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.