French Tarte aux Pomme with pears

My grandparents came from the time when matrimonial matches were made by the elders in the family, the girl and the guy met each other once, if they were fortunate enough, and were married. And the marriages lasted. 50-60 years, till death does them apart. My grandmother and grandfather were similarly married, about 58 years back and were together till my grandmother passed away two years back. They had companionship, they were very strong as a team, raised 3 kids and supported the needs of a big joint family, while working full-time in multiple jobs. But those were simpler times, they had least expectations from each other, romantically or otherwise. In the 55 odd years that they spent together, they have hardly taken a couples-only vacation, rarely sat together sipping a cup of tea and talking about their hopes and dreams. There were no issues of compatibility, because that was never an issue. You just stick together, marriage was for a lifetime.

For my parents’ generation, things have somewhat changed. The concept of life-long marriage is still widely accepted and prevalent, but everybody wants more from their life and hence are willing to compromise the stability of marriage. They realize they were naive when they got married and hence their individual aspirations were side-tracked. But now they have the time once their kids are grown up and on their own, and can achieve those dreams. But still, this is the only way of life they know and have loved each other over the years, and hence, thankfully stick around. Together.

Then comes my current generation, where suddenly in a time span of 20-25 years, things totally changed. Everything became casual. What is marriage? Oh you like somebody, let’s get married, lets see if it works out. Arranged marriage? Sure, the guy/girl seems good enough. Lets try to see if we can make it together. If not? No problem, get a divorce and move on. You can soon marry the next person who looks good enough.

I am not cynical, but this trend deeply unsettles me. When I quit working with my previous organisation, a colleague I worked with seemed very happy with his wife of 6 months. I talk to him a year later, and he was already divorced from his wife, and was getting married to another girl in a week. I was shocked. How and when did things go so bad in 1 and half years, that they were already divorced? And doesn’t it take at-least some time to get over a marriage? Or was singlehood so dangerously unpleasant that you jump up on the next prospect and seal it?

But sometimes, it becomes a one-way street and then its really sad. One of my mom’s younger cousins was married to her husband for 7 years before the guy suddenly realised that he doesn’t love his wife anymore, and wanted to end the marriage. Simple as that. No extra-marital affair, no abusive partner, no major fights, nothing. He just fell out of love. But the woman is still deeply in love with her husband and till date, its been 5 years since he filed for a divorce, she absolutely refuses to give him one. This part of life is stuck in a limbo while they continue to lead their separate lives.

Or in case of another relative, after being married for 9 months, one day suddenly after dinner, the guy ‘dumped’ his wife at her parents house and told her it’s over. Sure, their marriage was still new and they were trying to figure out each other and used to have fights and squabbles, but it looks (from what they told us later on) that it was nothing that can’t be resolved. But that option was never considered. The girl, my cousin, feels rejected and is unable to get over it, but the guy has already started meeting other prospective girls while the divorce case and alimony, maintenance etc gets settled.

That’s how simple marriage and divorces have become today. Procedurally yes, socially yes, but what about the emotional scars it is leaving on the minds of an entire generation, whose parents had long happy marriages,  and theirs is tumbling like Humpty Dumpty off a wall?


Now some finger-licking food time.

After the delicious plum cake baked last time, I wanted to do some more fruit bakes. In my head it just feels like a healthier dessert once it has fruits in it. And when I see the loaded fruit pyramids at the fruit vendors, I can barely resist them. So with several apples and pears on hand, I decided to make a combination of Classic French Apple tart and the Pear Tarte Tatin. So presenting, the French Tarte aux Pommes, with pears :)

Pear and Apple tart

Tarte aux Pommes with pears

What you will need :

Sweet short pastry crust :

  • 200 gm all purpose flour
  • 100 gm butter, cold, cut into pieces
  • 20 gm castor sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pear Filling :

  • 2 pears, peeled, deseeded chopped
  • 30 gm butter
  • 30 gm granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • a pinch of freshly ground cinnamon

Assembly :

  • 1 unbaked tart shell
  • pear filling
  • 2 and 1/2 apples, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Butter chunks , sugar and cinnamon powder

What to do :

  • Pre-heat oven to 170C.
  • To make the short pastry crust, take the flour, cold butter pieces and sugar on a countertop and knead it with your hands, pressing the butter with the heel of your palm and incorporating it into the flour. Do it twice or thrice till all the butter has been broken down and the dough resembles sand.
  • Make a well in the centre and add the egg and vanilla. Again gently knead the dough with the heal of your plam till it all comes together.
  • Cover it with a saran/ plastic wrap and refrigerate for atleast 10 minutes before rolling it into a disk.
  • Meanwhile, make the pear filling. melt butter in a pan, add vanilla and cinnamon. Once the butter is melted, add the sugar and heat it on a low flame till the sugar dissolves.
  • Then add the chopped pears and continue to cook it for another 5-6 minutes till the pears have cooked and all the liquid has evaporated. Take it off heat and keep it aside.
  • Take the dough from the fridge, knead it slightly and then roll a disk about 10-11 inches in diameter. Keep the counter well floured while rolling or it will stick.
  • Use a 8-9 inch tart ring or a small lipped cake pan and place in gently on the dough disk. Cut a round about 3-4 cms away from the ring and remove the ring.
  • Generously butter the tart ring from the inside with softened butter.
  • Lift the dough disk with a rolling pin and place it on the tart ring, floured side up. That side of the disk which was on top should now be the bottom, touching the tart ring.

Making the tart dough

  • Flatten the dough inside the ring with your thumb and cut the remaining portion coming out on top of the ring with a knife.  Pinch it with a pincer for decoration (optional).
  • FIll the unbaked tart shell with the pear filling.
  • Arrange the sliced apples on the tart in a circular roundabout way.
  • If you like it pour some apple wine on the tart, and place chunks of butter on the apples and drizzle it with sugar and cinnamon in the centre of the tart.

Arranging the tart

  • Bake at 170C for 30 minutes, till the tart shell is baked and the apples look done.
  • Once baked, release the tart from the ring with a knife, unmold it and let it cool completely before cutting.

Tart slice

Notes :

  1. Add a teaspoon of water to the dough if you think it is very dry while kneading it.
  2. The dough is refrigerated for 10 minutes before rolling into a disk, so that it becomes firmer and hence easier to roll. Then it is left at room temperature after making the disk for it to stabilise, so that it does not shrink too much in the oven while baking.

Rutvika Charegaonkar

Dimpled Cinnamon Plum Cake

Like a lot of kids our age, me and my brother went to a day-care or a baby-sitter for most part of our childhood. But unlike some kids who easily adjust to the new surrounding, we almost hated all those places, and every few months later, my parents would be scourging for a new place.

When I look back at it now, I realise how traumatic it must have been for my mom and dad to leave us at some stranger’s house for the whole day, especially knowing that the kids are not loving it. Many of the other kids would be delighted to be at the day-care. But somehow, we never were.

It wasn’t that those aunties or those places were particularly bad, but it felt obscure to spend the whole day at someone else’s house. I would constantly wait for the clock to tick 7′O clock, when mom would come and pick us. My dad was working as a cop who would sometimes have night duty, and then he would come pick us up as soon as he came back every morning. So as compared to others, we spent significantly less time at the daycare, but I can still feel how those 5 hours seemed like eternity.

There were a couple of times when I had run away from the daycare to my grandparents house, which was about half a kilometre away. Everyone would be then looking for me and I would be relaxing and eating cookies at my granny’s house. Naturally, I would get a fair amount of scolding from my dad once discovered, but that was still better than being in those hole-shaped houses, with 10 other kids.

We had our share of oddities. The aunty at one day-care centre was obsessed with cleanliness, but hardly applied it to herself. She would be constantly scrubbing the chairs and sofas with an unreasonably dirty cloth. I wonder what she was trying to clean, the chair or the cloth, but she would constantly ask us to move while continuing her cleaning regimen. Her teeth were like chessboard with yellow highlights. And her thick eye glasses did not look like they had been cleaned in the last year. Ah, maybe that was the reason she felt everything was dirty. Her glasses were the ones that needed cleaning, oh but well never mind. Apart from that she was a warm lady and would gently coax us to complete our homework , while the television loudly blared in the background.

Once I remember, the lady at one centre was extremely religious and on certain days when she was fasting, she would get possessed by a deity / devi. She would go in a trance and make jerky movements and weird noises, her eyes would roll and arms would frantically flap, while doing a dance. I would always be shit scared. Even now, 20 years later, her image haunts me in my dreams.

But anyway, eventually we grew up and could manage it on our own at home. But what a ruckus we created by the time mom came back.

Now when I look at my friends and their kids, I feel relieved that the kids will stay with the grandparents, which is way better than any daycare centre. Thankfully, for us, my parents and in-laws are both willing and eager to manage our kids when me and my husband will be working.

Or my heart would be breaking, everyday, into a million little pieces.


Dimpled Plum Cinnamon Cake

This time I am sharing a recipe of a beautiful summer cake. The rich plum imparts a very earthy flavor to the cake. And what a lovely color of the plum juice, seeping into the cake.

A friend Manish from SaffronAmbrosia, brought this cake to my notice and I have been patiently waiting for plums to show up in the market. This cake is best made with fresh fruits, be it plums, or peaches or nectarines. It’s a fairly adaptive recipe and any type of compatible spices, zest and nuts can be added.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

A slice of plum cake

What you will need :

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon corn flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar/ demerara sugar
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 8 plums, halved and pitted
  • 5-6 whole cherries

What to do :

  1. Pre-heat oven to 160C. Prepare an 8 inch round or square baking tray by lightly greasing the pan, then coating it with flour and then lining with a parchment paper. Alternately you can also use a springform pan.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, corn flour, baking powder and cinnamon and keep it aside.
  3. In another bowl, beat the eggs with an electric beater (or a whisk), till it is pale in color. Add the brown sugar and castor sugar and beat till it becomes creamy, for about 3-4 minutes. This method is called cremagé, and it greatly helps in making the cake fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, while fully incorporating it.
  5. Then add the oil, lemon zest, vanilla extract and beat it till it all comes together.
  6. Now with a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients in the wet ingredients, and mix till no streaks of flour are seen.
  7. Pour this batter into the prepared pan and then arrange halved plums on top, cut side up. Gently press the plums into the batter. Press the cherries into the gaps.
  8. Bake the cake for 30-40 minutes, till a skewer inserted comes out clean. Mine got done in 30 minutes, so be watchful.
  9. Once baked, take the cake out and let it sit in the pan for 15 minutes while the plum juice seeps back into the cake.
  10. Gently take it out with the parchment paper and let it cool on a baking tray completely before cutting.
  11. Sprinkle the cake with some powdered sugar, if you wish.

Juicy plum cake

Notes:

  • The cake cannot be inverted and hence it is essential to use a parchment paper or simply use a springform pan.
  • You can replace the lemon zest with orange zest and cinnamon with cardamom, or as you like.

A platter of plum cake

Cheers!

Rutvika

P.S : This dimpled plum cake goes to the Kitchenaid India contest for the upcoming Bloggers meet. Stay tuned to check out other plum recipes.

Mentoring : An everyday walk. And Flan de mango – the last of this season

It is true that every day, in every walk of life we are learning something new. Something that you didn’t know a day before, but something that you can’t live tomorrow without. Most of it is self-awareness, but the nudge to move towards that zone of being aware, is an external one. Sometimes I think you yourself are your best mentor; but of-course that would be being too full of yourself. So we assign the ‘mentorship’ to a teacher, a coach, a boss, a friend or even an author whose writing played a major role in your belief system. Positive or negative, they all had a role to play in what you are today and I am thankful to them, to say the least.

I remember, till the seventh grade, I disliked mathematics. And then it changed, because I was in love with my new mathematics teacher. She was so warm, kind and witty, that I had to do well in her subject. And at the end of that year, I genuinely started liking those numbers, and went on to become an accountant. Of course, all the Sin-Cos-Tan is now lost on me, but I knew that these numbers can be manipulated and that I could do it.

Few years later, in the first month of my internship, I was assigned to work with a hated big, fat, snobby boss. He asked me to study a particular accounting standard and would grill me at the end of every day about my learnings and no answer seemed to please him. He constantly counter questioned and looked at me with a cultivated look of hopelessness that still scares me. I was 19, had cleared the difficult entrance test in the first go and considered myself at-least an average student. But this guy, within a week, shattered the very base of my belief. Predictably, after about 10 days, I broke down one evening in the office. And then suddenly, he was like this big daddy, trying to console me, explaining how he was “preparing me” for the future. I wanted to punch him in his gut. I didn’t care about those stupid accounting standards, but I knew that this is a corrosive man, I needed no association with him. I almost managed to stay away from him for the rest of my 3 year internship, and hence preserved my sanity. He has damaged a lot of my friends by constantly assuring them that they are no good. Somebody needs to shut him up.

At a deeper level, in a rougher way I realised that some people will try to pull you down. You have to recognise them and run as far away from them as possible, because arguing with them is just not worth it.

But soon after, I took up a job in a private bank and luckily for me, I reported to a sensitive and mature lady, the VP of our audit department. She soon realised, even before I knew it, that I needed freedom and independence to work my best. Those two years, I was at the peak of my performance, firstly because I loved my work and secondly because I could think and audit in a way no-one had before. She subconsciously ingrained out-of-box thinking in me, by making me believe that I could do it. Had it not been for her, I would have been a mediocre clerk in some bank, assuming that I could be only as good as the person besides me.

Another very crucial role in my mental set-up has been played by Ayn Rand. Basically it felt as if she was talking to me through her books and telling me (in her own words) -

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.”

Hang on to everyone who tells you that. Because those people are precious. In this dog eat dog world, sometimes all you need is that word of encouragement which will restore your belief in yourself. And yes, the person next to you needs it as much as you do. Go on, tell him that he worked well, tell her that she is right in taking a firm stand, pick up that child and teach him a magic trip, or just help fix that little girl’s broken doll.

It always helps. The ball is now in your court.


Well, the Indian monsoon is almost here, and to cherish the mangoes one last time before they disappear for this season, I made the Mango flan. It is delicate yet robust, smooth but chunky and colorful yet natural.

Flan de mango

Presenting : Flan de Mango first brought to my notice by a friend Jasmine Gandhi on CAL

What you will need :

  • 1 cup mango puree
  • ½ can condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup milk

What to do:

  1. Dissolve the corn flour in 2 tbsp milk so that there are no clumps. Then combine it with the rest of the milk, mango puree, condensed milk and eggs.
  2. Scoop the batter into four-six ramekins or metal molds.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 170C.
  4. Take a large shallow pan and fill it halfway with water. Put it in the oven while it is being preheated.
  5. Now place the four-six moulds in the pan with the warm water.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes till the flan is set.
  7. Let it cool at room temperature before putting in the fridge to cool for 2-3 hours.
  8. Before serving, release the flan from the sides of the mold with a knife and turn it upside down on a serving plate.

Mango flan single serving

Notes :

  • By placing the molds in a shallow pan filled water, we are essentially creating a water bath. This helps provide moisture while baking, so that the flan does not dry up, but still gets firm.
  • While un-molding, if it is unwilling to leave the sides, gently heat the mold on a gas flame before turning upside down.

French Macarons : Need I say more?

If I am to name one thing that I miss about Paris, it has to be the petite macarons. Every patisserie in Paris, big or small had tons of these dainty little colorful cream filled cookies. I was (am!) crazy about them. Most evenings while walking back from le Cordon Bleu school, I would hop into a Laudree or Pierre Hermé, and get one single macaron. Come out, sit on bench and relish that almondy ganache filled cookie before going home.

Now the French Macarons (pronounced mah-kah-ROHN) are different from the Coconut Macaroons. Both names are derived from Italian maccarone or maccherone meaning ‘paste’, referring to the original almond paste ingredient. But the final outcome is vastly different. The french macarons are elusive, and I was told that many a Parisians also did not know how to make the perfect macaron. In most elite patisseries, the macarons are made from a centuries old recipe. But the sandwiched macarons as we know now, have supposedly been invented by Pierre Desfontaines Ladurée, who, at the beginning of the 20th  century, had the idea to join two meringues and fill them with ganache.

The first time I tried a small batch of these macarons, I had very little faith in myself. I was sure that they might taste okay (its almond powder, sugar and egg whites, what’s not to taste good?) but they would not be photogenic at all. So I did not take any pictures. Duh. But then, just a few weeks later, I had to make them again. I just had to.

And here they are:

Macarons on top

These are still not perfect. But technically, they are there. Smooth tops, crinkled feet, a lovely pastel color and a generous amount of white chocolate ganache. What more do you need?

Now, it is not as complicated as people make it to be, but it is not very simple either. It takes some pre-planning, some sitting around time, and a lot of bend-over-the-workspace time as you pipe little rounds of the macaron shells by the dozen.

I studied the Pierre Herme macaron book and several other websites for a long time before I decided to use one recipe for Pierre Herme’s book Macarons.

One macaron

I will list out a few commandments for making these macarons. They are not exhaustive and every time I will be adding some more notes and tips and dos and donts. If you find any important must-dos, let me know in the comments section.

  1. The separated egg whites used to make the macaron shells have to be carefully separated, and should not contain any part of the fatty yolk, which makes whipping the egg-whites difficult.
  2. It is essential to use “liquified” egg-whites. Liquified egg-whites are those which have been sitting in the refrigerator for a week, so they lose their elasticity.
  3. To get perfect round shapes, you can make a stencil on a parchment paper with shot glasses and use that stencil underneath another parchment paper for piping the shells.
  4. I grind my almonds at home to make almond powder, and in that way I can use the best almonds and sieve it a couple of times to obtain a very smooth consistency. No crumbs at all.
  5. An electronic thermometer is essential, because the sugar syrup has to be cooked to a specific temperature and then whisked again with the egg whites till it cools down to a particular temperature. Any over-heating or over-cooling will disturb the macarons perfect texture.
  6. Sugar plays a crucial role in the meringue. If you decrease the sugar, the meringue will lose its stability.
  7. After piping the macaron shells, tap the baking tray on a towel on a kitchen counter, so that the top flattens out and all air bubbles are released. Then you have to let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, until a skin forms on the surface. The batter shouldn’t stick to your finger.
  8. The shells have to be baked for 12 minutes in a convection oven (the one with a  fan), briefly opening and shutting the oven door twice to let out the steam. Open the door first time at eight minutes (at that time the ‘foot’ of the shells will be cooked) then a second time after 10 minutes.
  9. The baked shells have to be carefully unstuck from the baking sheet, because they are quite fragile. You can use an offset spatula to gently nudge the shell.
  10. After filling the macarons whith ganache, they should be kept in the fridge for 24 hours to let the ganache/buttercream set in. Or the macaron feels very dry and crumbly. And they have to be best eaten at room temperature, an hour after taking them out.

Collage of steps of macaron

 

Rose Macarons

Makes about 72 macarons, 144 shells.

What you will need:

For the macaron shells :

  • 300 gm ground almonds
  • 300 gm icing sugar
  • 110gm liquefied egg whites
  • About 5 gm red food coloring
  • 300 gm caster sugar
  • 75 gm water
  • 110 gm liquefied egg whites

For the ganache :

  • 200 gm white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 150 gm fresh cream

What to do :

  1. A week before making macarons, separate egg whites from egg yolks. For this recipe you will need about 8-10 eggs. Separate the egg whites, place them in a tight lid glass bottle, and keep it aside in the refrigerator for a week. This will liquefy the egg whites. (See commandment above)
  2. On the day of making macarons or one day prior, finely grind almonds and sieve them a couple of times to get a smoother consistency without any crumbs. I like the nutty flavor and hence use un-blanced almonds, but you can very well use blanched almonds.
  3. Then once again sift together icing sugar and ground almonds.
  4. Stir the food coloring into first portion of liquefied egg whites
  5. Pour them into the bowl of icing sugar and ground almonds but do not stir.
  6. Bring the sugar and water to a boil at 118C. When the syrup reaches 115C, simultaneously start whisking the second portion of liquefied egg whites to soft peaks. (Take help if available.)
  7. When the sugar reaches 118C, pour it over the egg-whites. Whisk and allow the meringue to cool down to 50C. Then fold it well in the mixture of ground almonds and icing sugar.
  8. Now spoon the batter into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle. Be careful that there are no air bubbles getting trapped while filling the bag.
  9. Pipe rounds of batter about 3.5 cm in diameter, 2 cm apart on baking trays lined with baking parchment paper. It is essential for air to circulate from all sides of the macaron shell, and hence space them considerably. You can use the stencil made with a shot glass as a measure.
  10. Leave the piped shells to stand for 30 minutes until a skin forms on the surface.
  11. Meanwhile, preheat the fan oven to 180C. Put the baking tray in the oven and bake for 12 minutes, briefly opening and shutting, twice. (See commandment)
  12. Take the baking tray out and slide the baking parchment on to a work surface, or it will continue cooking further on the tray, which we don’t want.
  13. Put in the other tray to bake and continue doing so till all the shells are made. Once fully cooled, release the shells from the baking paper with a slight nudge with a spatula. (Careful, they are still fragile.)
  14. Take chopped white chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream and switch off the heat just when it starts to boil. Pour the cream on white chocolate, let it rest for 2 minutes and then whisk to form a smooth ganache.
  15. Spoon the ganache in a piping bag and pipe a generous mound of ganache on half the shells. Top with remaining shells, and keep in fridge for 24 hours.
  16. Remove and let it sit at room temperature for minimum one hour, before serving or eating.

Rose Macarons

Notes :

  1. Macarons are a bit time-consuming, but not difficult. And the joy of having made them at home is enormous. Try it, and everybody around you will be super impressed.
  2. These little things improve every time you practice. I sure did crack a few macaron shells,  one batch got burnt, one batch was undercooked and some macarons totally browned on top. you have to know your oven and keep practicing to get the perfect shell. Also, this recipe can be easily halved.
  3. The flavor combinations are tremendous and only sky is really the limit.

 

O mother, it’s mothers day again!

I am almost glad Mothers Day is over. I have failed to understand the hype over it. I am always good to my mom, and have been ever since I remember. Sure, as a teenage girl, I had my share of fights with her, but then they didn’t particularly cease on Mothers day. And plus they were circumstantial fights, and not conceptual ones, so by and large we have been very good to each other.

But come Mothers day and the anticipation of what you are going to do, or literally the social media competition of who is doing the crazy what reaches such a stage that it gets nauseating. Photos of people as kids with their moms, which are hardly recognizable to us who know them only once they are full-grown adults, or typical photos of girls pouting on their wedding day with their mom in tow, starts doing the rounds. Come on, give it a break!

As kids I remember, because my friends and their friends were doing it, we used to get a card for mom on Mother’s day, and of course one for dad on Fathers day. Typically, my mom would look at it, read if there was any handwritten message, smile, give us a hug (which she would do anyway) and go back to preparing the next meal or ask us about homework. That’s it. That’s how spectacular an effect that card had on her. But eventually and finally I realized that I don’t need this drama of a special day because I can get a hug from her anytime, I can keep my head on her lap and cry as long as I want. Anytime. And if I had done something wrong, and she wanted to be mad at me or scold me, she would give two hoots about it being mothers/daughters/parents/birthday/dont-shout/take-it-easy or any other god-sent day.

Parenting is a full-time job which doesn’t stop on any day. Ans similarly kids have to be naughty, mischievous but still responsible and nice to her, dad, grandparents, brother, sister, the dog, cat, plants and every body else as much as possible and at all times. It’s not different on any  A-day, a B-day or a C-day. It’s just Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, so on and so forth.

And hence in retaliation and partly because of the enormous pressure of having done something, I let the mothers’ day pass. And let a sigh of relief.

Needless to say, me and my mom do the mother-daughter things all the time. We have taken vacations together – just the two of us, we go shopping, watch a movie, I go to her house to have a scrumptious meal at least once a week, I always get her favourite bitter chocolate bar whenever I go somewhere, we fight, we squabble, we hug, we cry, we discuss, bitch, talk, and in short we are us. For each other, and for ourselves, carrying a part of the other in our hearts.

Sometimes I think it is easier for guys. My husband hasn’t wished his mom a Happy mothers day, and there ain’t even a need to do so. He did exclaim ‘Ah, its mothers day’ and he and his mom, and me and all of us went on doing our regular business as usual. She made his favorite lentil soup, and my favourite paav-bhaji, we all had lunch, cleaned the tables and went off to take a Sunday nap. It was that easy and that peaceful. Special yes, very special, but in an everyday kind of away. In the evening we all played some carom, but we do it often without any special day signs and balloons plastered all over.

And I am sure, when I have kids, I am going to make it clear to them that no amount of bribery in the form of cards, letters, chocolates, balloons or whatever is going to spare them from eating vegetables, or doing homework or simply being kind to anyone , on any day, be it on here or on the moon.

Ah. Never-mind, to close on a positive non-cynical note and because this is rare phenomenon captured on camera of 5 generations of us , I am sharing this photo with a big, bright, colorful Happy Mother’s Day to you all. And that’s practically each and every day. Cheers.

(Seen here in the photo from right is my mom, her mom, her mom, and her mom, with me as a baby. Ages 90-70-49-22 and 3 months).5 generations Snd


On that occassion, presenting here a Chocolate mud cake, chocolate being my mom’s favourite, but no, I did not make it for the day, I made it because I knew she would like it. Any day.

Chocolate mud cake

I got this recipe from my friend Charlene who makes some awesome chocolates, who got it from her friend and was kind enough to share a tried and tested mud cake recipe. This recipe makes an 8-inch cake and like its name, it is super chocolaty and yum.

Chocolate Mud Cake

What you will need:

  • 140 gms dark chocolate
  • 140 gms salted butter
  • a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter
  • 215 gms castor sugar
  • 140 gms flour
  • 11.5 gms baking powder
  • 15.5 gms unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 225 ml warm water
  • 2 eggs

For ganache :

  • 100 gms dark chocolate, chopped
  • 100 gms fresh cream

What to do :

  1. Pre-heat oven to 160C.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter over double boiler or in a  microwave in short bursts, whisk to combine.
  3. Sieve flour, baking powder and cocoa.
  4. Add sugar to the dry mixture.
  5. Add water to the flour mixture and mix till smooth.
  6. To this add the molten chocolate and butter mixture.
  7. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk eggs. Add it to the chocolate mixture. Whisk till combined.
  8. Grease and line 8 inch round or square pan and pour the prepared batter in the pan.
  9. Bake at 160C for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or till knife comes out clean when inserted.
  10. For ganache, take chopped chocolate pieces in a heatproof bowl.
  11. Heat the fresh cream, pour it over chopped chocolate, cover for 2 minutes and then whisk to form a smooth ganache.
  12. Once the cake is baked, let it cool completely before pouring the ganache over the cake.
  13. Cut, serve and eat.

Piece of chocolate mud cake

Notes:

  1. This is a fairly simple cake that can be whipped up very easily. Be careful while baking as the dark chocolate color can be misleading. Do not overbake.
  2. If while pouring the ganache it has cooled down, slightly heat it in a microwave or spread the cooled ganache over the cake with a spatula.

 

Orange Chocolate chip loaf cake – robust and simple as life mostly is.

There are moments when I terribly miss Paris. The omnipresent Eiffel tower, the sunset over the Seine, the fancy-dressed musicians on the streets, colorful pavlovas dotting the patisseries, tiny little espressos, copper pots clinging to the walls, demure little macaroons, the flea markets, Rodin’s Thinker, carefully curated gardens, the morning vegetable markets, foie grass, carousels and all, but most importantly Danielle, my host in Paris and now my friend.

It was partly because of Danielle, a friend of my dear friend, that my Paris dream came true. I remember the first time I met her, on the bus stop where I was waiting for her to pick me up. I always thought Parisian women are very snooty (and believe me they are), but Danielle looked very kind and warm. She willingly took me to her beautiful apartment and instantly I knew that this month in paris, her home and she, will be a cherished part of my life for years to come.

I miss that 71-year-old, young friend of mine very dearly. At-least once a day, I catch myself remembering something she said, or something around her house, or the French potato gratin she made on my first day in Paris. Sometimes the wine bottle sitting on my shelf makes me think of her so much that I have a temptation to pour a little in a glass and swirl it to check its notes. Or simply make a creamy fish like she did and may be the aroma of the cream being baked will make me feel close to her.

Her bedroom, the room which she gave me generously for a month, was idyllic, like those you see on Pinterest. White French windows with pink and violet flowers in the balcony and the room full of books. How fervently I hoped I could read French, those books were alluring. And Danielle, whose daughter in law is from Kolkatta, and who visits India every year had very cleverly used cotton sarees as in-house curtains. Simple, yet so elegant.

The day before I started school in Le Cordon Bleu, she carefully showed me the way to school, which metro to take, which exit to walk out of, and all in English because I hardly understood French. Oh how it tired her, the act of thinking in French, translating and then talking in English. But we had some great conversations. I always used to look forward to having breakfast or lunch with her, and talking about the oddities of life, the dreams, hopes, desires, tales of cruising along through life and its myriad colorful lanes. How she would say Oh là là when she remembered a sweet thing, and how her eyes would go silent when talking of something estranged. Oh I miss her voice, her pause when she is remembering an english word, her acceptance of reality, her zest to help an older 85-year-old lady staying upstairs, her caramelised leek roast-  the way her mom made it, the opera music filling the room when she knitted, and oh, simply her presence. I miss all of it so bad that I have to exhale deeply to empty my heart of the longing to see her.

Danielle invited me to her book club meetings, took me out for a classic French dinner, invited her friends and family so that I could meet them, showed me photos of her in her young days, took me around Paris, we even went for a Bollywood movie, and patiently listened to my tales from patisserie school every day and ensured that I don’t feel home-sick. And she did it all with such finesse that it never felt that she was intruding in my life, but was always solidly present.

All through the day I could go waltzing around Paris or be in the school for 9 hours, because I knew I would have company at night, someone to report the events of the day before going to sleep. Someone to pull me out of trouble if I get into one, while in Paris. Someone to look after me when I was an ocean away from home and someone to simply ask me how was my day or if I had proper dinner.

Five weeks later, when it was time to leave, she came to drop me off at the bus station and while bidding goodbye, a silent lonesome tear trickled down my face. Not a sad tear but a thankful, indebted one. And her parting words to me , the ones that got etched in my mind were “Thank you, you were kind to me.” It was the simplest, least dramatic but very emotional good-bye which was more of a see-you soon than a farewell. It was the beginning. Of a new friendship. Of a new me.


Today I will share with you all a simple go-to chocolate chip pound cake recipe. It can be baked in an hour and sometimes all you need is an uncomplicated chocolate flavor, with a hint of orange. Nothing fancy and assuming, but something robust yet tender, like a grandma’s wholesome cake.

Chocolate chip cake with oranges

Orange Chocolate Chip pound cake

What you will need:

  • 240 gm all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 225 gm salted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (only if using unsalted butter)
  • 200 gm granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

What to do :

  1. Pre-heat oven to 175C. Generously butter a 9*5 inch loaf pan.
  2. Whisk together flour and baking powder to mix evenly and break any clumps.
  3. Beat sugar and butter till pale in color.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time till fully incorporated. Add orange zest.
  5. Fold in the dry ingredients with a spatula, taking care to not over-mix.
  6. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  7. Spoon the batter in the prepared pan and level it with the spatula.
  8. Bake for 40-60 minutes till a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  9. Once baked, let it rest for 15 minutes before removing from pan and transferring to a cooling rack.
  10. Serve with fresh orange pulp , drizzled with some chocolate syrup.

Orange chocolate chip cake

Notes :

  • Resist the temptation to cut into the cake till it has considerably cooled down, or it has a tendency to crumble when hot.
  • The orange zest can be substituted with vanilla extract/ vanilla essence, but I highly recommend orange zest.

 

Cracked wheat bread with sesame seeds and the Diary Chronicles

Learning of the week : Writing a diary is highly under-rated.

I have intermittently written a diary for the last 12 years of my life. Not everyday, but 15-20 entries a year chronicling the major events. It was more of a thoughtbook, registering an event as it looked in my head.

And now, while I spent the morning at my mom’s house, I chanced on them, my beloved diaries. Flipping through the pages, It felt as if I was talking to a different me. A 16-year-old me was circumspecting on what a particular gesture from the guy she had a crush on, meant. The 18-year-old me had a boyfriend for the first time, and the diary was giddy with adoration of the boyfriend and hence of self. The wiser, more serious 21-year-old was preparing for a big exam, and there was nothing but study planning and scheduling woes. At 22, that girl writing the diary got her first job as a banker, and at 17-19-20-23 there came boys, fleetingly and un-fleetingly ; sometimes in code words and sometimes a mere feeling. And throughout it all, one thing was also constant – what my best friend thought of the situation.

In my head I always like to think of myself as a rebellious, liberal woman. But I am wrong. When I read the diary pages, I realize I have always been a conformist. I did not intend to rattle the boat too much. I always knew I would marry the right guy, and have a nice family. Rebelliousness was only a fantasy, a passing whim. Never have I mentioned in the diary that I wish to be a wanderer or a hippie. I always knew that I will not marry without the approval of my parents even after considering the fact that I fell for the wrong guys, twice. My mind and heart clearly knew what I was after, and it is apparent in the pages of the diary. I felt good on learning that I was always grounded, but also disappointed thinking I never had a rebellious streak, which was and is, so much in fashion.

There used to be a famous quote which goes – “It’s the good girls who keep diaries. The bad girls never have the time.”. Tallulah Bankhead said this when she was in early thirties, and ironically went on to write the diary of all diaries, an autobiography, at age 50. But I got influenced by this line and ceased writing at times. What I did not realize was that it was laying the foundation for my future writing, it was a dart board of writing, practicing with a lots of hits and misses. Sure, sometimes I cringed on reading the ungrammatical sentences but the simplicity of what I wrote, warmed me.

A lot of life’s events and intricacies are lost in memory. Lost simply because that story was not told, lost because it felt trivial at the time. But a single entry with pen on paper solves that problem and things get immortalized. I wish I wrote what I felt when I was a kid, something to go back to when my kids would be giving me a tough time, arguing with everything that I say. Nevertheless, I can continue from here on, and may be, say 30 years later, my daughter (or son) would find solace in something their mom had written, at their age.

Rutvika Charegaonkar


Speaking of diaries, there is one book I would highly recommend for all you even mildly interested in food and Paris –  Lunch in Paris. It is a memoir of Elizabeth Bard’s love story as she landed in Paris, fell in love and never went back. The recipes are beautiful too.

And since I got the Bread Bible, I am on a bread baking spree. First I made a simple white loaf , and now this crunchy cracked wheat bread. I altered the recipe to suit Indian climate (slightly more flour), replaced the molasses with more honey and used instant yeast in place of dry yeast and changed the method accordingly. The interesting part is that 60% of this is whole wheat and only the rest is all-purpose flour (or maida), making it much more nutritious.

Bread cut into wedges

 

Cracked Wheat Bread with sesame seeds

This makes 3 medium round loaves

What you will need :

  • 3/4 cup cracked wheat
  • 1 and 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 cup warm buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • 4 tablespoons salted softened butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 and 1/2 – 3 cups all purpose flour
  •  2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing loaves

What to do :

  1. In a small bowl, put the cracked wheat and pour the boiling water over it and let it stand for 1 hour to soften.
  2. For blooming the yeast, pour warm water in a bowl, sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of sugar. Stir to dissolve and let it stand at room temperature for 10 minutes till it becomes frothy.
  3. In another small bowl combine buttermilk, honey, and softened butter.
  4. In a large bowl, using a whisk or an electric beater, combine salt, sesame seeds and whole wheat flour. Stir in the buttermilk and yeast mixtures and beat until smooth about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Strain the cracked wheat and stir it into the flour mixture.
  6. Then add the all purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time, while mixing with a wooden spoon, till a soft dough forms.
  7. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and springy to touch, about 5 minutes. Dust only 1 tablespoon at a time to prevent sticking, but too much flour will make the bread dry. The dough should spring back when pressed, but it would still be tacky.
  8. Place the dough in a greased deep bowl and coat on all sides with oil and cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and let it bulk to twice its size at room temperature for 2 hours.
  9. Gently deflate the dough and turn it on a lightly floured surface. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  10. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions and shape it into round or oblong 2 inch high loaves. Place the loaves on the lined baking tray and brush with melted butter and cover loosely with a plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature, till doubled.
  11. Brush the tops again with melted butter.
  12. Twenty minutes prior to baking, preheat the oven at 170C/ 350F. Place the baking tray int he centre rack and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until browned and loaves sound hollow when tapped with your fingers.
  13. Transfer the loaves immediately to a cooling rack.
  14. Once slightly cooled, cut into wedges and eat with whatever you like.

Cracked wheat bread cut in pieces

Notes :

  • Baking bread is not difficult, and after 1-2 times, you will instinctively know how much to knead and how much to bake. Keep all your senses open. It’s a treat, baking bread.
  • Use 1 and 1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast if you prefer.
  • In case you are out of buttermilk, make your own by using half cup curd and half cup water to make 1 cup buttermilk.
  • The texture of this bread is crunchy because of the cracked wheat, and if eating on the second day, warm it in a toaster and never in a microwave or it will become soggy.
  • This bread stays for 2 days at room temperature and 3-4 days in the fridge, Remember, it has no preservatives.
  • Go on, have fun.

bread sticks with olives