Saturday, 27 September 2014

Pomegranate And Saffron Labneh

If you buy a pomegranate,
buy one whose ripeness
has caused it to be cleft open
with a seed-revealing smile.
Its laughter is a blessing,
for through its wide-open mouth
it shows its heart,
like a pearl in the jewel box of spirit.
A laughing pomegranate
brings the whole garden to life.
Whether you are stone or marble,
you will become a jewel
when you reach a human being of heart.

As I told you last week, I was introduced to 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi in Elif Shafak's 'Forty Rules of Love'. Am still in the early pages of the book but I am already getting entranced by his words that keep playing in my mind.
So, when I saw a whole mound of pomegranates at the fruit stall and then these words by Rumi, this post had to be next!
Tis the season of pomegranates right now and it is on my list of fruits that are best eaten alone. I enjoy its many contrasts. It is sweet and tangy at the same time just as it is juicy and crunchy at the same time. And then there's it's colour, that beautiful, luscious, sensual red that stains and changes all it comes in contact with, much like the 'human being of heart' that Rumi writes about.
It deserves a dessert that celebrates its unique personality. I found this beautiful dessert that paired the pomegranate with labneh on a fantastic blog by an ex-chef from Sydney, 'He Needs Food'. Drop by for a visit for gorgeous recipes and even more gorgeous photography.
Labneh is a yoghurt cheese, popular in the Middle East and is essentially yoghurt drained of its whey. Here, it is flavoured with saffron, cinnamon, cardamom and orange zest and then layered with pomegranate arils and juice. The original recipe has orange blossom water which I unfortunately could not find anywhere out here. A pity because that would have accentuated the Middle eastern character of this dessert.
And what a beautiful dessert this is. It will remind Indians of 'shrikhand' and that is what it essentially is. The labneh is light and refreshing on the palate without being cloyingly sweet. You then have the pomegranate that provides a textural and visual contrast that is most welcome. I do wish I had the orange blossom water. It would have mellowed the citrus tone of this dessert which was quite assertive because of the orange zest used.
This dessert is perfect to cleanse and cool the palate after a meal that has been heavy on spices. It is perfect for the all-vegetarian diktat that is now in place at home because of Navratri. And most importantly, it is perfect for the weather we are experiencing right now where the monsoons have retreated but winter is still some time away!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

Despite being such a retro classic, I have never gotten round to making a bread pudding. It's just never appealed to me. There are so many better things to make than a pudding made out of stale bread, I have always reasoned. And yet, last week I found myself with these hot cross buns I had baked, getting a bit old. They were delicious but it was one of those rare times, when I couldn't find anyone to share them with. And really, there's only that much hot cross buns one can have, however gorgeous they may have been. So, bread pudding it was going to be!!
Googled around and zeroed in on a Nigella recipe. She takes a traditional bread pudding recipe and jazzes it up with chocolate chip, milk, cream and a good splosh of dark rum. Perfect recipe, I reckoned for the cross buns I had, which were themselves studded with raisins and chocolate chips and flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla. My own little touch was the zest of an orange because I just love how an orange refreshes and livens up a dessert.
There is hardly much for you to do for a bread pudding. Maybe, that's why they are so popular. I'll come to how it tasted but can I just say that the kitchen smelled divine!!
Before, you pop the pudding in the oven, you've got to sprinkle some brown sugar all over the top. So, while the pudding bakes, this sugar on top caramelises and forms this golden brown, crispy crust. And underneath that crust is this soft, custardy bread that has soaked up all those beautiful flavours along with those molten chocolate chips. And yes, the orange zest does its job to ensure that all that cream, milk and eggs does not get too rich and heavy on the palate.
It helped that I used the cross buns which already had their own flavour profile that just added bags of flavour. I might have left it in the oven for five minutes more than what was needed. It felt slightly dry and could have done with some vanilla custard or for that matter, ice-cream.
This bread pudding lays no claim to being an on-trend dessert but it endears itself to you with a familiarity that is comforting in a way only a warm pudding can be on a cool night or a rainy day!!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Hot Cross Buns

The other day, I stopped by my local bookstore. Going there after what seemed like ages, I realised how much I miss this whole experience, of which I seem to be doing much lesser these days. I have fallen for the practicality and convenience offered by e-retailers that deliver books right to my doorstep and honestly, I haven't been able to resist their phenomenal discounts either. And yet that day I understood why an hour or two at a bookstore is so precious. You walk around the aisles, peep into the shelves, browse through the books and then pick up one at random. Not because the book is on some bestsellers' list but because maybe the title caught your eye or the author is an old favourite or the book jacket is eye catching or even better, it is the compelling synopsis at the back.
And then there's the personal equation with the bookstore owner who not only gives you your time and space to browse around but every once in a while directs your attention to a book that he thinks might interest you. Not guided by some algorithm based on your browsing history but as someone who has seen your sensibilities mature and your interests develop. Agree??

Talking about things I haven't done in a while, I realised baking bread is one of them. So, I baked a batch of these hot cross buns, studded with raisins and dark chocolate. Traditionally, these buns are baked for Easter and that's when I first tried them this year but never got round to blogging about them. These are adapted from a recipe by the Bake Club's Anneka Manning. It's a simple one that any baker reasonably comfortable with yeast can attempt.
Never judge a book by its cover and don't judge these buns by my clumsy piping of the crosses or for that matter, my not-so-clever idea of squishing them in a round tin that resulted in these slightly misshapen buns. Because the end result is simply delicious, for lack of a better word. The milk, eggs and butter in the dough ensure that the final buns are soft, tasty and have that beautiful golden crust. You can have them slathered with butter but do remember, they are best had warm and plain, straight out of the oven,  when the little chocolate chunks have not yet set and still molten and melting. Ah heaven!!
These are best made for a leisurely weekend morning when you can indulge yourself after a week of muesli-yoghurt breakfasts!!
I am currently reading Elif Shafak's 'Forty Rules of Love', highly recommended by the guy at the book store. What's been occupying your bed side table??

Wednesday, 3 September 2014


".. .. one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell....No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses..." 

"..And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before church-time), when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea. And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me... ..the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, all from my cup of tea. "
And with these evocative words on the power of food to evoke memories in his novel 'In Search of Lost Time', Marcel Proust would ensure that food writers and with time, food bloggers, would mention him every time they encounter a batch of madeleines. And yours truly is no different. I couldn't resist the opportunity to sound literary high brow!

Madeleines are dainty, French tea time cakes with a distinctive shell-like shape which is achieved by using a distinctive madeleine pan to bake them. The literary cliché aside, I have wanted to bake madeleines ever since I started writing this blog but not being able to find the appropriate pan has meant waiting till now. Finally, after two years of searching and a horrendously exorbitant price tag, I found my pan and you get to see my first batch of madeleines.

Madeleines are made using a genoise batter where, as opposed to a traditional sponge cake batter, melted, warm butter is used. This ensures that the madeleines, fresh from the oven, were crisp around the edges and soft, light and buttery on the inside. They are much easier to make than you think and this recipe from 'Joy of Baking' delivers beautifully.  I do wish I had been more generous with the lemon zest. These are elegant and dainty and moreish, and if like me, you bake them in a mini madeleine tin, it is easy to lose count of how many you've had!

Proust had his with tea, I had mine with coffee. And talking about coffee, have a little peek at the coffee mugs and platters I have used in this post. They were a surprise gift in the mail from my favourite lifestyle brand, 'Good Earth'. Eight times out of ten, the props such as the mugs and glasses that I use in my posts are from Good Earth. And these are from their collection titled 'Serendib', one of their most elegant collections, designed by the fabulously talented Pavitra Rajaram. I can't remember ever getting a surprise gift in the mail, let alone something so fabulously beautiful. To say that I was thrilled would be an obvious and gross understatement. Hopefully, these madeleines do them justice!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Chocolate Caramel Bars

Am not really sure I have an answer for why there's been only one post all this month. I'd like to believe it's the weather, the excessively sticky humidity that holds the promise of rain but hasn't really delivered much of it this month. But then, I have pretty much used up all of my quota of complaining about the weather in the Summer. So, no, I don't why there haven't been any posts.

But, I am going to blame the weather for marring these chocolate caramel bars that I made yesterday. I figured these were perfect to shake off my baking ennui. Fuss free recipe, easy technique, readily available ingredients and basic flavours that you know you can't go wrong with.

And true to form, everything went according to plan. These bars have three layers - it starts off with a layer of shortbread, then a layer of caramel and finally, a layer of chocolate. I made all the layers and then I put them in the fridge to set the final chocolate layer. Once set, I pulled them out to slice them and that's when the difference in temperature spoilt the look of these bars. The high humidity meant that what should have looked like a shiny, glossy layer of chocolate was instead covered with droplets of water. Yup, that's what you are seeing in the photographs.

While it doesn't look great, those little droplets are harmless. They neither affected the chocolate nor did they affect the taste of these bars. Each of these layers consists of simple, basic flavours that on their own are typical and ordinary but combine the three layers together and it's a party for your taste buds! And each of these individual layers is quite rich, so a small piece hits the right notes. It would be ideal when you wanna serve up something sweet to a large group of people. I can't see how anyone can not like them. Give them a shot!

How's August been treating you?? Have you travelled to somewhere new or read an interesting book or seen a new movie?? Tell me!!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Roasted Peaches With Crushed Almond Praline

The seasons are changing. That's what the fruit stall is telling me. The mangoes have, except for a few langras and chausas, more or less left the market. And so have the cherries. The apples and pears have started making an appearance and even a few chikoos. And of course, there's also the last of the plums and peaches.
To be precise, more of the plums, the peaches have hardly made their mark this season. Since they come all the way from up north, you rarely find good ones. They are either all yellow on the outside with none of that beautiful peachy blush that one expects from them or they are absolutely lacking in taste. And yet, for some inexplicable reason, we picked up a few, only to have them lie around in the fruit basket with no one willing to eat them.

You then do the next best thing to make the fruit more palatable. You roast them! In this case with some cinnamon and brown sugar but you could also use honey, vanilla or even some orange juice. Normally, I would have served them with some vanilla ice-cream and be done with it. But I had seen this idea of crushed almond praline in the 'What Katie Ate' book that she serves with roasted peaches that sent me down that road.
The almond praline is easy to make. All you have to do is caramelise some sugar and then pour it over the roasted almonds. Once it sets, break it up into shards and then for this dessert, crush them into a crumble. Although the darker you caramelise the sugar, the more bitter it will be, so use your discretion on how bitter you would like it.

Roasting the peaches softens them down as they get cooked in their own juices and the sugar takes the edge of the tartness. The cold vanilla ice-cream contrasts beautifully with the warm, roasted peaches. And just when you think, it would all get a bit too sweet, the bitter, caramel flavour of the praline counters that as well as giving some much appreciated textural crunch.
However, I am left wondering if I should have added some kind of orange or lemon juice while roasting the peaches. That would have resulted in some sort of syrup which would be ideal to pour over the ice-cream.
Let's be clear .. this is not so much a dessert to wow the guests as more of a way to finish off the not-so-ideal fruit that is simply lying around. Having said that, since there is such little work to be done, it is a delightful, unfussy dessert for an informal week night dinner.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Sheer Khurma - Indian Vermicelli Pudding

You don't need to be a Muslim to appreciate the faith that defines the month of Ramzan. Because like every other religion, it is only faith that can make one exercise the restraint and self control that a month of fasting demands of one's body, mind and soul. For any one with questions on Ramzan, I would like to direct you to my friend, Sawsan's post on the topic. Because as she beautifully puts it, "The true beauty of any religion is when you see the why behind the must."
And, you don't need to be Muslim to enjoy Sheer Khurma on Eid!! We, Indians, are always ready for a celebration and the good food that it brings with it.  So, at some point in life, a neighbour, co-worker or friend would have definitely introduced you to a bowl of this beautiful dessert on Eid and like everyone else, you would have been hooked ever since.
Sheer khurma is the traditional dessert prepared for Eid. Sheer is Persian for milk and Khurma is Persian for dates. Offered to the family in the morning after Eid prayers and to guests throughout the day, this is a vermicelli pudding cooked in milk along with dates, dried fruits and nuts. 
Every family has their own recipe which will invariably have its own special touches that will make it unique to any other bowl of sheer khurma that you might have tasted. The recipe I follow today is a simple one and much lighter and less richer than traditional recipes.
But, that does not take away from the pudding in a way. It was as delightful as ever. The vermicelli provides its own unique texture and the nuts and dried fruits, each bring their individual character to the flavour profile. Bringing it together is the delicately scented milk that has been infused with cardamom and rose. This is a dessert fit for any celebration!
Eid Mubarak! Wishing you health, happiness, love and in these uncertain times, may peace be upon all!!
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