Pumpkin and Carrot Pudding | Driving to the Capital

 

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The memory of eating this pudding came suddenly one afternoon when I was preparing lunch for Ali. For some reason the smell of carrots cooking jolted my senses. The memory that came rushing was being 6 myself, sitting in the back of the car, peeping out of the window on a Friday morning while my father drove to Abu Dhabi. My mothers’ eldest brother stayed and we would drive down to see them. I vividly remember how the highway was deserted and billboards would appear on the horizon about every five minutes and it would slowly grow in height as the car grew nearer. Some months, we would drive down every other weekend. The advertisements weren’t changed too often back then and I would make a mental note of what was the last hoarding that stood at the outskirts of Abu Dhabi which meant the city wasn’t too far away. This is a pudding my aunt used to make. I was never fond of Payasams. Ammayi was a pioneer and very experimental when it came to making non-traditional recipes including desserts. Jiggly Crème caramel, brightly colored Agar Jelly Pudding and cool glasses of Falooda were a few of the desserts she made 25 years ago. On that day in my kitchen, I wanted to try my hand at making this Pudding. I didn’t even know what was in it and I called her older daughter inquiring about the sweet orange colored pulp with custard on top. She instantly knew I was talking about her Pumpkin and Carrot Pudding.

Possibly the best description about this pudding was by her youngest daughter – Is it that pudding that tastes amazing and you can’t place exactly what it is you’re tasting and you feel slightly cheated when you realize its Pumpkin? It is precisely just that. Ripe pumpkins are chopped and shredded alongside peeled carrots. Slow cooked on a low flame, Sugar is added once the vegetables are cooked through, just enough to sweeten the mixture. It is topped with a Vanilla flavoured custard and allowed to set in the refrigerator overnight. This is Ammayi’s recipe and I’ve added a few tweaks of my own.

 

 

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The shredded ingredients have to be cooked without any water. The Pumpkin will release a lot of water and my aunt assures that is enough to cook it and the carrots. This means it will require at least half an hour of slow cooking for it to cook completely and it will break down completely and look very mushy. Once it reaches this stage, then sugar is added in increments and the amount depends entirely on how sweet the vegetables are. During this lockdown phase, since I was having vegetables delivered home, once the pumpkin has green spots all over. I shared it my aunt and she said she’s never seen that before. I didn’t want to risk it and ordered another one. This time round it wasn’t too ripe which meant it would require a little more sweetening.

 

 

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While the Pumpkin and Carrot mixture cools, the Custard base can be made. I do love making custard from scratch. The only concern is it, even if it is mild, it will have an eggy flavor. For this recipe, you want the custard to taste sweet and very Vanilla. If you do have a pod of Vanilla or a bottle of pure extract that you’re saving for special occasions, I urge you to use them for this recipe. Setting aside the coveted seed flecks, it deepens the flavor of the custard. It wouldn’t be apparent and you can taste an ever so slight note of warm spice with each spoonful. Another addition I have made to the Custard base is a generous pinch of Turmeric for a brighter color. Considering the custard is pretty sweet, you wouldn’t taste the difference.   

 

 

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So I have this weakness of assembling pudding in tea cups. I don’t have to necessarily be shooting photographs or serving it to guests. It is a treat for myself that I enjoy so much. Taking one out of the refrigerator, picking up a dessert spoon, I’ll stand by the kitchen window midday and slowly relish every bite. And a dainty tea cup just makes the experience just a little mmore indulgent.

 

 

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Ideally my aunt recommends chilling this dessert overnight before serving which is perfect for the summer season. While testing the recipe, I’d like to add that it tastes wonderful when the custard is still warm which is why it would be perfect for colder weather and you can serve it immediately. Instead of layering, spoon a little more of the pumpkin and carrot mixture and pour a few tablespoons of warm custard. Considering Pumpkins are much riper around fall and winter, you wouldn’t even need to sweeten it as much. Whatever the season, don’t forget to add a generous sprinkle of flaky nuts.

 

 

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Pumpkin and Carrot Pudding

Recipe by: Saibunnissa Abdul Latheef

INGREDIENTS

Serves 6-8

  • Ripe Pumpkin, grated – 4 cups

  • Carrots – 8-9 medium carrots, peeled and grated

  • Cardamom pods – 6, crushed to powder

  • Sugar – 6-8 tsp, as needed

  • Ghee – 3 tsp

  • Salt – a pinch

  • Nuts to sprinkle

Custard base

  • Custard powder – 3 3/4 tsp

  • Warm milk – 3 3/4 tsp

  • Vanilla paste or extract – 1 tsp

  • Milk – 3 cups at room temperature.

  • Sugar – 5 Tbsp

  • Turmeric powder – a pinch

METHOD

  • In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat Ghee.

  • Once the Ghee is warm, add the crushed cardamom and roast for ten seconds.

  • Add the grated Pumpkin and Carrot into the saucepan and cook on a slow flame with the lid on for 20-30 minutes. Keep checking and stirring in regular intervals to prevent burning.

  • The mixture should resemble pulp and it should have released water at this stage.

  • Increase the flame to medium-high and cook the mixture without the lid for 10 minutes or till the water is completely evaporated.

  • Start adding sugar a teaspoon at a time. Check the sweetness after adding 4 tsp and add sugar to taste. If your pumpkin isn’t ripe enough, you will need more sugar.

  • Mix well till the sugar has melted and combined.

  • Take it off the flame and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Custard base

  • In a small bowl, combine the custard powder and warm milk and mix thoroughly. There should be no lumps.

  • Add the Vanilla and mix it well.

  • In a heavy bottomed saucepan, pour milk and gently heat it on a low flame. Keep stirring in intervals so that it does not burn at the bottom.

  • Add sugar and keep stirring till it is completely melted, about 5 minutes.

  • Pour the custard powder mixture slowly into the saucepan while stirring well to make sure no lumps form.

  • Stir continuously for about 3 minutes or till the custard thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. It should be of pouring consistency.

  • Add the Turmeric powder and stir it to brighten the color of the custard.

  • Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature.

TO ASSEMBLE

  • In a glass dish, place a layer of the pumpkin-carrot mixture on the bottom.

  • Pour a little custard till the layer below is covered.

  • Add another layer of pumpkin carrot and gently press it into the custard as it is quite loose.

  • Pour custard just enough to cover it.

  • Repeat in layers till mixture is complete. The last layer should be custard and it should cover it completely.

  • Alternatively, you can layer in individual dessert bowls or cups. However, don’t build more than two layers.

  • Refrigerate overnight.

  • Sprinkle your choice of nuts right before serving. I used Almond Flakes and Pistachio slivers.

  • Serve cold.

Have a good food day.

Almond & Espresso Bars | Everyday Fix


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I’m on the fence when it comes to coffee in desserts. Tiramisu is probably the only dessert on this planet I would pass on. I wouldn’t mind a scoop of Coffee Gelato or a couple of squares of Mocha Fudge. Given how the world is right now, a lot of us will be observing Eid very differently. When Ramadan began, I was a bit hopeful about seeing family on Eid. I was thinking of having them over for a traditional breakfast that is made on my husband’s side of the family. I wanted to make something sweet that could accompany the spread. A cake would be too much, a Payasam would have to be made the night before and even though summer has arrived, it would be too early for a cold dessert. I started looking through a few of my recipe books and felt that Cake Bars was the answer. Since we would all be having caffeine in the morning after a whole month, I felt that Espresso would be just the right flavor to end a heavy meal. I love texture in desserts and rummaged in my quarantine dictated pantry to see what was easily replaceable. I had almonds in all forms: raw, powdered and even flakes. A little testing later, I was hopeful to bake these on Eid morning. I’ve come to terms that this Eid will pass by without meeting the extended family. Baking has helped me with the uncertainty of our times and I will still be baking these Espresso & Almond Bars to lift my spirits.


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For this recipe, you need to brew your strongest cup of black coffee. My husband loves his coffee and we have a coffee machine which I use only when recipes call for it. My preferred caffeine fix is a large mug of Masala Tea sweetened with a little bit of Jaggery. When he prepares his glass, I can hear the coffee beans whir into powder and steadily trickling into this glass in intervals punctuated with loud buzzes. Merely inhaling the aroma rouses my senses in the wee hours of the morning and it lingers at least half an hour after it has been prepared.


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The dry ingredients in the recipe are almond, regular flour and about half a cup full of chocolate chips. It’s something I’ve learnt while reading and testing recipes. My chocolate cake batter has a shot of espresso and it elevates the flavor of cocoa and almost nobody has been able to guess that it has coffee in it. Almond flour is nutty in texture but quite mild flavor wise and I was a bit concerned that the coffee notes might stand out a bit too strongly. I thought of adding cocoa but didn’t want the color to brown. That’s how adding chocolate chips to mellow the espresso didn’t color the batter darker and added an additional bite to the slices.


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I had a jar of Almond flakes in the pantry which I wanted to sprinkle on top of the batter right before it went into the oven. I was hoping the flakes would toast slightly by the time it finished baking. I completely  forgot about them! I only realized halfway through the baking time and it was too late to pull it out of the oven. The other reason I wanted to add it is because I anticipated the slices to look too plain and unable to give cues on what is inside. I realized it could only be added after it was out of the oven and how it could be added on a dry surface had me thinking. It certainly needed something on top to adhere to. Luckily, I had a jar of Sticky Toffee Sauce leftover from a previous cake order. While the cake rested on the countertop, I toasted a handful of almond flakes on the stove. I let the cake cool completely and then added a few teaspoons of warm toffee sauce, sprinkled the toasted flakes and then gave it a while to cool before cutting it into squares. 


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I liked the slight sweetness the toffee sauce brought. Alternatively, you can spread a very thin layer of fruit preserves or jam instead. However, if you can’t be bothered about it you can completely skip this step. Just don’t forget to add the almond flakes before baking.

Coffee tones with hints of chocolate and crunchy almonds make for a perfect pick me up for the day. They’re just the right kind of sweet and you might find yourself reaching out for just one more especially if they’re in plain sight. The next time I bake these after Eid I might just cut them a bit smaller and have a few at hand to fuel me while I work on the next recipe.



Almond and Espresso Slices

INGREDIENTS

  • Freshly made Espresso or black coffee – ½ cup, cooled

  • Almond flour – ½ cup

  • All Purpose Flour – 1 cup

  • Chocolate Chips – ½ cup

  • Sugar – ¼ cup

  • Baking powder – ½ tsp

  • Butter – 4 oz OR 114 g, softened

  • Eggs – 2

  • Vanilla Extract – 1 tsp

  • Almond flakes – 3 tbsp

  • Sticky Toffee Sauce OR Fruit Jam – 3 tsp (optional)

METHOD

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade.

  • Line a square baking tin with parchment paper.

  • In a stand mixer or using a handheld mixer, cream together sugar and butter till light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

  • Add vanilla extract and eggs and continue mixing till it is fully incorporated, about 2 minutes.

  • Add the Espresso and almond flour and mix slightly.

  • Add in chocolate chips and fold slightly.

  • Using a sieve, sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture and fold the mixture using a gentle hand till everything is mixed. The batter will be pretty thick.

  • Transfer the batter to the prepared baking tin.

  • Toast the almond flakes on a low flame.

  • Sprinkle on top of the batter. If you’re using jam or sticky toffee sauce, set it aside.

  • Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes till it is golden on top and a toothpick pricked in the centre comes clean.

  • Let it cool slightly.

  • If you’re using jam or sticky toffee sauce, spread it evenly on top of the cake. Quickly sprinkle toasted almond slices and gently press it in.

  • Remove from the baking tin and let it cool completely.

  • Using a sharp knife, cut into neat squares.

  • Store leftover pieces (doubtful about this though) in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days.

Have a good food day.

Vellima’s Pazham Pori | Ripe Plantain Fritters


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The twentieth day of Ramadan. Today marks three years since my paternal grandmother left us. In her loving memory, today I want to share her recipe for Pazham Pori. This is essentially a snack made right after a long siesta and is served alongside piping cups of tea. She was very fond of bananas and she always tried to convince me to have a couple of Cheru Pazham or baby bananas immediately after lunch when we visited her for the summer. Plantains were never out of stock in her kitchen. When visitors would come unannounced as was the norm in her time, in all probability she would have the help at home make a plate of these. Ripe plantains are slivered and dipped in a batter, which I later learnt, was her original recipe. I didn’t care too much for them till I started tasting versions made in other households. I still remember waiting for Umma to finish frying them so I could help myself to the bowl of leftover batter. It tasted blissfully similar to cake.


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The number of recipes and dishes that is made from Plantains is a feat Malayalees have perfected. Boiled, steamed, mashed and pureed, there are recipes ranging from every day accompaniments on the breakfast to delicacies that grace feasts laid out for a newly married couple. A closer look into the food landscape in Kerala, recipes begin to show differences in ingredients, methods and even names through districts. Pazham Porichathu is arguably one of the few dishes that are a staple across Kerala. Roadside tea stalls that dot the winding highways play host to men in the neighborhood pausing their day holding glasses of frothy tea and you can always spot these fritters laid out to rest on newspapers that darken and soak up the oil it was fried in. A glaring difference would be the monstrous size as they are cut into very large shapes. Nothing like the dainty ones made at home.


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If you look at a few recipes of these fritters, the batter is almost always made of sugar, flour and water. Nowadays, a pinch of baking soda is added to have it puff slightly when fried. That is how Vellima’s recipe is starkly different. Firstly, she uses a combination of flour and roasted rice flour. Rice flour isn’t extra fine in texture and you can taste the difference when you eat them. It gives it a gritty bite without being unpleasant. The next difference is the choice of sweetener.


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The fritters I’ve seen and had in other households looked quite pale compared to Vellima’s. This is solely because she used Jaggery syrup to sweeten the batter. Cubes of jaggery are placed in a pot of water and heated until the blocks melt completely and the syrup reduces quite a bit and starts to look a lot like Molasses. It’s used for making Payasams, puddings made with thin rice flakes or soaked mung beans and when in season, the coveted Jackfruit. Coming back to the syrup, tablespoons full are added to the batter which simultaneously lends them a darker color when fried. Another reason why these are a bit darker is because she added a lightly beaten egg to the batter. I feel this is why it tastes so much like cake batter. The addition of egg makes the fritters puff up ever so slightly making it a little airy. To mellow the ‘egginess’ of the batter, a few pods of Cardamom are crushed and sprinkled over the batter. It gives a very subtle flavor and yet if you forgot to add it, the flavor of the egg stands out unabashedly. Speaking of hues, she would add a generous pinch of Turmeric powder which when stirred colored the batter to a sunshine yellow. I’ve saved the biggest difference for the very end. Her binding agent was freshly pressed coconut milk. At Vellima’s home, coconut milk was made for every meal of the day. I still remember her soaking Chappati in coconut milk for dinner. In this recipe, water isn’t used to combine the dry ingredients. In this recipe, once all the dry ingredients are whisked briefly with the egg, coconut milk is added in intervals till the batter comes together. It is quite which means it coats and binds to the sliced Plantain surfaces without sliding off. When it comes to frying, I strongly recommend to use Coconut oil. Almost all the traditional recipes calls for this and the final outcome is very different when something else is used. Unlike vegetable oil, coconut oil adds so much flavor to not just these fritters but pretty much anything else you fry.

If you are from Kerala, you would have your fair share of Pazham Porichathu. Do try making this recipe and I know you’ll taste a difference. Make sure you start a pot of tea when you start frying them. And if you can sit out on a Verandah to watch rain pouring down during monsoon and feel a few droplets on your skin cast by the wind, you will be joining my memory of eating Vellima’s Pazham Porichathu.


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Vellima’s Pazham Pori

INGREDIENTS

  • Ripe Plantains – 1-2

  • Jaggery syrup (melted jaggery) – 6 Tbsp

  • Cardamom powder – 2 tsp

  • Egg – 1 large

  • Salt – a pinch

  • Roasted rice flour – 1/2 cup

  • All Purpose Flour – 1/4 cup

  • Turmeric – 2 pinches

  • Freshly squeezed coconut milk – as needed

  • Coconut oil – to fry

METHOD

  • Peel the plantain and slice them diagonally. You could also cut the plantain through the middle and then slice into discs.

  • Lightly beat the egg.

  • In a large bowl, combine rice flour, all purpose flour, cardamom powder and salt together.

  • Add the egg and jaggery syrup and whisk it for a minute.

  • Now slowly add coconut milk, about 4 tbsp at a time and whisk the batter making sure there are no lumps.

  • Continue adding coconut milk till the batter becomes smooth and thick. It should not be too thin otherwise it will not adhere to the plantain slices.

  • Finally, add the turmeric powder and whisk it in.

  • Heat coconut oil on medium heat.

  • Dip the plantain slices into the batter making sure both sides are coated well.

  • Fry the slices in hot oil for about 4 minutes or until they’re golden in color.

  • Flip the slices and continue frying till it is golden.

  • Using a slotted spoon, remove the fried plantains from the oil.

  • Serve them hot alongside a steaming mug of milky sweet tea or lightly spiced Black tea or Sulaimani.

Have a good food day.

Nishana’s Chicken Fry | Warmth in Wokingham


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Nishana is one of the many wonderful people I have had the pleasure of meeting after being married. Our husbands are technically uncle and nephew in relation but only a few years apart in age. We all spoke together on a conference call after our engagement when they were expecting their first child. I visited her home in Kerala after she had her baby boy and they visited us in Abu Dhabi when they were flying back to United Kingdom. That was the beginning of what was an innumerable number of hours spent on the telephone. A decade later, we have shared recipes and presents, pregnancy and labor stories, and countless laughs. The number of times we have met in person can actually be counted on one hand. Ever since we’ve both had children, our chats have dwindled. Yet, our conversations, filled with her warmth and quiet laughter, flow effortlessly even when we haven’t spoken for months. When we do talk, it always ends with inviting each other to holiday at their part of the world. We did so late last year and that is when she made this incredible Chicken Fry.

Nishana puts together meals so efficiently and makes it look effortless. I had heard about the magic in her fingers from my mother in law. To date, she narrates how on their trip to Aberdeen prior to our marriage, for tea Nishana made Vadas laced with peppercorns that perfectly slid into the oil from her hands and the most delectable Coriander and Coconut Chutney. I got to see this in person when we visited the in Aberdeen right after her little one had turned one. We first met in London where we stayed a couple of days. Crepes with lemon juice at Green Park, pinching boots with and without heels, an Aero birthday cake in the parking lot of Asda and the most eventful trip to Harrods doorstep is one of the fondest memories I hold close. We flew back with them to Aberdeen where we bonded over Fish & Chips and gravy, her lush pancakes paired with strawberries (they weren’t in season and unbelievably sweet) and her incredible Spaghetti Bolognese. During the day when our uncle (sorry Chickoo Mama) was at work, the three of us and her darling little boy would board the bus and she would take us around the city. On our last day, I remember eating lunch at a Burger King near Aberdeen beach and feeling a twinge of sadness, wishing we lived closer.


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Last year, we met after seven years. They’ve moved to Wokingham now. She hadn’t met Ali and I was meeting her adorable daughter (who calls herself Nai Nai ) for the first time . After all these years, getting to spend time with them was what I was looking forward to the most. The children hadn’t met before as well and they connected instantly as children would. The day we arrived we tucked into plates of steaming Chicken Biriyani and this unbelievable Chicken Fry.  I say unbelievable because we were all raving about this dish at the table. My little one, who calls out on food being too spicy only if he doesn’t like it, helped himself to more than what he normally would. I had watched her make it after we had arrived that morning. In all probability, you already have these spices in your pantry now. All you need to learn is a few tweaks n technique.


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Don’t be dissuaded by the color. Nishana uses Kashmiri chilli powder which renders scarlet notes and is subdued in heat. She roasts a few tablespoons full of it alongside other spices in dry heat for less than a minute. A few shallots are tossed in a grinder and she blends it all together with garlic pods and fresh ginger. Ironically, I’m always running a little low on ginger garlic paste so I grind and stock them fresh especially for this recipe.    


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The marinade should be a bit on the drier side. A distinct feature of a good Kerala Chicken fry is the presence of Podi. It can be translated to powder or dust, but that cannot describe the flavor these bits hold. It’s the part of marinade that separates from the meat in the hot oil which then fries and collects at the bottom of the pan. It is gathered from the bottom with a slotted spoon and ceremoniously sprinkled on top of the fried chicken.  


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At our request, Nishana made this chicken fry one more time during our stay. Both these times, she marinated the chicken barely for half an hour. When I tried this back in Dubai, I felt the chicken didn’t taste as good as hers (pretty sure that hen was raised on a farm). The next time I let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. This time the meat picked up more flavor and was much closer in taste her recipe. 

Here’s how the technique this recipe calls for is different. The marinated chicken is first cooked in dry heat again. No oil and absolutely no water. In about twenty minutes, the chicken will release its liquid and be partially cooked. That’s when the frying part begins. You start pouring in spoons full of coconut oil. As it heats, it starts to mildly char the chicken and dry out the marinade bits floating around. A handful of curry leaves are added towards the end and when they’re fried to a crisp the chicken fry is ready.


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I would text Nishana every time I made her Chicken fry but no longer do. Given the frequency it’s being made over here, I cannot possibly let her know every single time! When we parted, they promised to visit us at the end of this year. Given how the world is right now, nobody can tell when one can walk through the doors of an airport again. I’m grateful that our last vacation was to visit them and for the children to have met and bonded so quickly. We can’t wait to welcome you in Dubai. Until then, we will have to make do recounting our wonderful time in Wokingham. And of course, your Chicken Fry.


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Nishana’s Chicken Fry

INGREDIENTS

  • Chicken – Under 1 kilo, washed, cleaned and cut to pieces

  • Kashmiri Chilli Powder – 3 Tbsp

  • Turmeric Powder – 2 tsp

  • Fennel powder – 3 tsp

  • Garam Masala powder – 1/2 tsp

  • Powdered Fenugreek seeds – 2 pinches

  • Coriander powder – a pinch

  • Ginger Garlic paste – 3 tsp

  • Shallots – 4 peeled OR Onion – 1/4 roughly chopped

  • Salt – to taste

  • Curry leaves – a handful

  • Coconut Oil

METHOD

  • On a low flame, dry roast all the powders for half a minute just until the aroma is released.

  • In a grinder, blend the roasted powder, shallots OR onion, ginger garlic paste to a fine paste. It will be fairly thick.

  • Generously add salt to the marinade and mix well.

  • Cut tiny slits into the chicken meat to allow the marinade to penetrate.

  • In a glass bowl, place the chicken pieces and lightly salt the chicken pieces. Mix well.

  • Add the marinade and rub it into the chicken pieces thoroughly especially into the slits.

  • Marinate for minimum half an hour or overnight.

  • Heat a heavy bottomed sauce pan, and add the marinated chicken directly into the pan.

  • Without adding any liquid, let the chicken on a medium flame for 15-20 minutes.

  • After 20 minutes, the chicken would have released water.

  • Start adding coconut oil up to 9 Tablespoons in intervals to fry the chicken.

  • Add more oil if required.

  • The fried chicken will be fiery red in color and crisp.

  • Finish frying by adding the curry leaves a few minutes before you take the chicken off the heat.

  • Serve hot with Porotta, Neichor or Biriyani.

Have a good food day.

Pizzetta | Little hands at work and play


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When my son was born, one of the things that I was waiting for was to be in the kitchen together. I was not really allowed to help with cooking growing up. The occasional baking I was allowed were done completely independently and would almost come out of the oven completely burnt. When we first moved back to Dubai from Abu Dhabi, we had an open kitchen. From in between watching Blippi, he would walk over, take a few onions and sit on the floor removing their skins. I would give him little cups of water and he could spend an hour pouring it back and forth. nAround the time of weaning, he would bring his kitchen toys, set it on the floor and tell me what he was doing. I was thrilled when I felt he was ready to help me with a  simple recipe. One day we made oatmeal cookies. I have a picture of helping himself to remnants of the cookie batter on the spatula he was holding. That was the beginning of us cooking together and it has been wonderfully messy yet fulfilling. We’ve ticked off a lot of cookie and cupcake recipes. This year we started baking bread and one of the first recipes we made were these mini Pizzas. 


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One of the first things baby A would help me in the kitchen with was measuring. He would sit on the counter top and I would hand over the appropriate measuring cup and let him know the number of cups he needed to measure. At the cusp of 3, he could count to ten. He would then dig deep into the flour bin, giggling when he had created flour dust  and I would watch as some of it settled on his eyelashes. Almost a year later, he was comfortable leveling the top of the cup with the back of the spoon. This time when we made the dough, I watched part amazed and part proud how independently he had the flour ready. We chatted about why yeast smells a bit funky but how it is crucial for making fluffy bread. Asking him to knead is always met with a shout of delight and he quickly works his little fingers just like how he would when he would use Play Doh. Once it all comes together, I let him lift the top of the stand mixer and let him know what speed it needs to do its work. At this point, he knows the dough is going to take a while to rise and he’s out of the kitchen to wash his hands and in all probability get back to his LEGO workshop. 


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After making that dough from scratch, this recipe get a bit cheeky. I must admit I’m almost embarrassed to even put this out here. The pizza sauce. There’s no peeled garlic and no plump tomatoes blanched. No simmering for an hour and no stirring of fresh herbs. Involving children means the recipe methods must pander to their attention span and patience (and yours 😉 ). Someday when this little one grows up a bit more,  we will create pizza sauce for scratch. For now, it doesn’t get easier than this. Tomato ketchup is combined with mayonnaise and a sprinkle of oregano flakes and stirred till it turns well, peach. That’s it. And it surprisingly works! It’s a bit tart and a bit sweet and the Oregano lends some authenticity to this bizarre substitute.


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For toppings, you could get stick to your favourites or be ‘inspired’ by the contents of your refrigerator.  On this particular day, I had some unused gravy from my Butter Chicken Lasagna I had made earlier that week. I transferred it into a hot pan and let it cook down till it reduced and then I gently prodded the chicken in the pan itself till it was completely shredded. Accompanied by a few black Olive halves and Jalapeno slices, it made for a resourceful way to finish up my leftover Butter Chicken. As for the little guy, his requests are pretty much always just Pepperoni and Cheese. You could try Sausage rounds, thinly slivered Eggplant or even some Samosa mince that couldn’t make a whole filling.


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Be generous with your cheese. If it were a time where I was walking through the supermarket aisles myself, I would have bought some fresh Mozzarella. For now, it will have to be grated cheese and I won’t skimp on it. A loves this bit. It’s a task for little hands to make sure the cheese is sprinkled all over on the pizza alone and he would end it by picking up and redistributing the strands that fall on to the baking sheet. 

Baking time can be as little as 15 minutes but if your cheese hasn’t melted completely you could wait for another 5 minutes. Any more and you risk burning your Pizzetta bottoms especially if you’ve decided to roll your bases out thinly. The Pizzettas are best eaten about ten minutes after they’re out from the oven. The cheese should have cooled just enough and the right temperature for little fingers to handle. They’ll love to eat these with all the effort they’ve put in.  


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Pizzetta

INGREDIENTS

  • Active dried Yeast – 1 tsp

  • Warm water – 1/4 cup

  • All Purpose Flour – 2 cups

  • Sugar – 3 tsp

  • Baking Powder – 1/2 tsp

  • Salt – a pinch

  • Butter, room temperature – 3 1/2 tsp OR 50 g

  • Milk – 1/4 cup

  • Water – as needed

  • Olive oil – as needed

  • Grated Mozzarella Cheese – as needed

ASSEMBLY

  • Tomato ketchup – 6 Tbsp

  • Mayonnaise – 3 Tbsp

  • Dried Oregano – 2 tsp

  • Your choice of toppings

METHOD

  • Stir the yeast in the warm water. Set it aside for 15 min or until its foamy on the surface.

  • In a clean bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix them.

  • Add the butter and milk and gently stir them into the flour mixture. The butter doesn’t have to be completely combined just yet.

  • Stir the yeast mixture into the flour mixture.

  • Start kneading the dough using medium pressure. Add water sparingly as needed to make the dough smooth.

  • Once the dough forms a ball, knead by hand or a stand mixer for 10 minutes. It is ready when the dough springs back slightly after you press a finger into it.

  • Gently pat a little olive oil on the surface of the dough.

  • Use a few drops of olive oil and spread it inside a large bowl. There should be enough room for the dough to rise.

  • Place the dough inside the bowl and cover with a cloth or cling wrap.

  • Set aside in a warm place for 1 hour minimum and a maximum of 4 hours. The dough should double in size.

  • On a clean surface, use your hands to flatten the dough into a large rectangle.

  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade.

  • Use a rolling pin and gently roll out the dough. It should have a thickness of half an inch.

  • Use a small metal bowl or a circle cookie cutter and cut out mini circles. They should be roughly the size of your palm.

  • Transfer these to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil making sure they are an inch apart from each other.

  • Combine the Mayonnaise, ketchup and oregano together.

  • Spoon this mixture on top of each Pizzetta round.

  • Add your pizza toppings.

  • Cover generously with grated Mozzarella.

  • Sprinkle a pinch Oregano over each Pizzetta on top of the cheese.

  • Bake the Pizzettas for 15-18 minutes. The dough would have puffed slightly and the cheese should be completely melted.

  • Serve them warm.

Appam | And Tales of Coconut Milk



I fall into the category of Malayalees that would be thrilled at the sight of steaming hot Vellappam for breakfast. Or dinner. Mind you, they’re best eaten if they’re made by mom so they are magically replenished and you can tuck into them leisurely. With tiny variations in ingredients according to the region, the batter is essentially rice and coconut ground together and allowed to ferment overnight. Its lacy edges and pillowy soft centers are characteristic features of these hoppers that are popular in the south of India and Sri Lanka. It is made in an Appam Chatty which is pretty similar to a wok. Ladlefuls of batter are poured into the heated pan and then swirled by the handles to spread where it rests against the sides to crisp and brown. The residual batter trickles to the centre where it is would be cooked through from the steam of the covered pan. One of the food resolutions I made for the new year is to tackle my list of food fears. This list has recipes that I have tried myself and they have fallen flat in either flavor or because of my imperfect technique. I have re-read these recipes and the thought of failing again and discarding the failed product puts me off. And sitting right on top of this list was Vellappam.  



I knew the recipe I had at hand is fail proof. My moms’ recipe uses yeast for fermentation which makes the batter rise effortlessly in the right temperature. A lot of recipes shy away from yeast and are replaced by baking powder and soda. While they do rise and yield spongy centers, the distinct flavor that fermentation done by yeast lends to the batter is irreplaceable. Previously when I have made Appam, the edges would crisp and caramelize, the centre would rise half an inch easily but the biggest hurdle was a uniformly swirled Appam. Despite oiling the pan, the batter wouldn’t spread uniformly. It would either slide too fast making it too thin or if I took time to swirl would end up with thicker edges that wouldn’t brown or crisp and eventually dry and crack. And the truth of the matter is there is nothing you can do to mask a misshapen Vellappam.



My son loves Matta rice. It is a parboiled rice variety that is indigenous to Kerala. Short, stubby with red veins on the surface, if he sees the rice boiled left to cool, he would pick a plate of that over cookies any day. And my boy LOVES cookies. I had a couple of tablespoons of rice leftover and it triggered my memory of reading this on the ingredient list of Vellappam. I had acquired the tool that promised perfectly shaped Appams four years ago. It was right there in my pantry, waiting to be used. 


Appam_07.jpg

Before my folks moved back to Kerala from Dubai, Jayanthi was hired to help around house when my (now deceased, may He bless her soul) grandmother moved with us 17 years ago. Hailing from Sri Lanka, she quickly grew accustomed to Malayali cuisine. It wasn’t difficult for her given there were plenty of regional similarities when it came to ingredients, techniques and recipes. Appams are extremely popular in Sri Lanka too, particularly their egg hoppers. An egg is cracked directly into the middle of the batter and then cooked just enough to produce a runny yolk when poked and finished with a sprinkle of coarsely ground pepper. One particular year when she returned from her vacation, she brought back this Appam Chatti. She bought two different sized ones for mom and one small one for me. Made of aluminum, they are extremely lightweight and have a more hollow centre compared to the nonstick pans available. Like caring for a cast iron pan, these pans are never meant to be washed. Soaping is a big no-no. They are oiled with sesame oil right before and after the Appam (ceremony, really!) is made. News spread of the pan that made perfect Appams and soon enough, family members were getting in touch with Jayanthi to procure this shining beacon of Appam hope.

Now one particular time, I had watched Appams being made hurriedly and they couldn’t be released. And unlike how it sticks in non-stick pans, releasing burnt Appams was a physical task that required desperate scrubbing of the now burnt mess. For this reason, I came to the conclusion that if seasoned cooks could slip up, there is no way I would unleash the perfect Appam even with this pan. It has moved two houses with me in the last 4 years untouched. Unused. Until I decided 2020 would be the decade to conquer fears big and small.

So I started small. I made the smallest batch of Appam batter possible. I decided I wouldn’t rush myself in the process. I said a silent prayer when my first Appam hit the pan. Resisting the urge to uncover the lid to check for browning, I let it steam for a little over a minute. The finished Vellappam slid right off. To negate beginners luck, I poured and made three more Appams. And they all came out with caramelized edges and pillowy centers. The next day, I tried again. I tried making it Jayanthi’s way and cracked an egg into the center. They cooked perfectly and popped out of the pan without a single crack. I can now say I have finally unlocked the achievement of a perfect Appam!



Depending on what time of the day you’re eating Appam, the curry served alongside will differ.  That being said the dish that is almost always said in the same breath as Appam would be stew. Stew or Ishtu is made with mutton or chicken and is a mild curry laced with pepper. It starts with slivered onions and ginger, curry leaves plucked and torn and then carrot and potato chunks are boiled with water. The meat is then added to this boiling broth with pepper crushed just enough to induce a couple of sneezes. While the meat cooks slowly on simmer, Coconut milk is expressed and if you’re following a traditional recipe, it would be done in three parts. With each express, the milk squeezed from grated coconut meat becomes thinner. The thickest milk is reserved for adding at the very end. To avoid the risk of it curdling, once the milk is poured it’s stirred just enough to blend with the stew and then taken off the heat.

As much as I would have liked to start a morning with stew and Appam, a weekday is filled with chores and tasks before the impending school run in the afternoon. I did however have Egg Roast from the night before minus the eggs. This would be a close second in the list of Appam accompaniments. The roast I learnt after marriage is very different to what I was used to eating. The onions are barely allowed to brown before adding in roughly chopped tomatoes that are cooked to mush. The fiery red color has to be reflected in heat and chilli powder does just that. Boiled eggs are quickly stirred in the masala staining them a faint yellow.

Speaking of variation, what you have with Vellappam would also depend on which part of Kerala you’re from. In Thrissur, Appams wouldn’t be set on the table without a jug or bowl of coconut milk. It doesn’t matter that the stew has just that. The Appams centres have to be submerged under ladles of milk before serving yourself the curry. As children, you would eat these soaked Appams with a metered sprinkling of sugar. This luxury, if I may say so, of warm coconut milk on the table came to a halt once I was married to Trivandrum. It was baffling to witness the contrast of its copious use in almost every meal to finding it eerily absent in the cuisine of my marital home.

I fondly remember how my niece Haya came over for a family dinner where Appam was served. She looked around the table and asked me “Thenga Paal Evidey?”  It is a given that a half empty jug of coconut milk could be found on some corner of the table after having been passed around at the beginning of the meal. My mother in law quickly warmed a glass of cow’s milk and served it just for her. Just shy of six, she didn’t notice the difference and continued to eat her milk drenched Appams. From then onwards, regardless of what the menu was, a bowl of coconut milk would make an appearance on the table when my side of the family were over for dinner. 



As luck would have it, my plans of making coconut milk for 1 were dashed having realized I didn’t have enough grated coconut. That tinge of disappointment was quickly replaced with the decision to make Chammanthy. It may sound like a lazy idea but the pairing is oddly satisfying. Whole dried chillies are toasted till they begin to smoke in a hot dry pan and blitzed with half a clove of garlic and coconut. I like to add a squeeze of lemon right at the end. That tangy note softens the heat from the chilli and it ties the sweetness of Vellappam successfully. Now only a tiny splash of coconut milk could make it better. 


Appam_03.jpg

Let me tell you what my favorite part of the Appam is. I start snapping off the lacy edges and work my way to the fluffy white core of the Appam. That is where my heart is. I make sure none of the curries seep their way to the middle. It has to be eaten as is, without anything. There’s a faint acidic note from the fermentation that brings out the sweetness even more. The steam cooks it just enough to leave it moist and it invariably sticks to your teeth. The art is to reach the centre while it is still warm from the pan. For me, it’s the closest thing to having cake for breakfast.


Appam_09.jpg

Vellappam

INGREDIENTS

  • White rice – 1 cup

  • Freshly grated Coconut – ½ cup

  • Boiled Matta rice – 2 tbsp

  • Active Dried  yeast –  ½ tsp

  • Sugar – 2 tbsp

  • Rice Flour – 1 Tbsp

METHOD 

  • Wash raw white rice thoroughly.

  • Soak it in ONLY fresh water for minimum 8 hours or overnight. This water will be used later so it is important not to use tap water for soaking.

  • Grind the rice in a mixer jar with just enough of the water used for soaking.

  • Grind it for a minute and check the consistency. If it is too thick, add not more than ¼ cup of water used for soaking. Grind again.

  • Add the fresh coconut, boiled matta rice and sugar and grind again for not more than 2 minutes.

  • Lastly, add the yeast and blend again. Check the consistency of the batter. It should not be too thick.

  • Take ½ cup of the soaked rice water and place it in a saucepan. If there is no remaining soaking liquid, use fresh water.

  • On a low flame, start heating the water and add the rice flour to it.

  • Stir the mixture continuously to prevent lumps and until it becomes very thick and pasty.

  • Let it cool completely.

  • Pour the blended Appam batter into a steel vessel. 

  • Add the thickened rice flour paste and mix it thoroughly into the batter till dissolved. It is best to use your fingers for this step.

  • Allow the batter to ferment overnight.

  • Before using the appam batter, add a generous pinch of salt and then stir the batter.

  • Pour up to 2 ladles of batter into your heated Appam pan and swirl the pan to spread the batter and to create laced edges. Cover the pan and let it cook for 2 minutes. The edges should be delicately browned and crisp.

  • If you like a thicker centre (like me), pour upto 3 ladles of batter before swirling.

  • Serve immediately with coconut milk, egg roast and Chammanthy.

NOTES

  1. Fermenting: Since yeast is used to leaven the batter, it should rise without trouble. However, in cold weather it might not rise properly. Here is what I do. I soak the water early in the morning and grind the batter at about 6 pm. I then keep my vessel on the countertop very close to my stove. The residual heat from preparing or heating dinner is enough to warm the steel vessel to help the batter rise. If this is not an option, preheat your oven to about 100 degrees Celsius and switch it off. Place the vessel into the warm oven and let it rest overnight. I’ve read that switching on the oven light also helps to rise the batter.

  2. Storing: The above recipe yields close to 10 medium sized Appams. If you do not use the entire batter, make sure you refrigerate the remaining batter immediately. Place it on the countertop half an hour before you would make the Appams. You should see a few bubbles from the yeast action. I do not recommend storing the batter for more than 2 days especially if you’re feeding it to children because of the yeast.

Pistachio Milk Cake | Regal Endings



The night before Ramadan began this year, I went out with my friends for dinner. We meet up once a month taking turns to pick our restaurants and last month it was Vietnamese fare. We tucked into roast Chicken with Bao buns, duck breast grilled and dunked in Hoisin sauce and shared an enormous bowl of Pho that my friend insisted we try and still couldn’t finish it completely. I really wanted to go all out on dessert and the menu didn’t quite impress. We were in Downtown and decided to walk towards Dubai Mall just for dessert. We bounced ideas and settled on the dessert everyone has a version of, the Milk Cake. It was close to 11 pm and the cafe was almost full and we were lucky to snag a corner. Knowing long hours of fasting begin the next day and to satiate sugar cravings that seemed to have risen during the walk, we ordered a Classic Milk cake and a sizzling Brownie accompanied with of scoops Vanilla ice cream drowning in chocolate sauce. Milk cakes have been doing the rounds for quite some time in Dubai, and this was the second one I was trying. While we took turns with our spoons from different sides, I decided that this years’ Eid recipe on my blog has to be Milk Cake.

Now this isn’t the first time I would be sharing one on my blog. I made and shared the Latin American Tres Leche with a twist of Coconut milk and Mango cream 7 (omg wow!) years ago when it was still unheard of. It was in the early years of my marriage when I’ve spent many an afternoon watching Food Network. A genoise sponge is baked, poked and prodded at on the surface and made to soak an emulsion of three milks. I added a little tweak of pureed mangoes to the whipped cream. It tasted wonderful but the cream was more soft than stiff peaks and I was not too proud of how it looked. I have gained some baking skills over these years which is why I felt recreating it would be a little easier once I had seen and tasted one from a dessert parlor.

It comes as no surprise that I wanted to try a Pistachio version. Unlike chocolate or fruit-based dessert, where guests like either one or the other, Pistachio is what I fall back on knowing it will please everyone. I made a note to test a recipe and how it’s received at one of the Iftars’ I would host for family. Truth be told, it’s just the right dessert to feed larger groups of people. You can prepare it a day before where it will chill (I just had to) in the refrigerator right until sweetened cream has been whipped and smothered on top to serve. Why I thought of Pistachio is because I had an opened jar of Pistachio Paste waiting to be used in the refrigerator. However, there wasn’t enough for a cake for 14 of us. Or maybe it was enough, but I wasn’t settling for mild flavors. To compensate, I ground Pistachios not completely sure of how it would be. I couldn’t replicate the emerald green color of my fine pistachio paste but it delivered on an almost identical taste. The three milks, so to speak, used are Evaporated Milk, Condensed milk and Whole Milk. The texture of the milk was slightly thicker when I tried it at the restaurant so I decided I would use Half and Half. If you can’t find that, you just need to replace half the volume of whole milk with whipping cream. I combined the ground pistachio paste directly into the milk mixture before pouring it over the Genoise.To add a little finesse to the presentation, I piped the whipping cream using a nozzle over the cake and then covered it with Pistachio dust. 

When I shared my finished cake, so many of you reached out asking for the recipe. I guess I saved the best for the last. I even went ahead and made a Mango milk cake using freshly pureed mangoes and then topping the whipped cream with a lusciously golden Mango curd. Take your pick. I promise either won’t disappoint at your Eid lunch. 



Pistachio Milk Cake

Cake recipe barely adapted from Yoga of Cooking

INGREDIENTS 

Cake

  • Eggs – 5

  • Sugar – ¾ cup

  • Vanilla extract – 1 tsp 

  • All Purpose Flour – 1 cup, sifted

  • Baking powder – 1 tsp

  • Salt – a pinch

Milk Mixture 

  • Evaporated milk – 1 cup

  • Condensed Milk – 1 cup 

  • Heavy Cream – ½ cup

  • Full Fat Milk – ¾ cup

  • Pistachios – 150 g

Topping

  • Heavy Cream OR Whipping Cream – 2 cup

  • Sugar – 3 Tbsp

  • Powdered Pistachio – as desired.

METHOD

Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade.

  • Grease and flour an 9×13 inch sheet pan OR ceramic dish.

  • Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks.

  • Using a stand mixer OR hand held beater, whisk the egg yolks, vanilla extract and sugar until smooth and double in volume.

  • Transfer the mixture to a separate bowl.

  • Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. 

  • Fold this sifted mixture into the whipped egg yolk mixture. Be gentle and make sure you do not over mix. 

  • Clean and dry the stand mixer bowl OR a glass bowl. 

  • Pour a drop of vinegar into this bowl and spread it with a kitchen towel.

  • Using the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on high, until stiff peaks form and the mixture looks foamy. This will take about 4-5 minutes,

  • Gently fold in the egg whites into the egg yolk and flour mixture.

  • Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake for 18-20 minutes or till the top is golden.

  • Let cool completely before proceeding with the milk mixture.

Milk Mixture

  • Place the pistachios in a food processor.

  • Grind the pistachios on a medium speed for 5 minutes. It will resemble very thick peanut butter.

  • Using a silicone spatula, stir the paste and wipe down the paste from the processor back into the middle.

  • Process for another 5 minutes on medium speed.

  • Stir and wipe down and blend again for 5 minutes one last time.

  • The paste should be very smooth and the oils of the pistachios should have released.

  • If you feel the paste can get smoother, continue processing in 2 minute intervals till the consistency is right.

  • In a large bowl or jar, use a whisk to combine all the milk mixture ingredients together.

  • Add in the pistachio paste and whisk thoroughly till it is a homogenous mixture

  • Refrigerate until ready to use.

ASSEMBLY

  • Using a skewer OR a fork, poke ( a million!) holes into the top of the cake.

  • Set aside 1/2 cup of milk mixture.

  • Gently pour a part the remaining milk mixture on top of the cake.

  • Make sure you don’t miss the corners of the cake.

  • Wait for the surface to absorb it briefly.

  • Once it looks a bit dry (2 minutes), pour a little more of the milk mixture.

  • Continue this process for the remaining milk mixture.

  • Refrigerate covered for at least 2 hours.

  • Check if the milk has been absorbed completely.

  • If it has, you will be able to see the cake surface. Pour half of the milk mixture that was set aside.

  • If it has not been absorbed completely, you will see the liquid on the surface. DO NOT pour any additional milk mixture.

  • Refrigerate the covered cake overnight OR at least 10 hours.

TO SERVE

  • Whip the heavy cream and sugar in a clean, dry bowl till stiff peaks form.

  • Be careful not to over beat because the cream will curdle.

  • Using a silicone spatula, spread the whipped cream on surface making sure it is smooth and even on all sides.

  • Sprinkle powdered pistachios generously all over the cake,

  • Cut the cake and gently transfer to serving bowls.

  • Divide and pour the remaining milk mixture into the bowls.

NOTES

  • I piped the whipping cream using a pastry bag an open star tip nozzle for a good finish. This is completely optional.

  • If you’re halving the recipe, you must use 3 eggs. The remaining ingredients can be halved.

  • The amount of milk the cake absorbs depends completely on the baking pan the cake is made in. When I used a rectangular one, it absorbed better in comparison to the cake made using halved ingredients recipe in a square pan.

  • If the milk does not absorb, it will be difficult to spread the whipping cream on top.

Have a good food day.

Mango Milk Cake | Seasonal Delights



Ramadan is undoubtedly, the busiest time on my blog. I have been lying low throughout the year but closer to Ramadan, I feel obliged to shoot and share recipes for my table and yours. I almost always start planning with dessert for the day of Eid and then work my way backwards. This year I made a Pistachio Milk cake for an Iftar I hosted for my cousins and was inundated with requests to share the recipe. There were a few ideas that didn’t make it beyond the testing stage on the blog and I felt I had to make it up for it with more dessert. Given that we’ve been blessed with the season of mangoes coinciding with the month of fasting, it made perfect sense to try my hand at making a refreshingly light milk cake that would make for a sweet ending after generous servings of celabratory Biriyani.



The Milk Cake is in essence a Tres Leche cake. This Latin American dessert starts with baking a Genoise sponge. Eggs are separated and while the yolks are whisked with sugar to a ribbony stage, the whites are beaten till glossy and five times its volumes. They’re both gently folded with flour and baked just until golden. To get an idea of how airy and light is is, gently press the sides once it is out of the oven. It springs right back after contact and makes an animating squishy sound. There’s a reason why it should be this light so I would suggest keeping it away from toddler fingers that may want to have a bit too much fun making some noise and upsetting the delicate structure of the cake.



Tres Leche means ‘Three Milk’ and that’s what the cake was made for. The air bubbles entrapped accommodates the liquid generously without collapsing. Traditionally, It is usually a mixture of Evaporated Milk, Condensed Milk and either whole milk or heavy cream. Given I made this recipe before, I found combining the milk and heavy cream in equal amounts for the last component made the texture I was looking for. It is slightly thicker than the usual consistency which makes it ideal for tha addition below.





When I made Mango Tres Leche years ago, the recipe called for blended mango cubes to be added while whipping the cream. I’m not sure whether it was the extra liquid or my inability to recognize if the cream had been whipped to soft peaks, the result was mango cream that didn’t quite hold it’s shape. Mind you, it tasted indulgent especially after it was chilled. However it took away from the presentation you associate with a Tres Leches dessert. For this reason, while recipe testing I decided to add the pureed mangoes directly into the milk mixture. This way the genoise sponge would absorb and hold the flavor of Alphonso much better than it being combined to whipped cream.



It takes just a few firm whisks to incorporate the puree completely into the milk mixture. It does have to meld completely otherwise the lumps could create ‘drainage’ issues by preventing the liquid to be absorbed into the cake.



This is probably one cake where you don’t have to worry about bumps or cracks on the surface because you’re going to be punching tiny holes. Fair warning, it starts off quite satisfyingly while you badger the surface with a skewer and then slowly borders on cumbersome to make sure every inch has been punctured enough to make way of the liquid that will be poured and to initiate the absorption stage. This is imperative to the final texture of the milk cake. It’s a little fascinating to see how the genoise just about holds its shape when being cut despite being drenched in liquid. I actually like to pour the milk a little at a time to note how quickly the cake is absorbing the liquid. When I made Pistachio Milk cake, it was for a larger group and I baked it into a rectangular pan. The milk mixture soaked through completely in an hour and I was relieved I set aside some to pour more on top. The genoise for this cake was baked in a square ceramic dish. I noted that the liquid was absorbed relatively slower in terms of time and I had more milk mixture remaining. This isn’t a problem because you can refrigerate it and pour it directly into the serving bowl and place your cut cake in the middle. Alphonso is rich when it comes to flavor and it mellows the sweetness from the condensed milk. I help myself to any liquid remaining in the bowl and it’s precisely for this reason I added the puree directly to combined milk.



The reason why it is so important that the liquid drains into the cake completely is because of the next step. The cake will be chilled in the refrigerator over night and about an hour before it is served, it will be topped with heavy cream, sweetened and whipped to soft peaks . Should there be any liquid stagnant on the top of the cake, it makes it difficult for the whipping cream to adhere to the surface and there’s very chance it will slide off. There’s no need to fret should this be the case. You can drain any extra milk on the surface and then proceed to spreading the whipping cream. I like using my offset spatula to spread and smoothen it allover the cake but a silicon spatula or even a butter knife will do the job well. Take care to get the cream even to the edges and especially to make sure it is of the same height all over. The difference, if any, will become obvious when it is cut so it’s one more thing to take a little time to perfect.





When you look at milk cake versions available in Dubai, you’ll find almost always find some element resting on clouds of whipped cream to let you know what flavor you’ll be digging into. Strands of saffron, dried rose buds and biscoff sauce are a few of the many versions you’d find. So when I thought of making mango milk cake, how I would top the whipping cream to indicate so had me thinking. You wait an entire year for these sunshine yellow mangoes to start appearing in your supermarket aisles that it seems a shame not to literally squeeze all possible options to incorporate them in summery desserts. Given my poor knife skills and little patience, slivering the flesh to make roses was what I would have loved but I know that’s not happening.. That’s when I thought of testing a very simple Mango curd that’s going to come handy not just in this dessert but also great to have (literally) chilling in the refrigerator for sandwiching cake layers or filling cupcake cores. I know making any sort of fruit curd from scratch is a little tricky when eggs are involved. It also poses an issue about longevity and I didn’t know how long it would keep well. I looked up a few eggless curd versions and found one and adjusted it ever so slightly to make this velvety smooth Mango curd that would rest beautifully on top of the whipped cream.

Now if Mango is not something you fancy, I have a Pistachio Milk Cake you could try. I’m being completely honest, as much as I love my mangoes, Pistachios in dessert (gelato especially!) is my true weakness and that’s only if I am forced to choose. The Genoise sponge drenched in cool mango flavored milk with decadent layers of whipped cream and lush Mango curd makes for a beautiful dessert to end your celebratory Eid lunch. And if you’re baking it to take to your family gathering, cut yourself a slice and have it waiting for you at the end of the day. You will thank me later.



Mango Milk Cake

Cake recipe barely adapted from Yoga of Cooking.

INGREDIENTS 

Cake

  • Eggs – 5

  • Sugar – ¾ cup

  • Vanilla extract – 1 tsp 

  • All Purpose Flour – 1 cup, sifted

  • Baking powder – 1 tsp

  • Salt – a pinch

Milk Mixture 

  • Evaporated milk – 1 cups

  • Condensed Milk – 1 cup 

  • Fresh pureed Mango Pulp – ¾ cup

  • Heavy Cream – ½ cup

  • Full Fat Milk – ¾ cup

Topping

  • Mango Curd – optional. Click here for the recipe.

  • Heavy Cream OR Whipping Cream – 2 cups

  • Sugar – 3 Tbsp

METHOD

Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade.

  • Grease and flour an 9×13 inch sheet pan OR ceramic dish.

  • Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks.

  • Using a stand mixer OR hand held beater, whisk the egg yolks, vanilla extract and sugar until smooth and double in volume.

  • Transfer the mixture to a separate bowl.

  • Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. 

  • Fold this sifted mixture into the whipped egg yolk mixture. Be gentle and make sure you do not over mix. 

  • Clean and dry the stand mixer bowl OR a glass bowl. 

  • Pour a drop of vinegar into this bowl and spread it with a kitchen towel.

  • Using the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on high, until stiff peaks form and the mixture is glossy. This will take about 4-5 minutes,

  • Gently fold in the egg whites into the egg yolk and flour mixture.

  • Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake for 18-20 minutes or till the top is golden.

  • Let cool completely before proceeding with the milk mixture.

Milk Mixture

  • In a large bowl or jar, use a whisk to combine all the milk mixture ingredients together.

  • Add in the mango pulp and whisk again till it is smooth and no lumps remain.

  • Refrigerate until ready to use.

ASSEMBLY

  • Using a skewer OR a fork, poke ( a million!) holes into the top of the cake.

  • Set aside 1 cup of milk mixture.

  • Gently pour a part the remaining milk mixture on top of the cake.

  • Make sure you don’t miss the corners of the cake.

  • Wait for the surface to absorb it briefly.

  • Once it looks a bit dry (2 minutes), pour a little more of the milk mixture.

  • Continue this process for the remaining milk mixture.

  • Refrigerate covered for at least 2 hours.

  • Check if the milk has been absorbed completely.

  • If it has, you will be able to see the cake surface. Pour half of the milk mixture that was set aside.

  • If it has not been absorbed completely, you will see the liquid on the surface. DO NOT pour any additional milk mixture.

  • Refrigerate the covered cake overnight OR at least 10 hours.

TO SERVE

  • Whip the heavy cream and sugar in a clean, dry bowl till stiff peaks form.

  • Be careful not to over beat because the cream will curdle.

  • If you’re piping decorations, set aside a little whipped cream.

  • Using a silicone spatula, spread the whipped cream on the surface making sure it is smooth and even on all sides.

  • IF you’re topping with mango curd, keep a glass of hot water, a kitchen towel and a butter knife OR an offset spatula ready at hand.

  • Spoon the curd on top of the cake.

  • Dip the butter knife in the hot water, wipe it with the towel and smoothen the mango curd over the whipped cream. The heat from the knife will make smooth the curd, which is thicker in texture, across the whipped cream.

  • Repeat the above process, till the mango curd covers the whipping cream.

  • Fit an icing bag with desired nozzle and spoon the set aside whipped cream.

  • Pipe designs around the perimeter of the cake.

  • Cut the cake and gently transfer to serving bowls.

  • Divide and pour the remaining milk mixture into the bowls,

  • You can pipe more whipped cream designs if you’d like. Totally up to you.

NOTES

  • If you’re halving the recipe, you must use 3 eggs. The remaining ingredients can be halved exactly.

  • The amount of milk the cake absorbs depends completely on the baking pan the cake is made in. When I used a rectangular one, it absorbed better in comparison to the cake made using halved ingredients recipe in a square pan.

  • If the milk does not absorb, it will be difficult to spread the whipping cream on top.

  • Should there be excess liquid for whatever reason after refrigerating overnight, tilt the pan slightly and drain the milk that is on top of the surfac
    e.

Fresh Mango Curd {Eggless!}



For the past few years, Ramadan has been arriving in the peak of Dubai summers. The golden lining, if I may say so, is the influx of seasonal mangoes from the Indian subcontinent. They’ll slowly start appearing, tart, green and far from the ripening stage in the early days of May. Towards the end of the month, the color lightens revealing tints of yellow and before you know it the aisles of the supermarket will be hosting Mango ‘festivals’ where you get to pick and choose from over a dozen varieties that have arrived across the breadth of these countries. Rajapuri, Mallika and Malgova from the southern coastal areas, Alphonso and Kesar from the western parts and Chaunsa and Sindhri from across the border. I gravitate towards Badami and undoubtedly the most popular one, Alphonso.

Interestingly, it was during the Portuguese colonization that grafting of mango trees were introduced to produce varieties like Alphonso. No doubt, it is one of the most prized exports from India when they are in season. I’m still learning how to peel mangoes without disturbing the flesh bursting with sweetness that lies underneath. They’re cut, pureed, blended and treated in every other way possible till they slowly start changing colors again and you know this season has come to an end. One of my recipes in time for Eid, is a Mango milk cake and I was wondering how to use them once clouds of whipped cream top a delicate cake drenched in milk flavored with freshly pureed mangoes. When blended it is a bit runny in consistency and I needed something slightly thicker. That’s when the idea of Mango Curd came to mind. I did know that I had to keep the technique egg less reminiscing a batch of Lemon curd that never saw the light of the day amidst scrambled bits. Pureed mango is combined with a cornstarch slurry that will help it thicken with a little heat. The addition of tart Lime juice cuts through the sweetness and the addition of butter thats stirred at the end renders a velvety smooth curd.



The best part is there is so much you can do with one little jar. Core cupcakes, pour in some curd and pipe Raspberry buttercream on top. Make thumbprint cookies and spoon some more in the middle right before they’re baked. Make blind baked or even chilled tart shills and fill them with more curd. Top your overnight oatmeal that you’d have for Suhoor or slather a little on a slice of warm toast for a quick little indulgence on the morning of Eid. Of course, you can always make this for what I intended originally, a decadent Mango milk cake. Without eggs, they will keep well a little more longer in the refrigerator although I’m pretty certain you won’t have trouble finishing a jar of these.



Eggless Mango Curd

Recipe adapted from Versatile Vegetarian Kitchen

INGREDIENTS

  • Freshly Pureed mango pulp – ¾ cup

  • Sugar – 5 tsp (optional)

  • Butter – 2 Tbsp

  • Lime juice – 1 Tbsp

  • Corn Starch – 2 Tbsp

  • Water – 2 Tbsp

METHOD

  • Add the lemon juice to the mango puree and stir well.

  • Pour this into a thick bottomed sauce pan.

  • Whisk the corn starch and water in a glass thoroughly. It should be completely free of lumps.

  • Add this to the saucepan and stir.

  • Heat this mixture on a low flame.

  • Constantly stir the mixture to prevent lumps from forming.

  • The curd will start getting thicker and creamy.

  • If you have a candy thermometer, it should read 166-170 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Test the curd and check if it is sweet enough. If not, add sugar up to a teaspoon at a time. Stir and taste again before adding more.

  • Turn the heat to simmer and add butter one tbsp at a time.

  • Stir the curd gently till all the butter has melted.

  • Take the sauce pan off heat and pour the curd in to a glass jar or a bowl.

  • Place cling film directly on the surface to prevent skin from forming.

  • Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or till set.

  • Use it within 5 days.

Have a good food day.

Curry Chicken Puffs | Crumbs on my fingertips



During the early years of my marriage when we used to live with my husbands’ parents, these Curry Puffs were was a recipe I earned brownie points with. Prior to my arrival, these were not made at home. For me these curry Puffs were a staple for Iftar, growing up, especially when we had cousins over. For this reason, these were one of the first recipes I could make from scratch independently. Cubed chicken is marinated briefly with spices and a dash of lemon and cooked and shredded. Onions are caramelized alongside garlic and ginger paste, chillies for heat and a little more spices are added before the chicken is mixed in for the filling. It has all the ingredients you would use in a good chicken curry except for whole tomatoes to keep the filling dry. With the notion of the table has to be filled with favourites when entertaining for Iftar, these would almost always by my contribution.

When I would go back to Kerala for the summer holidays, we were (literally) dragged to visit endless family members. My father actually had a plan in writing with dates against each area and the number of houses we were to visit in the span of two weeks he would be in Kerala. One of the things that made it less daunting for my 8 years and older self, was the prospect of being offered tea. After the customary chit-chat including weather, date of arrival and departure and exchanging notes of milestones from the year gone by, we would be called into the dining room which would have at least four, if not more, plates of nibbles waiting. Some houses knew we would be arriving beforehand and the spread on the table would be more elaborate with piping hot fried snacks which almost always included Pazham Pori, Kerala’s household Plaintain fritter. Some of the things you’d find on the table would be peanut and pea laden fried mixture, Jackfruit or Plantain chips, (orange) sweet cream filled biscuits accompanied with glasses of Tang for the children. This was easily close to two decades ago where most snacks were still made from scratch in every household and very few people bought form bakeries. In fact, ‘bakery items’, as they’re referred to, were mostly found in houses where a family member either worked or owned a bakery. On both my parents side, there were relatives in the immediate family that did so which meant these were the houses were one could expect flower shaped Tea cakes and Chicken Puffs. I distinctly remember that they’re referred to in plural. ‘Puffs idukku’ meant help yourself to a piece. Kissan ketchup, which was a shade brighter and much more sweeter than what we had in Dubai, would be squeezed on to your plate and I’d slowly break it apart with my fingers and making sure I didn’t drop pastry flakes on to the tabletop.

Back in Dubai, close to my teenage years, frozen puff pastry started appearing in the frozen section of the supermarket. There was one particular year that they were seen at every Iftar we were invited to and would be made at ours. Slowly, chicken made way to meat, fish and even sweeter fruit fillings. 

In all honesty, I prefer Egg stuffed ones to Chicken. I remember when I was pregnant with my son, this was a constant craving in the second trimester. More than the egg, the satisfaction was when flaky pastry would crumble and melt in your mouth and the butteriness slowly appears. Making Puff Pastry has been on my list for a very long time. But until, then store bought works just as well. Given they are very common, I underestimate how much they are appreciated and am proven wrong every time they are served. This is one of the dishes where there is a polite hustle and back and forth for the last piece remaining. Don’t tell anyone, I always keep a few hidden in the oven for later.

Curry Chicken Puffs

INGREDIENTS

Chicken Mince

  • Chicken  breast – 500 g

  • Ginger garlic paste – 1 Tbsp

  • Red chilli powder – 1 ½ tsp

  • Turmeric Powder – ¾ tsp

  • Garam Masala – ¾ tsp

  • Ground pepper – 1 tsp

  • Salt – to taste

  • Lemon juice – 2 tsp

Filling

  • Onions – 2 medium

  • Ginger Garlic paste – 2 Tbsp

  • Green chillies – 2-3 to taste

  • Red Chilli powder – 1 tsp

  • Coriander powder – 1 ½ tsp

  • Turmeric Powder – ¾ tsp

  • Garam Masala – ¾ tsp

  • Coriander leaves – a fistful

  • Boiled Potoates – 1 (optional)

  • Butter – 1 tbsp, cubed

  • Salt – to taste

  • Coconut Oil – as needed

  • Frozen Puff Pastry squares – Thawed for 30 minutes

  • Egg – 1

METHOD

  • Cut the chicken breast into cubes and wash thoroughly.

  • Mix all the spice powders, ginger garlic paste, pepper, lemon juice and salt together.

  • Rub the above mixture into the chicken cubes and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. 

  • Heat a little coconut oil on medium-high heat.

  • Fry the chicken cubes stirring frequently.

  • The water from the chicken will start releasing.

  • Continue cooking the chicken till the water has evaporated. 

  • Using a spatula, shred the chicken in the pan while it is still warm or once it is completely cool, shred the chicken in a blender with not more than 3 second pulses.

Filling

  • Thinly slice onions and green chillies.

  • Chop coriander leaves finely.

  • If adding potato, cut the boiled potatoes into small cubes.

  • Heat coconut oil on low heat.

  • Fry the onions till they start turning brown.

  • Add ginger garlic paste and sauté well for a minute.

  • Add sliced chillies and sauté again.

  • Add the spice powders and mix well.

  • Add coriander leaves and sauté again.

  • Add in chicken mince and mix making sure the caramelized onion and spice mixtu
    re blends well.

  • Add half a tablespoon of melted coconut oil and mix well.

  • If adding potato, tip in cubed potatoes and sauté gently so that the potatoes don’t mash and break.

  • Turn down the heat to simmer and put the cubed butter on top of the mixture.

  • Cover the saucepan and let the butter melt. This should take about two minutes.

Assembly

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade.

  • Prepare a sheet pan or a baking dish with Parchment paper.

  • Beat the egg well.

  • Take a pastry square and spoon mixture on one half.

  • Fold the empty pastry side through the middle over the mixture.

  • Using light pressure, press the edges together using your finger tips.

  • Using a fork tip, press the edges lightly to seal it completely.

  • Brush egg wash over the top part of the pastry.

  • Place on the parchment paper leaving an inch between each filled pastry.

  • Bake the pastry for 25 minutes.

  • Check if the top has turned golden. If it hasn’t bake till it does checking in 5 minute increments.

  • Once they’ve turned golden, flip the pastries very carefully (don’t burn your hands!).

  • Bake for an additional 10 minutes and then switch off the oven.

  • Let it rest inside for 10 minutes before taking out.

  • Serve warm with ketchup.

NOTES ON VARIATIONS:

Egg: Prepare the Onion filling according to recipe above. Add boiled eggs that have been halved through the middle and gently toss till its coated in the Masala. It needs extra care while folding because it is bulkier.

Fish: Substitute chicken for canned tuna or Kingfish fillet in the recipe for chicken filling above. Proceed with the remaining recipe.

Red Meat: I would recommend cooking red meat either in a press cooker or slow cooked till the meat falls apart from the bone. Chunkier meat would make folding thawed pastry a bit difficult.

Have a good food day.