A Portuguese Sojourn–Broa di Milho

As religiously as I have been baking breads from various groups, I have had little time to post them on the blog. Somehow, I have fallen behind. So this time, I decided that I would somehow make it in time. Well, almost in time at least. This month with ‘We Knead to Bake‘ the bread of the month was a very simple Portuguese corn bread–Broa de Milho. Please do not assume it is the corn bread from the southern states of America. This bread is more like the Anandama bread from New England. It uses fine maize or corn flour ( not to be confused with corn starch) which gives it that lovely yellow colour and a crunchy texture.

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I for one, am always tempted by any bread with has a little texture. So when this bread was announced, I knew I had to bake it at once. Of course, I did not have a ready stock of maize flour. So a quick run to the store and that was taken care of. The previous night, I had a dream, where in my dream all I did was slash bread. (strange dreams we bread lovers tend to have) I wonder what Freud would have had to say. In all that bread slashing dreams, the good thing is I realised that I was holding the blade all wrong. In my dream, I held it at an angle and gently slit open the surface.  And I was ready to try this technique out on this bread.

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The bread making process itself was simple enough. After letting the maize flour absorb the warm liquid, it was just a matter of kneading together all the other ingredients to make a soft slightly sticky dough. the dough felt silky and pliable, almost like the semolina dough. I was now excited. I love semolina bread and if this one was going to be anywhere close to that, I would have a winner on my hands. I am getting ahead of myself now. There was still work to be done.

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I just lightly coated the dough in olive oil, covered it and left it to its own devices. While I cleared away the bowls, I was still slashing away at my imaginary bread. I was getting to be a real ninja at this. In an hour or so the dough was ready to be formed into a tight boule. In a short while I could test my skills. As the oven preheated, I picked out my razor blade and waited. The boule was now ready to test my skills. This was the moment. I would either really kill the bread or work with the ease I had displayed in my dreams.

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I sprinkled a lot more of the maize flour on the surface. This would prevent stickiness and add a lovely crunch. Then it happened, as easily as it did in my dreams. The blade slid easily through the dough creating perfect slashes. As it began to open up I slid it into the oven. The bread baked into a lovely golden brown. The slashes had opened up just enough to let me peek at the insides. I knew I had a winner.

INGREDIENTS

1 cup  Fine yellow cornmeal

3/4 cup Very hot water

1/2 to 3/4 cups Warm milk

2 tsp Instant yeast

2 1/2 cups All-purpose flour

1 tsp Salt

1 tbsp Honey

1 tbsp Olive oil

Extra flour for dusting

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METHOD

  1. Put the cornmeal in a bowl and add the hot water to it. Mix together with a fork and then add 1/2 cup of the warm milk. The cornmeal will absorb the water and become a paste-like dough. Let it sit until the mixture cools a little and becomes lukewarm.
  2. From here you can knead by hand or machine. Put the cornmeal dough and all the remaining ingredients and mix and knead them together — by hand, mixer or bread machine — to form a smooth, slightly sticky dough. I used a stand mixer.
  3. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, and turn it around to coat well. Cover loosely and let it rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours until it is puffy.
  4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it lightly a couple of times.
  5. Shape into a ball and place it on a parchment or lightly floured/ greased baking tray. Cover loosely and let it rise for about an hour till it looks quite puffed up.
  6. Just before baking, if you choose to, make 3 or 4 slashes about 1/4″ deep on the crust.
  7. Spritz the top lightly with water and bake the loaf at 230C (450F) for 10 minutes.
  8. Then turn down the heat to 200C (400F) and let it bake for about 15 to 20 minutes till it is done and golden brown in colour.
  9. Let it cool. Slice and serve with a hearty soup or simply toast it and crunch into it with a smear of butter.

 

Gridlocked

I have been getting so many requests about this pretty little loaf, that I decided to post the technique used to create it. Now after you read the entire post, and ponder long and hard over the numerous pictures I have posted, do try it out because I am sure you are going to elicit a ‘Wow’ response from those who set their eyes on it. I had actually seen a picture of a bread which looked a lot like this online. When I showed it to a friend she said ” Why on earth would you want to imprison the poor loaf?” and I said ” Can’t you see, THAT is a tight hug!”

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The bread sort of lingered on in my mind (it has that sort of effect) and I was determined to try it out. I found a recipe somewhere online, not particularly for this techinque, but something that would create a dark dough. They had wanted me to add diastatic malt powder to the dough. Now where on earth was I going to find it? All I got was strange looks from various vendors when I told them I wanted 100 grams of this substance. So it was back to the drawing board and I decided to make my own. All I needed to do was sprout the grains of wheat, dry it in the shade and grind it. Full of hope, I added it to the dough and the result? Oh well, the dough did get a little more toasty brown, but it was no way as contrasting as I would have liked it to be.

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Then one day, I made a Marbled Rye bread. For me that was an eureka moment. Why should I not add cocoa to the dough? I had done that before and it worked fine in one bread. So why not another? So this timeI added a little cocoa powder to the dough (trust me you will not taste the cocoa in the bread) and the colour I needed was perfect. The addition of the cocoa also made the dough a tad less sticky which made it easier for me to roll it out and cut it.

Now, there are going to be a lot of pictures to help you along. There is no real recipe here, so I suggest that you pick one bread recipe that has worked best for you. Use a simple recipe which has pretty much been fool proof for you (let us experiment with one thing at a time) One piece of advice though, try not to pick a super wet dough.

Once you have the dough all ready cut off a little less the 1/4 portion of the dough ( once you have worked on this technique a couple of times you will get the hang of how much you will actually need) Add a couple of spoons of cocoa to the smaller portion and knead it in until it is completely incorporated. (no streaks of brown and white allowed). Next you just need to lightly oil two bowls and place the dough in the respective bowls and cover them and wait for them to double.

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So far simple? Now I am going to post so many pictures that I make myself absloutely clear. Take the white dough out and gently de-gas the dough. Now start shaping the dough into a boule ( a round) or a batard ( a longish) loaf. Make sure you shape it well and the loaf is tight and has no seams on top. Set that aside and take the dark brown dough. Lightly flour the surface of your counter and roll out the dough into 1/8 inch thick round or rectangle (this will depend on the shape of your loaf). What you need to watch out for is that you roll it big enough to completely encase your shaped roll.

If you have a lattice cutter which you would normally use for your pie crust, now is the time to bring it out. Use the roller and cut the dough. Then gently stretch it to form the lattice. Be gentle. Over stretching will break the delicate structure. Stretch evenly for if you don’t, your grid will not look even. Don’t worry you will soon get the hang of it.

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A lattice roller cutter
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Dough cut with the lattice cutter
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The stretched dough

If you don’t have no fear. Bring out your sharpest knife and this is what you will need to do.

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Follow this pattern and cut with a knife
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stretch the dough so it forms a lattice

Lightly mist your white loaf with some water and place it top side down and wrap the lattice over so the entire loaf is covered in the grid. Cut off the excess and tuck in any stray edges. Make sure the to pinch the ends so they do not open up during the second rise.

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Place the roll on a baking tray and cover. Wait till the loaf is almost double. Now go back to the recipe which you have been following and pre-heat the oven to that temperature. Brush the loaf with milk/cream/egg as the recipe demands and bake until done.

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Well, that is all there is to it. You have your lattice bread ready to go. If you are feeling really good about this, the next step would be to make two completely different kind of dough. Let us say you add beetroot to one for a deep pink colour and spinach to the other for a dark green. Just imagine a green loaf, encased by a pink grid. Just use your inagination and create a pretty loaf. In the end that is all that matters. Place the loaf on your dinner table and get ready for all the compliments which are going to come your way.

Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies

A while has passed since I had worked on some new. I was sent a bottle of Bhuira Jam as a sample. When I was asked to pick one from their list, I was spoilt for choice. After perusing the list many times over,  I could not decide between the Cherry and Three Fruit Marmalade. I have always loved marmalade. Orange, Lime, Lemon, Grapefruit, combine it with ginger or any which way, a good marmalade makes me weak at the knees. It was not always like this. There was a time, many eons ago, when I hated marmalade. I thought it was too bitter and could not understand why anyone would even want to eat it. Today, I could easily lick the spoon and the bottle clean. Now I am talking about good marmalade. A marmalade which is deep orange, chunky with peel, citrusy fresh top notes with a faint zesty bitter after taste.

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The sample jar was sitting on my counter mocking me everyday. I tried some with the croissant that I had baked and it was heavenly. I could have finished it all off but decided that I would use it to bake something really special with it. I had a vision in my mind of an orange and almond cake which I used to bake. In my mind, I added some of this delicious marmalade to it, and some zest of orange and some juice of orange. . . layer upon layer of orange deliciousness. Wiping my imaginary drool, I picked up the bottle of marmalade with renewed passion.

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I had to make a trip to my neighbourhood fruit shop to pick up some oranges. No oranges! Oh the horror! By the time I had finished with the mental wringing of my hands from the corner of my eye, I spotted tangarines. Now that works for me. Same family–close cousins! So armed with tangerines I made my way home. I juiced a few, zested one and ate a couple. I was now ready for the task at hand. So just before I actually started, there was just one I needed to decide. Yes, I was going to make a tangarine cake with marmalade, but I had these different ideas in my head as to how I wanted to finish the cake.

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I could bake it as a loaf and glaze it with chunky marmalade, or I could cover it with a dark chocolate ganache infused with just a touch of the zest and finished with a sprinkling of almonds or go really simple and give it a very thin sugar and citrus glace and a dusting of icing sugar. I simply could not decide. So what did I do?  I did what any self respecting person would do. I baked all three versions.

The base of the cake remains the same. However, the addition of each of these ingredients on top, creates a completely different flavour profile. The bundt cake is a lovely light version perfect for any time of the day. The loaf with the marmalade glaze is for those times when you want something warm and sticky to make you feel loved. And finally when you want to be indulgent and sophisticated, bring out your dark chocolate ganache. You could torte and fill your cake or simply pour it over the cake and carelessly sprinkle some almonds for the added crunch. Believe me, which ever way you decide to bake them, you will want to try the other versions as well.

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The texture is delicate and slightly crumbly with the addition of the almond flour. You definitely cannot miss the citrus hit in this cake. The flavours are built layer upon layer making this one of the best orange cakes (oh well, tangerine in this case) that you have ever eaten. I have more versions of this cake in my head but for now just these three will do. And if you have no patience to try these version, do at least try to make it plain and you will not regret it.IMG_3439

 

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup almond meal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup orange marmalade

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup orange juice

 

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  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C
  2. Whisk butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time and beat well.
  4. Add the marmalade, zest and almond extract and mix well
  5. Sieve together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the almond meal.
  6. Fold the flour into the egg/butter/sugar mixture alternately with the orange juice.
  7. Spread the batter into your prepared tins ( I used parchment papaer just to be safe. Except the bundt which was greased very well). I used a loaf for the marmalade glace, bundt for the sugar glaze and a regular round pan for the ganache version.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 25 to 30 minutes or until done.
  9. Cool on the rack for about 10 minutes before turning it over.
  10. If you are using the marmalade glace, warm a few spoonfuls and brush over the cake while it is still warm
  11. For the sugar glace, mix a couple of spoonfuls of a mix of orange and lime juice with icing sugar till somewhat runny but still thick. Spoon over the cake and allow to crust.
  12. For the ganache, Heat 50 gms of cream with some orange zest till it barely starts to simmer. Cover and leave to infuse for about 15 minutes. Strain and re heat cream and pour over 100 gms of chocolate. Let it sit for a minute or two and stir to mix. When it is completely mixed and glossy pour over the cake and top with almonds. Allow to set.
  13. Finally, like me, if you have made all three version, cut yourself a slice from each, take a bite and decide which ones you like best.

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Once in a Blue Moon Croissant

If you live in a tropical city like I do, you barely have two pleasant months in a year. My December went by in a blur of a flood followed by plum cakes. All of a sudden January was upon me. I suddenly realised that the cold months were quickly passing me by and I had not even bake a single croissant. Now I must confess, I usually bake these twice a year. Once in December and once in January. If I feel really adventurous, then maybe once in February. Venturing beyond February required  courage and sheer foolhardiness. Croissants in summer is an experience in itself, definitely not for the faint-hearted.

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The very first time I baked a croissant, I could not understand what the fuss was about. All we were asked to do was roll out the dough, cut it into triangles and roll it up to look like a croissant. Since that was really not a croissant, we will not delve too deep into that experience.

Much later, I remember eating a ‘real’ croissant, light as air and every bite belying the sweet butter which went into the dough. I usually do not need anything to go with the little crescents. I could just tear off a bit, the crisp crust shattering into a confetti on the plate, and just popping the moist bit into my mouth waiting for the layers to simply melt in my mouth. My favourite part was the crispy bits at the ends. I hold no grudge against those who slather their croissants with more butter (I hate think of what their fitness regime is)or cheese or even fruit preserve. Recently though, I did discover I quite enjoy it with some marmalade, the slightly bitter after notes contrasting beautifully against the mildly sweet croissant.

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“Something so delicate and so delicious could not be that easy to make”, I convinced myself. So for the longest time, I avoided making a croissant. I had enough excuses at hand. Finally, when I ran out of them, I decided I had to try my hand making a croissant. I could not have chosen a worse time. It was the month of August, both heat and humidity as oppressive as it could be, and the butter simply refused to cool to a ‘pliable’ state. And my! what a mess the whole process turned out to be. I had butter all over my kitchen counter where it had angrily squeezed itself from inside the unwilling dough. No amount of refrigeration was helping. I was fed up. I just went ahead, cut, rolled and baked the pastry. All I got was some crisp bits of baked dough, swimming in a pool of melted butter. Broken hearted I literally filtered the browned butter to be used for something else (I had not the heart to throw away expensive ingredients) I cannot for the world remember what I did with it though.

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It took me a few months before I could work up the courage to try the recipe again. This time, the weather was cooler and the dough behaved so much better. I must add here that this is not the easiest or the simplest of bread to make. But if you are patient and follow instructions carefully you will be rewarded with some amazing croissants for your breakfast or tea. The recipe extends over three days, so this is not something that you can make on a whim. Another word of caution– if you have long finger-nails you might have to be extra careful while handling the dough. One small tear and all your hard work will be in vain and there is little you can do to rectify it. So watches, finger rings anything that can snag the delicate dough is a big no no. If like me, you have your hair falling into your eyes, tie it back, please. You do not want to be blinded when working with this dough.

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This a recipe tried and tested by so many bloggers that I have lost count. The original credit goes to Jeffrey Hamelman. His recipe has the weight in pounds and ounces which I have had to rework into a measurement we can use. Please attempt this only when you have the time to work on the dough. It is not really difficult but if you are in a hurry or try to cut corners, it will show up in the final results. And please, please if you are trying this in warm weather, try to work in an air conditioned room. Or like me, you can get up in the middle of the night, cool the counter with frozen gel packs kept for physical injury emergencies (Yes, I have done that. This is an emergency! I need my croissant) and then work on your dough. Once you get the hang of it, you will wonder what the fuss was all about. The instructions may be a little detailed but then it is because I want to make myself clear. To make it simpler, you can probably watch this video from Weekend Bakery

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INGREDIENTS

Day 1 (in the evening)

500 gms All purpose flour

1/4 + 1/8 cup Cold milk

1/4 + 1/8 cup Cold water

40 gms Soft butter

1/4 cup Sugar

1 1/4 Tbs Instant yeast

2 tsp salt

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METHOD

Day 1

  1. Knead all the ingredients till it comes together.
  2. Add more liquid if the dough feels very dry. I added another tablespoon or so.
  3. You do not have to knead very hard. About 5 to 6 minutes will do. You do not want to develop the gluten too much in this recipe. So once the dough is soft, stop.
  4. Pat it into a disc, and place on a lightly floured plate and cover with a cling wrap and refrigerate overnight

First day of work is done. So far so good? Now go to sleep and we will continue this tomorrow.

Day 2

On this day starts the real work

For Laminating the Dough

250 to 280 gms of cold butter ( I used 250)

You could use 280gms as well. I just wanted to reduce the amount of butter (That was my idea of dieting). Do not go lower than 250 gms. Butter is an important ingredient. Please use the best-unsalted butter that you can find. Less water content the better. That means — No home-made butter!

  1. Cut yourself two pieces of parchment or wax paper at least 10 to 12 inches square. Use a good quality paper. The first time I used not use the greatest quality wax paper and spent a lot of time peeling bits of paper off the pounded butter.
  2. Now take the cold butter out of the fridge and cut yourself pieces which would fit into a 5 or 6 inch square on one sheet of the paper.
  3. Cover with the other sheet of paper and with a rolling pin, gently pound the butter so that the individual pieces start sticking together. Try to keep the square shape. Make sure that the final square is about 7 1/2 inches. Use a measuring tape if you must. I did. Now trim the square of butter into a perfect square and place the scraps back on top and gently pound it back into the square. All this time, the butter should be pliable but not soft. If it does become soft, return to the refrigerator and wait till it cools before continuing on your mission.
  4. Wrap the square of butter and place in the fridge until needed.
  5. Now take the disc of dough from the refrigerator and lightly flour your counter.
  6. Roll the dough into a 10 1/2 inch square. Please keep the edges as straight as possible and the thickness even.
  7. Now take the chilling butter and place the butter on the square dough like a diamond. Take the ends of the dough and bring it to the center making sure that the butter is completely covered and seal. Make sure that there are no open ends and that you do not trap air between the butter and the dough. Once sealed properly, wrap the dough and return to the freezer (not fridge) for 15 to 20 minutes.
  8. Now is the part where all sharp instruments are kept at a safe distance. Take the dough out of the freezer, lightly dust your counter with flour and slowly start rolling. You could lightly press down the dough first and then start rolling from the center and away from you. Then repeat moving the rolling pin towards yourself. Try not to press too hard but focus on lengthening  the square to form a long rectangle. Keep the edges straight and the thickness even. The final length should be about 24 inches and the width about 8 inches. Be gentle and make sure that the butter is not melting inside. If it is starting to melt return to the fridge and chill a little while longer.
  9. Once you have finished rolling out the dough, mentally divide the dough into thirds. Take one end and fold it in over 1/3. Now 1/3 of the other end will be exposed. Fold that over the first fold. This is called a book fold. Tuck in any stray edges keeping the ends as neat as possible. (Please see the note at the end) Wrap in cling wrap and return to the freezer for the next 15 to 20 minutes.
  10.  Take out the dough and place on your floured counter and start rolling out with one of the open ends facing you. So you will be continuing to extend the long open ends till it is 24 inches long and 8 inches wide. Repeate this process totally 3 times, each time returning the dough to the freezer to chill and firm up the butter.
  11. After the 3rd time, you are done for the day. Wrap and place in the fridge (not freezer) to be used the next day. If you have successfully managed to roll out the dough with out any tears or any butter oozing out, congratulations! you have just laminated your dough with great success. If there are small tears, you could try dusting with flour to patch it up but this does not always succeed. So try not to do that. It just takes a little practice.That is all.
  12. Take a break and rest. You deserve it. Tomorrow we will bake out crossiant.

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Day 3

Now that you are well rested (and so is the dough) you can begin the process of shaping the croissant.

  1. Take the dough out and cut it into half, lengthwise. Wrap one-half and return to the fridge. You can use it later or even the next day.
  2. Place one half on your lightly floured counter and start rolling away like you did yesterday. You finally want to end up with the 24 inches long and 8 inches wide strip. Make sure that you occasionaly lift up the ends and flour the counter to make sure that the dough does not stick to the counter. If you have floured your counter over zealously, brush off the excess flour.
  3. Cut the straggly end pieces of the dough so it forms a nice perfect rectangle. ( you can use the scraps to make a poor country cousin version and it will taste just as good)
  4. Now that you have a perfect 24 by 8 inches rectangle, get out your measuring tape. Start at the top left corner and measure 5 inches and cut a small notch to mark this. Mark notches every five inches. Done?
  5. Now move to the bottom. Measure about 2 1/2 inches and make a notch. From here make a notch every five inches.
  6. From the top left edge make a cut to the first 2.5 inches notch diagonally. Then, from the first notch on the top to the second on the bottom and so on till you have diagonal strips. Little confusing right? Well if you have seen the video you will get what I mean. If you have not seen it, scroll up and click on the link.
  7. Next, cut these parallelograms into triangles by cutting them from the top left end to the bottom right. I use a pizza cutter for clean lines. If you do not have one then use the tip of a really sharp knife.
  8. Take one triangle at a time and elongate it one last time either by stretching it or by using a rolling pin.
  9.  Now make a small notch at the center of the base and start rolling the dough towards the apex. ( the notch will help you roll the dough into a cresent) Make sure that you do not roll it too tight or too loose.
  10. Bring the two pointy ends together and place it on a tray for the final proofing.
  11. Give the croissants a little milk/cream/egg wash (I went with milk) cover, and place it in a cool corner to make sure that the butter does not melt while proofing. It will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours. What I did was to place it in the fridge for about 45 minutes and then 45 minutes outside.
  12. The croissants will not really double but they will be noticeably bigger. Pre-heat your oven to 200C
  13. Give it another milk/cream/egg wash and slide it into the oven.
  14. You will see some butter bubbling around the edges as it bakes. Do not worry. You only need to panic if you see butter pooling at the bottom. Then again even if you do there is nothing much to be done now. It just means you did not laminate your dough properly or that the butter was already melted and it was not finding its way out.
  15. My croissants took 12 to 15 minutes to bake.
  16. Remove trays from the oven and cool the croissants on a wire rack.

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These are best served barely warm. If you think you might not be able to finish them, (really?) croissants freeze beautifully. Forgot to do the? No fear. The few days old, slightly dry croissants make heavenly bread pudding. I have not forgotten the scraps. Go ahead and bake those as well. They are great to pop into your mouth as you save the perfect ones to serve friends and family.

NOTE: I would like to add a small note here. While laminating the dough, I have asked you to tuck in any little bits that stick out. But a croissant expert just told me that that is a big mistake. You need to trim the dough every time you roll out the dough to make sure that the laminated layers are exposed. Apparently, if you don’t do that you will be ‘trapping the dough’ creating ‘dead spots’ in your final baked product. So the straighter you roll your dough, the less you will waste. For my next batch, I will keep this in mind.

Plain Ol’Vanilla

My old cooking range had served me faithfully for more than 20 years. As much as it had seen many successes and failures of my experiments, it was time for me to let it go. It was one of the first things that I told my husband I needed, even before we got married. “Why do you need a cooking range?” he asked me. People around just could not comprehend why I did not buy a simple table top gas stove to cook with. To cut a long story short, I had my way and my cooking adventures which had started well before thoughts of marriage had even  entered my head, continued unabated.

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Now after 20 long years however, it was time to look for alternatives. I had decided on a built-in oven and my long suffering husband had no objections this time. He knew me well. Clothes and jewelry had no attraction for me. But talk about an oven, or even baking pans, my eyes would light up and sparkle. And so this new oven came into my life. As I looked at my beauty and admired her clean lines (Yes she is a girl) I was debating what would be my first bake. Should I make a bread? some cookies maybe –macarons would be perfect to test out the oven. After debating for a while, I decided on plain ol’vanilla cake. Simple and unfailing, easy to check out the various settings, the unfussy vanilla would be the perfect blank slate.

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That decided, I kept going back to a super simple vanilla cake, an eggless one at that. I remember my mother making it for us when we were young. She would just pull out ingredients from the pantry and put them together. It had no condensed milk, carbonated beverage or even butter. Yet, it was one of the best cakes I had tasted. It was soft and spongy, sturdy enough to be iced and filled, cut well and did not crumble. It was moist and did not become hard when stored. She would vary it by adding cocoa or some nuts and sometimes a touch of cinnamon would liven things up. I remember waiting eagerly for the cake to cool so she would cut me a slice.

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That’s it! It was decided. Eggless vanilla it was to be. I did ask my mother where she got the recipe from and typically, as with most mothers, she had no idea. “A lot of us used to bake this cake because it was so simple,” she said. “I might have made some changes and then again maybe not”. I decided to let things be. It can just remain one of those classics that I would not tamper with. Who am I to question this? I will just bake the cake, test the oven and then eat the cake. After all the proof was in the eating right?

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INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups All-purpose Flour

3/4 cup Sugar

1 cup Thick plain curd/yogurt

1 1/4 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp Baking soda

1/4 tsp Salt

1 to 2 tsp Vanilla extract

1/2 cup Oil

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METHOD

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 C and grease and flour an 8-inch cake pan.
  2. Whiz your sugar in a blender if the granules are coarse (as you can see I did not and the little spots on the surface is proof of that)
  3. Beat the sugar and yogurt well until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Add the baking powder and baking soda to the yogurt and mix well. Make sure that there are no lumps of the raising agent. You will slowly see the mixture starting to froth.
  5. Mix in the salt, vanilla, and oil.
  6. Fold in the flour with gentle strokes until well combined.
  7. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes or until done.
  8. Cool in the pan for at least 10 to 15 minutes before turning onto wire rack to cool.

 

IMG_3335You could create different cakes like my mother did. Remove a couple of spoonfuls of flour and add in cocoa, nuts and spices, or even the zest of lime or orange. The combinations are endless. Try your favourite and let me know where your imagination led you.

Ho ho ho! A Dundee Cake

Every year I make this really rich, dark plum cake, bursting with booze and fruit. It is rich, dark and delicious. I usually do not soak my fruits for months like most do. I found that when I did, by the time it was the season to bake the cake, more than half the bottle tended to be empty. Believe me, a spoonful of boozy fruit does a lot for you when you are feeling low. I prefer making a boiled fruit cake. It is just as moist as the one which needs months in planning.

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This year, I decided to mix it up. I decided to go traditional in a different way. Instead on making my usual fruitcake, I planned to make a Dundee Cake. I remember seeing that recipe in my big black book (remember my childhood reading material?) I remember admiring the picture and thinking how beautiful it looked decorated with all the blanched almonds. Of course, now the book is lost and I have no means of referring to it. But lucky me, one of my Scottish acquaintance pointed me in the right direction.

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This is a traditional Scottish cake baked during the Christmas season and legend has it that Queen Mary did not like cherries. The ever obliging people of Scotland baked their cakes with raisins, currants, sultanas and candied peel and conveniently left out the much-hated cherries. And for the few of you who are wondering, yes it is from Dundee and ideally had the famous Dundee orange marmalade. Of course, I had no such thing and had to make do with candied lemons, kumquats, cranberries and the obligatory candied mixed peel and vine fruit. So if you ask me, this is probably not the most traditional of Dundee cakes. It is, however, totally delicious and makes a refreshing change from the spice and fruit laden cake we usually see this time of the year.

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The cake had a lovely crumbly texture. It tasted of the zest of the fresh citrus and the lack of any kind of spice just heightened the buttery flavour. Yes, this cake does take as much time as the plum cake to bake. So the result is a somewhat biscuity  golden crust wreathed in toasted almonds and a flavourful crumb with whiskey flavoured fruit. Now that was something I insisted on using — a good scotch whiskey. The fruit just needed an overnight soak and just to be safe, I added some scotch to the cake batter as well.

I did try to glace the cake like some of the recipes ask you to. You could skip this if you wish. I also did not baste the cake with any more whiskey after baking it. I wanted to keep it light. If you really enjoy your whiskey, I recommend that you pour yourself that glass of scotch instead and enjoy it with the cake.

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INGREDIENTS

225 gms All purpose Flour

1 tsp Baking powder

150 gms Softened Butter

150 gms Sugar

3 Eggs

2 to 3 Tbs Milk, Orange juice or Whiskey as needed

400 gms mixed fruit (I used candied lemons, kumquats, pineapple, cranberries, currents, golden raisins and sultanas. Try to avoid fruits like dates, prunes etc which will soften a lot and colour the cake)

50 gms Candied mixed peel

2 Tbs Ground almonds

Grated zest of 1 Orange and 1 Lime or Lemon

3 to 4 Tbs of good Whiskey to soak the fruit and peel.

1 tsp Vanilla essence

1/4 tsp salt

A handful of Blanched Almonds

2 Tbs of Cream or milk mixed with 1/2 tsp of sugar (optional)

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METHOD

  1. Pre heat your oven to 170C and double line (bottom and sides) an 8-inch pan
  2. Clean and chop the fruit into bite size pieces and soak the peel and fruit in whiskey. If you do not plan to use whiskey, soak the fruit in orange juice.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Beat in the eggs one at a time adding a little bit of flour if the mixture starts to curdle. Add vanilla
  4. Seive together flour, baking powder and salt. Dredge the fruit in some of the flour.This will make sure that your fruit does not sink to the bottom.
  5. Add the flour to the egg mixture and mix well. Add the zest and the soaked fruit. Mix well
  6. If the mixture is too thick add some whiskey, milk or orange juice to bring it to a dropping consistency.
  7. Fill your prepared pan with the cake batter and level the top
  8. Arrange the blanched almonds in concentric circles on the surface and bake for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Use a skewer to test if done. If the top gets too brown tent the cake with an aluminum foil.
  9. 5 minutes before you take the cake out, brush the top of the cake lightly with the sugar and milk/cream mixture and continue to bake. This will form a beautiful glace. This step is purely optional.
  10. When done, take the pan out and place on a rack and cool the cake completely before removing from the tin.
  11. Wrap tightly in a parchment-lined foil and store in an air-tight tin for at least a day or two before slicing.

To blanch almonds: Boil some water in a pan and add the almonds to it. Count to 10 and turn off the heat. Drain the almonds and ‘shock’ the almonds in cold water. The skin of the almonds will now peel off very easily. Pat dry.

This cake will be a delightfully different addition to your festive table. It is surprisingly light and even those who look upon the fruit cake with disdain will appreciate the delicate buttery flavour with the punch of citrus and fruit. If you are using alcohol, stick to whiskey. Somehow the rum and brandy seem to completely change the flavour the cake. Feel free to refill your drink before, during and after the cake is baked.

The Deluge, a True Thanksgiving–Pumpkin Rolls

If you live in Chennai, a lot of what you do will from now on be marked ‘Before the Deluge’ and “After the Deluge’  Anyone who has lived through it in some way has changed forever. Yes, we all did know that it was going to rain, but none anticipated the downpour which we were to receive. As the rain started with a light drizzle, I was thrilled that my electric power which had been iffy for the last few weeks was actually allowing my oven to work. I had not been able to bake for almost 3 weeks and the oven kept calling out to me.

I had bookmarked this recipe from one of my baking groups ‘We Knead to Bake‘. It was a pumpkin bread, in anticipation of Thanksgiving. Yes, I know we do not celebrate that holiday in India, but we are always ready to embrace any celebration which involves food. I had already bought the pumpkin a couple of times but each time used it to make something else because my oven would not co-operate with me.

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Finally, it looked like I could make the bread. I had the pumpkin puree ready (yes, I made it from scratch) The recipe was super simple and in no time was the dough ready. While the dough was rising, the light drizzle was getting steadily heavier. Unheedingly, I shaped the dough into cute little pumpkins, stuck little pecan bits on top for the stems and into the oven they went. The kitchen was filled with the warm smell of spices while roll baked in the oven. I felt warm, cozy and comforted.

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Almost as soon as I took the rolls out of the oven, the power went off. Oh, Thank God!” I said to myself “At least I got the rolls done” I broke a piece of the roll and as I popped it into my mouth, I gazed absently out of the window. Now the rain outside did not look like it was going to let up. “How long is this going to keep up?” I wondered. The mildly sweet flavour of the pumpkin married beautifully with the warm scent of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. It would be perfect with the roasted vegetable soup I had made for lunch.

My phone was still working and somebody sent me a message saying that the airports were closed. There was way too much water for the flights to take off and land. I opened my front door and the water was lapping at the edge of the bottom step. I knew now, there was no way my electric power was going to be restored, at least not until the rain stopped. (It was to be almost 100 hours before the power was restored)

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I did not know at that point of time, that what was going to hit us was so massive. It had never rained so hard for a hundred years. I watched fearfully as the water rose higher. Lucky for me I only had the water gently hitting my doorstep. While rivers overflowed and bridges became unnavigable, the rain continued to lash the city.  Many were not so lucky as I. Some had their entire house washed away. My friend had her 85-year-old parents rescued from waist deep water while she sat worrying in Mumbai. There were those who spent an endless night on their open terrace hoping to see some rescue boats to help them to safety. Their homes, offices and businesses with everything they own were lost in the flood.

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There were stories of heroism. Young boys rushing to rescue hapless citizens. People organising themselves into groups and working tirelessly to reach people who needed help. I never felt more helpless and proud of the city I lived in. By now all forms of communication had been cut off. No power, no water, food supplies were running low, But I was safe and dry. Something to be thankful for. I had made a sizable batch of the rolls hoping to share them with my friends. Instead, I shared them with my neighbours warming the rolls by the candlelight, bonding over our shared plight. The Thanksgiving rolls now truly became for me, a symbol of everything to be thankful for.Each of us gave our silent thanks to God for keeping us safe and little words of prayer for those facing the wrath of nature.

INGREDIENTS

1/3 cup Warm milk

2 tbsp Honey

2 tsp Instant yeast

1/2 cup Unsweetened puréed pumpkin (I made my own)

40gm Butter, melted

1 tsp Salt

2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups All-purpose flour

1/2 tsp powdered Cinnamon

1 tsp powdered Dry ginger

1/4 tsp powdered Clove

1/4 tsp powdered Nutmeg

5 to 6 Pecans, sliced vertically

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METHOD

  1. Mix all the ingredients together and knead until you have a smooth and elastic dough that will be somewhat sticky. It should pull from the side of the bowl. Add a little more flour (or milk) if required, to obtain this consistency of dough.
  2. Shape it into a ball and place it in a well-oiled bowl, turning it around to coat it well. Loosely cover and let the dough rise for about an hour or so, until doubled in volume.
  3. Deflate the risen dough gently to remove large pockets of air and divide it into about 8 (or 10 for smaller rolls) equal sized portions.
  4. Shape each portion into a ball. Flatten each ball slightly and using a sharp knife or a pair of scissors make 8 cuts at equal distance from each other, from the edge of the ball towards the centre but leaving the centre uncut – like a flower.
  5. Place the dough “flowers” 2” apart on a lightly oiled or parchment-lined baking sheet. Loosely cover and let them rise for about 45 minutes.Use your forefinger or the round end of a wooden spoon (dip it in a little oil or flour so the dough doesn’t stick to it) and poke a deep hole in the centre of each “flower” for the pecan “stem”. Brush them with milk.
  6. Bake the rolls at 180C (350F) for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Take them out of the oven and brush the rolls with melted butter or a little honey diluted with water for a shine. I skipped this step since I got preoccupied with the weather.
  7. Remember to say your silent Thanks and count your numerous blessings before taking a bite.

 

To make your own pumpkin puree, Remove the skin of the pumpkin and roughly chop the orange flesh. Boil the pumpkin with just enough water to cook it. Cook until soft. Cool the pumpkin and then use a blender to make the puree. Measure and use as required.