November 26, 2014

Egg-free No-Bake Pumpkin Pie Pudding With Candied Nuts/ Praline

Y
ou’ve probably heard the saying, “As American as Apple Pie”. While Apple Pie has become a quintessentially American food, Pumpkin Pie is is another pie that can be probably be classified the same way. Pumpkin Pie is a classic American Thanksgiving tradition, probably for two reasons. For one, Thanks giving (and Halloween) are both celebrated at time of the year which coincides with pumpkin harvest season. The other probably has to do with the fact that when the first Pilgrims landed they realised they had to eat the pumpkins grown by the Native Americans to survive.



 
However, one of the earliest recipes for Pumpkin Pie came from “Le Vrai Cuisinier François” or The True French Cook written in 1651 (English ed. 1653) by a French chef called François Pierre de la Varenne.
The English, in those days, called the pumpkin a “Pumpion” and a 1670 cookbook by Hannah Wooley has a recipe for Pumpion Pie which goes, “Take a Pumpion, pare it, and cut it in thin slices, dip it in beaten Eggs and Herbs shred small, and fry it till it be enough, then lay it into a Pie with Butter, Raisins, Currans, Sugar and Sack, and in the bottom some sharp Apples, when it is baked, butter it and serve it in.”

Sack? In pie? I think sherry was referred to as "Sack" in the old days in England. Apparently, the first recipe for Pumpkin Pie in the US appeared only in 1796 and it was called a “Pomkin Pudding” but baked in a crust.
I’ve baked quite a few pies but I still haven’t ventured in the direction of Pumpkin Pie. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not sure I have answer. We use a lot of pumpkin in our cooking, and I buy it about once in 10 days. However, in my traditional style of cooking, pumpkin is always cooked as a savoury dish. So maybe that’s where my hesitation to turn pumpkin into something sweet starts.
Out here, I’ve seen three kinds of pumpkins. One is what we call “patcha matthan”which translates to “green (or raw)pumpkin” in English and it has a mottled green and yellowish skin and is light yellow-orange with a touch of pale green on the inside. The other kind is the pumpkin which is orange on the outside, and deep orange on the inside. Both these varieties are large though, the first kind tastes much better when cooked into savoury dishes, in my opinion. The third kind is also orange but much smaller and can comfortably be held in one’s hands. I found this variety referred to as “Disco” pumpkin in Kerala for some reason.



 
It’s Thanksgiving season in the US, and I’ve been seeing a lot of blogs and food sites showcasing all things pumpkin. I was looking for a dessert to make for the weekend, one that was easy enough, reasonably light on calories and didn’t require baking because my oven wasn’t working. Pumpkin seemed the way to go since I had a quarter of a pumpkin sitting in the refrigerator. A quarter of that was reserved for our Cocker spaniel Fudge (he loves pumpkin) and I decided to start my pumpkin dessert journey with a Pumpkin Pie style pudding instead.

I understand that the preferred way to make Pumpkin Pie or generally anything that involves the use of pumpkin purée is to use canned pumpkin version. In India, we get pumpkin the year round and there is a general preference in Indian kitchens to use fresh produce rather than preserved/ canned stuff, if you can even find it.
I also see references on blogs and in articles written by some Americans about  pumpkins smelling funny and how they’re all stringy and watery and why it’s so much better to use the canned variety. I don’t know if the variety of pumpkin that we get here is different, but I’ve never seen stringy, watery or funny smelling pumpkin (unless it’s spoilt). So I made my own pumpkin purée, which isn’t all that difficult to do. We like just a hint of the spices, but if like them pronounced please adjust the amounts to suit your taste. If you don’t like walnuts, you can use almonds instead for the praline.



 
Pumpkin Pie Pudding is nothing but the pumpkin custard that goes into the pie crust to make Pumpkin Pie. So you could use this pudding as the filling in a pre-baked pie crust, and you would have a Pumpkin Pie which just needs refrigeration to set. This is a fuss-free pudding that can be ahead of time, so it’s a good dessert idea for when you have guests over.
Egg-free No-Bake Pumpkin Pie Pudding With Candied Nuts/ Praline
(Adapted from My Recipes)
 

Ingredients:

For the pudding:
 
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp vanilla flavoured custard powder
1 3/4 cups milk (I used 2% milk)
1/2 cup unsweetened pumpkin purée*
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp finely grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp finely grated dried ginger
1/4 tsp allspice 

For the candied walnuts/ praline:
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
A pinch of salt
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts  

To serve:
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
Ginger cookies (optional)
 

Method:

*You can use canned pumpkin purée or make your own. This is how I made mine. Chop up the pumpkin into pieces and pan roast them with about a tablespoon of butter for about 5 minutes, over medium heat until they’re golden brown. Then steam-cook the pumpkin till it’s done and very soft. Let this cool and then blend into purée. You can also roast them in the oven. If you find that your pumpkin is a little on the wetter side, then mash it slightly after it has cooked and let is drain for about an hour before you purée it. 

Make the pumpkin custard first. Whisk together the sugar, vanilla flavoured custard powder and the milk in a pot or pan till well mixed. Place on medium heat and keep stirring frequently until the mixture has thickened and coats the spoon or whisk well. Don’t let it come to a boil. Make sure no lumps form.
Add the puréed pumpkin, the vanilla and the spices and whisk well by hand till incorporated. Take the custard off the heat and keep stirring as it cools and thickens making sure a “skin” does not form. Once it is barely warm, divide the custard equally between 4 serving glasses/ cups. Let it cool completely, then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate till ready to serve.
To make the candied walnuts or praline, place the sugar and the pinch of salt in a small skillet (preferably non-stick). Add a teaspoon of water and place it on medium heat and stir a couple of times so that the sugar melts/ dissolves. Let it bubble until it turns golden brown. Add the chopped nuts and stir until all the nuts are well coated. Spread this on a lightly oiled foil lined tray. Let it cool completely. Chop up coarsely. Store in an airtight container if not using immediately.
To serve, whip the cream and the sugar till it forms soft peaks that hold. Spoon or pipe a little cream on to each serving of pumpkin pudding and sprinkle the candied walnuts/ praline over this. Serve with or without the ginger cookie on the side. This recipe serves 4.
 
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November 24, 2014

We Knead To Bake #22 : Sheermal/ Shirmal (Saffron Flavoured Flatbread)

T
his month's choice for the "We Knead To Bake" group was Sheermal. Sheermal or Shirmal is a saffron-flavored slightly sweet traditional leavened flatbread that is found in various countries on the Asian sub-continent including Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.
Sheermal is a Naan-like milk bread, apparently of Persian origins, and it is suggested that the name comes from the Persian word for milk which is “sheer”. In India, this “milk” bread is predominantly found in Muslim neighbourhoods (another reason to suppose it came to India with the Mughals) of Kashmir, Lucknow and Hyderabad. 



 
While I haven’t been able to find any decisive or detailed information on the Sheermal, I have discovered that the finished flatbread and when it is served/ how it is eaten, seems to differ slightly depending on where it is made. So you will find that some Sheermal decorated with a lovely pricked rustic pattern on its surface, Lucknowi Sheermal garnished with raisins, others like to use slivered almonds, poppy seeds or sesame seeds to top their Sheermal.
I understand that Sheermal is usually eaten as it is with tea for breakfast, or served slightly warm as part of a meal with a mutton curry called Nihari/ Nehari or spicy kebabs. It can also be served with Khurma/ Korma/ Qorma, vegetable curries, etc.



 
You will find Sheermal being made with either baking powder or yeast as the leavening agent, and this version uses yeast. The kewra (screw pine extract) gives this bread a unique flavour which can a bit of an acquired taste. Rose water/ essence is also used, and is also somewhat of an acquired flavour. If you can neither (or don’t want ot use either), you can use crushed cardamom instead.
Incorporating the ghee into the dough slowly by adding a little at a time ensures that the fat is dispersed evenly through the dough, and gives a better texture to the Sheermal. Make sure your dough is soft, elastic and well kneaded as this will produce a superior Sheermal. The hallmark of good Sheermal is the glistening finish on the flatbread from brushing it with melted ghee or butter, so do not skimp on that, even though this flatbread is already rich as it is.
The egg gives the dough a little extra richness, texture and flavour, but you can leave it out if you don’t use eggs.


 
Traditionally, this is a bread that is cooked in a tandoor, but the oven also produces quite good Sheermal. Here are two good videos worth watching before making the Sheermal. One is a video is a film showing how Sheermal is made in smaller commercial bakeries, and the other one gives a good demonstration on how to make/ shape Sheermal. 
Sheermal/ Shirmal (Saffron Flavoured Flatbread)
 

Ingredients:

1 tsp active dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup ghee
1/2 cup milk (or more, as required for kneading)
 1 tsp kewra water (screw pine essence) or rose water
A few strands saffron soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk
Melted butter, for brushing
 

Method:

Mix the yeast into the warm water with sugar and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes till it is frothy.
You may knead by hand or with a machine. Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the yeast mixture and the beaten egg and run the processor a couple of times to mix well. Then add the ghee in two lots to this and again pulse a couple of times till it looks like fine crumbs.
Now add as much milk, and finally the kewra (or rose water) and knead until you have a very soft and slightly sticky dough. Transfer this to an oiled bowl, cover with a moist cloth and let the dough rise till doubled in volume (about 1 to 2 hours).
 
 

Remove the cloth and knead the dough again. Shape into a ball, lightly coat all over with a little ghee, cover with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Now divide the dough into 4 equal portions and using your fingers, press out each portion into a round of approximately 4” diameter (about 1/8” thick). You can also use your rolling pin, but I found it quite easy to do with my fingers. Place the rounds on a parchment lined or lightly greased baking tray and using a fork, dock (prick holes) the whole surface of the dough rounds.
 
 

Brush them all over, generously, with the saffron-milk solution. Bake at 180C (350F) for about 10 to 15 minutes till they turn a lovely golden brown. Do not over-bake them.
Take them out of the oven, and immediately brush them lightly with melted butter or more ghee. Serve warm. This recipe makes 4 Sheermals of approximately 4” diameter.
 

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November 19, 2014

Nellikai Urugai/ Indian Gooseberry Pickle – South Indian Style

T
he Indian gooseberry, called Nellikai (in Tamil), Nellika (in Malayalam), Amla (in Hindi) and by many other names in the different languages across India has a lot of importance especially because of the medicinal properties attributed to it. It is known to be a very rich source of Vitamin C in its natural and dehydrated form.
It is not surprising that the Indian gooseberry also features in folk tales and legends. According to one story, this fruit is supposed to have been formed from the drops of Amrith that accidentally spilled and fell to earth when the Gods and Demons were fighting over the Amrit after churning it. As a result, there is a religious belif in some parts of the country that the Indian gooseberry can cure most illnesses and also increase the longevity of life.


 
It is also told that when Adi Shanakaracharya, as a small boy, went seeking alms (bhiksha) on the auspicious Dwadashi day, he was given a gooseberry by the lady at one particular house as that is all she had to offer. In return, he composed and recited the Kanakadhara Sthothram (a Hindu prayer) asking the Godess Lakshmi to bless the household with wealth.
This fruit also features in a story about Avvaiyar, one of the famous Tamil poetess who lived during Sangam period of Indian history.. There is a story told King Athiyaman who ruled during this period. He was apparently offered the gooseberry as a fruit with magical powers that would grant eternal life. The King, a supposedly wise man and a patron of the arts, decided that the life of a poet was worth more than his own and offered the fruit to Avvaiyar. The story isn’t quite clear on what Avvaiyar did with the fruit!
As I mentioned in a previous post, the three of us at home don’t particularly like Nellikai or Amla, as Indian gooseberries are known. I do like them pickled though, whether in brine or in oil with chilli powder and spices the way Indian pickles are made.



 
I do generally like most Indian style pickles so long as they’re not very spicy, they don’t have a lot of garlic in them (except for a garlicky yam pickle my cousin used to make), or are made in mustard oil. I neither like the smell of mustard oil, nor have I quite acquired a taste for it yet and doubt I ever will.

The recipe below is somewhat typical in that it uses all the spices that usually go into spicy pickles that are made in the part of the world I come from. The amounts of the spices are indicative and not absolute but it would be better to keep to approximately the amounts suggested except for the chilli powder which one can adjust to suit one’s taste for “heat”.
I have given a range for the oil to be used because oil (along with the salt) acts as a preservative. This is more so here because the gooseberries have moisture and so the pickle can spoil easily. I f there is enough oil to cover the gooseberry pieces, the pickle will last longer. You can use 1/3 a cup if you want to use less oil, as this is a small batch of pickle and should keep refrigerated for a couple of weeks.
Nellikai Urugai/ Indian Gooseberry Pickle – South Indian Style
 

Ingredients:

1/4 kg Indian gooseberries
1 to 1 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (adjust to taste)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt (or more to taste)
1/3 to 1/2 cup oil (preferably sesame oil)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
2 sprigs curry leaves
1/3 tsp powdered fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp powdered jaggery (or brown sugar)
 

Method:

Wash the gooseberries, and then steam-cook them until they are cooked but still firm. You should be able to section them by hand along the ridges of the gooseberries and de-seed them. De-seed all of them and add the chilli and turmeric powders and the salt to this. Toss well till evenly coated and keep aside.
 
 

Heat the oil in a wok and add the mustard seeds. When they splutter add the asafoetida (do not let it burn), the curry leaves and the gooseberry segments. Stir a few times so it is well mixed, and turn the heat down. Stir occasionally and let the gooseberry cook in the oil for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Now add the powdered fenugreek and the jaggery and mix well. Turn off the heat and let the pickle cool. Then transfer into sterile glass jars. Refrigerate and use quickly because this pickle has a short shelf life. It should keep for up to 2 weeks. If the pickle is completely covered by the oil, it will last a little longer. This recipe makes 1 large jar or about 2 smaller jars of pickle.
 
 
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November 16, 2014

Dhakai Bakharkhani/ Baqeerkhani (Crisp Flatbreads from Dhaka, Bangladesh)

I
have been baking with the Bread Baking Babes (a.k.a BBBs) for a little while now and much longer, on and off, as a buddy.  This month I also have the honour of being the “kitchen of the Month”, which means that I get to choose what bread all of us bake for November. Given that the BBBs have been baking for a while and baked their way through a variety of breads from across the world, choosing a bread wasn’t exactly easy. That was until it struck me that I could look for a bread that was from the Asian subcontinent.
After a lot of searching, I found a bread that I hoped would be different, challenging and fun for all of us to bake. May I present the Bakharkahni, a layered and very rich bread, made somewhat in the manner of puff pastry?


Bakarkhani (also called Baqeerkahni, Bakharkhoni or Bakorkhani) are flatbreads that came into the Asian sub-continent with the tandoor and other breads of Turkish and Mughal traders and invaders sometime in the eighteenth century. It is quite popular in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. In India, The Bakharkhani is typically found in areas where history, food and culture are influenced by the Mughal rule like Lucknow, Hyderabad and Kashmir.
Bakharkhani , seems to be different in different parts of the world where it exists. It can be a savoury or slightly sweet, leavened or unleavened, soft or crisp, eaten for breakfast or served with tea, and even like a paratha (Sylheti Bakharkhani from Bangladesh). The softer leavened versions of Bakharkhani are usually served with kebabs and meat curries.
There is a tragic love story that is supposedly behind the origin of the name of this flatbread – that of an army general named Aga Bakar and a beautiful dancer Khani Begum. 
 
 
According to the book “Kingbadantir Dhaka” written by one Nazir Hossain, during Nabab Siraj-ud-daulah’s reign in the 1800s, there was a general called Aga Bakar in Chittagong. He apparently fell in love with a beautiful dancer called Khani Begum. Unfortunately, another official in the army called Jainul Khan, was equally enamoured by her and decided to kidnap her. Aga Bakar got to know of this plan and rescued her from her kidnapper.  Now Jainul Khan managed to escape in the skirmish. He however got his revenge going into hiding and then floating a rumour that Aga Bakar had killed him and hidden his dead body!

So Aga Bakar was arrested for murder, and sentenced to death. He was put in a cage with a hungry tiger, but Aga Bakar managed to kill the tiger and escape. In the meanwhile, Jainul Khan managed to find Khani Begum and then killed her. I’m not sure what happened to Jainul Khan after that, but it seems that Aga Bakar went on to live a little longer, got married and had children. He never forgot Khani Begum though.
It is said that Aga Bakar immortalized his love for Khani Begum by naming this bread “Bakar-Khani”. I have heard of men immortalizing their love for women throughout history in various ways like Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal for Mumtaz Mahal, or the Bibi ka Maqbara that the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb built for his wife Dilras Banu Begum, Kellie’s Castle in Malaysia that William Kellie Smith bult for his wife Agnes, Prasat Hin Phimai in Thailand by Orapima in the memory of her husand to be, etc. Bread seems a little tame in comparison but perhaps it reinforces the thought the way to true love is through the stomach.
 
 
While making the bread in my kitchen, it struck me just how rich (in fat and calories) this bread actually is. The fat in Bakharkhani comes mostly from two ingredients, ghee (clarified butter) and mawa (caramelized milk solids) both of which were probably beyond the reach of the average man on the streets in Aga Bakar’s time, but very common in the kitchens of the Mughal nobles.

So perhaps it made sense that Aga Bakar dedicated such a bread to the memory of his beloved. The grandeur of the Taj Mahal might not be visited by everyone or even mean anything to many, but food is something that everyone can relate to so maybe Aga Bakar knew something that Shah Jehan didn’t.
I recently came across an article (forgot to mark it so I don’t have the link) where it that the Bakharkhani was abread which was actually created by someone in Delhi during the time of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Apparently the local cooks were required to obtain a license from the Red Fort if they wanted to make it!
The Bakharkhani in the recipe below is the Dhakai version (from Dhaka in  Bangladesh) and is meant to be firm and somewhat crisp and is served with tea. Sprinkling sesame seeds on this flatbread is not traditional, and just an option.
Making this Bakharkhani involves rolling out the dough very thin, and then repeatedly spreading the surface with melted ghee and then a sprinkling of flour and then folding it, to create a layered dough. Yet, this layering doesn’t seem to be about having layers in the finished bread like in croissants or Danishes, but more about allowing the layering to produce lift (as there is no leavening agent in this dough), texture and softness in the finished bread.
Dhakai Bakharkhani/ Baqeerkhani (Crisp Flatbreads from Dhaka, Bangladesh)
(Adapted from Honest Cooking)
 

Ingredients:

2 cups flour, (plus a little more for rolling it out the dough)
1/4 cup mawa*
1/4 cup ghee** (plus a little more for spreading on the dough while rolling it out)
3/4 tsp teaspoon salt
3 tsp sugar
2/3 cups water (a little less or more if needed)
Sesame seeds, to sprinkle (optional)
 

Method:

**Ghee is nothing but clarified butter and should be available readymade in Indian stores. It is quite easy to make your own at home. Since you are making the effort you can make a little extra and store the rest for later use. Ghee can be stored at room temperature and keeps for a while.
Melt 500gm of unsalted butter and let it cook until the milk solids in the butter start turning golden brown (do not burn them) and the liquid fat is a golden colour. You should get a rich aroma from it.
Let it cool to room temperature and then decant or strain the golden liquid into an airtight jar. This keeps for ages. 

In a large bowl,  put the flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl. Crumble the mawa into it and mix in. Then add the ghee and use your fingers to rub it into the flour.   Add the water, a little at a time, and knead well until you have a smooth and elastic dough that can be rolled out very thin.
Please see this video to get an idea of how the dough is rolled out, layered with ghee and flour and folded. The language in the video is Bangla but the visual is quite descriptive. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyiOLuJywHQ )
Cover the bowl with cling wrap or a damp kitchen towel to prevent it from drying. Let it rest for about 30 minutes to an hour. Then lightly coat the dough with a little ghee and then let it rest for another 10 to 15 minutes.
Also lightly coat your rolling pin and board (or your working surface) with some ghee (or oil).
Now divide the dough into two portions, working with one portion at a time. (I just oiled the surface of my dining table and rolled out the dough in one piece rather dividing the dough into two and going through the whole process twice!) Roll out one portion of the dough as thin as possible into a rectangle, without adding any flour. It should be thin enough for you to see your work surface through the rolled out dough!
 
 
If your ghee has solidified, then melt it by placing the ghee container in a shallow bowl of hot water. Brush some ghee (not too much) all over the surface of the rolled out dough with your fingers. Sprinkle some flour evenly over this, enough so that the ghee is absorbed when spread out. The flour layer should be thin. Brush some more ghee, again, over this and then sprinkle some flour over this like previously.
Fold the dough into half and once again repeat the process of brushing the ghee and sprinkling the flour over this twice, as before. Fold the dough for the second time (see the video) and repeat the brushing with ghee and flouring, twice. 
 
 
Now roll up the dough into a long cylinder and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Pinch off lime (or golf ball) sized balls and roll each one into a small, round flatbread about 1/8” thick. Sprinkle sesame seeds (optional) and lightly press into the dough using your rolling pin. Make three centred lengthwise cuts on each flatbread using a knife.
Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake 170C (325F). for about 20 to 25 minutes or until they’re light brown on top. Do not over bake. Let them cool and serve with coffee or tea. This recipe makes  about 10 Bakerkhani that are about 4” in diameter.
 The Bread Baking Babes:


Bake My Day – Karen

Bread Baking Babe Bibliothécaire – Katie

Blog from OUR kitchen – Elizabeth

Feeding my enthusiasms – Elle
Girlichef – Heather

Life’s A Feast – Jamie

Living in the Kitchen with Puppies – Natashya
Lucullian Delights – Ilva

My Kitchen In Half Cups – Tanna

Notitie Van Lien – Lien

Bread Experience – Cathy


Though the Bread Baking Babes (BBB) are a closed group, you can still bake with us as a Bread Baking Buddy and here’s how it works.
As I mentioned earlier, I am The Kitchen of the Month for November. To join us, bake some Bakharkhani according to the recipe above, and please post it on your blog before the 30th of this month. Make sure you mention the Bread Baking Babes and link to this post in your own post.
Then e-mail me at aparna[AT]mydiversekitchen[DOT]com with a link to your Bakharkhani post and a photograph of your bread that is 500px wide. Please also mention “Bread Baking Buddies” in the subject line.
I will then send you your “Bread Baking Buddy” badge which you may add to your post. I will also include your bread in the Buddy round-up which I will post at the end of this month. So let’s get baking then.
 
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November 13, 2014

Bread from the 17th Century - Robert May’s French Bread

W
hen you say French bread to me, what first pops up in my mind is long stick like crusty breads like the Baguette or the round rustic Boule. I always think of them being made with the most basic bread ingredients – flour, yeast, water and a little salt.
The Bread Baking BabesKitchen of the Month” was Ilva’s and she chose Robert May’s French Bread for us to bake in September. Robert May’s bread is a traditional French bread, a boule actually but one with a twist. Robert May’s French bread recipe asks for the use of egg whites, but no yolks.
One does see the use of whole eggs in enriched bread dough but I’ve never come across the use of egg whites in bread dough.
I went looking for the role of egg whites in bread dough and found that it is a technique that many other well-known bakers have adopted in their French bread recipes. I found mentions of similar recipes in books by Bernard Clayton and Beth Hensperger.



 
Egg whites help create crispness in the crust as well as help leaven the bread, especially if they have air whipped into them before adding them to the bread dough. Apparently, the protein structure of egg whites helps trap air in it, and this helps the dough rise a little more. Now I’m not sure if French bread was traditionally baked using egg whites or if this was an addition to the French recipe by an English chef.

This recipe for French bread was first published in Robert May’s book of the name “The Accomplisht Cook, or, The whole Art and Mystery of Cookery, fitted for allDegrees and Qualities” though the recipe we baked by comes from Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery in which she gives us her adapted version of the original.
Robert May was a French trained English professional chef who was sent to Paris at the age of ten to start his training. He worked for many noble families and wrote his cook book in his 70s which he claims “Wherein the whole ART is revealed in a more easie and perfect Method, than hath been publisht in any language”.
It was considered to be perhaps the most important cook book of its time, a period in England where English food was beginning to be quite influenced by the French aristocratic style of cooking. Robert May’s cookbook was part detailed collection of recipes and part memoir.




 
To quote the words of his loving friend and well-wisher John Town, who writes an introduction to all readers of Mr Robert May’s book,

“SEe here’s a Book set forth with such things in’t,
As former Ages never saw in Print;
Something I’de write in praise on’t, but the Pen,
Of Famous Cleaveland, or renowned Ben,
If unintomb’d might give this Book its due,
By their high strains, and keep it always new.
But I whose ruder Stile could never clime,
Or step beyond a home-bred Country Rhime,
Must not attempt it: only this I’le say,
Cato’s Res Rustica’s far short of May.
Bv Here’s taught to keep all sorts of flesh in date,
All sorts of Fish, if you will marinate;
To candy, to preserve, to souce, to pickle,
To make rare Sauces, both to please, and tickle
The pretty Ladies palats with delight;
Both how to glut, and gain an Appetite.
The Fritter, Pancake, Mushroom; with all these,
The curious Caudle made of Ambergriese.
He is so universal, he’l not miss,
The Pudding, nor Bolonian Sausages.
Italian, Spaniard, French, he all out-goes,
Refines their Kickshaws, and their Olio’s,
The rarest use of Sweet-meats, Spicery,
And all things else belong to Cookery:
Not only this, but to give all content,
Here’s all the Forms of every Implement
To work or carve with, so he makes the able
To deck the Dresser, and adorn the Table.
What dish goes first of every kind of Meat,
And so ye’re welcom, pray fall too, and eat.
Reader, read on, for I have done; farewell,
The Book’s so good, it cannot chuse but sell.” 

I couldn’t make it then but decided I would whenever I could and here it is, a little over two months later. The reason why I wanted to bake this bread so much was that it was a recipe from the 17th century (1660, so that’s over 300 years old!) and that it involved the use of egg whites (unusual for me). The added advantage was that technique –wise, this is very easy-to-bake bread.
Ilva did ask us to get as creative as we could while decorating the bread, and I chose to go real simple with mine. My creativity had flown the coop, and so I finally just rolled out some of the bread dough real thin, cut out shapes with a leaf cookie cutter and stuck them right on the top! This bread turned out so good, with a thick crust and soft interior that I’m adding it to my list of must-bake-regularly breads.
Given below is the full recipe which makes 2 small loaves, but since there was just 3 of us I halved it to make one loaf. The recipe is mostly as given to us by Ilva but I reduced the salt to 2 tsp from the suggested 3 tsp as I do not like very salty bread.
Robert May’s French Bread
(Adapted from Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery)
 

Ingredients:

2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 to 1 1/3 cups water and milk mixture (preferably in 3:1 ratio)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 egg whites
1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt
 

Method:

Warm about 1/4 cup of the water-milk mixture and mix together the sugar and yeast in it. Keep aside for 5 to 10 minutes till it is frothy. Put the egg whites in a small bowl and beat till they are just beginning to get frothy.
Knead the dough by hand or using the help of a machine. Put the flours, salt, the proofed yeast mixture, the beaten egg whites and the water-milk mixture in the processor bowl and knead like for regular bread until you have a soft, smooth and elastic dough. Add as much more flour or water or milk to get this consistency.
Shape the dough into a ball, and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, loosely cover it and leave it to rise till soft, spongy and almost double in volume. This should take  about an hour or so.
Divide the dough into two equal portions (save a little dough before shaping if you want to make decorations with it), and shape each one into a boule or long rolls. Loosely cover with plastic or a light cloth and leave it to rise for about 30 to 45 minutes.
 
 
 Decorate crust with the spare bit of dough or by slashing the crust. Brush the top of the dough with a little milk if you wish and bake 230C (450F) for 15 minutes. Then turn down the oven temperature to 180C (350F) and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes., till the loaf is brown and sounds hollow when tapped.
Let the bread cool completely before slicing. This recipe makes 2 medium round boules/ loaves.
 
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November 10, 2014

Apple Jam With Allspice & Chilli Flakes

I
’m not sure what it is, but I’ve been suddenly struck with an urge to make jams and pickles! It could be that I haven’t done any preserving for a while, or that the weather has taken a slightly cooler turn, or maybe it’s just that my local vegetable and fruit market is suddenly bursting at the seams with all manners of fresh produce.
I know that my mind turned to the thought of making Apple Jam because I saw a post on Anita’s FB page about the jam she had made a little while ago. I’m not sure if it was sheer coincidence or a sign of some sort that I had a fruit basket full of apples and no one here seemed to making much of an effort to help me finish them off.
 
 
 
I make all my jams without preservatives, and do not even add pectin or citric acid. To me this means that what we get in our jams is all the goodness of the fruit. On the flipside it does mean that my jams might not last as long, so I make smaller batches and refrigerate them and we enjoy them for as long as they last. Once the jams are gone, and have my stash of frozen fruit, I then put my heart and soul into looking forward to the next season when fresh fruit will make their appearance.

Of course, nowadays when it comes to apples,  once the season for the Indian apples (the best in terms of freshness, in my opinion) is over we can still find the imported kinds from China, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Chile. It’s a different matter that it’s anybody’s guess whether uniformly shaped and sized, waxed, shiny apples that stay on your counter for weeks together (longer if refrigerated) without spoiling are really worth buying and eating.



 
Apples are naturally rich in pectin which makes them the perfect fruit to preserve as jam the way I do. You can avoid citric acid by using lime juice instead which works by increasing pectin and acid apart from preventing fruit from turning brown.
I must also mention that even my daughter who is not a fan of "spiced" jams or preserves in general, couldn't resist this one. Seeing my raised eyebrows at her constantly dipping a spoon into the jam jar, looking a bit surprised herself, she just said  "There's something about this jam that's irresistible. I really like it!"
Apple Jam With Allspice & Chilli Flakes
 
Ingredients:
6 large apples*
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
3/4 to 1 cup dark or golden brown sugar**
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp red chilli flakes (or to taste)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter 
*You can use any variety of sweet apples. Firmer apple varieties will not soften as much as the softer ones, and if you use a mixture of the two you can have a jam with chunks of apple in it.
**Depending how sweet your apples are, and how sweet you like your jam. I used just under 3/4 cup.
 
Method:
Wash, core and peel the apples. Cube/ dice them and add the lime juice and toss so that they’re well coated. Keep aside. If you peel the apples such that you have long strips of peel, you can add this to the pot while the jam is cooking as the pectin in apples is mostly in the peel. Once the jam is done, you can just take the peel out and throw it away.


 
In a large pan/ pot, put the apple pieces and the sugar and 1/4 cup of water. Stir everything until the sugar dissolves. Add the allspice, chilli flakes and salt. Once it comes to a boil, turn down the heat and let the mixture simmer until the apples are cooked and very soft, and the jam is quite thick. Stir occasionally while the jam is cooking.
Add the butter and mix well. Let it cool, and then transfer the jam to a sterile glass jar and cover. Refrigerate. This recipe makes one medium sized jar of jam. Double or triple the ingredients for a larger batch of jam.
 
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