Category Archives: Cake

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.

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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?

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.

Bon Voyage Li’l Ms Tomato

“It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis” 

I started off this post wanting to be philosophical about the passing of time, transience and hot air balloons carrying us away to our dreams (inspired by Brainpickings’ brilliantly curated piece), but I think I am going to go with warmth, food and an up-side banana cake instead.

Our best friends catch a flight tonight to relocate half way across the world, and I am already feeling nostalgia for what used to be. These guys – a family of three (K, who tells the best uber-dramatic stories based on ordinary everyday incidents and can make people laugh into being better versions of themselves, M, who I have traded books and candy crush lives with – and their two year old daughter aka heart stealer who is basically a cherubic tomato with lots of curly black hair) are our neighbors and over the last several years, have become our family and friends – you know the kind whose kitchen is an extension of yours, you have combined grocery lists, and your gadgets connect automatically to their wi-fi when you step over their threshold.

Of course, food and drinks (several gazillion gallons of the latter!) have been the foundation of our friendship. They are the guinea pigs who I try all my baking on and since they think my Italian cooking rocks (blush, blush), I have gladly fed all sorts of oregano and garlic based experiments to them. My fondest memory, though, is the following: I returned home late one night after a super-long and tiring day at work, to an empty and silent house (the family was away). While unlocking the front door, I was filled with exhaustion and dread at the thought of putting together a lonely dinner for one. In this miasma of loneliness and self-pity, like sunshine, K & M appeared and insisted on dragging me to their place. And I found myself seated at their dining table, tucking into a hot, delicious, home-cooked meal (masala dosas, coconut chutney with a chilled tall beer, in case you are wondering!) while little ms. tomato shared her potato wafers with me. There was something about the all-enveloping and unexpected coziness and warmth from that evening, which will linger on, long after K stops knocking at the door.

In the middle of their relocation chaos, a bunch of us got together at the spur of the moment, to bid them farewell over margaritas. Since K&M got me this fridge magnet, the least I could do was to bake them a farewell cake. Given that my oven insists on sulking before any farewell, I don’t think it was my finest attempt. Still, plenty of drinks and emotion laden speeches later, chasing the cake down with vanilla ice-cream, did make for a good conclusion to a very pleasant evening.

banana and chocolate upside down cake

Now coming to the cake recipe, with more time I would have wanted to make banana cake with mocha frosting and candied peanuts, but given the suddenness of the party, I went with something far simpler, an upside down banana and chocolate chip cake which still utilized some poor bananas which were at the end of their prime. An aside, if you think I don’t bake anything which is not a David L. recipe, you are probably right. I halved his recipe as the expanding waistline dissuades leftovers.

Ingredients for the topping:

  • 30 gm demerara sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • A drop or two of lemon juice (which I actually forgot to add, despite having the lemon out ready to squeeze)

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 105 gm AP flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 75 gm sugar
  • 1 tbsp or 15 gm melted butter
  • 1 whole egg
  • 125 gm banana puree (from 3 small bananas)
  • 60 gm yoghurt
  • ¼ tsp vanilla
  • 40 gm chopped semi-sweet chocolate (Having run out chocolate chips, I chopped in a few mini Lindts)

Before I forget, do not use a springform for this or any other upside down recipe. And if using demarara sugar, I suggest whizzing it to a fine powder before using it. Else, you will struggle to melt it like I did.

Heat the butter and sugar in a small baking tin. The original recipe calls for an 8 inch, I had a small flower shaped tin. Place the tin over a low flame (on the stove) and heat gently. If it does not melt, don’t panic. Keep at it, and it should soon be this dark brown liquid which you can coax to cover most of the pan. Cool the pan. Slice the bananas to ¼ inch slices and place (slightly overlapping) over the caramel. Add the lemon juice.

Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl. Add the sugar. In a small bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gently stir the wet into the dry. Don’t overmix. Add in the chocolate.
Use a spatula to coax the batter over the bananas.

Bake for about 30 minutes in a 180 c preheated oven. Cool and invert. Serve warm. I thought mine was tad less sweet, so the ice-cream went quite well with it.

Coming back to K, M and Ms. Tomato, wishing you guys bon voyage, and a new life filled with amazing vistas, adventure and joy. You shall be missed.

Days made happier with Spiced Ginger Cake

Remember how a couple of weeks ago, around Christmas, my neighbor-turned friend made ginger cake, and the delicious aromatic spicy smell wafted its way into my house and had me begging her for a little sampler. (If you don’t recollect this, that is because a) you don’t read my blog b) you read my blog, but you have a poor memory c) you read my blog, but were quite caught up over Christmas and ensuing days and therefore don’t recall the finer details. Only option c is forgivable. If you choose option a, don’t tell me – I will want to weep. And anyway you are not reading this either).

Now that we have the complicated-parenthesis-driven aptitude test out of the way, let me get to the cake. And in keeping with the emerging theme of today’s blog post, let’s go with multiple choices. You make/eat this cake if

a) It is December and you want the cozy aroma of a ginger bread/cake in the oven to herald and celebrate the season.
b) It is January and you want something baked to set off past decadent indulgences and yet treat yourself
c) You don’t care which month it is, you just love ginger

My neighbor was kind enough to share the cake AND the recipe AND the pictures she clicked especially for you, dear readers. A big round of applause for her! By the way, she is super-creative, and I urge you to visit and order from her With Love venture. She makes adorable gifts for children (see Happy Day photograph!) and a portion of each purchase goes towards underprivileged children. For more details, visit With Love or write to madewithlove.rose@gmail.com.

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Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons orange-ginger marmalade (substitute: 2 tablespoons of finely grated fresh ginger + 2 tablespoons orange juice)
  • 1 cup basic caramel sauce (to make: heat 10 tbsp sugar in a pan. When it starts to bubble, slowly add two cups of water while stirring. Simmer till the sugar is incorporated and the sauce reduces to half)
  • 1 cup powdered (or icing) sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • Ground Spices (Grind together 2″ long cinnamon, five cloves, and 10 peppercorns)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 170 C and prepare a 9 1/2 inch cake pan. In a medium bowl, mix together the powdered sugar, oil and butter. Beat eggs separately and incorporate into the wet mix. In another bowl, mix together the flour, ginger & spices. Combine both the wet & dry ingredients well. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes. Cool completely before serving. For that extra zing – serve with vanilla ice-cream.

Hope 2014 has been good to you so far and you are going strong with your resolutions. Will update you on mine soon. Till then, happy ordering With Love products, happy baking and happy eating!