Sweet Autumn- Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

It is that time of the year. The parasols have been shelved away, so are the sunscreens. It is the season of heeled boots, coats and scarves in plaid. The fluttering leaves of autumn scatter about the sidewalks as if after a long, desperate wait. And, our puppy Elaichi,  chases them like he does innocent sparrows in flight. But, it’s not just the romance manifested by the weather Gods. It’s also the food. The warm wafts of cinnamon and ginger, the velvety plush of a pumpkin pie, the heavily studded apple trees and the limitless cups of Pumpkin Spice Lattes.


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Today I want to share with you a sweeter, indulgent version of this autumn favorite: Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes. Just to clarify, pumpkin spice does not contain any pumpkin, nor do these cupcakes. Pumpkin spice blend is a magical coming together of warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. While lattes take precedence in our home, the spice can be used for a variety of dishes and desserts.
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These eggless cupcakes & its buttercream are brewed with the richness of all these spices but to compliment it all there is a luscious coffee caramel filling that makes it a complete dessert experience. Just for fun, I made leaves using fondant & gumpaste, then painted them with warm hues to resemble autumn foliage and use as toppers for these seasonal delights. Hope you like and one & embrace it this season and after.

RECIPE FOR EGGFREE PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE CUPCAKES
Makes 12

INGREDIENTS
For the cupcakes-
1.5 cups All Purpose Flour
2 tsp Pumpkin Spice(Recipe in notes*)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
6 tbsp oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup buttermilk( made by adding 1 tsp of edible vinegar to 1 cup of milk)
2 tbsp instant coffee decoction

For the Coffee Caramel
1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp Water
1/2 cup whipping cream/heavy cream
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
2 tbsp instant coffee granules

For the Pumpkin Spice Buttercream
1 cup Unsalted butter, softened at Room temperature
4-5 tsp heavy cream/milk
1 tsp pumpkin spice
1 tsp vanilla essence
3.5 to 4 cups icing sugar

METHOD

1) First things first, the Coffee Caramel.
We are essentially making regular caramel and infusing it with coffee.
To begin, place the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan,  pour water on top and cover with a lid. Stove on medium heat.
Meanwhile, place the cold and cubed butter in a heatproof bowl and place a sieve in it. Microwave the heavy cream for a full minute or until bubbling. Carefully take the cream out(it will the hot) and mix it with the instant coffee granules. Keep the butter and this coffee cream close.
Once you hear the sugar mixture boiling, remove the lid. If sugar is crystallizing on the sides,use a pastry brush dipped in water to gently wash it down.
Keep watching the sugar and once in turns amber in once area, stir it around gently but quickly until the entire mixture is amber coloured. Put off the stove.
Very slowly and carefully, add the hot cream into the caramel, it will bubble boisterously, stir with a wooden spoon.
Then, sieve this mixture onto the cold butter and just set it aside to melt for about 5 minutes.
Finally, gently stir and cool completely.
Store in an air tight jar

2) To make the Pumpkin Spice Cupcake
First, we make the Pumpkin Spice by mixing all the ingredients listed above in a little bowl. (The remaining spice mix can be stored and sprinkled on a cup of coffee to make winter nights warm and cosy).
For the cupcakes-
Pre heat your oven to 350 F and line the cupcake pan with cupcake liners
Prepare your coffee decoction by heating water and adding instant coffee. Keep aside.
Next, measure a cup of milk and to that, add 1 teaspoon of vinegar and allow it to curdle and form buttermilk.
In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: All purpose flour, pumpkin spice, baking soda and sugar.
Add to the dry ingredients- oil, vanilla essence and buttermilk. Mix gently ensuring there are no lumps. Stir in the coffee.
Fill the cupcake liners with your batter(2/3rd of the liner) and bake for 20-35 min OR until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let them cool completely on a wire rack.

3) To make the buttercream
It is important that the butter is softened at room temperature. Place on your counter to let it soften.(I usually leave it overnight)
Once softened, place in a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer along with milk/cream, pumpkin spice and vanilla essence. Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the butter for a about 2 min on medium high speed until fluffy.
Add the icing sugar in parts and keep beating for about 4-5 minutes until the buttercream is soft and creamy.
-If the buttercream is too thick to handle, add heavy cream/milk. If it is too loose, add icing sugar.

To assemble the cupcake
Make a hole in the center of your cupcake using the back end of your piping tip or even just a knife, around 1/2 and inch diameter.
Fill the cupcake with the cooled coffee caramel.
Pipe the buttercream on top using a piping bag attached to a large size round tip

*Note- Pumpkin Spice recipe
4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger powder
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Mix the above and store in an air-tight jar.

Quand à Paris-1

When in Paris or Quand à Paris in french. Early June, the husband and me flew to the City of Love, hearts heavy with desire to bring to life the titillating words that I had absorbed from a plethora of books , to bask in the romance of a French summer and  attempt to satiate my ravenous longing for sugar in its many avatars. A week’s worth of vacation to make up for a decade’s worth of dreams. I attempt to share and narrate the magic that this darling city sprinkled on us, I hope you love it as much as we did.

Day 1

-Apprehension has captivated me in the flight and no, it is not aviophobia. After devouring and gobbling books about this enchanting city the past few years, the desire isn’t only to navigate and strut down those winding, cobbled streets. It’s more than that. I’m inclined to fit in, ramble in french, splash on that red lipstick, strap on those stilettos and feel at home.

-The taxi ride from the airport to our Air Bnb appartement in Rue Humblot begins uneventfully. However, many zinc rooftop sightings and a handful of traffic violations later, we caught a fleeting glimpse of the Iron Lady, La Tour Eiffel, a glorious manifestation of my dreams, standing tall, proud and bewitchingly beautiful. What follows however, isn’t so pretty. I bawl like a baby, face buried in the husband’s old backpack while he quietly caresses me, fully in the know of these disobedient but happy tears. After I regain composure, I wonder if Parisian cabs are more equipped to handle emotional outbursts, the likes of the above, presuming the likelihood of their frequency!

-The appartement is quaint, tiny, possessing a tinier kitchen. I assume the owner to be an equestrian or an enthusiast . The walls proudly display paintings of horses. The remaining walls are stacked with books and other collectibles. A large window opens to a busy street, the Paris metro chugging frequently. Fingers crossed, I take a quick peek into the minuscule kitchen, smiling as I spot the baking oven.
I attempt to chat with the owners in french, unsure if months of classes will payoff. But, thanks to my teacher and the homework I so religiously abided by, the language flows without interruptions. Admittedly, the words are simple, the sentences are short and blemished grammatically but the components are glued correctly much like the compartments of a train. I’m now overcome by a rush of optimism, enthused to immerse myself in this verbal dance of words, en francais.

-The first stop: The street is enlivened by a Sunday farmer’s market spilling with colours and fresh smells. Chaos, cacophony and conversations reign along with nature’s bounty.Under a tarpaulin sheet, crimson hued cherries, miniature radishes shaded in fuchsia, delicate strawberries, plump peaches, grande et petit tomatoes are organised in mounds and crates. A sight for sore eyes, a plethora of inspiration for a food lover. I request the grocer to bag some fruits; a Galette is brewing in my mind.

-We promenade to the Champs Elysees; the walk is très long. Fortunately, not one minute under the blazing sun is tiring or boring, it is instead, unraveling mysteries and satiating the imaginative mind, one cobbled street at a time. Of course, I bid goodbye to my heels and I rely on my very dependable, flat, ballerina shoes.
The Pont Alexandre Bridge spanning the Siene is studded with ornate nymphs, cherubs and the quintessential Parisian lamps. Woody Allen has magnificently captured it in the final scene of Midnight in Paris, where Owen Wilson and Carla Bruni walk under the rain and I had always wondered if reality channels the same charm. Turns out , it does and more, even if at this moment, the earth is parched beneath the afternoon sun.

-The Champs Elysees is car-free since it is a Sunday mais  siezed by throngs of people. The pavements house quaint patio-style restaurants, all flaunting red and cream woven chairs. We silently navigate through them all because I’m miserably sugar starved and nothing will appease this monster like French dessert. Lo and behold, shimmering in the sunshine is a soft green facade with gold gilded intricacies. C’est Laduree! Macarons, a passionfruit-chocolate bar and a raspberry-litchi-rose cream concoction are devoured with an intense fervor and a silent exchange of smiles between the husband and me. We are after all, at a temple, a temple where peity is reserved for macarons & its kin.

– Jardin des Tuleries near Place de la Concorde is peppered genrously with tall, boxed trees. Under the canopies of these trees are cafes enticing one with the luxuries of shade and respite from the sweltering heat. Glasses clink, plates clatter, wines flow.  A little girl glowers at her mother’s cigarette, clearly unmasking her distaste towards smoking, a couple transforms menu cards into makeshift fans and we take pinched sips of iced drinks After traipsing around the city for 15 kms, we concur that sipping on iced drinks isn’t doing the needful. Fortunately, nestled within the jardin is a pond and at its hem are lawn chairs with low hanging backs. An hour later I realise, a nap did do the needful.

Carousel at Jardin des Tuleries

-We head back to the apartment meaning for it to be a quick stop only to discover that all water for the entire building has been shut off. A phone call with our owner informs us that a leak in the basement has resulted in the above and it being a Sunday, the plumbers aren’t showing up anytime soon.
But, one never sulks in Paris; her magic is too entrancing. One instead, scours for grocery stores and lugs back 10 litres of water in bottles to make do for the next 24 hours simultaneously hoping the universe is transmitting telepathic pleas to the plumbers. One smiles and forgivingly succumbs to the magnetic attraction because,  C’est Paris! Oui?

-We are strolling by the greens in the confines of La Tour Eiffel, when delicious wafts engage our senses, shaking us off from our nonchalant walk. In a little concession stand, a man is making crepes. We stand in line and gaze at the sight like little children; he pours loose batter on a hot griddle and quickly using a spreader transforms it into delicate pancakes, then slathers them with generous spoonfuls of confiture de fraises. Dinner looks good.

-The evening light is gently masked by deeper hues. Dusk is working its way in signalling a time for the stars to shine and more importantly for the golden lights of the Eiffel Tower to shimmer by the Siene. And shimmer she does as if swarmed by a million fireflies. The city is crackling with magic and unfurling the sweetest dreams, trapping us into her cadences and we are not ones to be repelled. We let her sweep us…..We’re in Paris.

Summer Romance: Mango Curd Tart

Meals are always sweeter in the summer. Oui?  Many summers ago, my uncle would bring crates of farm-grown unripened Raspuri mangoes ensuing my room being transformed into a safe-place for their ripening. Days later, the mangoes metamorphosed into soft fruits, fit to perk up lazy holidays. Amma(my mother) gathered more than a few every evening to conjure up ShreekarNe, a golden puree of mangoes with a touch of milk, a smattering of cardamom and a sprinkle of saffron. Pooris or rotis were mandatorily involved. Flaky, ghee laden rotis or puffed pooris were torn into, then dunked unhingedly into a bowl of ShreekarNe and just like that, a  simple dinner experience turned a tad sweeter, a tad celebratory. Like I said, meals are always sweeter in the summer.

In my books, a ShreekarNe remains to be the very best way to devour mangoes. Of course, carelessly chomping on them thereby concocting a sticky, happy mess qualifies as sane too. There’s something to be said about devouring them with no abandon; their sweet syrup trickling down; their juicy pulp satiating sweet desires on a dull, lazy, sunshine deluged afternoon. It culminates in a summer romance like no other.
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That said, I’m also on a perpetual quest to bake with them whilst not losing their soul to excessive sugar; to capture that essence and ineffable joy and pour it all into a decadent cake or a cheesecake or perhaps a luscious, chilled kulfi speckled with saffron threads . Toronto lacks Bangalore’s pulpy Raspuri mangoes but answers with plumper and just as juicy Altaufo mangoes. Fortunately, they are stacked up tall in the China Market and needless to say, the shop is religiously paid a visit over weekends.
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A couple of summers ago, driven by a spot of enthusiasm and adventure, I made a rich mango custard and piped them into elaichi cupcakes resulting in a gooey goodness with every bite. Earlier this year, when the mangoes first started to make an appearance, I entwined their flavour with a touch of vanilla into a simple Bundt cake, then doused it with a sweet mango syrup. Today, I present to you a silky, sweet Mango Curd Tart.
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This Mango Curd Tart screams of mangoes but additionally screams of summer too. A graham cracker crust cradles a smooth and rich vegan mango puree, which after refrigeration transpires into a cold, velvety dessert with the most delicate crunch. It comes together very quickly and is a no-bake as well. Admittedly, I was tempted to infuse it with other flavors; perhaps some basil or a sprinkle of cardamom but I restrained myself in order for the mangoes to dominate the dessert. The colors of this dessert are akin to those of sunshine and it satiates the most delicious summer dreams. Hope you like it as much as we did:)

RECIPE FOR NO BAKE MANGO CURD TART
Makes 1 9 inch Tart

INGREDIENTS
For the Crust
220 grams of Graham Crackers
110 grams of melted butter

For the Filling
1.5 cups Mango Puree( To make this, I took the pulp from 2 mangoes, blended it until smooth and then strained it into a medium saucepan)
1/2 cup water
7 tbsp Corn Starch
1 cup almond milk
1 cup granulated sugar

Others
Fresh fruits to decorate

Method
For the Graham Cracker Crust
-In a food processor, powder the graham crackers till they are fine. Mix them with the melted butter until you achieve a wet sand like consistency.
-Transfer this to the greased tart pan and press on the base and the sides with the help of a flat bottomed cup, to ensure that the crust is uniformly layered on the pan.
-Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

For the Vegan Mango Curd
-In a large saucepan or pot, add the mango puree(see ingredients) and water. Mix and place on medium heat. Let it simmer and reduce for a few minutes(3-4 minutes).
-While it is simmering, in a bowl, mix together the almond milk and cornstarch making sure there are no lumps.
-To the simmering mango puree,  add the sugar and stir. Let the sugar dissolve completely.
Once the sugar has dissolved completely, add the almond milk-cornstarch mixture and whisk continuously with a wooden spoon or a silicone spatula. It is important to whisk continuously because otherwise there will be lumps. Do this for 4-5 minutes or until the mango curd thickens. Immediately take it away from the heat and transfer to the chilled graham cracker crust. Smooth top if necessary and chill overnight.
It is ready to be sliced and enjoyed the next morning.

Spring laden Pasta in a Basil Pesto

Many of our Saturday mornings, winter or warmer, have adopted a little ritual. A sanctimonious one, demanding equal parts worship and sacrifice. The sacrifice involves rejecting the few extra precious hours of weekend sleep and beginning the morning a tad earlier than usual. The worship comprises a prayer to the Transit Gods of Toronto, hoping for a bus that arrives on schedule. And finally, the ritual in question implies a rejuvenating escape to the St.Lawrence Farmer’s Market.
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Thriving amid fresh,seasonal produce, strolling along the aisles encompassed by the profusion of vegetables and fruits, their vibrant skins dappled with shimmering droplets of water, is admittedly my kind of meditation, my panacea, my prayer. St. Lawrence Market offers just that and appeases my soul whilst simultaneously exciting and enthralling my creative side of the brain.
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The saturday market is huddled within a white tent and the vendors entice customers who are still warding off the sleep bug with, little cups of apple cider,swigs of fermented yogurt, fresh cut apple slices, trimmings of cheese and spoonfuls of olive tapenade. If that doesn’t entail enough enlivening, then rows of neatly lined herbs in a deep, verdant green, stacks of colour coded bell peppers, mountains of earthy potatoes, minuscule baskets heaped with tomatoes in a variety of sizes, each one more darling than the other, buckets plopped with lovely, seasonal flowers, these definitely do the trick.

Sticklers to our timetable, we headed there one spring morning. As suspected, the market was alive with its usual hustle-bustle, brimming with the bounty of spring. Tall stems of tulips, towering pyramids of asparagus, bunches of seasonal ramp, bouquets of rhubarb; it was verily a festival, one that pleased the soul, the eyes and the belly.
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As you can imagine, there is no dearth of inspiration here and we hauled back fresh basil, bunches of ramp, asparagus stalks, cherry tomatoes and a carton of pasta. I decided to pour this bounty into a dish, a new adventure considering I had never tasted ramp and asparagus, both harbingers of spring.
The culmination of that inspiration is what you see here: A Strozzapreti pasta slathered unrestrainedly with a Basil-Walnut Pesto mingling with peas and ramp leaves and a side of asparagus and cherry tomatoes. This is my  tribute to the languid breeze of spring, my gratitude to Mother Nature’s fresh bounty.
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Before we head to the recipe, a little more about the ingredients-
Ramp is essentially a wild onion, rather pungent and taste like a mixture of  onion and garlic. I employed all the leaves but only used a few of the bulbs in this pasta since their aroma was a little too strong for us.
Asparagus spears are described to have earthy undertones and they can be grilled, boiled or fried. Here, I’ve just stir fried them with some oil and salt.
Common to the Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Marche, and Tuscany regions of Italy, the Strozzapreti is a hand-rolled pasta that is similar to cavatelli but it is slightly more elongated, and features a light twist. A little Italian store in the heart of St. Lawrence Market has a wall dedicated to pastas in all shapes and sizes. The owner always treats to a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar before fixing up our usual cup of joe. Bellissimo!

RECIPE FOR PASTA IN A BASIL PESTO AND SPRING VEGETABLES
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
250 gms Strozzapreti pasta or any other kind
2.5 litres water
2 tbsp of salt
For the Basil Walnut Pesto:-
2 cups loose basil
12 walnuts
1/3 cup oil 
Freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste
Other vegetables:
2 bunches ramp- 25 leaves
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup heaped cherry tomatoes
10 stems of asparagus
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil

METHOD
-Place the water in a large vessel and bring to boil. Once it’s boiling, add the salt and pasta. Cook until al dente according to the directions on the carton. Then drain(Tip: keep about 1/3 cup of pasta water aside before draining) and pour cold water on the pasta to stop it from getting cooked any further.
-To make the pesto: In a blender/food processor, blend the fresh basil, walnuts, oil, salt and pepper until a coarse paste is achieved. Keep aside.
-Prepare the vegetables. Wash them all clean.
Cut off the bulbs from the ramp leaves. The bulbs can be chopped and used. (I used about 2-3 of them). Chop off the woody portion of the asparagus stems.
-Heat a large saucepan and add some oil. Once it is heated add the cleaned asparagus and sprinkle some salt. Stir fry until softened. Keep aside once cooked.
Do the same with the cherry tomatoes and keep aside.
-Heat a teaspoon of oil and add the chopped bulbs of the ramp, saute until they brown and then add the leaves, sprinkle some salt. Stir fry until they wilt an soften.
-To this, add the pesto, frozen peas and the drained pasta.Add the pasta water which had been kept aside if you feel the need to make a thinner sauce. Let the dish heat up for a few minutes.
-Serve hot with a the cherry tomatoes and asparagus on the side and perhaps a grating of parmesan.

Bisibelebath: food and emotion

Rice and dal(lentils) mingling oh so gently with each other but emerging into a fiery romance of flavors when emboldened with a coarse crumb of roasted spices. The barrage of vegetables ensues a flawless texture. Oodles of melted ghee lends it a dash of oomph. Forgive me for this dramatization but this blessed dish has inadvertently transpired into an emotion and a delicious one at that. I humbly present to you, Karnataka’s pride and joy, the Bisibelebath.
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The affair began years ago. Amid 3 inch candles, an ornate cake, a ceiling masked by balloons & a slightly untuned rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to you’ , my maternal aunt and her kin unfailingly ensured that their guests returned home content and happy. Cake hardly disappoints but this sweet treat was always trivial in comparison to the pièce de résistance of the said series of evenings aka,  The Bisibelebath. Melted Ghee was poured over a sizzling plate housing the above dish and spicy potato chips tossed in chilli powder (that we bangaloreans fondly call ‘khara chips’) were nestled on the side.

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Let there be Dal: Gujarati Dal with Green Pea and Coconut Dumplings

Rewinding to languid Bangalore afternoons, when I was younger in a younger city. The sun washing the sand splashed grounds of college. Amid the frenzied flutter that the final years of college demanded, the one constant was my stainless steel lunch dabba. Plain toor dal, rice, salt, jaggery  and unmeasured quantities of ghee tied together into an epitome of comfort. Tovve anna in Kannada or Dal rice in English. On rare occasions, it would be spiked with raw chilles, coriander and perhaps a splatter of mustard and hing tadka. Those few minutes of lunch break dwindled before I knew it, mostly plagued by a string of worrisome thoughts about the remaining day. But devouring this meal was my present moment, my moment of unfettered, happy calm. I’m as drawn to the simplicity of this dish as I am to the  uncomplicated memories that follow in its trail. Long story short, I love tovve-anna and have never shied away from celebrating Dal and its many avatars.

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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.

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