February 27, 2010

Make It At Home - Mascarpone Cheese

hen I started blogging and experimenting with recipes and procedures that were new to me, I realised that many of the ingredients that most Western cookbooks, food sites and blogs considered common and easily available were just not easy to source where I live. Either the stores didn't stock them or if they did, I could find the imported versions being sold at exorbitantly high and unaffordable prices. Even if I could consider buying them, I wasn't too sure how close or beyond the expiry date those packages were!


So the alternative in most cases was to look for workable substitutes or recipes that would show me how to make these at home. One such ingredient was Mascarpone Cheese. Other than Paneer (a soft fresh Indian milk cheese) which almost everyone I know makes, I didn't think I could make any kind of cheese at home. I had visions of commercial level vats of boiling milk of some sort and working with cultures and all that stuff.
That was until I discovered that some cheeses could actually be made at home with very little effort. So much so that people were swearing that they would never again be spending $$$ on expensive cheese when it could be made at home from easily available ingredients and very little work!

And that's really the case with Mascarpone Cheese. its so easy to make at home that you could almost do it in your sleep. All you need is some cream, something to heat it up and a lime/ lemon to curdle it. Find a strainer, some clean cotton kitchen towels (you don't really need cheese cloth or muslin) and you're pretty much in business.
Mascarpone Cheese
(Adapted from Baking Obsession)
500ml cream (I use 25% fat)
1 tbsp fresh lime/ lemon juice
Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, and then place the bowl into the skillet. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 75 to 80C (175F). If you do not have a thermometer, wait until small bubbles keep trying to push up to the surface.
It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. All that the whipping cream will do is become thicker, like a well-done crème anglaise/ custard. It should coat the back of your wooden spoon thickly. You will see just a few clear whey streaks when you stir. 
Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours.
The next morning you should have thick and creamy mascarpone cheese, ready to use. Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days. Please note that this process produces very little whey.
This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of mascarpone cheese ( a little over 300gm approx.)

Read full post.....

Heaven On A Dessert Plate ~ Tiramisu: Daring Bakers’ Challenge February, 2010

I think I just reached a new level of “daring” with this month’s challenge by actually offering to host a Daring Baker challenge! A few months back I suddenly thought it would be wonderful to choose and host a challenge. And when I asked Deeba if she would like to co-host the challenge she agreed.

So I wrote to Ivonne and Lis offering our services as DB hosts. They graciously accepted and the rest, as they say, is history! All I can say is that I’m really glad I did because it has been a great experience.

Deeba and I initially thought of choosing something Indian for the challenge but then decided against it. For one thing, Indian cuisine does not really call for much baking traditionally. We were also not sure that a lot of the ingredients would be available in other parts of the world.

So after a lot of thought, we both came up with Tiramisu. Before I go further, let me put in the mandatory “blog checking lines” required to ensure we’ve done the challenge and not get chucked out of the DB community. Seems a little silly since I’m hosting the challenge and would have definitely done the challenge, but try telling that to computer software!

BLOG-CHECKING LINES: The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

Choosing a recipe to “challenge” the Daring Bakers is not easy because we have bakers there who range from “not experienced at baking” all the way through to “experts in the field”.

Of course, Deeba and I find a lot of the challenges more “challenging” than most because a lot of the ingredients/ bakeware that most people take for granted are just not available here.
So when other bakers are discussing silpat, we’re over the moon if we can find parchment paper!
When other bakers are busy discussing the merits of bread flour or cake flour, I don’t even join those because I have it easy choosing between all purpose flour and whole wheat flour!!
And when I hear names like Ghirardelli, Valrhona, Lindt, Guittard, Scharffen Berger and their cocoa percentages, I don’t lose any sleep over all that because what I get is here is just “chocolate”!!! You get the drift by now, I’m sure.

So am I complaining?
I used to, in the beginning, but haven’t for a long time. The fact that I have a limited variety of raw materials to start with, has made me more adventurous and daring in my cooking and baking.
I have explored the alternatives and discovered how many things are made from scratch. Apart from the fact that these are healthier, cheaper and tastier, many a time they don’t involve a whole lot of effort either.

My Tiramisu:

You can find the detailed challenge and recipes here. There is also a recipe for the eggless ladyfingers as well as an eggless and alcohol-free Tiramisu.

The savoiardi/ ladysfinger biscuits:

Savoiardi/ Ladyfinger biscuits

I started off making the Savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits in both versions, with eggs and without eggs. Both versions kept in the fridge in an airtight container for a week.
I made approximately 2 1/2" – 3” long and 3/4” wide ladyfingers (the recipe gave me about 45 biscuits) as well as some heart shaped ones (I got about 12 of these from the recipe).

To make the heart shaped ones, just pipe the batter onto parchment paper with pre-drawn heart shapes on them (on the underside). My hearts were roughly 3” by 3” in size.
I used the heart shaped ladyfingers to make strawberry tiramisu hearts.

Eggless ladyfinger biscuits

The ladyfinger biscuits without eggs were quite nice if rather buttery. They are really nothing more than almond shortbread fingers and so do not have the cakey lightness of the real ladyfingers. The recipe gave me 20 biscuits which were about 3” long and 3/4" wide.

The Mascarpone Cheese:

This is something I have been making for a while now, simply because we don’t get mascarpone cheese in our stores. I have previously blogged about mascarpone in my Apple-Mascarpone Parfait, Vol-au-Vents, Cannoli and Eggless Natural Red Velver Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting.

Draining the mascarpone

Home-made mascarpone ready to use!

Even though the process of cream to mascarpone cheese takes about 1 1/2 days, the active time involved at the stove is under half an hour.
This creamy and delicious cheese is so easy to make that it’s almost unbelievable.

The Pastry cream and zabaglione:

This particular recipe is different from almost all other Tiramisu recipe in that apart from the zabaglione, it has a vanilla pastry cream component. While the pastry cream in itself isn’t all that spectacular, it makes the mascarpone-zabaglione-pastry cream mixture really light and adds in its own way to the finished Tiramisu.

I made two versions of the zabaglione. One the traditional version with coffee but replaced the marsala wine with dilute filter coffee decoction, as we don’t use alcohol. I also made a strawberry zabaglione to make a strawberry Tiramisu hearts.

I also made the eggless version of the Tiramisu, following the given recipe. Here I made the zabaglione-cream mixture and then divided into two. To one portion, I mixed in 2 tbsps of unsweetened cocoa powder.
I then lightly mixed both portions together to give my cream mixture a marbled look

And my three versions of Tiramisu!

The first one was round and cake-like in appearance simply because I did not have a square glass dish of appropriate size. So I lined my cake tin with clingwrap and made my Tiramisu. I followed the challenge recipe and made this in the traditional coffee flavour but used filter coffee decoction instead of espresso, and left out the marsala.
Both my husband and daughter were away from home, he on a work related trip and she for some school science project. So I froze the Tiramisu for a week before it was served.

Now, I had this brilliant idea of using chocolate ganache to decorate my tiramisu but what was in my mind didn’t quite translate well in reality. I ended up with a messy looking dessert and had to scrape it all off, which accounts for the brownish patches which you will see if you look at the Tiramsu carefully.
Of course, I like to tell myself those patches lend my Tiramisu a rather artistic look!!!

It was about half way through my Tiramisu trials that I remembered that February, the challenge month also celebrated Valentine’s Day. So I decided it would be nice to try a non-traditionally flavoured heart shaped free standing Tiramisu.

Unlike many parts of the world, winter is when we get the best of fruits and vegetables in India and its strawberry season now. For my strawberry Tiramisu, I didn’t follow a recipe as such.
I puréed about 2 cups strawberries with 2 tbsp sugar. Then I beat together 1 cup mascarpone cheese, 1/4 cup 25% cream, 1/4 cup sugar for about 2 minutes till it became thick.

I dipped the heart shaped ladyfingers in a mixture of milk, cocoa powder and sugar and placed them on a plate. Then I spooned the strawberry zabaglione on top of each and topped them with thinly sliced strawberry. After this, I topped each one with another dipped heart shaped ladyfinger biscuit.

Strawberry Tiramisu heart

It was at this point that I realized that the zabaglione was oozing out from below and no heart shaped tiramisu was visible, and everything was an awful mess. I was rather disheartened but decided to continue making a bigger mess!

So I topped it up with another layer of the zabaglione and then compounded the existing mess with a blob of whipped cream. My dream of a Tiramisu was turning out to be just that, a dream. I couldn’t bring myself to throw everything out, so I stuck the whole plate of 6 individual strawberry Tiramisu messes into the fridge!!

I spent the rest of the day mulling over how to save my Tiramisu (and my DB host face), when I got a brilliant idea. My strawberry messes had frozen and were no longer oozing.
I took my knife to them and carved out perfect heart shaped Tiramisu, dusted them with some cocoa, and some white chocolate curls.
Voila! My strawberry Tiramisu hearts………

Eggless & alcohol-free Tiramisu
My third and final Tiramisu was the eggless and alcohol-free version provided for alternate DBs likemyself who try to do away with eggs in their bakes, if they can.

I followed the challenge recipe but dipped my eggless ladyfingers in orange juice-orange extract mixture and my zabaglione was a marbled vanilla-chocolate cream. I wasn’t thinking very clearly when I put them together, or would have realized that I should have used straight sided glasses to show off my tiramisu to effect.
As it was, it tasted good so I didn’t bother too much that no one could see the ladyfingers in it.


Going by the response at the DB forum, I think the recipes were quite good though many had issues with making mascarpone due to various reasons.

Personally, I’m very happy to have discovered that I can make excellent Tiramisu at home. I might not get savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits or mascarpone at the stores here, but even if I did, I would make my own because they really do not take much time or effort.
Even though, all three were quite good, all of us here unanimously voted for the original coffee flavoured Tiramisu as the best.
I don’t think I shall ever order Tiramisu at a restaurant simply because the Tiramisu that even the best ones here serve, just don’t compare favourably!

If you do not believe me, please take a tour of the other Daring Baker blogs to see just how much better the Tiramisu can get.

Read full post.....

February 25, 2010

Please Reach Out And Help So There’s H2OPE FOR HAITI

Much has been written about the earthquake that hit and devastated Haiti and there are very few of us who have not read about it or watched reports on television. Whenever there’s disaster of such magnitude every little bit of help counts.

With a view to raising funds to help in Haiti, Jeanne of Cook Sister and BloggerAid Changing the Face of Famine (BA-CFF) have co-ordinated and launched H2Ope for Haiti, an online raffle from February 21 - Sunday, February 28th, to raise funds for Concern Worldwide's relief effort in Haiti.

This non-governmental international humanitarian organisation works around the world to reduce suffering and work towards the ultimate elimination of extreme poverty in the world's poorest countries. Concern International have been working in Haiti since 1994 and had over 100 staff members on the ground when the earthquake struck.

How can you help?

If you haven’t yet contributed and would be interested in doing so, please do not hesitate any further.  Make your contribution at the Justgiving donation page and take part in the online raffle.
Generous bloggers from around the world have donated a lot of wonderful prizes including an I-Pod Shuffle, artwork and autographed cookbooks. You can see the complete list of donated prizes here.

How does the online raffle work?

Unless otherwise stated, all prizes will be shipped worldwide. Each ticket costs £6.50 (approximately $10.00 USD). If you buy one ticket you would be eligible to bid for one prize from the list. If you buy two tickets, you can bid for any two prizes from the same list or get two chances to bid for the same prize.
Once you have chosen the prize(s) you wish to buy tickets for, take a note of their unique prize codes.

Then click through to the Justgiving donations page where you will find detailed instructions on how to buy your tickets and specify the prizes of your choice.
Do read the instructions carefully and follow them to ensure that you have bid for the prizes of your choice. You can also make a donation without buying a raffle ticket.

Please remember that to the person who needs our help, help can never be too little or too much. I have done my little bit and urge you all too, to reach out and make your contribution so there is H2OPE IN HAITI.
Thank you.

Read full post.....

February 23, 2010

Petite Sweets - Bite-Size Desserts to Satisfy Every Sweet Tooth: A Review and Fresh Lime Pies

If you follow my blog regularly, you will remember that I recently celebrated completing two years of posting here with a give-away of Petite Sweets: Bite-Size Desserts to Satisfy Every Sweet Tooth by Beatrice Ojakangas.
I chose that particular book for two reasons. The first reason being that I have a couple of Ms. Ojakangas’s books and have found her recipes extremely do-able. The recipes I have tried have always turned out well.
The second reason was that the idea of bite sized desserts sounded very good to me. It seems like the perfect way to have your dessert and eat it without feeling guilty about it. In my opinion it’s definitely the way to go whether one is baking dessert for the home or for a large number of guests.

The publishers of this book, Sellers Publishing, came across my giveaway post and were kind enough to send me a copy of Petite Sweets (and a couple of other books too). Having gone through the book, I know this is one that I am happy to have on my cook-book shelf.

Beatrice Ojakangas, a James Beard Award winner, has 26 cookbooks and articles in various magazines to her credit. She has also featured on television series “Baking With Julia” and “The Baker’s Dozen.

In her introduction to Petite Sweets, Ms. Ojakangas mentions that downsizing desserts to bite-size servings solves the “one and four syndrome” (one dessert and four forks!) as well as the “sliver syndrome” (I’ll have a sliver of this and a sliver of that!). Given the general trend towards healthier lifestyles, rich and sweet food is definitely not what the doctor ordered. Yet who can stay away from deliciously tempting desserts?
So with Petite Sweets, Beatrice Ojakangas provides a solution in the form of bite-sized desserts. In this book she presents 50 recipes, with almost as many beautiful photographs, for making delicious bite-sized desserts at home. She hasn’t forgotten chocoholics like me either, while putting her recipes together for this book.
The recipes are well presented, quite easy to make, and mostly require ingredients easily available in an average baker’s kitchen.

Fresh Lime Pies

The recipes in the book are presented and categorized under Little Cakes; Petite Pies and Tarts; Fruit and Berry Desserts; Mousses and Chilled Desserts; Creams, Custards, and Frozen Desserts; and Pastries and Sweets. Many of the recipes in this book are mini versions of all time favourites like Velvet Cake, Rum Babas, Whoopie Pies, Bread Oudding and Crème Puffs to mention a few. The recipes in this book range from simple, homely comfort food at one end to very fancy desserts.
As she does in her other books, she also provides an insight into how she arrives at her bite-sized desserts with advice on how one could downsize one’s own choice of dessert.


The only down side to this book, as I see it, is that most of the desserts would require small sized tins/ moulds/ ramekins which would perhaps not be available in the average kitchen. Ms. Ojakangas does offer solutions to this problem by suggesting baking in mini-muffin tins.

Personally, I think investing in some of these items would not be a bad idea if one was considering continuing with making/ baking mini-desserts. I have a tendency to sometimes collect unusual bakeware when I can find it (which is not very often), but I do have small ceramic ramekins as well as what I now discover are sandbakkelser moulds.

Orange Crepes

I had made the Sandbakkelser from Petite Sweets earlier and this time I tried the Fresh Lime Pies and some Orange Crepes. They turned out well and we liked them too.

Here is the recipe for Fresh Lime Pies. You can use 2 ounce (about ¼ cup) ceramic cups or ramekins if you have them. Otherwise, you can line mini-muffin tins with foil liners. Ms. Ojakangas also advises the use of fresh Key limes if available.
I would advise increasing the sugar for the lime filling, if your lime juice is on the tarter side.


Crumb crust:

5 double graham crackers (10 squares), finely crushed

2 tbsp sugar

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter

Lime filling:

2 large egg yolks

1 (14-ounce/ 400gm) sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

2 tsp grated lime zest (green portion only)


1/2 cup whipping cream

2 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract


Put the graham crackers, sugar and butter into a heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir and toast till lightly browned.
Line 24 miniature muffin cups with fluted foil liners or use 24 (2-ounce) unlined ceramic cups. Divide the crumb mixture between the cups and tamp down firmly using a spoon or something similar with a flat end.

Preheat your oven to 350F (180C).
Make the lime filling. In a glass 2-cup measure, mix the egg yolks, condensed milk, lime juice and lime zest until well blended.
Pour mixture into the crumb –lined cups, filling them to the very top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until set. Cool thoroughly and then chill.

Just before serving, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla. Spoon whipped cream over each little pie. Garnish with lime zest.
This recipe makes 24 (2-ounce) servings.

Read full post.....

February 20, 2010

Vazhakkai Mezhukkuvaratti (Raw Plantains Cooked In Coconut Oil)

This particular dish sounds like a mouthful to say, especially if you have never heard of it before and aren’t too sure about how to pronounce it. What the name does mean is what it says! In my mother tongue, the Palakkad dialect of Tamil, it means “plantains pan-fried and coated in oil”.

A mezhukkuvaratti (or mezhukkupuratti as it is also called) is one of those typical Palakkad Iyer dishes which we have borrowed from Kerala and made our own. It is a bit different from the way the rest of Kerala seems to cook mezhukkuvaratti.

For us, a mezhukkupuratti has very little spice additions (only turmeric and chilli powders), and does not include the tempering with mustard seeds which so much a part of many of our other dishes.

Mezhukkuprattis can be made with a variety of vegetables including chenai (yam), payar/ achingya (yard long beans), to mention a few.

Coconut oil is the preferred medium used for pan-frying and this dish ensures the flavour of the vegetable. The result is a very slightly spicy dish where the coconut oil enhances the taste of the crisped vegetable without any spices/ other ingredients to detract from this. Here’s how we make it at home.

Just a small bit of advice. If you really want the authentic taste, the best bananas to use are what we call “monthankai” in Kerala. This variety is good only for cooking when raw and not a very nice banana when ripe. You may also use the nendrakkai/ ethakkai variety (usually used to make banana chips/ wafers), but this preparation isn’t as tasty as with the other banana variety.

Oh yes, and please don’t be tempted to reduce the amount of oil as I have often been. I can tell from experience that you need that much of oil for a good mezhukkuvaratti!


4 raw plantains

2 tbsp yogurt (or turmeric powder)

2 to 3 tbsp coconut oil

½ tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp red chilli powder

salt to taste

1 sprig curry leaves


Wash the plantains and dry them.
Lightly coat your palms with oil. This prevents your hand from getting stained or sticky while cutting the plantains. Take a deep bowl, add the 2 tbsp yogurt and then fill the bowl with enough water to immerse the chopped plantain pieces.
Soaking them in this very dilute yogurt prevents the plantain pieces from discolouring. You can use turmeric powder instead of the yogurt, which also works well.

Trim both ends of each plantain and peel them such that just the outer green part of the peel/ skin gets peeled off. A thin layer of the peel/ skin should remain on the plantain.
Cut each plantain lengthwise into four, and then cut them into 1/2" pieces.
Steam or pressure cook the plantain pieces with turmeric powder and about 1/4 cup water till the plantains are well done and soft, almost mushy.

Now heat the coconut oil in a non-stick or heavy bottomed pan. Add the curry leaves, stir once and then add the cooked plantain pieces, salt and chilli powder. Stir well to mix and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes over low to medium heat, stirring well frequently. Cook till the plantain starts crisping and becoming golden brown. At this point, you will find the plantain has a tendency to start sticking to your pan in crisp patches.

Take off the heat, and serve warm as a side with rice and sambhar/ rasam/ pulissery.
This recipe should serve 4.

On an aside, I would like to share that my blog has been featured in the online edition of Femina, a leading Indian womens' magazine.

Read full post.....

February 14, 2010

Aloo Parathas (Indian Flatbreads Stuffed With Spicy Mashed Potatoes)

Indian cuisine (the north Indian variety) is very well known for its flatbreads like the roti/ chappathi (similar to whole wheat tortillas), pooris (deep-fried flatbreads), naans (leavened flatbreads) and parathas (pan-fried flatbreads).
While these flatbreads are north Indian in origin (brought in to India by traders and invaders from Persia and thereabouts), one can find them served in restaurants, little eateries and many homes all over the country.
Parathas can be plain or stuffed with different kinds of fillings. The plain parathas are invariably layered with ghee, while folding and rolling them out and this makes them very flaky when cooked.

The stuffed variety of parathas contains all sorts of different fillings of which the spiced and mashed potatoes (aloo) kind is perhaps the most popular. Here again, as is the case with many different types of food, there are probably as many recipes for the filling as there are cooks who make these parathas!
These potato filled parathas are one of our favourites and fills my duaghter’s school lunchbox many a time. The nice part is that one can make these parathas a little ahead of time. I do this a lot as it means I don’t have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen at one go.

If I have to send them in my daughter’s lunch box to school early in the morning, I make the potato filling the previous night and refrigerate it. Sometimes I make the dough as well and fill the dough balls with the potato filling. I then dust them lightly with whole wheat flour and refrigerate these in an airtight container, to make them the next morning.

Occasionally, I make the parathas and then cool them completely. Then I stack them parchment paper or aluminium foil squares in between them, put them in a Ziploc bag and freeze them.
Then all I do is pull out as many as I need and re-heat them on a tawa/ skillet.

This is my recipe for aloo parathas. This video uses a slightly different recipe but gives a good demonstartion on how to make aloo parathas.
Aloo Parathas (Indian Flatbreads Stuffed With Spicy Mashed Potatoes)


For the paratha dough:

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 tbsp oil

salt to taste

about 1 cup water (or a little more if required)

For the filling:

1 big onion, finely chopped

about 8 small to medium potatoes (approx. 2 cup mashed potatoes)

1 tsp ginger paste

1/2 tsp garlic paste

4 green chillies (deseeded and finely chopped0

1/4 tsp chilli powder (adjust to taste)

¼ tsp turmeric powder

1 1/2 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp garam masala powder

salt to taste

1 tbsp oil

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander

Oil/ ghee (clarified butter) to cook the parathas


First prepare the filling.
Peel and cook the potatoes till they’re very soft. Mash them very well so there are no lumps left and it is smooth.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the ginger, garlic pastes and chopped onion. Sauté everything till the onions soft and translucent. Add the spice powders and sauté, over medium heat, for a minute. Then add the green chillies, potatoes, salt and chopped coriander.
Mix everything well and then take off the heat. Allow to cool and divide the mixture into 12 equal portions. Roll the portions into balls.

Then make the dough.
Put the whole wheat flour, salt and oil in a deep bowl and whisk together. Add the water about a 1/4 cup at a time and knead until your dough is soft (but not sticky) and elastic. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and roll each into a ball.

Now make the parathas.
Take one ball of dough and roll it out into a 3” circle lightly dusting with whole wheat flour if necessary.
Place a ball of mashed potato in the centre of the dough circle. Bring up the sides of the dough circle around the potato ball and enclose it completely, pinching the dough on top.

Flatten it slightly, dust lightly with whole wheat flour, and roll out into a 1/4 “thick circle. Make sure that the filling doesn’t come out while rolling. Use the rolling pin lightly when rolling the paratha out.

Cook the paratha on a hot tawa/ skillet over medium heat till light brown spots appear on one side. Cook similarly on the other side. Brush lightly with oil and again cook the paratha on both sides till the brown spots deepen a bit.
Repeat with remaining dough and potato filling balls.

Serve hot with fresh thick yogurt (home-made, if possible), thin slices of raw onion and pickles.
This recipe makes 12 parathas.

Read full post.....

February 12, 2010

Got Beets In My Cake!!! – Eggless Red Velvet Cupcakes

I had never seen or heard of a Red Velvet Cake till I started blogging, about 2 years ago. I thought I was one of the few who didn’t, but it turns out that this cake is not all that well known outside the U.S.
For those who might not know, the Red Velvet Cake is a very popular Southern (U.S.) cake. A moist layered cake that hints at chocolate, it is characterized by its red colour which contrasts with the white frosting that usually covers it.

As with many other cakes and desserts, the origins of the Red Velvet Cake are not very clear. An inaccurate yet highly popular story tells of a customer who ordered this cake at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria. Apparently, she liked it so much that she asked for the recipe. When refused, she offered to buy the recipe. A slight misunderstanding resulted in her being billed a very large sum for it, so she took her revenge by passing on that recipe to anyone she could!

That name aside, there is something very visually appealing about a bright red cake that’s layered and covered with perfect white frosting. To quote this article in the New York Times -

“It’s a cake that can stop traffic. The layers are an improbable red that can vary from a fluorescent pink to a dark ruddy mahogany. The color, often enhanced by buckets of food coloring, becomes even more eye-catching set against clouds of snowy icing, like a slash of glossy lipstick framed by platinum blond curls. Even the name has a vampy allure: red velvet.”

So it’s not surprising that I’ve always wanted to make one. That was until I found out that the red colour is just that, and it comes out of a bottle (sometimes 2 or 3 bottles!).
This discovery was quite a let down for me, as I knew I wasn’t comfortable with this idea. I thought there was something special about that red but it turns out that if I made a Red Velvet Cake, I would have a cake full of either FD&C Red No. 40 or beetles! Yuck!!!

Talk about being between the devil and the deep sea.
So for a long time I shelved the idea of making a Red Velvet Cake. Yet, time and time again something would set me off thinking in the direction of “If only I could make one without all that artificial colour”.
Then a couple of weeks back, a discussion on Twitter set this thought off, again.
Yes, where would some of us be without Twitter? I have to say that I have met some awesome people through it and got to know some others even better.

As I was saying, about 2 weeks back, four of us Tweeps (Alessio, Asha, Pamela and myself) got to discussing how we were hesitant to bake a Red Velvet Cake (hereafter referred to as RVC) because of the copious amounts of artificial colour that went into it. I have seen recipes that range from using 2 tsps of the stuff right through to 6 tbsps!!!
Somewhere during the conversation came the idea of getting together, each baking our own version of RVC without red food colour, and then comparing notes.

The first step to baking the RVC was reading up on what went into the cake and how the colour could be substituted successfully.
It seems that a true RVC must contain cocoa powder (not the alkaline Dutch processed kind). The combination of acidic buttermilk and vinegar with the cocoa powder causes the anthocyanin in it to produce a reddish colour which is enhanced by the addition of food colour.
Once I understood the chemistry (I should, considering I studied it for 3 years at university!) in the cake, the quest was for something natural to colour my cake. I did a test batch of cupcakes using Zoe’s recipe (this is a vegan cake) adding different natural colouring agents.

Helen suggested using strawberry (which worked for her) and since it’s the season for them now I tried that. I got pale pink cupcakes that were nice but tasted very much of strawberries.
I tried using reduce pomegranate juice but that me gave funny/ weird tasting, dirty brown cupcakes.
Then I thought of using tomato ketchup (there actually is a tomato ketchup cake out there, folks). This one had an orangish red colour but tasted a whole lot like ketchup. I don’t really like ketchup and most definitely not in my cakes!

Then of course, there was the beet. I understand a lot of bakers used beets to colour their RVCs before this trend of using bottled colour became more popular. We seriously dislike beets here and I have bought beets only once in my life till now.
For the second time in my life I bought beets last week. All in the name of the RVC and a hope (and a prayer) that the rather “earthy” taste of that much disliked vegetable would not show itself in the cake.

Then I remembered Hannah had, sometime back, made "Very Red" Red Velvet Cupcakes with beets. I had bookmarked that post and left a comment, when she reassured me that you just couldn’t taste the beets in her cupcakes.
Being the smart person that I am, I decided not to waste too much time (or trouble my brain) on any more kitchen experiments!
I decided to try my hand at Hannah’s cupcakes. She uses canned beets in her recipe, but we get only fresh ones here. So I made fresh beet purée but didn’t have an idea as to how much of it to use.
Hannah’s recipe also calls for 1/4 cup lemon juice which seemed a lot, but I went with this amount since she uses this to decrease the pH (increase the acidity) of the batter. This results in the red colour, which is what the RVC is all about.

I did add a bit more sugar since I found the batter had a rather strong sour note to it from the lemon juice. I reduced the cocoa powder a bit as I used dark cocoa powder. I saw a couple of comments at her post saying the cupcakes didn’t rise, so I added another 1/2 tsp of baking powder.

Here then, is my version of Hannah’s natural red velvet cupcakes.


1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tbsp dark cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup fresh pureed beets*

1/3 cup oil (I use a sunflower/ rice bran oil blend)

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


*I used 3 medium sized beets and got approximately 1 1/2 cups of purée.

Wash the beets, scrape/ peel and slice them. Cook them (steam cook or microwave) till they’re well done. Cool and purée the cooked beets along with about 3 or 4 tbsps of water, in a blender till smooth. Keep aside. You can do this ahead and refrigerate the purée for a day or else freeze it till required.

To make the cupcakes, first whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a bowl till well mixed. Keep aside.
Put the puréed beets, oil, lemon juice and vanilla extract into another bowl and lightly whisk together till mixed well.
Pour this into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix just enough to combine. Divide the batter equally between 12 cupcake tins lined with paper cups.

Bake the cupcakes at 180C for about 20 to 25 minutes. A skewer/ toothpick inserted into the centre should come out clean once they’re done.
Cool completely and decorate with frosting of your choice. The usual choices are butter roux (boiled) frosting or cream cheese frosting.

Hannah suggests cream cheese frosting. I thought a light frosting (preferably not buttercream) might taste good with these cupcakes and the creamy mascarpone frosting is just perfect.
This is not too sweet, light yet creamy and I feel its perfect with the tangy notes of this particular cupcake.

Mascarpone Frosting:


3/4 cup chilled cream (25% fat)

¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

1 cup mascarpone cheese*

1 tsp vanilla extract


*To make your own mascarpone cheese (enough for this recipe), heat 150ml of 25% cream over simmering water till it reaches a temperature of 82 to 85C. Add 1 1/2 tsp of lemon juice or white vinegar to the hot cream and stir till it thickens a bit (curdles). The thickened cream should coat your spoon well.

Take this curdled cream off the heat and allow to cool. Pour this into a strainer lined with a cotton towel and allow to drain in the fridge, overnight. Please note that very little “whey” drains out here, unlike for paneer or ricotta.
Your macarpone is ready to use. Use it within 4 days of making it.

To make the mascarpone frosting, beat the chilled cream till stiff. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and beat till well incorporated.
Using a spoon, break the lumps in the mascarpone. Add this to the whipped cream, and beat on slow speed just long enough so that the mascarpone is well incorporated into the cream.

Use to decorate the cupcakes as desired. This frosting pipes well but stays soft, so it would be a good idea to refrigerate them until ready to be served.


These cupcakes are most definitely RED, no doubts on that score. I was expecting them to be quite dense because of the beets, but they really weren’t very dense at all.
These cupcakes do have a very strong tang from the lemon juice which is great if you like lemon in your desserts. We really do not, yet didn’t find the cakes too bad. They are especially good with the light, creamy and not too sweet mascarpone frosting.
I understand that the RVC should have a suggestion of chocolate about it, but we couldn’t taste that in these cupcakes.

So are these really red velvet cupcakes? I don’t have an answer to this question as I have never met a RVC before.
I understand there are two schools of thought on this. One group thinks that RVC has to be traffic stopping red (or close enough) and this can only be achieved with food colour from a bottle. Anything else does not qualify for the RVC label.
The other group does not understand the fuss about the colour and believes the traditional RVC didn’t use food colour but depended upon chemistry of the ingredients (sometimes with a little help from beets) to achieve a faint tinge of red and texture in a brown chocolate cake.

But these cupcakes are RED, and they don’t owe that colour to chemicals or insects, so I’m happy. They also most definitely do NOT taste of beets which is another plus in my book. They’re also eggless.
So if these are your demands in a RVC, I would definitely recommend this recipe.

As for fellow RVC co-conspirers (or the four Velveteers as we call ourselves for now), Alessio’s cake is reddened with raspberry, while Pamela used beet juice in her heart shaped cake, while Asha decided to go the traditional way to colour her cake. (I shall add the links as soon as they post their RVCs sometime today.)
Do keep watching our spaces to see what we get together and make next!

Read full post.....

February 8, 2010

Brioche With Chocolate Ganache: Baking From ABin5

I will unashamedly admit to being a chocoholic. I find it very difficult to resist the stuff, though there are exceptions to this rule. If you do want to put chocolate in front of me and ensure I do not touch it, then give me liqueur filled chocolate or very, very sweet chocolate. These are the two types of chocolate I will not touch!
Otherwise, if it’s chocolate (and vegetarian) then I’m game.

You all would know that the HBin5/ Abin5 group bakes bread according to a pre-determined schedule twice every month. Since the middle of this month is celebrated as Valentine’s Day, one of the breads on the schedule was bread with beets! I think it was the colour pink/ red that prompted Michelle to make this suggestion and not the vegetable itself!
The two other breads on the schedule for the first half of this month were a Chocolate Espresso Whole Wheat Bread and Chocolate Tangerine Bars.

Now, this bread baking group is pretty flexible and we don’t have to stick to that schedule suggested, which is a very brilliant thing in my opinion. We HBin5/ ABin5 bakers are free to bake any bread of our choice from the books, if we prefer to.

Now we hate beets here and it is one vegetable I have bought only twice in my whole life! Worse still, I really cannot imagine celebrating anything at all with beets, but then that’s just me. So what would I celebrate with? Chocolate of course!
We are a chocolate loving family and we also love bread. Luckily for me, Abin5 doesn’t have a recipe for the Red Beet Buns (that’s in the HBin5).

So keeping with the spirit of the breads on the schedule, I found an alternative in the recipe for “Brioche With Chocolate Ganache” on page 195 of Artisan Bread In 5 Minutes A Day.

I halved the given recipe and then made some changes, mainly reducing the eggs to 3, also reducing the butter a bit and using milk instead of water. I thought these changes would make a difference to the texture of the brioche, but I was very pleasantly surprised to say otherwise.

This dough produces the softest and flakiest brioche I’ve ever eaten, which is not saying a lot as I haven’t eaten very much brioche so far. That aside, I know good bread when I eat it and this is going to be my brioche dough till such time I find a better one.

Can you show me another brioche recipe that doesn’t require you to knead dough at all, yet gives you such a flaky and cake-like brioche? All I used to stir everything was a wooden spoon!

Never having seen this bread before, I'm not sure if mine looks like it ough to. When my brioche came out of the oven, the top layer had split a bit in places to reveal chocolate ganache. I thought this gave my loaf a rustic look, so I decided not to drizzle the loaf with more ganache and left it as it was.

This recipe is adapted from the original recipe in Abin5 and the measurements of various ingredients are as I used them to make my bread. You can find the original brioche recipe from the book on the Abin5 site.

Brioche dough:

3/4 cups lukewarm milk (3% fat)

3/4 tbsp active dry yeast

3/4 tbsp salt

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup honey

150gm unsalted butter, melted

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour


110g bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan

4 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

4 tbsp honey

a couple of tbsp milk for brushing over the bread

granulated sugar for sprinkling on top


Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey and melted butter with the milk in a 2 1/2 litre bowl or lidded (not airtight) food container. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon. (You can also use a 14-cup capacity food processor or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook.) If you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour. The dough will be loose but will firm up when chilled. Don’t try to work with it before chilling. You may notice lumps in the dough but they will disappear in the finished product.

Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.

The dough can be used as soon as it’s chilled after the initial rise. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 5 days. Beyond 5 days, freeze the dough in 450g portions in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks. When using frozen dough, thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours before using, then allow the usual rise and rest times.

Making the ganache:
Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave on low, until smooth. Remove from heat, add the butter and stir until incorporated.
Stir the cocoa and the honey and mix until smooth. Add to the chocolate and butter mixture.

Shaping the bread:
Lightly butter a 9x4x3-inch nonstick loaf pan (I used a regular 26x10x5cm pan lined with baking paper). Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a grapefruit-sized piece (about 450g).

Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape in into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. Using a rolling pin, roll out the ball into a ¼-inch thick rectangle, dusting with flour as needed.

Spread ½ cup of the ganache evenly over the rectangle, leaving a 1-inch (2.5cm) border all around. Starting at the short end, roll up the dough, being careful to seal the bare edges. Gently tuck the loose ends underneath, elongate into an oval and drop into the prepared pan. Allow to rest 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust with milk. Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar.
Bake the brioche at 180C for about 35 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the sugar caramelizes. Remove from the pan and cool slightly, then drizzle the remaining ¼ cup ganache over the top crust. Cool completely and slice.

This recipe makes two 450gm loaves while the ganache is enough for 1 such loaf.

I made one loaf with chocolate ganache and left the top without drizzling any more chocolate on it. So what did I do with the remaining ganache? I’m not telling and will leave you to guess!
I used the remaining dough to make mini-brioches.

This delicious bread goes to this month’s Monthly Mingle which Jamie is hosting with the theme “Bread and Chocolate”. My brioche is also being Yeast Spotted!

Read full post.....

February 5, 2010

Elumichampazham Urugai (Lime Pickle – South Indian Style): Three Ways!

The real season for making pickles in India is the summer, which runs from sometime in March through July depending on which part of the country one lives in. This is because a lot of “pickleable” (is there such a word, I wonder?) stuff, most especially mangoes, are aplenty in the summer.
One "pickleable" fruit taht I have seen available all the year round in India (at least wherever I have lived so far) is the lime. Or would you call it a lemon?

Before we go further with this post, I would like to know what you would this thing we call elumichampazham (in Tamil), cherunaarangya (in Malayalam) and nimboo (in Hindi)? I’m not sure whether this is a lime or a lemon in English though I’ve decided to go with lime for now.
Apparently a lime is smaller, green in colour, round or oval in shape with a thin skin and a bit sweet! They also grow all the year round. The lemon is supposed to be larger with a thicker skin, yellow and sourer.

Now the “elumichangai” which I get here is small, yellow (sometimes with a tinge of green), could have thick or thin skin and quite tart! I’ve never met a sweet one before. So am I pickling lemons or limes?

Getting back to the pickle, as I was saying this is one fruit which available all the year round but they are quite inexpensive in winter. In summer they are exorbitantly priced but very much in demand to make lime juice (not lemon in this context) in a variety of flavours.

So the best time for making lime pickles in India, is during the winter when the fruit also looks much better size and quality-wise.

There are many different ways of pickling limes depending on which part of India one lives in, and this particular style of pickling them is very south Indian. There again, both my mother and mother-in-law had their own methods of making these pickles, even though the ingredients were the same. I have also seen a third way of preparing this same pickle.

The difference in all the 3 recipes given below, is in the initial part of preparing the limes before actually making the pickle. This process softens the slightly thick skin of the limes and makes the pickle ready for consumption within a couple of days.

The first method is great if you have a lot of limes to pickle. Even though the initial sunning of the limes takes about a week, the pickle made with the brined limes is ready to use. And the taste of the sun in your pickle is just something else! This pickle also keeps better.
The second and third methods also produce very good lime pickle, but the pickle would ready to use only after a couple of days after making it. Since the third pickle involves boiling the limes in water, it has a shorter shelf life when compared with the other two.
Please keep the pickle refrigerated.


10 large limes

6 to 8 tsp red chili powder (adjust a bit to suit your taste)

3 tsp salt (adjust as required)

¼ cup sesame seed oil

1 ½ to 2 tsp mustard seeds

1 or 2 sprigs curry leaves

1/3 tsp asafetida powder

¾ tsp fenugreek powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder (only if using the 3rd method)

Method 1 (My mother’s method):

In this method, my mother used to pickle a whole lot of limes in salt when they were inexpensive and easily available. She would then leave them to cook/ soften in the heat of the summer sun. Of course, if you live in a place where it is pretty hot like here, you don’t have to wait till summer to do this. Please don’t make this pickle using this method unless you are sure of about 4 or 5 very hot sunny days at a stretch!

This is how lime pickles are made my mother’s way.
First, wash the limes and dry them well with a towel. Then either cut the limes into quarters, or if you prefer smaller pieces, cut each lime into eights.
Put some of the pieces into a large sterilized and dry glass pickle jar. Now sprinkle some of the salt over it. Put some more lime pieces in to the jar, then some more salt and continue till all the lemon pieces and the salt have been used up.

Close the jar, making sure the lid is airtight and shake the bottle to agitate the lemon pieces and the salt. Place this glass jar in the sun. Shake the jar a couple of times during the day to ensure that all the pieces and the salt get redistributed in the bottle. Repeat this every day for about 5 days.

At the end of 5 days, the lemon pieces would have oozed out juice, dissolving the salt and also changed colour to become very soft. This brined lemon pickle will keep for over a year, provided you do not open the jar.

Method 2 (My mother-in-law’s method):

Wash and towel-dry the limes well.
Heat about 3 tbsps of the sesame seed oil in a wok. Add the limes (whole, without cutting them) to the wok and stir fry them over medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes. This helps to soften the outer skin. Using a slotted spatula, drain the limes and remove them from the wok onto a plate and let them cool.

Now cut the limes into quarters or eights, depending on size. The limes might be a little slippery because of the oil coating, so be careful. Using a sharp, serrated knife helps.
Save the juice that collects while cutting the limes.

Method 3:

Wash the limes. Put enough water to immerse the limes completely in a pan and bring it to boil. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and the limes to the boiling water. Turn down the heat to medium and let the limes boil for about 2 to 3 minutes.

Take the pan off the heat, cover it and let the limes cool to room temperature. Cut each into quarters or eights.
Save the juice that collects while cutting the limes.

And then.........

From here on, whichever method you used to prepare your limes, the method for preparing the pickle remains the same.

Heat the sesame seed oil in a wok. Add the mustard seeds, and once they splutter, add the curry leaves and asafetida powder. Stir a couple of times, making sure the asafetida powder doesn’t burn. Turn down the heat and add the chilli powder and then the limes with all the juice (from one of the methods outlined above).

Stir carefully to mix everything together for a couple of minutes and then add the fenugreek powder. Mix well, again, and turn off the heat.
Let the pickle cool to room temperature. Bottle in a dry sterilized jar and refrigerate. This pickle contains enough oil to keep at room temperature, but it is always safer to refrigerate it.

This recipe make a big jar of pickle.

Read full post.....

February 1, 2010

An Apple Strudel Loaf And Some Whole Wheat Buns: Baking From ABin5

It’s the first day of the second month of this year and as usual I seem to have missed a bread baking deadline I set for myself. Missing these blog related deadlines seems to be happening a lot to me, these days, and I really need to organize things better so that it doesn’t become the norm rather than the exception!
I have valid excuses for all this (who doesn’t?) but that doesn’t change much. I don’t usually commit to do something if I know I cannot see it through and am very uncomfortable if I cannot meet deadlines (even unimportant ones) I set for myself.

One such commitment I made to myself was by joining the HBin5/ ABin5 group to bake my way through the breads in the book. As I mentioned before, this group is very flexible about what we bake, when we bake or even if do not bake at all!
Nor was it going to make the slightest difference to anything in the general scheme of things if I didn’t keep to this deadline. Last time I just managed to miss it, so this time I promised myself I would have it done on time.

The plan was to make the 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread dough (page 76 of ABin5) and use this dough to make one or all (or even some other bread) of a sandwich loaf, hamburger buns or hotdog rolls and an apple strudel loaf.

So about 5 days ago, I mixed up the dough and put it in the fridge. I would go to bed every night with plans to bake bread the next morning but that never happened, till yesterday when I discovered I would be missing my self-set deadline if I didn’t do something about the whole wheat dough in my fridge!
So I decided I would limit myself to making the burger buns and the exotic sounding apple strudel loaf.

That’s when I discovered that my ABin5 didn’t have a recipe for the apple strudel loaf. A chance conversation with Renée ( a friend, fellow food blogger and HBin5 bread baker) on Twitter ended with her mailing me the recipe from her copy of HBin5.
I still had over half the day to bake my bread and I had some very creative ideas to be “different” with my apple strudel loaf. I got to work with the dough and the buns were easy enough to shape.
I started working on shaping the strudel loaf and lets just say that creativity flew out of the window leaving me with some very sticky apple-walnut-raisin crusted cinnamony mess on my palms and kitchen counter.
So I just scraped all the “goop” off the counter and dumped it into my loaf tin and put it in the oven.

Turned out the bread was done (should I say almost burnt?) in about 35 minutes instead of the 50 to 60 minutes in the recipe. It was just by chance that I decided to check on the bread and was able to rescue it.

All the excitement brought about by the “last-minuteness” of my bread baking effort made me forget that I had halved the original recipe and should have adjusted the baking time accordingly! I also forgot to sprinkle sesame seeds on my burger buns before putting them into the oven

Despite all my near disasters, one thing that shined through this baking effort was the recipe for the 100% Whole Wheat bread.
This dough is sweetened with honey and even though they were slightly dense, the burger buns were very soft and tasty. I am the only one in my home who likes whole wheat bread (or healthy bread as my daughter refers to it) but this one was a hit.

I’m not sure I would attempt the apple strudel loaf again. I had no problems with “wet” spots from the apple that many fellow bakers and and my bread baked into a somewhat cake-like but chewy bread dotted with fruit and walnuts.
While these lent a nice apple strudel flavour to the bread, I think I prefer my bread to be just bread and the apples in a real strudel. This is just a matter of personal preference, because my mother liked this bread while my daughter took a look at it and refused it.

I am not posting the recipes for copyright reasons as we are baking our way through the book, so I’ll just leave you with this account of my kitchen adventures until my next set of ABin5 breads.

Read full post.....