Posted in Daily, Food

Puddings..of Chocolate and More

[1730]
“Chocolate Puddings. To a Pint of Cream take eight Eggs, the Whites of four, beat them well together, and mingle with your Cream; put in some Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Ginger, a quarter of a Pound of Naples Bisket, and a quarter of a Pound of Chocolate grated very fine, put in a little Orange-Flower Water, and a little Citron minc’d; mingle it mighty well together, and if you bake it, put a Sheet of Puff-paste in your Dish, and raise a little Border in the Rim, put in your Pudding and cross-bar it, and ice it with thick Butter and Sugar, and bake it in a gentle Oven, and when bak’d serve it away, or you may boil it if you please.”
—The Complete Practical Cook, Charles Carter, facsimile 1730 edition [Gale Ecco Print Edition:Detroit] (p. 106)

One of the highlights of having warm weather is when impromptu visits are possible, especially on chance meeting of old friends or neighbours. With plenty of delivery services available at ” the fingertips or touch of thumb pads”; it’s often the desserts that need to be made or created in a jiffy. Which is why, certain desserts especially custard, ice cream, puddings to name few easy ones are one of the necessary knows for every “fledgling” cook.

 

One of the easiest desserts to make with the ingredients of cornstarch or flour, cream, milk, butter and vanilla for the most simple and basic puddings. Adding in cocoa, bananas, battered breadcrumbs and even eggs are the small variations that make an entirely new recipe and flavour of the “new pudding”. Few “pudding pointers” to keep in mind include:

  • Although easy to make, complete and whole attention is required from making the batter to setting it to chill or baking it.
  • Constant stirring is needed while cooking the pudding to avoid lumps or burning.
  • The flavours, texture and consistency is very adaptable, so don’t be afraid of experimenting.
  • Make sure the flour is sieved properly because no matter how it is whisked, if the flour is not smooth it will give you a lumpy texture.
  • To store it, cover it with a plastic wrap to avoid the formation of a layer. The same applies while chilling the pudding too.
  • For baked puddings, grease the tin with butter and then refrigerate it for few minutes. This will form a layer and avoid it from sticking to the base.

 

With National Chocolate Pudding Day tomorrow, one can go a step further with whole or shots of “pudding cakes” or “pudding shakes” with whipped cream, sprinkles and M &M’s to add on; not to forget the ice cream too.

“Life’s a pudding full of plums.” 
W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911)

 

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Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

“Canna” with the “petite duchesse”

Ever had “flashes of lighting” alongside “tubes of rich goodness” ? If the answer is in the negative or a query; with the month of June nearing to an end, it would be a good time to take up on the celebratory days of the éclair (choclate éclair, to be very specific, June 22nd) as well as the cannoli (June 16th), respectively. With the local deli’s and bakers’ going on full swing of celebratory discounts as well as interesting combinations to mark these days for foodists; delving a little bit into their food history would be quite interesting.

Originating from the 19th century France, also known as sweet baguette, an éclair was an oblong pastry made with choux dough filled with a cream and topped with chocolate icing. Typically piped into an oblong shape, the dough is baked until it becomes crisp and hollow within. When cooled, the pastry can be filled with a wide range of flavours, like vanilla, coffee or chocolate-flavoured custard (crème pâtissière), with whipped or chiboust cream and then iced with fondant icing. More exotic fillings include pistachio and rum flavoured custard, fruit-flavoured fillings or chestnut purée. If the icing is of caramel, the dessert is known as “a bâton de Jacob.”

Etymology speaking, the pastry title comes from French éclair “flash of lightning”, named so because it is eaten quickly (in a flash). Initially known as “pain à la Duchesse” or “petite duchesse” til the 1850. Towards the 1860s the word eclair took over, both in English and French. Historically the speculation was that this little delight was first made by Antonin Carême (1784–1833), the famous French chef of grande cuisine.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannolis.” Clemenza, in ‘The Godfather’

Moving across to the Sicilian and the Italian-American cuisine, delicate “tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough”, usually with a sweet, creamy filling (most commonly containing ricotta) have been quite popular especially in the island of Sicily. Known as “cannoli”, they range from sizes of cannulicchi (smaller than finger sized) to the fist-sized proportions typically found south of Palermo, Sicily, in Piana degli Albanesi.

With its roots tracing back to the Middle Ages; this best known Sicilian pastry takes its’ name “cannolo (cannoli in English)” from the long tubular shape, as a diminutive of canna (a cane like reed) like sugar cane stalk. Back in the ninth centruy, Arabs had introduced sugar cane into the Sicilian cooking, thereby replacing honey as the sweetener of Sicilian confectionary to sugar. Similar desserts from the Middle East include Zainab’s fingers (filled with nuts) and qanawāt which were deep fried dough tubes filled with various sweets.

During the medieval years, the tubular shell shape was formed by rolling the paste into a flat, circular shape, then wrapping it around a sugar cane stalk. Legends abound but among them, most lead to the origin from western Sicily, probably in Palermo or nearby. Made often as a springtime item, most commonly associated when sheep produced more milk for ricotta around the Fat Tuesday (Carnevale).

Summer still going strong and picnics in full swing, for the first timers it would be a good time to experiment the sweet delicacies for a change. As for the kitchen experimenters and part time chefs, getting creative with homemade eclairs and cannoli would be a good change from the routine desserts.

 

Posted in Daily, Food, Musique, Stories Around the World

Evolution of the “Accidental Fudge”

“Sandra turned to the page with the title “Toklas’ Hashich Fudge.” The original hashish brownies. ‘Peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, stone dates, dried figs, shelled almonds, peanuts,… A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts… it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient…” – Allegra Goodman, The Cookbook Collector

Like most of the “delectable sweet pleasures of the palate “, this sugar candy made flavoured with choclate, fruits, nuts and other flavours; had hot or cold has made its’ own mark in the sweet world. These days, various flavours of “fudge” are made, giving them a vibrant as well as visual appeal to the eyes and the palate.

Technically, fudge is made by mixing sugar, butter and milk, heating it to the soft-ball stage and then beating the mixture while it cools down to get a smooth, creamy consistency with fruits, nuts, chocolate, caramel, candies and other flavoring agents being added either inside or on top. Yet the true origins of “fudge” can’t be exactly traced, though it’s believed to have been originated and gained popularity in late 19th century America. However popular belief among food historians was that the first batch was an accidental “fudged” batch of caramels; hence the name “fudge”.

 

A letter in the archives of Vasser College (1921) written by Emelyn Battersby Hartridge reveals the first documentation of “fudge”. Emelyn wrote that her schoolmate’s cousin made fudge in Baltimore (1886) and sold it for 40 cents a pound. This was the first known sale of fudge. In 1888, Miss Hartridge asked for the fudge recipe, and made 30 pounds of fudge for the Vassar Senior Auction. The recipe was very popular at the school from that point forward. The diary of another student mentions making “fudges” in 1892.

What is it that we love the best,
Of all the candies east or west,
Although to make them is a pest?
Fudges. **

 

An 1893 letter from another Vassar College student describes “fudges” as containing sugar, chocolate, milk and butter. “Fudges at Vassar” was a recipe printed in The Sun (1895) describing the confections as “Vassar chocolates”, which comprises of sugar, milk, butter and vanilla extract. Fudge became a new confection after word spread to other women’s colleges of the tasty delight. Later, Smith and Wellesley schools each developed their own recipe for fudge. Later fudge-making evolved a variety of flavors and additives as it grew beyond its popularity at colleges.

What perches us upon a chair
To stir a sauce-pan held in air,
Which, tipping, pours upon our hair —
Fudges. **

While the first recipe specified butter, milk and sugar, today, American fudge often differs with whipped cream instead of butter and the addition of chocolate flavouring. There are different types of similar recipes to “fudge” across the globe with the Indian “Barfi”, Polish “Krówki” ( Polish fudge, semi-soft milk toffee candies), the Italian “Penuche” which is a fudge-like candy made from brown sugar, butter, milk and vanilla flavouring; as well as the Scottish “Tablet” (taiblet in Scots). Tablet is a medium-hard, sugary confection made from sugar, condensed milk and butter, brought boiled to a soft-ball stage and allowed to crystallise. It is often flavoured with vanilla or whisky, and sometimes has nut pieces in it.

The versatility of fudge is that it can be had alone cold, or served on top of sundaes,  ice cream and even cakes as hot fudge. With various assortment, variety and fun in the process of fudge making; little wonder then that “a set of ditties”  (**) were made by the college girls during and for the “fudge making process”. On the occasion of National Fudge Day (June 16th), it would be time for some fun, rhymes and sweet cooking for all the “home kitchen chefs” or tasting for the food connoisseurs.

What needs more stirring than oat-mush,
And more still when we’re in a rush,
But what’s e’en sweeter than a “crush”?
Fudges.

What subtle odor doth recall,
To artless minds that “long-owed call,”
On the sweet maiden up the hall?
Fudges. **

 

Posted in Daily, Food

Origin, Evolution and Art of “Tarte”

“The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!” – Lewis Carroll

As echoed by the words of Lewis Carroll, the association of “tarts” to the upper ranks of pastries has been there since the medieval ages. Fast forward to the present, their popularity hasn’t diminished by any means with more than three food holidays for tarts like the raspberry tart day (May 3rd), Cherry Tart Day (June 18th), Butter Tart Day (June 1st) and even National Milk Tart Day (February 27th) as declared and celebrated by “foodimentarians” around the world.

Tart is basically a baked dish with filling over a pastry base with the top left open. While the pastry is usually of shortcrust, the filling can vary from sweet to savoury; although modern tarts are fruit-based with or without custard. Miniature tarts known as tartlets like egg tarts are also gaining widespread popularity as they can essentially substitute for a complete breakfast for the “busy fast paced” world out there.

Originating from the Old French “tarte” or Medieval Latin “tarta”; the distinction of tart with flan, quiche and pie are often blurred with differentiation on the basis of the covering over the pastry or the filling type being sweet, savoury or meat and vegetable based. the categories of “tart”, “flan”, “quiche”, and “pie” overlap, with no sharp distinctions.

“Unless you are a professional, you will find the tart to be a high-maintenance, unforgiving whistle-blower of a pastry.” Sloane Crosley

On tracing the origins of tart, most food historians believe that they came about from the tradition of layering food or “putting things on top of other things” especially over notably round, flat pieces of bread or bread based crusts. Over time, the base was pastry type and then tarts had come about. Another line of thought maintains that tarts spring from the Medieval pie-making tradition, as a kind of flat, open-faced pie. Dating to at least mid 15th century, one of the earliest tarts was “the Italian crostata”, described as a “rustic free-form version of an open fruit tart” or “an open-faced sandwich or canape” due to its’ crusted appearance.

With the arrival of enriched dough around the 1550s, pies took a setback of being a common man’s way of recycling offal and table scraps, while tarts were made with fillings of “high cuisine” often made artistic and pleasing to the eye as well as palate. Often custard-based, a large, open tart presented a broad canvas upon which an artistic chef might compose a work of edible art with brightly-colored fruits, vegetables and spices added onto or into them, mostly being sweet than savoury, or a little of both.

Typically free-standing with firm pastry base of dough, itself made of flour, thick filling, and perpendicular sides; tarts have been made with varied fillings including jam, Treacle tart, meringue tart, tarte Tatin and Bakewell tart.

In fact, the “tarte Tatin”, named after the hotel (originated in France) serving it as its signature dish, is an upside-down pastry in which the fruit (usually apples) are caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked. Over the years, this version as spread to other countries over the years with the filling upside-down being of not just apples or other fruit but also onions, tomatoes and other vegetables.

With savoury tarts getting their own special niche of “quiches”, German Zwiebelkuchen ‘onion tart’ or Swiss cheese tart (Gruyere); tarts and their related varieties are here to stay, especially for quick, comfortable, fun and artistic cooking. With June being the month of outdoors and picnics, tarts and pies are very much here to stay.

“I’m really a scientist. I follow recipes exactly – until I decide not to. And then I’ll follow something else exactly. I may decide I could turn this peach tart into a plum tart, but if I’m following a recipe, I follow it exactly.” Ina Garten

Posted in Daily, Food, Musique, Stories Around the World

“Rocky Road” When On the Go

“I am not plain, or average or – God forbid – vanilla. I am peanut butter rocky road with multicolored sprinkles, hot fudge and a cherry on top.” Wendy Mass

Imagine a sewing scissors, ice cream and the whole house to oneself. As per one source, when William Dreyer of Oakland, California ( March 1929) had eyed these items on a spring day; he had cut up some walnuts and marshmallows and added them to his chocolate ice cream; similar to his friend Joseph Edy’s chocolate candy creation with walnuts and marshmallows. Later walnuts were replaced by pieces of toasted almonds. Variations of this combination with add on of nuts, whole or diced and even flavoured marshmallows with chocolate ice cream ( no choclate chips in the original one) had led to the creation of “rocky road ice cream”.

Post the era of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Dreyer and Edy gave the flavor its current name “to give folks something to smile about in the midst of the Great Depression.” Another claim to this creation was by Fentons Creamery, Oakland who stated that Dreyer based his recipe on a Rocky Road-style ice cream flavor invented there by George Farren. The latter had blended his own Rocky Road-style candy bar into ice cream which Dreyer had modified.

“I hope your only rocky road is chocolate.” Amanda Mosher

While in Australia (1853), the “rocky road” was created. Rocky road was a type of cake made up of milk chocolate and marshmallow which is usually served in individual portions such as a cupcake or brownie. With exact origins debatable, the rocky road was created as a way to sell confectionery which had lost it’s flavour during the long trip from Europe and was mixed with locally-grown nuts and cheap chocolate to enhance the taste. As per this account, the name “rocky road” comes from the rocky road that travelers had to take to reach the gold fields. Although, many companies based in the Americas have laid claim to this creation as well.

Rocky road has it’s own variations as per the local flavour. With the traditional Australian rocky road being made of glace cherries, milk chocolate (sometimes dark or white chocolate), desiccated coconut, nuts (mostly peanuts) and marshmallow; Bahrain’s rocky road has milk chocolate, Nutella and pistachios. Moving west ward bound, the traditional British Rocky Road (1971) contains dried fruit, biscuit, milk chocolate ( rarely substituted by dark or white chocolate) with a light dusting of icing sugar over it.

Regardless of the type of Rocky road, whether as store bought or homemade cake, brownies, ice cream or served as topping over coffee, hot chocolate, sundaes or other sweet combinations; missing out on this delight before the summer comes to an end would be sinful. With foodimentarians celebrating tomorrow as National Rocky Road Day ( June 2nd); it would be fun, creative as well as a palatal delight to indulge in this delectable dessert for a change.

“I hear those ice cream bells and I start to drool,
Keep a couple quarts in my locker at school
Yeah, but chocolate’s gettin’ old,
And vanilla just leaves me cold,
There’s just one flavor good enough for me, yeah me,
Don’t gimme no crummy taste spoon, I know what I need, baby
I love rocky road,
So won’t you go and buy a half gallon baby
I love rocky road,
So have another triple scoop with me, OW!”

Lyrics of “I Love Rocky Road” by “Weird Al” Yankovic (1983)

Posted in Daily, Food

Of Macaron and Macaroon

“Orange pekoe flavor, with that gold confection dust on the top.” She holds one up to demonstrate. “Mascarpone filling.” She bites it clean in half and shows me the middle. “Rose jelly in the center.”
“Sounds good to me. What shall we call it?”
“I don’t know.”
I reach over and pick up a macaron, the texture, weight, and balance all perfect. Symmetry, lightness, both shells with excellent feet, wedded together with a smooth filling. Nodding with approval, I place it on my tongue. She is right; the orange and rose flavors melt lustily in your mouth. It’s just like Mama- all bright and full of surprises.” – Hannah Tunnicliffe, The Color of Tea

Known as “macaron” or “French macaroon”, this sweet meringue-based confection is made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond and food coloring. Typically served with a ganache, buttercream or jam filling sandwiched between two such cookies (similar to a sandwich cookie), macarons have been one of the little delights gaining wide popularity globally. Mildly moist, melting when eaten; this confection is characterized by a smooth squared top, a ruffled circumference, referred to as the “crown” (or “foot” or “pied”) and a flat base. Macarons can be made in a wide variety of flavors that range from the traditional vanilla, raspberry, chocolate to the unusual flavours of foie gras, matcha and so on. There is some variation in whether the term macaron or macaroon is used, and the related coconut macaroon is often confused with the macaron.

 

Macarons are a little different from macaroons, wherein both start off with a base of egg whites and sugar. But macaroons are with the base is typically whipped into a stiff meringue , like meringue cookies. Whereas, for macarons after the meringue is whipped, a combination of powdered sugar and finely ground almonds gets folded in, not too much or too little. The resulting semi-liquid batter is piped into exact rounds and baked.

The origin of the macarons are quite debatable. Although macarons today are credited to France, the first known appearance of the macaron in Europe was believed to be back in the Middle Ages. In those times, the macaron was a small sweet made of almonds, egg white and sugar, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. As some food historians believe that, these “macarons” were initially made in Italy as a consequence of the Arab troops from modern Tunisia ( around 9th century AD), landing in Sicily. They had brought new foods along with them like lemons, rice, pistachios as well as a rich repertoire of nut-based sweets like almond paste candies wrapped in dough. In fact, the term “macaron” shares similarity to the Italian macaroni, which puts a shadow of doubt over it being a French creation.

 

Since the 8th century, Macarons have been produced in the Venetian monasteries. Yet they gained wide popularity in the French court, when the Italian pastry chef who were brought by Catherine de’ Medici when she had married King Henry II of France, during the Renaissance Era. During those years of the 16th century, macarons were known as ‘priest’s bellybuttons,’ due to the pastry’s shape. Yet as per Larousse Gastronomique, the macaron was created in 1791 in a convent near Cormery. Legend says that two Carmelite nuns, seeking asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution (1792), baked and sold the macaron cookies in order to pay for their housing. Later these nuns were known as the “Macaron Sisters”. These early years saw macarons being served without special flavors or fillings.

Towards the early 1990s, the modern day macarons had began to take shape. Largely credited to Pierre Desfontaines, the pastry chef and owner of the Parisian café, Ladurée; the modern day macaron was made when he had decided to take two macarons and fill them with ganache. The result was an instant success. These original “Gerbet” or “Paris Macaron” were composed of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam, or ganache filling. Similar styles were also claimed to be started by another baker, Claude Gerbet.

By the 1930s, macarons were served in two’s with the addition of jams, liqueurs, and spices. Since then macarons have evolved from a humble almond cookie to a versatile treat, coming in a variety of colours and flavours; alluring both to the taste buds, the experimenters’ kitchen as well as the creative mind. Towards the 21st century, confectioners started offering macarons with a difference in flavor between filling and cookie, in both savoury (Basil mint or Thai curry) and sweet styles. Little wonder that there are two days devoted to macarons with Macaron Day (March 20th) and National Macaroon Day ( May 31st) being celebrated across the world. Explore this little treat to enter another world of desserts, more than sandwich cookies, little delights both flavour some and edible art.

 

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Of Origin and Evolution…”Soufflé”

“You can’t make a souffle rise twice.” Alice Roosevelt Longworth

One of the main dishes that declares one’s success in the kitchen is the “souffle'”. Although records have traced its’ appearance to the early eighteenth century in France, soufflés may have been around ever since flour, milk, eggs and butter have been whipped up into different concoctions to please the palate. Essentially a soufflé is a baked egg-based dish made with egg yolks and beaten egg whites combined with various other ingredients and served as a savory main dish or sweetened as a dessert. “Soufflé” is the past participle of the French verb souffler which means “to blow”, “to breathe”, “to inflate” or “to puff”.

 

While, few food historians state that the first appearance is by the French master cook Vincent de la Chappelle in the early 1700s; the popularization of souffle perfected to an art was credited to the French chef, Marie-Antoine Carême, who was “a product of post-revolutionary Paris.” As per Antoine Beauvilliers, who is credited with the “first grand restaurant of Paris, had described the soufflé in “The Art of the Cook” (L’Art du Cuisinier, 1814) as,

“Put in the size of an egg of good butter, a little nutmeg and the yolks of four fresh eggs, the white of which must be whipped apart as for biscuit; mix them by little and little into the puree though hot, mix all well, and pour it into a silver dish or paper mould, put it in the oven. When the soufflé is well risen, touch it lightly, if it resist a little it is enough; it must be served immediately, as it is apt to fall.”

Baked in individual ramekins or typical dishes, soufflés are typically prepared from two basic components; the base as a flavored crème pâtissière, cream sauce (or béchamel) or a purée and the egg whites beaten to a soft peak. While the base provides the flavor, the egg whites provide the “lift” or puffiness to the dish. The base can be flavored with varied ingredients including herbs, cheese and vegetables for savory varieties or jam, fruits, berries,chocolate, banana or lemons and the like, for dessert soufflés. In fact, the savory soufflés can incorporate poultry, bacon, ham or seafood for a more substantial dish.

“The only thing that will make a souffle fall is if it knows you’re afraid of it.” James Beard

 

One of the main defaults while preparing a souffle’ is when it fails to rise. Yet as most chefs will say, one thing to keep in mind in soufflé preparation is that it really doesn’t matter how high the bubbly mixture poufs up while it bakes as long as the ingredients hidden inside should taste heavenly and cloud-like.

“If a dish doesn’t turn out right, change the name and don’t bat an eyelid. A fallen souffle is only a risen omelette. It depends on the self-confidence with which you present it.” Lionel Blue

For avid movie watchers as well as fans of the movies of the black and white era, one may have seen “Sabrina”, the 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn. One of the scenes is where Hepburn is humiliated at the Parisian culinary school when the master chef humiliates her (and almost everyone) and critiqued their failed efforts at soufflé from “Too low; too high; too heavy; sloppy”. Hepburn sighs to her French baron friend (whose soufflé is perfect) “I don’t know what happened.”
He explains to her that she forgot to turn on her oven. “Your mind has not been on the cooking,” he says. “It has been elsewhere. A woman happy in love, she burns the soufflé. A woman unhappy in love she forgets to turn on the oven.”

While “the fallen soufflés” may be depicted in cartoons, comedies and children’s programs as a source of humor; the process of making it will be easy and fun if one learns to proportionate the ingredients and time the baking right. As they always say “Practice makes perfect”, trying a souffle’ for the National Cheese Souffle’ (May 18th) or Chocolate Souffle’ (February 28th) Day would be a first step towards mastering this art. If not to master, then at least experimenting to make one can result in some “kitchen fun” and good use of leftovers; or simple have and enjoy the “heavenly and light as air” experience.