Posted in Daily, Food, Quotes

Evolution of Pastry

“All food starting with p is comfort food: pasta, potato chips, pretzels, peanut butter, pastrami, Pizza, pastry.” Sara Paretsky

One of the most difficult comfort foods to master in the kitchen is the pastry. Unlike regular cuisine, all the measures have to be in exact precision, proportion as well as timing. Too much and too little handling damages it. Despite all this, mastering few types of pastry gives every “home kitchen cook” a profound sense of accomplishment as well as delightful treats on holidays for the entire family.

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

A dough of flour, water and shortening (solid fats, including butter) that may be savoury or sweetened is what encompasses pastry. From sweet to savoury, many kinds of baked products are made of ingredients such as flour, sugar, milk, butter, shortening, baking powder and eggs, although the sweeter version are often known as baker’s confectionery. Pies, tarts, quiches and pasties are the common pastry dishes with minor variations that come under their labeling. Today with ready-made pastry dough available, homemade pastry as become a little easy especially when schedules gets a bit hectic.

To make a full-blooded puff pastry, you need time, you need patience, and you need precision. It’s all about the lamination: it’s all about building up the layers of butter, dough, butter, dough; as the butter melts, it creates steam, and that brings up the layers of the two doughs apart from each other, and that’s what gives it the rise. Paul Hollywood

From shortcrust pastry to puff pastries, the evolution of various varieties has been synchronous with time, tradition, locale flavours and culture. Like many of the desserts, the tradition of pastry making started off as early as the era of Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. Although the initial pastry covers over dishes were not meant to be eaten but used for baking to keep the juices in. The medieval cuisine of Europe had a breakthrough with pastry chefs using shortening and butter to make stiff pastries as well as newer techniques like the raised hot water crust initiated in the 14th century. Unlike the earlier processes which had used oil, causing the pastry to lose its stiffness. Towards middle of 16th century pastry recipes have been written, adopted and altered to the local flavour and availability.

I was drawn to bakery and pastry. It’s the same discipline you employ in dance – you take the instruction, and you keep on practicing, seeking perfection. You never achieve it, but you strive. Ron Ben-Israel

Although the pastry making traditions were different in the East and the West with different types of flour even rice flour going into the mix for the former. With the advent of travel and international cultural exchange, in the 19th century the trends of pastry making in Asia began to include a bit from the West. Once considered as a mere cover for dishes to be thrown away; today with a wide varied range pastry has become portable from creative miniature arts to eye-catching centerpieces as well as a culinary sheet for rich creative toppings and fillings of colourful, edible and delectable delights adding a bit of sparkle to make fusion varieties along with the classic recipes.

“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

With a wide variety of cultural diversity and advancement of technology, Indian kitchens have been experimenting with sweet pies, tarts, Bougatsa of Greece, Danish pastry, Baklava, Apple strudel among the gulab jamuns, jalebis and Chatti pathiris that we have had since our childhood. Personally for me, I think tarts or sweet pies especially apple pies are way easier even with lack of oven, as a pressure cooker or crock pot on stove-tops can suffice. Although pastry making can lead to a kitchen disaster if not done with care, the satisfied feeling makes the experimentation worth the effort.

“A pastry usually tastes better if it looks nice. A cream pastry, now that looks nice – in fact, there is nothing I mind as long as it looks nice.” Arne Jacobsen

Posted in Daily, Food, Quotes

Cozy with Comfort Foods

“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey. To eat such a meal is to remember that, though the world is full of knives and storms, the body is built for kindness. The angels, who know no hunger, have never been as satisfied.” Eli Brown in Cinnamon and Gunpowder

After a tiring week or even on long weary days, there’s nothing more satisfying that indulging  in something that calms the nerves, bringing memories of the best days of our life, as children or even as adults. No matter how “grown up”we may claim to be, everyone has their own brand of comfort or go-to food. Ranging from fried chicken to rice, french fries, bread pudding or caramel custard to scrambled eggs on toast, fish and chips or fried pakoras with ketchup to nutella on pancakes to simply ice cream; sweet, spicy or savoury the list is endless and varied. Yet there’s nothing more welcoming that digging into food that reminds us of good times, home or our mother’s kitchen, sunny skies and fun moments.

Food is a lot of people’s therapy – when we say comfort food, we really mean that. It’s releasing dopamine and serotonin in your brain that makes you feel good. Brett Hoebel

While the usual taste of comfort might trend towards the homemade cuisine, each one of us have our own eclectic tastes. Contrary to popular belief, not all women love only chocolate and ice-cream while all men indulge in steaks, casseroles and soups. Each to their own is what I believe in. As long as that food provides a nostalgic or sentimental value, its’ worth having it in both the happy as well as the sad phase.

You can’t go wrong with relatively simple comfort food. It’s also about ease. Some cook to impress. I cook for people to enjoy the food. Al Roker

Although the downside of the comfort food is its high calories, it is worth the carbohydrate load as long as it is once in a while. That is one of the reasons why a long list of comfort foods is particularly satisfying. Whether the preparation is simple or complicated, as long as the feeling of nostalgia is attached to it; it fits the criteria depending on the mood at that moment. The blissful feeling after indulging the cravings can be better experienced than said.

Sometimes a little comfort food can go a long way. – Benjamin Bratt

Posted in Daily, Food, Quotes

Treats like Cupcakes

“The little cakes were iced in white, with golden yellow icing roses on top, and instead of ice cream there was sherbet that was a rainbow of colors in each dish. Jane Louise Curry”

Uniquely suited for the modern food culture, cupcakes are known for its portion controlled size, easy baking, inexpensive, delightful as well as edible art which allows us to splurge on the calories without being guilty. With origins traced to early 19th century, the original cupcakes or fairy-cakes were simple cakes about the size of teacups though the fairy-cakes were made slightly bigger. Although the classic vanilla, chocolate flavoured or chocolate topped icing are standard, flavours as well as the topping designs have become more elaborate, decadent and even weird at times. that followed the basic rule of numbers with measurements as cups.

“In my mind, there was nothing better than a cupcake with a funny little twist. I liked bold pairings of fresh ingredients slathered high with decadent, old-fashioned waves of icing- organic pear and chai tea cake topped with vanilla-ginger buttercream was one of my current favorites. But Lolly St. Clair had more classic taste, and so I’d made an array of delicately flavored Meyer lemon, vanilla, and mocha cupcakes for the benefit.” ? Meg Donohue, How to Eat a Cupcake

There is cup cake and then there are cupcakes. No, both aren’t exactly the same. The “cup cake” refers to a cake whose ingredients were measured by volume (using a standard-sized cup) instead of being weighed. The recipes where the ingredients were measured using a standard-sized cup can also be baked in cups; but they were more commonly baked in tins as layers or loaves. Later as the use of volume measurements was firmly established in the home kitchens, these recipes became known as 1234 cakes or quarter cakes. They mainly have four ingredients: one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs; making them less rich and less expensive than pound cake.

“When you look at a cupcake, you’ve got to smile.” -Anne Byrn

The craze for cupcakes had picked up with the varying varieties available for many occasions besides having them at any time of the day as well as easily portable (remember rushing for the train with cupcake and coffee in hand). A quick office meeting or a tête-à-tête with friends; cupcakes and coffee go well with each having the freedom of their own topping. Elaborate cupcakes have graced receptions, wedding banquets as well as minor celebration parties. For weight watchers and chronic dieters, cupcakes are the answer to prayers for resolving the sugar cravings. Any kids parties, quick desserts or fast baking, cupcakes are life savers and yes, they can be made in pressure cookers too. Not to forget the designs and colours of cupcake toppings an icing, which have launched their own line of food photography art.

Cupcakes are like having life in delicious bite sizes. To quote Laurel Nakadate, “A cupcake is like a great pop song. The whole world in less than three minutes. And it’s impossible to have a bad cupcake. In New York you walk everywhere. So I’m always looking, always on the eternal search for the perfect cupcake. I take them very seriously. It’s like hunting and gathering for me.” As the best things in life come in small packages, cupcakes join my list of sweet delights. This makes promoting the Small Business Saturday with cupcakes worth the time and effort.

“Coffee makes it possible to get out of bed. Cupcakes make it worthwhile.” ~ Unknown Author

Posted in Daily, Food, Quotes

Art of Theobroma cacao

Theobroma cacao in Latin translates as “food of gods”. From its’ leaves to seeds, especially the latter when fermented, dried, crushed, ground and roasted become the bitter form of “chocolate”. The word “chocolate” comes from the Classical Nahuatl word “chocolatl” or “xocolatl” which entered the English language from Spanish. Although this fact is not fully approved as debates are still going on whether the original word was “chokolatl” or “chicolatl”.

Native to Meso-American areas, where the pre-Columbian civilizations flourished before the Spanish colonization, the history of chocolate originated as a beverage mostly bitter, mixed with spices or corn puree and sometimes fermented as an alcoholic beverage. Since then it has been in popular use especially among the upper classes, as determined by the archaeological evidence. Although it was used in official ceremonies and religious rituals, at feasts and festivals, as funerary offerings or as tribute; it was valued for its’ medicinal properties as well. Later on Cacao beans were used as currency even as taxes.

Till the 16th century, cacao was unknown to the Europeans. With the Spanish venturing into the Meso-American areas, cacao was introduced into Spain but gained popularity when the Spanish friars introduced it to the Spanish court. As the plantations slowly spread into the English, Dutch and French colonies, the market and craze for chocolate was gaining ground. Alkaline salts were introduced to chocolate by a Dutch chemist to reduce the bitterness. With the invention of the chocolate press, adding milk to chocolate and evolution of the cacao butter lead to the modern era of chocolate. From then on with artisanal chocolate lines and independent chocolatiers, chocolate has become a feast for the palate as well as the eyes.

“Chocolate knows no boundaries; speaks all languages; comes in all sizes; is woven through many cultures and disciplines… it impacts mood, health, and economics, and it is a part of our lives from early childhood through elderly years.” Herman A. Berliner

Chocolate is one of the rare foods which has a variety of days designated to celebrate it, both nationally, internationally and even locally. Over the years, there are very few food fads which has garnered a lot of attention and interest even in the entertainment, fashion as well as the art world. Why so much fuss about chocolate ?

“Chocolate is the first luxury. It has so many things wrapped in it: deliciousness in the moment, childhood memories, and that grin-inducing feeling of getting a reward for being good.” Mariska Hargitay

Besides forming an essential part of many childhoods, it has become a life saver in most kitchens and restaurants. From the liquid to the solid forms, chocolate has been a favourite for many events, even some board meetings where chocolate is at hand. To quote Johnny Iuzzini, “Chocolate is one of the backbones of the pastry kitchen. It is one of the most important ingredients in our pantry. It is very versatile, it is complex, and it is extremely temperamental.”

With the rising benefits of the cacao bean highlighted especially as dark chocolate, it has made a comeback as a healthy snack. Being a rich source of polyphenols, flavinoids as well as nitric oxide, chocolate has a role in the cardiovascular health. Besides there’s nothing as mood lifting as chocolate when we get stuck in any fiasco.

If any man has drunk a little too deeply from the cup of physical pleasure; if he has spent too much time at his desk that should have been spent asleep; if his fine spirits have become temporarily dulled; if he finds the air too damp, the minutes too slow, and the atmosphere too heavy to withstand; if he is obsessed by a fixed idea which bars him from any freedom of thought: if he is any of these poor creatures, we say, let him be given a good pint of amber-flavored chocolate… and marvels will be performed. – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin 

Yet like all good things, chocolate in moderation will go a long way in helping us enjoy this treat for a lifetime. If we indulge in too much of it, we may have a setback later. The fun of chocolate is to savour it in the moment, little at a time to make it last longer. As Forrest Gump says,” Momma always said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

With the National Chocolate day in two days time, chocolate deserves a little extra attention for the menu. For in life even though,“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt. Charles M. Schulz”

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Cakes of Rainbow

For any celebratory or ceremonial occasion (some festive ones too), the setting is incomplete without the main dessert of “cake”. Originating from the Old Norse word “kaka”, among the desserts which has been adapted to the history of that era, cakes were initially started off as modifications to the regular flat breads. Gradually the breads became more elaborate and softer as evidenced by the origin of phrase, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (Let them eat cake) where brioche was a luxury bread enriched with butter and eggs. Since then it has been through a lot of history, transitioning in make through the era of the world wars, civil revolutionary years and even the great depression. It has even became a part of the superstitions, like for instance an old English belief of putting a fruit cake under your pillow would make you dream about the person you will marry.

The entertainment industry also felt it’s presence, basing a number of songs and few movies on it (even in the vernacular languages). However what fascinated me was the myth of Joan’s rainbow cake which I had recently seen in the movie “Salt and Pepper”. Here the protagonists in the movie bond over food and both of them bake the Joan’s rainbow cake simultaneously as the movie progresses.

As per the narrative, the cake is baked by a French lady Joan, who awaits the return of her husband who was in the army at war during the WWII(1939-1945). The soldier informed Joan about his arrival. To surprise her love on the day of his arrival, she baked a delicious strawberry cake and waited for him, but he never turned up. Although she was little disappointed, the next day Joan baked a pistachio cake, anticipating her love would return at least today, but the soldier did not return. She joined the cakes together with some whipped cream. Her wait continued into the third day when she made an orange cake. He still did not come. That night, she went to bed with a heavy heart. Next morning her love arrived bearing a gift of chocolates for his lady. She combined all the cakes she baked with cream. She then melted the chocolate and poured it over the cake, and then served it to her loved one. They ate it together in celebration of his return and their never ending love.

Despite the fact I am unable to ferret out and ascertain the proof of authenticity behind this tale, the whole idea of having a three layered cake with whipped cream and a chocolate dripping is nevertheless an irresistible delectable feast for all. Moreover, it’s the feeling that goes behind that cake that makes it special.

There have been many versions of the rainbow cake and many a time we come up with our own style during the baking. All the same, for every cake the pot of gold at the end of the baking is worth every attempt to create a masterpiece.

Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art

Cookie-Art Moments

Being trapped in the kitchen with a bored toddler in the early evening hours while it’s raining outside and the electricity is out is a very risque situation. Left in the lantern light, one option to put all the excess energy into good use was to bake cookies. Time flew as we started off with the mixing the wheat flour, butter and powdered sugar for the dough. Although halfway through, a bit of the batter was missing with a mischievous grinning kid nowhere to be found. Finally the cookie dough in varied shapes was ready to be baked . As the electricity was still out, I had to improvise and bake the cookies in the pan as the electricity was still out.  On the whole, an hour and half later I had a plate of fresh cookies, a happy toddler drinking his milk and time well spent.

It’s spontaneous moments like these which make life more fun. Moreover, when our children grow up and leave the nest, it’s memories like these which will hold dear in our hearts. To quote Crystal Woods ,“I want to take all our best moments, put them in a jar, and take them out like cookies and savor each one of them forever.”

Posted in Food, Photography Art, Quotes

Ice Cream-Art

Among the priceless knowledge that has survived centuries of time, there is nothing that can bring forth joy like ice cream. Originally named as iced cream or cream ice, the roots of ice cream began in the first Persian empire (as early as 500 BC). Since then it has been modified with addition of fruits, honey, even rice and has been made into various versions such as sorbets, flavored sorbets and so on. Today ice cream has been added to sundaes, cakes, milkshakes and even can be baked. Although in the present day,ice cream is often sold in carts and local delis, at one point of time it was expensive and considered a privilege to the upper class. Since the mid-18th century it has been popularized and accessible to middle-class homes especially with Agnes Marshall’s recipe books.

All said, ice cream elicits an emotional response. In spite of the simplicity of ice-cream, each scoop brings forth its own flavours. Eating ice-cream is like an emotional and palatial feast. Maybe it’s because of the love and care that goes in with each scoop or maybe it’s because it just makes everyone happy. Even now if a drop of ice cream falls or scoop of ice cream spills over, brings deep disappointment.

At home, being with my two year old son who is resistant to anything nutritious especially vegetables,fruits and even cereals; ice cream is an all time buffer. Like in most homes, on certain days ice cream is a treat or a reward for eating all the vegetables and fruits (though we limit it to 1 scoop). Other times, it’s a medium for various fruits and vegetables, ranging from diced kiwis, boiled baby carrots or corns, sliced berries or dates to even boiled rice, vermicelli, wheat and even oats.

Though the most important role to play is when surprise guests come over and I’m out of pie or cake for desserts. Then ice cream is the answer. Delicious treats can be made by adding hot chocolate or fudge, chopped peanuts or almonds, whipping cream, sprinkles or even candied fruit to a scoop of ice-cream and voila, dessert is ready. One can even reverse the combinations and add ice cream to pies, waffles coffee, biscuits and even doughnuts, depending on the mood for the day.

Be it summer or winter, ice cream is always stocked up in the freezer. I usually scour the net for various pictures of ice cream art which have inspired me to re-create, simulate or improvise. As too much of sugar is bad; a delicate balance has to be struck.

To quote Charles M. Schulz, best known for the comic strip Peanuts, “Life is like an ice-cream cone, you have to lick it one day at a time.”