April 30, 2012

Exercises In Food Photography #1 : Aperture and DoF

W
hen I accidentally discovered an enduring passion for photography through my food blog, all I had by way of gear was a Point & Shoot camera. People will tell you that the camera doesn’t matter and it’s the photographer that makes (or breaks) a photograph and that’s true enough up to a point. But don’t under estimate the power of a dSLR and the difference it can make to the quality of your photograph, though getting one does not automatically improve your photography.
So I upgraded to a dSLR which came with an 18-55mm kit lens. I also added on a 50mm f/1.8 lens which I could barely afford despite it being the cheapest lens that Canon probably makes! Despite its affordability, the 50mm isn’t called the “nifty fifty” for nothing as I’m sure you might have discovered if you have this lens.
Now I had the dSLR, I needed to work on my photography and I wasn’t sure where to start. I spent a lot of time reading up, took a short 1 week course on photography basics, and dug around on the net for pointers. I also discovered that setting myself photography projects/ assignments was a good way to get in some focussed practise. I found working alone wasn’t motivating me soI joined a couple of groups on Flickr which helped me tremendously. Of course, it is important to learn the basics of photography and it some time and effort but that’s the only way to improve.


I am starting this series because I got some requests as well as feedback saying some of you interested in joining me on working their photography skills and taking them a bit further. I thought one way of doing this was start a series of once-a-month exercises in food photography, each with a different theme. Anyone interested could join in.
Let me also stress at this point, as I always do, that I am not a professionally qualified photographer and just tryiong to share whatever I have learnt so far about the practical side of the craft. I shall do about 4 or 5 posts in this series and if I find there aren’t too many participants for these exercises, I shall discontinue them. Please note that this is not a competition and there are no prizes for the “best” photographs.


The Exercise:

This first exercise is very simple and deals with Aperture and DoF (Depth of Field). All you need is dSLR camera, a 50mm f/1.8 lens, some food to photograph and a desire to spend some time on thinking and executing your photograph. If you have a P&S where you can set the aperture manually, then you’re welcome to join this exercise.
For those without a 50mm lens, use whatever lens you normally use to shoot food, and shoot at two apertures. If you have an 18-55mm kit lens for example, set the focal length of your lens to say 24mm (zoom in your lens until the mark is at 24mm on the lens barrel). Then shoot at the lowest aperture possible at that focal length (probably f/ 4.0) and then shoot the same at f/ 5.6 or f/ 6.3. The result will differ from that of the 50mm lens but you can still see the difference.
While this is not a competition, it is still about improving ones photography, so it would be nice if you could think about your composition and what goes into your photograph in terms of your subject, props, colours, light, etc. This may be an elementary exercise for most, but for the benefit of those new to this your photographs will need a foreground and background so that the background will show up “blurry”. 


 (Aperture : f/ 4.0, Shutterspeed : 1/25s and ISO : 100)

I decided to shoot photographs of Muesli for breakfast.  Cereal, milk and toast are not something we really like but it is an easy option for the occasional mornings when I have very little time to cook a regular breakfast. I find that I like Muesli with yogurt and some fruit much better.
For this particular exrecise, I used a black background (thick handmade paper) with a bowl of Muesli in the foreground and some milk, orange juice and the morning paper in the background. There’s natural; light streaming in from the right which I reflected using a white foam board on the left to remove some of the shadow cast by the bowl. Both were shot with a 50mm f/1.8 lens on a tripod at ISO 100.


The shallow DoF is visible in the “blurry” back portion of the bowl of Muesli and background in the photograph on the left (aperture - f/ 2.0, and shutterspeed - 1/80s) and whereas both the bowl and the background are much sharper in the photograph on the right (aperture - f/ 5.6 and shutterspeed - 1/13s).
So which photograph would you prefer, the one with the "blurry" background or the other one?
Both are the same composition-wise, but I prefer the one taken at f/ 2.0 to the one at f/ 5.6in this instance because personally I feel the shallow DoF draws my eye to the "sharp" part of the Muesli in the bowl which is the "hero" of my shot. The version I liked best is the one higher above in this post, taken at aperture f/ 4.0.
However, my daughter prefers the shot on the right because "everything is comparitively sharper. So there's no real right or wrong photograph and that "blurring" doesn't always work in every photograph or for everyone, its just a question of personal preference.


What You Have To Do To Join In: 

1.      Take 2 exactly same photographs of your subject (any food of your choice) using the 50mm lens, one at aperture f/2.0 and the other at f/5.6. The exposure, composition, ISO, White Balance and other parameters should be the same to enable comparison.
       Of course, when you change the aperture the shutter speed will also change to maintain same exposure. You may choose to shoot in whatever mode you want, though Av (Aperture Priority) or Manual are good modes to use.
       You will also need a tripod to ensure you shoot exactly the same frame for both photographs. If you don’t have one, you can prop your camera on a pile of books or something similar as an alternative to a tripod, but it might be difficult to shoot 2 very similar photographs hand held.


2.     Post the photographs and details about them on you blog, including what aperture, shutterspeed and ISO settings you used. It would be nice if you could do a ditych (two photographs side by side, as one) of your photographs or place them side by side in your post, if possible, for easy comparison.
        Also include any other details about the lighting, use of reflectors or anything that would help others understand your photographs better and maybe learn from them.


3.     Please ensure that link back to this post/ page in your blog post. Then add the link to your Photography Exercise post using the Simply Linked Widget that appears at the bottom of this post. This will direct readers to you blog and allow them to read your post. If you do not have a blog, then upload your photographs on Flickr or any other hosting site and then use the link of that photograph in the Widget.

The deadline for this exercise is the 25th of May, 2012 so that gives you a little over 3 weeks to get it done. I’m hoping that  I will have a lot of company in this series of exercises and am looking forward to seeing all your photographs.
If you have any doubts or need any clarifications about this exercise, please leave a comment at the end of this post and I'll get back to you.


Other Exercises In This Series:


Exercises In Food Photography #2 : Less Is More, So Let’s Keep It Simple!

Exercises In Food Photography #3 : Overhead Food Shots – A View From Above

Exercises In Food Photography #4 : Feature Just One Ingredient!

Exercises In Food Photography #5 : Adding Some Life To Your Photograph!


 
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April 27, 2012

An Armenian Nutmeg Cake (Meshgengouz Gargantag) & Some Nazook (Yeasted And Rolled Pastries With Sweet Filling) : Daring Bakers Challenge, April, 2012

I
f one thing describes my blogging these days it would be the word “irregular” and it’s pretty much the same with my Daring Bakers Challenges as the last one I did wasin January. I haven’t been much of a baker in a while and there’s been nothing daring in what I’ve been turning out for breakfast, lunch or dinner in ages.
There is a rule somewhere in the Daring Bakers manual for members that says that a DB cannot miss more than 2 challenges at a stretch and must do 8 out of 12 challenges in a year if they want to retain membership, unless they have genuine reasons for missing the challenges. Luckily for me, the DB power-that-be are not too strict with adherence to this particular rule.




All the same, I thought I’d better play safe and do this month’s challenge. When I finally got around to checking this month’s challenge I found that the Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards - Nazook and Nutmeg Cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.
So we had a twin challenge this month with an option to do any one or both, according to our preference. I must say that I was quite happy to see that neither recipe was challenging in the manner of the tasks that DB hosts usually set us, as I made the Nazook yesterday and the Nutmeg Cake this morning!




I hadn’t heard of either before though both looked interesting. One thing that both these recipes have to recommend for themselves is that they don’t require much time (except rising time for the yeasted dough for Nazook) or effort to make. I did both challenges and did them both without eggs. I also adapted them slightly, partly by design and partly by accident.


Nazook (Yeasted And Rolled Pastries With Sweet Filling)

I was taken up with the name of these Armenian yeasted and rolled pastries. I’m not sure what it means in Armenian, but in Hindi (India’s national language, which used to be quaintly referred to as Hindustani by the British), the word “naazook” means delicate. Perhaps it refers to the consistency of the yeasted dough that needs rolling out, or the delicate looking pastry itself.


Nazook are small baked pastries made by rolling out the dough, filling them with a sweet flour paste, rerolling the dough jelly/ jam roll style and then cutting this into smaller pieces before baking. I made some changes to the challenge recipes to suit me.  I halved the given recipe and then reduced the butter a bit. We don’t get sour cream here so I substituted that with yogurt. Perhaps because yogurt has more moisture I needed more flour than suggested.
The thought of flour, butter and sugar as filling didn’t really excite me so I used a filling somewhat similar to what we fill Nevries with - mixture of flour, semolina, sugar, ground almonds, desiccated coconut and cardamom - for my Naazook. I wanted to keep my pastries free of egg so I used yogurt instead of an egg wash and sprinkled the tops of half the Naazook with toasted sesame seeds.
These pastries are delightful, somewhat flaky and a bit crunchy and really good to serve with coffee or tea. The filling worked perfectly with the dough and the sesame seeds were the perfect finish.


Nazook (Yeasted And Rolled Pastries With Sweet Filling)

Ingredients:

For the Pastry Dough:


1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

 1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

1/2 cup thick yogurt

100 gm softened butter (room temperature)


For the Filling:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted 

 1/4 cup granulated sugar 

1/4 cup semolina (rawa) 

1/4 cup coarsely powdered almonds (I powdered flaked almonds)

75 gm softened butter (room temperature)

3 to 4 pods cardamom, powdered

2 tbsp yogurt for brushing the pastries 

2 to 3 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds (optional)


Method:

 You can do this by hand but I used the processor to knead the dough. To make the pastry dough, place 1 1/2 cups of the sifted flour and the dry yeast in the processor bowl and pulse once or twice to mix. Add the yogurt and butter and process into a dough. If required keep adding a as much flour as required and knead into a soft elastic dough that is just short of sticky.
Cover the dough and refrigerate for 3-5 hours, or overnight as you prefer. I ended up refrigerating the dough for almost 36 hours!
When ready to make the pastries take the dough out and keep at room temperature for about 10 to 15 minutes to soften it slightly. In the meanwhile make the filling by putting all the ingredients for the filling into a bowl and mixing together till it looks clumpy and sand-like.
To make the Naazook, divide the dough into 2 halves. Lightly knead the dough so it smooth. Dust your working surface lightly with flour and roll the dough into a large rectangle. It should be thin but not transparent.


Spread half the filling evenly as close as possible to the edges on the short sides, keeping some of pastry dough uncovered (about 1/2 “) along the long edges. From one of the long sides, start slowly rolling the dough across. Be careful to make sure the filling stays evenly distributed.
Roll all the way across until you have a long, thin log. Pat it down the log so that it flattens out a bit. Brush the top and sides with yogurt and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Lightly pat them into the dough. Use a knife or a crinkle cutter to cut the log into 10 or 12 pieces of equal width.
Place the pieces on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 180C (350F) for about 30 minutes or till the tops of the pastries turn golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. This recipe makes 20 to 24 Naazook.  
These are best eaten a little warm from the oven. Nazook will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of weeks or can be frozen in an air-free bag for upto 3 months.


Armenian Nutmeg  Cake With Cashewnuts



I understand that Armenian cooking is noted for its use of spices. This particular not too sweet cake, called Meshgengouz Gargantag  I understand, features nutmeg and has an unusual process which was why I decided to make it.
The process involves using part of the cake ingredients to make a sort of pie-crust and then adding liquids to the remainder to make a batter. So it’s a sort of “cake in a pie crust” resulting in a spicy and moist cake that has two layers, a lower crunchy/ somewhat crisp layer and an upper moist and cakey layer.



Again, I slightly adapted the recipe and made it egg-free. When I started getting the ingredients for the cake this morning, I realised I had run out of eggs and I didn’t have another key ingredients – the walnuts. So I left out the egg and substituted cashewnuts for walnuts, which was a good thing because no one here likes walnuts very much.
I also reduced the sugar by half a cup, as I had a feeling the cake might otherwise end up too sweet for our liking.
This is an unusual cake and a good one to serve for a special evening with tea or coffee. You can also serve it as a dessert cake with vanilla ice-cream on the side. I’ll just leave you with a few words of warning though.
You might not like this much if you’re not very fond of nutmeg, but then you could always use another spice of choice like cardamom or even vanilla. It wouldn’t be the same cake but it would still be a very good cake.
This cake is also quite rich in butter – I used 150 gm against the original 180 gm and still found it quite rich.

Armenian Nutmeg  Cake With Cashewnuts

Ingredients:

1 cup milk

1 tsp baking soda

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 cups brown sugar, loosely packed

150 gm cold butter, preferably unsalted, cubed

 1/3 cup cashewnut pieces

1 to 1 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg, according to taste

1 tsp chai masala



Method:

 You can mix the cake together by hand but I took the easy way out and used my processor. Mix the baking soda into the milk and set it aside. Put the flour, the baking powder and sugar into the processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix well.
Add the butter cubes and run the processor till the mixture resembles more or less uniform crumbs. Take half of this and press it down, using your fingers, into a crust in an 8” cake tin with a removable base/ spring form cake tin. I pressed down some of the mixture along the sides too.
To the remaining mixture in the processor, add the milk-baking soda mixture, the grated nutmeg  and the chai masala and run till you have a smooth batter. Pour this batter into the cake tin with the pressed crust.


Toss the cashewnut pieces in a tsp of flour till coated and sprinkle them gently over the surface of the batter. Bake the cake at 180C (350F) for about 35 to 45 minutes till the top is a golden brown or till a skewer pushed through the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the tin, and then remove.  Cut and serve. It is best eaten while still warm.This recipe makes 12 servings.
This cake will keep (covered) at room temperature for 2-3 days or freeze in a sealed bag for upto 3 months.

And now that we’re done here, do join me while I take a look at what my fellow DBs have been doing with this month’s challenge!
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April 20, 2012

Spaghetti Con Salsa di Pomodorie e Mele (Spaghetti With A Tomato-Apple Sauce)

I
n the southern part of India where I come from, there’s this age old tradition/ custom of never going visiting family or friends empty-handed, even casual visitors would many a times keep with this tradition. This tradition exists in the rest of India and in many other parts of the world too. It is somewhat like taking wine, chocolate, flowers or a small gift for your hosts when you’re invited to dinner.
So we grew up being taught to always carry something (usually a gift of food) for our hosts when we went visiting. I do hesitate to call these “gifts”, because they really were more of an “I wanted to show my affection/ respect so I brought along something you would like” sort of offering.
And if there were elders or children in the home you were visiting, you never went empty-handed because even though there was no compulsion to carry something with you, it was generally considered bad manners or a lack of social courtesies.
One rarely carried expensive gifts and you could never go wrong with taking fruit along with you, and perhaps a few packets of biscuits (what we call our cookies in India) for the children of the house.
I remember as children, we were always more excited to see what the guests to our home brought with them, than the guests themselves except in the rare exception that we were expecting a favourite uncle, aunt or grandparent. And they would invariably bring us what we liked or wanted.
Those were the days when people almost always brought along fruit since most people grew things like bananas, plantains, mangoes, jackfruit, guavas and stuff in their backyards.  Apples, pears and other fruit that we take for granted today, were grown in other parts of the country and we saw them only in the pages of our nursery books.




We weren’t much enamoured by fruit and looked forward to the “real” treats like biscuits/ cookies, sweetmeats or small bars of chocolates instead. Remember that these were times when processed and packaged foods were quite expensive and also looked down upon by our elders who couldn’t understand why one would spend a lot more money buying stuff wrapped in plastic/ foil when you could eat much better food made at home!
This tradition is something a lot of us in India still continue with, except these days I tend to take along home-baked goodies when visiting. Recently a friend of ours, whom we hadn’t seen in over a year, was in our neighbourhood and decided to drop by and brought along a huge bag of apples. Now it so happened that just 2 days before this I had been to the market for my weekly haul of vegetables and fruit which also included a kilo of apples!
So here I was, with a whole lot of apples on my hand (in my fruit basket actually!) threatening to go bad on me. So what do you do when life gives you loads of apples, especially when it’s not a favourite fruit in your home? I used my own recipes and suggestions from some friends and turned them into milkshakes, Tarte Tatin, Apple Pie, Apple Chutney, Apple Raita (apple in spiced yogurt), Apple Cake, Apple Fritters, Apple Coffee Cake, Apple Pancakes, hid them in salads and even fed them to our dog! It came to a point where my husband and daughter started saying, “Please don’t say there’s apple in this too!”




And still I had more apples left. That’s when someone on Facebook suggested I try making pasta sauce with apples. I wasn’t sure that this was a good idea but the thought of apples in pasta sauce had me intrigued. A search on the net led me to this recipe and other very positive reactions from various people who had tried it. Since it wasn’t very difficult to make, I thought I would risk it. And I had an idea that if the pasta sauce wasn’t well received at lunch, I could always convert into some sort of soup so no waste either!
I made some small changes to the original recipe and we were very pleasantly surprised at how good the sauce tasted.  It is much like the basic tomato sauce for pasta but the apple adds a hint of sweet that balances the tartness of the tomatoes, much like when some people add a bit of sugar to their tomato sauce.  Hence it is important to use the slightly tart variety rather than sweet apples or your sauce could end up sweet. The apple also adds body and texture to the tomato sauce, but no one would ever say there was apple in it.




My recipe below is an adaptation of the one in Lidia Bastianich’s book, Lidia Cooks From TheHeart Of Italy. This particular pasta sauce is from Italy’s Trentino–Alto Adige region, where they use apples in a lot of their cooking which isn’t surprising since this region is a leading producer of apples.
Spaghetti Con Salsa di Pomodorie e Mele (Spaghetti With A Tomato-Apple Sauce)


Ingredients:


2 cups cooked, skinned and de-seeded tomatoes
1 green bell pepper (capsicum), chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 tsp garlic paste
1 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
Salt to taste
2 firm and somewhat tart apples
250 - 300 gm spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, as required


Method:


Put the cooked tomatoes and the bell pepper in a blender and purée. Keep this aside. Your tomato purée can be very smooth or a bit chunky. I prefer mine a little bit chunky, because I feel it adds a rustic feel and gives the sauce some character, visually at least.
If you would like to keep your sauce chunky then purée the tomatoes and the bell pepper separately because chunks of bell pepper doesn’t taste good in this sauce! So put about half a cup of the tomato purée and the chopped bell pepper in the blender and purée till smooth. Empty into the rest of the tomato and keep aside.
Heat the oil in a largish pan, and sauté the onions on medium heat, till they turn soft. Add the garlic paste and cook for another minute. Add your blended tomato-bell pepper mixture and the chilli powder. Season with salt to your taste.
Bring the whole thing to a boil and then turn down the heat so that sauce continues to bubble and simmer. Stir occasionally and let this cook for about 10 minutes. In the meanwhile, peel and core the apples and then grate them.
Add the grated apple to the sauce, and allow it to cook for another 15 minutes till the apple is cooked and the sauce thickens to desired consistency.
While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta in salted water till al dente. Drain the pasta and put it in the simmering tomato-apple sauce. Toss the pasta till well coated with the sauce. Sprinkle some grated cheese and toss again to mix. Serve hot, with extra cheese on the table if necessary.
This recipe serves 3, so you can double the recipe if needed for a larger group of people.
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April 10, 2012

Vegan & Gluten-free Cupcakes With a Lime/ Lemon Glaze – A Guest Post For A Friend...

S
ometimes the simplest of things can have you stumped. Sometime back, Harini came down to Goa with her family for a short vacation. We are good friends, and our daughters can spend a lot of time marvelling over how food and photography can turn their mothers in beings weirder than Martians might be!

So what does one food blogger take when meeting another one? Well, good food is always much appreciated, so I decided to bake some cupcakes for her kids. I don’t usually bake vegan but being vegetarian, I am now quite comfortable with it and only need to give my recipe of choice a bit of thought before I adapt it


Harini’s daughter, whom she refers to in her posts as Junior H. also happens to be allergic to gluten and this, is what had me stumped as I have rarely done gluten-free baking! My native style of South Indian cooking is inherently gluten-free as it is mostly rice based, but gluten-free baking is something I have very little experience with.


But I went ahead and tried  my hand at making some vegan and gluten-free lemony cupcakes with a tangy lemon glaze that were pretty good, even if I say so myself. I also have Harini's daughter to back me up on this.
The softness and crumb texture is like that of a regular cupcake, and you wouldn’t even know there wasn’t all-purpose flour in it except for the somewhat nutty taste of sorghum flour. We liked them, and I remember Harini’s daughter telling me she liked them very much.


So when Harini asked me, a couple of months back, if I would do guest post for her, I said yes naturally. And since she writes a vegan food blog with a lot of gluten-free recipes, it seemed a perfect idea to make those very gluten-free cupcakes that I had originally made for her daughter...........

If my post has got you interested, please read the rest of the post at Tongue Ticklers, Harini's vegan blog.
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April 7, 2012

Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns……..

H
omes that celebrate Easter wouldn’t be doing it right if there weren’t Hot Cross Buns on the table on Good Friday. For a long time, I never knew that Hot Cross Buns were made for Easter. My only association with them was from nursery rhyme that goes “Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns……….”, another one of those things I learnt at school that I had no about!
In fact it was only a few years ago, when we had neighbours who celebrated Easter, that I discovered the Hot Cross Buns were eaten on Good Friday. We were living in Kerala then, and in typically as is done by Catholics in Kerala, the Easter celebration with Palm Sunday which is the Sunday before Easter. 
On Maundy Thursday , also known as “Pesaha Vyaazham” (Passover Thursday), an unleavened steam cooked bread made from rice called “Pesaha Appam/ Inri Appam” decorated with a palm leaf cross is served with “Pesaha Paa”l, a jaggery sweetened coconut milk.  This bread is cut and shared among the family members, and is eaten dipped in Pesaha Paal, in commemoration of the last supper.
Hot Cross Buns are made and eaten on Good Friday which is called “Dhukka Veliyaazhcha” meaning “Sad Friday”! I have seen these buns also made as slightly larger round loaves.




Now Hot Cross Buns supposedly have their origins way before Christianity and even Easter is supposed to have its origins in pre-Christian times. At the beginning of the spring, the Saxons used to mark the transition of winter to spring in a month long celebration during which they offered buns to their goddess of dawn and spring, Eostre. 
These buns were marked with cross supposed to represent the sun wheel or the 4 phases of the moon, depending on which story you would like to believe. It is believed that Easter comes from the name “Eostre”, and these buns were re-interpreted and adapted by the Christian Church during missionary efforts. 
Today Hot Cross Buns are small lightly sweet yeasted and spiced buns that are dotted with raisins with a cross marked on top with sugar icing or a flour paste and then sugar glazed. This cross signifies the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is also significant that the month long lean Lent period which precedes Easter is broken with this little bread that is made with butter, eggs, spices and raisins.




Not surprisingly, they were very popular in 19th century England when street vendors used to sell them apparently singing “One a penny two a penny, hot cross buns…., butter them, sugar them and put them in your muns”, to make their wares more appealing to the buying public.
By the way, the word “muns” was slang for mouth. This probably gave rise to the popular nursery rhyme. Though Hot Cross Buns are associated with Easter, this wasn’t always so.
In the 16th century England, the then ruling Protestant Monarchy saw these very popular buns as a threat because Catholics made them from dough kneaded for consecrated bread used at Mass or Holy Communion. So in 1592, Queen Elizabeth I issued a law allowing bakers to sell hot cross buns only during Easter, Christmas or at funerals and thus Hot Cross Buns came to be associated with Easter.




Other than having religious significance, there are a few folklore traditions attached to them. Hot Cross Buns were thought to have medicinal, even magical, value as a Hot Cross Bun baked on Good Friday would not become mouldy!
Sailors would carry Hot Cross Buns with them on sea voyages to guard against shipwrecks.
Some believed that hanging a Cross Bun in the kitchen guaranteed that bread made there would always rise. And if you shared sharing a Hot Cross Bun with someone, preferably while saying "Half for you and half for me, between us two shall goodwill be", it meant you would be good friends forever!
Whatever the origin, or the stories that come with these buns, there’s no denying that a batch of these baking in your oven will envelop you, your kitchen and possibly your home in a fragrant aroma of baking bread and warm spices. Nothing quite like that to put you in a good mood, when you know you’ll soon be having one (or two maybe?) split and slathered with butter along with a cup of coffee or tea. And take my word; you don’t need to wait for Good Friday/ Easter to make these.





Here’s my recipe for Hot Cross Buns. It’s not an authentic one, not that I know there’s such a recipe, but I can guarantee it is a good one! I substituted a little whole wheat flour because I like the dimension it adds in taste, but feel free to use all white flour.
I didn’t have dark coloured raisins so I used golden ones. I must say the dark coloured variety are more pleasing to the eye and look better if you have to photograph your Buns. If you reallly like raisins, you can add an extra half cup to the dough.
I used chai masala along with some cinnamon and nutmeg, but feel free to use a spice mix that you prefer or have on hand. You will need to use a little more spice than you would normally think necessary to get the full flavour in these buns.
Some people make the buns and use icing to mark the crosses on the buns, but I have gone the traditional way of using a flour paste to make the crosses and then brushed a sugar glaze on the cooled buns.

Hot Cross Buns


Ingredients:

For The Buns:

1 cup whole wheat flour
3 cyps all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp chai masala
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 cup raisins
40gm butter
1 1/3 cup (approx. 320ml, maybe a little more) milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten

For The Flour Paste:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
4-5 tbsp water

For The Sugar Glaze:

1/3 cup water
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Method:

Whisk together the flours, yeast, sugar, spices, sugar, salt and raisins in a large bowl or in the food processor, till combined.
Place the butter in a small saucepan, and just melt it over medium heat. Now add the milk, heat till lukewarm. Add warm milk mixture and lightly beaten eggs to the flour mixture, and pulse (or mix with a fork) till the dough just comes together. Pulse the dough further (or use your hands to knead the dough), till a soft and smooth, almost sticky dough is obtained. Add a couple of tsp of milk if necessary to obtain a dough of desired consistency.
Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Set  aside for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until dough doubles in size.
Press dough down to its original size and knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions, and shape each  into a ball. Place the dough balls on a lightly greased or lined baking tray with parchment paper, about 1cm apart. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes, or until buns are almost double in size.
In the meantime, mix together the flour, sugar and water to a thick paste. Fill the paste into a plastic piping bag and seal the top. Cut the tip of the bag, and pipe crosses on each risen dough ball.

Bake the “crossed” buns at 190C (375F) for about 20 to 25 minutes till they’re done and golden brown. Cool them on racks.

Once the Hot Cross Buns are slightly warm, make the glaze. Put the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let the sugar solution boil, over low heat for 5 minutes till it thickens a bit. Brush this sugar syrup over the top of each bun, and let it dry.
This recipe makes 12 Hot Cross Buns. Serve them slightly warm. Split them and eat them with butter and a little jam (if want your Cross Buns sweeter!) for breakfast, at tea-time or whenever you feel like it!
These Buns are best eaten the same day. They can be refrigerated for a day and warmed before serving.
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April 2, 2012

Does My Blog Look Good in This (DMBLGiT)?, March Edition : The Winners!

T
he submissions were in by the 20th of last month, all 53 of them and you can see them all in the submission gallery. The judges then what they had to do and would have scored the submissions after much thought and I know it wouldn’t have been an easy task. I’ve also done my bit and now we have the winners for the March edition of Does My Blog Look Good in This?(a.k.a DMBLGiT?).




Before I announce the winners, I’d like to say a big thank you to all of you who sent in your photographs, to my lovely judges (Lynn Daley, Sylvie Shirazi, Aisha Yusaf, and Soma Rathore), and to Andrew Barrow whose brainchild this event is. 
As you’re all aware, the judges pick 6 winners in all – 3 overall winners (1st, 2nd and 3rd), and then one winner in each category of Edibility, Originality and Aesthetics.  
Here are this month’s winners. Hearty congratulations to you all!
Please check your inboxes as you will soon be receiving your badges.


Overall Winner – First Place : Monika of Sweet Sensation

And the judges said,
"Nice rustic charm and a delicious looking soup."
"Love the light and the rustic arrangement. I really like angle and that you can see all the ingredients in the soup, especially when "brown" food can be really difficult to photograph. The dollop of Crème fraîche/yoghurt with the red chilli are nice little additions along with the herb garnish, makes the dish look even more appetising. Nice choice of red pot as well. Nicely done overall!"
"The dark wooden table set off Monika's adzuki bean and butternut squash beautifully. The trivet was a nice touch placed slightly off center as was the garnish to show some detail and texture. The scattering of green added to the comfort feel of the dish along with the rustic board and the casually broken pieces of bread. The crumpled linen napkin and ladle completed this lovely arrangement. Lighting-also very good."


Overall Winner – Second Place : Pamela Rodrigues of Uno de Dos


And the judges said,
"Love at first sight. Every little detail of the photograph is beautiful; the subtle drip, the fruits in the background, the colors and of course the food so beautifully in focus. My eyes travel all over the frame without distraction and finally rests on the pretty plate in front."
"Beautiful light and colours, the setting is casual yet very elegant and inviting, especially the pancakes, very original."
"Pamela's pancakes were not only perfectly photographed with the lovely background depth of field showing a breakfast setting, but subdued as not to take away from the perfect doily pancakes and syrup with a tantalizing drip down the side of the pitcher. I like the diagonal line of the tray in the background making a nice frame to keep one's eye in the photograph. Also, the photograph was very evenly lighted."


Overall Winner – Third Place : Sneh Roy of Cook Republic


And the judges said,
"Beautiful vintage presentation. Love the style and the text on the board and the canvas adds to the warmth of the photograph."
"Excellent both technically as well as artistically."
"A simple composition which is enhanced by the vintage feel/ colours. The print details on the wood and the canvas provide an interesting touch. "

Winner – Edibility Category : Miriam Garcia of El Invitado De Invierno 


And the judges said,
"Cozy, rustic, warm. The light is just lovely. The mood and the setting makes me want to break a piece out of the bread right away."
"Beautiful lighting."
"Gorgeous light and textures with the lovely brown tones. Makes me want to reach out and cut a slice!"


Winner – Originality Category : Alessio Fangano of Recipe Taster 





And the judges said,
"Love the mood of the photograph and the light on the pomegranates. I would do without the dried rose."
"Unique styling."
"Unusual styling and the dark tones (black and silver) bring out the jewel like quality of the pomegranate. The rose and the grey tea pot/ kettle in the background are a bit distracting."

Winner – Edibility Category : Vania Samperuru of Adventurelicious 






And the judges said,

"Perfectly styled with very pretty details."
"Interesting composition. The cropping style adds to the photograph. Even though there are different elements, they balance out and the food (cookies) is still the important element."

Before I end this post, I would like to say something about the way this event (and many other similar ones) is judged. I know some may wonder why one particular photograph is chosen over another because I have thought this myself many a time. I would also like to add a disclaimer that this is solely my viewpoint about this and does not reflect the opinions of either the originator of this event, or those of my judges.
The last time I had hosted DMBLGiT?, we had an instance where all my judges each got an anonymous e-mail, and a rather rude one at that, questioning the judges on their authority and capability to judge food photography.
Then sometime back I was invited to be a DMBLGiT judge, and when the winners were announced, a commenter was unhappy with the results and expressed this impolitely. It seems this is the perfect occasion for me to clarify a few points about the way these events are judged.
For DMBLGiT?, Andrew has put down definite criteria/ parameters according to which judges look at a submission and score it. So judges would score a food photograph based on composition, styling, presentation, originality of the composition, exposure and the use of light, colours and props or the lack of them, the focus on the subject, etc. Each judge will also bring his/ her own unique view to the judging table, according to their particular preferences or perceptions about what they like in a photograph.
So while there is bound to be some variation in the scores, my experience shows that mostly, the judges tend to end up picking the same top 10 scorers give or take a couple. Also, the final results are an aggregation of all the judges' individual scores and sometimes that means the results can go either way.
It is important to understand that food photography competitions are not necessarily only about which photograph depicts good looking food but also which photograph makes you look at food differently. Sometimes food photography can be less about food in the traditional sense and more about art! It can be about thinking differently, breaking the mould and getting creative like in painting, where one size does not fit all. So while I find Salvadore Dali unpalatable, there are plenty of people who enjoy his work!
Competitions like DMBLGiT? are about recognising and acknowledging good food photography on blogs, and the effort that goes into it, and need to be seen in that spirit.
The April edition of DMBLGiT? will be hosted by Wendy of La Phemme Phoodie so please be on the lookout for her announcement post for details on participating.
Please write to Andrew if you would like to host an edition of DMBLGiT? I hope you will come forward as this event will meet an untimely demise for lack of hosts.
The photographs in this post have been reproduced with permission.
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