25 Aug 2012

One Year, and Chocolate and Salted Caramel Cupcakes

This month I complete one year of blogging! When I started, I wanted a place where I could document all my recipes and the changes I had made to them. It was a place where I could keep a record of my little kitchen experiments. After 12 months of this (yay!), blogging has almost become like a way of life for me.
I find myself thinking about ingredients, food styling and photography whenever I see a new recipe that excites me. I don’t look at food as just something to eat now. I make a big effort at creating food that is visually appealing as well. I shop for cutlery now! When I travel, instead of clothes, I look for interesting mats/ bowls/ plates/ anything that I can maybe use to display food.

I have developed a growing interest in photography. I get into intellectual discussions with photographers about the best light and angle! It is like I am discovering a whole new me.
I think about twists I can make to everyday food so that it gets more interesting. The kind of books I read has varied.  Instead of fiction, I turn to cookbooks and chef biographies as a bedtime read. I even research on the history of the different kinds of food that I cook, and this has taken my knowledge to another level altogether.
I have met so many people through my blog – it has made me, a recluse, social! So many nice things have occurred; I have been featured in the Deccan Chronicle and gone on to write some columns for them. I have even written for the Twenties Hacker! I had the opportunity to meet one of the chefs I admire most, Ritu Dalmia, and even cook with her! I have become so much more confident and sure of myself.

I am so happy that I started blogging. I bought myself ‘Cake Days’ (the cookbook from the Hummingbird Bakery) as a Blog anniversary present and made the Caramel Cupcakes from it.
The instructions are different from the usual method of cake making but it all comes together beautifully in the end. Instead of the icing they suggested, I just used some salted dulce de leche as frosting. I cannot stop gushing about how great these are!

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Cupcakes
Adapted from Cake Days (USA / UK / India)
Makes 12 – 16 cupcakes

80 gms unsalted butter (I used salted, and skip the additional salt in the recipe)
280 gms castor sugar (I ran out and used powdered sugar instead)
240 gms all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ th tsp salt (skip this if using salted butter)
240 ml whole milk
½ tsp vanilla essence
2 large eggs
Additional dulce de leche for frosting

1.       Preheat the oven to 190 C or 375 F. Line a muffin tin with muffin liners.
2.       Sift the flour and baking powder. Keep aside.
3.       Whisk together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat it until it is really light and fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix on low speed until crumb like in consistency. Don’t mix too much at this stage.
4.       Place the milk and vanilla essence in a jug with the eggs and whisk by hand until combined. Pour 3/4th of this mixture into the dry ingredients and mix together on low speed. Then increase the speed to medium and keep beating until smooth and thick. Add the remaining milk and the dulce de leche and continue to mix until all the ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth. The batter might look a little runny but it bakes perfectly.
5.       Divide the batter between muffin cases (2/3rd full) and bake for 18 – 20 minutes or until well risen and springy to the touch.
6.       Cool it for ½ an hour on a wire rack and then frost it with the additional dulce de leche. I used all of the remaining 250 gms. 

15 Aug 2012

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit

With this book, I feel like Hermione Granger in the Hogwarts library, taking down a huge dusty book from the topmost shelf of the loneliest corner of the library and discovering what a well kept secret it was.  I feel like it’s a magical book – that each time I open its pages, I will come across some new information, something I didn’t spot the last time I read it.
Ever since I gifted myself this book last year on my birthday, I have wanted to write a review.  I was really scared to do so as I did not feel that I could ever do justice to it.

 The ‘Mighty’ Flavor Thesaurus, as I call it, is a compendium of 99 flavors and their pairings and seeks to give ‘recipes, pairings and ideas to the creative cook.’ It is divided into 16 categories like roasted, cheesy, earthy, brine and salt, woodland, citrusy and fresh fruity. Each category has a number of flavors and their pairings range from the traditional (apple and cinnamon) and contemporary (chocolate and chilli) to the bizarre (strawberry and avocado).  
Each pairing is also accompanied by a short description regarding why the pairing works and how to use the flavors together. Apart from that there are numerous recipes, personal anecdotes, tips from chefs all over the world, scientific facts,  and even restaurant reviews! At no point of time does the book get boring. It is a heady, imaginative, creative, inspiring and an extremely informative mix of history and culture (for example, did you know that in 1993, the Clinton’s pastry chef made gingerbread White House and no fewer than 21 marzipan likenesses of Socks, the cat?).  

This book makes you travel the world through its pages. You can visit Thailand to learn how to mix coconut and bananas, understand chocolate and chilli in Mexico or even stop over for a meal at El Bulli in Spain.
The anecdotes are hilarious and the observations are particularly witty. ‘Chocolate and Almond: is that what parental guilt tastes like?’ ‘People get superstitious about asparagus. Otherwise sane cooks will insist on cooking it in special pans, or turning the spears three times anti clockwise but never under the light of a full moon.’ ‘By reputation parsely is the Hail Mary to the sin of garlic breath.’ Other such gems dot each and every essay.
When I was not awed by the ceaseless imagination of the author, the food geek in me (or some would say the OCD part of me) thrilled at the neatness of the index, the alphabetical order, and the fact that I could find any pairing at any point of time just by referring to the flavor wheel.
This book is a must buy not necessarily only for the culinary geek but for anyone who enjoys food.

Buy it: US / UK / India  

9 Aug 2012

Dulce de Leche

When I was a kid, it seemed like the entire human race loved to eat condensed milk straight out of the jar except me. I just didn’t seem to like to the taste, or even pretend to like it. It felt like there was a whole world out there of which I was not a part - like that one unpopular person in school whom no one invites to their condensed milk consuming parties.
Cut to 2012. And I discovered dulce de leche (dool  say – deh – leh chay). This is a South American sweet (though different forms may be found all across the world from Mexico to India) made from condensed milk and you can say it’s a form of milk jam if you like. Its basically a rich caramel sauce that can be used as a topping for desserts, in ice creams, a filling in cakes, cookies, cupcakes, as a spread on a piece of toast or eaten by itself!

The story goes that a woman was heating a mixture of sugar and milk in an army camp. Rushing to smooth out a discord between two captains, she forgot about her stove. When she returned, she found a smooth, rich and creamy jelly like substance in her pot that we now know as dulce de leche. A fortunate mistake indeed!
I had heard so much about this form of caramel that I decided to give condensed milk another chance. When I was looking for recipes, I found ones that seemed a little dangerous to me - recipes that involved immersing a can of condensed milk in boiling water for 3 – 4 hours. Uh – huh. No way, I thought. I do not want to like condensed milk that much. But then as usual, David Lebovitz came to the rescue. His method of making this is really simple. All you need to do is empty a can of condensed milk in a large shallow dish ( I used the one I make lasagnas in). The milk needs to spread out to caramelize well. It takes about 1 ½ hours in a hot oven. And the best part is that you can add sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg or whatever you fancy to take the flavor to another level.

As of now, having gotten through the entire jar of dulce de leche, I’m quite content to call myself the queen of condensed milk. 

 Dulce de Leche
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Preheat the oven to 425° F (220° C).
Pour one can (400 gms/14 ounces) of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) into a glass pie plate or shallow baking dish. Stir in half tsp of sea salt.
Set the pie plate within a larger pan, such as a roasting pan, and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the side of the pie plate.
Cover the pie plate snugly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 to 1¼ hours. (Check a few times during baking and add more water to the roasting pan as necessary).
Once the Dulce de Leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool, whisk until smooth.
Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Warm gently in a warm water bath or microwave oven before using.