Persimmon Eggless No-bake cheesecake

Pregnancy Blues

Last Sunday, husband and I were sitting in Kala Ghoda Cafe, having their most delicious rösti and hot chocolate, when a group of girls and boys occupied the adjacent table. They were perhaps 3-4 years younger than us, but in an entirely different zone of life. They were chatting, laughing, constantly getting up to take selfies and creating a hullabaloo in the tiny little cafe. While I was clumsily sitting with my 30 week pregnant belly and thinking out aloud ‘We will never be this wild and free again’. The husband heard it and was alarmed at why was I suddenly feeling this feeling of being trapped. I saw the worried look on his face and assured him how I am fine, and I so want the baby and how it is the correct thing to do and the next stage of life and so on.

Just a day back, at our pregnancy and lamaze class, Fit for Birth, the counsellor had advised us to be on a lookout for pregnancy and postpartum blues. Although I have never been capable of having the dramatized versions of “blues”, I knew I was in that zone.

Now my subconscious knows how badly I want this baby and the two-three months that it took us to get pregnant, I would cry like a baby when I got my periods. But still, now it feels like I have been pregnant forever. It is awesome, let me tell you, this whole thing of making a baby inside me, it makes me feel almost God-like. I am making kidneys, brain, lungs, heart, arms, legs, eyes; you name it, I am making it. So that part is amazing. But it is taking a toll on my senses.

There is a constant feeling of tiredness, fatigue, acidity, it feels as if my body is burning at times and uninterrupted sound sleep at night hasn’t been granted in a long long time. When I look in the mirror I can see a lumpy body, lack-lustre hair, mildly puffy eyes and pimpled cheeks. We haven’t been able to get out of the city in the last 3-4 months and it looks difficult for at least another 5-6 months.I long for that Pineapple daiquiri with strong white rum, and a puff of the clove cigarette Gudang Garam I love and indulge myself in once every two months or so.

Strangely, most of my dresses still fit me, with a stretch over the belly, but it makes me wonder what kind of clothes did I wear pre-pregnancy? (Mental note : I need to re-look at my dressing style once back in shape). And thankfully all my medical stats are on track, so I can manage to do most of my daily stuff uninterrupted, albeit with less energy. But the sheer willpower required to get out of bed every morning, make breakfast, get dressed, go to work, attend pregnancy exercise classes in the evening and stay awake till at least 9.30 pm is exhausting. I long to be me, the one with a zillion times more enthusiasm than now.

When my best friend was pregnant and in her last trimester a couple of months back, I remember her telling me how she too was bored. At that time, I thought, ‘Oh, how could you be bored of this miracle?’. But I hear ye now, and I know exactly how it feels.

On the other hand, or may be on the same lines, I am desperate to see my baby now. I want to hold him/ her in my arms, look at that little face and see how it’s little hands hold on to my finger. But yeah, no sooner than full term. I was born about 6 weeks premature, and my momma had a rough six months nursing me to health. So I better wait and carry the baby in my womb to meetings and movies, and not eject it prematurely.

Perhaps once my mom-in-law is back from the US in 15 days, I would feel relief. Relief from the responsibility of running the house, freedom from worrying if the maid will show up, not being in charge of shopping for groceries and having someone experienced to talk to in the middle of the night if the baby is aggressively kicking.

Well, till then, its time to enjoy the different shades of blue.

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Meanwhile these gorgeous beauties are in the market. Hachiya Persimmons or Amar-phal, they are exotically delicious once fully ripe, but cut them a day earlier and you will be shocked at their astringence.

persimmons

This fruit can be beautifully pureed. Just unplug the green head, cut it into four pieces and puree it in a mixer. Thats it. With the skin.

Opening a persimmon

I made a no-bake low calorie cheesecake with these beauties and it looked gorgeous!

A slice of cheesecake

No-bake Persimmon cheesecake

What you will need :

  • 3 ripe Persimmons (2+1)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 250 gms paneer (cottage cheese)
  • 300 gms hung curd (about 650-700 gms curd)
  • 200 gms Digestive biscuits
  • 60 gms butter (Amul)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 5 tsp Gelatin (4 + 1)
  • 1 and 1/2 cup water (1 + 1/2)

First layer of cheesecake

What to do :

  1. Hang 700 gms curd so that the water drains. Roughly it will reduce to half the volume.Take 300 gm of such hung curd.
  2. Break digestive biscuits into a crumbly powder . Soften the butter and mix it with the crumbs to form an even paste. Then cover the bottom of a 10 inch springform pan with it and press down really hard. Refrigerate for an hour till it sets.
  3. Combine the grated hung curd and grated paneer. Add powdered sugar. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract and mix well to remove all clumps. Set aside.
  4. Puree 2 ripe persimmons.
  5. Add 4 tsp gelatin in 1 cup water and keep aside. This process is called blooming.
  6. Prepare a double boiler. Essentially a large utensil to boil water and a smaller utensil which can be placed within. Heat the gelatin-water mix in this double broiler. Do not let it boil. Boiling destroys the thickening capacity of gelatin.
  7. Heat the persimmon puree in a separate bowl. Then add the heated gelatin with the persimmon pure, and take it off heat.
  8. Lightly mix the persimmon and gelatin mixture with the hung curd and paneer mixture, till fully incorporated.
  9. Take out the chilled biscuit pan and pour the cheesecake mix on it. Press evenly and again chill for sometime.To make the persimmon glaze :
    1. Make a puree with 1 persimmon. Put on gentle heat.
    2. Bloom 1 tsp gelatin in ½ cup water and heat over double broiler as earlier.
    3. Add to persimmon puree. Mix well.
    4. Pour over the chilled cheesecake.

    Chill the cheesecake again for an hour, un-mould and serve!

Side view of Persimmon cheesecake

Notes :

  • This is not a very sweet dessert. But the mild tartness of the fruit goes very well with the hung curd and paneer to produce a delicate light dessert.
  • You can add some cinnamon and honey to with the paneer and hung curd to give it a spicy autumn feeling.

Chocolate Mousse Tart and a Diwali gone by

Keeping with the tradition

Diwali has come and gone. It was a test of sorts for me. For the first time in 28 years, my beliefs about tradition and rituals were put to test. Not that I am overtly religious or particularly detached, but I guess it’s somewhere in between. I have been through phases of wanting to do all things festive or sometimes pretending normal life when everyone around was celebrating some sort of festival or the other. But till date, the onus of “celebration” was never on me.

But this time it was. With mom-in-law in the USA, and me at 28 weeks pregnant, I did not have much hope from myself for Diwali. I assumed it would be perfunctory Diwali, with all traditions and get-togethers put on hold till my mom-in-law comes back. But somewhere a week before Diwali, my brain kicked into action mode. The house was cleaned, lights and a lantern were put up, a few diyas were painted, Diwali faraal (snacks) were made, ALL the traditions were followed to the T, numerous get-togethers were done and a perfectly festive Diwali was had. Of course, with the husband and father-in-law participating with equal fervour.

I have always believed that the woman of the house lays down most rules in-house and the atmosphere largely depends on her mood and involvement. Till I got married, my mom was the one setting the tempo during all festivals and she never failed in her part. Weeks before Diwali, she would buy us new clothes, get the house cleaned, make snacks and be prepared for the festivities to begin. And each year, on the first day of abhyangasnaan, we would all wake up very early, mom would massage us with oil, we would take a shower with ubtan, wear new crisp clothes and get ready to light firecrackers while dad would do a small pooja and all of us would then feast on deep-fried, sugary snacks. And every one of the Diwali days, there would be meeting friends and relatives and our house would be filled with chatter and laughter throughout. Mom was the anchor and we moored around her.

In my late teenage years I feigned indifference. Showed how westernised and busy I had become. How I had no time for these little rituals and it was all only for parents and little kids. In short, how I was above it all. But come the actual days of Diwali and I would be oh-so-glad that mom had not taken me seriously and we were still celebrating with gusto.

Then once I got married, the beacon to set the mood was on my mom-in-law. She did everything that was required without ever being the strict mother-in-law and asking me to do this and that.  And three years passed before I realised it is so much work to get all things arranged to enable celebration. Hundreds of minute details had to be looked into which I had always taken for granted. This was our fourth Diwali after marriage and I had no clue about a lot of things. I had no idea how Laxmi-poojan was done, no idea which silverware was required on which day and where it was kept, heck I had no idea who all had to be traditionally given gifts for Diwali. I was nervous.

But we managed. Unknowingly my brain had taken it up as a challenge to organise everything as she would have. Out of 4 Diwali days, we had family functions, small or big, on ALL the four days. I got gifts for all of the husband’s cousins as bhau-beej, asked my mom-in-law and got everything ready for the laxmi-pooja, lit oil-lamps or diyas each evening and fed everyone with delicious home cooked food every time. Of course we had some goof-ups. I was unaware that we had run out of haldi-kumkum in the house and at the last-minute I had to make everyone wait and get it from the neighbours. And all of this when the baby in my womb was incessantly kicking, perhaps enjoying the hustle or getting overtly stimulated by increased movement of its home!

Next year in Diwali, the baby would be here. I may not be able to be this involved along with the demands of an infant. But this year I realised that I deeply cherish these values and traditions which make us, us. And hence, I know that I would make the effort to be the festive organised mom which my mom and mom-in-law have been. For ourselves and for the kid.

Cheers :)

Rutvika Charegaonkar

P.S : Our approach and topics are different, but read this piece on haathitime for a different take on the topic.

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And a couple of weeks back, our pastry chef from Le Cordon Bleu, Olivier Mahut was here in India and we had an awesome alumni get-together and two chef demonstrations. I had invited a couple of baker friends and the entire audience had a great time with the very sweet chef. He demonstrated ‘Tarte A La Mousse Au Chocolat’ or Chocolate Mousse Tart, which I recreated at home and presenting here for you. The quick mousse recipe especially is a delight and comes together in precisely 5 minutes.

Cocoa dacquoise

Chocolate Mousse Tart

What you will need :

Dacquoise

  • 120 gm ground almonds
  • 55gm powdered sugar
  • 20 gm unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 150 gm egg whites
  • 125 gm caster sugar

Chocolate Crunch

Dark Chocolate Quick Mousse

  • 150 gm dark chocolate
  • 300 ml whipping cream

Banana and Apple Filling

  • 50 gm cut bananas/ 50 gm cut apples
  • 50 gm caster sugar
  • 50 gm butter

Dasiy Dacquoise

What to do :

  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Place two 20cm * 2cm high ring mould on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  2. To make the dacquoise, combine all the dry ingredients – ground almonds, powdered sugar and cocoa powder in a bowl.
  3. In another clean bowl, whisk the egg-whites to soft peaks with a whisk or an electric beater. Then gradually add the sugar while whisking the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  4. Using a slotted spoon or a skimmer, gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg white mixture. Be careful to not let the mixture deflate.
  5. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a 20 mm tip and pipe a daisy flower shape into the ungreased ring mold. Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  6. Bake the dacquoise in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and refrigerate. Use a small knife to remove ring mold from the dacquoise. It will get released, then carefully separate the ring mold.
  7. To make the chocolate crunch, melt the butter and chocolate over a double boiler or in a microwave. Whisk in intervals so that there are no lumps. Then add the praline and mix it to a smooth mixture with a spatula.
  8. To make the chocolate mousse, melt the dark chocolate over double boiler or in a microwave. Meanwhile, whisk the cold whipping cream to soft peaks.
  9. Once the chocolate is melted, whisk in the cold whipping cream. Over a bowl of cold ice water, further whisk the chocolate and whipped cream mixture till it considerably cools down and turns to a light mousse. Refrigerate for 10 minutes before using.
  10. To make the filling, take the cut bananas or apples and the butter and sugar in a saucepan and let it simmer till the fruits soften and the mixture thickens. Let it cool completely before using.
  11. For the assembly, take the dacquoise on a plate or a cardboard platter. Spread the praline chocolate crunch over the dacquoise in the centre. Spread it with a layer of the fruit filling. take the chocolate mousse in pastry bag with 12 mm tip and pipe drops of mousse on the dacquoise along the edges.
  12. Serve chilled.

Mousse au chocolate

Notes :

  • I always use Amul butter in all baking which is slightly salted. If you are using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to the fruit filling.
  • For whipping cream, I used Amul dairy based whipping cream. But frankly, it does not hold up shape very well in the hot and humid climate of Mumbai as well as the non-dairy based Tropolite does.

Chocolate mousse

“A Bollywood Affair” and Home-made Kaju katli

Book Review : A Bollywood Affair

As a teenager, I was a die hard fan of Mills and Boon. I would rent out one every couple of days from the local library and immerse myself in those books and almost always imagine myself to be the heroine. And however independent I was in real life, I loved the damsel-in-distress part in those novels. Perhaps it was something about the description of the hero, that you wanted him to come and rescue you, even if you didn’t need it. Ah yes and the the racy cover photographs! I would stare at them every few pages later and it would lead me to imagine things on my own.

Then abruptly that era of romance novels stopped, or came to a screeching halt. As if I had gathered all the know-how to fall in love. And while becoming an accountant, or working as a banker, I assumed I had to read more serious books and poor little Mills and Boon genre went through the window, taking with it all warm and soft feelings which that kind of books give you.

And then a few days back I got an Advanced copy of an Indian romance novel set in Michigan, ‘A Bollywood Affair’. It tugged at my heart. The characters Mili and Samir and Virat, they are endearing and brash at the same time. It is essentially the story of Mili who is married off to Virat at the age of 4 in a small village in Rajasthan and then for the next 20 years, she doesn’t meet him or hear from him. Yet in her heart she believes that she is married and acts accordingly. And its the story of Samir, Virat’s younger brother, who is in Michigan, USA to secure a divorce for his brother, for a marriage which they don’t consider to be existing ever.

And then Mili and Samir fall in love, bollywood style!

ABOLLYWOODAFFAIR_Cover

Its a beautifully crafted book, the scenes are so vividly explained that I could almost smell the samosas being fried at Mili’s best friend’s wedding. Or for days later I could imagine a yellow cycle which Mili has, standing in our own driveway. The book grows on you. On one side I wanted to hastily finish reading the book so that I come to know of the whole story, but at the same time, I wanted it to linger, to last, for some time more so that I can be in their beautiful “fallin-in-love” world just a little longer. Well, I couldn’t put the book down ad stayed up all night and finished it.

The most empathetic part of the book for me was Mili. She is shown to be very traditional yet pragmatic, she yearns for her husband to come claim her and yet goes to US for higher education. She has a belief system in place and that helps her set things right in the lives of people she cares for. And quotes of her grandmother throughout the book would make me go and squeeze and hug my grandma.

The only part in the book that did not go down well with me was the number of times Mili fainted. Eat something, girl! But Samir was always around to catch her midway through the fall, and the fluttering sparks which flew between them still made it enjoyable.

The book is set for release on Tuesday, 28 October. How did I get an advance copy? Yes, my aunt-in-law has written the book and everytime I see the pre-release activity on Facebook, I get a star-struck moment. I can see what a huge deal it is to write a full book, get a publisher, go through numerous rounds of edits and then finally release it. One important thing for me in a book is to know that there are no unforgotten characters. Each one is led to a logical conclusion.And none of the characters are left hanging here. When I asked the author Sonali Dev, how long it took her to string this one together , her words were “This book took about a year. It was one of those books that just flew out of me”. :)

Like I grew up on Mills and Boon I was very curious to know what shaped her romantic view of the world. But Sonali Dev says ” I didn’t actually read a lot of romance novels growing up. One odd Mills and Boon in college and a few Danielle Steele’s. When I was a young mother in my early thirties, I got sick and my husband took the kids to the library. Since I was out of books and I had time to read, thanks to being sick, I asked my husband to pick up a book for me. He, of course, walked into the library and grabbed the first thing off the display shelf. It was Catherine Coulter’s Rosehaven. A ‘full-on’ Medieval Historical Romance. I read the back, gave him my angriest wife glare and said, ‘You’ve been married to me for 10 years and this is what you think I read?’ But then I made the mistake of starting to read it and I finished it in one night. Could not put it down. It was absolutely delicious, I was hooked. I inhaled all of Catherine Coulter’s books after that and then went on to discover Lisa Kleypas, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nalini Singh and on and on. “

If that’s what pulled this fabulous author into romance writing, the next book I want to read is definitely Rosehaven.
A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev (See it here on Goodreads) releases on 28 October, and I already have a list of people I want to gift it to. If you love romance, this one is not to be missed. And if you don’t, this one will convert you.
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And while Diwali is in full swing here, I had decided to make one new Diwali faraal item which I have never made before. This time its home-made kaju-katli, something like a diamond shaped cashew maripan.
I have loved kaju katli forever but I never knew it can be so easy to make. It has just three ingredients. Cashews, sugar and water. Thats it. And it comes together in 20 minutes!
Home-made kaju katli
 Kaju katli
What you will need :
  • 1 cup good quality cashews
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water

Kaju katli collage

What to do :

  1. Pulse the cashews in a mixer to make a powder, but do not let it turn into a paste. Take a few cashews at a time and pulse them. If you think it is starting to release oil, add a teaspoon of powdered sugar while grinding.
  2. Take the sugar and water in a thick bottomed vessel and let it come to a boil to make the sugar syrup. let it reach the one string consistency. (See picture)
  3. Then add all the cashew powder to the sugar mixture and mix well. Keep stirring on a low flame till the mixture starts to thicken and leaves the sides of the pan.
  4. Continue to cook on low flame till it forms almost a dough. If you pinch a ball of the mixture and roll it between your fingers it should form a smooth ball without crumbling.Once that stage is reached, in about 7-8 minutes, take it off the heat.
  5. While it is still warm (let it cool slightly), knead the dough till it becomes smooth. Then on a Silpat or a greased butter paper, roll it out with a rolling pin to the desired thickness. Cut diagonally.
 Kaju katli stacked
 Notes :
  • I doubled the recipe and cooking time increased by 3-4 minutes. Keep a check on the consistency and keep it stirring at low flame.
  • If it appears too dry, knead with a little ghee.
  • It stays well at room temperature in an air-tight box for 4-5 days and refrigerated for even 7-8 days.

Chocolate Chunk Cupcakes and The Bake Sale

The Bake Sale

Last week, for the first time in my life, I baked cakes and cupcakes and sold them. Yes, it is still unbelievable that someone was ready to pay for the stuff I baked and that I had the guts to ask for a price for my time and effort.

Honestly, I had no idea where to begin. When a friend called to ask if I would like to participate in the upcoming Diwali exhibition, I was sceptical to say the least. But my mom volunteered to have her stall of her competitive exam classes and I took the plunge, with her. I had never done a commercial bake sale before, and within a week I had to decide what to bake, how much to bake, when and where to source the ingredients from, marketing of the exhibition, what sort of frosting would stay well, how to package, how to transport, the pricing, what to do with the leftovers and a dozen other little details. As usual spreadsheets and to-do lists came to my rescue.

Being 27 weeks pregnant, I had to be careful that I don’t overexert, and bending down and lifting heavy objects was out of the question anyway. So I took help. My brother did all the shopping for me, I asked my maid to come in a few hours earlier to help with the preparation, my husband helped with the transportation and of course my mom did a lot of work at the stall venue. Which reminds me, have I said thank-you enough to them? Probably not, and I should do it today. :)

I had a few cupcake recipes on the blog, and a few bookmarked in a random books. I estimated that it would be suitable to make 24 cupcakes of each type. The batter preparation time would be saved and I could still make 3-4 varieties before my energy and time runs out. So I shortlisted 15 cupcakes recipes, and converted all of them to make 24 cupcakes. Then came the upside down fruit cakes, which I simply doubled, to make two pans and about 16 pieces. With all the ingredients listed out, I concluded that I would require 6-7 kgs of flour, 4-5 kg butter, about 4 dozen eggs, a kilo of chocolate chips and slab, canned pineapples, canned cherries, mango pulp, fresh apples, fresh milk, 2-3 packs of whipping cream, 3-4 kg of sugar – granulated and castor and a few other things.

Then I was stuck with the packaging! Local shops and Arife, the go-to shop for baking supplies had nothing even remotely suitable and they couldn’t order it on a short notice. Luckily, I found this online company called IPFKart and they had the perfect size individual cupcake box, and to top it, they agreed to deliver it within a day. Now I was set. Cupcakes : done. Frosting : done. Packaging : done.

The only puzzle which now remained was the pricing. I took a poll in a foodie facebook group called Chef At Large, and a lot of them suggested that Rs 50-60 per cupcake would be a good idea. So on the first day I priced all the bakes at Rs. 40. I baked and sold 80 pieces, but when I calculated the costs once back home, I found I had made a loss. (!) Totally sold off, yet a loss. So the next 2 days, I sold it at Rs. 50 a piece and could cover the costs without compromising on the best quality ingredients and sturdy packaging.

The exhibition was in my home town, the place I have been living in since the last 28 years. Needless to say I had a lot of friends and family friends who were very eager to taste all that I have been making and posting on the blog and Facebook for a while. So half the goodies were gone within an hour of opening shop. Chocolate cupcakes were the first ones to disappear and so the next day I made 3 types of chocolate bakes and still, all were gone in two hours. We are all crazy about chocolate, no? Well, chocolate deserves it.

Bake Sale collage

I had a great time at the sale. I got to bake tonnes of cakes, frost them with dainty looking cream, and the feedback kept my feet off the ground for a whole two days :) If you are inclined, and if you get the opportunity, I highly recommend going in for a bake sale or a retail sale of any kind, the whole experience is quite worth the effort.

Cheers!

Chocolate chunk cupcakes

Chocolate Chunk cupcakes

I had made these cupcakes a couple of times earlier, and each time, they turned out perfect. Little bits of melted chocolate to bite into surrounded by a soft cake. And chocolate whipping cream frosting with a few chocolate chips drizzled on top.

For those who are interested, you can find the cost and pricing of this cupcakes here, to give you an idea of how to do the pricing.

This recipe will make about 30-32 cupcakes, but it can be very easily halved. Adapted from Purple Foodie Chocolate Cupcakes.

What you will need :

  • 24o gm all-purpose flour
  • 72 gm cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 400 gm castor sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 320 ml warm milk
  • 300 gm melted butter
  • 230 gm dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 400 gm about 2 cups heavy whipping cream (I use Tropolite)
  • 4 teaspoon icing sugar
  • 3 drops of brown food color
  • chocolate chips, for decoration.

What to do :

  1. In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and cocoa powder and keep aside.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 170C and line two muffin pans with cupcake liners.
  3. Beat the sugar and eggs till pale and creamy with a whisk or a hand-held beater. And vanilla extract.
  4. Then add the flour mixture and milk alternately to the egg mixture, in three-four parts, folding in with a spatula till barely incorporated. Always start and end with flour.
  5. Add the melted, but not hot butter and stir well.
  6. Add the chopped chocolate chunks and mix well.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan up to 2/3rd full and bake for 12-15 mins, till a skewer inserted in the cupcake comes out clean.
  8. Let them cool on a wire rack after baking.
  9. For the frosting, whip the cream till it forms soft peaks, and then add icing sugar, one teaspoon at a time with some brown food color (optional).
  10. Once the cakes are completely cooled, pipe a tower of frosting on the cupcakes, and drizzle it with some chocolate chips.
  11. Ta da! Delicious, melt in your mouth sinful chocolate cupcakes are ready.

Moist chocolate cupcake

 

Barbie Cake / Doll Cake

Family Connection

Ever since I was a child, I have been lucky to have a fairly large family who met very often. My dad the eldest in his generation, has atleast a dozen cousins who are all very close to each other and loved to bunk up at our house every possible time. For six years I was the only child before my brother was born and everyone doted on me. I remember, even later, countless instances when all of us would go for picnics, movies, dinners and all. And then there were weddings, which were a big deal considering the number of members from our immediate family was never less than 150. Of course, I recollect times when only adults would be going for a hike or to watch a movie , and I used to cry so much when I had to stay back home, but overall, I remember having a great time with all of them.

Now, all of them are married, a lot of them have kids of varying ages. Me being the eldest, the onus is on me to keep all the cousins together and provide a platform for everyone to meet, which my parents have been providing for years.

Families have a way of making you feel warm inside, make you feel connected. There are always some common threads, common behavioral patterns which you can trace to at least one uncle or aunt or even a grand-uncle/aunt. It is funny, because sometimes those two people haven’t even spent considerable time with each other, but they exhibit exactly the same eating habits, the same way of folding legs when seated or a peculiar facial expression. And all of us can be traced back to one couple, three generations earlier. Each one of us is a part of them, and they are in parts of us. This knowledge makes me feel rooted. Stable.

When I was in Paris last November-December, a lot of my friends in Cordon Bleu had to go meet their extended families for Christmas and they dreaded it. I was surprised, but it is understandable. All of them live multi-cultural, multi-national lives. Spending different years of life in different parts of the world, perhaps they never got to bond with their families. On the other hand, most of us are born in Mumbai and will die in Mumbai. Sure we travel faraway on holidays, for education etc., but in the end, we come back to our roots. Most of us. And we prefer it that way.

When I got married, my husband and I were thinking of going to the US for further studies with a possibility of settling there. I was in love, just married and ready to do anything, so hadn’t thought too much about migrating to another country.But plans changed and we decided to stay in India. When I look back I realise how insanely home-sick I would have been. I need people around me, a lot of them and often. I need the familiarity your family offers and not once every Christmas, but at least once every two months. Luckily, the entire extended family on my husband’s side is equally awesome, and I am glad that my kids will grow up with the same fun and euphoria with their cousins and doting uncles, aunts and grandparents.

Touchwood.

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And I had my eyes on this Barbie Doll cake for a long time now. I researched all the various methods – with mold, without mold, with fondant, buttercream, and whipping cream, Barbie with legs, without legs and a dozen other related things. Prima-facie it looked like a lot of work, but when I got down to it, it took not more than 4 hours from start to finish.

It was my nine-year old cousin sister’s birthday and all of us had our regular bi-monthly get-together. What better day than this to make this Strawberry pink Barbie cake!

Barbie cake

My cousin loved it and all of them stayed glued near the cake, waiting for a go-ahead to cut it and devour.

I made this one without a mold and used whipping cream for the gown. This underlying cake is really easy to make and this recipe is a keeper.

Barbie Doll Cake

What you will need :

  • 1 cup softened room temperature butter
  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup hot milk
  • 2 and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon Strawberry essence
  • 2 drops red food color
  • a pinch of salt is using unsalted butter

For icing :

  • 500 ml whipping cream (I use Tropolite)
  • 4 teaspoon icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon strawberry essence
  • 2-3 drops of red food color

What to do :

Cake

  1. Pre-heat oven to 170C.
  2. Cream butter with an electric beater or a whisk till pale and light. Add sugar and beat till creamy.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, till fully incorporated.
  4. Add the milk, strawberry essence and red food color and beat well.
  5. Combine the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and baking soda in another bowl, sift it once and keep it ready.
  6. Then with a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, half a cup at a time, till there are no more streaks of flour.
  7. Now you can either use three 18-20 cm diameter round cake pans and then cut the excess of two cakes to make it a dome, or use three pans of decreasing diameter. I had floral aluminum pans 20, 18 and 15 cm each and I used them.
  8. Line the bottom of the pans with a parchment paper and butter the sides.
  9. Carefully fill the pans with the batter till 1/2 or 1/3 full, smoothen the top with a spatula and put it to bake at 170C for 20-25 minutes, till a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  10. Once baked, let the cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then unmold them and let them cool completely on a wire rack.

Icing

  1. To make the icing, whip the cold cream till soft peaks, then add the sugar and beat till it forms hard peaks. Add the strawberry essence and red food color and whisk till fully incorporated.

Assembly

  1. Once cakes have fully cooled, cut the dome if any with a serrated knife, so that you have three layers of flat cakes.
  2. Take a cardboard cake board, spread some icing in the centre and place the biggest cake on it, so that it does not leave the board while icing. Take a few strips of parchment paper and place it securely between the cake and the cake board, so that any icing which gets dropped does not soil the cake board.
  3. Give a crumb coat to the cake, which is basically a thin layer of icing to seal the crumbs in, so that they do not interfere with the rest of the icing on the layers.
  4. Repeat the same procedure with the other two layers.
  5. Keep the cake in the fridge for 15-20 minutes for the crumb coat to settle.
  6. Meanwhile check the height of the three layers of cakes and accordingly you can put the entire legs of the barbie in the centre of the cake, or remove the legs. I had only 10 cms of cake layers, hence I removed the legs and made a hole in the top-most cake layer with an apple corer (or a simple knife) and place the top half of the barbie in the cake, covered till waist. (Remember to remove the clothes of the barbie and to tie up the hair with a saran wrap on top).
  7. Then give a generous layering of icing to the entire cake and smoothen the icing for it to resemble an upturned bowl. Add/reduce icing wherever necessary.
  8. With a piping bag and a nozzle of choice, pipe the decoration of the barbie gown on the cake. Be careful to cover it entirely.
  9. Then place the barbie on top of the cake in the already prepared slot and with the smallest star nozzle, pipe a dress on the body of the barbie.
  10. Remove the parchment paper in the bottom, give finishing touches to the barbie and you doll cake is ready!
Barbie cake crumb coat

Covering the layers in a crumb coat

Inserting the barbie

Making an indent in the centre for the barbie

Barbie cake assembly

Covering the cake with cream and decoration

In a few simple steps, your Barbie Doll cake is ready! :)

Note :

  1. You can double the cake recipe and make taller cakes, to fit in the entire Barbie with the legs.
  2. The color and flavoring of the cake and cream can be changed to whatever you like.

Doll Cake

One bowl Pecan Coffee Cupcakes

Today’s post is going to be a fiction story. I read a lot of fiction. And many a times you can even catch me daydreaming a story, playing a role or intently watching a character unfold in my mind.

When I was a kid, it used to be my favourite pass-time during travel. Think of a few characters, entwine their lives, throw in a few complications and elaborate their reactions, either from one point of view or several. What I did not realise then was that I was essentially practicing story writing. I did not put those things on paper back then, but it provided a continuous stimulus to my brain. Now, I not only think of that alternate fictional universe, but also put it on paper. Sometimes. For posterity.

This time the prompt was provided by an online women’s magazine Women’s Web from Sylvia Plath’s book The Bell Jar. Here goes the story -

CARETAKER

“It went on for 10 years. Every time he came home drunk I would hurry my children to bed, to avoid them seeing their father in a sloshed state. Dishevelled hair, unkempt clothes, sluggish words and the worst was the violence. No, he never hit me, because he knew I would hit him back, but the lamps, plates, glasses took the fury. And every morning he woke up to be a good husband, helping with breakfast, asking the kids about their day and dropping them off to school. As if the drama of the previous night never happened. But I knew he remembered what he had done last night, from that look in his eyes, which he thought he had concealed well.

I don’t remember how it started. How my life came to be a series of calm-before-the-storm days, tumulus evenings, insomniac nights and shocked mornings. I was a law professor when I got married, imparting so-called wisdom to my students. The right to stand up for yourself, never tolerate injustice and live as a free citizen. But eventually I had to stop working full-time, I simply couldn’t keep up with the facade of normalcy. Sure, I still did assignments, but never had the courage to go back and stand in front of zesty 20 years olds and give them hypocritical speeches.

It was almost as if I got sucked into a hole. Slowly. The first kid happened when he was still a social drinker, albeit the socializing happened quite frequently. First two years went by totally engrossed in the kid, while managing a full day job. Then the second kid happened, by an accident. Pressures increased, finances got strained, and his drinking became an everyday affair. At first I thought he had lost interest in me or wanted to avoid the conflicts of parenting, then I thought maybe he had an affair, but then I gradually realised he was drinking too much and too often. Simple as that.

I tried different methods to help him let go of it. Casual coaxing, emotional conversations, silence treatments, warnings, threats and then finally packing my bags and going to my parents’ house with the kids. But he always convinced me to come back. I would look into the mirror and wonder – how did I reach this stage? Since when did I become so tolerant? Was it for the kids? It must be. That was the only rational reason. But it was not. The kids were scared of him. They didn’t know which father was real. The one at night or the one in the morning. They hated weekends, and dreaded holidays. Slowly, they became reserved, quiet and hardly spoke.

Eventually it all became routine. I was unfazed by it, or perhaps so disturbed that I never remembered what normal felt like. Then one day, I met an old friend, who was the head of the law department at the college where I studied. He wanted me to come onboard, be a senior lecturer, write in the legal journal and be a part of the college again. I said I was not sure. He persisted. Then thinking I had nothing to lose, and extra money would always help, I resumed back being a professor. The husband was unperturbed. I was careful to not let his routine get affected, and he did not mind. I got a new surge of hope, enthusiasm, and the kids seemed to like it. After initial period of doubt, I was back in the game. My students loved me, I got published in the International Law journal, I had a direction to my otherwise rudderless life.

Or so I thought.

Till one day, three years later, when he had a stroke. Paralysed on the left side, unable to eat, drink, pee or defecate without help. The drinking stopped, yes, the withdrawal symptoms lasted for a month, but then we were just left with half of him and none of me. 

The kids eventually went away to college, and I was left here. Nursing a thankless man, who I felt nothing for.

Every once in a while I would look at the journals which featured my articles, and my brain and hands would ache to be in rhythm again, to think and simultaneously write. And then I would hear a wail from the other room, pack off the papers and address the wailer. It went on.

Last month, he died. I am 50, and free, first time in the last 25 years. Or so I think.

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

Rutvika Charegaonkar

P.S : This is fictional. Has no resemblance to any person, living or dead.

*******       *******       *******       *******       *******

Okay, so this weekend bake were these dainty primed Pecan Coffee Cupcakes.

I adapted this recipe from Cupcake Lover’s Guide an advertorial pamphlet I picked up while strolling in the Mumbai Fort area. It’s a nondescript little magazine, but all the 20 odd recipes looked very promising and they are turning out great. And this one is a one bowl recipe. Just add everything together and bake!

Pecan coffee cupcake

One bowl Pecan Coffee Cupcakes

What you will need :

  • 175 gms self rising flour
  • 175 gms softened butter (salted)
  • 175 gms castor sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoon cold espresso coffee
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans

For the buttercream

  • 115 gms butter (salted) at room temperature
  • 200 gm icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoon cold espresso coffee
  • 12 pecans, halved for decoration

What to do :

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Line a 12 hole muffin pan with cupcake liners.
  2. Put the flour + butter + sugar + eggs in a large bowl till well combined.
  3. Stir in coffee and pecans.
  4. Divide the mixture in 12 muffin liners.
  5. Bake at 180c for 15 minutes till risen and firm to touch. Cool on a wire rack.
  6. For the buttercream, cream butter till soft. Sift in icing sugar and beat till pale and light.
  7. Add coffee and mix well together. With a piping bag, swirl a small layer on top of each cooled cupcake and place a halved pecan on top.

Platter of pecan coffee cupcakes

Notes :

  • If using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to the cupcake batter as well as buttercream. Salt helps bring in the flavor. I always use Amul butter for all my bakes.
  • These cupcakes come together in literally half hour. And pecans can be blindly substituted with walnuts.
  • If using regular all purpose flour, reduce 175 gm flour by 2 teaspoons and add 2 teaspoons of baking powder.

Pecan cupcake opened

Cheesy Onion and Sesame Seed Braided Bread

The Baby kicked!

Yesterday my baby (or foetus, if you prefer to call it that way) kicked  a feel-able kick for the first time. A real knock-off one which the father could sense too. And once again I realised what they show in movies is total crap! The baby does not know what “All is Well, All is Well” is and kicking the first time can not really be defined.

I had been feeling the flutters since the last two weeks, as if I am slowly releasing an air-filled bottle deep under water and the bubbles are gushing out. Thats how the initial baby movements felt. And then I would frantically place my husband’s hand on my tummy so that he could feel it and I would momentarily stop breathing. Lest my breathing rhythm would camouflage the baby’s kick. But naah, I could just feel it inside, and nothing through the layers of the womb and skin. So the Eureka moment of “He kicked/ She kicked – for the first time” was spread out over a two weeks!

Similar thing had happened when we found out I was pregnant. Being led on by the movies, I was expecting a lightning moment where I realise I had conceived, and would tell the husband, he would lift me in his arms, we would sing a song or two and already start dreaming about baby’s names. But noh! It was a long, excruciating process where you confirm that you are really pregnant.

I had a stack of home pregnancy tests, anticipating I would miss my periods and intended to take the test the very day I missed them. Curiosity was killing me, but still we decided to wait for a day. I couldn’t sleep all night, as if it were result day the next morning. And at 4 am, I finally woke up and took the test, unable to resist it any longer. In the sleepy groggy state I waited for a second for the strip to change color. It did not. I was disappointed and came back to sleep. The husband had woken up by now, consoled me saying that we will check it again a few days later and then he went to use the bathroom. I slept.

When we woke up at 7 am, husband said to me that the strip lying on the counter had changed color. I went and checked, and it had! Very slightly, but there was a change. Duh. We had to take the test again, and till then nothing could be confirmed. And then the next day there was another home pregnancy test, and then later on the blood test at the gynaecologist, and then finally it was confirmed that I am pregnant.

All the song singing and whirling and twirling stayed in my head.

Someone may say I am watching too many shitty movies and soaps, but they are a source of education. The first time I saw the home pregnancy test was in FRIENDS and Rachel has to be thanked for it. So there you go.

Another dilemma I am now facing is when I see mothers talking to their babies in the womb. I find it REALLY awkward to look down at the tummy and talk. Sure, I have conversations with the baby, but in my head. I can’t, for the love of life, unmute myself and quote Einstein to that little tadpole like thing deep inside layers of amniotic fluid. The father talks to the little one, but it is as if he is talking to me and I am responding to what he is saying. But me saying something to my stomach in an empty room? Well, thats not happening.

I just hope that doesn’t make me any less of a mother, but I have to preserve my sanity. I am sure the baby will eventually know my voice, albeit without a woman who talks to her body parts.

Lovingly,

Rutvika

*******       *******       *******

My other love has been Beth Hensperger’s book The Bread Bible. I have made several breads from the book before like this one or this one or even this beautiful one. All three use entirely different methods and with some adjustment of flour, the bread dough shapes up beautifully. There is really nothing like home-baked fresh bread.

And when it comes filled with cheesy onion and sesame seed filling and shaped like this one here, it’s a total winner.

Braided bread

It may look intimidating in the first glance, but it is super easy to shape the bread like this -

Braiding the bread

Cheesy Onion and Sesame Seed Braided Bread

What you will need :

For the dough

  • 3/4 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 3 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 110 grams salted butter (at room temperature)
  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup hot milk
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 large egg

For the filling -

  • 4 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups chopped onions
  • 3 tablespoon grated parmesan or cheddar cheese
  • 5 tablespoon sesame seeds + 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
  • rich egg glaze of one egg yolk + little milk

What to do :

  1. In a large bowl using an electric beater with paddle attachment, combine yeast + sugar + salt + 1 and 1/2 cup flour.
  2. Add milk and water and beat until creamy for about 1 minute.
  3. Add the egg + softened butter with another 1/2 cup of flour and beat until butter is incorporated.
  4. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time until a soft dough which releases the sides of the bowl is formed.
  5. Then turn the dough into a lightly floured surface and knead till a soft yet springy dough is formed, dusting with flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Knead for 6-8 minutes by hand.
  6. Place dough in a greased deep container and turn once to coat. Cover with a plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 and 1/2 hours.
  7. Meanwhile prepare filling. In a medium skillet, melt butter + oil. Add onions and cook till translucent and limp but not browned, or the filling will turn bitter. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and sesame seeds. Set aside to cool at room temperature.
  8. Then gently deflate the dough, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Grease or parchment line a baking sheet.
  9. Cut the dough in half. Roll one half into 18×12 inch rectangle. Cut lengthwise into three 4 inch wide strips (4×18 inch.
  10. Carefully spread filling in the centre of each strip, leaving one inch margin on all sides. Fold over the edges and pinch them together, encasing the filling. Lift the ropes and place them on the greased baking sheet one inch apart.
  11. Beginning in the middle braid each rope loosely to each end. Pinch the ends and tuck them under securely. Cover loosely with a plastic wrap and let it double, for 30 minutes.
  12. Twenty minutes prior to baking, preheat the oven to 170C. Gently brush the braid with egg glaze and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  13. Bake for 30-35 minutes till browned on top and sound hollow when tapped. Repeat with the other half of dough.
  14. Let it cool on a wire rack.

Cutting the bread braid

Notes :

  • If using unsalted butter in dough preparation, use 2 teaspoon salt.
  • Depending on the type of flour and humidity conditions, little more or less flour is required to make a soft and springy dough. The book calls for 4 and 1/2 cups, but I had to use 5 cups of flour.
  • If using active dry yeast, use 1 whole tablespoon of yeast.

 

Bon Apetit!

Inside the braid