March 30, 2008

A Perfect Party Cake - Daring Baker Challenge March 2008

Welcome to the third edition of the Daring Bakers challenge on this blog. Yes, it is that day of the month when Daring Bakers all across the world get down to the business of posting about the challenge of the month.



I really wanted to do this challenge despite the fact that we were very busy this month. I am posting this from my sister-in-law’s computer as all our stuff has been packed and we will be shifting to Goa tomorrow. It will be a couple of weeks before we settle in and I’m back at the computer. So I shall not be able to come over to visit your blogs immediately and admire those all the lovely cakes I know are out there. But I shall come over as soon as I can, that’s a promise.

This month’s host, Morven of Food, Art and Random Thoughts, announced we were to bake a party cake using a Dorie Greenspan recipe. The thought that came to mind was Queen Marie Antoinette’s (of France, long ago) supposed remark on being told by her ministers that her subjects didn’t have any bread to eat. She apparently said, "Then let them eat cake!" In a take off on this remark, I thought, "If I can’t bake good French bread (my previous challenge), then I shall bake cake!!"
I have baked plain ordinary cakes many times but never tried to cut them up into layers. And I have never, never made buttercream or decorated cakes. I don’t know why, but I have always been hesitant to venture forth in this direction.
So with this challenge I had to bake two cakes and cut each in half so that I would have a total of four layers to my cake. Then I had to make Swiss meringue buttercream and sandwich the cake layers with this and fruit preserves and finally cover and decorate the cake. I did want to attempt this challenge if I could as this would be the perfect opportunity for me to deal with my nervousness about buttercream and cake decorating.
The recipe the Daring Bakers had to use is below and my experience baking it follows the recipe.

March Challenge -
Dorie's Perfect Party Cake
PERFECT PARTY CAKE
Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250).

Introduction from Morven
I wanted to pick something that had potential for putting your personal stamp on. Although this is essentially a white cake I know there are some lemon haters among us so feel free to use your imagination. If you inner chef tells you that you need to make a chocolate layer cake then by all means do so. See Dorie’s words on playing around below for some flavour combination ideas.

Update on playing around.
Yes you do what ever you want with this cake as long as you promise to use the basic cake recipe and the basic buttercream recipe. The filling/frosting flavours are completely up to you. If you don't feel like using Dorie's buttercream recipe (flavoured as you wish) she says whipped cream will do for the filling and I say... go for it.
I can't wait to see what combinations people come up with. You can leave out the lemon, put different flavours of preserves in the middle, leave off the coconut - it's your cake.

Words from Dorie
Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation (see Playing Around), making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake
2 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
about 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean.
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

Serving
The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

Storing
The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

My Cake Making Experience:
The recipe for the cake didn’t look too difficult. We needed to make two cakes but I didn’t have two cake tins of the same size. This problem was taken care of as I bought a tin to match one of mine.
The recipe called for cake flour. Now, the only flour I get here is all purpose flour. The DBs came to the rescue with a suggestion that that 1 cup cake flour = 1 cup all purpose flour – 1 tbsp flour. So this is what I did.
Other than this, I stuck to the recipe and instructions and baked my cakes at 190C. At the end of the evening I had two lovely looking cakes to work on. I am assuming these cakes would not rise as much as many other cakes but I felt my cakes could have risen a little more. At least enough for me to get reasonably thick layers after cutting them into two each.
As it was a little late to start on decorating, I let the cakes cool down overnight.

Making the Buttercream:
Making the buttercream was the best part of this challenge for me. It was perfect, no curdling, just lots of butter and a great buttercream. My buttercream was pale yellow though because the butter I used was yellow and not white.

The Filling/ Layering:
I cut the first cake horizontally into two and as I was transferring the top layer onto a plate, it came apart in my hand!! It was like magic. One minute there was this lovely layer and the next minute I had 3 irregular pieces. No fault of the cake, just sheer clumsiness on my part. I was more careful with the second cake. So as I had three intact layers, I ended with a 3 layer cake.
The fillings suggested were raspberry, cherry, strawberry, plum or blueberry preserves or any other dark colored fruit preserve that would contrast with white cake and buttercream. None of these are available where I live, though I do occasionally get strawberries and cherries at the market. So I used some lovely deep purple grape preserve I had left over from making Cardamom Flavoured Grape Mini Pies.


Layering the filling was easy as the cake had a tight texture. Putting on the buttercream was bit trickier as there was a tendency for the filling to stain the buttercream. So I plopped the buttercream in little bits all over the filling and gently spread it out before placing the cake layers over it. I didn’t have the neatest layers but that was the best I could do.

Decorating the Cake:
The recipe suggested using sweetened coconut flakes to decorate the side of the cake. It was at this point that I figured out that this form of adorning the cake was a great thing for people like me. This is really the perfect way to cover up all those imperfections resulting from "buttercreaming" a cake!


I wasn’t sure what sweetened coconut was, probably coconut to which powdered sugar is added. I thought that this could make the cake too sweet and this was something I did’nt have anyway. I had plenty of fresh flaked coconut. So I lightly toasted some on the stove top till golden brown and used this to decorate the sides of my cake.
I wasn’t sure as to how to decorate the top of my cake. As I mentioned earlier, icing/ frosting or any form of similar decorating was new to me. I decided to give it a go anyhow and coloured the remaining buttercream a light brown by beating cocoa powder into it. Then I dug out some icing nozzles I had. I didn’t have any piping bags, so I used a ziplock bag, fitted a star nozzle to one end of the bag (which I had snipped off) and tried my hand at piping some stars. They came out quite well, to my surprise, so I went crazy piping out stars to cover the top of my cake and voila, I had my perfect party cake!!


Verdict:
We didn’t have a party to take this cake to but we enjoyed the cake all the same. A large portion of the cake was sent over to my husband’s brothers and sister and families (they live close by), who all did justice to the cake.
This cake wasn’t difficult to make at all. Most of all, what I liked was the tight texture of the cake. This made it easy to cut the cakes into layers and there were hardly any crumbs. The toasted coconut balanced out the sweetness of the cake and the buttercream was quite tasty.
I shall use this recipe for cake (leaving out the lemon as we are not very partial to it) and the buttercream again. And I have conquered my cake decorating fears because of this challenge. In fact, I think I now have the courage to be more daring with cake decorating in future. I also feel confident about the promise I made to my daughter to decorate her birthday cake later this
year.


Please do step across to my fellow Daring Baker blogs to see some really mouth-wateringly beautiful cakes. You can’t afford to miss them, believe me.

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March 24, 2008

Meeting One More Fellow Blogger

This month has been quite interesting for me, blog wise. I met Arundati earlier and I got the chance to meet another fellow blogger, Jayasree of Kailas Kitchen. Jayasree had earlier invited me to her place in Palakkad whenever I would be going over to that side of Kerala.
As it happened, last week we went down to Palakkad during the Easter break. I called Jayasree and we decided to meet at her home in the afternoon. It had been pouring that day and we weren’t too familiar with the area of Palakkad where she lives. We managed to find her place thanks to some Internet searching on Wikimapia and I recognized the name on the gate from the picture on the header of her blog.
We spent a nice couple of hours talking about lots of things and funnily enough, very little about blogging. As we belong to the same part of Kerala (Palakkad), we ended up finding a lot of people we both knew! Jayasree and her mother- in-law treated us to some lovely hot onion fritters, kesari (a semolina pudding) and tea (she remembered I prefer tea to coffee), all of which were just perfect for cold and rainy day. I have to say that it has been an interesting experience meeting up with bloggers and making friends this way. It puts a more personal face to the blogs that one visits.
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Paasbrod (An Easter Bread from the Netherlands)

I was looking for a festive bread to make for this month’s Bread Baking Day. I finally settled on a Paasbrod. This bread, traditionally made in the Netherlands for Easter, contains candied peel, raisins and a sweet almond filling. So this seemed an apt bread to make this month even though we don’t celebrate Easter.
The recipe I have used is available on the Internet at many sites and so I am not crediting it to any one. The Paasbrod is baked as a loaf but I found a version that suggested dividing the dough and the filling into two, making two long strands of almond paste filled dough and then twisting the dough strands into a rope like bread. This sounded interesting so that was what I decided to attempt.




I made the two strands and twisted them onto a rope only to find the bread was now much too long to fit onto my baking sheet!! Since the bread had a filling, I couldn’t reshape it. So I joined the ends of my bread and turned it into a circle. So you can see that my bread looks a little less perfect and the slices haven’t got the almond paste filling uniformly placed. My pictures aren’t the best and don’t do the bread justice.

We had never eaten a sweet filled bread of this type before and we liked it. It was nice, soft and slightly flaky with a tangy and sweet marzipan filling.

Ingredients:
1 cup warm milk + 1 tbsp
1 tbsp sugar
1 ½ tsp dry active yeast
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg + 1 egg white
2 tbsp oil
½ tsp cardamom powder

For Filling:
1 cup almonds, blanched and finely ground
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
1 cup golden raisins
2 tbsp candied lemon peel (I left this out as I didn’t have any)
1 tbsp lemon rind/ zest

Method:
To make the almond paste:
Using the metal blade in the processor combine the ground almonds, sugar, egg yolk and lemon juice into a paste. Roll the paste lengthwise, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for about an hour.


For the Bread:
Dissolve 1 tbsp sugar in 1 cup warm milk and add the yeast. Mix and allow to prove. Put the flours, egg and egg white, oil, cardamom powder and yeast mixture into the food processor bowl and combine to form a sticky dough. Put the dough on a lightlt floured surface and knead till smooth. Form into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise till double in size. This should take about an hour.
Punch down the dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Place the raisins and lemon rind/ zest in the middle and knead until this is uniformly incorporated into the dough. Pat the dough into a rectangle (the size should be just enough to wrap around the almond paste roll) and place the almond paste roll in the middle. Fold the dough in at the ends of the roll and then fold over from both sides to completely enclose the filling. Cover and allow to rise for about 20 minutes.
Glaze with the 1 tbsp milk and bake at 200C for about 45minutes. The bread should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.
This is my contribution to BBD #08 being hosted this month by Susan of Wild Yeast.
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March 21, 2008

Vegetable Pot Pie - Indian Style

When I got a mail reminding me that there was a Pot Pie event on, I realized that I didn’t know what exactly a pot pie was. After due research (where else but on the internet), I understood a pot pie to be a pie, usually single serving size, with a savoury filling in a sauce made of flour, butter and milk (roux). The pie may or may not have a bottom crust but definitely would have a crust on top.

Now the idea of a pie with a semi-liquid filling didn’t sound very appealing to me as it seemed I could end up with a soggy crust. So I decided to make a pot pie without the sauce but with a spicy Indian style vegetable filling. I found a great recipe for a pie crust using oil instead of butter. The crust turned out crisp and flaky, really good.
The pie was tasty but a bit dry (because I made it without the sauce, of course) and this filling could be made with the roux, if preferred. I think I now understand the idea behind the sauce in a pot pie!




I also made a few mini pies with this recipe using my muffin cups. These turned out to be nice snack idea.

Ingredients:

For the crust:
2/3 cup oil (preferably olive oil, I used a sunflower + rice bran oil mix)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup ice cold water
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

For the filling:
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, finely chopped
2 potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 ½ cups vegetables of choice, chopped
(I used yard long beans, carrots, green peas and cauliflower)
½ cup cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
½ cup paneer (cottage cheese), crumbled
1 tsp ginger- garlic paste
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder
1 ½ tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala (this is available in Indian stores)
salt to taste
1 tbsp oil

Method:

For the Crust:
Place the oil in the freezer for about 3 hours or till the oil becomes thick like honey. Place all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse till it comes together into a ball. Remove, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for about an hour.
Roll out the refrigerated dough, lightly dusting with flour if necessary, and place in your pie pot. Here, as I was making 3 individual servings of pot pie, I divided the dough into three and then divided each portion into two, one larger portion for the bottom crust and a smaller portion for the top crust.
Roll out the dough for the bottom crust and place in the pie dish. Bake blind at 190C for about 15 minutes till cooked and is beginning to brown. I did this as I didn’t want to end up with a soggy crust.

The Filling:



Heat the oil add the ginger-garlic paste, then onions and sauté the onions till soft. Now add the tomatoes and cook till soft. Add the turmeric, chilli, coriander and cumin powders and stir till the raw smell disappears.
Add the vegetables, garbanzo beans and salt and stir till everything is well coated with the spices. Add ¾ cup of water and then the mashed potatoes and the garam masala. Stir and simmer for about 5 minutes. Lastly add the crumbled paneer. Stir well and shut off the flame. The filling should be wet but not have any liquid in it.

Assembling the Pot Pie:
Put the filling into the baked crust and cover with rolled out dough for the upper crust and seal well. Bake at 190C for 15 – 20 minutes till brown. The pot pie may be glazed with egg before putting it into the oven for a browner crust, if you would prefer.
This recipe was sufficient for 3 pot pies. If there is left over filling (keeps refrigerated for a day), it can be used to make fritters or as filling for grilled sandwiches.
I shall stick to making the muffin cup snack version rather than the pot pie version as that was preferred by the family.
Serve warm with a sweet and sour tamarind chutney.

This was made for and is being sent over to the Mini Pie Revolution





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March 15, 2008

Dep: Kochi (COK) - Arr: Goa (GOI)

If you have been following my blog, you would know that we lived in Goa before we moved down to Kochi about 4 years ago. Well, I’m very happy to tell you all that we are moving back to Goa. In my husband’s words, “The call of the Mandovi river is too strong to be ignored”.
In fact, we think we are quite a bit Goan at heart. When our daughter was about 4 years old, and someone would ask her where she “came” from, she would very confidently state, “Appa (her father) is from Kochi, Amma (her mother) is from Kozhikode and I am from Goa”!
We moved to Goa from Mumbai, soon after we got married and lived there for 10 years. I believe that living there has spoiled us for life anywhere else. When I say life in Goa, I don’t mean the all the sea food and stuff like xacuti, vindaloo, cafreal, sorpotel, etc. (we’re vegetarian and we have heard too many of the “Goa is wasted on you guys” variety of comments) or the wine and feni (we don’t drink alcohol) or the rave, trance and other partying that Goa has become infamous for.
We are looking forward to our walks on the beaches (there are many that tourists haven’t an inkling about), watching the barges sailing down the Mandovi and Zuari rivers, the monsoon rains slowly approaching you from across the sea, the neighbourhood “padeiro” (baker) who bring fresh and warm “pao” (rolls/ bread) every morning and evening on his bicycle, the unhurried pace of everyday life, the friendly, polite and sincere people, and all those many, many little things that make life worthwhile.
There is a term that is used to refer to Goa and it is “sussegado” which is a Portuguese word and means relaxed, unhurried or laid back. What sussegado really means is an acceptance of and contentment with whatever life has to offer.
A little story I’ve heard (don’t know how true it is) explains this philosophy of life and goes like this.
Once a prosperous businessman came down from Mumbai to Goa on holiday. He noticed a man (let’s just call him Savio for this story) sitting patiently for hours together waiting for fish to bite at his fishing line. Savio finally caught enough fish for the night’s supper and got up to go home. The business man offered Savio a job in Mumbai and a reasonable salary as he felt Savio was wasting his time sitting around and doing nothing much. Savio wanted to know what taking up a job in Mumbai would eventually give him. The businessman told him he could earn a lot of money. Savio asked what he could do with so much money. The businessman told him he could do anything he wanted, including taking a holiday and go fishing. That’s when Savio replied saying that he was already doing all that anyway! So what did he want to go to Mumbai for?
So, we are leaving Kochi for Goa at the end of March. I am not going to be very regular with my posting due to all the madness that entails clearing out the house, packing up, moving, unpacking and settling in not to mention all those other little things that need to get done in between all this.
But do keep watching this space and bear with me if I’m not able to come over to all your blogs. I promise to be back as soon as possible.
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March 13, 2008

Margot's Pineapple Banana Coco Smoothie



I made this smoothie to send in for the Monthly Blog Patrol, an event started by Coffee from The Spice Café. This month’s event is being hosted by Sig from Live To Eat whose theme is Mixed Drinks. The recipe has to be a post from another food blog and required a minimum of two ingredients to be mixed together. Quite a few such drinks were ruled out for me because we don’t drink alcohol.

I finally found something I liked at Margot’s Euro-Caribbean food blog, Coffee & Vanilla. She has quite a few smoothies and milkshakes posted on her blog but I decided to go with the Pineapple Coco Banana Smoothie.

I didn’t make too many changes. I mostly kept to the recipe with substitutions where I didn’t have the ingredient Margot used.




Ingredients:


2 cups plain yogurt, unsweetened

1 cup milk

1 ½ cups pineapple juice

1 cup orange juice, fresh

1 25g sachet coconut milk powder

1 big ripe banana

1 tsp vanilla essence




Method:


Blend everything together, adding sugar if required, and serve cold. I added a few slivers of chocolate before serving. Makes 4 smoothies

I didn’t add sugar as the pineapple juice I bought, the banana and the oranges were quite sweet.
Sig, here’s my entry to for this month’s edition of MBP.

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March 11, 2008

Rice Bread (Bread Made With Leftover Rice)

 

Let me clarify, this is not gluten-free bread made with rice or rice flour but regular style bread made with cooked rice! We belong to a predominantly rice eating community like most of South India and even with adaptations of non-traditional dishes into our everyday meals, I cook rice for at least one meal a day. Most of the time, I manage to cook just enough rice so there’s not anything leftover.
I’ve had any number of days when I’ve had leftover rice and I can think of any number of ways to use it up the next day, disguised or converted into something else or the other. However, making bread with leftover rice is something new to me. So I was surprised to come across a recipe for baking bread with leftover rice some time back.



Apparently it is an old-fashioned bread recipe, though I couldn’t find much information on it, I’m sure its once of those recipes that happened in the good old days when some enterprising home baker decided to try baking bread with leftover rice.

 



I found this an unusual recipe and a great way to use up leftover cooked rice, and made some changed to the original recipe.
I used  2tbsp oil instead of 3 tbsp margarine, as I don’t use margarine. I also substituted half of the flour with whole wheat flour, used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour (for a comparitively less dense bread) and reduced the yeast a bit. I also chose to add a little roasted and crushed cumin to my dough. Don't use cumin powder as it won't give you the flavour, and its better to leave it out altogether if you don't have cumin on hand. 

 


 


You can use any variety of leftover rice to make this bread, though using scented rice like basmati or brown rice or wild rice will give your bread a little more flavour. You wouldn't even know there was rice in it unless you looked very carefully. This recipe is a keeper.
I’ve seen a couple of instances where bakers have added stuff like corn kernels and cumin, and also used added other flours like rye and barley to enhance the flavour of this bread.

Rice Bread (Bread Made With Leftover Rice)

(Adapted from Out Of The Garden)
 
 

Ingredients:


3 tbsp dry active yeast

1 cup warm milk

3 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin, roasted and crushed coarsely

2 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)

3 cups cooked rice

2 tbsp oil (preferably olive oil)
 

(Linda’s recipe says 3 -5 cups flour in all. This depends on the flour. I needed a total of 4 cups and a bit for dusting while kneading the dough. I also find using bread fglour produces a better textured bread than all-purpose flour which also makes a decent bread.)



Method:


Add the sugar and yeast to the warm milk, stir well and allow to prove. Linda’s recipe call for kneading by hand (if I can find an easier way without compromising on the recipe, then I will) but I used my food processor.

Put the rice, about half the quantities of both flours, the salt, the crushed cumin and the yeast mixture in the food processor. Process just till it comes together. Keep adding flour a little at a time till the dough is smooth, firm but a little sticky. Add the oil and knead again for a minute or two.



 
Place the dough in a well oiled bowl, cover and allow to double in size. Deflate the dough abit and shape into one big loaf or two smaller loaves or even rolls. Place in greased loaf tins (rolls on baking sheets) and allow to rise again for about an hour.

Brush the loaves with a little milk (or water) and bake at 200C (400F)  for 30 -40 minutes, until brown on the top and it sounds hollow when tapped. This bread was so soft and tasted so good that both the loaves were finished before the day was out!




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March 9, 2008

There's No Coffee Like Filter Coffee, It's Like No Coffee I've Known......


Any recipe collection of Palakkad Iyer cuisine (which is one of the aims of this blog) would be incomplete without any reference to filter kaapi (filter coffee). This has been on my mind for some time now but I seem to have got carried away with other things and I just realized that my blog is in the danger of becoming a baking-cum-blog event blog! Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I has something different in mind when I started out.

When I was little the only coffee I knew was filter coffee. As I grew older I became aware that there was instant version that came in “Nescafe” bottles. This was not and still isn’t considered “coffee” by traditionalists. Growing older I discovered the expresso, mocha, cappuchino, etc for which drank in coffee bars and paid a lot of money for. Then, about 6 years back, we were in Portugal for a few months. There we discovered some more ways of drinking coffee or bica as they call it. The café or “kapi kashayam” as we used to call it (very strong black coffee), the pingado (café + a few drops of milk and my husband actually likes this stuff), meio de leite (half milk + half coffee and my preference), galao (with a 1:3 ratio of coffee to milk) and the garoto (milk with a bit of coffee in it, drunk mostly by kids). The Portuguese believe good coffee comes strong and black. My husband remembers one of his colleagues there sadly proclaiming, when my husband ordered the pingado, that “ adding milk to the coffee was neither good for the coffee nor for the milk”!
Getting back to the matter on hand, everyone knows (in my family, at least) that I am a tea drinker. That is to say that I have been to drink coffee on occasion but prefer “chai” over “kaapi”. These aberrations happen in every family now and then! But there’s hope as my daughter definitely takes after her father in this matter and is a coffee aficionado. But there are those days when this urge to drink coffee comes over me and nothing but the good old stuff will do.
Filter coffee is made by adding a strong coffee decoction to boiled milk and sugar. It is a strong yet milky coffee. There would variations from home to home depending on how much of decoction, milk and sugar is added according to personal preferences. My mother drinks her coffee strong with very little milk while my father prefers a weaker and milkier version. And filter coffee is always served in a steel “tumbler” (glass) and “davara” (a small bowl like vessel in which the glass sits), and never in a coffee mug. If the coffee is too hot to drink, then some of the coffee is poured from the glass into the davara to allow it to cool. I have seen, in the past, people who drink their coffee out of the davara rather than from the glass. One doesn’t see this anymore, probably it is not considered good manners, somewhat like drinking tea out of the saucer!!
In the old days, guests were always offered coffee and it came only in one flavour –filtered coffee. Of course, there was always the “mami” who made not so good coffee but they were rare. Occasionally, in some homes, Horlicks or Ovaltine also used to be offered and this was an honour. This could have been because these were imported in those days, quite expensive and not affordable. Kids always got milk.
The aroma released when hot water is poured over coffee grounds brings back memories from my childhood when we spent vacations at my maternal grandparents place. We used to wake up to the all pervading heavenly aroma of coffee. Coffee had magical names like Robusta and Peaberry. I remember a small hand cranked coffee bean grinder (which was attached to the edge of a kitchen table) my grandmother used to grind the roasted beans in. At some point my grandmother started buying her coffee powder which was blended just the way she wanted. I recall her telling my grandfather to buy the coffee from Kaapi Usha (this being a lady called Usha who sold coffee blended according to her customers’ preferences)!
At home, both my husband’s and my side of the family prefer coffee that is blended with a small percentage of chicory. The chicory enhances the taste of the coffee. But there is a section of coffee drinkers who believe that adding chicory to pure coffee is tantamount to adulterating it. I have a friend who keeps telling me that I’m murdering the flavour of pure coffee with chicory!

To make filter coffee:






You need a coffee filter, of course. The picture shows what a south Indian coffee filter typically looks like. A lower chamber that catches the filtered coffee, the upper chamber where the coffee powder/ grounds are spooned into and boiling water is poured, the plunger which is put into the upper portion after the coffee but before the water is poured in, and the lid.






The filter has an upper chamber with a perforated bottom. The coffee powder is put in this, covered with plunger and enough boiling water to fill the upper chamber is poured in and then closed with the lid. The coffee decoction drips and collects in the lower chamber. This takes a little time (about an hour). This is the first decoction and very thick and strong. Some more boiling water is usually poured into the upper chamber a second time and collected separately and used while making the coffee.
Usually the coffee filter is set up, with coffee grounds and boiling water, last thing at night, so the decoction is ready for coffee in the morning. The extra decoction can be refrigerated for the day.
There a couple of precautions to take while making filter coffee, else the quality and taste of the coffee suffer.
- Never heat the decoction or the coffee once the the decoction has been added to the milk. If you must, then place the decoction or prepared coffee in a hot water bath and warm.
- It helps to add the decoction to the milk and not vice versa. This also helps to judge how much decoction is required.


This is how I make coffee:
For the decoction:

3 -4 heaped tbsps coffee powder (this also depends on the brand of coffee used)
boiling water
Make sure the filter is clean and dry. Spoon in the coffee grounds. Tap slightly to allow the grounds to settle but do not pack it down. Cover with plunger. Pour the boiling water till the upper chamber is full. Close with lid and allow the coffee to percolate.

To make the coffee (for 1 cup):

2/3 cup boiled, hot milk
about 2 -3 tbsp first expressed strong decoction
a little less than ¼ cup second expressed decoction to make up the cup of coffee
sugar to taste (I use 1 tsp)

Method:
Pour the milk into a pan. Add the sugar and both decoctions. Stir and pour into another small pan so the coffee froths. Now pour into the glass and place the glass into the davara. Your coffee is ready. You can drink it out of your regular coffee mug, we do. The davara and tumbler sets come out for special occasions or when elderly folks come visiting.
If the coffee is too hot to drink, then about half the coffee is poured into the davara and allowed to cool till the required temperature.
We like our coffee strong and with a little more milk and drink it steaming hot. You can experiment with the amounts of milk, decoction and sugar till you find a proportion that suits your palate.

My first experience of true filter coffee making was after I got married and I still haven’t lived down the experience. I made good tea but coffee had been my mother’s department till then. Soon after we were married, my father happened to visit us at my in-lwas’ place. It was late afternoon and my mother-in-law was having her nap. My husband and father decide they wanted coffee and I offered to make it. Big mistake! I went into the kitchen, boiled the milk, added the sugar and what appeared to be coffee decoction. I poured it out and took it to my husband and father. Both took their first sips, swallowed and then had the weirdest expressions on their faces. I could make out the coffee tasted awful. My father didn’t want to say anything in front of his new son-in-law and my husband didn’t want to appear unsupportive of his new wife in her father’s presence!!
Apparently I had used the watery second expressed decoction instead of the first expressed stronger one to make the coffee. I wasn’t even aware that there could be two decoctions!!! I am happy to say that I have vastly improved since then and make a reasonably good filter coffee now.
For some more interesting write-ups on filter coffee do check out these posts at the Saffron Trail and the Yum Blog.
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March 6, 2008

Meeting a Fellow Blogger, Awards and Some Khakhra

Meeting a Fellow Blogger:
A fellow food blogger and I arranged to meet this last Sunday. She was on her way from Hyderabad going for a holiday abroad(I am not letting on any further details) and stopped over at Kochi to meet an old friend from college days. The blogger I'm talking about is Arundati of Escapades.
She had sent me a mail in reply to a comment I left on her blog a couple of weeks back. Now, it happens that I have found some whole sale baking suppliers who stock a lot of baking related stuff. I was wondering which brand of chocolate would best to buy when I realized Arundati would be the person to ask. I have in the past admired the chocolates on her blog. One thing led to another and we arranged to meet when she and her husband were down in Kochi. She brought Akshaya and me some wonderful gifts, including candles and chocolates which I absolutely love. I now know for a fact that her chocolates not only look good but taste even better. Arundati also brought me some chocolate moulds which I am definitely going to put to good use.
We spent a lot of time talking and then found out that both our husbands belong to the same place in Palakkad, and are also related in a distant way through marriage! Our meeting had to end (a little too soon it seemed) as they had a plane to catch that evening and we had to get back home as my husband was leaving that night on a work related trip. And guess what, in all that time we were talking, we never talked about anything close to food blogging! We just didn’t get around to it. It was a nice experience to meet someone I had known only from her blog.

The Awards:
I checked my blog two days back to find that Divya of Dil Se has given me an Excellent Blog Award. Red Chillies has also passed on a Nice Matters Award to me ( “Nice Matters Award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world.”) .
It feels nice to know that they feel my blog deserves the awards. Thank you, Divya and RC, I appreciate this.

Khakhra
Khakhra is a Gujarathi snack made from whole wheat flour. It looks like a chapathi but is very thin, crisp and can be plain or have a variety of spices. Khakhras are usually available in the stores in a variety of flavours.
I prefer to make them at home whenever I can (which is not often enough) because I can make them without fat and keep the spices down. They make a tasty low calorie snack, very simple to make but take a bit of time.


Ingredients:

1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
3 tbsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
½ tsp caraway seeds (ajwain/ omam)
1 tsp black sesame seeds
1 tsp chilli powder
½ tsp cumin powder
salt to taste

Method:

Mix all the ingredients and enough water into a softish but elastic dough similar to dough for making chapathi. Pinch off a ball of dough the size of a small lemon/ lime and roll out into as thin a circle as possible. Dust lightly, if necessary, with whole wheat flour while rolling out the dough to prevent it from sticking.
Heat a cast iron griddle. Put the rolled out dough on it and cook, over low to medium heat on both sides till faint brown spots start appearing.
Now take a thick kitchen towel, fold it and roll it up into a size fills your palm. Holding the rolled up towel press down on the cooked dough circle, a little at a time till every part of the circle has been pressed down. This ensures that it cooks and crisps out evenly. Now turn the khakhra over and repeat with the other side. The khakhra would now have a light brown colouring on both sides and would have become crisp. If you would like, the khakhra can be brushed with butter or ghee at this point. Cool on a cookie rack. Finish the rest of the dough in this manner.
When cool, store in an airtight container. This recipe makes about 12 khakhras.
Khakhras can be eaten plain, with tea, or served with a variety of dips or salsas, sweet and sour chutneys or even curries.

Updated on 8th March, 2008:
The regular version of Khakhra can be made by adding 4 tbsp of oil/ ghee (clarified unsalted butter) to the dough when mixing up the ingredients. This regular version would be tastier (because of the fat) and less dryer in texture than my version.
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March 4, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese with Vegetables

Macaroni and cheese is just that – macaroni in a cheese sauce. Adding vegetables to this probably no longer qualifies this dish as a true Mac ‘n Cheese. But then what’s in a name if the dish satisfies those who would be eating it?
My daughter loves cheese and pasta so this is one way I can get her to eat some vegetables also without any complaint. It is also convenient for those days when I know I wouldn’t have much time for making lunch/ dinner because we have to go out. So I make this earlier in the day, and when we get back push it under the grill to brown just when we are ready to eat. So we have a hot, filling (this is chock full of calories, too) meal which we finish off with fresh fruit.


Ingredients:
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 big onion, finely chopped
1 ½ cups chopped vegetable
(french beans, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, green peas, sweet corn)
1 cup milk
¼ cup cheddar cheese, grated
3 cheese slices
1 ½ cups breadcrumbs
1 tbsp butter
4 tsp oil
1 tsp mixed herbs (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
¼ tsp mustard powder (optional)
chilli flakes (to taste and optional)

Method:
Cook the macaroni in water, adding salt, till just done. Drain, add 1 tsp oil, mix well and keep aside. This ensures the macaroni doesn’t stick and clump together after cooling.
Steam cook the chopped vegetables till just done and firm. I microwave them at 100% for about 6 minutes. Keep aside.
In a pan, melt the butter and add the chopped onions. Sauté the onions till soft and translucent. Turn down the heat and add the milk, the cheese slices (torn into pieces) and grated cheese. Stir till the cheese melts completely. Now add the cooked vegetable, herbs, mustard powder, chilli flakes, pepper and salt. Remember that the macaroni and cheese already contain salt. Stir well and add the cooked macaroni. Mix well gently so that the cheese sauce uniformly coats the macaroni. Keep aside.
In a bowl, put the breadcrumbs and the remaining 3 tsps oil and mix well together using your fingers.
Now take a glass dish and grease well. Spread the macaroni mixture in it. Cover with the prepared breadcrumbs to form a layer on top. (This can be made upto this point and then grilled/ baked just before serving.) Now place this under the grill till the top is brown in colour. This takes about 5 -6 minutes in my grill. You can also bake it in the oven. I have never done this because the grill is quick.Serve warm. This will serve 3 -4 people.
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