg whites glossy and luscious, following which you add a teaspoon each of vinegar, corn flour and vanilla extract (not essence). This step elevates a standard meringue to a pavlova.

Now the catch is that this recipe gave me a very runny pav batter, as a result of which it is difficult to bake a ‘deep’ pav. You could alternatively bake smaller individual pavs, since the batter spreads to form a large flat one. It is also highly likely that I botched up my whisking of the egg whites – so do notify me if your batter emerges thick and holds itself like it should.

You bake the pav at 150 degrees Celsius on a flat tray lined with foil. It is advisable to lightly oil the sheet beforehand, as the pav did stick and the foil had to be peeled off carefully.

This is where I deviate from the BBC GF recipe. For the topping I sliced about 10 large strawberries and macerated them in a little powdered sugar to cut the tartness. The cream is whipped to soft peaks (stiff whipped cream reminds me unpleasantly of pasty cream cakes in small town bakeries) with a tablespoon of sugar (optional). I also blitzed about 8-10 large strawberries in a blender with a little sugar and lemon juice. I then reduced the puree with some red wine to form a dark pouring coulis. You can knock yourself out and add a splash of Cointreau to the whipped cream, but having dowsed my family in liquor (marmalade-vodka sodas and espresso martinis to be precise) the past few weeks with the excuse of ‘holiday season’, I refrained.

And that’s about it. Ensure that the pav dries out well – switch off the oven and keep it inside for about an hour to cool or else the center might remain raw. Ladle on the chilled cream and fresh strawberries – and keep the sauce at the table for people to pour over as per taste.

Recipe (mostly followed): http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/711658/strawberry-pavlova

 

Walking, not Running

One should tread lightly in the new year. The copy book is open to its first page – blank, but with a sense of anticipation; the pages behind stretching out like days to come, promising possibilities and more. You walk gently because you don’t want to hear the tinkle of resolutions breaking. January, my least favorite month, is yet to gather its hope shattering gloom which compels you to slide back into the sloth and despondency of the previous year. Of course, the most valid reason for the soft shamble is the hangover from the new year’s party when you foolishly drank like you were young, at heart if not in body.

My promise for the year is to dramatically slow down. A few years ago, I was introduced to the Slow Movement and now more than ever, I want to fully commit to it.

“Right across the world, people are doing the unthinkable: they’re slowing down, and finding that, although conventional wisdom tells you that if you slow down, you’re road kill, the opposite turns out to be true: that by slowing down at the right moments, people find that they do everything better. They eat better; they make love better; they exercise better; they work better; they live better.”
Carl Honore

Serendipity ensured that the piece, “Walk, Don’t Run”, by the Ventures, played at the close of the year, crystallizing my desire to get in touch with the inner tortoise. (Aside, I have a turtle puppet called Harley Turtleson, in memory of my college nickname. The puppet is a gift from a sister in law, who has also designed and hand painted, onto an apron, the image of the Pootler chef as a little tortoise, with a little bundle of belongings, wending its way through life. Things have a way of coming together.)

Thumbprint Cookies
Thumbprint Cookies

The last bake of the year were these thumbprint cookies, done on Sunday midnight to mark the last week of the year and to welcome a few friends to town. The baking took forever, as I refrigerated the cookies, at various steps – rolling out the balls, making the indents, even after the filling. My tiny oven makes a few batches at a time, so that coupled with the cold dough and the waiting and watching, gave enough time for the tortoise to emerge, and pootle into the jam jar. A few months ago, we bought a bunch of jams to try from Pondicherry. The apple butter is good enough to drown in, and the turtle had a few very happy moments with a nearly empty jam jar. Please order your bottle now.

Chunky Chocolate Orange Cake
Chunky Chocolate Orange Cake

The first bake of the year, yesterday, was the chunky chocolate orange cake. I forgot to put the orange zest into the cake, all the chocolate sank to the bottom and I juiced enough oranges to last into today’s breakfast. In some good news, the cake rose beautifully, and tasted every bit fresh as the new year.

Here’s wishing all of us a slow and happy 2015.

Love from the pootling tortoise!

The best month of the year is here…

After the long post last week, you deserve a short one. Further, given that these are the months to drink, eat and make merry, don’t spend it staring at a screen. Make some thumbprint cookies, mix the Christmas cake, dress up for the party in the evening, warm some spiced ale, or simply laze in the winter sunshine. We have a bright red lounger nestled among the garden greens, perfect to watch the sun travel the sky. So come on over, depending on the time of the day, we can read a book out where the hibiscus grows, or bake something with cinnamon and apples, or open the bottle which is nicely chilling, (or we could do all three). It is the season to celebrate, exchange gifts and wishes, and embrace the world in one giant hug.

Semolina Cashew Cakes
Semolina Cashew Cakes

Looking for something simple to make, a little sweet, and preferably ‘healthy’, to tide you over to the onslaught of the cookies? Here is something super from the Ovenderful kitchen. I was looking for something to bake for the dad-in-law’s birthday, he is off eggs, and none of my usual recipes would work. Hence, out came the semolina and the wheat to make this grand dessert. Simran recommends that you put them into cupcake liners and make them to be muffins. I went the cake way and regretted it. The shape does not hold up while de-tinning and I had to scrape it out, pile the crumbs into a glass dish and pretend that I wanted it that-a-away. It was hitting-it-out-of-the-park delish, so no one cared.

Ingredients: 1 cup wheat flour, 1 cup semolina flour, 1 cup white sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon baking powder, 1 cup curd/yoghurt, ½ cup water, 1 tsp instant coffee mixed in 1 tbsp hot water, 2/3 cup oil (Simran recommends rice bran, I used olive oil), some crushed roasted cashews for the batter and halves to decorate.

To make: In a large bowl, mix together the flours, sugars, baking powder and soda. Mix the liquids in another bowl. Add the crushed cashews. Pour into cupcake liners and bake in a preheated 150 degrees oven for thirty odd minutes.

The door is open, the welcome mat is out, something warm is simmering on the stove, and I am dreaming desserts. Come on, troop in!

Airports, Adventures and Apple Cake

Those who know me in real life, or rather are Facebook friends with me (which is really not the same, but in this case suffices) will know about my passion for airport adventures. Think of the Frodos and Rincewinds of the world, the reluctant albeit great heroes, battling the minions of Sauron and strange magical creature hell bent on violent dismemberment. Now imagine me, the reluctant traveler. Only instead of Mordor, it is the airport. At any given time of the work week, and many weekends, I am either undertaking the dangerous journey to an airport, or away from one, or I can be found at one waiting for yet another delayed flight, or am on the plane staring listlessly at the flight menu and thinking of the distant pleasures of the shire and home.

Apple Cream Cheese Cake
Apple Cream Cheese Cake

When I say airport adventures, do not imagine the run of the mill delayed flights, bawling babies and lost baggage. I am talking heavy duty stuff here – changing three trains and catching a tuk tuk in pouring rain to catch a flight once late in the night, or being caught in subterranean flooding at 4 AM while trying to make an international-domestic transfer, and medical emergencies galore – this woman who fainted ON me once, or the international flight which refused to take off because the passenger next to me seemed to have died – flirty co-passengers, schizo co-passengers (I once politely told a memorable flirty-schizo to not disturb me as I wanted to nap and he proceeded to hunt down every air host and hostess aboard to personally and proactively deliver the message to them as well). I have had other passengers take my belongings off the security belt, check-in people give me the wrong boarding pass, and of course, I have tried checking into the wrong airline and once long time back, boarded the wrong flight.

You get the picture right? I have airport karma.

Today, as I drove to the airport yet again, thankfully to not board a flight but, to pick up my dad and mum in law who returned after a long trip away, a list started forming in the brain. A list of lessons learnt or my own version of Murphy-inflight-laws. So here are a few which appeared fully formed from deep subconscious. Please feel free to add any based on your experience:

  • The chances of decent food options are inversely proportional to the wait time at the airport
  • You pick one item from the flight menu, and it is the only item you want, and it will be the one item that she runs out of just before she gets to you
  • The more desolate the airport arrival, and more strange the city, and the later it is at night, the less likely that the cab you booked will show up
  • The length of the flight is directly tied to the number of colic-y babies around your seat
  • The length of the flight is inversely proportional to the quality of the inflight entertainment
  • The less chatty you are feeling, the more the co-passenger will want to talk/be a nervous flyer/be a person you want to avoid
  • The lesser the time you have at hand, the longer it will take to get to the airport, the worse the traffic will be and all the lights will be red
  • The more tired you are, the longer the journey you are returning from, the more delayed the flight will be
  • The chances of the flight being delayed are directly proportional to the importance of the meeting you need to attend
  • The greater the distance to the airport, the greater the pressure on your bladder

Coming to the point of this blog, I carried a cake all the way to the airport and then onwards for family lunch. It was my mum in law’s birthday when she was away (remember cashew nuts from last year!) and we celebrated it today.
The apple cream cheese cake was essentially a mass of crumbly brown buttery deliciousness. I do recommend you bake it – but with three health warnings:

  • You shall put you a couple of pounds with every single bite
  • You shall need several glasses of water to chase down all that sugar and fat
  • The batter of caramelized butter, vanilla and cream cheese is out of the world heavenly. You shall be tempted to bathe in it.
Would you like some tea with it?
Would you like some tea with it?

The husband (with great foresight) insisted I bake the night before, so as not to be rushed for today’s pick up. So we left bang on time only to have the flight come in much before its scheduled arrival.

I will never win this battle.

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.

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?

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.