Fresh Strawberry Fraisier

Every once in a while in life there comes a time when you invest all of you, all of your time in doing something which is all-consuming. That is a time period of highest passion and an intense level of concentration. It might be a longer period of a year or months or even a couple of days. The length of time varies, but the engagement level is equivalent.

The last time it happened to me was before I gave my Chartered Accountancy (CA) Final examination. For those in the US, it is the CPA equivalent in India. It is a relatively tough exam of 8 papers of 3 hours each, and the percentage people passing the exam is somewhere between 3% to 10%. There are two levels of exams before that, an exhausting 2-3 years of mandatory internship and then this final exam.So by the time you reach this level, you have already invested 4 or more years in this line of career. No doubt the exam is tough, but once cleared it assures a decent enough educational degree to work. And you are set.

I studied for four months for this exam. Four months at home, studying about 10-12 hours  a day. I knew as a matter of fact that I wont have the patience and the willingness to give the exam again if I do not clear it the first time. And so I abandoned everything in life for those 4 months. No friends, no boyfriend, no family except those at I stayed with i.e. mom, dad and my brother. I would wake up at 4 am every morning, studying non-stop till 9. That’s 5 hours of most productive part of the day. And then I would take small half hour naps and study in the rest of the time till about 6 in the evening. Relax for a while and sleep by 8 pm. Every day, non-stop, this was my routine for 4 months. No phone, no television, no going out except for a walk sometime if I felt too tired. Nothing else. The fact that my best-friend had moved to another city just then and that I had been through a nasty heartbreak just a few months before that definitely helped. But it was as if I was possessed by a ghost and It would get exorcised only after passing the exam.

I would time my studies with great precision. Depending on the subject, I would allot a certain time to read each page, solve each sum or practice a diagram. For example, while studying Economics, I would target 20 pages to be read in 40 minutes and so on. If I finished 2-3 minutes earlier I could relax, or if I didn’t, I would have to forgo time from the next slot.  It might sound stupid, but I even timed toilet breaks to 2-3 minutes so that I could finish the assigned target. I had become a clock. Just one that sat, slept and ate.

One thing that was my indulgence in that time was music. A silently playing pocket radio would be humming in the background almost all the times. It used to play in such a low volume that nobody else in the room could hear it except me.It kept me calm. It kept me sane.

Thankfully, and luckily, I cleared the exam in that first attempt itself. I had to. There was no other way. But that intense level of commitment to a goal was like never before and never after, till date. I ate economics, slept accounts and dreamt taxation. The world ceased to exist, and for the first time in my life, I found myself.

That was 5 years back. I haven’t felt that  way since then. I am gliding through life. Sure, there is a lot of passion and involvement in a lot of things. But that kind of structured madness? No. That  preciseness of schedule? No. That overwhelming desire to succeed? Sadly, no.

May be life is measured in different terms now. Easier, but everyday challenges. Managing the house, handling office work, understanding and empathizing with your staff, finding time to meet parents, grandparents, entertaining guests and several other day-to-day activities. It’s a mosaic of numerous small,  yet existentially essential things.

One such small crucial thing was the outcome of this slightly complex dessert. The strawberry fraisier. I had spent about 6-8 hours in the planning and execution of this one, and goddamn if it didn’t turn out well, or didn’t unmold properly.

Fraisier on a cake standIt basically consisted of three parts: Chiffon cake, Pastry Cream filling and Assembly of the fraisier. This cake was featured in the July 2011 Daring Baker’s challenge. Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

I might be real late to publish this one for that July ’11 challenge, but I had my heart set on it for a long time.

Fraisier with lilies

Strawberry Fraisier

What you will need and how to do:

The basic chiffon cake:

  • 155 gm all-purpose flour
  • 4 gm baking powder
  • 170 gm castor sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 (60 ml) cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large egg yolks ⅓ cup
  • 95 ml water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon lemon zest, grated
  • 5 large egg whites
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 gm) cream of tartar

Chiffon collage

Directions –

  1. Preheat the oven to moderate 325°F/ 160°C. If fan assisted bake at 140°C.
  2. Line the bottom of an 8-inch (20 cm) spring form pan with parchment paper. Do not grease the sides of the pan.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder. Add in all but 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) of sugar, and all of the salt. Stir to combine.
  4. In a small bowl combine the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon zest. Whisk thoroughly.
  5. Combine with the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly for about one minute, or until very smooth.
  6. Put the egg whites into a stand mixer, and beat on medium speed using a whisk attachment on a medium speed, until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat on a medium speed until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining sugar and beat on a medium-high speed until the whites hold firm and form shiny peaks.
  7. Using a grease free rubber spatula, scoop about ⅓ of the whites into the yolk mixture and fold in gently. Gently fold in the remaining whites just until combined.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Removed the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Pastry Cream Filling:

  • 250 ml whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 tsp (4 gm) gelatin powder
  • 1/2 tbsp water
  • 250 ml  heavy cream

Directions :

  1. Pour the milk, vanilla, and salt into a heavy sauce pan. Place over medium-high heat and scald, bringing it to a near boiling point. Stir occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, in another bowl add the cornstarch and sugar. Whisk to combine
  3. Add the eggs to the sugar and cornstarch and whisk until smooth.
  4. When the milk is ready, gently and slowly while continuously whisking, pour the heated milk down the side of the bowl into the egg mixture.
  5. Pour the mixture back into the warm pot and continue to cook over a medium heat until the custard is thick, just about to boil and coats the back of a spoon.
  6. Remove from heat and pass through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl. Allow to cool for ten minutes stirring occasionally.
  7. Cut the butter into four pieces and whisk into the pastry cream a piece at a time until smooth.
  8. Cover the cream with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap onto the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for up to five days.
  9. In a small dish, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for a few minutes to soften.
  10. Put two inches (55 mm) of water into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat.
  11. Measure 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the chilled pastry cream into a small stainless steel bowl that will sit across the sauce pan with the simmering water, without touching the water.
  12. Heat the cream (do not let it boil). Add the gelatin and whisk until smooth. Remove from the water bath, and whisk the remaining cold pastry cream in to incorporate in two batches.
  13. In a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream with a rubber spatula.
  14. Put it back in the refrigerator till ready for assembly.

Simple Syrup

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup of water
  1. Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and let the sugar dissolve. Stirring is not necessary, but will not harm the syrup.
  2. Remove the syrup from the heat and cool slightly. Add a teaspoon of any fruit juice or liqueur of your choice. (optional).

Fraisier Assembly

Components

  • 1 baked 8 inch (20 cm) chiffon cake
  • 1 recipe pastry cream filling
  • ⅓ cup (80 ml) simple syrup
  • 900 g strawberries

Assembly of fraisier

Directions:

  1. Line the sides of a 10-inch (25 cm) spring form pan with plastic wrap. Do not line the bottom of the pan.
  2. Cut the cake in half horizontally to form two layers.
  3. Fit the bottom layer into the prepared spring form pan. Moisten the layer evenly with the simple syrup. When the cake has absorbed enough syrup to resemble a squishy sponge, you have enough.
  4. Hull and slice in half enough strawberries to arrange around the sides of the cake pan. Place the cut side of the strawberry against the sides of the pan, point side up forming a ring.
  5. Pipe cream in-between strawberries and a thin layer across the top of the cake.
  6. Hull and quarter your remaining strawberries and place them in the middle of the cake. Cover the strawberries entirely with the pastry cream. (USe about 60% of the cream)
  7. Place the second cake layer on top and moisten with the simple syrup.
  8. Pipe remaining pastry cream on top. Decorate with chopped strawberries.
  9. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, so that the cream sets.
  10. To serve release the sides of the spring form pan and peel away the plastic wrap.
  11. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Woosh! That was it. It is a bit complicated, but not difficult at all. And the result is mind-blowing. Looks very beautiful and tastes exceedingly amazing 🙂

FraisierNotes:

  1. The gelatin will continue to stiffen day by day. The longer you let your finished cake sit, the more firm it will become.
  2. I used the springform pan bottom to serve the cake. It is very delicate to move to a different platter.
  3. You can use any kind of fresh fruits , edible flowers to line the sides of the pan. Have fun and make it look beautiful.
  4. The recipe takes about 4-6 hours, but it can very well be done in stages over two days.

Rutvika Charegaonkar

Pineapple upside-down cake. Same soul, many lives.

I am not a religious girl, but neither am I an atheist. Sometimes when people around you have very concrete religious or non-belief sentiments, you tend to stay away from any extremes. I guess that is what happened to me. So may be, I am a non-conformist believer. Somewhere in the middle. Unsure but stable.

But one thing I have believed since I was 15-16 years old is the theory of souls. In one of Brian Weiss‘s books, which I read back then, he had said that the same group of souls travel together. Relationships may change from life to life, but the souls are the same. I found this concept highly interesting. Many a times, some people feel very close, though I might be meeting them or talking to them for the first time. A same set of people re-occur in my dreams. And some dreams are so vivid and so traumatizing, that it feels that I am re-living a moment lived before. Many a times, I have looked into the eyes of a stranger and  thought ‘I know those eyes.’ Its eerie at times even to myself, but it feels real. May be a figment of my imagination, may be someone I have known in my past life. Or something else.

I don’t openly talk about these things to anyone, except my grand-mom, because she believes in the re-incarnation theory like most devout Hindus do. But in a very different way. I believe in lives we have lived before and she believes in lives yet to come. It is the same, but from different perspectives.

So a couple of days back, I had a conversation with a guy about Past Life Regression. I know him through a food group on facebook, and haven’t met or spoken to him ever, just chatted with him. We were talking about how at times we feel instantly connected to some people, and hate some others, almost immediately. He explained it quite convincingly, and in his own words : “That’s explained in two methods – one scientific and one metaphysical. the scientific one explains it through the concept of thin-slicing – essentially, your brain collating the properties of all the people you’ve ever liked, and disliked and taking a sample from your brief exposure to the new person, comparing it against that data and coming up with an instant judgement – the same process works when you’re standing in the middle of the road and a bus is coming towards you – the instant judgement. the metaphysical explains it as your aura sensing the others aura and making a judgement.”

I was slightly disappointed that he did not say that it was because of someone or something I knew from the past lives, but what he said makes more sense. Past life or not, I love the connections my brain (I can call it soul, but calling it brain to be realistic) makes. It gives me a sense of belief. In the world and in myself.

Ok, so that was it. Don’t worry I am still sane and heading over to my office after I finish this post. I am still your regular 9-5 girl, but just with a bit of *belief* . In this life and the others.

If you are comfortable with talking about it, i would love to read your feelings and thoughts about past life and other theories. Let me know in the comments sections. 🙂

another piece

On a lighter, brighter side is this upside down pineapple cake. With dried fruits, or tutti-fruity speckled like gems in the gaps. A moist decadent sponge cake beneath the tropical flavors of the pineapple.

pineapple cake

I used canned pineapple, because it is easier and I love the syrup soaked pineapples for baking purposes, but you can very well use fresh sliced pineapples cooked in a sugar syrup till tender.

Arrange pineapple slices

Pineapple Upside-down cake

What you will need:

  • 6-8 pineapple slices, with core removed
  • softened butter for greasing the pan
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp dried candied fruits or cherries
  • 100 gms all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 100 gms soft butter
  • 100 gms caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs

What to do :

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200ºC / 400ºF.
  2. Generously grease a 8-9 inch cake pan with softened butter. Sprinkle 2 tbsp sugar on the greased pan.
  3. Snugly arrange pineapple slices on the pan to make a circular patterns and the dried fruits or cherries to fill in the gaps between the pineapple slices and in the centre of each pineapple slice.
  4. In a bowl. take the flour, baking powder, baking soda, soft butter, caster sugar and eggs and whisk or beat with an electric beater until the batter is smooth.
  5. Add 3 tbsp of pineapple juice/ pineapple syrup to the batter to thin it a little.
  6. Then pour this mixture over the pineapples in the cake tin and gently spread it evenly. the batter will only just cover the pineapples.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes, then ease a spatula around the edge of the tin, place a plate on top and, with one deft – ha! – move, turn it upside-down.

slice of cake

Notes :

  1.  Remember this is an upside down cake so carefully arrange the pineapple slices and choose the best ones.
  2. This cake can also be served with some vanilla whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream.

Rutvika Charegaonkar

Home-made bread bowls

Finally, I have cracked the bread baking demon! After at least 6-7 trials over the course of last one year, I was able to bake perfect soft on the inside and crisp on the outside bread buns. I have been intimidated by it for the longest time. And the last few times that I tried it, it turned out sloppy. Looked good on the outside, but was sticky in the center, and then I baked it some more, and it got burnt on the top. Once, it baked well, but smelled yeasty, like beer does. Ah, well, I can say that it was in the past. Now I have entered the bread-baker zone. That is exciting. Not only because I have been striving to get it right for a long time, but also because it opens up a whole different sector of baking. Fresh loaves, dinner rolls, whole wheat bread, multi-grain breads, donuts, Irish soda bread, beer bread, and oh my god, the list goes on.

Baken dinner bun

In Paris, initially I resisted liking the thick crusted baguette and the bassinet. Yes, in my mind it was firmly set that breads should be soft and pillowy. So for the first few days, I actively avoided appreciating the flavor of the crusty bread. And then my French hostess Danielle introduced me to the freshly baked, eaten on the same day baguettes. And they tasted so amazing. But the ground rule is to eat it only on the day it is baked, and never eat the leftover bread on the second day. Because it just doesn’t taste good.

The French frown on factory made loaves of bread sold in supermarkets. A bread has to be fresh, baked daily and it is artisanal. Depends on the mood of the baker. There is also a famous fable and a Broadway show by the name “A Baker’s wife” which is set in the French town of Concorde. A village without bread for many weeks welcomes a new baker and his young and beautiful wife. Wife runs away with younger man; baker takes to drink; and the bread, just like the spring, dries up. The baker, according to his mood, made flat unflavored bread, and eventually, the townsfolk, decide to search for the baker’s wife and persuade her to come back to the baker. And they eventually succeed. All that for the love of bread!

Baked bunsLast year, in USA, we had the corn chowder in edible soup bowls, and since then I wished to make them. Incidentally, it is believed that chowder is derived from the French word chaudière, which is a type of cooking stove on which the first chowders were cooked.

cut breadThe chowder/ soup can have any combination of vegetables, fish, bacon, chicken etc. This time, I made the vegetable chowder, but feel free to add roasted chicken, crispy bacon pieces and whatever you wish. Literally.

Just make the soup thicker by adding some whole wheat flour and cooking it for a while. Even good ol’ tomato soup works well.

two soup bowls

Home Made bread bowls:

Makes 4-5 bread bowls.

What you will need :

  • 2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm (not hot) water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten,
  • 4 cups bread flour, divided
  • 1 egg white and 2 tbsp water for the egg wash

What to do :

  1. Dissolve sugar in water and add the yeast. Let it sit for 5-7 minutes till it becomes frothy.
  2. To this mixture, add 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and 2 lightly beaten eggs. Mix well with a whisk.
  3. Spoon bread flour into a measuring cup and level with knife, and add 3 and 1/2 cups of bread flour to the mixture. Mix with a fork and then turn dough into a lightly floured surface.
  4. Use the remaining 1/2 cup flour to knead the dough and slowly incorporate it into the dough, kneading for 7-8 minutes The dough will feel sticky initially, which is okay. After incorporating the 1/2 cup remaining flour it will be easy to work with.
  5. Place dough in a large bowl sprayed with oil and roll the dough to coat it in oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place for one hour or till double in size.
  6. Punch dough down.
  7. Roll in into a log and divide it into 4-5 balls of suitably equal size.
  8. Take each piece and pull down the sides toward the bottom to create a smooth top. Place the dough, seam side down, on a clean work surface. Place the palm of your hand over top and roll in a circular motion, keeping the seam side down to seal. Be gentle, and do not overwork.
  9. Transfer the rolls to a parchment lined baking sheet and let rise for another 45 minutes, until doubled in size.
  10. Preheat oven to 220°C/ 425° F.
  11. Brush the dough rolls with the egg-wash and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.
  12. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting off the top.

For the soup, I steamed cut vegetables like carrots, onions, potatoes, sweetcorn and mushrooms. Then I added some whole-wheat flour, milk, water, salt , crushed garlic and fresh oregano leaves and boiled it for a couple of minutes till the coup became relatively thick.

soup bowlEnjoy this chowder steaming hot, with some cheese and chilli flakes on top. That melted cheese on top is like the cherry on the cake. Grab spoonfuls of bread with the chowder and munch on the flavorful bread once you are done.

Notes :

  1. If you are using the bread for any other purpose, add 1/2 teaspoon more salt. But with the chowder, the amount of salt specified above works well.
  2. The yeast smells quite odd, but don’t be intimidated by it. Once baked, it gives a beautiful texture and flavor to the bread.

Rutvika Charegaonkar

Chocolate and Hazelnut Praline Truffles

A very close friend of mine is getting married next month. A talented pretty young girl, I have no doubt that she will look amazing on her wedding day. A couple of days back she emailed me her wedding card with note that said :

“It gives me great pleasure to invite you to be a part of a momentous occasion in my life, my WEDDING!!”.

I loved the cheer and the excitement in that note. But instantly I wanted to tell her that the wedding is just a beginning. There are much bigger and way more important things that will happen after the wedding day. In fact, in the big fat Indian weddings, the bride and groom rarely have to do anything in the planning of the wedding. Of course, the bride has to shop, look pretty and generally enjoy all the excitement. But once the “wedding” is over, then starts life, a new and slightly scary life. Especially if you are living with your parents-in-law, like I do and my friend will be doing.

When I say scary, I don’t imply any dramatic monster-in-law kind of situations, but there are several big and small changes which happen to your daily life, that it feels overwhelming. And as a matter of fact, the bride is the only one changing her house and moving in with the new family, in a new home. It can be strenuous, yes, but I think it fades out in comparison to being married to the guy you love. I am no expert in this, but having been married for the last two and a half years, I would like to tell my dear friend three very important things which I always remembered:

  • Treat your parents-in-law just like you would treat your own parents, even more carefully, because it will take time to build a relationship. They will be anxious in the same way that you are, as you are new and unknown to them as much as they are to you. Always believe that they are trying their best to get you settled in the family, and the things that they do, or don’t do are in an effort to make things easier for you. And if you have to assume certain things, always assume the positive.
  • Your spouse is the most important person in your life. It might sound very old-school, but it is essential for growth. Growth of you personally and growth and sustenance of the relationship. When you believe that your husband is the best and deserves the best, and you act accordingly, trust me, it works miracles. I don’t remember if I had this philosophy in the beginning or that I picked it up from my husband, but its like a golden rule. Both of you treat each other as the best, most important people in the world, and see how you do end up as the best people, individually and as a team.
  • And lastly never talk harshly to anyone. This applies in all walks of life, but when you are young, and newly married and whole world feels like it is at your feet, be careful. Be gentle, and accommodating. Everyone around you will be making an opinion of you in the first few months after getting married, and that is the best time to make everyone like you. And you do want that. Life gets easier when your new family is fond of you. It’s as simple as that.

Having said those things, it was easier for me, because my mom and dad in law and my husband’s whole family are amazing people. Very warm and loving, they made my transition into the new family quite easy. And I am ever thankful to them.

Dear reader, do you remember a particular story which happened when you got married? Or your guiding principles which make you the amazing person that you are? Do share in the comments section, I would love to know it.

each truffle

In the meanwhile, last week, I finally decided to use the delicious hazelnuts sitting in my cupboard since a month and turn them into these chocolate and hazelnut truffles. It is a perfect bite-sized no-bake dessert, which is egg-free and gluten-free. And it has the classic chocolate and hazelnut combination. Need I say more?!

Chocolate and Hazelnut Praline truffles

making praline

What you will need :

For the praline –

  • ½ cup hazelnuts, shelled & skinned
  • ½ cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

For the Ganache –

  • 1¾ cup milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ – 1 cup Crushed or Ground Roasted Hazelnuts for coating

What to do :

  1. Dry-roast the hazelnuts on a non-stick baking tray at 180°C for 10 minutes, or in a pan at low heat, continuously stirring till they get slightly brown and aromatic.
  2. Let the hazelnuts cool completely on a baking sheet or a pan.
  3. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
  4. Turn the heat up and bring to the boil (do not stir), brushing down the sides of the pot with a pastry brush dipped in water to remove any sugar crystals.
  5. Boil until the mixture turns amber in color, and add the toasted hazelnuts to it. Pour it on a baking sheet and let it cool.
  6. Break the praline mixture into pieces and grind in a mixture until desired texture, either fine or rough.
  7. For the ganache, finely chop the milk chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl.
  8. Heat cream in a saucepan until just about to boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir gently until smooth and melted.
  9. Allow to cool slightly, about 10 minutes and then stir in the hazelnut praline.
  10. Leave to cool and set overnight or for a few hours in the fridge. Bring to room temperature to use.
  11. Forming the truffles : Using a teaspoon, scoop round balls of ganache. Roll them between the palms of your hands to round them off. Finish off by rolling the truffle in the crushed roasted hazelnuts.
  12. Place on small muffin paper molds and you are set.

truffles

Notes :

  1. However tempting it is, do not use chocolate chips for the ganache. Chocolate chips are specifically designed to not melt and are unsuitable for melting for the ganache. Chop regular milk chocolate slab into small pieces and use them.
  2. I always use a mixture of low-fat Amul fresh cream (80%) and heavy cream (20%) for the ganache, It works well and is relatively less calorific.
  3. I roasted the hazelnuts on a pan, and they are more browned in some areas, which is fine. I like the crispness which comes with it.

plate of truffles