A Letter to the Elusive Vegan French Macaron

An Overworked Kitchen
Toronto, Canada
February 13th, 2017

Dear Vegan Macaron,
Bonjour!
You have seemingly become one of the most profound culinary discoveries this decade, much to the delight of enthusiastic vegans & vegetarians such as myself. A riveting creation with bloggers and foodies responding maniacally(again,such as me). Stalwarts in veganism have challenged & battled the ‘Egg’ to recreate the delicacy that bears little forgiveness to it’s maker. You surprisingly imitate not just the supremely elegant,tantalizing looks of your non- vegan friend but thoroughly infatuate the taste buds too. The chewy goodness and melt in the mouth factor have indubitably been captivated. You are no fake my dear, rather, an identical twin…
Allow me to abate the flattery so I can come to the point. It is of my opinion that no baker is satiated well enough until he/she masters or at the least, attempts the task of conjuring the glorious French Macaron. With this, I  begin this intense, heartfelt and veritable account of my journey with you. Please allow me to bare my heart and I pray you take no offence. I have no intention of appearing impertinent or petulant. I’m just a mad, incorrigible baker that has discovered an authentic, calming remedy for insomnia,  a learner that is on a tranquil quest to decipher the cryptic myths & mysteries of baking, and, at the bottom of it all, I’m just a soul that loves insanely, to eat, experience & live….

“What will be, will be…”
One blazing afternoon in the soaring summer of 2016, as Doris Day crooned to “Que Sera Sera”, I arduously jotted down the recipe from Blog #1. Many hours were spent reading, re-reading & registering a detailed instruction manual, to the point that it was indelibly ingrained. The author, a kind lady must have spent tedious hours drafting the inner workings of it all for the benefit of her readers. I was captivated and floating in nervous elation.

To some I may seem a tad impatient but set me to do a creative task & I am instantly overcome by the patience of a saint. Aquafaba was whipped to a snowy white meringue and powdery almonds were sieved painstakingly. Le macaronage was done without an ounce of care or concern for my aching biceps. The batter flowed like thick ribbons of hot lava, delicately amalgamating with the remaining batter. The Pipe-wait- bake-wait drill was unduly carried out as well. Soft words of encouragement came from my eternal cheerleader, the hopeful husband. Yet, I failed, miserably. The shells were lopsided!

Backing to the drawing board the following day only to be struck by disaster. The adage, “Third time’s a charm” is preseumably a myth since the catastrophe occurred again. I won’t go on my dear, for 6 attempts within a span of one week led to a similar ordeal. Where was I going wrong?
Well, the chapter finally  came to a close, not without the utterance of a seething string of profanities.

“Someday we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection….”
Despite the series of disappointments, the winter of 2016, instilled in me a desire to take a chance. Winter inspires in a myriad of ways. The liberating chilly breeze, the gray skies. The night in question was a snowy one, snowflakes descending like cotton fluffs. My heart was full, spirits high. Gwen Stefani sang a soulful “Rainbow Connection” , emphasizing the magic of wishes, the tangibility of dreams….
I bet my hopes on a new recipe from Blog #2 and the miracles spurring from a flurry, wintry night. This particular recipe involved the making of a French Meringue(vegan of course) as opposed to the Italian Meringue done previously. Three times my heart was blown to smithereens. The shells were lopsided! I will confess, two of those fateful attempts, the batter was a pathetic mess and I had to toss it out before it was even piped.

Blog #3 had a much more detailed plan with definite reasons for lopsided shells/Uneven feet and pictures accompanying literature. Another glimmer of hope. Another brand of almond powder. Another round of tinkering with the oven temperatures. This recipe employed the Italian Meringue technique and it was the best macaron batter I had achieved, even if I say so myself. The result you ask? The shells were lopsided.

Now, intense research has taught me that of all reasons that are have been attributed to lopsided shells, the one thing that is not in my control is an oven that heats unevenly. At the risk of sounding petty, I have to say, it is conceivable that this is perhaps true. More than that, the other reasons attributed have been scrupulously checked for. After 11 valiant attempts, enormous expenses at the grocery (although I never resorted to making full batches), an unhealthy amount of  sugar intake and countless nights scrubbing unkempt utensils and kitchen sinks, I think I deserve to place the blame elsewhere!

That said, this is not Au revoir my friend. The curious case of the Vegan Macaron will be deciphered. If this tumultuous ordeal has taught me anything, it’s that I can be a fighter. I’m not quitting, just indulging in a long break.
Maybe someday you will appease this chagrined baker, maybe someday I will seize that ineffable joy, maybe someday I will bake the perfect French Vegan Macaron…..

Until then,
A Despaired Baker
P.S – Here’s a picture of my imperfect vegan macaron. The entire flawed area I.e with no feet is hidden behind owing to some smart photography by the husband;)
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(Thank you for reading this article. I just want to take a moment to thank those wonderful bloggers/bakers who have put in enormous effort in bringing those recipes. Successful or not, I will forever be grateful to them.)

Embracing Winter…

Glass Half Empty
There were days when my whiny cantankerousness welcomed winter. Admittedly, I was a brat then. Unappreciative of Mother Nature’s simplistic attire. I coveted sunshine, my ignorant mind misconstruing rays for happiness. Floral bounties and barefoot walks along the beach became the sole harbingers of joy. I succumbed to an intense yearning for warmth, failing to accept uncertainty & more so, change. A change that is entailed by the necessity for balance. I was blinded by my own stubborn resolve. I visioned winter to be a scorned witch on a broomstick, armed with unbridled blustery winds in one hand and frigidity in the other, constantly battle ready. I wasn’t one to surrender, I fought hard, cursed and complained. If seasons had sounds then summer was synonymous with Mozart’s harmonious symphonies while winter screamed of dissonance screeching like a  rockstar’s broken electric guitar.

No more.

Glass Half Full
The blinds have snapped off and the mind is finally eager to embrace nature’s vivid transformation. Winter’s mellifluous songs are naturally muted if I snobbishly turn a deaf ear. I realize the solution is by far, simple. My only task remains to let myself go. Perhaps if I attempt to embrace the cold, maybe I could avoid huddling in torture. Perhaps if I extend one hand, She will too. Once the answers unveiled themselves, in other words, once the attitude changed, the rest was easy. My mind’s eye was finally ready to feel the season, Glass Half Full.
Emboldened by the faux fur parka, the breeze fortified by frost has become less intimidating. The somber, gloomy mornings have never posed a problem since they have a way of romanticizing the day. The natural, obvious beauty around helps too and Niagara on the Lake, a little town exhibits it immensely : Leafless trees move fearlessly with the gales, their skinny branches bent & curved like they’re in the midst of an intense ballet recital. They mingle with each other, like socialites reveling at a soiree . Whispering gossip also possibly discussing when the heavens will lace their elegant arms with flurries.
Velvety earth culminating after a fresh flurry offers a gentle cushioning for weary feet but the aspect of impish fun comes into play when there’s a generous snowfall and there are mountains of snow to carefully roll and fling at the husband!
Window sills and picket fences lined with green fern and crimson berries and wreaths in silver and gold make up for the lackluster as do brightly lit trees and reindeer topiaries and iridescent ornaments hanging from branches.
There are a couple of pictures below that our thickly gloved hands captured on the phone. (They’re from Niagara on the Lake, a little town that appears to have taken a leap off of Gilmore Girls, a television series based in a similar town called Stars Hollow. I’ll reserve another post to walk you through this quaint piece of calm.)
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Additionally I’m sharing also, a recipe, one of the many festive bakes I indulged in this past month. Food tends to add a sense of ease especially if it involves excessive amounts of sugar.
These are bite sized Mini Chocolate Cupcakes spruced with Peppermint, a flavor that categorizes as a staple in my opinion, in the holiday season. A grand crown of rich White Chocolate Frosting is assiduously placed. The frosting is a rendezvous between a scarlet red and white, much like the striped peppermint candy.
The mint gently masks the sugar. The chocolate counteracts the bout of freshness. They go hand in hand, entwined in sweet romance and to me, their clandestine affair, just came to light.
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Recipe for Mini Chocolate-Peppermint Cupcakes with White Chocolate Frosting ( Makes 12 Mini Cupcakes)
Ingredients for Eggless Cupcakes

1/2 cup All purpose flour
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp Baking Soda
1.5 tbsp cocoa powder
A pinch of salt
2 tbsp Canola Oil
1/3 tsp + 1/3 tbsp white vinegar
1-1.5 tsp Peppermint Extract.
1/3rd cup Milk
2 tbsp warm coffee decoction

Ingredients for White Chocolate Frosting (Adapted from Sally’s Bake Blog)
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter(Softened at Room temperature)
85 gms White Chocolate
1 cup Icing sugar
2 tbsp Heavy cream or milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
a pinch of salt

How to make the Cupcakes:
1.  Line your mini cupcake pan with liners and preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients: Self Raising Flour, Baking Soda, Baking Powder and Cocoa Powder.
3. To this , add Brown Sugar and give it a good mix.
4. Next, in go the wet ingredients: Canola Oil, Peppermint Extract, 1/3tbsp white vinegar.
5. In a cup mix milk and 1/3 tsp white vinegar to make buttermilk. Add the buttermilk to the cake mix in the large bowl and mix well to ensure there are no lumps.
6. Mix in the coffee decoction and fill cupcake liners till they are 2/3rds full.
7. Bake for  12-15 minutes.
8. They are done when a toothpick comes out clean.

How to make the Frosting:
1. Whisk together butter, milk/heavy cream, vanilla essence together in a large bowl using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, until soft and creamy.
2. Add icing sugar in parts and keep whisking.
3. In a separate bowl, add chopped white chocolate and microwave for 20 sec. Remove, stir and repeat. Twice should do but if not melted after stirring, repeat once more.
4. Add the tempered chocolate to the buttercream as you whisk.
5. Whisk for 3-4 minutes until nice and creamy.
6. Pipe onto completely cooled cupcakes.
7. I added the icing into a bag with Wilton 6B tip in and lined with crimson colored food coloring.
Happy New Year everyone!

Diaries from an Italian Summer….Farewell Roma

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”, I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions and the city of yearning.”
– Giotto Di Bondone  (Italian Painter)
August 13th, 2016
We weren’t about to repeat blunders and discard time amid staggering tourist lines. I don my horse blinkers in the hope to keep away from the usual albeit veritable distractions. Minutes from our Air Bnb, we plop ourselves in a taxi, groggily requesting to drop us off at St. Peter’s Cathedral. It is 6 am. The sun has just availed himself from his sanctuary after a long night’s endure and the sprawling aurora sky is reverberating with a soft, orange hue. The cathedral & Michelangelo’s soaring dome are painted in warm tones, almost fiery. In respect to the Pantheon, the Florentine sculptor made his dome 5 feet shorter across saying, “I could build one bigger but not one more beautiful than the Pantheon.”
In the vast expanse of  the Piazza San Pietro, are standing two souls. Hopeful, grateful. One, infinitely elated, clicking buttons at the rate of 100/minute, in the quest to make the best of the Golden hour. The other, equally overwhelmed and in the hope to imbibe this ephemeral experience to perpetuity.
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The piazza is desolate for the moment, save for security guards who are indulged in cigarette drags. Nuns scurry past us as they scrupulously gauge my attire. The morning din seems like a far cry for now but the city is slowly gearing up.
The piazza  facing the cathedral illudes as boundless, flanked by fountains on either side of a soaring central Egyptian Obelisk. Encircling the square are two colonnades extending from either side of the facade. Hundreds of columns, sparsely separated, they masquerade as colossal but in reality they are simply affectionate embracing arms. We stand in line to witness the grandeur of St. Peter’s Cathedral. Apparently copious amounts of research coupled with my imaginative skills failed to prepare me for the splendor we were about to encounter.
Our early rise proved successful for the church is uncrowded giving the husband a chance to capture it’s infinite beauty. I wordlessly walk along the nave, amid low murmurs and a soft haze of sunlight travelling through the windows, basking in the unfazed calm. A silence that is not, in the least bit, unnerving.
Magnanimity aside, it is the masterpieces by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Lorenzo Bernini and others that we’re here to etch our memories with.  Although they’re but, a microscopic glimpse of art tethered to the past, it certainly is thoroughly pleasing to the soul.
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Top Right: Bernini’s Baldacchino, Lower Right: Michelangelo’s Pieta

Fortunately, there’s more because the next stop happens to be Musei Vaticani.

The streets leading up to the Vatican Museum are speck less and well interspersed with souvenir shops and cafes. We promptly grab a Chocolate Cornetto and string along with other tourists, in the hope to elude despicably long lines. Pontifical Swiss Guards stand at intervals and if not for Dan Brown’s detailed description in his book, Angels and Demons, I might have stopped to take a second look. Out of respect, we don’t take pictures. They are after all the de facto military of the Vatican City and not merely posing as costumed clowns. The contemporary attire draws inspiration from Rafael’s frescoes : Stripes of ultramarine blue, red & a bright ochre, white collar & cuffs, complete with a black beret. They stand out offering an insignia of the Renaissance period.
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Image Courtesy: Google

The Vatican museum is indubitably a treasure house of art, that reveal a clandestine past, and shines despite the rummage and ravage it has endured. Maybe I should mention the gilded ,enchanting ceilings bearing the most delicate of patterns, or the walls of a long hall that carry, 40 geographical maps of Italy from north to south or the enormous rooms that are perfectly swathed in the young artist, Raphael’s frescoes. I wonder if I should talk about Giuseppe’s staircase that curves in a double helix, or the countless sculptures, both mortal & biblical that are only shattered on the outside or Michelangelo’s thought provoking colossal masterpiece, The Last Judgement, draping the walls of the Sistine Chapel. It’s easy to get lost in the past, almost painful when jolted back to reality.
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Come evening, we once again stroll along the byzantine Roman pathways towards Via Dei Condotti. After a brush with history, we prepare to indulge in a little modern fashion. Although I think it’s not fair to label it “modern” when just a few yards ahead, lie the Spanish Steps: 135 steps built between the years 1723-1725. The husband is immersed in photographing the architecture while I window shop the streets that nestle quintessential  luxury names…Gucci, Prada, Cartier, Jimmy Choo, the works. However, a little corner on the street is home to a street vendor, gently roasting chestnuts on an open fire. The aroma is inviting and moments later, we’re staring at a paper bag with mounds of chestnuts whilst contemplating if we should give in to our curiosities. We do, we love it and pat ourselves on the back!

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Piazza Di Spagna

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The Spanish Steps

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Before we bid farewell, we sit on stone benches at the Piazza Di Spagna, binge on Pistachio Cannolis and plan the following morning’s journey. It is a bittersweet moment. Rome gave us glorious cathedrals and gorgeous sunsets. We were introduced to sweet Cornettos and flavour bound pastas. Rome shared with us secrets of it’s poignant history and helped us attempt Italian words. For that & more, Grazie! It’s never enough, the heart is hardly content but Florence awaits….Farewell, Roma.

I have to take a little break to share with you all the magic of the holidays in my next post. In the meanwhile, do stop by my Instagram account to see some of the holiday goodies I baked this year! Happy Holidays:)

Diaries from an Italian Summer – The Roman Ruins

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

August 12th, 2016
I’m miserable & counting infinite sheep owing to the curse of the dreaded jet lag and find myself profusely thanking Maurizio for equipping the room with an espresso maker. At 5am,  a quick youtube tutorial later, I gulp the bitter concoction in two gulps and bide my time, experiencing jitter & thrill as the espresso accomplishes it’s tasks. Outside, the night time lull is gently being replaced by the whirr of motor vehicles and a boundless bright sun awakening a sleepy sky.
We head out to the Illy Cafe, minutes from our apartment, walking past a glorious Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. The air is quiet, still as it can be, waiting to be drenched in sunshine, before the cacophony of the day begins. Locals in the cafe are sipping coffee whilst engaging in laidback conversations with the barista.  The barista is a skilled multi tasker,serving coffee on the dot, yet cheerfully indulging in a camaraderie with his customers. The Italians are wonderfully expressive and although the language is foreign to me, I can’t help but pause and smile because instantly, I’m overcome by a surge of memories from home. Locals casually chatting with chai walas (tea vendors) & coffee vendors in Darshinis (South Indian fast food chains) is a scene almost every Bangalorean is accustomed to on weekend mornings. Research had made me aware of the very subtle similarities in culture and lifestyle…..
Breakfast introduces us to the Cornetto. The French croissant’s Italian cousin. Sweet, flaky, perfectly layered, dusted in icing sugar & profusely bursting with gooey, marmalade as orange as the sunshine. I realise my predilection for Italian cuisine will only intensify. Warm, foamy cappuccinos wait patiently to be sipped as we watch the Roman world go by. Not for long though…the Colosseum awaits…


We meander along the Roman pathways despite being forewarned of the lengthy ticket lines. Although, in my view of things, the walk is a treasured experience by itself. A water color artist displays his creative ware and his papers flaunt the many tourist spots scattered across Rome. I’m partial to local artists and we splurge on a masterpiece of the Piazza Navona.
Tardily, we  arrive at the destination (The Colosseum) and spend a few quiet moments marveling at the magnanimity of the colossal architecture but spirits are crushed as we spot the long lines braving under the harsh summer sun. We succumb to expensive tour guides.
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The Colosseum is bathed in a sandy grey, it’s facade punctuated with hundreds of windows that are struggling to enclose countless secrets, that are privy to the suffering of many pained souls. Constructed by the emperors from the Flavian Dynasty in 70AD, it is in fact an amphitheater (originally called, Flavian Amphitheater) where roughtly 65000 spectators watched as gladiators, prisoners and beasts were enforced to fight for the sole cause of entertainment. The guide pointed to dungeons indoors that locked away wild animals and humans together in a miniscule space. The swell of silence is disquieting and remains unbeaten by the gaggle of tourists and with good reason. In 217AD , a major fire destroyed major parts of the Colosseum followed by numerous earthquakes. The architecture however still stands tall as one of the icons of Rome, surrendering to constant restoration and lending tourists a tiny glimpse of a poignant Roman history many centuries later…


“While the Colosseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Colosseum falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, the world shall fall.”
—AD 7th century Anglo-Saxon pilgrims’ proverb, quoted by the Venerable Bede
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We then snake along pathways bordered by bushy trees, led by a friendly guide to visit the Ancient Downtown Rome: The Roman Forum and the Palantine Hill.
From atop, I attempt to imagine the bustle of activity that engulfed the area 2000 years ago. What used to be studded with a plethora of temples, Roman courts, Government offices,  marketplaces & homes is now a picture with hints of a laborious excavation.  Ruins lie rummaged and ravaged, eaten by the severity of elements. Fluted columns stand alone and worn flagstones drape the earth providing significant clues to a lost past. A history lesson I find myself deeply immersed in….
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Next, we visit the Vatican and parts of Roma contrasting these historic ruins…Ciao

(Do read my previous diary entries When in Rome &
Touchdown, Rome )

Autumnal Musings…

Distraction seems to have got a hold of me & I’m compelled to blame the changing season this time. However, autumn and the glory of colors that entail aren’t just mere distractions. Soothing greens change to glimmering golds and although it doesn’t technically conform to the science of alchemy, they bear with them a promise of euphoria. 

Summer is long gone and with it the burst of sunshine pouring through our diaphanous curtains. I awoke to a grey, gloomy sky and though for some it qualifies a few extra sleep hours, the silvery silky sky and the the soft rain behoove me to indulge in a walk. I don my long gray coat over a thick grey sweater only to realize my sartorial preferences are blending perfectly with my surroundings. Save for the fall foliage, the sky, the facades of historic buildings & the modern skyscrapers with glistening window panes are swathed in shades of grey. Drizzles of rain nonchalantly knock against my umbrella as I circle & navigate around the pathways of Toronto. A crisp breeze and ripples of chills accompany me. Neighboring pedestrians carry sprouted umbrellas and walk briskly while I amble tardily, permitting the rain to soak me. For the moment, Audrey Hepburn croons to Henry Mancini’s ‘Moon River’ on my phone.

A dimly lit cafe beckons me to enter. Luckily I never leave home without a book. I’m soon sipping sweet, honeyed black tea, seated on a high chair, facing a massive glass window on which the rainy water drops have created bizarre patterns. Erin Morgenstern’s, ‘The Night Circus’ absorbs me, only for a bit though. Soon, I’m engrossed in the picture painted outside. Streams of cars buzz across the street. People are wordlessly rushing while a poor, homeless man displays a sign for want of spare change. His furry labrador is snuggled close silently watching the scene in black & white. A man in a turquoise jacket waits under the cafe awning hoping for the rain to stop pitter pattering. A bicycle is parked right out front and it’s saddle, a wet mess. The ground I imagine is gladly welcoming the rain after a parched three summer months. I click many mental pictures before exiting.

The hues of leaves appear darker in the rain, more vibrant, more pronounced. Most make their home on the tree as they gently sway in muffled whispers. The rest are drenched thoroughly but ornately studded over the concrete of the footpath….a beautiful disarray. I make a mental note to capture this in a water colour painting. These are after all, fleeting moments. Evanescent. Soon, barren tree branches will be laced by flurries of snow and the ground, a pristine white spectacle. The crimsons & golds will vanish in the blink of an eye because Mother Nature never falters. Autumn will valiantly bid goodbye and leave us wistfully waiting….

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I will be back soon with Italian adventures. Until then, Ciao!

 

Masala Chai Cupcakes, served with a bout of nostalgia…

Let’s take a break from the Italian adventures. I promise not for long. Today, I invite you on a different kind of journey, a trip down memory lane, as I dive deep into the depths of many memories back home. Come, travel with me as I make short stops and immerse in chunks of my past…

♦While the smoldering sun seeped through iron-grilled window panes, the kitchen is ridden with the rattle of pots & pans and infused & bursting with the scent of aromatic spices. It’s 4 pm & amma needs her usual cup of Chai. Dried tea leaves are brewed in hot water & enriched with Ginger, Cardamom, Tulasi, Star Anise & Cloves. The heat leaches out all the goodness in these spices & although subtle they wind up revamping it into royalty.Then comes the milk that our milk-man has delivered fresh in the morning. Boiled again for good measure, strained and served. But for her, Masala Chai is more than just tea-time. It’s a time to immerse in herself, albeit for a few minutes. A time to wash away monotonous responsibilities( although I highly doubt a mother’s heart lends her permission to do that), a time to submerge in calm & forget the challenges of life or at the least keep them aside for a short while. I like to think it’s a rudimentary nectar she takes assistance from to keep herself sane from the obligations & madness that perpetually surround her.

♦Maybe I should share with you my earliest memory of drinking Chai. It was the time when I metamorphosised into a night owl owing to the pressures of student life. Yes, dentistry changed me plenty and that can occupy a whole new blogpost in itself but gulping cups of warm milk-tea was a routine confined only to certain nightmares called internals. I say “drinking” because it was certainly not something I relished. Never an indulgence, just an infaliable drug that I yielded to in order to pull an all nighter.

♦Like my father, I have failed to fantasize tea in this form, unable to dwell in it’s glories & rhapsodize it’s greatness. However, I still label myself a teophile because I happen to admire it in it’s simplest attire. Black or green with a squeeze of lemon or orange. Maybe some mint, seldom a shred of chocolate or ginger! The husband unlike me is enraptured by the kick, power & sweetness of Masala Chai. He is beyond devoted. Those rare days when my parents visited us, mother & son-in-law were able to toss out awkward formalities, all over a warm cup of Masala Chai.

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My tea collection at home

♦I realise I still haven’t made a mention of the 6 foot, 22 year old baby we had with us over weekends while in Bangalore, my youngest brother. He like my mother considers this drink an essential, a staple. I remember nudging him to get to his books whilst tempting with a cup of Chocolate Chai. Worked like a charm, every time.
His passion extends beyond the seclusion of home. Like when he excitedly told us about bustling mornings in Old Hyderabad where he woke up to Chai, Bun & Osmania biscuits. Or when he suggested I try an Iced Chai Spice Latte with condensed milk & whole spices after religiously learning it from a You Tube video.

While I sing songs of nostalgia, I hate to admit that I’m still learning & compelling my tastebuds to render itself to it’s grandeur. Let me clarify, that doesn’t mean I lack appreciation. I do and a special one at that when the Rain Gods pay a visit! Despite the little detests, I am thankful & Masala Chai has invariably become a big part of my life. This recipe is an homage to this warm beverage, an attempt to fall in love with the magic it exudes. Because we all know, if there’s one drink that stands in equal might with Filter Kaapi, it’s this!

My Masala Chai Cupcakes are dedicated to people like me who prefer desserts to pretty much anything else. To people like me who don’t particularly love Chai but are open to similar flavour profiles.
To the ones who’ve already proclaimed their love for Masala Chai because every bite of this rich cupcake is synonymous with a sweet, fragrant sip of warmth. 
And lastly to the brave ones who are willing to experiment & surrender to something new.
Whoever you are and whatever category you find yourself in, I urge you to try these cupcakes, you will not be disappointed.
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As always these cupcakes are egg free, and suffused with freshly ground lavanga (cloves), elaichi (cardamom), Chakra Moggu (Star anise) & freshly grated ginger. They remain the true stars of this show. As the mortar & pestle did their bit, it was almost calming to drink in whiffs of these magical spices and not to forget, redolent of many special times.Tea decoction is added in good measure as well and topped with a generous amount of Chai infused buttercream.
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RECIPE FOR EGGLESS MASALA CHAI CUPCAKES (Makes 6)

INGREDIENTS
MASALA CHAI CUPCAKES:
3/4th  cup All Purpose Flour + 1 tbsp

1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1/2  tsp Baking Soda
3 tbsp oil
1/2 tbsp white vinegar
1/2 cup milk + 1 tsp white vinegar to make buttermilk
2-3 tbsp of Tea Decoction ( I used Tetley tea bags.)
1.5 tsp of Chai Spice- 

2 cloves
4-5 Elaichi/Green Cardamom pods
2-3 small pods of Star Anise

1- tsp of Fresh grated Ginger
1/4 tsp of powdered Ginger

CHAI SPICE BUTTERCREAM:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 1/2 cup of Icing sugar
4 tsp of heavy cream/milk
A pinch of salt
1- 1.5 tsp of Chai Spice

Others:
Crumbled cookies or biscuits

METHOD:
MASALA CHAI CUPCAKES
◊ Make the Chai Spice by grinding Cardamom, Cloves, Star Anise. Add powdered ginger as well.
◊ Preheat oven to 350 F and place cupcake liners in the tray.
◊Make Tea Decoction by boiling 1/4 cup of water and immersing 2 tea bags. Allow it to brew.
I used Tetley bags but tea leaves can be used too. The Cardamom peel can be added to this decoction as it brews.

◊Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl .(All purpose flour, Granulated Sugar, Baking Soda, Chai Spice)
◊Incorporate the wet ingredients-Oil, White vinegar & Grated ginger
◊Make buttermilk by incorporating 1 tsp white vinegar into 1/2 cup milk. Add this to the remaining ingredients. Whisk well to ensure there are no lumps.
◊ Add 2 tbsp of tea decoction and stir it into the batter.
◊ Next, taste! And I consider this the most important step because if the batter needs any extra spice or tea, then it’s important to add it at this point. The batter should taste like Masala chai

◊ Bake for 17-22 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
◊ Cool completely.

CHAI SPICE BUTTERCREAM
◊ Beat softened butter and heavy cream for a minute until creamy.
◊ Add the icing sugar in parts and beat well.
◊ Incorporate the Chai Spice according to taste. I added a teaspoon.

TO ASSEMBLE-
Frost the completely cooled cupcakes with the Chai Spice Buttercream and top with a dollop (or more!).
Crumble Almond Biscotti or any cookie/rusk on top.
NOTE:
1) Don’t restrict yourself to just these ingredients. Cinnamon, Tulasi etc can be added too. Experiment with individual proportions as well.

2)The quantity of chai spice in the cupcakes & the buttercream can be varied depending on your taste buds.
3) If you’re curious about the flower deco – It’s a buttercream blossom made using Wilton tip #104
4) I apologize for this very , very long post!

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Diaries from an Italian Summer – When in Rome…

The August of 2016, the husband, me and a little brown leather bound journal carefully tucked away in my bag , traveled to Italy and checked off plenty from our bucket list. We devoured pasta like locals, indulged in wine like there was no tomorrow, learnt a handful of Italian words and drank in immense art & history. I’m glad I could make a note of our precious encounters during this ten day vacation because the many glasses of wine sure didn’t help with the memory! At this point, I’m not sure how many parts this post/journey is going to be sliced into and since I’m heavily ridden with a bad habit of “straying”,  I cross my fingers and hope that I can keep you entertained and not subject you to boredom. I hope this journey makes you as happy as it did us…..

August 11th, 2016
“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
– Giuseppe Verdi
Despite worn down by jet lag, I am buoyed by the spirits of travel & pull out my journal to begin this much sought after Italian love affair. Time waits for none, nor does an exhilarated mind. Let me clarify, while the art & history mighty impresses us, it’s the devotion for authentic Italian food that is consigning our brain on an overdrive. We’re determined and on a mission…..to feast on pizzas laden with bubbling, greasy mozzarella that stretches itself longer than a foot, to gorge on plates of gnocchi smeared with pesto sitting on a pool of olive oil, to dive into luscious tomatoes & creamy burrata drizzled with balsamic vinegar, to devour the plethora of flavours of sugary, sloppy gelato without the perils of petty shackles also known as calorie count and to sip on white wine as the blazing sun goes down.
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We saunter along narrow winding lanes & choked alleys studded with flagstones & Vespas, past the stupendous Piazza Venezia , amid trees crowned with cloud like bushes and make our way to Piazza Navona. Like we were aptly informed, the Piazza is scrambling with tourists and their selfie sticks. The husband encourages me to experiment with the camera. I give in and discuss angles & frames fearing I may not follow through. No I’m not a quitter, nor am I devoid of passion but my heart fails to stay in two places. I may fail to breathe in the sweet summer breeze, I may fail to silently people-watch , I may just fail to close my eyes and soak it all in. That said, it’s probably not the worst dilemma to be caught in….
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Afar, Bernini’s Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of Four Rivers(1648-1651) is standing undauntedly amid St. Agnes Church & Fountain of the Moor(also by Bernini). While an Egyptian Obelisk soars high from the center, Bernini’s intricately sculpted & bearded statues around represent the four major rivers from the four continents, Ganges from Asia, Nile from Africa, Danube from Europe & Rio De La Plata from the Americas. The fountain came to be in spite of protestations from the public. After all, the public paid for it in the midst of an ongoing famine!
I’m well aware that my knowledge of European history is but a tiny speck however landing here has piqued my curiosity beyond limits and my heart yearns to be be transported to a time when Bernini & his army hand sculpted this marble marvel of Baroque architecture. Yet another epiphany, yet another realization that learning how to extract teeth during day & memorizing anatomy during night was the biggest mistake of my life….
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The only intact Roman Temple in Roma, The Pantheon.The elephant grey concrete outside  is beguiling and one can be unprepared for the massive, startling interiors. Colossal, fit for the Gods, humming with silence despite swarming people & sealed by a tenacious dome that apart from being a perfect hemisphere, is also mammoth & perfectly in tandem with the lower structure. The haze of sunlight streaming through the central oculus lights up the air and everything in it, somewhat in an attempt to bringing the place back to life. The Pantheon is also a tomb.
Among many colonnades & sarcophagi rests Raphael, the renaissance artist whose frescoes have bathed the Vatican Palaces with colour, splendor & history.
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Rome’s romance with fountains ushers us to the Trevi Fountain. If truth be told, a horde of people lead us to it so much so, I bravely switch off the GPS on my phone. We arrive close by to hear the sounds of gushing waters and rush to see Nicola Salvi’s alluring masterpiece in Baroque art. The fountain is an homage to the God of Sea. On either side are two horses that depict the two natures of the ocean – calmness & agitation. In the center, rises the God of Ocean himself, overlooking the waters. On the right is an enormous vase aka Ace of Cups. Legend says that a barber managed to irritate & criticize Salvi to such a great extent  that he sculptured this vase to as a means to protect & hide his work. The entire creation is a dance, a dance of imaginary creatures & nature, all harmoniously blending with the blue waters.
The husband, with enormous difficulty scours for a spot for himself and his tripod while I fend for an inch of space on the encircled, severely crowded metal seats to rest my weary legs. Surges of people arrive by the second but no amount of chaos & frenzy is strong enough to drift my mind away from the calm of this enchanting fountain. I sit for hours while the husband gets his heart fill of pictures and not a second am I weighed down by manacles of boredom.
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For all my life, I’ve wanted to live a Parisian life. Accepting that it’s too far fetched, I resorted to being a tourist someday. But, when the husband casually popped the question, “Where in Europe?”, I caught myself blurting, “Italy”. I realized Dan Brown & Robert Langdon had gotten in my head way more that I can imagine.I now speak of Bernini & Michelangelo like they’re old friends. Speaking of books, I owe a ton of gratitude to my father. Daddy as I call him, introduced me to the world of books, case in point, Asterix & Obelix. As Goscinny & Underzo  painted pictures of an old Rome, I reveled in adventure after adventure whilst taking in comical drawings of the Pantheon, the bush like trees & Emperor Caesar, with no clue that many years later I would reminisce these days as I walk the Roman flagstones.
To be continued….

To read the previous part of this journal entry, please visit HERE
Ciao!