October 31, 2012

Colouring The Season Orange - Persimmon (Amarphal) Mousse & A Photography Exercise

he monsoons are long gone, and its now the time for the best part of the year climate-wise. While it is by no means even close to a winter, the days have cooled down and the nights are really pleasant (23C at night is a cool temperature for us!).

It’s also the best part of the year for the sheer variety of vegetables and fruit at the local market. Right now persimmons are the flavour of the month here.  I saw persimmons at my market for the first time last year. Never having seen them in life before, I was attracted by a mound of what looked like deep orange tomatoes with funny looking flat hats! On further enquiry, I was told they were called “Amarphal” in Hindi.
That left me no wiser, as “Amar” in Hindi means “immortal” and I couldn’t connect it up with anything I could see in the fruit.

It turns out that this fruit is called “Amarphal” because it continues to ripen after it is cut off from the plant and it is considered immortal (amar). It was apparently also a fruit that caused an Indian king of long, long ago to give up his kingdom and take on the life an ascetic searching for the greater truth of life.
King Bharathrahari was a kind and just king. One day an ascetic came to meet him and gifted him a rare fruit, the immortal persimmon, a fruit that was fit for a King. The King decided it was worthy of his Queen Bhanumathi and gave it to her. Unknown to him, she was in love with someone else so she decided to give him the persimmon. Now this man was apparently in love with a “woman of the night” and decided she deserved the persimmon and gave it to her. This lady, in a moment of introspection, decided that given the person she was she didn’t really deserve such a rare gift. So she decided to present to the King, who was surely the only person to deserve such a fruit!

The king got the shock of his life when the persimmon was presented back to him and also discovered his wife’s infidelity. Becoming thoroughly disgusted and realising that he had misplaced his trust and affection, he gave up his throne and kingdom to take on the life of an ascetic himself.


So, going back to last year’s persimmons, I bought a few and took them home. I was in for a rude shock when I cut open what looked like a really ripe fruit and it was so astringent that I couldn’t feel my tongue for a minute. I also couldn’t get the astringent taste out of my mouth with all things I tried, including washing my mouth out with water and eating sugar! It eventually wore off after half an hour.

I did some research and found out there are two main families of persimmons and though they may share color and flavor, they are different in shape and the way they ripen.  Hachiya persimmons are large acorn-shaped ones and need to ripen to the point where they are almost bursting out of their skins.  If you eat them before they ripen fully, they are extremely astringent and unpleasant but when ripe are so much tastier than Fuyu persimmons.

Fuyu persimmons, which are smaller and squat looking more like tomatoes. These can be eaten even when they’re not completely ripe when they’re crisp. Persimmons are best when they’re deep orange and heavy in your hand. Hachiyas (and Fuyus sometimes) might have a blackish colouring which is happens as they ripen.
So I let my persimmons ripen well and turned them into milkshake. This year, much wiser and armed with the knowledge from “astringent” experience, I was able to buy the right kind of fruit. It also looks like my fruit vendor is much wiser this year too. Last year the Hachiyas and the Fuyus were piled together in one box. This year they’re being sold separately. The Hachiyas are cheaper than the Fuyus and I think we all know why!

Simone at Junglefrog Cooking has been having monthly food photography and styling challenges going on for a while. This month it is all about going seasonal and orange with pumpkin, though she suggested using carrots instead of pumpkin if we wanted. In my part of the world, we don’t have autumn. As for pumpkin and carrots, we get it all the year round so they don't really feel like a seasonal fruit to me, unlike in other parts of the world where it pumpkins mean Halloween and Thanksgiving.

So I decided to go “orange” for the challenge with Persimmons which are here this season. I love the combination of dark wood and food in my photography if I can make it work. But this time I decided to go with white with most of the Persimmon photographs in this post because I didn’t have too much time to spare for experimenting and one can’t really go very wrong with white, can one? A bit boring, I know but that’s the best I could do this time.

Here’s a really easy Persimmon Mousse I made with some Hachiyas. Make sure they’re really ripe because the tannins in the fruit (the stuff that causes the astringency) will curdle the cream. If you’re making your own persimmon purée, remove the skin and the blend the pulp till smooth. Once the Hachiya is really ripe, just slice of the top and squish the pulp out of the fruit. Otherwise you can pull the skin off and it will peel off.
Persimmon Mousse
1 1/2 cups persimmon purée (about 4 Hachiya persimmons)
3 tbsp sugar (or more if you need it)
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp chai masala (optional)
Pinch of salt
200ml cream (25%fat)
Chopped Fuyu persimmon and mint to garnish
Place the persimmon purée, lemon zest, chai masala and salt in a large bowl and whisk together till blended and smooth.
Put the cream in another bowl and beat/ whip it with the sugar until it holds stiff peaks. Add this to the persimmon purée and fold in gently till well blended. Spoon the mousse (or pipe) into 4 glasses and refrigerate for a couple of hours at least, before serving.
Just before serving, garnish with chopped Fuyu persimmon and mint and more whipped cream if you prefer. Serve with ginger cookies on the side.

This recipe serves 4.

Read full post.....

October 28, 2012

A Spook-tacularly Boo-tiful Cake – An Easy Ganache Covered Chocolate Cake With Meringue Ghosts!

alloween’s round the corner, and though we don’t celebrate it, I have been seeing some really interesting looking food on various food sites. I’ll give the gory stuff a wide berth because no matter how much they’re prettied up, I just cannot come to terms with blood shot eyeballs, dirty claw-like nail tipped fingers, brains and worms! I read somewhere, someone describing such food as disgustingly delicious, but sometimes I cannot get beyond the disgusting to even think they could be delicious. However there are some really delightful Halloween foods including some cute spider stuff (For the record, I do NOT like spiders!) like cookies and cupcakes and owl cookies.
 A Halloween treat I’ve wanted to make for some time now are meringue ghosts / spooks. They’re the cutest (and only ones) I’ve ever seen and just make me want to grab my apron, beaters, cookie sheets and give my oven a good workout! It also helps that they’re easy to make. I have made plenty of meringue in my time as my daughter who doesn’t like an “eggy” flavour in cakes, cookies and the like actually loves meringues for some reason.

I’ve also been thinking about a chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache for some time so I decided to combine the two and use the spooks to decorate my cake. The decorating was a bit of a disaster as I started with a plan to use the ganache to sandwich two chocolate cakes and then use more ganache to cover only the top of my cake leaving the sides uncovered for a rustic look.
My teenage daughter took one look at my cake and said, “I know you wanted a rustic looking cake but this just looks just plain messy. Don’t take this personally, but I wouldn’t want to eat that cake going by how it looks!” Having got that verdict from my toughest critic, I decided to cover the sides with ganache too. 

By the time I had put my “spooks” on the cake, the whole thing looked so different from the work of art I had visualised. With the meringue spooks now sitting in somewhat sticky ganache (we live in warm climes), there was no way I could re-arrange everything to my satisfaction without messing up the whole thing.
So don’t go by the way my cake looks, and trust me when I say this chocolate cake is nice. It scores with me not just on taste but also the minimal effort that goes into it. You don’t even have to take your electric mixer out as there’s no creaming involved and a whisk or a wooden spatula will do. The Ganache is easy to make and though you will need that mixer to make short work of the meringue.

I used cake flour equivalent for my cake (2 tbsp corn starch in a 1 cup measure topped up with all-purpose flour = 1 cup cake flour), but you can use all-purpose flour instead. Oil based cake batter produces a moist and light cake here.

This cake calls for boiling coffee decoction or water. I prefer using coffee because that somehow makes chocolate cakes so much more full flavour. The strength of the coffee depends upon you and you can use instant coffee dissolved in water, though I use filter coffee decoction because I usually have it on hand. If you are serving this cake to children, it might be better to use water instead of coffee.

As for the meringues, I personally prefer the taste of meringue made with lemon juice but I find those made with cream of tartar whip up stiffer and hold up much better.

Meringue Spooks/ Ghosts:


3 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar (or 1 tsp lemon juice)
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/3 cup fine sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup or so miniature semisweet chocolate chips 

Line 2 baking sheets with cooking parchment, or butter sheets and dust with flour.
 Put the egg whites and the cream of tartar in a deep bowl. With a mixer on high speed, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar to thick foam. Continuing to beat and the add sugar, 1 tablespoon every 30 seconds, until meringue whips up into very stiff peaks. Add the vanilla during the lt bit of beating the whites.
If using parchment, smear a little meringue on the underside of each corner to make it stick to baking sheets. Spoon the meringue into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. If you don’t have a piping tip, then use a piping bag and cut off  a 1/2-inch-wide opening at the tip.
Pipe the meringue onto baking sheets into spooky/ ghostly shapes about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, 2 to 4 inches wide, and 4 to 6 inches long, spacing them about 2 inches apart. To make eyes, press the chocolate chips lightly into meringue.
 Bake them at 100C (200F) for about 1 1/4  to 1 1/2 hours till the meringues begin to turn pale gold and are firm to touch. Turn off heat and leave meringues in closed oven for 1 hour. This will make them crisp.
Slide a spatula under meringues to release them. And if you live in my kind of climate, then place them in airtight containers so they stay crisp. Right now we’re in the driest weather we ever have and it takes just half an hour for my crisp meringues to turn soft and cotton woolly!
This recipe makes about 3 dozen meringue spooks/ ghosts.

Easy Ganache Covered Chocolate Cake


For The Cake :  

2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling coffee decoction or water 

For The Chocolate Ganache: 

1 1/2 cups cream (I use 25% fat)
1 1/2 finely chopped cups semi-sweet chocolate
1 tbsp butter 

Meringue spooks/ ghosts and chocolate covered wafer balls to decorate


Make the chocolate ganache first so it will have time to cool and thicken. To make the ganache, heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat (while stirring it on and off) till it starts bubbling at the edges. Take the pan off the heat and add the chopped chocolate and the butter and leave it for a couple of minutes. Whisk the chocolate-cream mixture till smooth, glossy and thick. Let it cool for 1-2 hours, or until thick enough to spread over the cake.
Now make the cake. Put all the dry ingredients for the cake into a large mixing bowl.  With a wooden spoon or whisk, mix together. Add all the wet ingredients, except the boiling water, and mix until you have a smooth batter.
Add the boiling water to the batter, a little at a time, until smooth. The cake batter will be very liquid. You might have never seen a cake batter like this, but that’s how this one’s meant to be, so no worries.
Divide the batter equally between 2 greased and lined 8” (or 9” at a pinch) cake tins. You can use a tea cup to do this easily. Bake at 180C (350F) for about 25 to 30 minutes, or till the top is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Cool the cakes completely in their tins, and then loosen them by running a round-bladed knife around the inside of the cake tins. Carefully remove the cakes from the tins and sandwich them with about a little less than half the ganache and cover the top and sides of the cake with the remainder.
This cake serves 10 to 12.
Read full post.....

October 25, 2012

Gulabi Phirni/ Firni (Rose Flavoured Creamy Indian Rice Pudding)

ink is really not one of my favourite colours, at least not the shade of pink we refer to at home as “mitai” pink. In Hindi, “Mitai/ Mithai” refers generally to Indian sweetmeats, but back home when someone mentions the word “mitai” they’re referring to boiled sugar sweets or candy. So “mitai” pink refers to a shade of bright, almost painful to look at candy pink!
Sometimes, though pink can be really nice as in the case of this Phirni (also sometimes spelled Firni) which is not just rose pink in colour but also flavoured with a rose syrup which is made from rose petals. Many food blogs go “Pink” in October but my cooking and posting something tinged pink in October is nothing but coincidence.

I actually made it as an offering on one of the nine days of Navarathri festivities (nine days of celebrating the Mother Goddess in her various forms). I usually make Paal Payasam (South Indian Rice Pudding) and this time decided to make something in keeping with this theme but different from what we make traditionally.
Just in case someone is wondering about the connection between October and the colour pink, October every year is celebrated across the world as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and charity events are held to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure, and also and support those affected by breast cancer. A pink ribbon has come to denote this effort and October has generally become a “pink” month and is automatically connected to anything to do with breast cancer.

I don’t see how I’m possibly contributing in any way to “Pinktober” by blogging pink coloured food, when all I’d really be doing would be pandering to a sweet tooth and a desire for dessert. We've got to see beyond the colour pink and think about how each one of us contribute to the fight against the illness. However, it is October, and since this is a “pink” post maybe it is a good idea to say something about the incidence of breast cancer.
Statistics show that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. The incidence of this form of cancer among women in India isn’t much different.  However, early detection has been shown to improve cancer mortality, so educating oneself and others about breast cancer is perhaps the best way to ensure it is detected at the earliest possible.
Cancer, whether of the breast or any other organ, has touched all of us in some way or the other directly or indirectly through those close to us within our family and friends. I dedicate this post to all those among us who have faced and fought this illness with much courage and showed us how to live life with dignity.

A Phirni is a North Indian rice pudding or perhaps a blancmange thickened with rice would be a better description. Indian cuisine is well known for the sheer variety of rice pudding  (also known as kheer, khiri, payasam, payasa, payesh, etc depending on which part of the country you are in) you can find anywhere. The Phirni is different from the usual rice pudding because though it is made of rice, the grains are not cooked whole. The rice is soaked, ground into a paste and then cooked in sweet milk till it thickens to a pudding consistency.
Phirni was probably brought into India with the Mughal invaders from Persia or thereabouts.  The Mughals were famous for their inventive and creative cuisine and the Royal kitchens were famous for the simple and exotic food they created for their kings. Phirni is a still popular dessert served in the North Indian Muslim community during the month long period of Ramzan/ Ramadan.

A well-made Phirni should be creamy without being too sweet and showcase the flavours of rice, milk and a hint of cardamom and roses, and sometimes saffron. Traditionally, Phirni is plain and garnished with chopped/ slivered almonds or pistachios, and served in earthenware pots, which in my opinion is the best way to eat Phirni.
Not only is this dish very easy to make, its also gluten-free, healthy to boot (no added fat) and can be made ahead and chilled. If you should lack the more “exotic” ingredients required to make a “Shahi” (Royal) version, you could just go with rice, milk, sugar and cardamom and still have a delightful dessert on hand.

This version of Phirni uses rose syrup which is a thick sugary syrup made with rose petals. Rose syrup is available in the stress in India. If you can find the right kind of roses, you could try making the syrup yourself, otherwise substitute with rose water. You would need to add a little more sugar and your Phirni would be white.  

Gulabi Phirni/ Firni (Rose Flavoured Creamy Indian Rice Pudding)


1/4 cup basmati rice
1 litre (approx. 4 1/3 cups) milk
1/2 cup sugar (increase to taste, especially if using rose water instead of syrup)
3 to 4 tbsp rose syrup
3 pods cardamom, powdered
A few tbsp. slivered pistachios and rose petals, for garnishing 



Soak the basmati rice in about 4 tbsp of the water for an hour. Grind this, adding a little milk if necessary, into a very smooth paste. You shouldn’t be able to feel the grittiness of the rice. Take this paste and mix it into 1 cup of the milk, till smooth. Keep this aside.
Put the remaining milk and sugar in a pan and bring it to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the rose syrup and mix well. Now stir the rice-milk mixture that was kept aside and add to the boiling milk, stirring well continuously to prevent lumps forming.
Turn down the heat and keep stirring until the mixture starts boiling and thickening like a custard. Let it boil/ cook for about 5 minutes while stirring it constantly, until the rice is completely cooked. Turn off the heat and and add the cardamom and mix well.
Let the Phirni cool to room temperature. Stir in occasionally in between so that a skin does not form on top,. Spoon the Phirni into dessert bowls or glasses and refrigerate till ready to serve. Before serving, garnish with slivered pistachios (or almonds if you prefer) and rose petals.
This recipe serves 6 to 8
Read full post.....

October 22, 2012

Join Me For A Food Photography Workshop In Chennai !

am happy to announce that I will be conducting a workshop on the “Basics of Food Photography” in Chennai next month.  Nithya, who writes a food blog from Chennai, helped me organise the venue and help put things in place.

The one day workshop will be held on Saturday, the 17th of November, 2012 at the Kettle, a Tea Café in Anna Nagar, Chennai. The Café owners have been kind enough to allow us to hold the workshop at their premises.


So how do you know if this workshop is for you?
Do you write a food blog and want to improve your food photography?
Perhaps you do not blog but enjoy taking photographs of food and would like to know how to do it better......
Do you want to get out of shooting on the “Auto” mode of your dSLR and improve your food photography by exploring the other creative modes on your camera?
This workshop is meant for the amateur food photographer and/ or food blogger, or anyone who would like to take thier food photography to the next level by understanding the basics/ fundamentals of photographing food and styling.
The workshop is limited to a batch of 14 participants, and participants will be registered on a first-come basis.
If you are interested in joining me in Chennai for the workshop, please e-mail me at aparna(DOT)bala(DOT)photography(AT)gmail(DOT)com for registration and more details.
Please pass on this information to others who  you feel might be interested.

Read full post.....

October 16, 2012

Russian Rose Bread/ Russian Braid/ Caucasian Bread/Cinnamon Wreath – Baking for World Bread Day With The Babes!

very year, World Bread Day is celebrated across the world on the 16th of October which happens to be today. Why is there a World Bread Day?
Apparently somewhere on the late 1990s to the early 2000s, carbohydrates on the whole were getting a bad name in the more developed countries and a lot people there started a low carb-lifestyle.  Commercial bread bakers in these countries saw a dramatic decrease in sales.  In order to promote bread as part of a healthy diet and better their sales, the International Union of Bakers and Bakers-Confectioners (UIB) created World Bread Day in 2006.
From 2006 todate, Zorra of Kochtopf has been having a virtual gathering of food bloggers from around the world who celebrate World Bread Day by baking a huge variety of bread. I love bread and really don’t need an excuse to bake it. In fact this year, I baked two breads for WBD – this bread and an Empanada Gallega.

The first one I baked with a group of Indian bakers, and this one I baked with the Bread BakingBabes(BBBs)! There’s only one thing better than baking your own bread, and that’s when you bake it with friends.
Tanna chose a Russian Rose Bread for us to bake. This is a filled, rolled and braided bread. It also goes by the names of Russian Braid, Caucasian Bread and if you choose to fill it with cinnamon as a Cinnamon Wreath. There are probably other names for it that I’m not aware of, but whatever you call it, this bread is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat!

I have no idea about the origins of this bread, or even if it is Russian. It probably is an Eastern European bread given that a lot of braided breads have their origins there. The recipe the BBBs had us bake from suggested using a combination of bread flour, whole wheat flour and sprouted wheat flours. Where I live I’m just happy that I get ordinary flour and that’s what I used. The recipe also suggested a savoury pesto filling but since the bread I baked the previous day was savoury, and  I’ve  previously made a braided Pesto And Pine NutBread,  I decided to make this one sweet and cinnamon-y.

Shaping the bread is perhaps the most complicated part of this bread, and it’s pretty easy at that. All you need to do is roll out the dough, cover it with your filling, roll it up Swiss roll/ jelly roll style, cut it length-wise into two, twist the two strands like a rope and roll that into a circle.
If this sounds a bit confusing just watch this video and then refer to my bread shaping photo-collage above.

It’s really not all that difficult. I’m no bread baking expert and I made it. With very little effort, you end up with a bread that will have people marvel at your bread baking skills. The swirls resemble a flower , so that’s where the name Russian Rose Bread probably comes from, though what it reminded me of was the intricately twisted turbans that Rajasthani men wear. 

Russian Rose Bread/ Russian Braid/ Caucasian Bread/Cinnamon Wreath
(Adapted from The Fresh Loaf)


For the dough:

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
2 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup oil
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 1/4 cup warm water 

For the filling:

75 gm butter, soft at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp powdered cinnamon

Sugar bits to decorate (optional)


You will need a 10” spring form cake tin and a baking sheet for baking this bread. Remove the bottom of the pan, grease the sides well and keep it aside. Also grease the baking sheet. You may use whatever tin you have, but a spring form makes it easier to shape this bread.
You may knead this bread by hand but I used the food processor.  Put all the ingredients, except the vinegar and the water into the processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix. Add the vinegar to the water and add this to the processor bowl and knead till you have an elastic dough which is not sticky. If you need to, add a little water or flour to achieve this consistency of dough.
Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Turn the dough around till well coated with oil, cover and let the dough rise to almost double (80%). This should take about 45 minutes to an hour.
Lightly flour your working surface and place the dough on it. Gently flatten it out with your palms and roll out into as large a rectangle and as thin as you can, but not till its translucent. I rolled mine out to about 12” by 24”.
Brush the softened butter all  over the surface of the rectangle, leaving 1/4" space at the edge. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon powder and sprinkle this uniformly, over the butter.  Slowly, tightly and very gently roll the dough into a roulade (pinwheel ), from the longer side.  You will now have a very long roulade.
Take a sharp chef's knife (not a serrated knife) and cut (not saw) the roulade along its length into 2 halves, trying to keep the knife in the middle so you end up with two equal parts (if you can cut down from the seam you will have a neater wreath).
Try to slowly turn the two halves facing outwards so the layers show up. Place the two halves crossing each other (open roulade layers facing up) to create and X shape.  Gently  pick up the two ends of the bottom half, and continue to cross them to form a rope. Pinch the ends together, and repeat with the other two ends.
You now have a two strand rope shape.  If for some reason some of the open roulade layers are pointing down or sideways, carefully turn them so they are facing up.  Gently pinch the ends to seal.
If your “rope” has a thinner end, start with that. Now gently slide your baking sheet under about half your rope of dough. Keeping the thinner end for the centre of your wreath, slowly and very gently, roll the braid sideways (horizontally) into a circle without lifting your hands from the table.  You should keep those open roulade layers facing up. Neatly tuck the end of the “rope” under the wreath.
Place the spring form over the wreath on the baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until the braid is three quarters the way up the spring form.  This may take from 20 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle some sugar bits on the top, if you choose.
Bake the wreath at 200C (400F) for 10 minutes and then lower the temperature to 180C (350F). Bake the wreath for another 30 to 40 minutes till brown and done. Cool the bread on a wire rack.
Slice and serve with coffee, tea or milk. This wreath should serve 6 to 8.

My Russian Rose Bread goes to Zorra for World Bread Day, 2012. It’s also getting YeastSpotted!
Read full post.....

October 14, 2012

A Vegetarian Empanada Gallega – An October Daring Baker Challenge Done In November!

haven’t been very regular with my Daring Baker challenges and I might have missed more than the ones I’ve done this year. But when I saw the challenge for October, I knew I was going to make it. For one thing, it did not involve a lot of sugar butter or cream as it was savoury. For another thing, it was bread which is something I love to bake.

Unfortunately, my new oven conked halfway through the month and it was the 2nd week of this month before the company technicians could procure the necessary spare parts and repair it. That meant that I could not meet the Daring Baker deadline.
It is said, “Better late than never” and it certainly holds as fat as this bread goes, I decided to put my newly repaired oven to the test by baking last month’s Daring Baker challenge recipe, the Empanada Gallega, set and hosted there by Patri of Asi Son Las Cosas. It also happened that a group of us Indian bakers on Facebook decided to celebrate World Bread Day with some shaped/ decorative home-made breads, and this was the perfect bread for that.

The Empanada is a Spanish stuffed bread that is made in many countries in Western Europe, Latin America, and South East Asian countries that were formerly Spanish colonies. It was probably brought into Spain by invading Arabs.
Empanadas are usually baked though they can be fried as well and may be filled with a variety of other fillings including vegetables, meats, cheese. They are usually made as small individual serve turnovers (bread dough folded over filling) in half-moon shapes that are crimped on one side, or like a large flat pie and then sliced. In fact the name “Empanada” drives from the Spanish word “empanar” meaning to wrap or coat in bread.
Some form or the other of this bread/ pastry is made in most cuisines across the world. Empanadas are a speciality in Spain and the Empanada Gallega is flat, pie-shaped variety from the Spanish province of Gallicia, where there are special festivals dedicated to this food.

For the Empanada Gallega, the dough is made with flour, yeast, oil, salt and paprika and a filling made with a “sofrito” which is a seasoning made of sautéed onion, green pepper, tomato, garlic that is mixed with meat or vegetables. The dough is rolled out into two circles or rectangles between which the filling is places and sealed all around. The top is decorated with leftover dough and baked. This video gives a good idea on how to shape an Empanada Gallega.

I used a vegetarian filling for my Empanada Gallega, naturally, of mildly spiced caramelised onions, mashed potatoes, peas and mashed paneer (an Indian milk cheese). I also had a go at decorating the top of my “pie” which didn’t turn out quite as I had visualised it, but I’m not complaining. 

 A Vegetarian Empanada Gallega
(Dough recipe adapted from Daring Baker challenge, October 2012) 



For the dough:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sweet paprika (if you can find it)
2 tsp active dry yeast
 Just under 1/2 cup oil
1 cup luke-warm water

For the filling: 

1 1/2 tbsp oil
 1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 large potatoes, boiled and mashed well (approx. 1 cup)
1/3 cup cooked green peas
3/4 cup crumbled paneer
1 tsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves/ optional)
Freshly crushed black pepper/ red chilli flakes/ red chilli powder to taste
Salt to taste


First make the dough. As always, I take the easy way out and knead my dough in the food processor.  If you prefer to give your hands a real work out go ahead and do this by hand. So put all the ingredients for the dough, except the water and pulse a couple of times. Now add the water and process until you have a dough that is elastic but not sticky.
Turn the dough out onto your counter and knead a couple more times and shape it into a ball. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it so it is coated with the oil. Cover it and let it rise for about an hour.
In the meanwhile, prepare the filling. The filling needs to be cool before it can be used to stuff the Empanada.
Heat the oil and add the cumin seeds. Now add the onions and sauté them over medium heat till they caramelise (turn golden). You can add any other spice powders at this point if you like. Add the potatoes, peas, paneer, kasuri methi, salt and pepper/ chilli flakes and mix well. Turn off the heat and let this filling cool.
Now back to the dough. Turn the risen dough onto a lightly floured working surface and deflate it by lightly kneading it.
Divide the dough into two equal portions. Lightly four your work surface and roll one portion out into a circle or rectangle, whichever you prefer. Roll it out it out thin and of uniform thickness. I rolled mine out into a circle about 13” to 14” in diameter. Place this dough circle onto a piece of parchment paper on your baking sheet.
Now put the filling (make sure it is at room temperature) on this leaving about 1" free at the edges. Pinch off a small piece of dough from the other portion for decorating the Empanada and keep aside. Roll out the other portion into another circle of the same thickness but this one should be 1” smaller at the edges than the base. Centre and place this dough circle over the filling.
Fold up the edges over the top dough circle and seal the edges by pressing or crimping decoratively. Use the left over dough to decorate the top of your Empanada. To make the flowers and leaves, roll out the dough thin and cut out shapes with cutters. The stems can be made by rolling dough into thin ropes. Stick on these by wetting the surface with water and then pressing them down well.
Bake the Empanada at 180C (350F) for about 35 to 45 minutes till golden brown and done. Cool on a rack for a while and then slice. You can serve this slightly warm or cold.
This recipe serves 6 to 8.
Read full post.....

October 12, 2012

Spider Web Cookies For Halloween

very culture has its own customs, traditions and rituals to celebrate/ honour the memories of those who are no more. For someone who is new to them, many of these would seem quaint or even difficult to understand.
I remember when I was still in school and we were in Nigeria, there was a lunch party going on a couple of doors away. People were dressed in their best, and there was a lot of singing and dancing going on. Tables were covered with food, and the beer was flowing with people toasting each other every so often. It was celebration at its best and there was not an unhappy face to be seen. 

Someone came over and invited us to join the fun, and we had to refuse simply because we didn’t eat non-vegetarian food nor drink alcohol. We did inquire what the celebration was all about, and were told that they were celebrating the passing away of their father a few days earlier.
I remember being rather non-plussed at that, coming from a community where family members who pass away are mourned by performing detailed and elaborate funeral rites over a period of two weeks, followed by rituals every month for a whole year.
Later, we came to understand the rationale behind it. The Yorubas (a tribe from Western part of Nigeria) see death not as the end, but a transition from one life to another. They also believe the best way to honour a loved one’s memory is by celebrating the life they had lived on earth, and also the fact that they have left all the hardships of this life which do not exist in the other one.


Christendom (mostly Catholics) celebrates All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows) on the 1st of November to commemorate Christian Saints. All Souls’ Day on the 2nd November is the day when souls of departed ancestors are commemorated with prayer.
The eve of All Saints’ Day, the 31st of October is celebrated as Halloween, which is a combination of harvest festival celebrations combined with activities like pumpkin carving, costume wearing, trick-or-treating, and decorations based on imagery of death and the supernatural. There is much argument about the origins of Halloween and that isn’t really of much concern to me.
With the passing of time, many of these customs seem to have lost relevance and have no bearing to the way they are now celebrated. None of this matters much to me and what concerns me is the food part of Halloween. I cannot begin to understand the depiction of the macabre and very realistic gore that I see everywhere like eyeballs, brains, blood and bony fingers with claw-like nails! Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I never grew up with Halloween.

I don’t particularly like spiders or ghosts either but there is a cuteness factor tosome of them when they make an appearance as cookies or cupcakes, which I find irresistible. Most of the year I tend to forget all about them, but come fall and Halloween and it is almost impossible to escape them. This year I fell prey to Spider Web Cookies!
A couple of weeks back I was reading something when I came across “Spider Web Cookies” which were not baked but mad in a skillet! Pretty much every recipe on the net that I saw for this cookie was the same. And that they weren’t deep-fried but made more in the manner of pancakes. They looked interesting and perhaps I was pushed to make them because I have been on a baking hiatus for the past 3 weeks ever since my new oven broke down!

They look very delicate but are easy enough to make. Piping them out might take a little time and with practise this becomes easier. These cookies do need your attention so don’t get started on them while multi-tasking is the call of your day.
It’s extremely advisable to have a “squeezy” bottle (the kind you would use to decorate cookies) to press out the batter onto the skillet. Piping bags or Ziploc bags will not really work here as you need to control the amount of batter falling out onto your skillet.
Taste-wise they’re somewhat like Achappam/ Rose Cookies, if you’re familiar with them. They’re crisp and slightly crunchy and disappear very quickly!  

If you would like to know how I made my spiders, here's how. I melted dark chocolate with a little butter and then put it in a piping bag. I piped out a small circle with 4 legs on either side, onto aluminium foil and allowed it to set. Just before that I pressed half a Cadbury Dairy Milk Shot, piped choclate "eyes" on each, and then kept in the freezer to set. After half an hour, peel the "spiders" off the foil and decorate.

Spider Web Cookies For Halloween
(Adapted from Betty Crocker’s recipe)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tsp chai masala
1 egg
Powdered sugar for dusting



Put all the ingredients except the powdered sugar in medium bowl and beat with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. You can also whisk the batter by hand. Pour batter into a plastic squeeze bottle with narrow opening. You can use a skillet to make these cookies, but I prefer a griddle as the lack of sides makes it easier to lift and turn the cookies with a spatula.
Heat an 8-inch skillet or griddle over medium heat until hot. Grease it lightly. Work as quickly as you can and squeeze the batter out of the bottle using uniform pressure, to form 4 straight lines which intersect at right angles in the middle (like a +).
Squeeze out another four lines in between these, so that you have 8 straight lines equally spaced from each the next all intersecting at the same central point. You should have a 8-lined star shape. Now squeeze out 3 separate sets of thin lines joining them all together to look like a cobweb.
Let it cook for between 30 to 60 seconds till golden brown underneath. Carefully turn the “cobweb” over with a wide spatula and let that side cook till golden brown. Remove the cookie from the skillet and cool on a rack. The cobweb cookie will be soft when you take it off the skillet but it will become crisper as it cools.
Bake the cookies on ungreased cookie sheets at 180C (350F) for about 5 minutes, to make them really crisp and crunchy. Let them cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Store them in an airtight container, separating each layer with parchment paper.
This recipe makes a large batch of one-time serve cookies.
Read full post.....