Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Layers with a Tale

“The fine arts are five in number, namely: painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and architecture, the principal branch of the latter being pastry.” Marie-Antoine Careme

One of the perks of having a sweet-tooth family, is the adventures into the desert arena. With Easter and holidays, little hands had joined in. This time round it was the layered desserts took the centre-stage. The best part of these desserts are they have both types, the simple to the more complex ones. Layered desserts have been around for quite some time, but each area across the continents have their own special and delicious versions of it. From the Indonesian Spekkoek , the Bavarian Prinzregententorte or the Hungarian Dobos Torte to the Goan Bebinca; each one has their story to tell.

“Pastry is different from cooking because you have to consider the chemistry, beauty and flavor. It’s not just sugar and eggs thrown together. I tell my pastry chefs to be in tune for all of this. You have to be challenged by using secret or unusual ingredients.” Ron Ben-Israel

Going through the legend behind the Bavarian torte, “Prinzregententorte” which is at least six to seven thin layered sponge cake inter-laid with chocolate buttercream with a topping of apricot jam at the top and the exterior is coated in dark chocolate glaze. Named after the prince regent of Bavaria, Luitpold (1886); the exact origin is in dispute. The cake’s exact origin remains in dispute; but there is a meaning to the layers. Originally the torte consisted of eight layers of cake and cream but after World War I Bavaria lost the district Pfalz and the torte was reduced to seven layers. Spekkoek (kue lapis legit or spekuk in Indonesian) a type of Indonesian layer cake developed during Dutch East Indies colonial times, made of flour and yolk contains a mix of Indonesian spices, such as cardamom, cinnamon, clove, mace and anise.

Coming to Bebinca, the queen of Goan desserts is a decadent multi-layered baked pudding cake made rich with coconut and warm spices, especially cardamom. Though the ingredients may seem simple, this few layers to seven to as many of sixteen layers is best made in tizals (special earthenware oven) over fires made of coconut husks to enable uneven heating to get it caramelized right. The batter of flour, sugar, egg yolk and coconut milk is consecutively baked in soft-ghee soaked layers to give buttery and smoky flavour. As most food historians believe, the roots of this pudding cake belong to Bibiona, a nun at the Convento da Santa Monica in Old Goa. One of her early versions was crafted with seven layers to represent the seven hills of Lisbon and Old Goa. As it was found to small, the layers had increased. Served along with coffee or ice-cream, or just as it is, a bite of bebinca is a feeling of bliss which can’t be expressed by words alone.

While these layered cakes to puddings just touch the tip of the entire world, the Russian medovik and the Hungarian dobos-torte are next on the list. With travelling being restricted, these recipes help bring a part of these places to the doorstep. And then would be time for another adventure of not just the palate but also an insight into the story of those times of then to the now.

Posted in Daily, Food

An “In-dul-gence”

More than forty eight hours, still the excuse to indulge in a little of the delectable sweetness of “c” stays on. On a frank note, the gift from the simple cacao seeds don’t really need any special day to be enjoyed; yet on the need for a reason to binge on it, these special choclate based days are noted and celebrated. On such a note, a couple of us “chocolate-fanatics” decided to give the online chocolataire a whirl and oh what a visual treat was it. Though obsolete now, a chocolate themed social gathering gives a boost tot he low morale during these “locked in periods”.

“Chocolate Wine. Take a pint of Sherry, or a pint and a half of Port, four ounces and a half of chocolate, six ounces of fine sugar, and half an ounce of white starch, or find flour; mix, dissolve, and boil all these together for about ten or twelve minutes. But if your chocolate is made with sugar, take double the quantity of chocolate, and half the quantity of sugar.” (The Cook’s Own Book: Being a Culinary Encyclopedia, Mrs. N.K.M. Lee, facsimile 1832 edition [Arno Press:New York] 1972 (p. 51))

From being processed, blended, conched, tempered and stored, chocolate has undergone a bit more changes, primarily to the percentages of cocoa solid, fats or both along with added ingredients, to give the many varieties of today. Interestingly cocoa can be combined with vegetable fat (tropical or hydrogenated fats) to give the confection of compound chocolate. Though not legally “chocolate”, it can be used as a dipping sauce, candy bar coatings or just to give the feel of chocolate to a simple dessert, biscuits or even pie. Alternatively for amateur home experimenters (like yours truly); melting chocolate with glucose, golden or corn syrup to make the modeling chocolate for homemade decorations to sponge cakes, cupcakes and the like brings a feeling of bringing a bit of the delicatessen home. On a very sweet and sour note, chocolate too has its’ own tune with the creation of Callebaut’s Ruby chocolate. Made from the Ruby cocoa bean, the distinct red colour gives a flair to the dramatic taste.

The quest to find a “cool and practical recipe” for the impromptu chocolataire has opened up a whole range of ideas and range of experimentation. With many recipes being borrowed, jotted and modified; chocolate will be one of the musts for cacao based desert crazy folks. As they say old is gold; with a little bit of “this and that”, it gives a good feel for the taste buds and an enjoyable ride for the memory cells especially as they age over time.

“Chocolate Fondue: Hot Dessert
2 squares (ounces) unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup milk, 1 cup soft breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3 eggs separated. Add chocolate, broken in pieces, to milk. Heat till chocolate melts; stir till blended. Add crumbs, butter, sugar, salt. Beat egg yolks slightly. Stir in a little of the hot milk, add to milk mixture, cool. Beat egg whites till stiff; fold into cooled mixture. Turn into a five-cup greased baking dish. Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees F.) about forty minutes. Serve hot with whipped cream. Yield: Four servings.” (“Our Daily Bread,” Jane Nickerson New York Times, September 8, 1957 (p. SM46))

Posted in Food

An Oven, a Mug and Basics

Being in the downsides of having a craving of the “cacao plus” variety and no delivery options at hand, the need of the hour is to get resourceful in seconds. That’s when the old microwavable coffee sugar, a scoop of flour, sugar, baking soda and chocolate work wonders for the soul.

Of the many works of the ancient civilizations, especially in the culinary arena, which has been imbibed into the various indigenous cuisines and culture over the ages, perfected over the passage of time, is the dessert of “cake”. As the early records say of unleavened cakes, the last few centuries have created a huge and pleasant culinary surprises with the advent of baking soda. With assistance from modern technology, the cake making as come down to the bare minimum, with a shot of cake being ready in a matter of minutes.

Thus began the journey of the cakes. Interestingly the original “shots of cake” was baked as a cupcake in coffee cups, as “mini testers” to determine whether the oven temperature was right for a large batch. Though this trend had changed with the invention of the thermostats and temperature regulators for the oven, these mini testers took shape as the modern cupcakes, bringing in their own fleet into the kitchen. With creativity on the rise and the dawn of the “microwave era” resulted in the “mugs of cake of today”.

The microwave based “cake-in-a-mug” simply needs the flour, sugar, seasonings, baking powder along with butter or oil (some even use cream) in the right amounts. With the temperature heating up, the cake just fluffs out; being a perfect touch to have a piece of cake while on the go. The nest part is that a single ingredient to change the flavour is enough. From the essence of vanilla to cinnamon or honey, each cup can have it’s own special zing.

With the minimum requirement being that of a microwave at hand and basic ingredients, this recipe is a must for those days when the thought of cake flits in the mind. For the experimenters, this would be a lifesaver when the unexpected request of cake for dessert sets in. With this, there can be another header for that “book of kitchen experiments” to be enjoyed now and then, eventually handed over to the next generations making life beautiful with the sweet taste of such moments.

“Spice Cake in a Cup Ingredients: 4 tablespoons of all-purpose flour 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar 2 teaspoons of spice-cinnamon or ginger (whichever you prefer) 1/8 of a teaspoon of baking powder 1 medium-sized egg white – lightly-beaten 3 tablespoons of either milk or soy-milk 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil 1/4 of a teaspoon of vanilla extract Directions: You will need 1 microwavable coffee cup Mix-together the flour, spice, sugar, & baking powder in the coffee cup. Now mix-in the egg white. Add the milk, vanilla & oil and mix-well Place the cup into a microwave set on HIGH & cook for about 2&1/2 minutes. (The cake should be done when it stops rising and sets)” ― Coleen Montgomery, Cake in a Cup, Mug Cake, Cake in a Jar and Pie in a Jar Recipe Cookbook. Collection of 60+ Recipes

Posted in Food

Crisp, Light to Thick, Buttery

Being in the phase, where the quiet routine prevails; shaking up things a bit is required every now and then, to prevent the monotonous run. Which is when the flour along with a couple of eggs and a pack of butter with other staples and add-ons come to the rescue. To add a change to the regular, few recipes around the world were trudged and substituted a little, when being made.

Most of our childhood is stored not in photos, but in certain biscuits, lights of day, smells, textures of carpet.” Alain de Botton

Sticking to the basics, first was the attempt to make homemade biscochitos. Also known as bizcochitos, these crisp butter (or lard) based cookies, are made from the traditional biscuit dough, flavoured with cinnamon and anise. With minimum handling, the dough is rolled and cut into the traditional shapes of stars and crescent moons, and then baked. Served with a fine icing of sugar and sparkles, these were brought over to the New Mexico area from the first Spanish colonists centuries ago. For a change, one can cut into the dough and filled the cavity with homemade jam, making it a little like a tart.

Alternatively, these cookies, or even the regular cookie can be given “an apple cider finish”. To make a change to the regular batch, the usual cookie dough can have a little of apple cider added to the typical ingredients of flour, brown sugar, butter, spices and baking soda. For an added “apple touch” one can put in dried or chopped apples along with dates, nuts and a little of vanilla essence to bring a touch of varied flavours. For those who just want a subtle feel of the apple or keep it to a minimum, apple cider can be used as a glaze or icing to he baked biscuits or cookie. To get a more chewy feel to the regular biscuits, one can substitute a share of the wheat flour by almonds crushed, powdered to make the traditional Turkish “Acıbadem kurabiyesi” or a version of the traditional Italian amaretto cookie. Preferring to keep the taste of almonds on a lighter note, a touch of the almond essence gives an almost similar effect.

“The symmetry was perfect, each triangle a perfect replica of its neighbor. Cashews, hazelnuts, and blanched almonds peeked out of their baptism in caramel jam, a sea of creamy browns punctuated by green pistachios. The tart shell formed a precise circle of pastry around the caramel and nuts.” Kimberly Stuart

Interestingly, biscuits made are not all baked. Originally from the Central Asian, Mongolian and Middle East cuisine, the ” boortsog or bawĂŻrsaq” are a type of fried dough food that gives a feel similar to the tea-time biscuits. Made from flour based dough, simple to a sweeter crispier version, the latter is flattened and cut into pieces. In some areas, these pieces are bent and knotted into various shapes, from triangles to spheres or decorated with crisscross patterns, before being fried. Not simply as a tea-snack, but also as a dessert, boortsog can be had as a dessert eaten with sugar, butter, jam or honey. Though similar to doughnuts, they are dipped into tea and are an essential tea-time accompaniment.

Another traditional recipe is that of ” Reshteh khoshkar”, a Persian cookie made from the rice flour along with wheat flour, sugar, almonds, walnuts and cinnamon. What makes it interesting is the way they are prepared. This rice-flour based batter is poured into a sieved container such that the rice batter runs out of it as a fountain Making a pattern on the hot skillet with rice batter running through, a thin patterned sheet of rice pastry is made. Then a filling of crushed walnuts, sugar and other toppings are placed inside the pastry, rolled securely and then fried in oil.

“Powdermilk biscuits: Heavens, they’re tasty and expeditious! They’re made from whole wheat, to give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” Garrison Keillor

Making cookies is always something special. A fresh batch of cookies always brings to mind the childhood memories of staying with grandmother in the kitchen, sneaking up into the jar for the occasional biscuit and the feel of being a child all over again. The best part is, the biscuit dough with all its’ different shapes, can keep the young hands busy for sometime. With plenty of indigenous and local recipes at hand, the regular can be spiced up with a little experimentation whenever the mood strikes for the same.

Posted in Food

Topsy, Up-turned and Sweet

If today’s entry went into the kitchen journal, it would be under the set of “kitchen disasters nearly rescued.” With the lock-down still in effect, the demand for dessert is quite strong. So with a share of the pineapple crop from home, going for an pineapple pie was a quick and easy solution. Yet has anyone wondered what happens next, when one has planned to make the puree for an apple pie, but got the cuts turned to the near brown-black? While on one hand, the litany of “not now” goes on and the contents get thrown out; the other side is to improvise and make it into a palatable dessert.

Entering into the scenes behind one of the famous dishes, history teaches that some of the best creations happen with quick thinking, courage, improvisation and a whole dash of creativity, all occurring in a short span of time. One such dish, is the Tarte Tatin.

As the records go, the 188os saw a special dish created at the Hôtel Tatin, Lamotte-Beuvron, Loir-et-Cher which is south of Paris, which was run by two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin. Records of the popular legend state that, Stephanie Tatin had left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for a long time, beyond the required effect meant for an apple pie. To salvage the dish, the pastry base was put on top of the pan of apples and then the whole set into the oven. The dish when turned out as an upside down tart was a welcome addition to the menu, which stayed on since then.

Not known as the Tarte Tatin of now, these upside down dishes were a specialty of the Sologne region. Whether it was the forerunner of the recipe of today’s, food historians still debate on these points, especially with the lack of historical evidence at hand. Regardless, it is adventures like these that give one inspiration to salvage the contents at hand, and make a dish for the love of cooking and for own pleasure.

Keeping to the upside theme, one dessert cake would be the “pineapple upside down”cake. The cake is baked in a single pan with toppings, which can range from chopped or sliced (glazed, plain or caramelized) apples, cherries peaches or pineapple placed at the bottom of the pan. When served, the upside-down cake is de-panned, thus righting it to the “right-side up”. The fruits form a baked topping after the cake is inverted. Sticking to the traditional upside-down desserts, the choice ranges form the regular American pineapple upside-down cake to the French Tarte Tatin or the Brazilian or Portuguese bolo de ananás.

While many local cuisines may have their own set of similar dishes or recipes, getting inventive sure helps one to savour the other side of the globe. When travelling is out of the question, creating the dish is a voyage worth embarking on.

Posted in Food

Airy, Sweet and Light

Being in the “work from home” phase doesn’t result in fulfilling the work targets especially when the kids are still in holiday mode, getting bored with the stability of routine. Which is why, an attempt was made to channel their energy in the culinary style. A few blocks of dark chocolate, plenty of eggs from the farm, a quart of milk with the recipe for homemade mousse at hand and and we were good to go.

Going by their French origins, “mousse” which means foam, is a dish with plenty of air in it, giving it’s soft, light and fluffy or soft, creamy and thick texture. Made both as a sweet or savoury dish, mousse has been an integral part of many recipes (primarily desserts) since the 18th century. With the little documented history that is available, food historians quote recipes of savoury mousse, followed by fruit mousse and then the dessert mousse (especially choclate towards the mid-19th century) which increased their popularity.

“Mousses. These are a go-between souffles and ordinary iced creams. They are lighter and more spongy than the latter, on which account they are often better liked. They have the further advantage of needing no freezing before they are moulded. The mixture is first thickened over the fire like a custard, then put in the mould and set in an ice cave until firm enough to turn out. A cave is a necessity for the proper concoction of these dishes. To ensure success they need great care in the preparation.” Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book, Lizzie Heritage [Cassell and Company:London] 1894 (p. 966-7)

Made typically with whipped egg whites or cream, or both; flavoured with chocolate, coffee, caramel, fruit purees or vanilla; sweet mousses are often had chilled to give a dense airy and soft texture. To give a richer feel, egg yolks may be stirred and beaten as well. Sweetened mousse also makes for a good filling between layers of thin cut sponge cakes or simply mixed between layers or onto cupcakes. Such preparations may need for the addition of gelatin into the mousse. Savoury mousse may be made from meat, fish, shellfish, foie gras, cheese or vegetables pureed and beaten. These hot mousse often get their light texture from the well beaten egg whites.

While many food historians often relate to mousse as one of the varied desserts made with whipped cream. The latter was often poured into the mixture or on top especially on preparations of coffee, liqueur, fruits to form the foam of simple to complex pyramidal shapes. Often known as crème en mousse (cream in a foam), crème mousseuse (foamy cream) or mousse ‘foam’, these recipes were there in the late 1760s. Though food historians largely believe that it was the experimentation with chocolate that lead to the rise of the new set of dessert recipes.

Early American dessert mousse recipes (as seen in the cookbooks) were often classified with ice-creams; wherein it was almost similar to parfait. What make the mousse different, is the four components that needed to be checked off, in the ingredient mix. First is the base (chocolate, strawberry puree, passion-fruit or even chicken), the binder (egg whites, gelatin) and the lightening agent or aerator (beaten egg whites, whole eggs, egg yolks or whipped cream). Some recipes call for specific flavouring agents or like extracts, liqueurs or spices, as per choice.

The difference in the mousse lies not only in it’s ingredients but also on how well the lightening agent is prepared and the folding. If there may more than one type of aerator, fold it in the order of most stable to least stable. On folding, too much of mixing will cause the aerator to be deflated, losing the soft feel of the mousse.
Which is why plenty of tiny hands do help in the making of the mousse. From the beating of the egg whites to licking the bowl well, it gives them a fun way to expend their energy. With the ingredients being mainly of the pantry type and plenty of time on hand; making mousse gives an added touch to the post-lunch dessert of ice-cream on the hot afternoons.

“Chocolate Mousse
Take four strips of chocolate, 1 quart of milk, 6 eggs and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, dissolve the chocolate in a little warm milk, put the quart of milk on to boil and stir in the chocolate gradually. Set the saucepan where it will cook slowly. Beat the eggs well, mix in the cornstarch and add to the milk and chocolate. Sweeten to taste and boil gently until smooth and thick, stirring until done. Flavor with vanilla and pour into a glass dish. Serve cold with sweetened whipped cream heaped upon it.”
—“Housekeepers’ Column,” Boston Daily Globe, March 16, 1897 (p. 8)

Posted in Food, Photography Art

In the “Or-e-o Craze”

“I need to go for a two day trainers workshop. Debbie has fallen sick with flu, so I am her replacement. Mom is coming to stay in for those two days. Rachel is coming too, she’s on study break at home; so don’t worry about the kids or anything else.” 

Before pressing the send icon near the above message, there were mixed emotions running through my mind. First thoughts were on the huge amount of pending office work to complete and the workshop preparation required, second the cleaning up chores required before I leave and the third, stocking up of the pantry.

As far as cooking is concerned, worries are less because not only their grandmother knows how to turn them around but with my cousin Rachel alone, it would be quite a chocolaty bribe. Knowing her fondness for anything chocolate and quick meals, her kitchen preparations especially in dessert area well loved by all. With physique never being a problem, her dinner revolves around a tub of ice-cream and a couple of Oreos. Which is why, I had to make a new shopping list, one with plenty of sugar on it.

“Oreos come in packages. Otherwise known as a gift. Cherish it.” Oreo Queen

Speaking of Oreos, there is something about them, which makes them a favourite. Whether had direct or as an add-on, Oreos provide a wonderful accompaniment to most desserts and even breakfast pancake batter, smoothies and summer shakes. Keeping nutrition and dietary restriction aside, Oreos are a lifesaver. When the breakfast cereal gets boring, it is those crushed Oreos that make the welcome change. When the groans surface at “dosa again for breakfast!!”, the added crushed Oreos to the batter make way for the change in their minds and the scramble for more.

Above all, like everything with chocolate, Oreos help to make bad days bearable. With plenty of happy moments, these biscuit sandwiches would occupy their fair share of the grocery list.

“Of course, that rationalization didn’t work at all. It would have helped if I’d had some Oreo cookie ice cream to eat that the same time. I’ve learned that self-delusion is much easier when there’s something sweet in your mouth.” Lee Goldberg