Balconies and Baked Yoghurts

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It’s the first night it’s been warm enough to sit out on the balcony. The city lights shimmer in the distance, a deceptively calm façade to the Friday night revelry within. To the right, the single red glow atop the harbour bridge winks in its rhythm, in conversation with its twin that adorns the tip of centre-point tower. To the left of the nightscape is the distinct neon green squiggle of the holiday inn, a fluorescent stairway to heaven that is another reference point. The lights merge into a softly shimmering veil on the water of the harbour, now still without even a moving boat to disturb its surface.

From across the road, a wall of jasmine sends tendrils of sweetness over the railing, a comforting reminder of spring.  Below, a couple enjoy an evening stroll, elderly dog pottering on a lead before them. Diffuse puddles of light created by street lamps briefly illuminate the tops of their heads as they make their way down the street. Somewhere in the distance, base notes of dance music are scattered into the neighbourhood breeze from a house party. It’s loud enough to remind me that someone, somewhere is on a dance floor, but far enough away to leave me glad that it isn’t me.

There are worse ways to spend a Friday evening.

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This dessert, if you get it right, is like scented silk.  The recipe’s simplicity is almost deceptive, and it almost seems unfair that something so divine can be so easy. It is an Indian dessert, but one I didn’t grow up with so when it was first made for me, I was in awe. While it is simple to make, it does take a little planning due to the hanging of the curd, baking, and chilling before it is ready to serve. Its’ texture is not unlike pannacotta if you get the baking time right. If you over-bake it, it will be a little coarser and more reminiscent of a cheesecake, and still lovely.

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Indian Sweet Baked Yoghurt with Cherry Vanilla Sauce

Makes 6

Get:
1 ½ cups full fat Greek yoghurt
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
¾ cup full-fat milk
Seeds of 6-8 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
Seeds of ½ a vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla paste
A few strands of saffron
Crushed nuts to serve

For the sauce:
200g pitted cherries, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice
Seeds of ½ a vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla paste

Make:

Place the yoghurt in the centre of a piece of cheesecloth (for those in Australia, a clean Chux cloth works well). Tie the opposite corners together and suspend the curd from a low height where the whey can drip out. Try the faucet or a wooden spoon laid across the top of a bucket. Allow to hang for 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

If using saffron, warm a couple of tablespoons of the milk and add the saffron. Set aside for a few minutes. Place the thickened yoghurt, condensed milk, vanilla and cardamom in a large mixing bowl. Whisk or beat with an electric beater on low speed until combined. Add the milk and saffron milk (if using) and beat again until combined.

Divide the mixture between 6 ramekins or glasses. Place these in a deep oven dish and pour water into the dish and around the glasses so that the water level is ½ to ¾ to the level of yoghurt mixture. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the yoghurts are set but still wobbly. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

To make the cherry sauce, place the sauce ingredients into a thick-bottomed saucepan with the vanilla bean husk if you used a bean. Add a splash of water (about ¼ cup). Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer on low heat for about half an hour, or until the cherries are easy to break down. Allow to cool, then discard the vanilla bean and blitz the mixture in a food processor until it is a rough puree. Spoon the mixture into the glasses on top of the chilled baked yoghurt. Top with crushed nuts just before serving.

A Giveaway! And Chocolate Cake for One (Vegan, Gluten-free).

It’s been almost a decade since I last lived on my own, in a poky little flat above a veterinary clinic in North-West London. It was furnished with mismatched, tired looking pieces, and in the kitchen was a washing machine which I initially thought was cactus.  One day, a couple of kicks and a few expletives later, it miraculously came back to life and worked surprisingly well from then onwards.

The flat shared an entry with the clinic’s waiting room, and so I would often find myself sidling past curious wet noses who would sniff eagerly at my bags of groceries on the way in or garbage on the way out. The bathroom was adorned in lustrous, cracked maroon tiles with gold accents that may have had its’ glory days in the 1970’s. Entertainment was provided intermittently by the patrons of the Irish pub next door and by another neighbour who would regularly and loudly assure the entire neighbourhood that ‘Jesus would save them!’ at convenient times such as four o’clock in the morning. The apartment was what the kinder of us would call ‘full of character’, an apt introduction to the colourful place that is London.

At the time, I bought myself a book called Live Alone and Like it by Marjorie Hillis, whose cover declared it to be ‘A 1935 Bestseller’. The quirk in me couldn’t resist as not only was it on the ‘3 for 2’ table at Borders, but it boasted chapters titled A Lady and Her Liquor, Pleasures of a Single Bed and the intriguing You’d Better Skip This One.

Ms Hillis’ advice, although many decades old, is strangely still relevant. She advises against self-pity at being alone, warning that “Not only will you soon actually be all alone; you will also be the outstanding example of the super-bore”.  She doles out practical advice on the merits of saving money, for example, and cautions that “…..eventually, if no husband has turned up and no obliging relative has died, there comes a horrid conviction that putting aside a little something for a rainy day is not such a bad idea.”  In a chapter delightfully headed When A Lady Needs a Friend, Marge gets straight to the point with “….the truth is that if you’re interesting, you’ll have plenty of friends and if you’re not, you won’t- unless you’re very, very rich”.  Truest of all are her words on furnishing and decor, “This is your house, and it’s probably the only place in the world where you can have things exactly as you please.”

And the discovery that I could do just what I wanted in my space was a delightfully liberating one. Bake cookies at midnight! Paint the wall bright blue! Accumulate framed art that I never hang! Walk around without pants on! (Close the blinds first!!)

Oh…..and chocolate cake for dinner!

I want to equip you with this recipe, for those times when nothing but chocolate cake will do. This is a recipe for chocolate cake for one, made in the Tefal Cook4Me electric pressure cooker (which I have gushed about previously in my last post), so that it’s nice and moist.  If you are interesting enough to have a friend or a chocolate-loving date over, then just double the recipe and divide it into two ramekins.  It is gluten free, can be easily made vegan, and is (gasp!) even nourishing, with its healthy fats and proteins.  Most importantly, it is quick to make and fuss free.

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Oh! Oh! Oh!! I also have some gorgeous Tefal 17cm Santoku knives to give away to you, my dear readers! To enter, drop me a comment here.  What I want to know is, what do you enjoy doing when you have the house to yourself?  Please keep it clean, obviously! I will pick a couple of my favourite revelations to send these gorgeous, soft-handled knives to.  I can only send to Australian addresses, and you can enter as many times as you want with separate comments.

So tell me, what is your favourite home-alone activity or indulgence?

*Cook4Me and Santoku knives were kindly provided by Tefal, however all opinions are my own.

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Pressure Cooker Chocolate Cake for One

Get:

1/3 cup almond meal
1 tbsp buckwheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder or raw cocoa
2-3 tsp brown sugar
¼ tsp vanilla paste or powder
Tiny pinch salt
2 tsp milk (use non-dairy milk for vegan option)
1 tsp coconut oil, melted
1 tsp full-fat youghurt or aquafaba (for vegan option)

1 1/2 cups water

Make:

Place all the ingredients apart from the water in a small mixing bowl and mix until just combined. Place in a ramekin.

Remove the steamer basket from the Tefal Cook4Me. Pour 1 1/2 cups of water in the bottom of the main pot. Place the ramekin in the main pot. The water should come up to about halfway up the outside of the ramekin.

Close and lock the lid of the Tefal Cook4Me. Choose recipes, then choose the ‘Chocolate Sponge Pudding’ setting.  Press enter through all the steps and then accept the cooking time.

When cooked, carefully remove the hot ramekin from the cooker and eat the cake straight out of the ramekin with a dollop of cream, ice-cream or Greek yoghurt. Feel free to enjoy for dinner without judgement or disapproving eyes.

Notes:
Aquafaba is the liquid from a can of chick peas or beans, or the cooking liquid from the same. It is full of protein and a great vegan egg replacer.

True-Brown Aussie

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (1 of 3)

My first long haul flight was when I was just over the threshold of eight years of age.  I’m afraid my memories of it are scant, the strongest one being that I had the special job of carrying the mantapa, the small Hindu altar that my great-grandfather had carved out of rosewood.  A close second is the memory of the confusing emotions that each of us, myself and my parents, carried with us.  A healthy scoop of excitement stirred through a pinch of sadness and a heaped tablespoon of apprehension at the thought of starting a new chapter at our destination, Australia.

I had no appreciation of how brave my parents were then, leaping into a new life in a country they had never even visited.  Approaching with a few thousand rupees, a weak currency against the dollar even then, and a pocketful of hope, we were Sydney-bound with very little idea of what to expect.  As a family, we learnt our way around not only the Sydney streets, but also the Australian culture and vernacular.  We learnt fairly quickly that “How ya going?” invited an answer of “Good thanks!” or “Not bad!”, and not the reply “By bus!”.  It was a hard lesson when we realised that ‘Bring a plate’ meant a prepared dish, not what the phrase implies in a literal sense.

More than twenty-five years later, we are about as Australian as the average Australian.  We make pakoras on Christmas day, party on New Year’s Eve and go to the temple for Hindu new years.  When asked about our background we identify as Indian but while travelling outside Australia we are fiercely proud to declare ourselves Aussie.  We wear saris and bindis at Diwali to exchange gifts of new clothes, and gorge on chocolate eggs at Easter.  Rather than barbeques laden with meat and onions on Sunday afternoons, we spread dosa (south Indian rice crepes) onto hot pans and dunk them in chutney and sambhar.  On  Australia day, we have the added celebration of Indian Republic day, an interesting coincidence.  Some years, to be honest, it’s simply rest-day or spring-cleaning day!

The mantapa now inhabits my spare room, enclosing my small shrine.  It is where I pray before I go forth to conquer the day and before I sit down to a meal, whether Indian, Italian, Thai or Australian.  Like me, it is Indian-manufactured and Australian-developed, it’s wood as solid and un-weathered as my cultural identity.

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (3 of 3)

There are days when I feel not Indian enough and a few cents short of Aussie enough.  And other days when I know I am standing comfortably in the middle of the see-saw, perfectly balanced.  I am more a True-Brown Indian-Australian than a True-Blue Aussie, and this seems to work just fine.

Mangoes and coconuts are well-loved ingredients in both India and Australia and the Mango-Macadamia combination is a popular on in my adopted country.  These truffles pack all the flavour of mangoes, with the textural elements of coconut and macadamia butter.  They are vegan and free of refined sugar and gluten.

Happy Australia Day and Indian Republic day folks!

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (2 of 3)

MMC (Mango, Macadamia and Coconut) Truffles

Get:

100g dried mango, soaked in water for 1-2 hours
1/3 cup macadamia butter
2 tbsp coconut sugar
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3 tbsp protein powder
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
2 tbsp quinoa flour (or another 2 tbsp protein powder)
1/4 cup shredded coconut + more for coating
Coconut oil (optional)

Make:

Drain the water from the soaked mango.  Pulse the mango with all the ingredients, except for the extra shredded coconut and the coconut oil, in a high-speed food processor, until a smooth mixture forms.  Roll into tbsp sized balls, adding a little coconut oil if the mixture is too firm. Toss the truffles in the extra shredded coconut and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours.

Dark Chocolate, Cardamom and Pistachio Brownies (Gluten Free)

I spend an unnatural amount of time thinking about things like how exactly chick-pea water works as an alternative to eggs (it couldn’t….could it…??).  Or what the exact reaction is that happens when you whip butter and sugar together.  Or why 180 degrees celsius in two different ovens is never the same.  I guess it’s what comes with the territory when you are both a scientist and a food blogger.  A double occupational hazard of sorts.

Lately my neurons have been firing about incorporating vegetables and legumes into sweet baked goods like cake and brownies.  Throw stones at me if you will, but I have to say, I’m not convinced.

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From the point of view of adding moisture without adding fat, I suppose I get it. Sort of.  But for the purpose of ‘hiding’ veggies to boost one’s veggie intake? Unconvinced.  I for one would rather beetroot roasted and tossed with chunks of salty fetta and baby spinach, the whole thing doused with a squeeze of lemon juice, than lurking sneakily in a cookie.  If I soak a batch of white beans, it’ll be to toss them with parsley, chilly and olive oil, not conceal them cleverly in a mudcake.

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So here are my brownies. Gluten free and moist with coconut oil which will make your skin shine. They sing with cardamom notes and are brought gently down to earth with the richness of dark chocolate and pistachios.  Like most of the baked goods on this site, the sweetness is subdued so feel free to add a little more sugar if you like things a little sweeter.  And not a vegetable or legume in (or out of) sight .

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Dark Chocolate, Cardamom and Pistachio Brownies

Get:
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
Seeds scraped from 1/2 a large vanilla bean, or 2 tsp vanilla paste
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
1/2 tsp cinnamon
120g good quality 70% dark chocolate, melted
3/4 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup almond meal
1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Make:

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius.  Grease and line a shallow oven tray with grease-proof paper

In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk the eggs.  Add sugar, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon and beat with an electric mixer until a smooth mixture forms.

In a separate bowl, melt the chocolate either in a bain marie or in 20 to 30 second bursts in the microwave. Stir through coconut oil, also melted.  Stir this mixture into the egg mixture until a smooth mixture forms.

Gently stir through the almond meal, salt and baking powder, followed by the pistachios.

Pour the mixture into the pan and bake on the top shelf for 18-22 mins.  Remove from the oven when the middle of the slab is still a bit undercooked, and leave in the tray to cool.  Slice and serve!

Monsoon Mocha Ice-Cream Sandwiches for a Nespresso Challenge, and a Giveaway!

Decoction (noun)

A concentrated liquor resulting from heating or boiling a substance, especially a medicinal preparation made from a plant.

                                                                – Oxford Dictionary

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It’s a jarring sound, decoction.  A sudden awakening from slumber by the cries of the vegetable seller from the street, and the racket of steel on steel as the maids wash the morning dishes.  It is the clanging of the heavy temple bell as early worshippers wake the Gods, offerings of fruit and flowers balanced in the other hand.  It is the impatient tooting of the horns of scooters ridden by morning commuters, some with saree clad wives perched sideways on the passenger seat.

Di-caack-shun when pronounced by a mami (aunty), is a little softer.  It is what South Indians call their coffee, brewed strong and slow, through a filter.  It’s rich aroma floats from the kitchen with that of freshly ground coconut flesh that is to be blended into chutney.  It wafts across the courtyard of a traditional Tamilian home to mingle with the intoxicating scent of jasmine blossoms and delicate incense smoke.  It is an unmistakeable morning scent, the promise of piping hot coffee in tiny steel cups alongside fluffy idlis (steamed rice cakes) and fragrant chutney.  For many South Indians, it really is somewhat of a medicinal preparation, an essential start to the day.  Until the first dose is taken, the morning cacophony can wait.

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No European coffee, prepared by professionals using noisy steam-spurting machines comes close to South Indian philter kaapi, lovingly brewed by mami baristas.  Rich and deep without bitterness and creamy with full-cream milk, sipping dose after dose from those stainless steel cups is an experience that cannot be mimicked by western coffee in paper cups.  When Nespresso sent me their new, limited edition Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru capsules however, I was surprised at how much the aroma and taste reminded me of South Indian coffee.  It’s deep, warm tones lend themselves perfectly to dessert and I couldn’t wait to create a sweet treat that incorporated this gorgeous blend.  My Monsoon Mocha Ice-Cream Sandwich uses a modification of a spiced Indian biscuit, known as nankhatai, with rich and creamy no-churn mocha ice cream.  Coffee is no stranger to spices, at least in the middle-east, and the sharpness of cardamom helps cut through the sweetness and warm coffee tones.

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It takes a little planning, this one.  The ice-cream should be given at least 12-24 hours to freeze, and the biscuit dough can be made and refrigerated at the same time.  The next day, leave yourself a little time to roll out, cut and bake the biscuits, then allow them to cool before crumbly biscuit meets cold, luscious ice cream.  The result will be a pleasantly surprising combination of flavours and textures, a dessert that does full justice to the lovely Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru.

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Before we get too carried away with this intoxicating business of coffee, ice-cream and whatnot, I have a couple of important things to mention.  Firstly, I would be super grateful if you would please head over to the Nespresso Facebook page at the end of this week, like the page and vote for my Monsoon Mocha Ice-cream Sandwich Recipe in the blogger challenge.  Thank you in advance!

Secondly, and more excitingly, I have a giveaway!  It is a stunning cookbook by Chef Kumar Mahadevan and his wife Suba Mahadevan, who own two of the best Indian restaurants in Sydney. Chef Kumar has also appeared on Masterchef Australia as an expert Indian chef.  From a personal perspective, my family and I are frequent diners at both restaurants and long before this giveaway was even in the works, I placed both Abhi’s and Aki’s in the guide to my favourite Indian restaurants in Sydney on Stay.com.  Having indulged in Chef Kumar’s dishes at the restaurants as well as at various events, I know that the recipes will not only work but will be delectable.  What makes this book special in my opinion is it’s lean towards South Indian dishes, delicacies from my part of India, many of which are not available in the majority of Indian restaurants outside India.

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (1 of 6)

I have a copy of Chef Kumar’s cookbook, ‘From India: Food, Family & Tradition’  to give away to a lucky reader, along with a sleeve of the limited edition Nespresso Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru.  For a chance to win, tell me in the comments box at the end of this post, about your most memorable cup of coffee. What made it special? Was it the place? The person who was sitting across the table from you? Was it linked to an important event? Or was it just the taste of the coffee itself, good or bad?

The competition is open to those living in Australia only, and closes at midnight Sydney time on the 23rd of April.  Please leave me some way of contacting you- either a link to your blog or check in here for a reply in case you win! If I don’t hear back from you within 3 days of me contacting you, I will have to pick another winner.

I look forward to your entries and your memories.  Oh and I would be forever grateful for your votes (Click here, then vote for the recipe from One Small Pot)!

*This competition is based on skill and I will choose the answer based on my discretion.  Prizes have been kindly provided by Nespresso and Chef Kumar.  Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru capsules and a loan machine were also provided by Nespresso for creation of the recipe.  Words and opinions are my own.

**Update : the winner of the giveaway was Ilana Mendels with her gorgeous words about the coffee she sipped during her first visit to her home country. Congratulations Ilana!

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (3 of 6)

Monsoon Mocha Ice-Cream Sandwich

Makes 24-28

Ice-cream recipe modified from a Nigella Lawson recipe.

Get:

For the Mocha Ice-cream:

240g (just over 2/3 cup) sweetened condensed milk
320ml double cream
120g good quality 70% dark chocolate
2 freshly brewed espresso shots Nespresso Monsoon Malabar Coffee

For the Coffee Nankhatai Biscuits:

180g butter at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
Seeds from of 8 cardamom pods. roughly ground
2 tsp cinnamon powder
2 freshly brewed espresso shots of Nespresso Monsoon Malabar (about 3 tbsp brewed coffee)
1 1/4 cups besan (chickpea) flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup coarse semolina
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Special Equipment:

Nespresso Machine

Make:

To make the ice-cream:

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20 to 30 second bursts.

Brew the coffee and place in the freezer to cool.

Once the coffee and chocolate are cool, lightly whisk together the condensed milk and cream in a bowl, then add the coffee and chocolate.  Lightly whisk until combined.

Pour into a container and place in the freezer for 12-24 hours.

Be patient!!

To make the biscuits:

Brew the coffee and place in the freezer to cool.

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar and the cardamom and cinnamon powders. Whisk through the cooled coffee until combined.

In a separate bowl, sift all the flours, baking powder and salt together.

Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and combine with a spatula.  You will then have to get your (clean) hands in there to form a dough. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes until it is smooth.  If it is too sticky, put it in the fridge for about 10 mins. Knead again for a minute.

Wrap in cling wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.

Divide the dough into 3-4 parts. Flour the outside of the dough and place between 2 sheets of grease-proof paper. Roll out evenly into 5 mm thick sheets. using a round cookie cutter (about 7 cm diameter), cut the cookies out of the sheet. Leave the rest of the dough in the fridge and just take out sections as you are ready to roll them.  Repeat until all the dough is finished.

Lay the cookies out on baking trays lined with baking paper.  Leave 2-3 cm between cookies as they will spread a little.  Place the trays in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170 C.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10-12 minutes mins.  The cookies are done when they have spread a little and are slightly browned at the top and bottom.  They will be soft initially but will firm up after they cool.  Allow to cool completely before assembling.

To assemble, scoop the ice-cream into a rough ball using an ice-cream scoop and a dinner spoon.  Place the ball of ice-cream in the centre of one biscuit and place another biscuit on top.  Apply gentle, even pressure to the top biscuit with the flat palm of your hand until the ice-cream spreads a little between biscuits.  The biscuits will break easily, so it is important to be gentle.

Serve immediately!

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (6 of 6)

Making Progress

It took a tough lesson that drove home to me the importance of following recipes while baking.  That looking squint eyed at a 1 kg bag of flour and dumping in approximately a third of it before dousing it in the wet ingredients does not necessarily produce a good, or even vaguely edible, cookie.  That forgetting to sieve the flour, then quickly losing patience while working the lumps out of batter, is a sure fire way to incite the wrath of the cake gods.

My first cake was born of the oven in the small, rented apartment that my family lived in as new immigrants to Australia.  Indian kitchens, traditionally, do not have ovens.  The only home-made cake I had tasted was the one that my mum used to make in the jaffle maker, the one she had excitedly purchased after attending a demonstration at a neighbour’s place.  She would follow the eggless recipe in the instruction manual that was also a cookbook, brand new to baking herself.  That cake was soft, sweet, and in hindsight, almost pancakey.  It’s surface was ribbed from the jaffle maker cake fitting and it’s crumb was loose and yielding.  It was, from memory, a good cake.

strawberry coconut cake (2 of 3)

My mum’s jaffle maker cake was what I envisioned when I and my childhood best friend, flour dusting our faces and every surface of the tiny kitchen, slid our dubious batter into the hastily preheated oven.  What emerged some forty nail-biting minutes later was more weapon than cake.  More desert than dessert.

The Rock Cake haunts me to this day.  It’s harsh surface hiding a dry, uncompromising crumb.  The raisins that studded it a humiliated version of themselves.  It’s alarming power to strain any knife that dared to challenge it.

It was a tough lesson but an effective one.

Thankfully these days I (mostly) follow recipes when it comes to baking, and I choose my sources wisely.  Deb Perelman’s blog Smitten Kitchen is one of my go to sources for fail-proof recipes, especially when it comes to baking.  I came across this strawberry summer cake while browsing through her archives in search of a way to use the 2 half punnets of strawberries that had taken up residence in my fridge.  What I pulled out of the oven was delectable, a far cry from my first cake as an eight year old.  It was moist, dense and chewy with coconut (my only tweak), yet still somehow light and summery.  The strawberries took on the jammy character that berries will in the oven, adding tartness to sweetness, red stains to fluffy pale yellow.

It’s a cake to celebrate the dregs of summer, and perhaps more importantly, my birthday.

strawberry coconut cake (3 of 3)

Strawberry and Coconut Cake

Slightly modified from ‘Strawberry Summer Cake‘, Smitten Kitchen

Get:

85gm unsalted butter at room temperature, extra for greasing
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus extra granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup shredded coconut
6-8 strawberries, washed, hulled and halved

Make:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease and flour a standard medium sized cake tin (I used a bundt tin).

Fold the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.

In another bowl, use electric beaters to beat butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. On low speed, mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined

Add dry ingredients gradually, using a spatula to fold in until just combined.  Fold in the coconut gently.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and scatter the strawberry halves, cut end down, over the top.  Sprinkle over with 1-2 tbsp sugar.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 mins, then reduce temperature to 170 degrees C and bake for 40-50 mins, or until a cake tester or knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

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Cherry Ripe Truffles

You’re probably thinking it’s all a bit too little, too late. And in all honesty, I wouldn’t blame you.  I mean, a decadent fruity truffle, perfect for holiday gifting, posted on Christmas Day??  When all the gifts are already wrapped and sitting snugly under the tree, and even those relatives who completely slipped your mind until the very last minute have been taken care of in a panicked flurry.

What was that? Yes yes, if I’d posted this earlier you could have at least whipped up a batch to serve with coffee after Christmas dinner.  I could spout out the usual woes about being too busy, hanging on a thread of exhaustion, working fulltime and trying to meet writing deadlines in my spare time.  I could sing the song about how every time I even thought about doing something with this little blog here, a thousand other more pressing thoughts would flood out the first.  It would all be true, of course but of very little relevance to you, as even the self absorbed me is aware.

Cherry Ripe truffles (5 of 3)

Would it have been wiser for me to wait? To realise the little wooden boat had sailed and to wait until Easter or even next Christmas?  Yes, probably.  But if I made decisions based on what is sensible over what I feel like doing, I would be a very rich woman by now (I’m not).  I truly couldn’t have sat on these truly sexy spheres of bitter dark chocolate, their smoothness only interrupted by the cheeky bite of sour cherries and toothsome shredded coconut.  I could have waited a month maybe, but four months?? A whole year??

You know me better than that 🙂

So here they are, awkward timing and all.  I hope your holidays are as smooth, decadent and studded with pleasant surprises as these here truffles.

Cherry Ripe truffles (6 of 3)

Cherry Ripe Truffles

Get:

100g good quality dark chocolate
1/3 cup nut butter (almond, cashew or macadamia works well)
3/4 cup frozen sour cherries
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Make:

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20-30 second bursts. Stir through the nut butter and place the mixture in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Pulse the frozen cherries in the food processor briefly until they are very roughly chopped.  Add these to the chocolate mixture with the coconut and stir to combine.  Refrigerate for another hour or so.  When the mixture is firm enough to roll, roll into truffles and refrigerate again.

Gift or gobble as appropriate!

Cherry Ripe truffles (7 of 3)

 

Diwali, Coconut & Quinoa Kheer and Win Flights to India!

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (2 of 5)

Of all of the stories that are associated with Diwali, the tale of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman has to be the one that is dearest to my heart.  It is a tale of honour, exile, self-control and eventually, triumph.  This part of the epic Ramayana begins with the self-imposed exile of Rama after an administration bungle involving his stepmother and the throne.  Despite the pleas of his father the King, honour drives Rama into the forest, where he is willingly followed by Sita and Lakshman to begin what is to be an adventure-filled, fourteen year camping trip.

And what of Sita?  Her adoptive father, also a King, discovered baby Sita in the fields (one assumes she was discovered by one of his staff as what King would toil the fields?).  He is delighted with his find, which if you ask me is a refreshing change in the attitude of that time, when female babies were generally considered a consolation prize to sons.  He raises her as his own and when she is of marriageable age, hosts the equivalent of a celestial weight lifting championship to filter out the men from the mice.  Thus, Rama is found.  He is known in Hindu mythology as Purushottama, literally the Supreme Being, or Perfect Man (thereby confirming that on Earth, one may find Mr. Right but can forget any hopes of finding Mr. Perfect).

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (5 of 5)

So after having to suffer through watching keen suitor after keen suitor attempt to lift the heaviest bow in the world, the Princess Sita finds her perfect man, marries him and is rewarded with a honeymoon of more than a decade in the woods with no mobile phone connection and barely a hairdryer to her name.  As if having to wander around in the forest with your husband and the third wheel his brother wasn’t trying enough for the poor lady, she manages to get herself kidnapped by Ravana, an obnoxious demon with appalling table manners.

So Diwali marks the return from exile of the trio, after Rama proves his perfection by slaying the evil Ravana, rescuing his wife and bringing her back to civilisation before she can get herself into any more trouble.  Known as the Festival of Lights, an important feature of Diwali is the lighting of lamps and of firecrackers.  The flames and bursts are a symbol of good triumphing over evil, of light obscuring the darkness.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (1 of 5)

In Sydney, the law dictates that we be content with the lighting of sparklers and of small oil filled lamps, or diyas.  When I was in Mumbai as a child however, it was a different story.  Weeks before the much anticipated festival, we would stock up on firecrackers of all shapes, sizes and colours.  Then the day would come and after the religious rituals were duly observed and obscene amounts of food eaten, all of the inhabitants would gather in front of the apartment block, the youngest kids hoisted safely onto their fathers’ shoulders.

We would often start softly, with flower pots that would spray a bouquet of light upwards and chakkars (wheels) that would spin madly when lit, spraying colourful sparks unpredictably in all directions.  Some of the braver boys would venture onto rockets, placing them in used soda bottles. These had to be lit quickly, legs in take-off position, so that the mad dash to safety could be done before they launched.  The grand finale would be strings of tiny ‘Dum Dum’ crackers, named so for the deafening cavalcade of explosions that began when they were lit, leaving ears ringing till Christmas.  When the boxes of firecrackers had all been systematically reduced to burnt paper and the air was heavy with the strangely intoxicating scent of over-done popcorn, we would all head back into our homes (or each others’) to enjoy a vast array of sweets for dessert.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (3 of 5)

Firecrackers and sweets jostle for first place among the highlights of Diwali and in Australia, where the law is limiting, sweets win every time.  There are no rules against sugary, milky gratification and indulge we do, with at least three different types of sweets every year.  This year, I played with a variation on kheer, a popular condensed milk and rice pudding.  In this version, the quinoa lends a nuttiness which cuts through its creamy, mildly sweet coconut vehicle.  There is a pleasant coating of the tongue of thickened coconut milk and the delicate balance of the cardamom, saffron and vanilla that it carries.  Jaggery lends a warm, caramel sweetness, but you could use brown sugar if you don’t have any on hand.  An abundant drizzle of toasted, crushed nuts is mandatory and gives the molars something to work on in an otherwise soft world.  I chose almonds and also used some Persian fairy floss that I happened to find strutting around in the pantry.  From a nutrition perspective, quinoa is mostly protein and therefore a healthier option to rice.  Also, the natural sweetness of coconut products means that only a small amount of sweetener is required.  Serve in small bowls, as both quinoa and coconut milk are filling entities and the last thing we all need is dessert fatigue*.

Now onto the competition! St.George Bank is giving away 2 tickets to India this Diwali (see the video below), and if I hadn’t spent my leave galavanting around Tuscany and the UK, I’d be entering.  To enter, all you have to do is snap a pic of some aspect of your Diwali celebrations.  Post the pic on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, with the #StGeorgeDiwali by 12 noon Sunday, October 26.  The best entry will win flights for 2 to India!  The competition is open to NSW, ACT and QLD residents.  For further info, including T & C’s, head to http://www.stgeorgediwali.com.au/

So whether your Diwali consists of Dum-Dums and squealing children, or quiet rituals and too much food, may it be filled with light, love and sweetness.  Happy Diwali!

Looking for other eggless sweet options? Try these chocolate burfi. or this raw mint slice, or these truffles or these ones.

This is a sponsored post, but words, opinions and ramblings are my own.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (4 of 5)

Coconut and Quinoa Kheer (Pudding)

Makes  8-10 serves

Get:

1/2 cup quinoa
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin coconut cream
50-70g jaggery, powdered, or brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
The insides of 6-8 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
1/8 tsp (generous pinch) saffron strands
1/2 or 1 whole vanilla bean
About 1/4 cup crushed, toasted nuts of your choice

Make:

Boil the quinoa in plenty of water for 6-8 mins. Drain and rinse the quinoa well.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the drained quinoa, coconut milk, coconut cream, powdered jaggery or brown sugar, powdered cardamom seeds and saffron.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds.  Place the seeds and the bean into the pan.

Bring gently to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the pudding has thickened to a porridge consistency.  Crush and toast the nuts in another pan while this is happening.  Serve topped with crushed nuts and whatever else happens to be serving a purely decorative purpose in your pantry.

 

Notes:

*We all know dessert fatigue is a myth, but the weak amongst us claim it exists.  Also, I may have made way too much of this and eaten it for breakfast 3 days in a row.

Jaggery is an unrefined Indian brown sugar that you can pick up at Indian grocery stores.

If you don’t have vanilla beans, you can substitute with vanilla extract or paste.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (7 of 2)

 

Mocha Tartlets

Mocha Tartlets OSP (1 of 4)

It took me a long time after university to stop associating coffee with the torture of exams.  Despite being an over-achiever at school, it took me quite a few years to get my groove at uni.  And so frantic, caffeine fuelled all-nighters were the rule rather than the exception during vet school, much to the surprise of those who knew me in high-school.  Couple that with the academically, physically and emotionally demanding nature of a vet degree, and it was a sure formula for one hot mess of a vet student come exam time.  That year that we had 10 exams to complete in a two week period is particularly memorable, and I think it was after that year that I resolved to get my act together so that I wouldn’t have to sit important papers on two hours of sleep and a whole lot of liquid stimulation.

A forced wake-up from an unfairly short sleep wasn’t even the worst of it.  The kicker was the mind-fog through which I would command the answers to surface as I tried to focus on the words on the page.  Finally, there was the fumble of a bus ride home, when my brain was too numb with lack of sleep to even process whether I had performed adequately in the exam.  Even to this day, looking at an energy drink brings back the faint nausea of those delirious, desperate and disillusioned all-nighters that I and my friends (yes, I had company in this silly behaviour) subjected ourselves to for 2 weeks every semester.

Mocha Tartlets OSP (4 of 4)

In the last few years I have felt that I am adult enough and forgetful enough to be able to savour the taste of coffee without the bone-chilling memories that my disorganised uni student self had attached to it.  Good coffee, made well, truly is a wonderful thing.  Those first few sips whose aromas fill the nostrils and which leave a trail of warmth down the oesophagus are a comfort and a wake-up call in one.

I take mine without sugar, always have, and find it is actually an offense to the coffee if sugar masks any of its flavour.  On days when I’m feeling a bit decadent, I will also dip a piece of dark chocolate into it, holding it in there for a few seconds so that I can inelegantly suck off the top layer of melted chocolate before dipping it back in.  Occasionally I will also drop a cube of chocolate in while the coffee is still very hot, so that I have something lovely to scoop out with a spoon after my last swig.

I don’t think there’s any uncertainty that I am all for the marriage of coffee and chocolate.  These mocha tarts combine those two great lovers, and the nutty, gluten-free base does much to ground the whole thing and cut through the bittersweetness.

Mocha Tartlets OSP (2 of 4)

 Mocha Tartlets (Gluten-free, refined sugar free)

Makes 18-20

Get:

For the Crust:
3 cups almond meal
115g butter at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
1 tbsp rice syrup or honey
1 pinch salt

For the filling:
2 cups raw cashews
1/3 cup strongly brewed, good quality coffee
1/3 cup Rice Syrup or honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
150 g 70% dark chocolate
1/3 cup double cream

Special Equipment:
Mini tart cases or a muffin tin, greased well
A high speed food processor

Method:

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.  Spread the cashews out on an oven tray and bake for 4-5 mins until just starting to gain colour.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

To make the crust, cut the butter into cubes and place in a large mixing bowl with the other crust ingredients.  Using clean hands, rub the butter into the other ingredients to form a dough that you can knead.  Knead for 2-3 minutes.

Pinch off portions of the dough the size of ping-pong balls (23-25g each).  Flatten each ball between the palms and press into the tart cases or cups of the muffin tin.  Press the dough evenly at the base and sides of the tins to a 3-4mm thickness.  Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 10-15 mins until the cases are an even golden brown colour.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before removing the cases from the tins.  Use the tip of a sharp knife to gently loosen the tart cases and facilitate removal from the tins.

While the tart cases are baking, make the filling.  Place the cooled cashews in the bowl of the food processor and blitz on high speed, stopping intermittently, until a smooth butter is formed.  Initially a meal will form, then a thick dough, then a smooth butter.  Add the coffee, cinnamon and honey or rice syrup and blitz until an even mixture forms, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all the nut butter is incorporated.

When all the tart cases are baked, cooled and removed from the tins, fill each one 1/2 to 2/3 with the filling.  Place them in the freezer for an hour or so until they are firmly set.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20 to 30 second bursts.  Take off the heat and add the cream, stirring quickly to form a smooth ganache.  When the coffee filling has set, spoon small amounts (about a tsp) of the ganache onto the top of each tart and spread out a little with the back of the spoon.

Refrigerate until the ganache is firm. Serve as is or with a dollop of cream.

Leftover chocolate and coffee filling? Mix them together, firm up in the fridge and roll into balls to make mocha truffles!

Notes:

You could probably make 1 large tart in a standard sized tart tin if you prefer, although I have not tried that with this recipe.

Mocha Tartlets OSP (3 of 4)

Dessert Wontons with Sweet Dipping Sauce

Dessert Wontons 2

Dessert Wontons 1

It’s not quite a recipe, really.  More like an assembling of things to be steamed, dipped and devoured.  It all started when I was invited to a Chinese themed High Tea at Four Friends, and I started to wonder what I could contribute given my very limited Asian dessert repertoire.  The thought that lingered in my mind was one of dessert wontons.

Dessert Wontons 4

You see, us Indians make a steamed rice parcel stuffed with coconut and jaggery that if done right, will fall apart in the mouth leaving behind a puddle of seductively melted brown sugar and chewy coconut.  How I went from contemplating modakam, and onto deciding to stuff my wontons with peanut butter, chocolate and coconut is probably a function of my ever tangental mind.

If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you could use a metal colander sprayed with a little oil or lined with grease-proof paper, in a large covered pot with water in the bottom of it.  However you make them, they are best eaten fresh and dipped generously in the sauce.

Oh! And speaking of sweets…..if you live in Sydney and are of a sugary inclination, don’t forget to enter the giveaway to win tickets to the Cake Bake and Sweets Show March 21 – 23 here.

Dessert Wontons 2

Nutty, Chocolatey Dessert Wontons with Coconut Dipping Sauce

Makes about 15

Get:
75 g dark chocolate
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1-2 tbsp rice syrup or honey

Wonton Wrappers

For the dipping sauce:
1/3 cup coconut cream
2 tsp rice syrup
Few strands saffron (optional)

Make:

Blitz the filling ingredients together in a food processor until a coarse paste forms.  Start with 1 tbsp syrup and add more if you prefer it sweeter.

Fill the wonton wrappers.  I used about a tsp of mixture per wrapper, placed it in the centre and folded the edges together.  I used a little water around the edges to make them stick.

Sprinkle the wontons with water and steam them for about 20-25 mins, or until the wrappers are cooked.

Make the dipping sauce by whisking the ingredients together well.

Serve the wontons with dipping sauce for dessert.

Dessert Wontons 3