Friday, November 29, 2013

Pinterest Picks: Red Velvet

If there's one thing I've learnt in Islamabad is that Pakistanis take their Red Velvets very seriously. The red velvet cupcake is a staple in all the good bakeries around town. Red velvet cake is the most asked and the colour red, the most sought after.

I found this rather strange. You see, I don't really understand the whole hullabaloo about the red velvet. I mean, for a chocolate cake it's got hardly any cocoa and for a regular buttermilk sponge its got too much chocolate. So how does that even work?

But how it redeems itself is with the gorgeous cream cheese frosting. I mean, afterall, this buttery, sweet-salty-tangy icing is perhaps one of the best finds in the world.

And while people limit themselves to making just red velvet cakes and cupcakes, I think there's a whole world out there of the unexplored. At least that's what Pinterest tells me. So for this month's Pinterest Picks, I've picked out 10 ways you make the Red Velvet sexy.

And follow me on Pinterest please!

1. Red Velvet Pancakes

2. Mini Red Velvet Cheesecake Bites

3.  Red Velvet Smores

4. Red Velvet Hot Chocolate 

5.  Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

6.  Red Velvet Jar Cakes

7. Red Velvet  Cake Truffle Balls

8.  Red Velvet Milkshake

9.  Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

10. Red Velvet Cake Pops

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Brownie Sugar Cookies

In my house, cookies are only made on special occasions. But then again, most days are special occasions aren't they?

Let me be honest though, I have been baking a lot of cookies these last few months. That's because we've been out visiting people a lot too. My favourite cookies are these triple chocolate cookies (click on the link to see the video) that I hardly ever tamper around with. I love how the cocoa powder offsets the beautiful melty chocolate and that while it tastes so darn rich, its got olive oil and whole wheat in it.

However, I've always been looking for a good chocolate roll out cookie. Something that when my friends bring their kids with them, I can entertain them with. But they have to meet my expectations as well. 1. they need to be easy to roll and cut. 2. they need to make as little mess as possible. And 3. they need to taste of chocolate.

I think I've finally found them.

These cookies met every single expectation. Which is why they are going in my hall of fame. I should have known right from the word go really that they would be a winner, especially since they were a Smitten Kitchen recipe. 

The only change I made to these cookies was using granulated sugar, so that you could crunch your way through the cookie. But these were good, very good.

Brownie Sugar Cookies
Makes 36 cookies

3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (225 grams) lightly salted butter, softened (Deb note: I don’t really see “lightly salted” much these days, so I used one stick salted, one stick unsalted)
1 1/2 (300 grams) cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa 

1. Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Whisk dry flour, salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa in mixer. 
2.Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.
Roll out cookie dough on floured counter.
3.Cut into desired shapes, brushing extra deposits of flour off the top. (It does disappear once baked, though, so don’t overly fret if they go into the oven looking white.) 
4. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 to 11 minutes (the former for 1/8-inch thick cookies, the latter for 1/4-inch cookies) until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffed.
5. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

Yesterday, I got it in my head that I wanted to bake some bread. I wanted to either bake some cinnamon rolls or make a marmalade glazed loaf. Stupid, stupid move.
I bubbled my yeast, kneaded my dough and then it hit me, it was just too cold and so it would take forever to rise. I was right. It did take forever to rise. 

I wanted to snack on the bread at tea-time, but at 4 pm when I checked the dough, all I got was a wistful "ok ok I'm going to rise soon" look from my dough. 

Finally at 6 pm, it seemed ok, to go on to the second rise. By then, I was feeling very sorry for myself. Post dinner I felt the dough seemed alright to be bunged in the fridge and be dealt with in the morning.

So last night as I sat around reading about yeasts and all that, I saw a picture of a pull-apart bread. It was lying in my to-make box forever. The more I read up on it, the more I realised I had pretty much made a dough that was versatile enough to become a pull-apart bread on a whim. 

Plenty of sugar, butter and cinnamon lying around the house made the decision rather simple and this morning I plodded on. The result? A delectable tea-time snack that smells divine and tastes so lovely. And you can then make french toast with it the next morning. Two for the price of one!

P.S. The tops are the best part, make sure you sugar them out a bit. 

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread
Adapted from Pioneer Woman


1 cup Whole Milk
1/4 cup  Oil
1/4 cup Sugar
1-1/8 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
2 cups All-purpose Flour
1/2 cup (additional) Flour
1/4 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoons Salt
100 grams melted butter
1-1/2 cup Sugar
3 Tablespoons Ground Cinnamon


1. Combine milk, canola oil, and 1/4 cup sugar in a large saucepan. Heat it until very hot but not boiling. Turn off heat and allow to cool to warm (not at all hot.)
2. Sprinkle in the yeast and add 2 cups of flour. Stir to combine, then put lid on the pot and allow to rise for 1 hour. 
3. After 1 hour, stir in additional 1/2 cup flour, along with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Let it rise
4. Place dough in the fridge for at least 1 hour to make it easier to work with.
5. Roll out dough onto a floured surface. Drizzle on melted butter and smear so that it covers all the dough. Mix together the sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle it all over the surface of the dough. (Dough should look very covered.)
6. Cut the dough into 6 to 8 strips, then stack all the strips into one stack. Cut the stack of strips into 6 slices. Place the stacks sideways into a buttered bread pan. Do not cram the slices into the pan. 
7. Cover with a dish towel and allow to rise for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, checking at 20 minutes to make sure it's not getting too brown on top. It's important to bake the bread long enough to ensure that the middle won't be too doughy, because if it is it won't pull apart easily. If the top looks like it's getting too brown, cover it lightly with aluminum foil for the rest of the baking time. REPEAT: IT'S IMPORTANT TO BAKE THE BREAD LONG ENOUGH FOR THE CENTER TO NO LONGER BE DOUGHY.
8. Remove the pan from the oven when it's done. Run a knife along the edges and take the bread out of the pan

Monday, November 11, 2013

Eclairs with Chocolate Pastry Cream. Conquering Choux Pastry

At the back of my head somewhere is a memory. Of staring at this cold dessert counter and looking longingly at an eclair. You see, till I was almost 10 years old I'd never eaten one. My mother hated desserts made of eggs and an eclair also had a distinctly eggy smell that she couldn't stand. So of all the pastry treats in the world, that was never going to be mine.

My aunt, however, loved them. And once when I was spending the night with my cousins, she bought a few for us to eat as a tea-time snack. I stared at it dubiously: Was it a cake with a whole lot of whipped cream? Would it taste bready? Would the chocolate be dark?

But it was love at first bite. The lightness of the choux pastry against the billowy soft sweetened whipped cream and the chocolate coating that added a lovely depth to the entire pastry, it was a party in the mouth. I couldn't finish the entire thing, and it was a good thing too, because as I grew older even two couldn't make the cut.

After that, I'd order an eclair whenever I got a chance. But it was a bit of a hit and a miss. Sometimes the pastry would be soggy, sometimes the whipped cream sour. A few years later (I must have been 12?), I found myself peering through the glass of another dessert counter, staring at yet another eclair. Except, this time around, it seemed to be filled with chocolate. I knew I had to taste it.

A chocolate, chocolate eclair. For the first time, I realised that you could fill the eclair with anything. Coffee, chocolate, caramel, fruit. And each time the experience could be fabulous. Truth is, that was the eclair I truly loved, not the one filled with whipped cream..

I didn't really attempt making choux pastry, till I was in my twenties. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I really didn't know anyone else other than me who loved this pastry that much. That was ofcourse, until I met the husband. (if there's an eclair eating competition anywhere in the world, he'd win it hands down, trust me).

I'd tried a number of recipes, but the one that I loved and gave out the most fool-proof puffed choux was Dorie Greenspan's. I've made her eclairs/ cream puffs/ gougeres so many times, that I've truly lost count.

The only thing you really have to keep in mind while baking the choux pastry is that you need to either bake or freeze it immediately after making it otherwise you'll basically have to start all over again. And also to read the instructions, super carefully.

The recipe for the Chocolate Pastry Cream is also Dorie's. And can I please tell you it is by far one of the most superior creme patisseries that I have ever tasted. It's velvety smooth, and tastes beautifully chocolaty, no matter what chocolate you use. Plus I've filled tarts with it, made ice cream at a pinch with it and it all tastes wonderful.

Eclairs might sound slightly intimidating, but trust me when I tell you that they are just as rewarding. Sometimes I split the task by making the pastry cream a day earlier and the choux the day I want to it so that it's less work. But most times, I can go the whole hog in under 70 minutes.

Eclairs with Chocolate Pastry Cream
From Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. Available in India, US and UK

For the choux pastry/ eclair shells


1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature


1. Bring the milk, water, butter and salt to the boil in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan.  
2.When the mixture is boiling rapidly, add the flour all at once, reduce the heat to medium and, without a second's hesitation, start stirring the mixture like mad with a wooden spoon.  The dough will come together very quickly and a slight crust will form on the bottom of the pan, but you have to keep stirring - vigorously - another 2 to 3 minutes to dry the dough. At the end of this time, the dough will be very smooth.
3.Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or, if you've still got some elbow grease left, you can continue by hand.  One by one, add the eggs to the dough, beating until each egg is thoroughly incorporated.  Don't be discouraged - as soon as you add the first egg, your lovely dough will separate.  
4. Keep working and by the time you add the third egg it will start coming together again.  When all the eggs are incorporated, the dough will be thick and shiny and, when you lift some of it up it will fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.  The dough will still be warm - it's supposed to be - and now is the time to use it. 
5. Drop the dough from the spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each mound of dough. 
6. Slide the baking sheets into the oven, bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back.  Continue baking until the puffs are golden and firm, another 10 to 15 minutes.  Transfer the cream puffs to a cooling rack.

7. Keeping:  You can spoon out the dough and either bake it immediately or freeze it.  To freeze, spoon the dough in mounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer.  When the dough is completely frozen, remove the balls from the baking sheets and wrap them airtight. They can be kept in the freezer for up to 2 months and don't need to be defrosted before baking.

For the Chocolate Pastry Cream

2 Cups Whole Milk
4 Large Egg Yolks
6 Tbsp Sugar
3 Tbsp Cornstarch, sifted
Pinch of Sea Salt
7 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, melted
2 ½ Tbsp Unsalted Butter, cut into bits, at room temperature


1. Bring the milk to a boil in small saucepan or in a microwave oven.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar, cornstarch, salt until thick and well blended. Whisking without stop, drizzle in about ¼ cup of the hot milk-this will temper, or warm, the yolks-then, still whisking, add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream. 
3. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly, and thoroughly (make sure to get into the edges of the pan), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil-still whisking-for 1 to 2 minutes, then pull the pan from the heat.
4. Whisk in the vanilla melted chocolate. Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until the butter is fully incorporated and the custard is smooth and silky. 
5. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool the custard quickly-put the bowl with the pastry cream into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and stir the custard occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.


Slice each piece of pastry in the middle without splitting the end. Spoon in as much pastry cream as required and then drizzle with melted chocolate. Eat within 8 hours of filling.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Roasted Pumpkin, Apple and Peanut Butter Soup

Winter's here. Well, atleast here in Islamabad where it announced it's arrival with rain twice over. And brrr... it's gotten cold.

The cold makes me want to sit in the quilt all day long. I want to sip daintly on some fruit infusion and then at bed time have a steaming mug of hot chocolate with a spot of Cointreau in it. If only it were that simple.

But winter also means that some of the most gorgeous produce has made it's way into the city. Beautiful shiny apples, gorgeously green and brilliant tasting spinach and lovely sweet pumpkin the size of a football. It's a brilliant time to go nuts with the produce. 

Pumpkin soup reminds me of home. Home as in Chennai. Every time my grandmother would spot a pumpkin languishing in the fridge, she'd convert half into soup and the other half a sweet and spicy vegetable dish with fennel. I'd a whole post on the beauty of pumpkin about a year ago here.

We make many kinds of pumpkin soup. Sometimes celery is a star, sometimes nutmeg. My aunt's friend Gloria in Tasmania makes a mean Pumpkin and Peanut Butter soup. I have to post that recipe soon too. 

This soup, is slightly different from her version. Because the pumpkin here has a lot more depth, I've added an apple to meld with the flavours. The peanut butter adds a lovely nutty texture to the soup. The soup is a lot thicker than you anticipate, so it's a good idea to add a bit of stock to thin it down. And sweeter too, so do add generous dashes of chilli to bring it to your liking.

The soup freezes well and is great on a cold winter's evening, when you need something filling and are just too lazy to cook yourself a meal. Add a few crackers or breadsticks, you can just about call it a night. 

Roasted Pumpkin Apple and Peanut Butter Soup
Serves 4

400 grams pumpkin
1 onion
1 red chilli
1 apple
1 clove garlic
1 bullion cube (vegetable or chicken)
3 tblsp Olive oil
1 cup Milk
2 cups Water

Salt and Pepper to taste
Chilli flakes to serve
Lemon juice to taste
1/4 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky really your choice)

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degree centigrade. Cut the pumpkin into arcs and drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes of until done. Chop roughly when cool.
2. Let the pumpkin rest as you go about the rest of the soup. Chop the onion, apple, garlic and chilli.
3. In a tablespoon of olive oil saute the vegeables until the onions start to sweat. Add the pumpkin to it along with a cup of water and the buillon cube. Boil till the vegetables break down about 10 minutes. Cool
4. Using a hand blender or a juicer, blend the soup. 
5. When ready to serve, add the peanut butter, milk and additional cup of water and bring to boil. Check for seasoning. Add a spot of lemon juice. Drizzle with olive oil and chilli flakes. Serve hot.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Greek Yogurt & Olive Oil Orange Cake with Dark Chocolate Marmalade Ganache

Every Saturday, I can't wait to see the amazing produce that the Kuch Khaas Farmer's Market has. Even though I am hardly the first to arrive, I do a quick once over to know what I want so that I can pick it up on my way out.

This week, my bags were filled with some smoked Greek Yogurt, Olive oil steeped in Sundried orange, basil, mint, bok choy, radish and some dill. Just as I stepped into the compound, I saw that some of the oranges in the garden had started to ripen. I couldn't believe my luck. Because I had been dying to bake a cake and orange and olive oil has always been a favourite.

A trip to the regular market to stock up on my groceries made me stumble upon some candied orange peel. It was as if the universe was telling me something. 

I also bought some lovely Ghiradelli chocolate at a BOGO deal and well, it was fate. I love love love the combination of orange and chocolate and the combination always makes me feel extremely sophisticated.

My love for all thing orange-chocolate began when I first bit into a slice of Jaffa Cake about 15 years ago. I couldn't get that oh-my-god, I'm an adult now reaction out of my head. The subtle tartness of the orange broke the sweetness of the chocolate, which made it just so phenomenal.

I think I ate about 100 of them that week.

This cake isn't quite a Jaffa Cake. It's a more mellow yet tender-crumbed orange cake with just a hint of chocolate to make you feel sophisticated. The almond meal in the cake adds to the texture, bringing together a beautiful mouth-feel.

I used Dorie Greenspans' French Yogurt Cake as my base, but then fiddled around with it to make it different. But feel free to fiddle around and omit ingredients that you don't have, I just had a lark making it

Greek Yogurt and Olive Oil Orange Cake with Dark Chocolate Marmalade Ganache

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour1/2 cup ground almonds 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder1/4 tsp salt1 cup sugarGrated zest of 1 orange 1/2 cup greek yogurt
    1/2 cup orange juice
    3 large eggs1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1/4 tsp orange extract
    1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil1/3 cup candied orange peel
For the ganache
100 ml heavy cream
100 grams dark chocolate
3 heaped tsp orange marmalade

  • Directions
  • 1. Preheat your oven to 180 degree centigrade and prepare your pan by lining an 8-inch cake tin with parchment paper
  • 2. In a bowl sift together whole wheat flour and all purpose flour along with the baking powder and salt. Add the almond meal to it.
  • 3. In another bowl, measure out the sugar, add the orange zest to it and use your hands to mix together to help release the oils.
  • 4. Add the Greek yogurt, orange juice, vanilla extract and orange extract and eggs to it. Whisk well.  
  • 5. Add the dry ingredients whisking only until the ingredients have melded together. Add the oil and with a rubber spatula fold it in quickly. Add the candied orange peel to it.
  • 6. Quickly turn it over into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until done.
  • 7. Meanwhile make the ganache by pouring boiling cream over chopped chocolate. Add the marmalade to it and whisk till smooth. Set aside until you are ready to assemble.
  • 8. Once the cake is baked and cooled, turn it over and peel off the parchment. Frost the top of the cake with the ganache and decorate with orange slices.
  • 9. Keeps well for 5 days.