August 31, 2009

Tomato Bread With Fresh Basil


This month's theme for Bread Baking Day is "Something you've never made before". I guess it couldn't get easier than this for me as I can think of a whole lot of breads I haven't baked before and many more I haven't even heard of yet! The only difficulty here would be choosing which "not baked before" bread to bake!!

I recently (well, about 6 months back!) acquired some bread baking books and decided this would be the perfect opportunity to bake something from one of them. I chose to bake the Tomato Bread With Fresh Basil from Bread For All Seasons by Beth Hensperger.




As the title suggests, this book is all about baking bread according to the seasons. So the author has divided the book into chapters, one for each month. Each month's bread recipes are either related to festivities in that month or use some ingredients which are abundantly available during that month.

I chose August naturally and I guess it's the month for tomatoes in the U.S. Here, in India, we see tomatoes throughout the year so tomato bread it was.

Fellow food blogging friends, Deeba and Arundati, were nice enough to send me some basil seeds earlier this month. Deeba also sent me some basil plants which are thriving despite the 1000km journey by courier. Some basil I brought back during my previous trip home is also flourishing so bread with basil seemed a natural conclusion.
I adapted the recipe in the book to work around some of the ingredients I didn't have on hand.

The original recipe asks for sun-dried tomatoes, which isn't something we get here. The one time I tried to sun-dry some tomatoes, the sun did a bunk on me and I ended up growing "stuff" on my tomatoes which could have interested only a student of biology, perhaps!
So it will be another 4 to 5 months when I can depend on the sun to dry the heck out of my tomatoes.

And a few words of caution before you make this bread. It can be a bit of an acquired taste and not quite the thing if you're not very fond of tomatoes. If your tomatoes (or tomato juice) are a bit on the sour side, your bread will have a bit of a tang which can (or will not) be pleasing depending on your taste. For this reason, this bread is best used in a sandwich.



Ingredients:


1 cup tomato juice (fresh or canned)

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tbsp active dry yeast

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 to 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

2 to 3 tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves

1/2 tbps chilli flakes

1 tsp salt

coarse cornmeal or semolina for dusting

milk (or egg wash) for glazing

nigella seeds for sprinkling (optional)



Method:


As usual, I used my food processor but you can knead the dough by hand.

Put the whole wheat flour, 1 cup of all purpose flour, salt, brown sugar, olive oil, basil leaves and the yeast into the food processor bowl. Run a couple of times to blend.
Now add the tomato juice and paste (and a couple of tbsps of water if necessary) and process until a thick, shaggy mass forms which just clears the side of the bowl.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead the dough well, adding a little flour, till the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning it to coat with the oil, and allow it to rise till double in volume (about 2 hours).

Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 3 equal portions. Using your palms, roll each portion into a rope that is 12" long. Braid the three "ropes" into a loaf, tucking the ends underneath. Alternatively, just shape the dough into a plain loaf.

Place in greased and dusted (with cornmeal or semolina) loaf tin, cover loosely and allow the dough to rise until even with rim of the tin (about 45 minutes). Brush the surface with milk or eggwash. Sprinkle with nigella seeds, if using.
Bake at 190C for about 30 to 40 minutes till light brown in colour and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a rack.
This recipe makes one small loaf, which makes excellent tomato-mayonnaise or cheese and vegetable sandwiches.


This is my entry for BBD #23 being hosted by Imafoodblog this month and also for Andrea's Grow Your Own. This bread is also being YeastSpotted!


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August 29, 2009

Apricot Bread And Rolls


This bread came about because I had some dried Turkish apricots in my fridge. I had bought them sometime back to make apricot bread and had actually forgotten about them! Now, I have a thing about keeping the least possible amount of food in my fridge and tend to keep clearing it out regularly. So it is very rarely that something stays in my fridge for so long without being used up.
Last month, I rediscovered those dried apricots in my fridge and decided it was time I put them to good use. I personally like eating them just as they are, slightly chewy and mildly sweet with just a hint of tang.



I decided to make bread with the apricots, as I had originally planned. Since I didn't have any particular recipe in mind, I adapted the yeasted bread recipe from one of my favourite bread books, The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. This book doesn't have the usual glossy look or attractive pictures one finds in most cookbooks today, but I like the simple manner in which recipes are presented with the variations that are possible with each recipe.




This recipe makes a nice and soft bread/ bread rolls which isn't very crusty but with a faint sweetness that comes from the apricots. The bread also slices well and is excellent when toasted and buttered.




Ingredients:


For the sponge:


1 3/4 cups lukewarm milk (you might need a little less or more)

3/4 tbsp active dry yeast

2 tbsp honey

2 cups whole wheat flour


For the dough:


sponge from above

2 tsp salt

2 tbsp oil

1 cup chopped dried apricots

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

extra flour for kneading



Method:


Soak the chopped apricots in a little water for about 15 minutes. Drain and keep aside.

In a big and deep bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Add the honey and the wheat flour and stir well, with a wooden spoon, to form a thick batter. The book suggests 100 strokes of beating the batter!
Keep aside and allow to rise for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Now fold in the salt and oil. Add the all purpose flour and mix well with spoon. Turn out the dough onto a wooden board and knead, with your hands, to form a smooth elastic dough. Dust with flour as required to prevent the dough from sticking.

Using your hands flatten the dough (shape doesn't matter) and sprinkle the chopped apricots on it. Roll up the dough, like a swiss/ jelly roll, and knead again just enough to ensure the apricot pieces are uniformly distributed in the dough.

Place in an oiled bowl, coating the dough with oil. Cover and allow to rise till double in size, for about an hour.
Press down the dough and reshape into a ball. Put the dough back into the bowl and allow it to rise again till double, for yet another hour or so.

Shape the dough into rolls or a loaf. I shaped half the dough into rolls and the other half into a loaf. Place the rolls on a lightly greased sheet (or put the loaf into a greased tin) and allow to rise for about 20 to 25 minutes.
Brush the tops with milk and bake at 190C for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from the sheet/ tin and cool on a rack. Wait until the bread is completely cool before slicing.
Serve for breakfast with coffee/ tea or like I did, with Rustic Red Lentil soup. I found the mild hint of sweetness of this bread balanced the spicy, creamy soup very well.

This recipe makes 8 rolls, or 4 rolls and a small loaf, or 2 small loaves, or 1 big loaf.


I'm sending these apricot rolls and bread to be YeastSpotted!


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August 27, 2009

The Dobos Torte (Hungarian "Drum" Cake) –An Eggless Chocolate & Orange Version: Daring Bakers Challenge, August 2009


Yes, we Daring Bakers are back at making cake again and we're going Hungarian this time!
The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.
The Dobos Torte (or Torta) is a 5 layer sponge cake (these cakes have been made with between 6 and 12 layers), filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel, was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker.




While we were expected to make the layered cake and the caramel layer was compulsory, the choices of the shape and size of our cake, number of layers in our cakes and the buttercream flavour was left to us.
For me, this cake challenge was timely, as it was my husband's birthday this month. This cake was the centre piece at a surprise birthday get together our daughter and I organized to celebrate his birthday.



My Dobos Torte Experience:


I had never heard of this cake before this challenge and wanted to retain as much of its original flavours as possible. We love chocolate and the fact that József Dobos chose that to be the main flavour in his cake helped me lean in that direction!

What had me stumped initially was that this recipe required 6 eggs for the sponge cakes and 4 eggs for the buttercream. I really had no idea if I would be successful at substituting for 10 eggs!!

However I found Bryanna Clark Grogan's sponge cake recipe at Vegan Yum Yum, which I used to make my sponge cakes. The recipe, which follows, is my halved and adapted version of Bryanna's recipe. It isn't vegan but contains no eggs.

I didn't have the suggested size jelly roll pans, so I used my two 8" round cake tins. The following recipe gave me a little over 2 cups of batter. I divided the batter equally between the two cake tins, which gave me 2 sponge layers.
I made the cake batter three times which gave me 6 layers in all.
I then made a rectangular sponge using the one small jelly roll pan I have, with a half recipe of batter for the caramel layer.



For the chocolate buttercream, I used the given recipe and just substituted the eggs with milk and cornstarch as in this recipe, the eggs were cooked to form a sort of custard base for the buttercream.
I also made an orange flavoured soaking by heating about 3/4 cup sweet orange marmalade with 1/4 cup water to make a thick syrup.



Ingredients:


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour + 1 tbsp cornstarch

3/4 cups granulated sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

25 gm butter, softened

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract



Method:


Oil two 8" cake tins and line with lightly oiled parchment (or aluminium foil) to cover the bottom and sides to a height of about 2". This will allow you to lift the entire cake out of the pan without breaking it. The oil helps the parchment stick to the pan, so it doesn’t slip while pouring in the batter.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the butter, water, and lemon juice and beat well with an electric mixer for about a minute. Add the remaining ingredients and beat again.

Pour the batter into the lined cake tin and bake at 190C for about 25-30 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the top is lightly browned, and the center springs back to your touch. Allow to cool in pan until just warm.

This makes 2 sponge layers. Repeat to make as many layers as you want (I made 6 layers and one rectangular layer which I cut into smaller rectangular pieces for the caramel sponge layer).



Eggless Chocolate Buttercream


Ingredients:


5 tbsps milk

2 tbsp cornstarch

3/4 cup caster sugar

3/4 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped

225 gm unsalted butter, at room temperature.



Method:


Make this in advance and keep chilled in the fridge.

Dissolve the cornstarch in about 2 tbsp of water. Melt the chocolate in a large bowl, over a double boiler. Add the sugar to the melted chocolate and whisk till well incorporated into the chocolate.

Now add the dissolved cornstarch and keep whisking till the chocolate thickens. Take the bowl of the heat and cool to room temperature. The chocolate mixture will thicken some more.

The beat in the butter, a few tbsps at a time into the chocolate mixture with an electric mixer till soft and velvety. Chill in the fridge till ready to use.



Caramel topping


Ingredients:


1 cup caster sugar

12 tablespoons water

4 teaspoons lemon juice



Method:


Put all the ingredients in a pan and stir till the sugar dissolves. Now bring the mixture to boil, stirring gently once in a while. Once the mixture starts boiling, turn down the heat to medium and allow the sugar syrup to caramelize and turn amber. Stir gently if you must but do not agitate the syrup.
This syrup is meant to be cooked till amber, but I didn't want a hard caramel layer. So I took the syrup off the heat when it was a deep golden colour and generously spooned the syrup over the rectangular sponge pieces. Allow to set.

I followed the given instructions to assemble the torte. I used the orange flavoured soaking syrup on the layers before sandwiching then with chocolate buttercream. The buttercream was soft and "melty" at room temperature, so refrigerating the cake after every application of buttercream was a must.

After covering the torte with the buttercream, I used a little buttercream as "glue" to stick the caramel pieces on the side of the torte.
I decided to leave the rest of the torte plain and decorated the top with chocolate covered wafer balls.



Verdict:


This Dobos Torte is very rich and slightly on the sweeter side. It's perfect for a special occasion and was a hit with my husband, our daughter and most of our guests. There's always bound to be a few who aren't fond of rich sweet cakes and I'm one of them! I cut the cake into 12 slices, but I think it would have been better if I had cut it into 16 pieces considering how rich it was.




I took my caramel off the heat a bit earlier so it was sticky rather than hard. The sponge pieces absorbed the caramel to produce a slightly chewy layer which was better than hard caramel, but wasn't really very nice.

The fudgy buttercream was much nicer than I expected but meant that I had to keep the cake refrigerated except whaen I was ready to serve it. There was one slice left for the next day, and I must say the torte tasted better the next day.
My layers weren't quite as thin as I would have liked, but I was quite happy on the whole with my effort and the torte.

Now I'm off to see all other Dobos Torte out there.


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August 22, 2009

Eggless No-Bake Lemon Cheesecake


It was our wedding anniversary two days back and it seems unbelievable that so many years have gone by without my quite realizing it. I will not say it seems like we got married just yesterday because it doesn't. It certainly doesn't feel like its been sixteen years which suddenly seems like a very long time.





Akshaya is in the middle of her school term exams and a concert at her music school, I was getting ready for a trip out of Goa and that my husband was up to his ears with work. Fitting in a "celebration" into all this wasn't part of the plan, even though we always make all such days "special" in our own way.

As it turned out we had a memorable evening listening to Akshaya's school concert and an unexpected surprise from a friend in the form of dinner, cake, flowers and a musical serenade!





I'll be away from Goa for a week (not on holiday), and I've set this post to be auto-published. No celebration is complete without a sweet ending however small, so here's a no-bake cheesecake that I've made a few times before. This recipe is adapted from Tarla Dalal's Delicious Diabetic Recipes-Low Calorie Cooking and can be found on her website too.

While we are not very fond of tartness in our desserts, this particular cheesecake is a favourite. I use low-fat paneer (or creamcheese) and yogurt, both of which I make at home, and this becomes a very light dessert and the perfect way to end a meal.

You will notice two very different looking cheesecake photographs on this post. Both were taken a couple of years apart. The basic cheesecake is the same, its just the presentation that is different. One is of the cheesecake plain while the other is served with a blackberry compote.
Eggless No-Bake Lemon Cheesecake
(adapted from Tarla Dalal)


Ingredients:


For the crust:

12 digestive biscuits (or cookies of your choice)

3 tsp butter, melted


For the cheesecake mixture:


1 1/2 cup crumbled paneer (or creamcheese)

1/2 cup thick yogurt

6 tsp caster sugar (adjust to preference)

1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp grated lemon zest

2 drops lemon extract (optional)



Method:


First make the crust.
Crush the biscuits/ cookies to a powder. One easy way of doing this is to put the biscuits/ cookies in a Ziploc bag and close the bag after pressing most of the air out. Use your rolling pin and give the bag a few light whacks to break the biscuits/ cookies. Now roll your rolling pin, while pressing down on the bag, up and down the bag a few times to powder the biscuits/ cookies.

Combine the powdered biscuits and melted butter well. Press the mixture into a greased loose bottomed 6" cake/ tart tin. Otherwise use 4 greased ring moulds, like I did.
Refrigerate till set (about 15 to 30 minutes).

In the meanwhile make the cheesecake mixture.
Blend the creamcheese till smooth and free of lumps, adding very little warm milk if needed. Add all the remaining ingredients for the cheesecake mixture and whisk till well incorporated.
Pour this over the set biscuit/ cookie base. Gently smoothen the top and refrigerate to set (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours).

If you would like to top the cheesecake with a marmalade layer, melt 3 tbsp of lemon-orange marmalade (orange marmalade will do too) with 1 tbsp of water over gentle heat. Pour this over the cheesecake and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.  You can also serve it with a blueberry or blackberry fruit compote.
Serve chilled.
This recipe serves 4.


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August 21, 2009

A Rustic Red Lentil Soup With Yogurt, An Eggless Indian Custard And Purple Flowers!


I know that post title is a bit confusing but there are three parts to this post. I could have written it as 3 separate posts and maybe that would have been better. It so happens that I have to be away from Goa for this week (no, I'm not taking a vacation) and don't have much time to spare. So I'm going to put you all through the trouble of reading a rather long post.

I had bookmarked these two recipes from A Life (Time) Of Cooking, Ganga's blog a little while back. And as is the case with most bookmarked recipes, these also sat in a folder waiting patiently for the day when they would see the light in my kitchen.



The Rustic Red Lentil Soup With Yogurt:


It was just by chance that I remembered it was August (where has most of August gone, by the way?) and Ganga's blog would be the "chosen one" on Zlamushka's Tried & Tasted. I had planned on making soup for dinner and the bread dough was rising and almost ready for the oven when Ganga's "Rustic Red Lentil Soup With Yogurt" came to mind.
In case you aren't familiar with Ganga's blog, you should go and take a look at her beautiful photographs as well as her recipes which are all vegetarian.



I really didn't change much from her recipe so I'm not reproducing it here. I just halved her recipe as the soup was just for the three of us. I also added a bit of fresh chopped coriander.
This soup tastes a lot like dal as we make it in India, so if you would rather not have soup, you could choose to serve it with chappathis or rice after adjusting the consistency of the soup to your preference.

As I have mentioned many times before, I'm really not very fond of soups and it is the bread part of the meal that makes the soup bearable in most cases. Yet I would most definitely recommend that you try this soup at least once and then make your decision about it either way. It could be my liking for most lentils (some of the best Indian preparations are lentil based) that makes me biased towards this soup. I found this soup quite light yet filling. I had it with a dollop of thick home-made yogurt and found it delicious.

Ganga alternately suggests serving the soup with feta cheese. If you cannot get feta cheese (I don't here), I would think pan-roasted and lightly browned paneer would an excellent substitute.


The Eggless Indian Custard:


The other recipe I had bookmarked was an "Eggless Indian Custard". Now custard is one dessert (which is not traditionally Indian) that I remember seeing and eating a lot. It is usually made and served as a firm but wobbly caramel custard or else as a thick flowing custard with fresh fruit.

In India, custard is most vegetarian (without eggs) and made using milk, sugar and custard powder. What caught my attention about Ganga's custard recipe was that it used chickpea flour (besan).




I have never seen custard made this way before, so I bookmarked the recipe to try out. Again, I followed the given recipe and made the custard with cashewnuts and raisins but did not use any fruit. This is not exactly the best season for fruit here and I didn't think the aavailable fruits like apples, pears, papaya and guava would go well with this custard.

We found this chickpea flour custard tasted a lot like a "Parippu Pradhaman" but is a lot lighter as there's no coconut milk in it. I also kept getting nuances of a not-so-rich besan halwa.
On the whole, a good choice when you want a dessert which doesn't take too much effort or time yet satisfies your sweet tooth without being very heavy.

Both these dishes are my submissions for this month's Tried & Tasted being guest hosted by Yasmeen.



On another note, I have to apologise to fellow bloggers Lata Raja, Priya Narasimhan, Bergamot and Lien who have been very kind and passed on the Kreative Blog Award to my blog. I know I have taken ages to acknowledge them so please accept my apologies. As is my practice, I have added them to my page for badges.



And The Purple Flowers!


This bit of my post has nothing to do with food other that the fact that it is related to a blog, post and event organized by Manisha of Indian Food Rocks, who is a food blogger. Apparently, she had a monthly event centred on flowers which came to a natural conclusion some time back. This was before I started blogging or knew of Manisha's blog.




Manisha has decided to revive the event. This time around, each month will focus on a colour and this month's colour is "Purple".

These flowers were a gift to my husband, from the daughter of good friends of ours. S and R (I'm not sure they would like seeing their names on the net) are avid gardners and their small garden is a visual delight. In fact, they are my regular suppliers of drumstick and drumstick leaves!


Purple flowers


I am not very sure what these flowers are called. They're small, about an inch across with dark, thin and pointy leaves and stay fresh in a vase for over 2 weeks! Yesterday, I saw a huge bunch of these flowers with my regular flower vendor at the market. He tells me they're called purple (sometimes blue) daisies. Some help from ID Please and some searching on the net leads me to believe they're Asters.


Some more purple flowers

I also found these other pictures of purple flowers in one of my folders. I had taken this picture when I first got my P & S over a year back. These flowers were growing in one of my pots in Cochin and I was just experimenting with the camera.

Again, I do not know what these flowers are but I think someone might be able to help me identify them. They grow from small bulbs and the triangle shaped leaves of this plant are deep magenta, almost brown in colour.. I got these from my Aunt who brought it down from her daughter's garden in California.

Unfortunately towards the end of last year, this plant finally gave up its will to survive. I'm hoping the original plant is still thriving in my Aunt's garden and might grace my pot again.

These purple flowers are off to Manisha's Purplicious.

If you love flowers and have "painted, doodled, sketched or photographed" purple flowers (I quote Manisha here) you could send them in too. This month's deadline is the 25th of August so you had better hurry.


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August 17, 2009

Apple And Pear Cobbler


Sometimes, when I hear the names of some foods, I am quite puzzled as to where these names originate from. A few years back, if you were to say "cobbler" to me I would think shoes. Say "grunt" to me and I'd think of pigs! For me, a "buckle" comes with a belt, a "slump" is a sad thing to happen to food and a "sonker" has me stumped!!

"Crisps" make me think of "chips" or should I call them "wafers"? It so happens that what I call "chips" are "fingers" to some and "wafers" to others. To me a "wafer" is a thin, dry, crisp and flat biscuit like thing that decorates ice-creams or used to sandwich a cream filling!!
And if all this wasn't confusing enough, here are some more other definitions for the word "cobbler".

Whatever they're called, I have discovered that they are all very delicious fruit based desserts which have been in existence for generations and are considered classics. Each of these can have different fillings or toppings and have definite ways of being cooked or baked.

Here's a slight de-mystification of some of those names.

Brown Betty ~here fruit and bread pieces (or cracker crumbs) are layered alternately and baked into something resembling a bread pudding.

Crisps ~this is fruit (usually slightly tart) topped with a crumbly mixture of flour, butter, sugar (usually brown) and sometimes oats. Baked till top is brown and crunchy. I believ these are also called "crumble". I am guessing the crumbly nature of the topping is why its called a "crumble", and when baked the crumble becomes crisp and so is called a "crisp"?

Grunts/ Slumps ~this version of fruit and topping is cooked on a stove-top.

Buckles ~here fruit is either mixed with cake batter or it is layered over a layer of cake batter and baked.

Cobblers ~in these fruit is topped and partially or completely covered with cake-like scone/ biscuit dough and baked till the top is browned. I read somewhere that the topping has a "cobbled" look and so this dish is called a "cobbler".

Sonker ~I understand this is a deep dish version of the cobbler unique to North Carolina in the U.S.

My apple and pear cobbler came about because I had a few apples and pears I wanted to use up and also plenty of very fresh and tender ginger. When I my sister came down for a vacation some moths back, I decided to add to her luggage a bit. I ordered quite a few baking books (and some other stuff) from Amazon and saved myself the international shipping charges by getting them delivered to my sister's address, who in turn lugged them down here for me.

One of those books was Light & Easy Baking by Beatrice Ojakangas. This is a book which was published quite some time ago, but an excellent book, in my opinion. The book has over 200 low fat recipes for all kinds of baked food. What I like about this book is that the author explains how she works with each recipe to reduce the fat in it and also points out how you could similarly work with any recipe of your choice.



I adapted this recipe from her Berry Cobbler recipe. There's something special about this ginger flavoured moist and juicy dessert with the slightly crisp cake-like topping. This is very easy to make and good way to use up excess fruit.
I used apples and pears here. You could use whatever fruit you have on hand. I added ginger as I love the slightly spicy tones it gives this cobbler, but feel free to leave it out if you do not like ginger in your desserts.



Ingredients:


1 cup peeled and chopped apples

1 cup peeled and chopped pears

1 1/2 to 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch

2/3 cup brown sugar (increase this to 1/2 cup if preferred)

1/2 tbsp lemon juice

2/3 cup all purpose flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

3 tbsp (about 35 gm) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1/8 cup hot water



Method:


Put the chopped apple and pear, ginger, cornstarch, about half of the sugar and lemon juice in a glass bowl and mix well. Cook in the microwave till the fruit is cooked and the mixture has thickened slightly (about 6 to 8 minutes at 100%).

You can also cook the fruit on the stove-top. Put the above mentioned ingredients, excluding the cornstarch, in a pan with a few tsps of water and cook till done. Dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tbsp water and add to the cooked fruit. Stir well and cokk for a couple of minutes till it thickens.

Put this mixture into a shallow glass dish/ casserole or divide it equally among 4 dessert bowls to make individual servings.

In another bowl combine the flour, remaining sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add the butter and mix till the mixture resembles moist crumbs. Now add the hot water and just stir till a soft dough forms.

Drop spoonfuls of this dough over the hot fruit, to partially or totally cover the fruit. Bake at 200C for about 20 or 25 minutes or till the topping is a golden brown.

Serve warm with frozen yogurt or ice-cream. This recipe serves 4.


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August 15, 2009

Tri-colour/ Rainbow Cookie Bars: Celebrating The Colours Of Independence


Today India celebrates her 63rd Independence Day. While I'm not old enough to have memories of the freedom struggle and the partition that followed, I know something about it from books, movies and stories told by those who lived through it all.

When we were children, most of these stories about the struggle for freedom were just that to us; some stories and lessons in our school books. Independence Day meant watching the hoisting of the National flag, singing the National Anthem, eating the sweets that were invariably distributed after the function, and a day off from school work.

But now I am older, I most certainly appreciate that it means I live in a country where freedom is something most of us enjoy and take for granted. We still have a long way to go to achieve many things but this is a country where a woman has been Prime Minister, a woman is our President today and women are at the forefront in almost everything that matters. This is a country where we are free to voice our concerns, likes and dislikes and people of varied religions, languages, diverse customs and traditions all live together as Indians.

In keeping the spirit of our Independence Day celebrations, I wanted to post something that would reflect the colours of our national flag – saffron, white and green and most definitely sweet!

I remembered seeing some tri-colour Italian cookies some time back and went searching for a recipe. The first thing that struck me was these "cookies" looked more like cake than cookies and they are made using layers of sponge-like cake made with almond paste.

My search tells me these tri-colour cookies also quite popular by various other names including Napoleon (or Neapolitan) cookies, Venetian cookies, Rainbow cookies (New York is apparently famous for these), and Seven-layer cookies.
The red, green and white coloured layers of these cookie bars are supposed to represent the colours of the Italian flag.



To make these cookies, the three different coloured almond sponge layers are sandwiched together with apricot jam/ preserves (and raspberry jam/ preserves in some recipes) and then covered, both on the top and bottom with a layer of chocolate to make a total of seven layers.
I shall refer to these "cookies" as bars, as they are definitely more cake-like than cookie-like in texture.

I changed the colours of the layers to reflect the colours of the Indian flag. Otherwise I followed this recipe for Seven-Layer cookies from Epicurious. If you plan to make these bars/ cookies I would advice that you please refer to the original recipe first.

Please see my notes that follow this recipe. The recipe given below is my halved and slightly adapted version of the original recipe.



Ingredients:


2 large egg whites

1 large egg yolk

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup almond paste* (see Notes below)

125 gm unsalted butter, softened

1/2 tsp almond extract

1 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 to 10 drops orange food coloring (enough to give a saffron colour)

8 to 10 drops green food coloring

1/4 cup apricot jam + 1/8 cup water heated to a smooth thick spreadable jam

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped




Method:


Butter a 6" by 6" baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter paper.

In a bowl, beat whites using an electric mixer at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/8 cup of the sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Keep aside.

In another bowl, beat together almond paste and remaining sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolk and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined.

Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir orange food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick).

Bake the orange layer for 8 minutes, until just set. (It is important to undercook.)

Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean the pan, then line it with wax paper and butter paper in same manner as above. Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.

When all layers are cool, invert green onto a wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert orange layer on top of white layer and discard wax paper.

Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.

Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water.

Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.



My Notes:


~  I halved the original recipe because it said the full recipe made 5 1/2 dozen cookies! I also used one yolk less.

* I don't get almond paste here, so I made my own using this recipe. I didn't blanch my almonds (too lazy to) and scaled that recipe to a quarter. My "paste" was more crumbly than paste, so I added 2 tbsp milk to the so called almond paste and ground it to paste and then used it.

~  I don't get parchment paper here and waxed paper isn't always available. So I used aluminum foil and it works most of the time.

~  I wasn't sure just how thick the finished cake would be. I used my jelly roll pan (a small one) and realized (after pouring the batter in) that it was too big. So my cake layers are a bit thin. I should have used my 6" square cake tin and my bars would have had thicker and prettier layers.

~  If you have problems peeling the paper off the cake (I did), then as soon as it has cooled a bit, put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Then take it out and peel off the paper. It peels off easily. I have to thank Mark of No Special Effects for this tip.

~  Just before I had to melt the chocolate I discovered that I had run out of bittersweet chocolate! Do not use any other kind because the cake is sweet and needs the bittersweet chocolate to balance this. So I added 3 tbsp of dark unsweetened cocoa powder to the chocolate while melting it. Given all the chemistry involved in melting chocolate, I was surprised to get a dark and not so sweet chocolate that behaved beautifully!

~  If you have to keep the cake in the fridge like I did, then it would be advisable to work quickly while spreading and smoothening the melted chocolate on top of the cake. The cold cake tends to make the chocolate set rather quickly, as you can see from the untidy look of my chocolate layer.

~  I had slight problems cutting the seven layered cake into bars. I have to keep the cake refrigerated as the warm weather here would ensure that the chocolate layers never set. On the other hand this made cutting the cake difficult. Even a serrated knife didn't help, as you can see from my "not so perfect" squares.

So I had to keep the cake at room temperature to soften the chocolate. Cutting this cake wasn't a fun experience for me, but I managed to get a few which feature in the above pictures. Perhaps a thick ganache might work better instead of just melted chocolate.



Verdict:


A lovely chocolate covered moist almond layered cake/ bar/ cookie (call it what you will) which melts in the mouth. The cake was a bit on the sweeter side, so if you like your cakes/ desserts a little less sweet make adjustments in the amount of sugar you use to make the cake layers.

These bars take a bit of time between making and eating and require planning ahead, but a lot of the time is taken up by the cake spending time in the fridge.

If you are looking for something special to serve for an occasion, this is a great bar/ cookie as it can be made ahead and actually tastes better the next day.


A happy Independence Day to all who are celebrating today. Hope you have a great day!


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August 13, 2009

Festive Fare for Ashtami Rohini/ Janmashtami : Aval Payasam, Vella Cheedai and Uppu Cheedai


The monsoons have slowly started bidding us goodbye here, even as they haven't paid their scheduled visits to other parts of the country. This withdrawal of the rains signals the beginning of a long season of festivities and celebrations all over India.
In our home, it started last week and this month shall be very busy. Today we're celebrating the birthday of Lord Krishna as Srikrishna Jayanthi (also called Gokulashtami/ Janmashtami/ Ashtami Rohini). This weekend all of India will be celebrating its 62nd Independence Day and a week later it will be Vinayaka/ Ganesh Chathurthi.
On the personal front, this month also includes a birthday and an anniversary.
Festivals mean a lot of work for the womenfolk in most families. Daily chores notwithstanding, women have to contend with a lot of extra work in the form of festive cooking, preparations for pujas (ritual worship), welcoming and entertaining guests.

With extended families giving way to nuclear families, much has changed from this scenario. Fewer members in a family mean less cooking and work. Perhaps it also means less fun, because I don't see children nowadays having a chance to enjoy all this like we used to.


 
(Image source : Wikimedia Commons)


We enjoy celebrations (it almost always comes down to the food, doesn’t it?) and I always make it a point to do my best to celebrate such festivities in as traditional a manner as is practically possible. I feel this is one way to ensure that our daughter learns about our traditions.

Belonging to the Palakkad Iyer community also means that we celebrate most Tamil festivals and traditions and most of those in Kerala as well. So that means almost double the festivities and sometimes a bit of extra work too Or you could look at it from our daughter's point of view, who says "Yummy" when I tell her what we're celebrating and what I'm going to be cooking!!!

Going back to the matter of this post, Lord Krishna's birthday is celebrated in differently in different parts of India. In our home, "kolams" (auspicious patterns drawn on festive occasions, with a rice flour paste) are drawn along with a pattern of a small pair of footprints coming from the outside into the house. These feet represent and signify that the Lord Krishna has come into our home. Pooja (ritual worship and offering) is done, the temple is visited for prayers and blessings and food is specially made for this day.
No offering to Lord Krishna is complete without his favourites, "vennai" (fresh home-made unsalted butter) and "aval" (beaten rice flakes).

As children, most of us in India grew up hearing stories about young Krishna's love for butter and butter milk and the mischievous exploits he undertook in pursuit of this fondness. His partiality for beaten rice flakes is tied to his childhood friendship with Sudama.
I still remember impatiently waiting, as a child, for my maternal Grandfather to finish his dinner and sit down in his wooden easy-chair so that we could get on with our daily story-telling sessions from the Puranas.

Celebrating Janmashatami in our home means making (sharing and eating, too) traditional festive fare such as murukku (savoury and crisp rice and lentil snack), pokkuvadam, muthusaram (another savoury and buttery crisp snack), paal payasam and cheedais (recipes follow).

All these would take too much of time and effort so I usually make the last two mentioned items. Since I made paal payasam just last week, this time I chose to make a payasam with "aval" (beaten rice flakes) instead.
While most recipes for the following preparations would have, more or less, the same ingredients you might find that the proportions may differ. These recipes have been handed down to me by my mother and grandmother.



Aval Payasam (A Milk-based Sweet/ Pudding With Beaten Rice Flakes)


As I have mentioned previously, a payasam (also known as "kheer") is a milk or coconut milk based Indian sweet. We make a variety of payasam in India and this is just one of them.





Aval (beaten rice flakes) are commonly used in Indian cooking and are of different types. You can get those made from white or polished rice and from red or unpolished rice. Beaten rice flakes can be very thin or a slightly thick. Red coloured aval is the best if you can find it, but the white variety works just as well. Always use the the thicker variety of "aval" as the thinner one will turn to mush in this payasam.
Aval Payasam (A Milk-based Sweet/ Pudding With Beaten Rice Flakes)
 
 

Ingredients:


1 litre milk (full fat is always best; I used 3% fat)

3/4 cup beaten rice flakes, the thicker variety (not cereal)

1 cup granulated sugar

powdered cardamom from 3 or 4 pods

2 tsp ghee (optional)

1 tbsp each broken cashewnuts and golden raisins each (optional)



Method:


Wash the aval (beaten rice flakes) and drain the water completely. Do not leave even the smallest amount of water in the rice flakes, or they will absorb it and become mushy. Keep aside.

 
 

Aval (beaten rice flakes)

In a heavy bottomed/ thick-walled pan, pour the one litre of milk and bring it to boil. Add the aval/ beaten rice flakes to it, stir well and then turn down the heat a bit. Allow the rice to cook in the milk for about 15 to 20 minutes or till the milk has reduced, in volume, to about half.
Now add the sugar and stir till it dissolves. Allow the milk-beaten rice flakes-sugar mixture/ payasam to cook for another 10 minutes till it thickens slightly. Take it off the heat.
Once it cools to room temperature, it will thicken a little more. The milk in the cooked payasam should be slightly thicker, like evaporated milk.

Add the powdered cardamom and stir well. You may also add some ghee if you choose. Otherwise, heat the ghee and fry the golden raisins in it till they puff up. Remove them and then fry the broken cashewnuts till golden, in the same ghee. Pour this and the raisins into the payasam and stir.

Serve slightly warm. Otherwise, chill and serve as dessert. This recipe will serve about 4 people.



Vella Cheedai (Deep-fried Rice Flour & Jaggery Cookies)


Vella cheedai are small deep fried cookies (that's the best I can do to describe them in English) made from rice flour and jaggery (which we call "vellam" in Tamil). They are a bit tricky to make and it takes mostly practice and a bit of luck to get them right. For the first time, this year, my vella cheedai broke in the hot oil! It took an extra 3 tbsp of rice flour to get it right (see the method for further information regarding this).





You can make the rice flour used in this and the following recipe at home. Soak raw rice in water for about an hour, drain and spread the rice on a kitchen towel to dry out a bit. Then run the rice in your mixer/ grinder jar to a slightly coarse (almost fine) powder. Sieve the powdered rice to remove larger pieces and powder again.
Then proceed with the recipe. You can also use packaged rice flour for this but roast it before use. The packaged "rice puttu powder" that's available in the stores works just fine.

For the lentil powder (for both recipes), roast about 4 tbsps lentils till golden brown. Cool a bit and run in your mixer/ grinder jar till finely powdered.
Vella Cheedai (Deep-fried Rice Flour & Jaggery Cookies)
 
 

Ingredients:


1 cup slightly coarse rice powder (plus a little more if required)

1 tbsp roasted and powdered black gram lentils (urad dal)

3/4 cup powdered jaggery

1 1/2 tsp white sesame seeds

2 tbsp very fine slivers of coconut

1/2 tsp cardamom powder

oil for deep frying


Method:


Lightly roast the rice powder, over low to medium heat, till it gives off an aroma. Do not brown. Keep aside.
Put 1 glass of water and the powdered jaggery in a pan. Over medium heat, stir the mixture till the jaggery dissolves and boils till the syrup reaches the "soft ball" stage.
Note: Getting the syrup to the right texture is very important, or else these cheedais will not turn out right.

Allow the syrup to cool a bit. Add the rice powder, lentil (urad dal) powder, sesame seeds, coconut slivers and cardamom powder and mix/ knead well into a somewhat stiff dough. Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll into smooth balls about 1" in diameter.
 
 
 

Heat the oil and then down the heat to medium. Drop the balls, about six at a time, and fry them, turning them constantly, till they're cooked.

If the oil is too hot they will brown quickly but remain uncooked inside.These vella cheedai will be quite dark when done, almost the colour of dark chocolate. The jaggery makes them darken easily, so make sure they don't burn.

Note: Sometimes, these sweet little balls have a tendency to break in the oil, while frying. So start with one or two. If they don't break, go ahead and deep fry the whole lot.
If they do break in the oil, it usually means that the proportion of jaggery in the dough might be a bit on the higher side. So add a little rice flour to the dough and mix/ knead well. Then shape them into balls and deep fry. They will have slightly cracked appearance on the surface.

Drain on paper towels and serve when they have cooled to room temperature. This recipe makes about 15 vella cheedais.



Uppu Cheedai (Deep-fried Savoury Rice Flour Cookies)


"Uppu" means salt in Tamil, and so these "cookies" are savoury (I am describing these cheedai as cookies as well). The addition of crushed cumin seeds, black pepper, asafetida and coconut gives these cheedai a unique taste. Unlike their sweet counterpart in the recipe above, these are very easy to make and also very good to snack on, accompanied by coffee or tea.


 

Uppu Cheedai (Deep-fried Savoury Rice Flour Cookies)
 
 
 
Ingredients:


2 cups slightly coarse rice flour

4 tbsp finely grated fresh coconut

1 tbsp roasted and finely powdered black gram lentils (urad dal)

2 tsp crushed cumin seeds

1/4 tsp asafetida powder

3/4 tsp freshly crushed black pepper

1 tbsp unsalted butter

salt to taste

oil for deep frying



Method:


Mix all the ingredients together, with just enough water, to make a easily kneaded but slightly stiff dough. Remember this dough is made of rice flour and will be different from a regular cookie dough.

Pinch off small pieces of dough and roll into smooth balls about 1/2" in diameter and keep them on a cotton kitchen towel. This will help to draw out any excess moisture in the dough and result in crisp, crunchy cheedai.
 
 
 

Heat the oil and turn down the heat to medium. Drop the balls into the oil and fry them, turning them constantly, till they're a golden brown and done.

Drain on paper towels. Allow to cool and serve. This recipe makes lots of uppu cheedai, too many for me to count but enough for about 4 people to eat!

Festive greetings to everyone who is celebrating Janmashtami.


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August 10, 2009

Eggless Condensed Milk Cake


The inspiration behind my baking this cake is Y of Lemonpi. She mentioned on Twitter, sometime back, that she had managed to locate her recipe for a condensed milk cake. I don't use condensed milk very much because I find that it lends too much sweetness to a lot of recipes, yet the thought of condensed milk in a cake caught my fancy. It also seemed the perhaps this meant that I could bake this cake without eggs.

When I asked, Y told me her recipe had both eggs and condensed milk. When I went on a net search I was surprised to find that using condensed milk in a cake wasn't as big a deal as I thought it was. Apparently, lots of people have been doing it for ages! I guess I was tone of the few to whom this was news!




Most of the cakes I saw did seem to use both condensed milk and eggs. Some more searching led me to a condensed milk cake recipe (without eggs) at this discussion forum on Cake Central. I reduced the butter from 1 cup to 3/4 cup (because that's all the butter I had on hand that day) and it didn't seem to make a visible difference in the cake, texture-wise or taste-wise.
My condensed milk cake was soft and spongy yet firm. I think this cake would be great if you wished to cut it in half (horizontally) to sandwich it with jam, or some such filling.

So if you like condensed milk, cake that has no eggs and is very easy to put together then this is the cake for you. Despite my reservations, I did not find this cake too sweet. I usually prefer my "everyday" cakes unadorned, but you may cover the cake with a powdered sugar, a sugar glaze or ganache.



Ingredients:


2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 (400gm) can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup orange juice

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup melted butter (salted; if using unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp salt)



Method:


Sift together the all purpose flour, baking powder, the baking soda and salt (if using) into a large bowl. In another bowl, mix together the condensed milk, orange juice, melted butter and vanilla extract till well blended.

Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour the blended wet ingredients. Mix well, using a spoon or a whisk (do not whisk the batter).
Pour the batter into a well greased and floured 9" cake tin or a bundt pan.

Bake at 180C for about 30 to 40 minutes or till a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for about 15 minutes, remove from the pan and cool on a rack.
Serve with coffee or tea.


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August 7, 2009

Eggless Jam Doughnut Muffins


I came across these jam doughnuts in the guise of muffins at Lorraine's blog, Not Quite Nigella. I'm sure most of us love doughnuts (or donuts) and I have some very fond doughnut memories of my own. I personally prefer my doughnuts plain, freshly fried and warm. Chocolate coated doughnuts (just chocolate, not the sugary tasting chocolate coloured kind) or a light sprinkling of powdered sugar on them is also fine with me. I tend to avoid the jam filled ones, and cream filled doughnuts are just not to my taste. My husband and daughter like the jam filled variety very much.




So the idea of a muffin, that tasted like a doughnut but didn't need deep frying, sounded intriguing. Lorraine had adapted her recipe from Taste.com.au (sourced from a recipe by Valli Little in Delicious. - July 2002, Page 85).

So I took a look at the original recipe, used that substituting the 1 egg in it with flax seed powder. The result was delicious soft and spongy muffins quite like jam doughnuts in taste and texture.



I have made these a few times now. The first time, the jam was too much and it leaked out of the muffins while baking. These tasted good but didn't look so pretty, that's all.
The second time I was overcautious and my muffins had a just a spot of jam in them, so we couldn't really taste the jam as much.
The third time, I managed to get the amount of jam right. You can see Lorraine's post for a step-by-step explanation with pictures, before making these muffins.



Ingredients:


2 cups all purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2/3 cup caster sugar (or finely powdered sugar)

3/4 tsp cinnamon powder

1/3 cup oil

1 tbsp flax seed powder in 3 tbsp warm water

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tsp strawberry jam



Method:


Take two dry bowls.
In one bowl, put all the dry ingredients (the first five ingredients on the list) and mix well with a fork.
In the other bowl, put all the wet ingredients except the strawberry jam (the next four ingredients) and whisk together lightly.

Now pour the mixed liquid into the dry ingredients and fold everything with a light hand till just mixed. Mix only till just combined.
Remember these are muffins, so over mixing will result in tough tasteless muffins. A lumpy batter, showing slight streaks of flour is fine.

Spoon a heaped teaspoonful of batter into greased muffin pans/ or pans lined with cupcake liners. Using the wrong end of a spoon, make a small depression in the centre of the batter. Do not make these depressions too deep or the jam may leak out. The muffins will still taste good but not look very nice.
Fill each depression with about 1/3 tsp of strawberry jam. Cover this with remaining muffin batter.

Bake at 180C for 25 minutes till light brown on top and a skewer/ knife inserted into the side of the muffin comes out clean.
Cool on a rack.

I chose to leave my muffins plain as I don't like them very sweet. For this reason, I added the cinnamon powder to the batter.
For a very "doughnut" feel, you should brush the tops of the warm muffins with melted butter and then roll them in a mixture of powdered sugar and cinnamon powder. Please see the original recipe for instructions to do this.

The original recipe says 6 muffins but I got 8 muffins


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August 5, 2009

Parippu Vadai/ Aama Vadai (Spicy Lentil Fritters) and Paal Payasam (South Indian Style Rice & Milk Dessert)


Some parts of India are celebrating the festival of Raksha Bandhan today. In my Palakkad Iyer community, today we celebrate Avani Avittam. First of all let me briefly explain the term "Avani Avittam". While we follow the same English calendar as the rest of the world, we do use a different calendar for most of our religious rituals and celebrations, including birth or death anniversaries and festivals.

This calendar also has 12 months and 30 or 31 days (sometimes 32). We also have 27 "nakshathram" (or "stars" which are astronomy related, but not stars as we know them in English). These 27 stars appear every month in a given order in a regular cycle again and again throughout the 12 moths of the year.

I know this is pretty confusing so I will not make it worse. Let me just say that many of our ritual celebrations are decided by when a particular nakshathram/ star occurs in a particular month. Sometimes other astronomical calculations are also taken into account. We just use our calendars (and advice from our elders and the family priests) to figure out when to celebrate what!

So "Avittam" is a "nakshathram" (or star), in the month of "Avani" which roughly corresponds to the period from the 15th of July to the 15th of August on the English calendar.
On this day, every year, boys who have undergone their Upanayanam (or sacred thread ceremony) and men in the household ritually change their sacred threads.

All over the world, food and celebration always go together and it is no different here. Breakfast is usually idlis (steamed rice and lentil cakes) and coconut chutney followed by a festive lunch called "sadya". This tends to be a bit elaborate and what is to be cooked is usually decided by traditions in respective families. However, most if not all families make "parippu vadai/ aama vadai" and "paal paayasam". In my husband's family "neiyappam" (a sweet spongy deep fried dumpling, also known as "unniyappam" in Kerala) is only made if there are unmarried boys at home.

Parippu vadais are spicy and crisp deep brown coloured fritters made from Bengal gram lentils. They are also referred to as "aama vadai" where the word "aamai" means tortoise/ turtle. This is because the fritters have ridged appearance (from shaping with the fingers) which resembles the ridged back of the tortoise/ turtle.

Paal payasam is a sweet preparation made from rice, milk (paal which gives this sweet its name) and sugar somewhat like a rice pudding but not so thick in consistency. A "payasam" is also known as "kheer" in the northern part of India.



Parippu Vadai (or Aama Vadai)


You will find that he ingredient list for most parippu vadai recipes (sometimes called masala vada) on the net and in many Indian cookbooks would include onions, ginger and garlic though many people in India would avoid them while cooking for festive or religious occasions.




Traditionally we do not use garlic or onions in our cooking.  This has changed over the years, and now onions are used by many of us though the use of garlic is still not common.
I personally, have never bought a clove of garlic to date, even though the three of us do not mind the taste or flavour of garlic provided it is mild. You will find the recipes on my blog rarely ask for garlic, and those that do have it in minimal amounts.

Though these lentil fritters are frequently prepared as a part of  various festive and celebratory fare, they're often made to serve in the evenings as an accompaniment to coffee or tea. There's something about the savoury, spicy and crunch of the fritters that makes perfect as a snack especially on a rainy day.




.
The recipe that follows is the traditonal version that we make, and this one has been handed down to me by my mother who got it from hers.


Parippu Vadai/ Aama Vadai (Spicy Lentil Fritters)



Ingredients:


1 cup Bengal gram lentils (chana dal/ kadala parippu)

2 tbsp red gram lentils ( tuvar dal/ tuvara parippu)

2 to 3 dried red chillies

1/4 tsp asafetida powder

1 sprig curry leaves

salt to taste

oil for deep frying




Method:


Soak the lentils together for about 45 minutes. Drain well and keep 2 tbsp of the drained lentiuls aside. Grind the rest of the lentils, along with the other ingredients (except the oil), into thick coarse paste. If you must add water while grinding do not add more than a tsp or so. Too much water (or if the lentil paste is not coarse enough) will make the fritters difficult to shape. The fritters will also not crisp on frying.
Add the 2 tbsp reserved whole soaked lentils to the paste and mix. This makes the fritters nice and crisp.




Heat the oil. Moisten the fingers and inner palm of your right hand with water. This ensures the batter doesn't stick. Take a small bit of the lentil paste (about enough for a small cookie) and shape it into a ball. Moisten the palm of your left hand with water and place the ball on your other palm.
Flatten it slightly (about 1/2" thick) with your right, using all four fingers together. This will create a ridged pattern. Now slide the shaped mixture onto your right set of fingers and slowly slide it into the oil.
You can find detailed instructions with pictures on how to shape similar fritters on this post at Nag's blog


.

Repeat with the rest of the lentil mixture and fry in batches of 5 or 6 depending on the size of your pan/ fryer. Fry the fritters on both sides till brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
This recipe should make about 20 fritters. I'm not sure as I wasn't counting.

These fritters are usually served on the side, along with the main meal when rasam is being eaten with rice.
They tend to lose their crispness and become a bit chewy when cold, so the leftovers are soaked in rasam and eaten.
I personally do not like them this way and in these days of the microwave would rather re-crisp them.
You may also serve these at coffee/ tea time with ketchup or coconut chutney.



Paal Payasam


This is a preparation which takes a little bit of time as the rice has to cook in the milk and the milk has to reduce in quantity. So it is important to have a thick walled/ heavy bottomed vessel so that the rice-milk mixture doesn't stick to the pan.
Paal payasam is somewhat like a rice pudding, except that it is not very thick in consistency. It is more of a thick pouring consistency as it is traditionally served on a plantain leaf.




There are versions which use sweetened condensed milk to make this payasam, and so take less time. This version is how payasam is made at home, and in my opinion, the best way to do so. I do sometimes add cashewnuts and golden raisins fried in a bit of ghee to the payasam, but have not done it here in keeping with traditional cooking styles.

One thing I must add is that if you are making this payasam, please do not use Basmati rice or other fragrant rice. They do not go with the character of this sweet dish and a short grain rice is the best. The rice has to be cooked very soft and if done on the stove top takes a lot of time. I cook the rice in a pressure cooker, the one device most Indian women would be bereft without!



Ingredients:

1/2 glass raw rice (unakkal ari, an unpolished parboiled rice variety from Kerala is specially good for this payasam)*

1 litre milk + 1 glass milk (whole milk is best; I used 3% milk)*

1 glass granulated sugar*

powdered cardamom from 4 or 5 pods

2 tsp ghee (optional)

1 tbsp each broken cashewnuts and golden raisins (optional)


*Please scroll down to the bottom of this page to see what 1 glass measures as. Slight differences either way will not affect the outcome of this recipe very much.



Method:


Wash the rice and put it in a deep dish. Add 1 glass of water and the 1 glass of milk and cook it in the pressure cooker till very well cooked. Otherwise cook the rice in the microwave in half milk and half water.

In another heavy bottomed/ thick-walled pan, pour the one litre of milk and bring it to boil. Add the cooked rice to it, stir well and then turn down the heat a bit. Allow the rice to cook in the milk for about 15 to 20 minutes or till the milk has reduced, in volume, to about half.

Now add the sugar and stir till it dissolves. Allow the milk-rice-sugar mixture/ payasam to cook for another 10 minutes till it thickens slightly. Take it off the heat.
Once it cools to room temperature, it will thicken a little more. The milk in the cooked payasam should be slightly thicker.

Add the powdered cardamom and stir well. You may also add some ghee if you choose. Otherwise, heat the ghee and fry the golden raisins in it till they puff up. Remove them and then fry the broken cashewnuts till golden, in the same ghee. Pour this and the raisins into the payasam and stir.

Serve warm, if serving as apart of a meal. Otherwise, chill and serve as dessert. This recipe will serve 4 to 6 people.


I'm submitting the Parippu Vadai/ Aama Vadai to Susan's 14th helping of My Legume Love Affair and the Paal Payasam to Linda who is hosting Got Milk?
I'm also sending the Paal Payasam to Sunita who is celebrating the 2nd anniversary of Think Spice, Think.... with Think Spice, Think Spiced Sweet Treats.


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