Mangia Mangia!…Submitting to Pizza Margherita

I’m spooling the tape back to childhood. Do indulge me while I unfold a tiny snippet from the past. Sukh Sagar, the famed eatery’s italic lightbox glimmered under the city’s night sky. Serving meals to patrons parked outside the restaurant while they reclined in the comfort of their cars was quite à la mode in 90’s Bangalore. The 5 of us(the parents, the 2 brothers and me), huddled in our car outside the restaurant while the food was brought and stationed on the bumper. The tray wobbled precariously as it hosted glasses of water and other snacks. For the next hour or so, the brothers and me devoured 4-inch discs of dough studded with bell peppers, onions and smothered with a tomato sauce and topped with visible strands of cheese. This was our first pizza and it has tethered itself unrelentingly to fond childhood memories much like the way mozzarella cements itself unyieldingly to a pizza base.
We’ve come a long way since then. Simplicity has transpired into a labyrinthine experience and I say this bearing no complaints. The thin-crust, the thick crust, the cheese-burst, the white sauce, the red sauce, the neopolitan, the Italian version, the Chicago version, there’s also the Indian version that I bake by splashing the base with a spicy Paneer Tikka Masala. Suffice to say, the options have no end.


We also bake our own pizza. When Little Brother #1 visited us  last month, he pampered us with a beautiful Deep-dish pizza(baked from scratch) outpouring and trickling with mozzarella and the works. I lazed on our sofa, unfurling the recipe, an explicit list of instructions from the book, all well accompanied by little extracts of my sage wisdom. Precisely what one would commonly expect from an elder sister. Lest I forget to mention, he cleaned up too. I basked in my proud-sister moment that night.

This week, Little Brother #2 embarked on his baking journey by making a Pizza Margherita.  We baked the fare together as we silently said a thankful prayer to technology(never have I been more grateful for video calling). Him in Bangalore, me in Toronto. 5pm for him, 6:30 am for me. Clearly, no lounging for me this time around! We kneaded our yeasty doughs together, watched as our tomatoes bubbled boisterously into a sauce and exactly 3 hours later, we revealed our pizzas together. He relished a dinner of earnest hardwork while the husband and me savored an unusual but very delicious breakfast.
I’m going to interrupt my proud-sister moments for now and move on to the the making of this cheese-laden indulgence.

The recipe for this authentic pizza has been adapted from Rachel Allen’s cooking show that I stumbled upon many years ago. The following evening, we had an enticing dinner. I’ve relied on this recipe many a time and continue to do so, sharing it with friends and family because of its unerring ways. Simple in make and always results in a contented smile. The length of time that any bread demands may be overwhelming at first but that is something one will get the habit of fairly soon. My suggestion : bake the pizza often; patience is directly proportional with frequency of make.
The original recipe uses all-purpose flour while I’m sharing the one with wholewheat flour owing to its health benefits. But, either way, there isn’t much of a difference make. The other  significant component is the sauce. Summertime farmer’s markets are brimming with San Marzano tomatoes and I haul back heavy bags splilling with these dainty, deep-red fruits. But other times, I depend on Roma tomatoes. Quite frankly, use whatever tomatoes you can get your hands on.
Moving on to the recipe:

RECIPE FOR WHOLEWHEAT PIZZA MARGHERITA (Makes 2 large pizzas)

INGREDIENTS- 
TOMATO SAUCE FOR THE PIZZA
4-5 tomatoes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
10 basil leaves
Salt
Ground Pepper
1-2 tsp sugar
Thyme and oregano can be added for flavoring as well
PIZZA DOUGH
250 ml warm water(a little extra if the dough feels too dry)
1/2 tsp castor sugar
1.5 tsp active dry yeast or 1 x 7 gms sachet of fast acting yeast
350 gms or 2.5 cups wholewheat flour plus extra for dusting(all purpose flour can be used too)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil plus extra for dusting
Semolina for dusting
TOPPINGS
A few basil leavesGrated Mozarella – roughly 1-1.5 cups(I say roughly because I throw it on my base without restraint!)

METHOD TO MAKE THE PIZZA SAUCE
1. Boil water in a large vessel. Make an ‘X’ at the bottom of each tomato and add into the boiling water for a couple of min. Transfer to a bowl of ice water and peel them.
2.Heat oil in a pan, add onions and cook for 4-6 min, till browned. Add tomatoes, herbs, salt, pepper and sugar and bring to a boil.
3. Simmer till sauce thickens for about 45 minutes, or until the raw smell of tomatoes goes away (Add 1/4 cup of water while cooking if necessary).
4. Cool & blend into a smooth sauce.

METHOD TO MAKE THE PIZZA DOUGH AND THE PIZZA MARGHERITA
1. In a bowl, mix the warm water with the sugar & yeast & leave it to stand for 5 min or until looking frothy. (No need to do this if it’s fast acting yeast. Just add the yeast directly to the olive oil and sugar).
2. Add olive oil into the yeast mixture.
3. Add the wholewheat flour into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the olive oil-yeast mixture into the well and mix by hand, until the dough is wet & sticky.(Add extra water if it is too dry).
4. Next, knead with your hands on a floured counter for about 10 min(5 min in the food mixer) or until smooth & springy to touch.
5. Grease the bowl with olive oil & place the dough back in. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size. ( if you gently press the dough with your fingertip, the dent should stay, and that means it’s ready).
6. Preheat oven to 240C or 465 F.
7. Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and divide into 2 portions. Keep the one that you’re not using covered.
8. Roll out each disc to a 10″ inch circle.
9. Place the rolled out dough on a tray sprinkled with semolina. Alternatively, use a parchment paper.
10. Spread a good dollop of sauce on top of the base and spread it with a ladle.
11. Place the shredded cheese(toppings can be added too)
12. Bake at 465 F / 240 degree Celsius for 15 minutes.
13. Slice and serve hot.

A slip of sunshine: Blood Orange Galette

“Dear Mother Nature,
I’m entirely seduced by this shimmering blanket swathing the earth. Barren trees revealing gnarled branches, tangled and peppered with snow, they soar unbounded into grey clouds. Frozen icicles precariously cemented to ledges make for enough drama on mundane days and snow dusted church rooftops make for visions that for years, I’ve only vicariously lived through books. Playful mists of breath, tiny impressions of pigeon feet on unblemished snow, ripples of water vanishing into rock …..may the enthusiasm never temper, may the joy never recede,may the beauty never fade.
However, there are times when I find myself pining for a slip of sunshine, just a sliver. Wishful thinking, I know. Fortunately, that coerces me to navigate into other avenues. Therefore, at the moment, I will resort to the warm rhapsody of the blood orange. Blood Oranges are peeled are laid on a a sourdough galette base, slathered with blood orange marmalade,  baked warm and devoured fresh. This is our slip of sweet sunshine this cold, winter morning. Our golden gild.
O Mother, sprinkle our lives with a smattering of sunshine before I run out of ways to defeat the blues.”
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As you can see, I’m desperately scavenging warmth, sunshine and Vitamin D. And, my first-aid this season happens to be blood oranges. On the outside, these gorgeous fruits are disguised as the regular variety, donning a peel exactly like the latter and hence fairly easy to ignore whilst hurriedly hustling a grocery card(Tip:keep your eyes peeled for the name labels). It is only when they are sliced that one discovers how aptly they are christened. They bleed vivacious shades of crimson, sometimes a shimmering maroon, sometimes a rich saffron and at times, they’re adorned in sharp streaks with every shade mentioned above. Undeniably, they are a thing of beauty. A thing of joy.
I first discovered blood oranges in the dreary winter of 2016. I remember juicing them to witness a gleaming red glass of juice. This winter though, I hope to reveal their beauty in a language I’m most drawn to, baking.
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To make the galette, very simply, blood oranges are peeled, sliced, laid on a homemade walnut enriched Pâté brisée that is slathered with blood orange marmalade and baked until golden brown. It isn’t an overpoweringly sweet dish but promises to curb the cravings. If you ask me, this galette is best devoured warm. The flavours are fresh and strongly redolent of a warm, summer afternoon picnic. A picnic seems far from reality at the moment but a girl can dream….
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A little about the recipe-
The recipe for the Pâté brisée has been adapted from Sarah Owen’s wonderful book, ‘Sourdough’. It does call for a sourdough starter but not to worry because I have made it plenty of times without one and it works just fine. Additionally, the measurements are in grams and therefore demands a weighing machine.

Secondly, I opted for the blood orange marmalade because I stumbled upon a jar in the grocery but feel free to use any jam or spread that you might want to pair with the oranges. Moving on to the recipe….
RECIPE
INGREDIENTS
For the Walnut Pâté brisée
45 gms walnuts
45 gms whole wheat flour
65 gms all purpose flour
15 grams granulated sugar
Half a tsp salt
75 gms cold, unsalted butter chopped into cubes(taken out of the refrigerator just before use)
15-25 gms ice cold water

Other Ingredients –
4-5 medium sized blood oranges
Approximately 3 tsp of blood orange marmalade or any other jam/spread
1 tsp of maple syrup
1 tbsp of milk

METHOD
-To make the pastry, pulse together walnuts, whole-wheat flour, salt, sugar until the nuts are ground fine.
– Then transfer to a bowl and add the cold, cubed butter and bread it down with your hands it resembles a coarse crumb. Then add ice cold water to combine very gently. Do not over mix or knead. Once it comes together, place in a plastic wrap & refrigerate for 30 minutes.
-Meanwhile, peel your blood oranges and slice them evenly into app. 0.5cm thickness.
– Preheat oven to 375F. Remove the dough from the oven and allow to the dough to come to room temperature.
– The moment it is pliable, roll it out into a large circle( 10 inches).
To roll, I usually place the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and then roll, so it doesn’t stick.  Place the rolled pastry on a parchment lined tray. Spread out your choice of jam/marmalade. Place the sliced oranges.
-Fold over the crust edges gently toward the centre. It can overlap as well, the more rustic the better:)
– The crust can then be brushed with milk and maple syrup (replaces an egg-wash) and baked for about 30-35 min until the crust is golden brown.

 NOTE:Optionally, a thick syrup or glaze can be made to spread onto the galette.
Ingredients –
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
a handful of blood orange slices
Method –
– Bring the sugar and water to a boil on medium high heat. Then turn down the heat and add the blood orange slices. Remove the fruit slices a few minutes after. Let the syrup thicken on low heat.
-Once cooled, it can be spread on the finished galette.

 

 

Sticky Toffee Pudding

My affiliation to desserts hardly comes as a surprise. Early on, it may have to do with possessing a sweet tooth or perhaps being amid sugar devotees. However, with my culinary learnings, I’ve learnt also, that the desire to bake or create desserts bears no relation with my love for consuming sugar. Meaning, even on days when I’m sugar-starving(by choice), I find myself hankering for the rumbling sound of my stand mixer as it punches and mangles a robust babka dough, the perfume emanating from a slit vanilla bean pod and the disarrayed crackle top of an 8×8″ brownie. After a 10 day vacation traipsing around Croatia this summer, our home bound flight back seemed devoid of melancholy only because my restless mind conspired to bake a crostata with figs and sweet port-simmered onions. Although, I did christen it with a quirkier name, “It’s been 10 days since I’ve baked. I miss the oven” crostata. Jet lag was forced to take a back seat.

Having grown up relishing my grandmother’s Badam Halwa(Almond pudding), my mother’s Paayasa’s(kheer), my father’s secret stash of chocolate, desserts take precedence over other foods in my kitchen and if it demands an oven, then it only becomes that much better. In an ideal world, I would bake every single day, I would check off that unceasing bucket list like my 10th grade self checking-off roting her vast syllabus. However, at the moment I will appease myself with the current pace and make sweet ‘somethings’ as often as I can.
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This dessert was prompted after devouring a Martha Stewart Show, the only cooking series I watch, and sadly restricted to random sightings. I watched in awe the other murky afternoon as she conjured a coffee-laden, sticky date cake and a velvety amber sauce to complete the dessert. The chef’s composed demeanor propelled me to take my standard position by the kitchen counter, whisk and bowl in hand, oven at 325F. Unfortunately, the lack of a couple of of key ingredients demanded rescheduling.
A few mornings later though, after running our of patience, I took position once again(after sourcing all ingredients).  I wasn’t nearly as calm or collected as she was. In my defense, when one is basking in the caffeinated fragrance suffusing from a cake batter or witnessing chunks of butter melting seamlessly into bubbling cream, it is painstakingly hard to contain excitement.
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Francis Coulson of the Sharrow Bay Hotel is said to have created the dessert in 1970. The hotel claims that the original recipe is cloistered in the confines of a secret vault and the staff sign a non-disclosure agreement so as to preserve the secret. I’m ignorant as to how different the original recipe is from the one I’m about to share but I can safely say, disappointment is not a part of the equation.
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The recipe involves Medjool Dates; they are tremendously sticky and you will find your knives coated with their flesh as you chop them into tiny bits. But, the stickiness also means that they blend harmoniously into the batter and the resulting cake. Also, like I mentioned before, this batter is folded in with a cup of strong espresso and I for one become weak in the knees when it comes to coffee in desserts. This was no different. Like all my bakes, I adapted this into an eggless version as well, thanks to an Egg Replacer(the brand I used is Pane Riso Foods Egg Replacer)it should be easily available online if not in stores.
It is better to let the cake sit overnight or for a day as the cake succumbs to the warmth and liquidity of the toffee sauce. But, if you’re anything like me, rather than tolerate the wait, you will assemble a square chunk of cake flooded with sauce ready to go while it is still sizzling hot.
Hope you like this one!

RECIPE FOR EGGLESS STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING(ADAPTED FROM MARTHA STEWART’S RECIPE)
INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature 
  • 8 ounces Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 cup hot and strong brewed coffee
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup lightly packed dark-brown sugar
  • 2 tsp egg replacer mixed with 4 tbsp of room temperature water (I use Pane Riso Foods Egg Replacer but different brands will probably have a different set of directions)

Sauce

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup lightly packed dark-brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour an 8×8 inch baking pan. Place dates in a bowl, pour hot coffee over dates, and let them soak in the coffee for about 15 minutes. Then stir in the baking soda.

In a bowl, whisk together, flour, baking soda and salt. Keep aside.
Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Then add the egg replacer and incorporate it for a few seconds( it is allright if the mixture appears curdled).

Add the flour mixture in parts, again in medium-high speed and mix until a smooth batter is formed. Add date mixture and remaining flour mixture, and beat until just combined. (Do not overmix.) Transfer batter to dish, and bake until cake is puffed and springs back in center when gently pressed with a finger, about 35-40 minutes.( I used  a toothpick to check the done-ness)

Toffee Sauce:
To make the toffee sauce, bring together butter, sugar, and cream in a pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium (so sauce does not boil over) and boil, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens and darkens slightly, about 4-7minutes.

Remove cake from oven and pierce holes at 1-inch intervals to bottom of cake with a wooden skewer. Pour half of the hot sauce over cake and let soak 20 minutes. Serve warm with remaining sauce. Cake soaked in sauce and remaining toffee sauce can be stored at room temperature up to 1 day. Before serving, warm cake in a 300 degrees oven 10 minutes, and sauce in a small saucepan over medium heat.

 

Khara Biscuits & My Love-Hate Relationship with Sugar

Rosy as it may seem, my relationship with sugar like any other is flawed. Sweet yet oddly imperfect.
I hail from a family that is ravenous for sugar and the clan has rightly  realized that its absence will only add to the existing pandemonium. Hence, we give in to its captivity. Be it the amber hued jaggery syrup that is made specially for dosas to diligently mop up or those surreptitious, midnight thefts of of chocolate or those weekend dessert projects bustling in the kitchen, such as Holige( Sweet Rotis)  and the likes or that generous chunk of jaggery stirred into every single savory dish, we love “the sweet life” and life without it is imagined to be listless, dark and sullen. I finally have a reason for my foray into the cozy, hygge-ligt world of baking. It is that “sweet”gene rampant in my cells that yells and throws unbearable tantrums until I give in.
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Until a few years ago….
For a year almost in 2014-2015, I gave up on sugar. Completely. The first couple of weeks were every bit as cringe-worthy as was suspected. A world painted in color turned gray. I felt myself at sea most times, dubious about my decision. Every smile, I found, was peppered with a sad note. The romance that had me exuberant and invigorated had come to an end(albeit temporarily) and I was heartbroken.
The good news: it lasted only a week or two. Once I swam the rough waters, the calm was an unexpected surprise. The cravings bid adieu and to put it very bluntly, I lost interest. Those hardworking sugar-coveting tastebuds were probably happier in hibernation and my body was thrilled to bits with the ongoing  detox. And, gray didn’t seem like such a bad colour.  Might I add, I still reveled in the bliss of baking and very often. I just didn’t eat those treats, nor was I tempted to give in. The powers of the mind and body  are magical, I learnt.
Admittedly, there are days when I’ll be caught binging unstintingly on sweet treats but most days I resort to portion control or zero intake.
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These cookies are devised precisely for those days. They are called Khara(spicy in Kannada) Biscuits and since Iyengar Bakeries are non-existent in my part of the world, I resort to overworking my battered oven quite often.
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The recipe has been adapted from the wonderful Chitra Agarwal’s ‘Vibrant India‘, the book brimming with memories and food, redolent of good times from Bangalore, a common home between us. For me, the collection occupies a special place for reasons aplenty but some take priority:
– While the traditional Palyas , gojjus & Chitra-annas make their presence, some are twisted beautifully, and yet strongly rooted to tradition. Like her Apple Pie Kadabu’s, where apple pie fillings fragrant with autumnal spices substitutes the coconut filling that is traditionally opted.

– I always assume(with the risk of my imagination running wild), that recipes for Congress Kadlekai(spiced peanuts) and Khara biscuits ( both quintessentials in a Bangalore Iyengar Bakery) lie scribbled in some old, tattered pages, cloistered into a crevice of the bakery’s walls. Lucky that the author includes recipes for these as well. Many miles away, my kitchen is alive with the scents of the streets of Bangalore.

-And finally, despite having grown up and well acquainted with a gamut of dishes from the book, it is the aura of Bangalore that it drapes so well, the manner it magically mirrors the culinary saga of my elders that, coerces me into lending this treasure trove of flavour-bound recipes a place in my kitchen nook.

The cookies you see here are bite sized and slightly softer unlike the original crispy variant, equally delicious nonetheless. They are richly fragrant with Mint, Curry Leaves and Lime leaves. They are heavily laden with nostalgic memories from Bangalore & a sharp, tangy cheddar cheese. I do hope you like this one!
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{Before we move on the recipe, I just want to add that I’m no health expert and my desire/disinterest in sugar is purely my personal choice. I do not suggest in any way that this recipe is a “health/healthy food” OR Diabetic friendly.}

RECIPE FOR CHEDDAR & HERB SHORTBREAD COOKIES (KHARA BISCUITS)
(Adapted from Chitra Agarwal’s, Vibrant India’)

INGREDIENTS
1/4 th cup unsalted butter(at room temperature)

1.5 tsp sugar
2 tbsp plain yogurt
1/2 tsp salt
1 green chilli, finely chopped
10-12 curry leaves, finely chopped
1-2 dried lime leaves, finely chopped(optional)
1/4 cup mint leaves,finely chopped
1 cup all purpose flour/sifted whole wheat flour
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Method
– In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar by hand. Add the salt, herbs, green chillies and yogurt and mix.

– Then add the flour, grated cheddar and milk. Very gently bring all the ingredients together into a dough.
– Roll this into a log and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour.
– In the meantime, preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
– Slice the dough into 1/4 inch thick slices and arrange them on the cookie sheet.
– Bake for around 18-22 minutes and cool completely.
Notes:
1) The author has included coriander leaves in these shortbread cookies which also lend a wonderful flavour.

The ‘Stop to Smell the Roses’ Cake

Not that a chocolate or an orange flavoured cake doesn’t entice me substantially, but that winter morning demanded a distraction from the familiar. I was fortunate Sumayya Usmani’s ‘Mountain Berries and Dessert Spices’ had sailed from it’s confines of the store and landed amid the cozy comforts of my living room. The author is driven by authenticity and her recipes are brimming with tradition. She paints the book with dishes showcasing the magic of rose petals, cardamom, berries, pistachios and other produce native to her homeland.

The love for baking isn’t new. You know that. Let’s just say this cake is a product of inspiration, madness and wild curiosity. For the sake of nostalgia, accompany me on a trip down memory lane, will you?
In Kannada, there is a phrase – ‘MaTa MaTa MaDHyana’. It refers to blazing afternoons when the sun is at it’s peak, the air warm, the roads desolate and the atmosphere blanketed by laziness. These breezy summer afternoons in the 80’s and early 90’s meant mom-made orange candy set in little ice cube trays or mom-made lemonade with pungent hints of cardamom and a tinge of salt. They were special treats stored away for school breaks only. These drinks were rarely(I mean, really rarely) punctuated with a rose drink that many of you are familiar with, RoohAfza. The cool hit from the floral notes of rose intertwined with sugar and hued in a deep fuschia-red was nothing short of a celebration on lackadaisical Banglaorean afternoons. Then there was also the coveted, ‘Rose Milk’. Another blush toned concoction that got the tastebuds singing.
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Finally one morning , in the present day, I wondered why I have absentmindedly ignored this mellifluous flavour. If anything, my cakes deserve to feel special! The previous evening was spent scouring for rose petals. A Chinese market bottled thousands of tiny rose buds meant to be steeped in tea. I bought a handful and chalked up a simple recipe.
This egg free cake is entangled with rose petals and mildly laced with cardamom. Dousing the cake, is a simple sugary rose glaze. Bear in mind, this cake is brimming with the rose flavour. Like an opera singer’s high pitched chorus. Beautiful, at the same time, strong. Hence, I suggest you to feel free to play around with the Rose water measurements. We were happy with the outcome but take it down a notch if you like.
This cake takes me back to a simpler time and parallelly transports me to an ethereal one. One that my taste buds are familiar with and yet oddly, not. I hope you like this as much as we did!
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RECIPE FOR : The ‘Stop to smell the roses’ CAKE (for a 6 inch EGGFREE cake)
INGREDIENTS
For the Cake
3/4th cup Self Raising Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 cup of Granulated sugar
2-3 green cardamoms powdered with a pinch of sugar
1 tsp Rose water
3 tbsp Oil (I used canola)
1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp Vinegar
1/ 2 cup Milk
Dried organic Rose Petals (Optional)

For the Glaze
2-2.5 tsp of water/milk
3/4 cup of icing sugar
1 tsp of Rose water(optional)
A drop of Pink food colouring (optional)
For the Garnish(Optional)
Chopped Pistachios
Dried organic Rose Petals

METHOD
1. Preheat the oven to 350F
2. Cut a round piece of parchment the size of the base of the cake pan and keep aside. Grease the entire cake pan and place the parchment to cover the floor of the pan. Then dust the sides with the flour.
3. In a medium sized bowl, bring together the dry ingredients and give it a whisk.(Self        Raising Flour, Baking Soda, Granulated Sugar & Powdered Cardamom)
4. To the dry ingredient mix, add, Oil, Rose water and 1/2 tbsp of vinegar.
5. In a small bowl make buttermilk by mixing milk with 1/2 tsp of vinegar. Once it curdles, add it to the remaining ingredients.
6. Mix well to ensure there are no lumps.
7. Add rose petals(optional)and gently fold it in and pour into the prepared cake an.
8. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
9. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by mixing together, icing sugar, rose water(optional)    and milk/water. Add a drop of pink food colouring if you like and keep aside.
10. Once the cake is out of the oven, keep it on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Gently slide a        knife along the sides to loosen it from the pan.Then carefully turn the pan upside down onto a tray to make sure it comes out in one piece.
11. Once completely cool, pour the glaze on the cake and garnish with rose petals & pistachios.

I hope you like this cake as much as we did: )
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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.)

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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