December 31, 2010

Bebinca And My Kitchen Gets A Makeover!


All of you who have been visiting this virtual kitchen of mine in the past couple of days would have noticed that it is sporting a new look. This makeover has been in the pipeline for a while, and let’s just say that it was a rather long and narrow pipe! I had been looking for someone to redesign my site and about the same time Sunita happened to mention to me that she was starting a webdesign business (Kolsy Solutions). Sunita is a good friend and it seemed the thing to have her give my site the makeover it needed. After a lot of discussions, some difficulty in making decisions on my part and a bit of lots of other things in life, the new Diverse Kitchen is finally here. I hope you all like it.

Bebinca (also called Bibinca or Bibink) is a quintessentially Goan dessert that most people who have had it, rave about. There are some of us don’t quite like it, but it’s a dessert you cannot be indifferent about. Made with flour, sugar, loads of egg yolks, coconut milk and ghee (clarified butter)/ butter, this multi-layered pudding-like dessert is so rich that anyone who can eat a large slice of it is asking for trouble. Christmas in Goa is incomplete without Bebinca, as are most other celebrations in Catholic homes here.




Bebinca seems to exist in one form or another across former Portuguese colonies in Asia. I have seen it served in an Indian restaurant in Portugal, and I understand that it is similarly made in East Timor as well. Macau has a coconut milk custard-like version called Bebinca de Leite. In the Phillipines, it is Bibingka which is not layered, but a cake made from rice flour or tapioca flour and coconut or cow’s milk and cooked in banana leaves. There is an Indonesian layer cake called Kek Lapis which looks a lot like Bebinca in its layers, but is made differently.

Bebinca is the kind of food that makes for tall stories that you might almost believe. If you come down here, you might get to hear of the days when Bebinca was made with a hundred yolks, had so many layers that it was unbelievably tall and would take the better part of a day to bake.




There is some truth in all this. While it requires a lot fewer than 100 egg yolks, and there has been a 16 layer version and it does take a few hours to make, there is no denying that even making a 7 or 8 layered Bebinca requires a bit of time and skill. It’s definitely not one of those desserts you can throw together at the drop of a hat.

The batter is made up and then each layer is cooked like a pancake, over which the next layer is poured and cooked and so on till the batter is used up. Each layer must be cooked from the top, and usually takes about half an hour to cook. Traditionally this is done by placing hot, burning coals on the lid of the pan in which the Bebinca is cooking so only the topmost layer gets cooked. Slow even cooking is the key. Over cooking can lead to a chewy rubbery texture while the desired texture is soft, pudding and well cooked.
Think of a stack of thin pancakes fused together as one yet where each layer retains its integrity to form a multi-layered cake and you have an idea of what Bebinca looks like. The trick is to cook it over low heat so each layer is cooked through, yet stays soft and pudding-like without becoming chewy. The darkened top of each layer of cooked batter lends the beautiful layered look when Bebinca is sliced.
In Portuguese, the Goan Bebinca is known as Bebinca das Sete Folhas (Bebinca of Seven Leaves, referring to the seven layers).




So it’s not surprising that fewer people make Bebinca at home today, even during Christmas. Most families know someone who is acknowledged as the best Bebinca maker in their neighbourhood and come any festive occasion, an order is placed and the Bebinca is brought home and shared. Some of the very small Goan bakeries or “Aunties” who make them at home to order, serve up the most awesome Bebinca. There are packaged versions available, that tourists take back with them, which are not bad but they’re not the real deal.

I have always wanted to try my hand at making Bebinca at home but using hot coals wasn’t an option for me! Then I discovered that one could cook it in an oven but never gathered the courage to try it. That was until it was my turn to pick a challenge for The 4 Velveteers. Alessio had picked Caponata (Sicily), Pamela had chosen Laksa (Singapore) and Asha decided on Dhansak (Parsi). Since this was part of a series where we were exploring our cultures through cuisine, Bebinca seemed the perfect choice, as I live in Goa.

All the recipes I found online, and a couple in some books, had me a bit confused and I didn’t want to risk adapting in my usual style, as I knew there was a lot that could go wrong here. Then I remembered the “Auntie” downstairs. In India, if a person is old enough not to be called by name, we call them Auntie as a mark of respect.




As I was saying, I know this Auntie who is the mother of two of my neighbours (they’re sisters). This Auntie lives just down the road from our housing complex and drops in to visit her daughters quite frequently. I asked her for a recipe to make Bebinca and that is what I used. Her method includes the addition of a caramel sauce to one half of the batter. I have not come across this before but she tells me that it ensures a more pleasing contrast between layers once the Bebinca is done and sliced.

Usually home bakers cook bebinca in a moderate oven (I've seen temperatures from 160C to 200C in various recipes!) which should be about 180C (350F). I decided to cook my Bebinca in the grill mode of my oven as it meant that the upper heating element would cook it from the top.

Bebinca

(Recipe from Auntie Joanita)



Ingredients:



1 1/4 cups sugar (1/4 kg)

2 cups all-purpose flour (1/4 kg)

6 egg yolks

3/4 tsp finely grated nutmeg

Freshly grated coconut (from 1 coconut)

1 cup + 1 cup hot water (not boiling)

1 cup ghee (more or less)


For caramel sauce:

3 tbsp sugar

1/4 cup water



Method:


First extract the coconut milk. Put the grated coconut in a blender and add 1 cup hot water. Run the blender until the coconut has become as smooth a paste as possible. Take the ground coconut out and press it through a fine sieve, into a bowl, so that you can extract as much of the coconut milk as possible. This is thick coconut milk, also called the 1st milk.

Now put the pressed coconut back into the blender, add the other cup of hot water and process again till it is as smooth as possible. This time the ground coconut will be a bit more watery. Again put everything into a sieve and press out the coconut milk into another bowl. This is thin coconut milk and also called the 2nd milk. Discard the coconut. Keep both coconut milks separate.
This video explains this process well.

Now make the batter for the Bebinca. Put the sugar and the thick coconut milk in a large bowl. Using a wooden spoon or whisk, stir them together until the sugar dissolves. Now very lightly beat the eggs and add to the coconut milk and sugar and mix well.

Add the nutmeg and the flour and mix well, making sure there are no lumps at all and the batter is very smooth. If the batter is a bit thick use a bit of the 2nd coconut milk to thin it out. The batter should be like pancake batter in consistency. Divide the batter equally between two bowls. You might have some 2nd milk left over.

Now make the caramel sauce (it’s not a sauce really but we’ll call it a sauce). Melt the sugar with 1/8 cup water (half of the 1/4 cup) in a pan, on high heat. Do not stir, but watch it till the edges start becoming brown. Stir a couple of times and once it is deep brown (not burnt) carefully add the remaining 1/8 cup water and mix well. Let the caramel sauce cool a little, then add it to the batter in one of the bowls and stir quickly till well mixed and smooth.

For easy understanding, I’m going to call this batter the caramel batter and the one without the caramel, the plain batter.

Now it’s time to finally make the Bebinca!
Turn the grill in your oven on. I used the grill in my oven because the heating element for the grill is on top.

Take a 7” aluminium cake tin and pour a generous tbsp. of ghee into it. Place on your stove on low heat. Once the ghee is hot, pour about half a cup full of the plain batter into the cake tin. Let it spread to cover the bottom of the cake tin. Cover the tin with a lid (I used a glass one so I could see into the cake tin) and allow the layer to cook until the edges appear to be turning brown.

Take the cake tin off the heat and pour a little more ghee (about 1/2 tbsp) on top. Put it into oven (grill mode) and let the layer cook till the top is brown with a few spots. This took about 10 minutes under my grill. The top should somewhat resemble the top of crème brulee when torched.

Take the cake tin out and add another generous tbsp. of ghee. Pour about 1/2 cup full of the caramel batter now. Let spread out completely and put it back into the oven to grill until this layer is also brown.

Take it out again, pour another tbsp. full of ghee and a half cup full of the plain batter this time and put it back into the oven. Keep repeating this using ghee first and then the batters alternately, till all the batter is used up. The last layer should be ghee.You should have between 6 to 8 layers to your Bebinca by the time you’re done.

Let the Bebinca cool a bit, then loosen the sides with a knife. Turn the cake tin upside down on a serving plate so the bottom layer is now the top layer. Cut into thin slices and serve lukewarm as it is or with vanilla ice-cream, if you prefer.
This recipe serves 8 to 10 people.

Verdict:


While my Bebinca wasn’t perfect, I was quite happy with the way it turned out. It tasted good though it could have been a bit moister. I think I needed to thin my batter out a bit. My layers needed to be thinner and darker in colour. I was a bit worried about overcooking the Bebinca so I think I need to cook the layers a little longer.

Like the Auntie who gave me recipe told me, “it’s quite nice, but you need more practice. You need to get things wrong so that you can learn from the mistakes and become good.” I shall be making Bebinca again, and the next time it will be under her supervision.


The four of us (Alessio, Asha, Pamela and I) go velveteering, as we like to call our kitchen adventures, with a new dish/ style of cooking/ cuisine every month. Each of us will share our recipes, experiences and verdicts on our blogs.

If you would like to join us, please leave a comment at this post or send me a mail and we’ll get back to you. Since December has been a busy month for all of us, our Bebinca post will be delayed a bit, but you will see them in January. I shall update our group posts as they happen.

This month’s Velveteers recipes:

Veena : The Traditional Goan Dessert





This is my last post for this year and I’m saying my goodbyes to it on a sweet note. My thanks for all your good wishes and support which makes my blogging here a pleasure. My best wishes to you all that the coming year is all that you wish for and much more.

See you all on the other side of 2011.


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December 26, 2010

A Tropical Stollen - An Eggless Cashew Marzipan Stollen: Daring Bakers Challenge, December 2010


With Christmas this month it was to be expected that the Daring Bakers challenge for December would be festive and we weren’t disappointed as our task was to make stollen.
The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Stollen is a traditional German Christmas cake (or brioche-like bread, whichever way you look at it) made with eggs, butter, almonds, raisins, currants and candied peel. Stollen originally started out as tasteless bread served during the Advent season. In those days there were restrictions enforced by the Catholic church on what could be used and butter was one of the prohibited items. So the original stolen were made with flour, oats, oil and water.




The local bakers found oil too expensive whereas butter was affordable and available in plenty, so a petition to the Pope finally got the bakers in Dresden the permission to use butter in their stollen for a small fee.
The Dresden stollen, perhaps the oldest and most famous of all stollen, is made by folding the dough in half, baked and then dredged with a lot of powdered sugar. This is said to be symbolic of the swaddled infant Jesus and served ususally, on Christmas eve.
Every family has its own treasured recipe for stollen and there many different kinds such as the Mandelstollen (almonds, marzipan), Nußstollen (nuts), Mohnstollen (poppy seed) and the Quarkstollen (curd cheese).

My last post was my take on a very popular south Indian Christmas time favourite, the Plum Cake. Since many of you wouldn’t have read that post, I shall once again mention that typically Christmas style fruit cakes and bread with candied peel just don’t appeal to me. My daughter doesn’t even like raisins will patiently persistently pick out every single one in whatever raisin dotted food she has to eat!

I have never made stollen before and knew I was unlikely to, so thought I’d better do the challenge to see how it was. I halved the recipe, left out the eggs and made some adjustments for this. I also left out the candied peel (I think this is awful stuff!) and used some excellent candied fruit I had on hand. I also chose to make stolleni in the traditional shape rather than as the wreath suggested.




I decided to put some marzipan into my stollen, and decided to flavour it with saffron and cardamom. Here in Goa, cashew nuts are aplenty, so we tend to make marzipan with it instead of almonds. Given below is my recipe for eggless marzipan as well as the recipe I used to make my stollen. So you can see, this stollen is more tropical than German, and it is eggless too.
This recipe makes one small to medium sized stollen. You can find the original detailed recipe here.
Saffron And Cardamom Flavoured Eggless Cashew Marzipan
 

Ingredients:

250gm broken cashewnuts (approx. 2 cups powder)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

A few saffron threads soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk (or water)

3 pods cardamom, powdered

Method:

Finely powder the cashewnuts in your food processor or mixer/ grinder. Add some of the sugar, in tsp full (up to about 1/4 cup of the 1 cup of sugar) with the cashew nuts to make powdering easy. Make sure you don’t over process the cashewnuts as this will make them greasy and pasty.

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to medium and let it simmer for a couple of minutes. Add the powdered cashews and keep stirring till there are no lumps. Keep stirring the mixture till it thickens and add the saffron (with milk) and the cardamom. When the mixture starts coming together as a mass take it off the heat.

Let it cool till it can be comfortably handled. Then knead the marzipan till soft and smooth. If you feel it is too hard. Add a few drops of warm milk and knead. Keep aside till required. This recipe makes a little bit more marzipan than required for this stollen.

Tropical Stollen


Ingredients:

1/8 cup lukewarm water (43C)

2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

1/2 cup milk

70gm unsalted butter (can use salted butter)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt (if using salted butter)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp orange extract

1/4 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup candied fruit (I used papaya, strawberries, pineapple and ginger)

2 tbsp orange juice

Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath

Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath

Method:

Soak the raisins in the orange juice for about an hour.

Then make the dough. Pour the warm water into a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast. After 5 minutes, stir and ensure the yeast has dissolved completely.

Put the milk in a pan. Add the butter and melt it over low heat. Then take it off the heat and allow it to cool till it is lukewarm. Add the vanill extract to this.

I made my dough by hand but you can use a stand mixer if you wish. Stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add the proved yeast, and butter-milk mixture and mix together with a wooden spoon. Using your hand, mix further till it comes together and tip it out onto your work surface. Knead the dough till it is soft but not sticky.

Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for about 10 minutes. Flatten and pat the dough out with your hand. Evenly sprinkle the soaked raisins and the candied fruit over the surface. Roll the dough up and then knead the dough, using a little flour if necessary. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes and shape into a ball.

Lightly oil a large bowl and place doughin the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or up till a week before baking.

When ready to bake, take the dough out. Let it come to room temperature (about 2 hours). Take a piece of parchment paper which will sit on you baking sheet. Press the dough flat and gently roll into a 1/4” rectangle.

Take the marzipan and if you feel it is too much for the stollen, remove the excess and divide the remainder into two equal parts. Roll each portion into a “rope” as long as the long side of your stollen dough.

Place one marzipan rope in the middle of one half of the dough rectangle (lengthwise). Bring the edge of the dough closest to the marzipan over it so that it is covered and the edge rests just beyond the centre of the rectangle. Now place the other marzipan rope on the other half and similarly fold the other edge over the first fold such that it forms an overlap. The edge of this fold should be just short of end of the stollen (lengthwise).Seal the edge so that it will be visible after baking but will not open up in the oven.

You should have a long roll of dough with the 2 marzipan ropes wrapped inside it, side by side. Place the stollen, using the parchment, on the baking sheet and cover it with a kitchen towel. Allow it to rise till it is 1 1/2 times in size (about 2 hours).

Bake at 180C (350F) for about 40 to 50 minutes, till golden brown in colour and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer the stollen to a cooling rack and generously brush the top with melted butter, while it is still hot. Dredge a layer of powdered sugar over this immediately and wait for a minute. Add another layer of powdered sugar so the stollen is generously coated.

Let it cool completely and serve. The stollen is supposed to taste better as it ages. It should, if covered with foil and plastic wrap, store well for 2 weeks at room temperature, a month in the fridge and for 4 months in the freezer.


Verdict:


This bread is probably as good as any rich fruit bread or cake. The texture was good but I wasn’t too happy with the way mine rose (or didn’t, rather) as it moved sideways more than upwards. I thought it might have been because the eggs weren’t there to bind the dough, but looking at a lot of traditional stollen pictures, it seems like the stollen tends to be a bit wider than it is taller. I wouldn’t know, never having seen or eaten it before.


My verdict is based on the fact that we don’t like fruit breads very much, so I’m definitely biased here. For this reason I probably will not be making it again. We might have liked it better without the fruit but if I had to make a sweet bread of this type, I’d probably make brioche every time.


Please do not go by my opinion if you like dried/ candied fruit in your bread, as most of my friends have been raving about this stollen.


I just realised that this is the first bread I am baking in a while so this is getting YeastSpotted! I'm also sending this to join the party at Taste Of Pearl City, where the 35th edition of Bread Baking Day is being hosted with the theme of "Bread With Dried Fruit".


Christmas is gone but the festive season is still very much here. So let me wish you all happy holidays and a very happy, promising and peaceful new year.
I’m giving away two books to two lucky people and I will ship worldwide. If you would like to try your luck, please leave a comment at that post.


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December 24, 2010

It’s the Season For Some Plum Cake (My Version Of The Kerala Style Christmas Fruit Cake), And A Giveaway!


Let me begin by wishing everyone a fun filled holiday season with family, friends and lots of good food! I was just wondering how to start this post when I realised that many of my posts seem to be about what I don’t like!
I can’t help it if I do not like something and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I’m not very fussy about food in general, but there are a few foods I really dislike and this post is going to be about one of them – the Kerala Christmas time staple and a favourite with most, the Plum Cake. In the course of the last month or so, I have discovered that there seem to be only two ways to feel about this cake. You either love it or dislike it, but you cannot be indifferent to it!

If you live in Kerala, there is just no escaping this Christmas fruit cake. In fact, it’s not quite Christmas in Kerala without the plum cake. Even you don’t celebrate Christmas like us, friends and neighbours will send you Christmas cake with all their love. All this is a good thing if you love this cake, as what could better than a little cake but even more cake?




Funnily enough, the Kerala Plum Cake has no plums in it and it has always puzzled me why it continues to be called so. After much searching, The Oxford Companion to Food solved the mystery for me. Apparently, in the good old days, the British fruitcake used contain as much as half of its weight in a variety of dried fruit which was referred to as “plumb” or “plum” which is what gives this particular fruit cake its name.

In Kerala, this Christmas cake is a dense deep brown coloured spiced cake that is a choc-a-block full of dried fruit and nuts. The brown colour (and a very nice flavour too) comes from a caramel sauce which is made and added to the cake batter. The fruits, nuts and spices typically used in this cake are those found locally so raisins, dates, candied and coloured peel, green and red coloured tutti frutti, cashewnuts, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

Traditionally the dried fruit and nuts are soaked in rum for a month and then used in the cake. This soaking not only adds to the flavour of the cake but also helps preserve it for a long time. Back home in Kerala, about a month before Christmas, all the big bakeries, star restaurants and anybody who can get into the act does the mixing and soaking of dried fruit and nuts in rum. The process has become quite a public event these days with public participation and much fanfare.

Now we come to the part about my not liking this cake. I do not like this cake because it reeks (or should I say stinks) of rum. I also cannot stand the candied peel and the awful red and green stuff that usually dots the inside of the cake. So I have never even dreamt of making my own fruitcake. I mean, what sort of a fruit cake (as in crazy) would I be to want to make one?

My husband, on the other hand, loves the stuff! When we lived in Kerala, it didn’t matter that I never made one because we would have so much fruitcake coming home on Christmas day, he would be eating it right into the New Year. We don’t get that Plum Cake here, but we do get some excellent Christmas cake in Goa which more than made up for the lack of the other kind.

This year, my husband is in a place where he’s unlikely to lay his hands on authentic Christmas cake so I decided to bake a fruit cake and send it to him. That was the start of my search for a Kerala style Plum Cake that doesn’t need alcohol and the awful red/ green stuff parading as candied fruit, if there existed such a thing.

A request on Facebook had Ammini Ramachandran pointing me to her own recipe, and also sent me a friend’s recipe and one to make my own candied peel. I wanted to start with an authentic (it is reasonably so to my mind, looking at the ingredients that go into her cake) plum cake recipe. I say this because I could see that her recipe uses frut, nuts and spices that are normally found in Kerala. Now there must at least a 1000 different “authentic” recipes, as every family who makes these cakes every year would have a recipe they swear by.




I then went ahead and put my spin on Ammini’s recipe. I didn’t have the time to make my own candied peel but had some excellent candied fruit on hand and decided to use them instead. I used unsweetened orange juice instead of rum/ brandy and used Ammini’s method of cooking the fruit and nuts in it instead of the month long soaking usually followed for this cake. I used golden raisins as we don't really likes the black ones which can be tart. The Afghani/ Irani greenish brown varieties are the best and are very sweet.

I also added cardamom to the spice mix which is not usually done. I cut down on the butter a bit because I get my butter in 100gm slabs. I used light brown sugar in my cake and cut down on the quantity a bit because sweetness of the candied fruit and the applesauce.

The 4 eggs in the original recipe was an issue for me this could mean a possible “eggy” smell or taste in the cake, especially as I wasn't using alcohol which would otherwise mask that. Replacing all the 4 eggs in a recipe is not easy without affecting the texture of the cake. So I decided to replace 2 of the eggs with fresh apple purée and use only the whites of 2 eggs as these were beaten well and then folded into the batter at the end, to provide lightness to a normally dense cake. I also added a 1/2 tsp of baking soda to the recipe.

I got the best fruit cake I have ever eaten (remember, I don’t like fruit cake?). It tasted great, was moist yet lighter than the average more dense fruit cake. It had a nice crumb yet was firm enough to slice easily. This cake is a keeper and is going to be the one I bake every time I need to make a Christmas fruit cake.

Kerala Style Christmas Fruit Cake (Plum Cake)
(Adapted from Ammini Ramachandran)


Ingredients:


For the soaked fruit:

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 cup pitted and chopped dates

1/4 cup candied papaya

1/8 cup candied pineapple

1/8 cup candied ginger

1 cup unsalted cashew nuts

1/4 cup unsweetened orange juice



For the caramel sauce:

6 tbs of granulated sugar

3 tbsp water

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup boiling water



2 cups of flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

200gm salted butter (or unsalted butter + 1/2 tsp salt)

1 1/2 cups powdered light brown sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened apple purée (or applesauce)

2 egg whites

1/2 tsp cinnamon powder

1/4 tsp powdered nutmeg

1/4 tsp powdered cloves

1/4 tsp powdered dry ginger

3 pods cardamom, powdered

1 tsp vanilla extract



Method:


Prepare the fruit first. Chop the dates and candied fruits and cashewnuts (roughly to the size of the raisins), put them in a saucepan in a saucepan and add the orange juice to this. Cook the fruit, over low heat, until the liquid starts steaming. Stir frequently and let the fruit and nuts cook until all the orange juice has almost been absorbed completely. Take it off the heat and allow it to cool down.

Next, make the caramel sauce. Place the granulated sugar in a pan. Add 3 tbsps water and the tsp of lemon juice. Mix lightly with a spoon. Place the saucepan on high heat and allow the sugar and water to start boiling/ bubbling. Do not stir but you may tilt the pan a bit a couple of times to let the melted sugar spread out. Let the sugar melt and caramelize to a golden brown (do not burn it). Take it off the heat and it will start darkening. Carefully pour the 1/4 cup boiling water (it will spit and splutter) into the caramel and stir with a spoon. Place the caramel sauce back on the stove and just bring it to a boil. Then take it off the heat and keep aside.

Now prepare the cake batter. Put the soft butter in a big bowl and beat, with an electric beater, till fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat, on slow speed, till combined. Keep aside about 1/3 cup of the flour aside and sieve together the remaining flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add this to the bowl along with all the powdered spices. Mix well (do not beat too much), using the beater on slow speed, until combined.

Sprinkle the 1/3 cup reserved flour on the cooled fruit and nuts and mix with a spoon so the fruit is well coated with the flour. Add this, the vanilla extract and the warm caramel sauce to the batter and mix with a wooden spoon till combined.

Beat the egg whites to soft peaks, in another clean bowl, and gently fold this into the batter till well incorporated. Pour the batter into two medium greased and lined/ floured loaf or cake tins (I used a 7” round tin and a medium loaf tin. Bake the cakes at 170C (325F) for about 1 to 1 1/4 hours or till a skewer comes out clean, when it is inserted into the centre. Ensure the cake is well baked.

Let the cakes cool in the tins for about 15 minutes, then gently unmould and cool on a rack. You can serve the cake immediately but it does taste even better the next day. Cover the cake with waxed paper and then foil before storing or the cake will dry out.


And The Giveaway!

It is the season for giving and perhaps the perfect time for me to giveaway two more books. Sellers Publishing were kind enough to send me extra copies to giveaway to my readers, along with my review copies.

The first book I’m giving away is “America's Little Italys: Recipes and Traditions” by Sheryll Bellman. Sheryl Bellman is the also the author of Through The Shopping Glass and America’s Great Delis. Passionate about food and food history writing, she has written for many magazines and been featured on NPR. She lives in New York City and attributes her interest in deli culture to growing up in corned beef deprived Arizona!




America’s Little Italys is not just another cookbook with Italian food recipes but much more than that. It is based on the Italian-American immigrant experience, their food cultural history and the founding of Little Italys as their neighbourhoods are referred to, in various parts of the US. The book makes for good reading with nostalgic write-ups, beautiful black and white photographs full of old world charm as well as Italian family restaurant recipes. The book invites you to a celebration of the Italian immigrant past in the US through the stories of the beginnings and evolution of many modern-day Italian restaurants across 14 major cities in the US. Some of the cities covered are New York City (including Brooklyn and The Bronx), Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, San Diego and New Orleans.

Also included are over recipes from over 80 modern-day Italian restaurants, which have been handed down the generations and many of which are their signature dishes. The book also has lots of interesting historical information which tells us that the first Espresso machine was made in France and the first industrial pasta machine in the US was built by a Frenchman in Brooklyn. He apparently dried his strands of spaghetti in the sunshine on his roof!

I cooked the Mona Lisa Pasta Primavera (from the Mona Lisa Italian Restaurant and Deli, San Diego) and the Chicago Style Pizza (from Tony Nitti’s Bar-B-Que, Chicago) and have to say they were very good. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take any pictures to tempt you with.
You can see the book in a little detail here.


The other book I’m giving away is “500 Cheeses: The only cheese compendium you’ll ever need” by Roberta Muir, which is a guide to cheeses from around the world. Roberta Muir has an educational background in gastronomy, is a trained cheese judge, a food writer, a restaurant reviewer and manages the Sydney Seafood School.




500 Cheeses is a part of the 500 Series of books from Sellers Publishing. As is the case with the other books in this series, it is a well organised and presented book with beautiful pictures and also has a page on how to use the book. This book de-mystifies the world of cheese and begins with an introduction to cheeses, then goes on to explain how cheese is made with advice on how to select store and serve cheese.

The book is further divided in to chapters on Fresh Cheeses, Stretched-Curd Cheeses, Bloomy Rind Cheeses, Washed Rind Cheeses, Semi-Soft Cheeses, Blue-Veined Cheeses and Semi-Hard & Hard Cheeses. Each entry begins with a flag of the country from which it comes, and then includes description its history, characteristic appearance, texture and flavour. There is also some information on its available sizes, affinage and tasting notes as well as food and beverage pairing.

I would have liked it even better if there were a couple of recipes using the cheeses in the book, but I guess that is asking too much for a book of this size. This is definitely a book you want on your cookbook shelf if you love cheese.
You can see this book in some detail here.



I will be giving away a copy of the above books to two randomly selected lucky readers. If you would like to try your luck at winning one of these books, all you have to do is to leave a comment at this post telling me what your favourite Italian food and/ or cheese is. Yes, that’s all you have to do.
I love Italian food and its not easy to choose a favourite but I do like Tiramisu (this version of it) and Aglio e Olio (Pasta with garlic and olive oil). My favourite cheese has to be Paneer (Indian fresh milk cheese) and Cheddar comes a close second.

I will keep this giveaway open till the 7th of January, 2011 as I know many of you would be busy with the festive season and not be able to get here to leave a comment till later. This giveaway is open to everyone who cares to leave a comment here (Bloggers and non-bloggers are welcome, both Indian and international) as I will ship the books anywhere in the world.


PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED.



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December 20, 2010

You Can't Catch Me, I'm The Gingerbread Man! Eggless Gingerbread Men


"Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread." - William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

It’s the best season for baking where I am and I’m not saying this because Christmas is round the corner. It just happens to be the coolest time of the year and standing in the kitchen with the oven on doesn’t make feel sweaty and miserable. It is a lot cooler and less humid (about 29C in the day, 18C at night and 50% humidity compared to 35C and about 80% humidity in summer!) and of course, Christmas is in the air.

Different parts of the city (If you can think of Panaji as one) is all lit up with lights, shops are selling artificial trees and all the stuff needed to decorate it, and bakeries and pastry shops are full of Christmas goodies. Christmas stars light up porches (as do Diwali lanterns put up in November and still up) late in the evenings and through the night and I have neighbours listening to “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer” and other Christmas songs most mornings. The tourists in town already seem to be ringing in Christmas and the New Year as we can hear strains of party music from the resorts on the weekends.




If all this wasn’t enough, just take a look at food blogs around and there’s a mouth-watering array of cookies and other goodies on display. We don’t celebrate Christmas being Hindus, but I don’t need an excuse to bake and we never need an excuse to celebrate or enjoy good food. So I too, have been on a cookie baking spree last week but just didn’t have the time to post any of it.

I couldn’t let this season pass me by so I decided to post the quintessential Christmas cookie – the Gingerbread Man! Apart from the fact that I love anything ginger, the gingerbread man has a special place in our memories. The story of “The Gingerbread Man” used to be one of my daughter’s favourites when she was little and wanted to be read a story. Akshaya used to be very enamoured with the idea of a cookie that came out of the oven, got up and ran away.








(Source: BBC)


Once she discovered the gingerbread man got eaten by a fox at the end, she would ensure that we never got to that part of the book no matter how many times we read the story. We would reach the critical part of the story and she would announce that she didn’t want to hear a story anymore or would decide she was suddenly feeling very sleepy! And this would be the girl who till 5 minutes before, was jumping and yelling “Run, run as fast as you can; you can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man”!!

I made a gingerbread house last Christmas, but have never made gingerbread cookies before, as most recipes require molasses which I don’t get here and I wasn’t too sure what else to substitute for it. Food bloggers are a very supportive lot and when I asked for advice, Pel told me I could use jaggery which ought to give me gingerbread cookies tasting reasonably close to the real thing. Bindu suggested using date syrup, which I shall once I can get hold of some from Kerala.




I adapted a recipe I found at Taste.com. This recipe didn’t require molasses but had golden syrup on the ingredient list. I substituted honey for that and used jaggery instead of brown sugar. I also left out the egg and added some baking powder instead. For the spice mix I decided to add my own twist and used cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg and cardamom which are all not really traditional gingerbread spices.

I can tell you this spice combination is heady, and I’d love to have it bottled. In fact, even though I washed my hands thoroughly after kneading the dough, I still have the faint fragrance on hands as I type this post.
I wanted to make the kind of gingerbread men in my daughter’s story book with black raisin eyes, smile and buttons but didn’t have any. I used this eggless royal icing instead as Akshaya happens to like cookies decorated with it.




And if you want make sure these gingerbread men do not run, just use a skewer to make small holes on top of them as soon as they come out of the oven. Once they cool down you can thread them with ribbon. Should your gingerbread men happen to run away before you can tie them down, I guess you’ll have to console yourself that you just saw some Christmas magic!

Gingerbread Men
(Adapted from Taste.com)


Ingredients:


100gm butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup somewhat firmly packed powdered jaggery (or brown sugar)

1/2 cup honey

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tbsp finely grated/ powdered dry ginger

1/2 tbsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp powdered cloves

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

3 cardamom pods, powdered

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

A little extra flour, to dust



Method:


Put the jaggery and soft butter in a bowl and beat, with an electric beater, till pale and creamy. Add the honey and beat till well mixed.
Sieve together the flour, powdered ginger, the other spice powders, baking powder, baking soda and add to the bowl. Mix this in using the beater on low speed until the dough comes together somewhat.
Switch off the beater and turn it out onto a lightly dusted work surface. Knead the cookie dough by hand till it is soft and smooth but not sticky. Do not add any flour while kneading, except for lightly dusting your work surface.

Press the dough into a disc, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. This also makes the dough easier to roll and cut out shapes. You can keep this dough in the fridge for a couple of days before making the cookies.

When ready, knead the dough to make sure it is smooth. Lightly dust your work surface with flour and roll out the dough till just under 1/4" thick. Keep dusting flour (with a light hand) while rolling out to make sure the dough doesn’t stick to the surface or rolling pin.

Cut out shapes with cookie cutter of size an shape of your choice. Place the cutout cookies on lightly greased baking sheets and bake at 180C (350F) for about 8 minutes or till the cookies turn a light brown in colour. Take them out and let them cool on the sheets for about 3 to 5 minutes and then on racks. The cookies will seem a little soft but they will become crisp once they have cooled completely.

Store them in airtight containers till ready to decorate. My cookie cutters were small (about 2” gingerbread men) so I got plenty of cookies.


Clockwise from top left: Eggless Chocolate Crinkle Cookies/ Snowcaps, Eggless Peanut-Date Cookies, Eggless Cashew-Strawberry-White Chocolate Chip Cookies, Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies


I thought I’d share pictures of some of the cookies I have been baking so far. Please keep checking this little virtual kitchen of mine as I promise you two more Christmas treats that are very Indian, one from my home state of Kerala and the other from my adopted home state of Goa. This is the season for giving and so I can also promise you all a giveaway before this year is over.






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December 15, 2010

Poori Bhaji (Fried Indian Flatbread With A Spicy Potato Curry)


Pooris and bhaji, another very popular Indian meal combination, is also comfort food at its best. How can every bite of a spicy potato curry wrapped in deep fried dough be anything else? Pooris are an Indian deep-fried whole wheat flatbread about the size of a largish cookie. The word “bhaji” typically means vegetable and this case refers to the spicy potato preparation that the pooris are eaten with. Pooris can be eaten with chole (spicy chickpeas), dal (lentil preparations or shrikhand (sweetend yogurt cheese), but is something special with spicy potatoes. My daughter used to love eating her pooris with sambhar (this is not considered a “normal” combination) as a child but she seems to have outgrown this preference.




Pooris are originally a north Indian food, but the poori and bhaji combo is something that has travelled the length and breadth of India and stayed on everywhere it has gone. So you can find it almost every part of the country though you might not recognise it when it is referred to as “Bhoori” in some parts of the south! Call it what you will, but I am yet to meet someone who does not like poori bhaji!

Pooris are usually eaten for breakfast, lunch as they can be a bit heavy at dinner time. Traditionally, the rice growing and eating southern part of India, does not consider anything but rice to be “proper” lunch/ dinner, so pooris used to be served only at breakfast there.

Again, like popular food preparations across the world, everyone has their own special way of cooking the potato bhaji. Generally in the north on would find it cooked with spices like cumin and coriander powders, garlic and lots of fresh coriander. In the south, it is commonly cooked with mustard seeds, ginger, asafetida and plenty of curry leaves. Depending on personal preference, the potato bhaji can be a dry preparation or like a stew with some gravy. Some people cook it with onions and tomatoes and some without.




I remember another type of potato bhaji from the train journeys of my childhood. In those days, travelling by train was a bit of an adventure. Unlike nowadays, those trips to anywhere took a minimum of a day. I recollect a trip from Calicut (Kerala) to Mumbai used to take us almost 3 days and 2 nights while today it takes about a day. Of course, we used to travel as a family and carried our “bed rolls” and enough food and water to feed an army. Feed a small army it did, as food was invariably shared with fellow passengers who almost became family for the length of the journey. Food bought out at the stations was considered unhygienic and anyone who had to resort to that was to be pitied!

So, for us children, eating on the station was a treat and a bit of an adventure because it was almost never done. Pooris and potato bhaji was one of what I like to think of as “station foods” in those days. That bhaji had no onions, garlic or any spices beyond mustard seeds, turmeric and salt, and loads of green chillies and fresh green coriander. It had a watery gravy which was from mashing some of the potatoes in the bhaji, and was not one of my favourites.




Here is how I cook my potato bhaji. If I have green peas on hand I like to add some, just enough to add some colour to the bhaji. Use this as a guideline, if you do not have your own favourite aloo bhaji recipe and then tweak it to suit your taste. This combination also makes an excellent brunch.

There are many different kinds of pooris and this one is the basic and regular kind which is made of just wheat flour. There is a Bengali version called luchis which are made with all-purpose flour which we find much tastier. People will tell you whole wheat flour is better than all-purpose flour, but I think once both are in hot oil, the difference is really nothing much health-wise!

Pooris:

Ingredients:

3 cups whole wheat flour (atta)

2 tsp oil

1 tsp salt

enough water to bind the dough

oil for deep-frying

Method:

You can do this by hand or in the food processor. See this excellent video on how to make pooris before you proceed.

Mix the flour, oil, salt and enough water to make a reasonably stiff dough. The dough should be soft enough to roll our without needing to dust it with flour. Let the dough rest for about half an hour.

There are two reasons for the dough being stiff. The first is that if it is softer, you would need to use flour and when frying the pooris, the excess flour will settle in the oil and burn causing the pooris to get coated with black specks. The second reason is that the pooris would absorb more oil and become greasy. A good poori should barely show traces of oil on itself, after being deep-fried.

Heat the oil for deep-frying in a wok. Use just enough oil win which the poori can be comfortably submerged. The oil should be just hot enough for small piece of dough to rise up when dropped into the oil, without turning too brown.

Knead the dough a few times till smooth and pinch off largish walnut sized portions. Roll each into a smooth ball. Lightly oil both your rolling pin and surface on which you will roll out the pooris. Roll each ball into a flat circle about 3” to 3 1/2” in diameter (should be slightly thicker than a chappathi; if it too thin it won’t puff up).

When the oil is hot enough, gently slide the poori into the oil, along the side of the wok. Using a slotted spoon, gently press down the poori when it rises up. Also use the slotted spoon to ladle some of the oil over the poori. Once the poori has puffed up, turn it over so the other side is also golden brown. Once the poori is uniformly browned, remove it from the oil and drain on kitchen towels. Repeat with all the remaining pooris.

If the oil is too hot the pooris will not puff up and become flat, crisp and very brown. If the oil is not hot enough the pooris will not puff up and will be very greasy.

Serve the pooris warm. Makes 25 to 30 pooris

Aloo Bhaji (Spicy Potato Curry)

Ingredients:

8 biggish potatoes

1/3 cup green peas (optional)

1 1/2” piece ginger, minced

2 medium sized onions

2 small tomatoes

1 1/2 tsp oil

1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/4 tsp asafoetida

2 sprigs curry leaves

2 to 3 green chillies, slit lengthwise

¼ tsp turmeric powder

1 1/2 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

salt to taste


Method:

I always cook my potatoes (and peas when I use them) before I start making my bhaji. You can steam cook them or microwave them as I do, and then cut them up into largish pieces. Mash one potato very well, to use to thicken the bhaji.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When the splutter, add the cumin seeds and the asfetida. Stir once or twice (take care that the asafoetida doesn’t burn) and add the ginger and sauté for a couple of minutes. Now add the onions and sauté till they become transparent. Now add the tomatoes and cook till they become soft.

Add the turmeric, cumin and coriander powders and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the potatoes (mashed one too), peas, green chillies and the curry leaves. Add 3/4 cup (or a little more later if the gravy is too thick) water and salt and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and using your spatula break down some of the bigger potato pieces into slightly smaller pieces. Cook for a bout 5 to 10 minutes till it all comes together with a little gravy.

Take it off the heat and stir in the chopped fresh coriander. Serve hot with the pooris and shrikhand (sweetened yogurt cheese, available in Indian stores) or aamras (sweet thick mango pulp). The combination of spicy and sweet/ hot and cold with the pooris is something else!

This recipe serves 4 to 5.

Before I end this post I want to mention two things. The first is that living with a wife who has been blogging food for 3 years seems to have made my husband decide to “join me if he can’t beat me at it”! Or else he’s been bitten by the “blogging” bug. Either way, he has started writing a blog which he calls Yours Tentatively.

He’s an academic and so writing comes naturally to him, and let me assure you that not all of it is the boring stuff (to some of us) of research literature and journals. While here, I provide you all with food for the body and the eye, his writing is more of the “food for thought” variety. Do go over, take a look, and if you think that what he writes is the kind of thing you would like to read, please follow his blog.


The other thing is that plagiarism has reared its ugly head again! I just wrote my last post about this when Lata discovered one of food photographs on a site called FoodFetish on Facebook. You will notice that I have not linked to this page and that is because I refuse to link to such a disgraceful person/ site! I complained to Facebook and got my photograph removed when I discovered another one of mine there today. I have also noticed that over 80% of the food photographs on that site and its page on Facebook are from blogs or food sites. Would you believe this page on Facebook has 4298 people who “like” it?

Do take a look and see if your photograph has made it there. I know it means an increase in traffic to that site, but there’s no way to avoid that. If more people complain, perhaps that person can be brought to book.


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December 10, 2010

It Was There, So I took It!


That’s an answer I would expect from a child who was asked, “Why did you take it?” This is most definitely not the answer I would expect from an adult, but it was the one I got when I asked that question. The "it" that was taken in this case was my photograph which you see below.



Noodles Vegetable Cutlets


As food bloggers, most of us have experienced plagiarism or theft of our blog content at some time or the other. The most common way in which some “thieves” do this seems to be by scraping blog feeds and then earning ad revenues off this content.There are many different types of plagiarism but for this post I’m concentrating on plagiarism by the print media because that’s what happened to me.

Plagiarism is defined by the Miriam-Webster dictionary as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own; to use (another's production) without crediting the source”. In other words, it refers to taking and using someone else’s work without permission and/ or not giving them the credit for it. Very simply, it means stealing!

The couple of times I found my work being used without permission online, an e-mail to the offender or a comment at the concerned site worked. Plagiarism is something that even big names in the publishing business have not escaped and the recent case of Cooks’ Source using Maggie Gaudio’s recipe without her permission is an example of this.

Online plagiarism is comparatively easier to track and there are ways to do this. What is more difficult to keep track of is when text and images from online sources are used in the print media. Unfortunately, there’s also a general feeling that if something is out there on the world-wide web, then it is for the taking! I find it very difficult to accept this attitude in the educated Indian public, and its worse when well-known national publications subscribe to this view!

One has absolutely no idea who is taking what and using it where.There are innumerable instances of well-known Indian national dailies and magazines that resort to this practice of “stealing” regularly and get lucky because none of the readers realise they’re seeing “stolen” text or images.



My "paal payasam" photograph which was used without permission in the TOI Hyderabad City Edition (October, 2009)


Anita had her food photograph published in the Times of India (TOI) and another one in the Hindustan Times who settled the issue to her satisfaction. Meeta had one of her photographs “lifted” from her blog and published by the Times of India and she’s still fighting it out with them. I also had a similar experience with the Times of India publishing this "paal payasam" picture of mine in its Hyderabad City Edition which I got to know about thanks to Arundati. I wrote to them but never got a response.

This time Rachel alerted me to the fact that a photograph of mine had been published in the September edition of the Good Housekeeping magazine. I had taken that photograph of noodle cutlets for a post I had contributed to The Daily Tiffin.



My photograph (on the left) and in the Goodhousekeeping September 2010 edition (on the right)


I’m understating it when I say that I was upset that Good Housekeeping had filched my picture and published it, despite there being very a clear copyright statement at the bottom of the page from which it was taken. They didn’t have the courtesy to ask me before they did it, they didn’t even credit the picture to me and they had also removed my credit line from the picture before use!

When I contacted the Good Housekeeping and asked what they had to say for themselves, I was initially told that my photograph had come up on a Google search and that’s why they took it!! Apparently, they had never heard of copyright.

When asked if they didn’t know that they could NOT use something just because something came up on a net search, they had nothing to say. After a few mails, they then admitted that they made a mistake and were willing to print a retraction about the unauthorized use of my photograph. They were also willing to pay me what they usually paid their regular stock image agency for the images they used.



Their retraction in the November 2010 edition


I asked for a retraction to be printed in their next issue and also for damages. The people at Good Housekeeping couldn’t answer the questions I asked them to my satisfaction and I’m not sure if any action has been taken against the person actually responsible for this “theft”. From the way in which they were handling the whole issue, I got the impression that there were trying to cover up the issue and bury it within their department.



These were some of my questions.

1. Does the print media, and I’m talking about such big publishing names including the TOI, The India Today group and others of this ilk, honestly believe that if something is on the net or comes up on a Google search, then its free for the taking? By the same argument, we can all start “copying and pasting” whatever is available on their websites for our use since it’s “on the net and free to use” and don’t even have to acknowledge our source!!

2. Do they really not know that copyright means that the ownership rests with the original creator, and does not mean a right to copy? Aren’t certain publishing businesses bothered that they’re actually encouraging their staff to “steal” by not taking an active stand against it but letting it become an intrinsic part of their normal business?

3. When I asked the concerned editor at Good Housekeeping if the Google search led them to the page on which the photograph actually was, she agreed. I then asked her if her staff did not read the copyright information at the bottom of the web page about “asking first”, she had nothing to say except it was a mistake and there was no intention to steal.

4. Can you think of any other intention besides stealing, when my photograph was copied and then cropped, to remove my credit line which clearly states “Aparna@My Diverse Kitchen” at the bottom before using it?

5. When they realised just how upset I was, they offered to pay me the “usual rate” which they paid for images sourced from a stock agency. I refused to sell them my photograph and legalise their theft and insisted they pay me damages instead or I would have to proceed against them. The editor actually suggested that paying me damages was beyond their budget. Do publishing houses have a budget for remuneration if they were caught stealing?



Let’s take the case of food blogging? Has it struck anyone that these plagiarisers don’t seem to “steal” from big names in the business, whether it is recipes or photographs? It is easier to plagiarise text and images from amateur bloggers because most of the time this would never be discovered. Even if it was discovered, how many of us would (or could afford the time and expense) fight the big and powerful enemy?

Good Housekeeping met my demands and printed a retraction in their November edition saying that they were sorry they had used my photograph without permission and after some attempts at negotiation finally paid me damages.

Your ideas, posts and photographs are yours alone, unless you give permission for someone else to use them. If someone steals them, fight back and the law is on your side.


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