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

Homemade white loaf bread with poppy seeds

I am a sucker for letters, old notes, postcards, greeting cards, newspaper cuttings, travel plan notes, my old diary entries, photos cut out from magazines, wrappers of gifted chocolates and also dried roses and other flowers.

I found all of that yesterday while cleaning my cupboard. When I got married, I had discarded a lot of stuff. Some which was awkward and some irrelevant. But still there are two big folders full of such ‘junk’. And I love it.

As kids we were encouraged to make cards on our friends birthdays, write little notes for special occasions etc. and I guess the habit stayed on. Might have even taken a different route, at times. I remember the first love letter I got was when I was 13. I vaguely remember the guy, but what I prominently remember is the way it was delivered to me. Through a long chain of friends. And then I had to hide it, fearing my mom would find out about it. And eventually I threw that letter away, because of the very little sense it made. Now when I think back, I feel I should have kept it. For the letters’ sake. And for posterity.

I also have an insane amount of newspaper clippings. I followed 2-3 writers very diligently then, and back in those times, newspapers were not available online. I know it sounds archaic, but that’s the truth. 12-15 years back, you had to wait for Tuesday for your favorite author’s article and it was available for just that day, if you didn’t cut it and save. Or the next day it would be gone as a packing for lunchbox. So I have loads of crap from Sapna Bhavnani, Cyrus Merchant and others who I am embarrassed to admit now.

And then there is an equally crazy number of greeting cards. Many a times, cards gifted by me and my brother to my parents, have come back to my folder. And I have preserved them. One day I will return them back to my parents but till then both of us are satisfied knowing that they exist. The birthday cards are sometimes funny, sometimes with roses and sometimes very emotional. Wholly depends on who gave it, and when. Because even if people remain the same, the relationships go through a curve, before stabilizing (if they ever do).

Then there are letters from my close friends and the diary entries. Those letters and diary posts address some of the most confusing, problematic situations of those times. Namely fights with parents (remember it is the teenage that I am talking about, not that I didn’t fight with them later on, but teenage was the best (sorry, worst) ). Every older me feels how stupid the younger me was, based on the letters and the diary entries. And on several occasions I have loudly exclaimed in my head – “Did i write THAT?”. But the ink on paper clearly says I did. And I am sure, tomorrow when I read my blog posts, I will be wondering to myself “Oh, how naive of me!”.

The best two things which I found were two postcards. One from my best friend from Malaysia, where she said how she missed me the most when she was having fun (isn’t that strange? You generally miss people when you are sad) and the other one was from another friend trekking in South America. Where he calls me a hippie soul like himself. (I cherish that comment so much, because I am generally known as boring). These two took the time out on a vacation and posted the cards, what more could I ask for?

Nothing much.

Rutvika Charegaonkar

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————–White Loaf Bread with Poppy seeds

Makes  two 9-5 inch loaves.

This recipe has been taken from The Bread Bible. The book talks in detail about making bread and its intricacies. If you are seriously into bread, go buy it. I picked up the white loaf to experiment and master the skills of bread baking. It is the most basic of breads, but it’s excellent for breakfast.

bread loaf sliced

I have adapted the recipe to suit Indian hot climate and the humidity. if you are in a colder climate, restrict to 5 and 1/2 cups of flour, if in a hotter climate use 6 cups. Also, I used instant yeast in place of  dried yeast and made adjustments accordingly.

Working with yeast

Instant yeast starts foaming in 10 minutes after adding warm water and sugar. Only then it is ready to use.

What you will need :

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3/4 tablespoon instant yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 1 stick/ 1/2 cup/ 110 gms salted butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour divided in 2 cups + 3 cups
  • 1 egg + 1 tablespoon milk for the egg wash
  • 2 tablespoon poppy seeds

What to do :

  1. Pour warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over the surface. Stir to dissolve it and let it stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk milk, butter, salt, 2 cups of flour and the yeast mixture. Beat hard to combine.
  3. Then add remaining flour; 1/2 cup at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition till a shaggy dough that clears the side of the dough is formed.
  4. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface  and knead for 3-5 minutes until dough is smooth and satiny and springs back when pressed.
  5. Place the dough in a greased deep container. Turn once to coat and cover with a plastic wrap. Let it rise at room temperature to be doubled in size. About 1 and 1/2 hours.
  6. Gently deflate the dough. Turn it onto a floured surface. Cut it into half and you can refrigerate one half in a plastic wrap for using after day or two.
  7. Grease a 9-5 inch loaf pan. Form the dough half into a standard loaf. It will come upto about less than half of the pan. Cover with a plastic wrap and again let it rise for 30-45 minutes, till doubled.
  8. Pre-heat oven at 190C for 20 minutes. (See note)
  9. For the egg glaze, beat the egg and milk together. Brush on the loaf and while it is wet, drizzle a tablespoon of poppy seeds on top.
  10. Place in centre rack and bake for 35-40 minutes till the loaf has browned on top. Tap on the dough (careful it is hot), to see if it sounds hollow.
  11. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool before slicing.
  12. Spread a layer of cheese or some butter and jam and have a fresh home-made (by you!) slice of bread.

Loaf with jam and butter

Notes :

  1. For baking a bread, it is essential that you pre-heat oven for at least 20 minutes. Breads react very badly to cold temperature.
  2. You will have to judge the amount of flour required on the stickiness of dough. But generally 5 1/2 to 6 cups is perfect.
  3. It’s not that difficult. Don’t get intimidated. I can say that because I was very scared for a long time to bake bread. But its easy. And feel the dough, smell the yeast and hear the hollow sound of baked loaf and you will be fine.