March 1, 2015

Grape, Strawberry & Mandarin Orange Salad With Mint

W
e were sitting down with mugs of steaming hot coffee in our hands the other evening, and there was a food show on television. The chef was putting together a salad which was mostly a bunch of different coloured leaves and I was wondering how it is that a lot of people can eat so much of raw leaves (even with a dressing of some sort) on a regular basis in the name of a salad.

This wasn't crticism but nothing more than an idle remark based on my personal preferences because I'm not a fan of raw vegetable salads especially those that are mostly leafy greens. That led me to remarking to my husband that it was interesting that we belong to a community that comes from a purely vegetarian food tradition and cuisine (no eggs and traditionally not even onions and garlic), yet we don’t eat any vegetable in its raw form – not even those than cane be like carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.





After some thought, I have come to the conclusion that this probably because t is known that raw vegetables are very difficult to digest, even the ones that can be eaten raw, so cooking vegetables is the way to go. Also, in a purely vegetarian diet there is little or no need for additional dietary fibre in the form of salads.

Having said that, our lifestyles have changed much since those days when people ate with discipline and led very active lives. So it is the order of the day to include a salad at least once a day, at least that is what the doctor tells us. I’m slowly getting used to salads being a part of my diet but I must say they aren't my favourite dish by far.

So I’m always looking for ways to make my salads interesting enough and tempting. I still tend to avoid green leaves but I like cooked salads or raw salads that are nice mix of a little sweet and a little sour. I invariably tend to make my salads with vegetables, fruit and nuts/ seeds, or maybe even all fruit.





Today’s salad is an all fruit salad that uses some of this season’s produce – strawberries, black grapes and Mandarin oranges. In India, the most well-known Mandarin oranges are those famous Nagpur oranges with very loose skins which I remember being referred to as “loose jackets” in my childhood. Come beginning of summer and any train journey through Nagpur was incomplete without the purchase of huge amounts of these sweet, juicy thirst quenching oranges.

You can serve this salad on the side as a main dish or even as a dessert by leaving out the dressing and serving it with vanilla ice-cream, sweetened cream or a vanilla custard sauce.
Grape, Strawberry & Mandarin Orange Salad With Mint



Ingredients:


1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled, cleaned and sliced

1 1/2 cups seedless black grapes, whole or halved

1 cup mandarin orange sections

1/4 cup sunflower seeds/ pine nuts, toasted

A small bunch of fresh mint leaves


For the dressing:

1 tbsp tablespoons olive oil

2 tbsp orange juice

2 tsp honey

Salt and crushed black pepper to taste




Method:


Toast the sunflower seeds/ pine nuts in a skillet until light golden in colour. Set aside to cool.

Put the sliced strawberries, grapes and orange sections in a large salad bowl. Add the mint, reserving a few leaves for garnishing. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve the salad.

Make the dressing and just before serving add it to the bowl. Add the salt and pepper and toss lightly so that the salad is evenly coated in the dressing. Sprinkle the nuts on top and garnish with mint.

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February 23, 2015

Serradura or Sawdust” Pudding (A Layered Tea Biscuit & Cream Dessert)

T
here are some cultures which love their sweets and desserts more than others and the Portuguese are no different when it comes to their sobremesa. Most Portuguese sweets and desserts will feature eggs (mostly yolks) in some form or the other. Goa was a Portuguese colony in an otherwise mostly British colonized India, and this has meant that Goan cuisine (especially those of the Catholics) has heavy Portuguese influences. One can see this not only in the dishes themselves, whether savoury or sweet, but also in their names.

It is believed that the Serradura is originally from Macau, an island off the coast of mainland China that was also a Portuguese colony. I don’t know if this dessert came to Goa from Macau or it was the other way around or something else entirely but it is a dessert you will find in Portuguese and Spanish speaking parts of the world.






Serradura is a Portuguese word for “sawdust” and it doesn’t need a stretch of imagination to see that it refers to the way the biscuit crumbs in this pudding look. No one obviously would be happy with anything, especially a dessert, that tasted like sawdust in one’s mouth but let me assure you that this “Sawdust” pudding is quite likely to have your family/ guests digging into it and don’t be surprised if a couple of them asking you for second servings.

The really authentic way to make this dessert, apparently, is by using only Marie tea biscuits. Biscuits, by the way, are what the British and their former colonies call what the North Americans call cookies and these are not the floury scones. Marie biscuits are really not my favourite biscuits (I’m not much of a biscuit/ cookie person anyway) and I do find them rather bland but it’s surprising how some vanilla flavoured cream and condensed milk can change them into this lovely dessert.






This is quite well loved dessert in Goa as it is in Portugal, and I’ve seen many local recipes that ask for the use of butterscotch extract/ essence and even almonds or cashewnuts. Funnily enough, I've never seen butterscotch extract in any of the local stores here! Some Portuguese recipes for Serradura work with caramelized sweetened condensed milk, as a flavour variation. 

Many recipes for Serradura call for the use of a little gelatine to stabilize the cream and if you’re looking for a vegetarian alternative, you could add a little corn-starch or maybe agar. I personally don’t feel the cream here needs to stabilized.
I’ve also seen Serradura garnished with chocolate shavings or dusted with cocoa powder, sometimes served with butterscotch sauce, all of which I’m sure is delicious each in its own way. 






However, I find that the really traditional recipes here call only for 4 ingredients – finely crushed Marie biscuits, sweetened condensed milk, cream and vanilla extract. I personally find vanilla flavoured cream a little bland so I added a little lime juice to my cream, just enough to hint at aa a citrusy tang. The lime juice also helps in stabilizing the cream a little since I used 25% cream.

A really great thing about the Serradura is that it needs very few ingredients, takes very little time to put together, is very easy and it’s a make ahead dessert. It would however be wise to serve it in smaller glasses or bowls as it is deceptively rich and best had in smaller portions. Serradura is also an egg-free dessert, rather surprising considering its Portuguese connection.
Serradura (Sawdust Pudding)



Ingredients:


80g Marie biscuits (about 15 to 17 biscuits)

200ml chilled whipping cream (I used 25% fat cream)

2 tsp lime juice

60 to 100ml sweetened condensed milk (according to taste)

1tsp vanilla extract



Method:


Crush Marie biscuits into as fine a powder as you can. You can do this by running the biscuits in a food processor or  put them in a Ziploc bag, seal and then bash them with a rolling pin.

Whip the cream and lime juice using a hand held electric beater to soft peaks. It helps if you do this over a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and a little water. Add the vanilla extract and half the condensed milk.  Continue whipping and add as much more condensed milk as you need (according to preferred level of sweetness) . Keep beating till until the mixture forms reasonably stiff peaks.

Transfer the cream into a piping bag and pipe (or spoon the cream if you can do it neatly) it equally between 4 serving glasses, alternating layers of cream and crumbled biscuits. Finish of with cream as the topmost layer.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or until you are ready to serve the Serradura. This recipe makes 4 servings.

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February 16, 2015

Kouig Amman/ Kouignettes (Absolutely Awesome Mini Breton Butter Cakes)

H
aving worked with laminated dough before, and that too in warm and humid tropical conditions, let me assure that the subject/ object of this post is not for the faint hearted. I don’t mean that just figuratively but also literally when you consider that about 50% of this yeasted French pastry is butter!

Pronounced “koo-WEEN a-MON”, which not surprisingly means "butter cake" in Breton, this pastry is native to Brittany in France, where it is believed to have originated in the 1800s. The pastry derives its name from the old Breton words for cake which is "kouign" and butter which is "amann." The coastal region of Brittany, in the northwest of France is home to Celtic traditions brought by the migrants who crossed the English Channel in the 5th and 6th centuries.





So the Kouign Amann, much like typical laminated dough, is made of layers of butter folded into a yeasted dough where the final fold includes a layer of caster sugar. This makes for a savoury tasting pastry with a hint of sweetness, which is exactly the kind of thing I like. 
Apparently, in France, Kouign Amann is often served with fillings of fresh fruit or chocolate.

I don’t remember exactly when, but I think it was a few years ago that I first came across the Kouign Amann on David Lebovitz’s blog. What got my attention then was the Middle Eastern sounding name which incidentally turned out to be a French one! When I went through the recipe, all I was left with was the thought of working with heaps of butter and that somehow scared me a whole lot, as did the thought of laminated pastry which I had never worked with.





A few years and a lot of practice later, I am no longer scared of making laminated dough and now can turn out a rather mean batch of croissants. I still gave the Kouign Amann because of all that butter that is something I can do without. However, Lien chose the Kouign Amann for the Bread Baking Babes to bake this month and when I looked at the recipe and her photographs I was hooked. The Kouign Amann is traditionally baked as one large cake but Lien’s recipe calls for making smaller muffin sized mini Kouign Amann which the French call Kouignette. If you ask me, I prefer these mini versions because they're much much prettier and obviously easier to eat in muffin size (and no hassles of trying to cut out neat and equal portions). 

So make them I did, using the full recipe that Lien provided and my only regret is that I made the full batch knowing that these Kouingettes are so not good for the husband and me. In every other way, they’re just too good. My husband bit into one, crunched his way through it, and then asked me for a couple more of them.  He then told me that he only wished these pastries had a name easier to say and remember so he could ask me to make them next time. 

If you love croissants then think of these as a variation on them, and you will perhaps understand why they are so difficult to resist. Watch this video on making Kouign Amann, and towards the end you’ll see the smile on the face of one the men who takes a bite of the pastry. Once you have eaten one, you will most probably have a smile like that on your face, I promise!




Please don’t go by my photographs of these Kouignettes which don’t do them the justice they deserve. I only know they’re just too good not to make again. My daughter would absolutely love them but she’s not coming home from college till well into summer. Since the Indian summer is not a good time to make laminated dough (the heat and the humidity just melts the butter out!), the next batch of laminated dough is resting in the refrigerator as I write this post, and shall be frozen to bake in summer.

While making the laminated dough is really not difficult if one follows the recipe properly and makes sure the butter and dough is always chilled, the whole process will take a large part of the day as the dough needs to be refrigerated a lot in between. A few more precautions, and you’ll have a batch of flaky, buttery little pastries that are barely sweet, crunchy on the outside and slightly chewy in the middle.

Like with all laminated dough, the quality of your pastry will depend on the quality of the butter you use to make them. Ideally, you want butter with a lower water content. I always the Amul brand (an Indian butter), as it compares with the best in the world and I find it works extremely well.
As to whether to make the full recipe or half, I’d say make the full recipe because the effort is worth it. You can freeze the extra Kouignette and then warm/ crisp them up in the oven whenever you desire one. 





I did a little research into the Kouign Amann and what I found is that though a lot of recipes ask you to use unsalted butter, those who really know the Kouign Amann suggest that the best butter to use for making this pastry is the salted kind.

It can’t be said enough that the butter and the dough need to be chilled throughout. The slightest rise in temperature means melting butter, no lovely layers, leaky and greasy pastry when it’s time to bake it. So work quickly and in as cool an environment as possible. Work the dough minimally, and put the dough back in the refrigerator at the slightest hint of it warming up.
Finally, and this is perhaps the most difficult to do, do let the baked Kouignette cool down for at least about 30 minutes for it to develop its signature crunchy texture.

One final bit of advice – if you’re new to the Kouign Amann, then this video which shows how tomake it, would be extremely useful before starting on the recipe. If you’re new to laminating dough, please see this tutorial which explains the procedure in detail.
Kouign amann




Ingredients:


2 1/2 to 3 cups bread flour*

1 1/2 tsp instant yeast

1/4 tsp salt

200 ml  warm water

25 g unsalted butter, melted

250 g cold salted butter for butter block

1/4 cup caster sugar ( not granulated or icing sugar) for sprinkling on the dough while doing the final fold, plus extra for sprinkling on top




Method:


*If you cannot find bread flour then you can make your own substitute by adding vital wheat gluten to all-purpose flour.  1 tbsp of vital wheat gluten is good for 2 cups of all-purpose flour. Add the gluten to your measuring cup and then top up with the flour.


You can knead the dough by hand but machine is easier and I used my food processor as usual. Put 2 cups of bread flour into the bowl and add the yeast. Add the water and melted butter and run the machine on slow speed till mixed. Add the salt and as much more of the flour as is necessary and knead until you have a soft and elastic dough that is not sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover loosely and leave to rise for one hour.

Place 250gm of cold butter between two sheets of greaseproof paper and bash with a rolling pin, then roll it out to a 14 cm square. Place in the fridge ( not freezer) to keep it chilled.
Take the proofed dough and gently deflate it. Lightly flour your working surface and roll it out to a 20 cm square. Place the butter in the centre of the dough diagonally, so that each side of butter faces a corner of the dough. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter to enclose like an envelope.

Gently roll the dough into a 45cm x 15 cm rectangle. Fold the bottom third of dough up over the middle, then fold the top third of the dough over, like you would a letter. You will now have a sandwich of three layers of butter and three layers of dough. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. This completes one turn.

Repeat this process twice more, so you have completed a total of three turns, chilling the dough for 30 minutes between turns. After chilling, the dough and butter should be cold but still pliable enough to roll out easily.  

Now, roll the dough into a rectangle as before. Sprinkle the surface of the dough uniformly with the caster sugar and  fold into thirds again. Chill if necessary otherwise, work quickly and roll the dough into slightly larger than 40cm x 30 cm rectangle. Now trim off the rough edges so that your dough rectangle measures exactly 40cm x 30 cm.

Sprinkle the dough with caster sugar and cut the dough into 12 squares each measuring 10cm x 10cm. I cut mine into smaller squares (8cm x 8cm) because my muffin tins are on the smaller side.

Grease a 12-cup muffin tray well with oil. Gather the dough squares up by their four corners and place in the muffin tins, pulling the four corners towards the centre of the muffin tin, so that it gathers up like a four-leaf clover.  Press these corners well together; they can open up when unattached to each other. I thought I had pressed mine well, but they still opened up while baking! Sprinkle the tops with caster sugar and leave to rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes, covered with a clean tea towel, until slightly puffed up.

Bake the shaped dough at 220C (425F). Bake the pastries for 30-40 minutes, or until golden-brown. Cover with foil halfway through if beginning to brown too much (and they will). It’s alright if some parts of your Kouignette are a little darker from caramelisation of the sugar.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a couple of minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Be careful not to burn yourself on the caramelised sugar, but if you leave them to cool for too long, the caramelised sugar will harden and they will be stuck in the tin. Serve warm or cold, though they taste best slightly warm. They also taste best the same day they’re baked.

If you don’t want to eat them all in want go (of just if you want to, but shouldn’t), bag and freeze them. When you want warm them up, defrost them and place them in a warm oven (180C/ 350F) for about 5 minutes or until warm. They will crisp up again.

This recipe makes 12 pastries or more if you cut smaller squares from the dough.

How can you bake with the Bread Baking Babes?

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.
The Kitchen of the Month this month is Lien's and the recipe for this month’s bread is on her blog. Bake the Kouignettes according to that recipe and post it on your blog before the 28th of this month. Make sure you mention the Bread Baking Babes and link to her BBB post in your own post.

Then e-mail Lien with your name and the link to the post, or leave a comment on her blog post with this information. She will then do a Buddy round-up for this month on her blog and also send you a BBB badge for this bread that you can then add to your post on your blog. 

That's it, so do get baking and join us for the round-up.
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February 10, 2015

We Knead To Bake #25: Black Forest Buns

T
his is a recipe I had bookmarked ages back, baked way back and even posted on my blog. I was going through some of the posts on this blog when I came across these Black Forest Buns I'm posting today. 
The inspiration for these buns came from another blog called The Knead For Bread but unfortunately that blog is no on the net which is sad because it had some really good and unusual bread recipes on it. Luckily for me, I do have my adapted version of those Black Forest Buns.

The husband and daughter are huge fans of the Black Forest cake and even the non-fan of the cake that is me, has started liking it ever since I discovered this non-alcoholic version of the Black Forest Cake.  It’s been ages since I baked the Buns and it seemed as good a time to revisit them as any. Also, the combination of red (cherry or strawberry compote) and chocolate seemed just about right for the Valentine’s Day fever that’s taken over every commercial and food space around.




While I have nothing against anyone who celebrates the occasion, I need to make it clear that I don’t do Valentine’s Day, because it goes against the grain with me to pack love and affection for someone dear into one day of red roses, heart shaped boxes of chocolates or whatever, expensive jewellery, staged romantic dinners and whatever else is supposed to count as love on the 14th of February.

Love, whatever form it takes, is something that should be celebrated throughout the year and does not need one day of the year marked for it by people, men mostly, to be constrained to expressing it through garish red hearts and expensive gifts.
I’m as happy as the next woman to be gifted with chocolates and flowers (not necessarily red roses!), though diamonds are really not my thing at all. That said, I don’t need an excuse to celebrate by baking bread, especially when it involves chocolate.

So I chose Black Forest Buns for us to bake this month at We Knead To Bake. Black Forest cake is all about chocolate cake, cherry compote and kirsch (cherry brandy) and loads of cream. These Black Forest Buns are made much like Cinnamon Buns but the filling here is chocolate sponge cake and cherry compote. You could always flavour the compote with a little kirsch if you want to aim for the “real deal” in terms of flavour. Too much would make the buns soggy.





Though the obvious choice of jam/ compote to use here would be cherry, you could always substitute with strawberry jam/ compote which is my personal preference. Strawberry and chocolate just work so well together. Sponge cake works the best here compared to another kind of chocolate cake because it is a little drier and crumbly. A more moist chocolate cake will become “pasty” when baked together with the jam/ compote.

The method of kneading, rolling out the dough, covering it with the filling, and then rolling it back is just like making cinnamon rolls, so it shouldn't be too difficult. You can also finely chopped nuts (toasting them first improves flavour) or mini chocolate chips if you like to the filling for a variation.
This recipe makes a dozen or so largish Black Forest Buns, so halve the recipe for a smaller batch. For a half batch, please roll out your proofed dough into an approximately 9” by 12” rectangle instead of 18” by 12”.
Black Forest Buns



Ingredients:


For the Dough:

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup milk

50 gm butter

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg (at room temperature, optional)

3/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp instant yeast

3 to 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour


For the Filling:

3/4 cup cherry/ strawberry jam or compote

2 1/2 to 3 cups crumbled chocolate sponge cake


For drizzling:

1/2 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate




Method:


Pour the water and milk in a saucepan, and heat on the stove till quite hot but not boiling. Pour this liquid into a large bowl and add the butter. Stir till the butter is melted. Then add in the sugar and stir till the sugar dissolves. Let this mixture cool down till it is lukewarm, so that the yeast will proof. If it is too hot, it will kill the yeast and curdle the egg.

You may knead the dough by hand or in the processor which is my usual preference. Pour the lukewarm mixture into the processor bowl (if using) and add the yeast and the egg. Pulse a couple of times to mix well. Then add about 1 cup of the flour and mix well. Add the salt and more flour, as much as is necessary, and knead the dough until it is smooth, elastic but not sticky.

Add in the salt and some more flour and mix. Once the mixture becomes difficult to mix, turn it out onto your work surface. Add more flour and continue to knead for about 10 minutes till the dough is not sticky and elastic.


Place the kneaded dough in an oiled bowl, turning the dough till lightly coated with oil. Cover loosely, and allow to double in volume, for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
Now place the dough on a flat surface and roll it out into an approximately 18” by 12” rectangle (or 9" by 12" if using half the recipe).

Spread the cherry compote/ strawberry jam over the leaving a 1/2 inch all around. Sprinkle the chocolate cake crumbs on top of this. Roll the dough away from you, as snugly as possible, starting with the 18” edge like a jam/ jelly roll (as for cinnamon buns). Try to pinch the dough closed as best as possible, or dampen the edge with a little water to seal well.


It is important to roll up the dough as tightly as possible because this dough does swell up quite a bit while baking.


Cut the roll into 1 1/2" wide pieces with a very sharp knife/ dough scraper. You should have 12 pieces for the full recipe and 6 for half of it.  Place each piece in a mould (or make collars using foil or parchment paper to fit well around each piece) and then on a baking tray. Otherwise place them in a lightly greased rectangular baking tin with raised sides or a cake tin leaving enough space for them to expand (I used a 9" cake tin for a half batch of this recipe). 
A round cake tin will however not give you perfectly round buns but buns that are more triangular in shape. If you place them too far apart, they will spread rather rise in height.  Cover loosely, and allow to rise, for about 1 hour or till almost double.

Bake at 180C (350F) for 25 - 30 minutes, until the buns are done and nice golden brown in colour. Remove from oven and cool completely. 
Drizzle with melted chocolate and serve.
This recipe makes  12 Black Forest Buns.

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February 6, 2015

Indian Style Stir-fried Spine/ Spiny Gourd (Kantola/ Phaagil) And Potatoes

I
’m not sure if you are familiar with the spiny gourd. It’s a smaller, rounder version of the bitter gourd/ bitter melon covered in green pines. This is a vegetable that I've never seen till a few years ago when I discovered it in the local market her in Goa.

The Spine Gourd is a seasonal vegetable and usually floods the markets here sometime in July/ August every year. It’s slightly bitter in taste and is an absolute local favourite in Goa.






People wait for it to make an appearance and it’s very much in demand even though it is invariably priced on the more expensive side. I have no idea why it isn't widely grown on farms or even kitchen gardens because it grows as easily as bitter gourd/ melon which is quite common here.

That said, for the past two seasons I have been buying spine gourd and exploring ways to cook with it. I've so far made it a few different ways including this stir-fry that I’m posting to day and these Phaagila Phodi which is semolina encrusted pan-fried Spine Gourd.






This stir-fry is easy to put together and what is really nice about it is the combination of spices that go into it and the slightly bitter-salty-sour-sweet taste. You can serve this on the side with rice or chappatis.  This is a common enough recipe among those who do cook this vegetable and you will find minor variations in the spices used depending on who is cooking it. Here’s how I cook this.
Stir-fried Spine/ Spiny Gourd (Kantola/ Phaagil) And Potatoes



Ingredients:


10 to 12 spiny gourds*

2 largish potatoes, cubed (3/4” approximately)

2 medium onions, sliced

2 medium sized tomatoes, chopped

2 tbsp oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1/4 tsp asafoetida

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1 1/2 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp red chilli powder (or to taste)

1 tsp amchoor/ dried mango powder (optional)

Salt to taste

1 1/2 tsp jaggery (or brown sugar)

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves, to garnish




Method:


*Wash and trim both ends of the spine gourds and chop them up into approximately 3/4” pieces. Don’t remove the centre portion with the seeds so long as the seeds are soft. The tender spine gourds are always the best to cook with.

Parboil the cubed potato and keep aside.




Heat the oil in a pan, and add the mustard seeds. When the crackle/ pop, add the asafoetida powder and stir once or twice. Then add the onions and sauté till soft and translucent. Then add the tomatoes. Cook over medium heat till soft.

Now add the turmeric, red chilli, coriander and cumin powders and the salt. Stir and cook for a minute and then add the chopped spine gourd and the potatoes. Mix well, turn down the heat a bit and let them cook till almost done.

Now add the amchur and the jaggery. Mix well and let the spine gourd and potatoes cook well. Finish off by adding the chopped coriander. Mix well, take it off the heat and transfer to a serving dish.

Serve warm as a side. This dish should serve 4.

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