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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Coconut Peach American Buckle with Buttermilk: a piece of Sweet Baked Summer

How the summer buckled my mind- American Coconut Peach Buttermilk Buckle with streusel served with Peach Gel n Vanilla Ice-cream 

The summer days have been replaced by the pouring monsoon for some time now and I am left with the memories of summer- hot, cruel, extremely humid n dry at different times, even though I say so, the days in the monsoon when it doesn’t rain, it’s still summer-a more kind, pleasant soft tone of summer. Summer is totally about mangoes, the most pre-dominant smell n color if you take a walk down the fruit market, is that of the mangoes. At the same time from up in the Himalayan mountains of Himachal, Uttarakhand comes down red ripe cherries, apricots, plums n peach- much less in quantity but beautiful in their color n taste. Every year I do this- I buy a box of cherries and keep eating from them for a long time as the box relaxes in the refrigerator n make dishes out of them once in a while.

Peaches are very fragrant- there is a certain fragrance about them that is more special to me than their taste, it is a sweet aroma, if you smell closely closing your eyes you will understand what I mean. The ripe peach gets sweeter with time and peaches do keep so well in the refrigerator that you can forget about them for a long time and one day come running back fearing they must have gone all bad and then you figure they are very fine.

At times I make a peach compote with sugar n Indian bay leaf and it tastes fantastic, it combines so well with a crispy baked crumble or on top of a warm galette, the warm buttery crumble with the soft peach compote with a sense of sharpness-what  beautiful  bites n a touch of melting ice-cream. When I think of this it makes me crave for it more n it also reminds me of a buckle.

A buckle is rich, dense fruit cake where the fruits rests on top of the cake batter, though some can be mixed inside the batter, and the fruit is then covered with streusel which is a topping with 3 essential parts-butter, sugar n flour, at times various nuts n spices are added to it and the whole mixture goes beautifully brown n a bit crispy being at the top of the cake n the fruit. Traditionally the buckle is often prepared in cast iron pans; they have their origin probably in the United States where they are largely popular and where people bake it using fresh summer fruits like blueberry, peach, and nectarine, raspberry. As the cake batter rises in the oven it incorporates the fruits on the top layer n causing the top layer to buckle, the finished cake often has a crinkly or cracked surface.

In my buckle I bring together two flavors, coconut n peach, coconut is so Indian n tropical n summery and I love how the flavor of peach n coconut mingle together in the oven, so its fusion of Indian n American flavors. I have also used home-made buttermilk for this recipe but you can simple make the buckle with eggs, it’s not necessary, if you do use buttermilk make sure it is a good quality buttermilk because it gives off a different flavor. You can make your own buttermilk easily by diluting fresh rich yogurt with water n churning it with an electric hand whisk or a traditional hand-held churner, after about 6-10 minutes the fat will separate from the liquid, skim off the fat as it separates out, when almost no more fat is coming out of it you have buttermilk in your hands, it’s that simple.

So now I’ll take you to the recipe so you can make it yourself.

For The Recipe: You will need

For the Cake batter:
Flour-160 gm (1 ¼ cup)
Butter-115 gm at room temp (Or 1/4 cup butter+1/4 cup veg. shortening)
Sugar-120 gm, powdered (1/2 cup)
Egg-1 at room temp (use 3 eggs if not using buttermilk)
Vanilla extract-1 tsp
Buttermilk- 80 ml (1/3 cup)
Baking powder- 1 ½ tsp
Salt -1/2 tsp, skip if butter is salted
Baking soda- ¼ tsp (optional, skip if not using buttermilk)
Peach- 3 big peaches, peeled n cut into ½ inch thin slices

For the streusel:
Dry coconut flakes- 4/5 tbsp
Butter- 50 gm cold (1/4 cup)
Sugar/brown sugar- 50 gm (1/4 cup)
Flour- 35 gm (1/3 cup)

For the Peach Gel:
Peach- 1 big, peeled and the flesh pureed in a blender
Agar-Agar- 1 stick or ½ tsp if powder, if stick cut the stick in little pieces and soak in cold water for 15 minutes
Sugar- 2 tbsp
Lime juice- few drops
Salt- a pinch

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F, butter an 8 inch cake tin or 10 inch cast iron skillet

1. Start with the gel, soak the powder agar agar in 100ml cold water for 10 minutes, then  bring the water to a boil and simmer for about 5-10 minutes  stirring often until the agar agar stripes or granules have dissolved completely, you can check this by lifting the solution with a metal spoon and as the liquid drops from the spoon it should have no specks of agar agar, if there is simmer it for some more time, when it is ready add the peach puree and mix well, then add the sugar, taste n adjust, add the lime juice n salt. Take it off and pour it into your mould, let it come to room temperature and it will set on its own, you can also keep them covered in the refrigerator until needed.

2.  Start by creaming the butter in a big bowl, add the sugar n cream until pale n smooth, add the shortening if using n cream it at this stage, next add the egg and mix until smooth, add the vanilla n mix well.

3. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda n salt and sift on top of the butter mixture, whisk to combine until almost uniform, and then add the buttermilk and mix until uniform n smooth, don’t over mix, just as everything mixes homogeneously you are done.

4. For the streusel take the cold butter in a flat plate, flour , brown sugar and the dry coconut flakes, n cut with knife into smaller lumps, do it for 5-8 minutes until the limps are really small n the mixture looks like slightly wet sand.

5. Pour the cake batter into the pan or iron skillet and top the surface with the peach into a circular pattern, when done cover the peaches with the streusel mixture, then into the oven for about 40-45-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the streusel have gone well brown n crispy, for that to happen I often put the top grill on for the last 10 minutes in the baking time.

Take the pan out onto a wire rack n rest for 10 minutes, then flip it over onto a plate and then flip it back to straight and you are done!

It looks quite interesting n inviting, isn’t it? And the smell is so delish! Serve it warm with some vanilla ice cream or peach ice-cream if you have got, you can even eat it at room temperature. You can cut small pieces and put them on plates with peach gel and dollops of ice-cream together, and take little bit of each in a bite. You will surely see the faces light up as you serve your friends n loved ones. Bon Appétit.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Pineapple Upside Down Cake: The cake The Monsoon romances with…

A Monsoon Romance Story between the Pineapple n the Cake; Pineapple Upside Down Cake n they did exist happily ever after until we ate it

Monsoon is a huge thing in India, the season of rain showers and almost the whole country it getting wet now, the greenery is at its bloom, the crops are finding their voice, the frogs are planning for the future, the peacocks are totally showing off, the drowned human being are looking for a dry shelter because the shower played a bit too much at some places, wild mushrooms are coming to life in several forests n they are the best, pineapples are popping out of the soil, the hilsa fish is finally meeting their destiny: getting steamed with coconut n mustard, the  mature sugar-palm fruits are oozing out deep orange sap out of their rough n tough fibers-life is full of contrast I tell you, fritters are getting crispy in the hot oil in the evenings  n sauces are being churned in blenders.

I love the sight of pineapples all arranged in rows after rows in the local market as the monsoon comes, I totally love their flavor…there is something about pineapples that makes me salivate. As you cut across a pineapple- the sharp knife goes through the soft flesh of the pineapple, the tough exterior gives off as you slice them off one by one, the fresh juice oozes out n the aroma hits you- this whole experience is satisfying n provocative.

This cake is decadent; it looks totally impressive, tastes even better and truly very satisfying. The first time I baked this humble cake I fell in love with it, the cake is soft n moist like a dream, the pineapple slices all dark, full of depth n caramelized with the sugar n the butter and the soft cake sits on  that absolutely delicious pineapple layer .

First the butter n sugar are taken to a dark caramel color n poured in the cake tin, the fresh pineapple pieces sit on that, then the cake batter goes on top of that, as the cake bakes, moisture from the pineapple penetrates through the cake batter upwards making it rise n keeping it moist, the same moisture from the pineapple doesn’t let itself burn in the caramel, the baking powder also helps in giving the cake the lift n lightness.  Finally when the cake is done and you flip it over, the mere sight of it makes you smile and the air in the room gets heavy n hungry with the dissolving aroma.

The first time I made this cake when I was watching the video of Stephanie Jaworski on her site joyofbaking.com, it is a wonderful video n there was a fresh pineapple on my lunch table and I thought I will give it a try, and in that evening I was holding the beautiful cake in my hands n everyone in my home were happy. I really like her recipe, so give her a watch if you want. In my recipe I have not used the cream of tartar and I have also omitted the cherries, also I have used more butter in the cake batter, the amount is not a big number but it certainly makes a slight difference. So I know by now you are getting impatient for the recipe, so let’s bake this damn good cake and trust me it will be a staple cake in your house.

For The Recipe:  You will need

For the Cake Batter:
All purpose flour- 200 gm, sifted
Butter-120 gm (I used 150) at room temp
Sugar-200 gm, powdered
Baking powder- 2 tsp
Salt-a pinch (skip if butter is salted)
Vanilla extract-1 tsp
Egg-2 large, separated
Milk full-fat- 120 ml
Lime juice- a few drops for whisking the egg-whites

For the Pineapple Layer:
Butter- 55 gm/4 tbsp
White sugar/light brown sugar- 160 gm
Fresh/tinned pineapple slices- 25 pieces app., cut into ½ inch pieces

Pre-heat your oven to 180 C/350 F, butter an 8 inch cake tin.

1. Start by making the caramel mixture, place the butter n sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, let the sugar dissolve and let the whole thing get brown to dark brown which will take just few minutes, shake the pan to even out the caramelization, then pour the whole thing carefully into the buttered cake tin. After that take the pineapple pieces n arrange in a circular pattern over the caramel, pack the small gaps with small pieces of pineapple, and keep aside.

2. For the cake batter, first in a clean non-oily wide bowl pour the egg-white and squeeze a few drops of fresh lime/lemon juice over them, then with a clean whisk start whisking them, when they reach the ribbon stage add 2 tsp of powdered sugar as you whisk and take them to firm peak, not stiff peak, just firm.

3. In another bowl cream the butter n sugar until pale n fluffy, then add the vanilla extract, mix well, then add the egg yolks one by one, whisking after each addition until well mixed, then first add 1/3 rd flour n baking powder mixture, mix briskly, then ½ milk n mix, then another 1/3 flour n mix, then rest of the milk n mix, lastly the rest of flour. Finally take ½ of the egg white and mix with big strokes, its okay if at this stage you can still see the egg-whites at places, and then fold the rest of the egg-whites carefully. Finally pour the batter slowly over the pineapple, place it in the oven for about 45-55 minutes until the cake has started to shrink from the sides of the pan, a toothpick inserted into the cake comes clean. Place it over a wire rack n rest it for 10 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the edges and flip it open in one quick move over a cake stand or plate n tap softly on the back n lift it up slowly.

There you are! What do you see as you just lift the pan off! isn’t that just amazing and I know there is a smile all over your face, share this view with everyone at home before you cut the first slice and when you do you will fall in love with this cake again. This cake needs nothing else but you. Bon appétit.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

An Afternoon with Thai Green Curry- a Mortar full of Memories

Thai Green Chicken Curry in all its justified glory n finding music inside the mortar n pestle with the amazing food of Thailand

If you want to make a great Thai Green Curry n not just a good one-Be Brave, make your own green curry paste, get a big deep mortar n pestle n gather kaffir lime leaves, shallots, lemon grass, coriander roots in that and start bashing them, it is going to be a long time till they surrender to you and you got to have patience in your heart n eventually you will find the music – I promise you that. Start with preparing the green curry paste with enough time in your hands like 20/25 minutes and everything will fall in place.

The morning I set out to make the green curry paste I was tested by many things- hot humid summer, patience n getting stung by a hornet! I gave myself 20 minutes for the curry paste to come into being, but if you are making it for the first time it will get stretched into 30/35. It really helps if you have a big deep mortar n pestle made out of stone or a combination of metal n wood, a small wooden or marble mortar n pestle will make things really difficult for you, every ingredient will try to jump off your mortar and it will bring the flames to life in your head, so if you don’t have the right equipment, simply transfer the whole thing to blender n blend.

The rule of making the green curry paste is that the ingredients with the least amount of water content n which are hardest in terms of texture will go first inside the mortar, e.g.  The shallots will go last and the lemon grass n coriander roots will go in the beginning.

There are so many elements to Thai cooking like e.g. in the green curry itself, the process is so similar to Indian cooking, in both the cuisines there is detailed use of spice and it is not hard to see why, for many thousands of years India n Thailand are close neighbors and extensive trading across the sea took place for centuries, both the cultures influenced each other, people migrated from both the countries and it is a continuous process. I find Thai food to be amazingly aromatic, talk about fragrant Thai green curry, red curry or Thai jasmine rice.

Now you know what! When you are making either a chicken or fish or vegetable Thai green curry you can start the cooking without adding any extra oil, in traditional Thai green curries they often start with simmering the coconut milk until it thickens n specks of fat separates out from the body of the coconut milk and in the process of cooking more oil is released from it and from the chicken itself or fish, so the final dish has specks of shiny oil floating around it. However there are people who still begin with a dash of oil in the beginning, I’ll ask you to add no extra oil if you are making chicken version because the chicken fat will be another source of fat.

The kaffir lime leaves are magic, they make the air n the curry go pregnant with their amazing smell, if you have not got kaffir lime leaves, use other lime leaves, the lime leaves are sturdy , so they can withstand 20 min of simmering. A traditional Thai green curry will obviously have shrimp paste n fish sauce in them, when you don’t have both or can’t use them use a good quality soy sauce for the umami flavor, there is no good substitute I know for shrimp paste, but let me truly assure you that your green curry will still be very very good. So I think it is time to get cooking, so let’s crack it.

By the way if you get stung by a crazy hornet like I got while making the curry paste, blend and onion and rub its juice over that place and it will relieve you of the pain n swelling in great amounts in a short time.

For The Recipe: You will need

For The Green Curry paste
Cilantro/Coriander Roots- 1 tbsp (yes the roots which are submerged in soil, wash well n use them)
Coriander seeds-1 tbsp, slightly roasted
Cumin seeds-1/2 tbsp, slightly roasted
Galangal-1 ½ tbsp
Garlic- ¼ cup
Kaffir Lime/Lime-1, zest
Lemongrass-3/4 tbsp, sliced
Shrimp paste- 1 tsp
White peppercorn-1/2 tsp
Salt-1 tbsp
Shallot-1/2 cup, sliced
Chili Leaf-1/4 cup (optional)
Green Thai Chili Peppers/ green chili-10/15

For the Green Curry
Chicken – 450-500 gm, thighs with bone, cut into 2 inch pieces
Chili peppers- 1 thinly sliced
Coconut milk – 1 cup (use the first press and second press separately if you made your own)
Green curry paste-1/2 /3 tbsp
 Green colored Eggplant-1 big quartered
Pea eggplant- ¼ cup
Fish sauce-2 tbsp
Kaffir lime leaves-4/5
Sugar/palm sugar- 1 tbsp
Thai Basil- 3 springs
Water-1 cup

1. If you are making fresh coconut milk, begin with it, cut the coconut flesh into stripes, then cut away the brown shells, then put them in a blender, add very little water so that we can make a smooth paste out of it, when it is smooth, take it out in a muslin cloth and press hard to extract as much coconut milk as you can, this is the first press, then put the flesh back into the blender, add more water and blend again to get a very smooth paste, then like before press the second extract in a different bowl, keep aside. While you rest the first press for 15 minutes you will the thick fat part is floating on top, remove it in a bowl, we will start the cooking with this creamy thick part.

2.  In a heavy deep mortar n pestle grind the coriander n cumin seeds which has been slightly roasted in a pan for 5 min, make a powder of them in the mortar, then add the lemongrass n pound, then the galangal and bash again, then add salt, garlic n kaffir lime zest, bash again until the fibers are breaking apart now, add the cilantro roots n shrimp paste and keep pounding. Then add green chili n leaves, pound until the mixture turn into a fine paste so that you don’t recognize individual ingredients. It will take good 20-30 minutes.

3. In a heavy based pan add the separated coconut milk extract n simmer it for 5 minutes on low flame, then add the green curry paste n stir well, bring to a boil, then lower the heat, let it simmer on low heat stirring in between so nothing is catching in the bottom, cover n cook on low heat for 3/5 minutes, if the mixture starts to get dry add more coconut milk from the rest first extract. After simmering it for 5-7 minutes you will begin to see thin layers of coconut oil developing on top, this is the time for the chicken to go in, stir well n add some more coconut milk if it is going dry, if you are using chicken breast pieces it will cook in 5 minutes, since I am using thicken thighs on bone it will take 15/20 min for me,  after 5 minutes of putting the chicken in, add the palm sugar n salt, mix well, then add all of the coconut milk including the second extract and some water, let it come to a simmer on medium high heat, add fish sauce. Then add the quartered eggplant pieces n simmer for 10 minutes on low heat, then add pea eggplants n give them 5 more minutes, add the chopped kaffir lime/lime leaves and give it 5 minutes, by now the chicken will be soft n tender. Put the flame off and sprinkle the Thai basil leaves and the fresh chili slices and give it 5 minutes standing time.

We are literally done with our great Thai green curry and time to taste. So go ahead with a spoon and let’s agree there is nothing quite like it. Serve it with hot white rice or Thai jasmine rice and the combination is to die for. Absolutely share it with family n friends and watch their faces transform ;) it’s great. Bon appétit.