February 27, 2011

Cardamom Flavoured White Chocolate & Pistachio Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies: Daring Bakers Challenge, February 2011


The Daring Bakers are at it again and it’s more of the sweet stuff. Much as I love doing the challenges which keep adding to my steadily improving baking skills, every time a challenge is posted at the forums I keep hoping that it would be something savoury. So when I saw we would be making Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies, I wasn’t very excited to be baking something sweet again.

On the other hand, I had made Panna Cotta a couple times in the past but was never really satisfied with my results. Some part of the dissatisfaction was from not getting the substitution of gelatine with agar correct. So this month’s challenge turned out to be the opportunity to see if I could make a successful Panna Cotta with agar. I had also never made Florentine cookies before.

That’s right, the February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.




I had some rather ambitious and exciting ideas about presenting my Panna Cotta but I won’t go into all that since I never got around to executing my ideas. I just don’t know where this month has gone, and it is 2 or 3 days shorter than the other month at that! I know I was reading the challenge on the 1st or the 2nd and the next thing I know is that I got up on the 25th and realised that I had not even read through the challenge properly. This gave me precisely whichever part I could spare of 1 1/2 days to read and assimilate the challenge, get creative in its execution, photograph it while the sun was still doing its thing, and then write up a decent post.

Luckily I didn’t find this month’s challenge much of one. I managed to make the Florentine cookies while cooking breakfast, and if you know Indians you know we take our breakfast very seriously. Posting within the deadline was what proved to be more of a challenge!

Panna Cotta, which translates as “cooked cream” in Italian, probably originated in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is an eggless, custard-like dessert made with cream, milk, sugar and flavouring (usually vanilla) which uses gelatine as the setting agent. Gelatine can be substituted by agar agar, if like us, you don’t use gelatine. Quite easy to make, Panna Cotta can be served in glasses/ ramekins or as a moulded dessert.




Since Panna Cotta itself is a very simple dessert, the possibility of adding flavours to it or “dressing it up” with sauces, gelee, or fresh fruit are endless. Panna Cotta is usually served as a dessert but it can be made savoury (and lighter, with less cream) and be served as an appetiser. The perfect pannacotta should be light and creamy, able to just hold its shape when unmoulded but not be as firm or have a jelly-like consistency.

Florentines are also Italian and are thin, crunchy cookies made from dough that contain nuts and candied fruit held together honey and sugar. Once they’re baked, they’re dipped in or drizzled with melted dark chocolate. Florentines make wonderful sandwich cookies but can also be baked as bars. While there are claims that Florentines originated in Florence and even in Austria, one version claims they were born in Paris in King Louis XIV’s kitchens at the Palace of Versailles. Apparently, Florentine cookies were created by his pastry chefs for the Medici family of Florence.

Our hostess for this month required us to make Panna Cotta and Florentine cookies from the recipe provided but we were free to tweak the recipes to accommodate whatever flavour combinations we wanted to experiment with. I had never heard of Florentine cookies before this challenge and have never eaten a Panna Cotta that I haven’t made.
You can find the original challenge with detailed recipe here.



Cardamom Flavoured White Chocolate & Pistachio Panna Cotta With A Tangy Saffron Syrup


A lot of combinations went through my mind while trying to decide the flavours I wanted in my Panna Cotta. Vanilla was a bit predictable and I’ve been seeing too much of chocolate (the dark kind) recently. Yes, I’ve just discovered there can be something like too much chocolate, and hopefully this will be a temporary thing.

I wanted some truly Indian flavours and finally settled on making a White Chocolate & Pistachio Panna Cotta flavoured with cardamom. I thought of using fruit, but the only Indian fruit that would truly go with this is mango and it’s not the season for that yet. Rather than make a gelee, I decided to make thick saffron syrup to serve with the Panna Cotta.




I started with the given recipe and changed it to my requirements. Since white chocolate is sweet, I cut down the sugar by half. I substituted agar agar for the gelatine since we are vegetarian and used cardamom. I also used less cream as there was chocolate. Here’s my Panna Cotta recipe.
Cardamom Flavoured White Chocolate & Pistachio Panna Cotta

(Adapted from Bon Appetit)



Ingredients:


1 cup milk (I used 2%)

1 1/2 tbsp agar agar flakes

400ml cream (25% fat)

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup finely chopped white chocolate

1/4 cup unsalted, shelled pistachios

1/2 tsp powdered cardamom



Method:


Run the pistachios in your blender and powder them as fine as you can without turning it into clumps or a paste. My pistachios were slightly “grainy”, but I like them that way. A good way to grind them as fine as possible is to keep the pistachios in the freezer and then grind them straight from the freezer.

Warm the milk in a small sauce pan. Add the agar flakes and keep stirring until the agar dissolves completely. If you find any solid agar in the milk as it cools, strain out the agar using a fine sieve and then press as much of the agar as you can through the sieve using a spoon. You need to do this while the milk is still reasonably hot. Place the saucepan back on medium heat and whisk well, and you should have a smooth milk-agar mixture which will thicken as it cools.

Put the cream and sugar in a slightly larger sauce pan, and over medium heat, slowly bring to a low boil. Stir lightly, to dissolve the sugar. Take the pan off the heat and add the white chocolate and whisk until it dissolves completely. If the chocolate cream mixture starts cooling and the chocolate doesn’t dissolve properly, put the pan back on medium heat and stir till it warms up, but do not let it boil. Keep whisking till it is smooth.

Put the pan back on the stove, and on medium heat again. Add the milk thickened with agar to it, the cardamom and the powdered pistachios as well. Whisk everything together till blended and take it off the heat.

Keep stirring lightly, on and off till it reaches room temperature, to prevent a skin from forming on the top. Pour the Panna Cotta into lightly buttered ramekins or into glasses. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

This recipe makes 6 servings.
Tangy Saffron Syrup


Panna Cotta is a dessert and adding a sugar syrup would only make it sweeter, which really isn’t how a dessert should be. My Panna Cotta wasn’t very sweet but I didn’t want it overpowered by sugar so I decided to add a bit of lemon juice to the saffron syrup to balance it out.

Do allow the saffron to sit in the syrup for about an hour if you can. Really good quality saffron takes time to release its colour and flavour. In fact, the time it takes to release colour/ flavour is one indication of the quality of saffron.

You can serve this syrup with a moulded Panna Cotta or else add it to the top of chilled Panna Cotta in glass, about 5 minutes before serving. The cold Panna Cotta will make the saffron syrup thicken instantly and make it look like a layer of gelee. Just make sure your syrup is at room temperature or it will melt your Panna Cotta.
Tangy Saffron Syrup


Ingredients:


1 cup granulated sugar

About 16 strands of good saffron

10 tbsps water

1 1/2 tsp lemon juice



Method:


Put the sugar, water and lemon juice in a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer until it has reduced to a slightly thick syrup. When you lift your spoon from the syrup the sugar should drip off leaving the beginnings of a “thread”. Remember it will thicken further once it has cooled.

Add the saffron strands to the syrup and leave it all to infuse for 30 minutes or more. You can strain out the saffron threads if you like. I left mine in because I liked the texture and the way they look in the syrup. Pour into a small jug. If it becomes too thick on cooling add a tsp of water and warm the syrup, while mixing well.

This recipe should be enough to serve with the Panna Cotta above.
Nestle Florentine Cookies


These butter-rich cookies should be thin, crunchy and lacy in appearance. When I made them I didn’t realise that to get the lace-like appearance, I should dropped the dough onto hot cookie sheets! The hot cookie sheets would have melted the butter in the dough causing them to spread out and give them the characteristic appearance.




These Florentine cookies are also a bit on the sweet side so I reduced the sugar a bit. Rather than go to the trouble of melting chocolate to dip them in or drizzle over them, I just pressed in some semi-sweet mini-chocolate chips into the flattened cookies before baking them. Oh, and I halved the given recipe which still gave me 20 or so Florentines.
Florentine Cookies

(Adapted from Nestle)



Ingredients:


75 gm butter

1 cup rolled oats, run in the blender a couple of times (or quick oats)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 cup honey

1/8 cup milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of salt

3/4 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips



Method:


Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and take it off the heat. Add all the remaining ingredients except the chocolate chips, and mix well. Drop about 1/2 tbsp (or 1 tbsp for larger Florentines) of the dough on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet* (See note).

Flatten the cookies with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle some chocolate chips on the flattened dough and press down lightly with a spoon. Bake at 190C (375F) for about 8 minutes or until the cookies start turning golden brown at the edges.

Let the cookies cool completely on the parchment and then slowly loosen them. Store them in airtight containers. This recipe makes about 20 small Florentines.

*Note: My Florentine cookies were not lacy and as thin as they should have been. They were thin enough and crunchy. I understand that one way to make thin lacy looking Florentines is to drop the cookie dough on hot cookie sheets which makes the butter melt and the dough spread out.
Verdict:


As I mentioned before, making Panna Cotta and the Florentine cookies wasn’t a challenge really, but I’m thankful for that this time. We all liked the Panna Cotta, and though my daughter had slightly mixed feelings about the flavours, my mother thoroughly enjoyed it. It was creamy of course (well there was chocolate and loads of cream in it), without having a jelly-like feel and I really liked the little bits of pistachio that came through. The tang in the saffron syrup balanced out the sweet somewhat.

Thinking back, I think I would prefer a lighter Panna Cotta and shall definitely explore using yogurt or other options to reduce the cream.

It was the Florentine cookies that really stole the show. Even though they didn’t have the lace-like finish, everyone was raving about the cookies including my daughter who is not really very fond of oats. So I know I’ll be baking these and other Florentines again.
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February 25, 2011

Celebrating Breads With The BBBs: Sûkerbôlle/ Suikerbrood And Some Croissants; Also Announcing The Giveaway Winner…..


You may be aware of the existence of these Babes (The Bread Baking Babes aka BBBs) who’ve been exploring the world of breads for the past 3 years. I’ve joined them on some of their bread baking adventures, on and off (I must confess more off than on), and discovered some great breads along the way. I’ve baked their Sukkar bi Tahin (Beirut Tahini Swirls), Pane di Pasta Tenera Condita (Italian Knot Bread), Viennese Striesel, Xiang Cong Hya Juan Bao (Chinese Flower Steamed Buns) and the first two are all time favourites in our home. In the last year, trying to cope with the sort of demands that life makes on all of us, I stopped baking with them because I couldn’t find much time. And the one month I did have the time they were baking Ensaimada which I’d already made before.


So when I found out they were celebrating their 3rd anniversary by re-visiting the breads they had baked, I knew I had to join the celebrations. As if that wasn’t enough, I thought I would bake 2 breads instead of just one. My picks were Sûkerbôlle and Croissants and I had reasons for choosing these breads.



Sûkerbôlle/ Suikerbrood (Frisian Sugar Bread)


This is a sweet loaf from Friesland a region in the northern part of the Netherlands, made with slightly rich brioche-like dough. It contains sugar bits and cinnamon and is typically eaten for breakfast with butter. Apparently, it is the “parelsuiker” (or pearl sugar/ sugar bits) which make all the difference in this bread, since it is hard enough to give some crunch yet melts during baking in the bread to create moist sugary patches.
Suikerbrood is also very popular in Belgium, but I believe it is made without the cinnamon and ginger.




I wasn’t really aware of this bread until I saw BBB pictures of loaves of bread with strange white bits sticking to the crust! It was then that I suddenly remembered that Finla (the friend who sent me loads of foodie goodies!) had sent me a packet of sugar bits (pearl sugar) and this was a good opportunity to put them to some use.




Finla who lives in Belgium where this bread is equally popular, tells me that in the good old days, this bread was given to as a gift to women who delivered baby girls. Something along the lines of “Sugar and spice, everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of”, it seems! The ladies who had boys got raisin bread!!

This bread does require a bit more yeast than usual, but I believe the sugar in the bread needs this. The result is a delightful bread, mildly flavoured with cinnamon, and nice small moist sugary patches and just a little bit of crunch making it a different experience. It’s just perfect with tea or coffee.



If you cannot find pearl sugar/ sugar chips, you can crush sugar cubes and use them instead. If you live in India, another option might be to use the sugar candy (not the sesame seed laddoos; picture below) called “til gul” which is popular for Makar Sankranthi. I’ve not tried this, so if any of you do, I’d be happy to know how it turns out.



Sûkerbôlle/ Suikerbrood

(Adapted from Lien’s recipe)



Ingredients:


2 1/2 cups all purpose-flour

1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

35 gm butter, melted and cooled

1 egg

2 tbsp ginger syrup*

2/3 cup warm milk

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar chips (you can use sugar lumps broken into small pieces)

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon



Method:


*For the ginger syrup, I used 1tbsp finely crushed ginger/ ginger paste + 1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar + 1 1/2 tbsp water. Mix everything together and bring to the boil in a small saucepan, over medium heat. Stir and when it thickens a bit becoming syrupy (about 2 minutes) take it off the heat and strain. Discard the sediment and use the golden coloured syrup in the recipe below.

Place all the ingredients, except the sugar chips and cinnamon, in a food processor bowl (you can knead by hand if you choose). Run the processor till you have a dough that is soft but not sticky. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise for about 1 to 2 hours till almost double in volume.

Reserve a few of the sugar chips and mix the rest of them with the powdered cinnamon. Deflate the dough and and add the cinnamon sugar chips and knead this into the dough. Another way is how I did this. Stretch the dough into a rough rectangle and uniformly sprinkle the cinnamon sugar chips over it. Tightly roll up the dough starting from one of the shorter sides.

Place the rolled dough, with the seam down and sides neatly tucked in, into a greased loaf tin. Cover and allow it to rise till almost double (another 1 to 2 hours). Brush the top with cream or milk and sprinkle reserved sugar bits on top. Lightly press them into the dough without deflating the dough.

Bake the loaf at 200C (400F) for about 25 to 35 minutes till the bread is done and the sugar bits are just beginning to turn golden. Cool completely on a rack. Slice into thick pieces and serve buttered or plain, with tea or coffee.
This recipe makes one small loaf. You may double the recipe for 2 loaves.

Croissants


I have always loved croissants and have eaten some awesome ones. As children we lived abroad and would visit India once every 2 years in summer. Our flights to India were always routed through some country in Europe where we had an overnight stop before we caught our connecting flight. These overnight stays over about a period of 15 years meant morning breakfasts which invariably included light, buttery and flaky croissants.

Our daughter shares this love of croissants with me. Unfortunately we don’t get very good croissants here, at least not what I call good. Sure, they’re golden brown with flaky layers and the bakeries/ patisseries empty half your wallet by the time you’ve paid for about 1/2 a dozen of them. Yet one bite is all it takes to feel let down that the croissants don’t live up to what they promise you visually.




So it has long been a dream of mine to make my own croissants, but they’ve always been my very own Waterloo. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck so far with anything that has to do with loads of chilled butter, flour and laminated dough. Maybe there’s a message in all this, but I prefer not to think so.

It has been a bit disappointing with every past attempt. Unlike my usual practice, I stick to the chosen recipes without even the slightest deviation, and while I get pretty decent and very eatable kind of croissants (or puff pastry as the case may be), “perfect” has always eluded me. And I always seem to have butter pooling in my baking trays, no matter what.

It seems like my “technique” is at fault, but I’m inclined to blame the warm and humid weather I live in throughout the year. It might be a case of “a bad workman blaming his tools” Thinking of all the expenditure doesn’t help much; in terms of the butter involved, the time and not to mention the sweat in working off all those buttery calories!

Sometimes I’m a glutton for self-inflicted punishment so after seeing all those glorious croissants on the various BBB blogs, I decided to try my hand at this one last (I think) time. I was smarter this time and decided to work with only half a recipe, which is given below).




I made my croissants and these were the best I’ve attempted so far, and no pooling butter! Please note, I didn’t say they were the best ever croissants. They puffed up pretty well but I still didb’t get the flakiness I was looking for. Maybe I need to get some professional lessons in croissant and laminated dough making. And perhaps a completely air-conditioned house while I’m about it. I think I’m just going to have to settle for dreaming about the perfect croissant for now……….

Should you want to try making croissants for yourself, I have only one piece of advice. Just make sure you take off any finger rings with stones and stuff that you might be wearing. They can inadvertently tear your butter enclosed dough and believe me; you don’t want that on top every other disaster!!
Croissants

(Adapted from Mary’s recipe)



Ingredients:


1 1/4 tsp dry active yeast

1 1/4 cup warm milk

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

4 tbsp sugar

130 gm butter, cold but not too hard

1 tbsp milk or cream for brushing croissants



Method:


Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Put flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of your mixer with dough hook, or food processor and mix on low. Gradually pour in the milk-yeast mixture. Knead until a sticky dough ball is formed and dough is pulling away from bowl.

Let it rest for about 20 minutes and then remove the dough from the mixer/ processor. Do not handle the dough much. Place in a bowl, cover and allow to rise until double (about 1 1/2 hours).

Punch down, put it back in the bowl, cover and then allow to rest in fridge overnight or for at least 8 hours. In the meanwhile take the butter, place it between sheets of plastic film or parchment paper and flatten it out with a rolling pin into a rectangle (about 8” by 6”). Place in the fridge till required.

Shape the dough into a ball and cut an approx. 3/4" cross in the centre. Roll out the 4 sides to make flaps leaving a centre section big enough to hold the butter block. Place butter block in centre, and fold the flaps over to completely enclose the butter. Lightly press down on the folded dough with your rolling pin and roll out to form a large rectangle, about 11" X 5". Ensure the butter doesn’t leak.

First Turn: Fold dough in thirds, like you would fold a letter, by taking far right third over centre third and far left third over top of far right third. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Second Turn: Lightly flour your working surface. Give the chilled dough a quarter turn, roll out into the rectangle, fold same way as first turn, wrap and refrigerate as above, 30 minutes.

Third Turn: Lightly flour your working surface. Roll the dough in the opposite direction as before, into the rectangle, fold wrap and refrigerate at least 30 but no more than 60 minutes.

Now to shape the croissants.
Lightly flour your working surface and roll out the dough into an approx. 12” by 7” rectangle. Lift it slightly off the surface to aerate it to keep it from shrinking. Using a pizza cutter, trim sides to make straight edges, cut the rectangle into 4 pieces along the breadth. Cut each piecediagonally into 2 triangles each.

Make a small 3/4" long cut in the base of each triangle. Separate the pieces slightly along the cut and start rolling the piece tightly towards the points of the triangle. Place them, with space in between, on a baking tray. Let them rise till almost double (about an hour) and then lightly brush with cream or milk.

Bake the croissants at 200C (400F) for about 12 to 15 minutes till golden. Serve immediately with butter and jam. This recipe should give you 8 croissants.
Both these breads are being sent to Susan for YeastSpotting!



And finally, the winner of my 100 dollar giveaway sponsored by CSN. First of all, let me thank all of you who left comments to be entered for the giveaway. Telling me what your favourite flavour of truffles was an insight into flavour combinations, some of which I hadn’t heard of before. Now I have a lot more ideas to try the next time I make truffles.

The random number generator picked the 9th comment on my giveaway post as the winner. Congratulations Reva, and you get a hundred dollars’ worth of shopping at any of the CSN stores. Please e-mail me your id so that I can send you the coupon code.
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February 21, 2011

Peynirli Poğaça (Turkish Feta And Herb Filled Savoury Buns)


It has been a week since my last post and it’s not because I haven’t cooked or baked. I just decided to take a week off from blogging to enjoy a little more “family” time than usual but I am back with these little filled buns called “Poğaça” (pronounced POH-gah-cha). I first made these about a couple of weeks back and, once again, I have to thank Finla because she was responsible for that in some measure.

She recently sent me a packet of Feta cheese along with all the other stuff. Feta cheese is something that is just beginning to make an appearance on store shelves here, but is usually so expensive that I haven’t so far been able to justify (to myself) the need to buy cheese at that price. Now I know there are many ways to eat Feta, most of them pretty simple enough but when you get to lay your hands on an ingredient that isn’t easily available you want to make something unusual and memorable with it. At least, that’s the way I think.



So instead of eating it with olive oil, or in a salad or a sandwich I was looking for a simple way to use it without the feta cheese-spinach combination which seems to be a universal favourite. Then I discovered the Poğaça, and then on delving into this further I found that this bread is made, and is known by different names, in many Mediterranean and Eastern European countries in one form or the other. Where it is called Poğaça, it seems to be different in each country!




So in Serbia, Croatia and some other Balkan countries, where it is sometimes also known as Farmers’ bread, Poğaça is a yeasted flatbread which sometimes is made with a filling. This Turkish version called Peynirli Poğaça are typically filled with feta cheese and parsley (the “peynir” refers to the cheese and is probably where the Indian “paneer” comes from). These Poğaça are small palm sized soft and fluffy savoury buns, topped with nigella/ sesame seeds and eaten for breakfast or as a snack with tea.

I believe there are other types of Poğaça made in Turkey, but this one seems to be the most popular (or well-known). Traditionally, fresh parsley is used in the filling but I didn’t have any on hand and used dried parsley instead. If you have fresh parsley, then do use that but in slightly smaller quantity.
If you cannot find Feta, you can use crumbled paneer or cottage cheese. Just remember to add a bit of salt to the filling and I would suggest that fresh home-made paneer is the best because it is creamier and moist and makes a lot of difference. You could also add a bit of chilli flakes to the filling to add a bit of “zing” to these buns.



The bread part of this bun is so good, that you could use this recipe with a filling of your choice. While that would no longer be Poğaça as the Turkish know it, but it would still be one very good filled/ stuffed savoury bun.
Peynirli Poğaça (Turkish Feta And Herb Filled Savoury Buns)



Ingredients:


For the dough:


1/2 cup warm milk

1/2 tbsp sugar

1/2 tbsp active dry yeast

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup yogurt

1/4 cup oil


For the filling:


3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

3/4 tbsp dried parsley (or fresh, but less of it)

1/2 tsp dried oregano

3/4 tsp red chilli flakes (optional)


For the topping:


2 tbsp cream (or milk)

Poppy seeds, black or white sesame seeds, Nigella seeds or cumin seeds



Method:

Mix together the warm milk, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

In another larger bowl (or the bowl of your food processor) mix together the flour, salt, yogurt and oil. Now add the yeast-milk mixture and knead till you have a soft and elastic dough which is not sticky. You can add a bit of flour or liquid, if needed, to get this consistency of dough.

Roll the dough into a ball, cover and keep aside to rise for about 45 minutes to an hour. In the meanwhile, mix together the ingredients for the filling. This filling should be enough to for 12 poğaçe.

When the dough has risen, deflate it and divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Flatten each piece in to a circle and put a spoonful of filling and bring the sides of the circle up and pinch together to form a filled bun. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Do not be tempted to over-fill the buns, because then the buns will spilt on baking with the filling spilling out!

Place the poğaçe, the pinched side down, on lightly greased baking sheets. Brush them with cream (or milk) and sprinkle the topping of your choice. Lightly press the topping down with your fingers so they stick to the buns. Keep them at room temperature for about 20 to 30 minutes and then bake them at 180C (350F) for about 20 to 25 minutes till they’re golden brown on top.

Let them cool a bit. Serve them warm with coffee or tea. This recipe makes 12 poğaçe.

 These little filled savoury buns are being YeastSpotted!


And a reminder that if you live in the US or Canada (or have a shipping address there), you have just one day left to try your luck at winning my 100 dollar giveaway.
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February 14, 2011

Keeping The Best For The Last: Pistachio Covered Lemon & Lavender Truffles And Chocolate & Chilli Truffles; And A Valentine’s Day Giveaway!


I’m back as promised, with the remaining two truffles that I mentioned in my previous post. You know what they say about keeping the best for the last? Well, these two are my personal favourites out of all five kinds of truffles I made this time, and a bit little different from the others flavour-wise.

But before I go onto those truffles, let me mention the giveaway. This giveaway is not for roses, jewelry or chocolate but a chance to treat yourself to anything you would like from the chain of CSN stores.
They have been generous enough to, once again, sponsor a giveaway and this time it is a 100 dollar gift certificate (does not cover any shipping costs but you can use it on ANY product from ANY one of the CSN sites).
Since the giveaways that I host or do on this blog are always related to food and cooking in some way, I must point out that the kitchen and dining departments at the CSN Modern Furniture store have some very beautifully designed yet utilitarian items like dinnerware, table linen, kitchen ware and accessories.

To participate in this giveaway, leave a comment at this post telling me what your favourite kind of truffle (only the chocolate kind and no the fungus/ fungi, please) is. That’s all you have to do, and at the end of the giveaway, I’ll randomly pick one lucky commenter who gets to shop to their heart’s content for a 100 dollars!

Non-bloggers are most welcome to participate as well. Please ensure that you leave an e-mail id or a link to an id or your blog so that I can get in touch with you if you win this giveaway. If the winner of the giveaway does not get back to me within 4 days of the winning announcement, I shall pick another winner.

Please note this giveaway is open only to residents of the US and Canada (or if you have a shipping address in either country), does not cover any shipping costs. This giveaway is open till the 21th of February, 2011.
And to those of you who cannot take part in this giveaway, my next giveaway will be for Indian residents only, and that is a promise.



So let’s get back to those truffles I mentioned earlier. Since I was making my own chocolate truffles, I wanted to something different and a bit daring (for me, I mean). In India, chocolate has always been considered food (or treats) for kids.




It is a general and unwritten rule that when one pays the occasional visit to family or friends, one never goes empty-handed more so if there are elders or children there. So one invariably takes fruit along for elders, while the kids are given chocolate (or biscuits/ cookies occasionally). So it is not surprising that our chocolates are invariably very sweet and in very predictable flavour combinations that are thought to be liked by children. Chocolate for adult tastes is something that is still in its infancy in India though commercial chocolate makers are now pushing it for all their worth but the flavour combinations available are very predictable and boring.

So in the present scenario here, if you would like to experiment with daring flavour combinations in chocolate confections, the options are limited to asking someone coming down from abroad to bring you some or making them for yourself. There is always the third option of finding the chocolates in some boutique style shop and paying about 3 to 4 times the actual price!

I was lucky to have a visit from Santa in February (see my last post) bringing me some excellent Belgian chocolate as well as baking chocolate and dried lavender so I used them in my truffles.



Pistachio Covered Lavender & Lemon Truffles




We prefer dark chocolate to the white version as it tends to be a bit sweeter than we like. But white chocolate is good for incorporating and carrying flavours and is excellent to make things like mousse. There are also ways to cut down on the sweetness of white chocolate and one method is to add citrusy flavours to it. I added lemon zest to mine and the lavender paired with it wonderfully.

I would assume the usual way would be to allow the flavours of lemon and lavender to steep in the cream and then strain them out. I liked the idea of my truffles being flecked with zest and lavender so I left them in. The chopped pistachio is the perfect finish to these truffles.
Pistachio Covered Lavender & Lemon Truffles



Ingredients:


1 cup chopped white chocolate

50 ml cream (25%)

60 gm butter

1/4 tsp salt

3 tsp lemon zest

1 tbsp dried lavender flowers, crushed

2/3 cup finely chopped toasted pistachios



Method:


Heat the cream, butter, zest and lavender in a saucepan over hot water, until hot but not boiling. Add the chopped white chocolate and stir until it has melted completely and is smooth.




Pour into a container and freeze for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. This makes the truffle mixture easier to shape and also allows the flavours to develop. When set hard, use a melon baller or scoop to scoop out 1 1/2” balls. Roll them in chopped pistachios and refrigerate (or freeze) till ready to serve.

This recipe makes about 15 truffles.

Cardamom & Chilli Chocolate Truffles




In this spirit of doing “different” I also decided to get adventurous with some Cardamom & Chilli truffles. Now, I know just about everyone’s done the chocolate chilli combination to death but it’s something totally new to me. I added the cardamom to the chilli-chocolate mix as it seemed “something” was missing, flavour-wise. Cardamom is my favourite spice, naturally, and if you haven’t tried with chocolate and chilli you just have to.

I upped the chilli powder to 1/2 tsp in my truffles as I wanted to the “fire” to register a bit. You can tone down depending on how much “fire” your chilli powder has or how you like it in your chocolate. My truffles gave me a hint of warmth in every bite rather than a mild after taste.

As for finishing off (I mean covering the truffles and not eating them) these truffles, you can just roll them in cocoa powder. Otherwise coat them in melted chocolate, or roll them in toasted and chopped pistachios, almonds or even cashewnuts.
Cardamom & Chilli Chocolate Truffles



Ingredients:


50 gm butter

125 ml cream (25% fat)

1 1/2 cups chopped semi-sweet chocolate

3/4 tsp powdered cardamom

1/4 to 1/2 tsp chilli powder (according to taste)*

Cocoa powder for shaping truffles


*1/4 tsp chilli powder will give a barely discernible warmth whereas 1/2 tsp chilli powder will provide a marked warmth and aftertaste. This would also depend on the type of chilli powder so go with your intuition as to the amount required.



Method:


Heat the cream and butter in a saucepan, over hot water, until it is hot but not boiling. Take the pan off the heat and add the chocolate, cardamom and chilli powder. Stir everything till it is smooth.




Pour the truffle mixture into a box and refrigerate till set well. Using a melon baller or scoop, scoop out 1 1/2" balls and roll them in cocoa powder. Refrigerate till ready to serve. This recipe makes about 25 truffles.

Some useful truffle making tips:

A basic chocolate truffle is a ball of ganache (chocolate-cream mixture) which is refrigerated to set. The better the quality of chocolate you use, the better your truffle will be.

If your ganache splits or looks curdled/ separated, just add a few tsps. Of cream and mix till smooth. If your ganache is too hard from refrigeration, keep it at room temperature for a little while till it softens a bit.

Always heat the cream or chocolate using a double boiler method. This means melting the cream or/ and chopped chocolate in a heat-safe bowl (or saucepan) over a barely simmering pot of hot water without the bowl touching the water.

Use a shallow dish to refrigerate the truffle mixture as it will set quickly and uniformly this way.

Having a small melon baller (or scoop) is very helpful to shape truffles. They would be uniform in size. All truffle mixtures are not easy to roll by hand as the heat of your palm can melt them and make them sticky and unmanageable.

The best way to flavour truffles is to infuse the cream with it. Add the flavour to the warm cream and let it stay at room temperature for a couple of hours. Strain, then heat the cream again and melt the chocolate in it.

You can decorate your truffles in many ways, depending on the flavour in them. Roll them in cocoa powder, finely chopped buts, flaked coconut, crushed cookies, chocolate or sugar sprinkles. You can also coat them in melted chocolate and then pipe or drizzle chocolate to make patterns. Another way is to garnish them with something that echoes the filling or flavour in your truffle, like using candied orange on a chocolate and orange truffle.

This giveaway is closed.
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February 12, 2011

Celebrating Chocolate With Coconut Truffle Squares, Oreo Cookie Truffle Hearts And Spiced Fruit & Nut Mincemeat Truffles!


One thing that a whole lot of people look forward to in February has to be Valentine’s Day. Love is definitely an emotion that needs to be celebrated and if there has to be a special day for that every year, so be it. Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day no longer seems to be about celebrating love but more about the illusion of it. Personally, I’m not a Valentine’s Day fan (or at least of it in its present form) and why restrict yourself to celebrating it on one day when you can do so throughout the whole year in so many different ways?

You may not agree with me, and could point out that there are so many other occasions we celebrate once a year and how is this different from those. That’s fine because I’m not belittling the thoughts and emotions behind celebrating Valentine’s Day, just being a bit disappointed at the commercial hype that has come to surround it. As I always say, I’m all for celebrating and since chocolate seems to inextricably linked to February I’m going to do a bit of chocolate celebration in this and my next post.




There are many ways to celebrate with chocolate whether as pure chocolate, cakes, mousse or various other complicated and intricately fashioned confections. Yet nothing is quite the same as chocolate truffles, those small bite-sized bits of delicious decadent chocolate. Whether they are uneven brown coloured balls of chocolate ganache, have interesting centres or are prettily decorated confections, everyone can find a favourite in the world of chocolate truffles.

I haven’t made truffles in a very long time and now that I finally got down to it, I decided I wouldn’t restrict myself to making one or two and ended up making five different kinds! This was partly because I got a bit carried away with the whole truffle making thing. The other reason was that Santa paid me a visit last week.

Finla, a very good friend and fellow food blogger sent me a stash of baking and other food stuff including Belgian chocolate, speculoos and dried lavender amongst other things. Her very accommodating husband, who was a guest at the annual Monte Music Festival in Goa, lugged down all the stuff. Between them, they not only made my day but probably the whole year!




Making truffles is quite easy though it helps if you keep some things in mind. All one needs is to mix everything up, refrigerate it overnight, shape them, refrigerate them again, enrobe them in chocolate or just cover then in cocoa, refrigerate them once again and you’re done. So you actually get to do it in stages over even a couple of days if you choose to take your time with it. Then pretty them up a bit, serve them and be prepared for all “oohs” and “aahs” when you serve them.

In this post, I’m including the recipes of three of the five truffles I made. First are the Coconut Truffle Squares, then some Oreo Cookie Truffle Hearts, and finally my Spiced Fruit And Nut Mince Truffles.



Coconut Truffle Squares




These truffle squares are a lot like Bounty chocolate bars, just smaller and taste much better. They’re not very difficult to make and if you like coconut, then these are for you. Just remember that after cutting the coconut mixture into squares it is better to refrigerate them once again before covering with chocolate. Work quickly as dropping the squares in hot/ warm melted chocolate can soften them up if they’re not coated quickly.
Coconut Truffle Squares



Ingredients:


150 ml cream (25%)

50 gm butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp powdered cardamom (optional)

1/4 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups desiccated coconut*



For covering the truffles:

About 1 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate

2 tbsp oil



*You substitute 1 cup of fresh grated coconut if you like, as they will make for a more moist and juicy centre, but will have a shorter shelf life. Since this recipe makes a small quantity, these squares will most likely be eaten before they get a chance to spoil!



Method:


Place the cream, butter and sugar in a saucepan and slowly bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When it starts to boil (bubble up), take the pan off the heat. Add the coconut, salt and cardamom and mix well. If the mixture seems too wet add a little more desiccated coconut, but not too much. Remember that once it cools down the coconut mixture will thicken.




Press into 8” by 8” tin lined with parchment paper and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the tin and turn the set coconut mixture onto a board and peel off the parchment paper. Cut with a sharp knife into 30 squares. Refrigerate till ready to coat with chocolate.

Melt the chocolate over warm water (or in the microwave), add the oil and mix till smooth. Drop each square in the chocolate, coat it completely using two forks. Remove excess chocolate and place each square on a sheet of parchment paper to set. Drizzle more chocolate or decorate as desired.

This recipe makes 30 square truffles.

Oreo Cookie Truffle Hearts




These truffles are bound to a favourite with children especially. So it might be a good idea to use milk chocolate to cover them as younger children would find semi-sweet chocolate a bit bitter.

If you can find cream cheese use that. When I can find cream cheese here, it is very expensive so crumbled and blended paneer is an excellent substitute. Please use home-made paneer as the moistness of fresh paneer gives the blended paneer a very smooth and creamy consistency.

Use the biscuits/ cookies with the cream. To crush them, just put them in a plastic or ziplock bag, close it and bash the bag with your rolling pin! Great stress reliever too, though if you get over zealous, the bag might burst and cause you even more stress!!
Oreo Cookie Truffle Hearts

(Adapted from Kraft Foods)


Ingredients:


3/4 cup fresh crumbled paneer (or 1/2 cup cream cheese)

3 cups crushed Oreo cookies*

Cocoa powder for shaping truffles



For covering the truffles:

2 cups chopped semi-sweet (or milk) chocolate

2 tbsp butter


*You can use Britannia’s Pure Magic biscuits with vanilla cream instead of Oreos.



Method:


Run the crumbled paneer in the blender till smooth and creamy.

Put the crushed biscuits/ cookies and the blended panner (or cream cheese) in a bowl and mix together using your fingers into a dough-like mixture. If it feels too soft to shape, refrigerate for about an hour.




Dust your palms with a bit of cocoa powder and take about 1/3 rd the mixture. Roll it into a smooth ball and flatten into a disc using your hands. Using a rolling pin, lightly flatten it some more to a uniform thickness of about 1/2".  Using a small heart shaped cookie cutter and cut out little hearts. Repeat with remaining mixture. If it gets soft, refrigerate for about an hour and then cut out more hearts. Refrigerate till ready to cover with chocolate.
If you prefer you can just roll the mixture into 1 1/2" balls.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl, over warm water. Using two forks, drop each heart (or ball) into the melted chocolate and coat well. Working quickly, remove the excess chocolate and place on a sheet of parchment paper to set.

Decorate as desired. This recipe makes about 40 small truffle hearts.

Spiced Fruit & Nut Mince Truffles




I got the idea for these truffles from some carrot and almond mincemeat I had in the fridge. I had bookmarked this recipe ages back and was waiting for the red, juicy and sweet winter carrots to be in season to make this mincemeat. Since I wanted to make some truffles with a fruit and nut filling, the mince seemed perfect.

You can use whatever you have on hand but I’m including my adaptation of the Rajani’s “Carrot And Almond Mincemeat” just in case you want to make some of your own. Even if you’re not going to make these truffles, the mincemeat is worth making because it is absolutely gorgeous and an excellent way to preserve the winter carrots before the season is over.

Again you can use semi-sweet chocolate to cover the truffles, but I personally felt the spice in these truffles called for milk chocolate to balance out flavours.
Spiced Fruit & Nut Mince Truffles


Ingredients:


100 ml cream (25% fat)

1 1/4 cups chopped semi-sweet chocolate

5 tbsp fruit and nut mince (recipe follows)

Cocoa powder for shaping truffles


For covering the truffles:

1 cup chopped milk chocolate, melted

1 1/2 tbsp butter



Method:


Heat the cream in a saucepan, over low heat, stirring frequently till it is quite hot but not boiling. Take the pan off the heat and add the chopped semi-sweet chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted completely and is smooth. Add the fruit and nut mincemeat and mix well.




Refrigerate the mixture overnight, or for 4 hours at least. Overnight refrigeration brings out the flavour better. Dust your palms lightly with cocoa powder and shape the mixture into 1 1/2” balls. Refrigerate till ready to coat with chocolate.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl, over warm water. Using two forks, drop each ball into the melted chocolate and coat well. Working quickly, remove the excess chocolate and place on a sheet of parchment paper to set.

Decorate as desired. This recipe makes about 35 truffles.



Carrot Almond Mincemeat

(Adapted from Eat.Write.Think)



Ingredients:


3 cups grated red winter carrots, well packed

3/4 cup unsweetened orange juice

1 cup finely chopped almonds

1 cup chopped prunes

1 cup chopped dried fruit (golden raisins, figs, papaya,

1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger

1 cup Demerara (or brown) sugar

1 tsp lemon zest/ rind

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp powdered cinnamon

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

1 1/2 tsp chai masala

1 tsp red chilli flakes

1 1/2 tbsp melted butter

1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice



Method:


Cook the grated carrots and the orange juice together in the Microwave (or steam cook it), until the carrot is cooked and soft.

Mix the cooked carrots, the almonds, prunes and other dried fruits, candied ginger, the sugar, the zest, all the spices, salt butter and apple juice in a large bowl. Mix together and leave at room temperature for about 2 hours.

Then refrigerate in an airtight glass jars until required. Though this mincemeat does not contain alcohol, no one would believe it after tasting it!

This keeps in the fridge for about a month (that’s as long as I know it lasts).
I shall be posting the remaining two truffles in a couple of days so watch this space. I shall also be announcing a giveaway in that post and tell me what’s better than chocolate and a giveaway?
In the meanwhile, I'm sending my truffles which are perfect for Meeta's Monthly Mingle which is being hosted this month by Astrid with the theme "Small Bites - Soul Food For Loved Ones"!
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February 8, 2011

Tartine’s Zucchini And Orange Marmalade Tea Loaf (Eggless Version)


I first saw this loaf from Tartine on Mark’s blog and bookmarked it to try. It is a different matter that it has taken me over a year to actually make it and then a little over a month to post about it! That’s what happens when you have list of bookmarked recipes that is a couple of miles long. One tends to lose track of what’s on that list.

I had never really forgotten this particular loaf for two reasons. The first being that it involves marmalade which is something I love. Unlike the rest of my family, I do not particularly like jam and you will very rarely find it on my toast. The exception to this rule is marmalade because it is not as sweet and I like the faint bitterness from the rind/ zest. Naturally, my jam loving family doesn’t like marmalade so there’s almost some left in the marmalade jar.




Funnily enough, none of us really like zucchini (except in aviyal) but I can never resist buying some and I’m always looking for a new recipe which uses zucchini in a well-disguised manner! In the past year, I have also seen this particular loaf on many food blogs and all of them have had only nice things to say about it.

As is my usual style, I made some changes to the original recipe including cutting out the eggs, using olive oil and cardamom as the spice of my choice. I also left out the walnuts because we don’t really like them. If you haven’t tried it before, cardamom and orange are fantastic together. You can further adapt this recipe to be vegan if would like by substituting for the milk.




I also have only nice things to say about this zucchini orange marmalade loaf, even after the changes. It is very easy to make as you just need to mix the wet and dry ingredients, muffin-style. Perhaps grating the zucchini would involve more effort!

This loaf turned out to be very moist, slightly dense but not heavy, beautifully flecked with green and you can taste oranges in every bite. It’s a great coffee/ teatime loaf that will get you compliments every time. I think it is about time I got a copy of this book for myself!
Zucchini and Orange Marmalade Tea Loaf (Eggless)

(Adapted from Tartine)



Ingredients:


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

5 pods cardamom, powdered

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups grated zucchini (about 1 large zucchini)

1/2 cup orange marmalade

3/4 cup sugar

1/8 cup milk

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tbsp sugar (optional)



Method:


Mix the first five (dry) ingredients in a small bowl. and set aside.

In another largish bowl mix all the remaining ingredients (wet ones) in a large bowl until combined so there are no unsightly lumps of marmalade. Sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and lightly stir until just combined. Do not overmix or the loaf will be very heavy. A lumpy batter is just fine.

Scrape the batter into a greased and floured medium sized loaf tin and sprinkle some or all of the 2 tbsp sugar (if using). This sugar gives the top of the loaf an interesting crunch. Bake at 180C (350F) for about 40 minute or until a toothpick in the centre comes out clean.

Cool the loaf in the tin for about 5 minutes, and then loosen it. Remove from the tin and cool completely on a rack. Slice and serve. This loaf serves 6 to 8 people.
Jim Davis once said that vegetables were a must on a diet and suggested carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie. This zucchini and orange marmalade is as good as , if not better than, zucchini bread!
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February 3, 2011

Tropical Fruit & Nutella Parfait


Nutella!
For a long time it used to be one of those things I used to hear a lot of food bloggers raving about on so many blogs but could not find here. Then a couple of years back it started making its presence felt on the local supermarket shelves. It was (and still is) quite expensive but I bought a jar to see what it was like.

Considering that it is mostly chocolate (well, cocoa actually) and hazelnuts what’s not there to like about it? I do find it a bit sweet and it does have a slightly “pasty” feel in the mouth but I see how it can get addictive. I understand there are two types of Nutella. One, it is said is what is available in the American stores, doesn’t have much of hazelnuts in it and is sweet. The other one is that one finds in Europe (Italy to be specific) which is less sweet and tastes more of hazelnuts.




Since the label on my Nutella jar only says “Imported by Ferrero Rocher”, I’m assuming it is the American version. It is easy enough to make one’s own Nutella from scratch with hazelnuts and cocoa but that will have to wait until I can find hazelnuts of the affordable variety in my stores.

While I can understand Nutella can be addictive, I was quite astonished to discover that there are a lot of people who seriously dedicate themselves to the business of Nutella consumption. Funnily enough, Nutella started out as a solid block of chocolate and ground hazelnuts. In the 1940s, chocolate was expensive in Italy but hazelnuts were easily available and cheap so one Pietro Ferrero used the hazelnuts to extend chocolate in his patisserie, little realising history was in the making!




According to Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy, Nutella is not just a “chocolaty hazelnut spread, but a way of life! So she got together with Michelle of Bleeding Espresso and created a Nutella day which the 5th of February this year. Now if that doesn’t convince you that there are people who are pretty serious about Nutella, nothing will.

I had some Nutella left in the jar and I realised I had some time to meet the deadline so I decided to join this year’s Nutella celebrants. No, I’m not swearing me allegiance to all things Nutella nor have I decided that it is a way of life but surely no harm ever came from celebrating anything, within limits.




So here’s my Nutella creation. It is very simple and nothing more than a fruit salad layered with a cottage cheese-Nutella cream. A quick dessert that’s not too heavy. I used cottage cheese (paneer) because that’s what I had on hand. You could replace the cottage cheese with thick/ hung yogurt, cream cheese or even whipped cream for a creamier feel to this dessert.

The crumbled cookies add a bit of crunch to the dessert. I used store bought cookies for this one. Ginger cookies are another option which would work well here. I know my parfait doesn’t look very colourful but I was restricted to using the fruits in my fridge. You can choose a combination of fruit that appeals to you.
Tropical Fruit & Nutella Parfait



Ingredients:


2 cups chopped fruit (pear, kiwi fruit, banana, orange)

1/2 tsp lemon juice

1 tbsp honey (optional)

1/2 tsp freshly crushed black pepper

6 almond pistachio cookies, crumbled

200 gm cottage cheese (paneer) crumbled

1/8 cup (approx.) milk

2 tbsp icing sugar

3/4 cup Nutella

Mint for garnishing




Method:


The elements of the parfait can be made ahead, chilled and be assembled just before serving. Add the lemon juice, honey (don’t if your fruits are sweet enough) and the pepper to the chopped fruit and toss to coat evenly. Refrigerate till required.

Run the crumbled cottage cheese with milk and the icing sugar in a blender until it is smooth. Add the Nutella to this and hand whisk together till well blended. Refrigerate till required. Just whisk it till smooth before spooning into the glasses.

Take 4 parfait glasses and spoon the cottage cheese-Nutell mixture into the bottom. Sprinkle the crumbled cookies and top up with the chopped fruit. Top again with some more of the cottage cheese-Nutella. Garnish with fruit and mint and the parfaits are ready to serve.
This recipe serves 4.
This parfait goes to celebrate Nutella Day, 2011.


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