Monday, June 27, 2011

Chocolate cake with mango mousse and espresso jelly.

I adore entremet cakes (Breaking news). Layers and layers of goodness, fancy-ness and happiness in between layers and layers of cake. Cakes that take a good part of a day to bake and assemble. Maybe more. Cakes that invite oohs-and-aahs or several comments on Facebook. However, when they flop, they flop with a vengeance.

The following cake, for instance, DID not look like this in the first attempt. Oh, no. Baking has its fair share of failures. Scroll down and check out Exhibit A if you don't believe me.

And also, when I said that banana breads and smoothies were blank templates to build on, I made a huge flaw. I left chocolate cake out of the list.

Chocolate cake is essentially like toast. The number of things you can do to it and with is overwhelming. You can use it to make a cake for kids (and adults who don't give a toss about trans-fats) with loads of Oreos and cream cheese or go all uber-sophisticated by making a Strawberry Sachertorte.

So when a friend's (one of those kinds who alternatively threaten and plead you for fancy food) birthday rolled around, I thought I'd go down the posher route and conjure up something, the likes of which you can't find at any average pastry shop.

I envisioned layers of chocolate cake sandwiched with mousse of some sort and drenched in ganache. And since it was June, aka the month of Mangoes, here at Madras, I had the flavour of the mousse. Searching aimlessly for recipes, I came across one for a triple-layer mousse-trifle-y thing and fell for it in a heartbeat.

And then disaster struck. It is hard to make anything at Madras, sometimes, I swear to God. First, you have to deal with the lack of ingredients and Cuisinart appliances. Next, the power cuts! Just when the mousse was all done and ready to be jellified in the refrigerator, the lights (along with all things electrical) went off dramatically. Terrified that it'll make a sloppy mess in the recesses of a refrigerator rapidly losing its cool, I shoved it into the freezer and went to sleep. Four hours later, I had a frozen block of cake/mousse/jello... and this friend does not even like ice-cream.

While thawing, the mousse layers instead of being creamy, became icicle-y and watery at the same time. The coffee flavour in the cake wasn't enough. It was one unmitigated disaster after another. The birthday girl gamely said it was yummy, though... I pity her taste buds.

DO NOT FREEZE CAKE. Do NOT freeze cake.
The idea, however, was too good for me to accept defeat. I reworked the proportions, cooking and setting techniques and tried again. And am I glad.

The resultant was a rich coffee-chocolate layer of cake with a creamy mango mousse, all of it topped off with an espresso jelly. Oh, yes. Thank you, Desserts for Breakfast. You've introduced something special to my life... and now I can continue to let people think I come up with all these awesome ideas with my unilaterally medical brain. Yes. Victory is (eventually) mine.

Chocolate cake with Mango Mousse and Espresso Jelly:

For the chocolate cake:

1/2 a batch of Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake

For the coffee syrup:

60 grams  granulated sugar
120 ml black coffee

For the mango mousse:

5 tspn gelatin powder
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 kg mango puree
200 grams sugar
460 ml whipping cream

For the espresso jelly:

2 cups milk
Instant espresso/coffee powder-as much as you want
5 tbsp sugar
Agar-agar, as per packet instructions (OR) Gelatin powder-4 tsps + 1/4 cup cold water


For the cake:

Layer the bottom of your serving tray/cups with cooled pieces of cake.

Pour the prepared coffee syrup liberally over the entire cake.

For the coffee syrup:

Stir the sugar into the prepared hot coffee until all of it dissolves. Let it cool down to room temperature, and use as necessary.

For the mango mousse:

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small bowl. Keep aside.

Heat the mango puree over very low heat. Add in the sugar and stir until it dissolves. DO NOT let it boil.

Take it off the heat. Add in the gelatin and stir until well incorporated. Do not heat after you've added in the gelatin. Let the mango mix cool down to room temperature.

Fold in the whipped cream into the cooled mousse. Pour this mix over the coffee-soaked cake.

Keep it in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours until the mousse has completely set.

For the espresso jelly:

Combine gelatin and cold water in a small bowl and keep aside.

In a saucepan, heat together the milk, sugar and coffee until the sugar dissolves. Take it off the heat. Stir in the gelatin or agar-agar. Let it cool down to room temperature.

Pour the jelly over the set-mango mousse.

Don't judge, but I ate the missing bits. Quality control, flavour combination
study and similar. You understand, right?

Refrigerate the whole thing for an hour or so. Take out when fully set.

Cut out little portions and serve with grated chocolate on top.

Eat, full of regret, that it didn't turn out this well the first time. Eat some more to ease away the pain.

You know I'm kidding, right (sort of)? I've almost never spoken as a qualified medical practitioner in this blog, so you can't sue me. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Snickers Cake/Mmm. Food. turns six... months!

6 months and 62 posts later, who thought I'd still be here, eating and baking and posting with a passion that I thought would run out, but has only increased exponentially?

This calls for a celebration. Celebrations of the chocolate and sugar variety. There haven't been many other kinds in my life, lately.

Now's a good time as any (may be a little bit more) to finally tell you how you play with sugar-chocolate-peanuts to make a cake that tastes like a Snickers bar that accidently melted into brownie batter. I don't know how many calories that sentence is loaded with, but everybody in the world makes exceptions for birthdays, no? Even half-birthdays. So true.

At the risk of being judged for making things that call for a kilo of butter in them, I'm going to put it up any way. Bookmark it for an occasion; good or bad. Halve the recipe and share with ten good people. Have a slice in lieu of meal. Make it happen. You will either thank me or send me an exasperated e-mail. Again.

Incidentally, I made this cake for a fitness freak's birthday. I'm sure I was hated.

Since I make a lot of birthday cakes I don't get to cut and taste-test, I pour some of the batter into a cupcake liner, just so I know that it is bonafide yumminess and not set myself up for potential embarrassment.

Oh, and this recipe has been floating around for ages. The chances of it flopping are slim to none... it's a Dorie Greenspan recipe. Now you know. Just remember not to overbake the brownie base (dry-crusty brownies are blech) and test the caramel a million times (utmost attention, people, pay  utmost attention). I've added as many photos as I could click with burnt fingers. Hope that helps.

Caramel Topped Brownie Cake/The Snickers Cake!


For the brownie base:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
140 g (5 oz) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
3 tbsp. light corn syrup
½ tsp. vanilla

For the caramel peanut topping:

2 cups white sugar
½ cup water
1½ tbsp. light corn syrup
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup honey roasted peanuts


For the brownie cake:

Preheat the oven to 200 C or 350 F. Grease and flour an 8 inch pan.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in bowl and mix well. Set aside.

Over a double-boiler/bain marie (a pot over a pan of simmering water), melt butter and chocolate together. Stop when it melts, heating it too much would cause the butter to turn into ghee.

I cheated and microwaved the butter-sugar. You have your work cut out for
you, so every shortcut helps!

In a large bowl, whisk the sugars (powdered slightly) and eggs until well-blended. Beat in the sugar and corn syrup.

Beat in the butter-chocolate mix and combine.

Shiny-shiny batter!

Fold in the dry ingredients until just comvined. Pour the batter into the pan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre is just about clean (not too dry!)

 Take the cake out and let it cool at room temperature for 15 minute. Turn it out onto a serving platter. Let it cool completely.

Cupcakes take way lesser time.

Don't freak out if there's a huge crater in the middle... it's supposed to happen, a natural vessel for the gooey caramelly goodness. Wrap a strip of aluminium foil around the cake so that the caramel can be held within the cake.


Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in a thick-bottomed vessel, stirring just once to combine the ingredients. Place the pan over medium-high heat. DO NOT STIR.

The liquid will turn into caramel in 5-10 minutes, depending on the heat, saucepan size, etc. Do not leave the stove, the transition takes seconds.

The amber at 12 o clock is what you're looking/hoping for.
 Testing the caramel on a white plate helps you decide when it's just done. It should be an amber colour... don't be too worried, a light-yellow is NOT good, and dark brown is just as bad.

Take it off the heat. Add in the cream and butter. IT WILL SPLATTER, so be wary. You can stir the caramel. Stir in the peanuts.

Pour the caramel over the cake. Let it set for around 20 minutes before serving. Remove the foil strip.

 I'm guessing it'll stay for a whole day at room temperature.

You can open a Snickers bar and see if I haven't convinced you yet.

You'll have extra caramel, which is best had over a cold scoop of vanilla ice cream. Just make sure it's before midnight, so the birthday excuse holds.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cherry-mango-Smoothie-Banana "Brake"/Banana Bread with cherries and mangoes.

I've professed my love for banana bread earlier. The way I view Banana Bread (or smoothies, for that matter) is how an artist might look at her blank canvas. The possibilities. The varied, various possibilities.

I've put dates and nuts in banana bread before. I've also been known to put espresso and chocolate chips in the batter. Coconut and raisins? Done and done.

However, as an ode to summer, I needed something fruity and fuss-free. Something like a smoothie. In a bread. Fusion conFusion and all that.

Cherries and fresh mango in banana bread!`Ooooh, yes.

I have a recipe for banana bread and banana muffins that I love. However, Smitten Kitchen's recipes are something I trust wholeheartedly, so I thought I'd give this a try. I made this late at night, cut myself a slice for breakfast and ran for work. Got through work knowing that I'd come back to air-conditioning and a loaf of banana-bread-minus-one-slice. That happened. Not.

My brother even had the audacity to tell me that I should've skipped the mango as it made the bread a teeny bit "soggy" after a while. It didn't have a "bite" to it, he said, in a snooty voice. A food blog in the family and everybody turns into frou-frou self-professed food connoisseurs. Not that I didn't cut him down to size by asking in front of company why he had to go eat it all then.

Skip the mango if you're not a fan, but I liked the random bits of soggy-sweetness in the bread. Maybe mango puree in the batter, subbing out some of the bananas would have been a better option. To-do list it goes on to, then!

Until then. Follow the recipe verbatim and have a delicious, delicious slice of banana brake (bread+cake. Lameness). Use organic bananas, fresh cherries and sweet, non-carbide-ripened mangoes. You'll keep wondering if you made it.

Cherry-mango Banana-Smoothie Bread:


4 very ripe bananas
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar.
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoona vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 cup of flour
1/2 cup cherries, pitted and halved.
1/2 cup mangoes, cut into tiny dice.

Preheat an oven to 200 degrees celcius or 350 degrees Farenheit.

Mush the bananas and the melted butter in a big mixing bowl.

With a wooden spoon or a whisk, beat in the sugar, egg, vanilla and spices.

Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the batter. Mix it in.

Fold in the flour until combined, DO NOT OVERMIX.

Fold in the fruit.

Pour it out onto a greased loaf pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out relatively dry. Don't overcook, it'll be too dry.

Brown, caramelly baked goodness!
Cool for 10 minutes. Flip it out onto a wire rack and let it cool.

Slice and eat hot-hot. It'll be OK at room temperature for the rest of the day, probably 3 days when wrapped in plastic and kept in the fridge, and longer when wrapped in foil and frozen.

Not that I ever got to find out, if you've read my rambling post.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wholewheat cheese crackers/ Good-for-you Goldfish crackers.

Success can be a bad thing. Really. Recreating Cherry Garcia successfully (somewhat) spurred me on to try homemade versions of other calorific things that were earlier limited to summer vacations abroad. Not like I can have Labneh or S'mores any time soon at Madras!

Then again, I might have to bite my lofty words, because if you have enough money, you can have most things in India.

So what next? Nothing with a sugar overload. Three bars of Snickers (NOT homemade) in three days made sure of that. A hunk of cheddar cheese was residing in the refrigerator door. Dangerously close to the expiry-and-hence-fungus-ridden date. Yes, something with cheddar cheese in it.

 But because I'm dumping a block of cholesterol (along with Calcium and protein), I'll health it out with... flax seeds? Sesame? Whole wheat flour? All of the above?! Is such a thing possible?

Apparently, it is. All those things crank out a mean batch of Goldfish crackers. You know what they are. Those Cheese-balls-y tasting, fish-shaped crackers that are priced at 725 bucks for a tiny packet at Nuts N Spices? Kid you not. Go check if you don't believe me.

It's easier making them at home. And you can put all sorts of things in, like the aforementioned whole wheat flour, olive oil, flax seeds and the like. You can smugly stuff your face with it, knowing that it'll leave you all shiny-haired, strong-boned and soul-satisfied. Nobody will know the difference, not even, your sharp-palate'd nephew.

Bought these flax seeds at Spice Route at Express Avenue! Love-love-love
the store!

You can still make the original way, with regular flour, no flax seeds and butter. Let me know if it tastes better that way!

Good-for-you Goldfish crackers


1-1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated.
1 cup whole wheat flour (atta)
1/4 cup All-purpose flour (maida)
1/4 cup ground flax seeds.
1/'4 cup Nutralite/butter/olive oil.
1/4 tsp onion powder (can use soup powder)
1/4 tsp salt.
1/4 tsp paprika (optional)
Black and white sesame seeds, for sprinkling.
Yogurt or extra butter, for kneading the dough.


In a food processor or mixie, pulse together all the ingredients for about 2 minutes, until the whole thing forms a dough ball.

If the dough is a little crumbly, knead it together with a couple of tablespoons of yogurt or butter.

Cover the dough ball with cling film and refrigerate for about an hour, so the dough is easier to handle.

On a lightly floured work-surface, set out the dough, and roll it out like a chapati/tortilla. You might want to flour the rolling pin a little.

Cut it out into shapes with a help of cookie cutters, pizza slicers, bottle lids or just a knife.

Place the cut crackers on ungreased foil. Dab a little olive oil or water on top. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds. Poppy seeds, if you have it.

Bake them in a preheated oven at 200 degrees C or 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes, until the corners turn a light brown. Set it out to cool. Stow them away in an airtight box at room temperature.

If you omit the savoury ingredients (like the onion powder and paprika), do try it with a teensy dab of apple jam or honey.

Cheese and apple? Cheese and honey? That's how you restore the natural order of things in this world. Kid you not.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cherry Rabia. Grateful Alive.

There's only so much I can crib about the lack of this and that. While I can't make my own Chex Mix yet, I realised that the World Wide Web is bursting with recipes for homemade marshmallows, goldfish crackers and pretzels. So making, say, Momofuku's Crack Pie might be a little difficult, comparatively, but even with local and homemade ingredients, I see a lot of spoons steadily digging away until the pie dish has just crumbs.

I'm not making the Crack Pie. This time.

Instead, I tried my hand at one of Ben & Jerry's classic ice-cream flavours. Cherry Garcia.

Three simple reasons went into making this one simple ice-cream. Reason one. I had a box full of luscious, juicy cherries from Kashmir. (I barely managed to save it from my family's cherry-chomping jaws.)

Two. Chocolate that the neighbours brought for us from Ooty.

And lucky three. Summer is here, and it is here with a vengeance. The good people of Madras are paying heavily for the uncharacteristically cool monsoon last year. Ice-cream with fruit in it, sounded better than heavy puddings or rich fudge-filled desserts. Yes. It did.

I played around with the original Ben & Jerry's recipe. Since I don't have an ice-cream maker (top on my wishlist!), and the idea of stewing in the kitchen, making custard with eggs and cream and freezing-melting-refreezing it was not very appealing, I-hold your breath-picked up a tub of ice-cream at the store.

And since 1/4 cup of chocolate didn't sound enough at all, I used Vanilla with chocolate chips (and a teeny bit of praline) instead of plain vanilla. The proportions were out of whack, but in such a great way.

Best decision ever. Make this and die happy. No, seriously. It takes very little prep time and transforms Plain Jane Vanilla into an extremely sexy, cherry-and-chocolate wonder. Make this and live happy. Even if you're in a country that has access to freezers stocked with Ben & Jerry's.

Quick-fix Cherry Garcia:


250 g Vanilla ice-cream with Chocolate Chips
1/3 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved.
1/3 cup grated dark chocolate (or use chunks).


1)Set out the ice-cream to soften until it's of a creamy, soupy consistency.

2)Mix in the pitted cherries, juice and all.

3)Add spoonfuls of the grated (or preferably in the form of chunks) chocolate, mixing well after each spoonful so it gets dispersed equally.

4)Put in a freezer safe box and freeze for a good couple of hours.

5)Serve in style.

Eat in not-all-that-much style (the tub is mine). That easy, that yummy.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Kashmir. Love at first bite.

And I'm back from another long hiatus; something that I've been taking a little too often. And before I start posting about cakes made from Snickers and ice-cream made from cherries, I thought I'd post food photos from my vacation instead.

Which was in Kashmir, of the Jammu & Kashmir variety. The air there is... different. It smells different, you take in lungfuls of it and exhale with unadulterated bliss. It smells of saffron chai and roses and snow and a wee bit of gunpowder residue. Wish I could've bottled it up and brought it back with me.

The locales are unadulterated eye-candy; there's so much to drink and eat in. And that gets literal when it comes to the food. You feel hungry, 24/7. It's the cold air. Doesn't make me a glutton.

Non-vegetarians have it better though. Especially the ones who like mutton. Which totally rules me out, I'm not-at-all a fan of the meat, but the cold, cold air (here we go) justifies the average Kashmiri's consumption of it... they've come up with some ingeniously delicious ways of using it, that even I was a total convert by the end of Day 1.

We'll build on to the meat. You can vicariously feast on the fruit and tea and then the vegetarians can beat a hasty retreat.

A word of caution: you need to have a completely immunized iron gut if you want to taste Kashmir in all its glory. Pointless, otherwise. You'll have to subsist on multiple packets of Lays and cans of Coke. You can Google for photos of those. Or shed all fancy-ness and hop on the street food Express (with a wee bit of home-cooked and gourmet)!

We'll start with Kashmiri Falooda. Condensed milk, vermicelli noodles, rose syrup and ice-cream with bits of tutti-fruti.

And the ice-cream is cranked away to glory in an old-fashioned salt-and-ice ice cream machine. It tastes bloody fantastic.

You need to scoop up the tutti-fruiti, condensed milk, Rooh Afza and the ice-cream in one bite.

You can make a complete fool of yourself, stuffing your face with huge bites of ice-cream, because you won't see those folks ever again in your life. Perks of being on vacation.

Being on vacation also means throwing concerns about calories out the airplane/train/car window. Drive down the nearest Dhaba/tea shop and try the deep-fried deliciousness. And the local tea. It almost always tastes fantastic.

And in Kashmir's case, tea can be substituted with Kahwa. Green tea gets pimped up with a couple of elaichis, a strand or two of saffron, cinnamon, crushed almonds and saffron honey. Kashmiri folks sip on it all day long; and when in Kashmir... let's just say I drank a lot of Kahwa.

Kahwa and tea is omnipresent. Even in the middle of the great Dal Lake.

Although there are plenty of tea shops on land as well. You enter them with some degree of self-consciousness, worried they might hate you for acting like locals slumming it. But they dispel it with such warmth... buy a round of chai, plates of pakora and gossip with the locals.

Or you walk on the road and see a huge crowd milling around a vat of something... And they urge you to drink up a mug full of saffron-flavoured almond milk. Actual saffron, actual almonds.

The cold/temperate climate also plies Kashmir with greens and fruit like the ground has been pumped with steroids. Except that it's all organic and dee-lee-shus.

There's roasted corn sold for a few rupees.

Watermelons! Cucumbers! Juicy and sweet and even pretty!

Amchur (raw mango powder) is sprinkled on. It's like eating Hajmola and chewing Watermelon-flavoured gum at the same time. Which I guess you wouldn't know if you weren't a fat kid.

Cherries. The last time I saw cherries this pretty, they were made of plastic. And the last time I've had cherries this delicious... um. I don't think I've had cherries this delicious.

Strawberries. A fraction of the price they're sold for at Madras. Infinity times better.

Moving on to the most important meal of the day. Turns out Kashmiris don't do breakfast. They chew on some soft, freshly baked Kashmiri roti/bread, dipped in pink-coloured salty tea.

The bread was a carb-lover's dream, but for the girl who eats discarded pizza crusts? Man, oh man. Mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm and in case you didn't hear it, MMM! Skipped the salty tea though. I got myself a cup of strong, milky tea and a doughnut-type pastry for breakfast.

If all this is getting a little too milk-and-cookies for you, I'll skip on ahead to the main dishes. The Kashmiri Wazawan. A host of mutton-based dishes that'll bundle you up against the cold from inside. And make you look like a baby walrus, but why fret over occupational hazards, no?

Gustaba. Balls made of mutton and fat, poached in a Kashmiri-chilli based gravy.

And that's mutton in Yakhni gravy; a lip-smacking tangy, yoghurt-based gravy that tastes out of the world.
I'd have preferred it without the huge portions of meat.

Speaking of meat that I do like: Seekh kebabs!

And freshly-grilled meat served on fluffy white chapatis.

You have a selection of chutneys I'd be happy to feast on and call it a night. Pickles, yogurt chutney, spicky, creamy concoctions I had a couple of plates full of.

My favourite one of the lot is the chutney picturised above. A mix of yoghurt, walnuts, mint and a tiny smattering of chilli. Reminds me of my beloved Tzatziki. Highly doubt the twain have ever met, though.

And since it got to be too much of a good thing, on one random night, we went and paid buckets for home-style  food. Idli dosa!

The golden triangle you've just seen is a dosa stuffed with a block of crumbled, chilli'd up paneer. Served with chutney and... a gravy. I asked them what the gravy was. They told me, all earnestly, that is was sambar. I rolled around the floor in splits. Whatever that was, it wasn't sambar. Pretty decent tasting, though. Reminds me of daal accompanying biryani... you can't put idli together with it!

That's what I thought. Only idiots hold on to a prototype/stereotype, I've learnt. The people, the place, the food... it's shattered all the bad stereotypes and fortified belief in the good ones. I got schooled, and I got schooled good.