Orange cake with Mascarpone Buttercream & Gulab Jamuns

2018 granted us a silent, wintery Deepavali. Not that we don’t enjoy the festive ruckus that goes hand in hand with an Indian festival but an unruffled celebration is one we welcome as well.

Come sundown, little tealights were sprinkled all about the house, serial lights swayed on the balcony railing and after devouring a traditional homemade feast, we huddled in the glowing light watching romcoms whilst playing ‘fetch’ with Elaichi, our Labrador puppy. But that wasn’t all. I also gave into one of my fancy whims to create a dessert that not only celebrates and caters to Indian festivities but also one that dons the attire of a western dessert. One that in every spoonful appeased every single one of our sweet-desiring taste buds. Allow me to present to you my Orange Cake with Gulab Jamuns and Mascarpone Buttercream.

Let’s talk about the components of this gateau. Firstly, this EGGLESS cake employs fresh orange juice for its flavouring and I chose Mandarins which are only lemon-sized but brightly hued and slightly sweeter than the larger oranges. As the batter bakes and rises in the oven, you will find that your kitchen is verily a garden brimming with orange trees.


Next, the sweet saffron syrup. The cake is made moist with a warm saffron syrup which is essentially your Gulab Jamun syrup. I have shared the recipe for the syrup below but if you’re using store-bought gulab jamuns , just go ahead and use the same syrup that the jamuns are soaked in after warming it up a little. Then, we have a creamy Mascarpone buttercream that is slathered before two fragrant sponges are layered together.


I’ll admit I spent quite a bit of time debating if I should have gulab jamuns sandwiched between the cake layers or just adorned on top but I finally opted for the latter only because I wanted the best of everything in one bite: a burst of orange followed by a creamy, vanilla mascarpone and finally, the utter decadence of deep fried khoya and paneer. Again if you want a layer of indulgent gulab jamuns in the middle it can only be a good idea :). Either way, make sure every forkful has all the delicious components so you can get a complete, soulful dessert experience.

RECIPE FOR EGGFREE ORANGE, MASCARPONE AND GULAB JAMUN CAKE
Makes one 6″ 2-layered cake- serves 6
INGREDIENTS
For the Orange Cake
1 1/3 cup All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 cup Canola Oil
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice(I used Mandarins)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 tbsp orange zest
For the Saffron Syrup
10 strands of saffron
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
For the Mascarpone Buttercream
1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1/3 cup Mascarpone Cheese at room temperature
2 cup Icing sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 tsp Vanilla extract
3-4 tsp heavy cream
For Assembly
Atleast 6 gulab jamuns

DIRECTION
-First we make the saffron syrup(see notes). In a thick bottomed pan, add the sugar and water along with the saffron. Place on medium heat and let the sugar dissolve, which may take around 4-5 min. Then boil for 14-15 minutes and the syrup is ready.
-For the cake, preheat the oven to 350F. Grease cake pans with butter and place a round piece of parchment on the base. Dust the sides of the pan with flour.
-Zest the oranges and then squeeze fresh juice.
-In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, orange juice, canola oil and vanilla essence.
-Into the same bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: all purpose flour,baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix gently to combine with the wet mixture making sure there are no lumps.
– Finally fold in the orange zest and pour into the prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 min or until a toothpick comes out clean.
-Once the cakes are out of the oven, let them cool for 5min, then transfer the them to a parchment lined cookie sheet. Make a few holes on each cake with a toothpick and add 3 tbsp of syrup on each cake, 1 tablespoon at a time, using a pastry brush to gently spread it over the cake.
-Let the cakes cool completely.
-Meanwhile, make the Mascarpone Buttercream. (see notes)
You can either use a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Add the butter, mascarpone, 3 tsp heavy cream and vanilla and whisk on medium until fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Then add the icing sugar and whisk again for 3-4 minutes until nice and creamy. Add more heavy cream and whisk only if the mixture looks crumbly. Keep aside.
To assemble, place the cake board on the turntable.
-Place the first layer of the cake on the cake board with a little bit of buttercream so that the cake stays in place while you work on it.
-Pour 2-3 tbsp of syrup again(1 tbsp at a time)  and gently spread it on the cake with a pastry brush. Spread a generous quantity of the Mascarpone buttercream. At this point, I like to place the cake in the refrigerator for about 5-10min to allow the buttercream to firm up a bit.
-Then place the second layer of cake on it. (Alternatively, if you like, cut up a few gulab jamuns and place on the cake, top with buttercream and then the second layer of cake. The flat side of the cake should face top.
-Next add buttercream in excess on the top of the second layer and using an offset spatula spread it all around the top of the cake and push it down to the sides. Using the same spatula, gently slather the sides of the cake with the buttercream(adding more if necessary) until the cake is completely masked. I chose to mask it only partially.
-Finally place the gulab jamuns on top, with fruits(optional) and drizzle more syrup.

Notes:
If the buttercream is too loose, thicken it by whisking in icing sugar. If it is too dry, add a few teaspoons of heavy cream to make it creamy.

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.

Edible Flower Cookies

I reminisce the summer of 2017. It was a rather sultry one, the roaring flood of sunshine almost inciting in me a particularly intense pining for winter & it’s entourage. The sun blazed fiercely, as if compensating for its absence in the coming months. Walking, an activity that normally takes precedence for the husband & me, was shunned without second thought. We hopped into Toronto’s streetcars in temptations of the slightest respite.
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One such morning, I stood amid parallel seats,one hand desperately clasping the overhead strap, gazing out the window as scenes hurried by like a movie in fast forward. One scene however, stood still; a signpost reading , ‘Toronto Flower Market’. The duration of the halt hardly amounted to anything but  it was ample enough for me to peer out the window and spot happy Torontonians, each one gently clutching a bouquet of blooms and behind them, a sea of flowers.  I vowed to return the next day.
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And return we did  the next morning, spending a couple of hours strolling the bylanes of this little market, acquainting ourselves with unfamiliar flowers, chatting up with vendors and being stunned by the gamut of freshness. We carried wrapped bouquets of hydrangeas in a matte magenta, a gigantic bloom of Dahlia in ivory and wonder of wonders, mini pumpkins on a stick! Aside from this haul, we met a friendly and talented florist who introduced me to the Nasturtium, an edible flower in bright warm hues. She explained that they would blend brilliantly in salads. I  purchased them instantly and employed their vibrancy to decorate a salad and a simple Maple-Pecan cake. Thanks to the flower market and a kind florist, Allison, since then, I’ve always been on the lookout for edible flowers and Toronto’s farmers markets are kind enough to treat us to them especially when the weather turns warm. This time, instead of just plopping them on a cake, I’ve attempted to incorporate the magic of Nasturtium into cookies.


The cookies I’ve shared with you today are simplistic and highlight the presence of these beautiful edible blooms. Nasturtium literally means ‘nose twist’ and are known to have a peppery taste. The cookies are delicate, light, eggfree as always, savory and easy to put together. You can choose to add other herbs as well; I’ve added a sprinkle of thyme and lavender.
Let’s get to the recipe.
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RECIPE FOR EDIBLE FLOWER COOKIES(EGGFREE)
Makes 20 cookies

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

1.5 tsp sugar
2 tbsp plain yogurt( extra tablespoon only if necessary)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour/sifted whole wheat flour
A large handful of organic Nasturtium flower petals or more(feel free to experiment with other organic flower petals as well)
A sprinkle of Thyme and Lavender

Method
– In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar using a hand whisk.

– Then add the flour, salt, thyme leaves, lavender & yogurt. Very gently bring all the ingredients together into a dough.(If the dough is dry add just a little more yogurt)
– Transfer the dough into a large sheet of plastic wrap and cover. Refrigerate for an hour.
– In the meantime, preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
– Remove the chilled dough from the plastic wrap and roll using a rolling pin to a thickness of a little more than 1/4th inch. Then place the flower petals on top and press very gently. Roll once again(gently) to a thickness of 1/4th inch. (Tip- I place plastic wrap on the dough and then roll to avoid sticking)
-Using a 2 inch cookie cutter, cut and place the individual cookies on a parchment.

-Repeat the process until all the cookie dough is used.
– Bake for around 18-22 minutes and cool completely.(If much time is spent rolling and cutting cookies, and the dough has completely softened, place the cut and arranged cookies in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes before baking)

Summer Dreams- Rose Water and Champagne Cake with Blood Orange Curd

Suddenly, I’m longing for the fragrance of floral notes, pining for those bewitching perfumes pervading bounteous gardens. Hankerings for hot chocolate and cinnamon laced apple tarts are long gone replaced entirely by a reverie of Spring and all the floral joy it so mercifully brings with it. They implore me to suffuse my desserts with a hint of that flower-laden aroma. Perhaps it is an attempt to cheat myself, into believing that the season of wind and frost has made its journey south, leaving us, Northerners, with warm, languid breezes, the murmers of lush trees and sweet scented hugs. The musing doesn’t end there. The truth is, I also yearn for a luminous summer afternoon, drenched under a burgeon of sunshine, canopies of shade drifting in and out, biting into succulent segments of oranges, a glass of Pinot Grigio in hand, the air chiming with carefree laughter.

Continue reading “Summer Dreams- Rose Water and Champagne Cake with Blood Orange Curd”

Blood Orange and Basil Cupcakes (Eggfree)

I’m drawn wildly to the scarlet hued blood oranges that have been gracing the hallowed aisles of the grocery this winter. Stowing them away endlessly and stacking the refrigerator to the brim; the result of an odd fear that soon they will be replaced by a bounty of summer fruits. Much like a moth is drawn to the flame, I’m too drawn to this rouge radiance; a flame too, just a tad different.
But, selfishly stocking them (read hiding them) without justifying their presence is much too foolish. My mind bubbles with ideas and concoctions, day or night(read deep into midnight). The very reason the past month or so have sped by in a flash. Fortunately, these citrus cousins blend as well with savory dishes as they do with sweet courses. My kitchen witnesses peels strewn around the counter and a deep hued juice gently trickling down edges of the cutting board fairly often and I find myself enticed every single time.

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To list the sweet creations that my kitchen and my very trusted knife have witnessed-
Blood Orange Galette: sliced blood oranges rest on blood orange marmalade and a walnut enriched pâte brisée(the recipe made its way into the blog as well)
Blood Orange Sourdough Boule: The deep crimson from the oranges softened into a pale orange but the citrus aroma lingered all the way, right down to the last crumb! We devoured the slices with jam spilling on the sides and lots of herbal tea.
Blood Orange and Raspberry Brownies(Vegan): Another homage to the magic that is the orange and chocolate. Admittedly, the pair transpires into a beautiful symphony but what I failed to recognize initially was the friendly cheer that the raspberries lent. Together, it was all an elegant soiree of flavours.
Blood Orange Upside Down Cake(Eggfree): This one was too hard to ignore. The cake is flooded with orange juice and makes for a citrus-lover’s dream but it’s the mandala-like pattern of candied oranges that steal the show.
Blood Orange Pavlova(Vegan) – Aquafaba. The result of every vegan and vegetarian’s ardent prayers. After my fiasco with the vegan macaron, I was possessed by a silly vexation towards this innocent ingredient. But all anger melted when I trotted out a magnificent pavlova the other night. It was slathered generously with a Praline and Mascarpone Cream(adapted from Ottolenghi’s ‘Sweet’), deluged with the darkest, deepest hued blood oranges and finally drizzled with a honey and pistachio syrup.( I yearn to share the recipe soon on the blog)

Continue reading “Blood Orange and Basil Cupcakes (Eggfree)”

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.

Continue reading “Khara Biscuits & My Love-Hate Relationship with Sugar”