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.

baked-yoghurt-3

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.

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.

BrowniesCardamomPistachioGF (1 of 3)
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.

BrowniesCardamomPistachioGF (2 of 3)

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 .

BrowniesCardamomPistachioGF (3 of 3)

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

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (2 of 6)

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.

mocha ice cream (1 of 1)

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.

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (4 of 6)

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.

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (5 of 6)

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.

strawberry coconut cake (1 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)

Apple, Coconut and Jaggery Hand Pies for SABH

This month’s Sweet Adventures Blog Hop theme is Childhood Favourites, hosted by Sophie from the Sticky and the Sweet. The theme set my mind racing.  After all, aren’t we all spoilt for choice when it comes to the sweets we were introduced to as kids? For me as a small child in India, there were gems (Indian equivalent of Smarties), 5-Star Chocolate bars, Amul Pista ice-cream and countless traditional Indian sweets.  When I moved to Australia, there was even more sugary goodness to be discovered and toffee apples, Chupa Chups, push pops, Buffalo Bill ice-creams and Jelly Pythons came into the picture.

Apple coconut jaggery pies 2

It is a special quality of childhood enjoyments that often when we try them as adults, we either don’t quite enjoy them as much, or we do but are old enough to know how appallingly lacking in nutrition they are (I’m talking to you, sherbies and redskins!).

So I decided to choose something that I would happily indulge in even now, and not just for the sake of nostalgia.  Two things, to be precise.  The first is that bubbly pastry pocket of lava-hot goodness, the McDonalds Apple Pie.

The second is a South Indian dessert that my mum has made for as long as I can remember.  It is mostly made as a religious offering on festival days a few times a year, making it all the more appealing.  Sliced bananas are tossed in jaggery (unrefined Indian brown sugar), cardamom and fresh grated coconut.  Sometimes a little saffron or a handful of raisins and cashews are sprinkled in.  It is good fresh, amazing half an hour later and a sludgy, syrupy mess the day after, if it even makes it that far.

Apple coconut jaggery pies 1

I used apples instead of bananas for two reasons.  They stand up better when baked in pastry than do bananas, and I had an abundance of them after going apple picking in Bilpin last week.  So it was that two desserts from my two worlds came together in these hand pies.

The pastry was the trusty sour cream pastry from Smitten Kitchen that I have now used several times because it is so good.  In hindsight though, a traditional, thinner shortcrust pastry may have suited these pies better, although I’m certainly not complaining abut the outcome.  The apple pie filling was enhanced by the coconut and almost caramel-like jaggery, with a bite of cardamom just to remind me exactly where I’m from.

Apple coconut jaggery pies 3

Apple, Coconut and Jaggery Hand Pies

Makes 12-15

Get:

Filling:
5 or 6 small red apples, diced (I used Aussie Royal Galas)
1 ½ cups (about 300g) of firm Jaggery
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
The insides of 15-18 cardamom pods, powdered
Generous pinch saffron strands

3 quantities of this pastry (leave out the ajwain and cumin seeds and only use 1/2 the amount of salt)

Make:

Toss the filling ingredients together in a bowl and allow to sit for 10-20 mins.

Roll out the pastry to 4-5mm thickness.  Cut out shapes of your choice.  I went for squares, so I cut strips of pastry that were about 25 cm x 10cm.  I spooned the filling into the middle of one side of the pastry, leaving the edges clear.  I then folded the pastry over to cover the filling.

Use your fingers, then a fork to press around the edges.  Place the pastries in the fridge again for about 20 mins.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200 C.

Place the tray of pastries in the oven and bake for about 20-25 mins or until the pastry is crisp and cooked.

Apple coconut jaggery pies 4

Rose and Raspberry Celebration Tart for OSP’s 1st Blogiversary!

Rose raspberry tart 1

I’ve been like an excitable little kid, anticipating this day. The day that marks a year of blogging for me. A year of breathlessly rushing into the kitchen after a day at work to try out a new idea I had. To make it truly amazing so that I can share it with you all. A year of thinking way too much about every canape, main meal and dessert I ate. Of putting every dish through a deep analysis to figure out how I could make it at home, what interesting twist I could give it and more recently, what I could do to make it sugar-free. Twelve months of drawing on my imagination and the things that have inspired me to decide how I want to style the dish and the best way to photograph it to provide a visual complement to my words.

Also, perhaps closest to my heart, the words themselves. The stories I would tell and the windows that dish would open up into the inner workings of my mind. Because for me, food is as important as it is because it always tells a tale, triggers a memory or incites an emotion. There is a commonality between my mother’s family’s puliyogare, and a terrine served at a fine dining restaurant. Between that three ingredient fudge and that delicate, seven layer cake that graces the window of the upmarket patisserie, looking far too pretty to plunge a spoon into.

Raspberries 1

That connection may not be in the ingredients, the method or how it is served. What all food has in common is that it was made by hands that are controlled by a mind with a story to tell, a history to either reveal or protect and thoughts to express.

Food is sustenance, for nourishing and for fulfilling. But it is also for sharing, for drawing people in and for bringing them together. A bowl of warming soup that you slowly savour while watching television, curled up on the couch on a wintery evening. The pudding that is eaten slowly, each syrupy spoonful punctuating words that you share with someone you are just getting to know, while you try desperately not to let the sauce dribble inelegantly down your chin. The cup of too-hot tea that you blow the steam off before you settle your head back onto the shoulder of your sweetheart.

Rose raspberry tart 3

It is a privileged position, this one. To be able to view food this way is a function of a comfortable life. But it is how I view food, and I thank you for allowing me to share that with you for the past year. This yearling space of mine means more to me than perhaps I could ever explain. A creative outlet, a happy place and a raft that has helped keep me afloat through what has been a challenging year. Each comment, glowing or otherwise, every tiny piece of interaction and encouragement has made my heart smile.

At the basest level I have discovered rosewater, cashew cream, how to steam puddings and how wonderfully therapeutic bread-making is. I have found rice syrup, Quinoa and kale. I have worked out what makes a good food prop and just how much light I need for a photo session. Beyond that, this small corner of mine has given me so much more.

Rose raspberry tart 4

We have come a long way, you and I. From that first kulfi recipe with its endearingly awkward photographs to now, when I finally feel I am getting a grasp of things. We can go further, we know this. We have so much more to discover about each other, to share over a cup of coffee and a chocolate truffle.

This blog is growing too. I am working to make some positive changes here in this space and outside it.  So do stick with me.  For there is no-one else in the world I can imagine moving forward with.

Thank you all for sharing the past year with me, it has meant more to me than you could possibly know.

Rose raspberry tart 6

Rose and Raspberry tart (Vegan, Gluten-Free, fructose-free)

Feeds 6-8

Crust recipe modified from here

Get:

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups almond meal
Generous pinch salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
4 1/2 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp rice syrup

For the rose and cashew cream filling:
1 1/2 cups raw cashews
Water
2 tbsp rosewater
1/3 – 1/2 cup rice syrup or honey

To decorate:
2 small punnets raspberries, washed and patted dry
Anything else you desire- chocolate, crushed nuts etc etc etc.

Make:

Immerse the cashews in water and soak for at least 3 hours.

To make the crust:
Preheat the oven to 175 C.

Place the almond meal, salt and baking powder in a large bowl and mix well.
In another bowl, whisk the coconut oil and syrup. They will not mix very well but do your best. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and with clean hands, crumble everything together and knead lightly until a dough is formed.

Grease a tart tin and press the mixture evenly into its base and about 1 1/2 cm up the sides. Bake for 15-20 min or until golden brown.

To make the filling:
Drain the cashews and rinse. Place them in the bowl of a high speed food processor. Add rosewater, syrup or honey and 1/3 cup water. I found 1/3 cup of syrup to be adequate, but taste and add a little more if desired. Process on high speed until a smooth or slightly coarse cream forms, scraping down the sides as needed.

When the tart base has cooled, remove it from the tin and fill with the cashew cream, spreading evenly. Refrigerate for 20 mins before decorating with raspberries and whatever else you choose. I used some dark chocolate leaves that I piped.  You can of course, opt for another fruit if you wish!

Raspberries 3

Bounty Bar Popsicles for SABH (Low-Fructose)

Bounty bar popsicles 1

I’ve ditched the sugar again and apart from a couple of planned (and one unplanned) cheat days, I have been well on track.  After I fell off the wagon towards the end of last year, I made a decision to quit the white stuff again in the new year.  Isn’t it funny how we consider new years eve such a major milestone in our decisions?  As if on the 1st of January we somehow get that extra push we need to make a positive change in our lives.  Really, it’s just another date, isn’t it?

So I’ve taken on a slightly different frame of mind now.  This time around, it is all about what I deserve….remember we talked about that?  From a health point of view, what I deserve is a healthy, well nourished body that I fill with goodness.  After all, you can’t expect to get the best from this vehicle that has been assigned to you in this life unless you give it the very best care, no?

And so it is that the menacing ‘I MUST LOSE WEIGHT’  has been replaced by ‘I deserve to be happy with myself, inside and out and a positive step towards that is to be slimmer and healthier’.  Is that not much kinder, friends?

Like any affirmation, it is to be repeated.  We humans are creatures of habit and our mental patterns, created over years, take gentle persistence to break.  So I remind myself daily of my decision to ensure I have what I deserve and try not to berate myself too much when I slip up.

Try it, dear friends.  Let’s treat ourselves with kindness, and the universe will do the same.

Bounty bar popsicles 3

I was a tad excited when this month’s Sweet Adventures Blog Hop theme of Popsicle Party was announced.  This month it is hosted by the lovely Swah from Love Swah. 
These chocolate covered, coconut popsicles are a frozen, low-sugar version of the Bounty Bar, a popular Australian chocolate bar.  If you want them to be dairy free, leave out the yoghurt but the result will be a harder popsicle.

Bounty bar popsicles 4

Bounty Bar Popsicles (Low-fructose)

Makes 6-8 depending on size of moulds

Get:

270 ml (1 tin) full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
4 tbsp rice syrup
1/2 cup frozen fresh grated coconut
150g good quality dark chocolate

Make:

 Whisk all ingredients together except for the chocolate.

Pour into popsicle moulds.

Freeze until set.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20-30 second bursts, stirring in between.

Dip  the popsicle moulds in hot water to loosen, then dip the popsicles one by one into the dark chocolate or paint it on with a pastry brush.

When the chocolate has set, place back in the popsicle moulds (they won’t fit as well) and in the freezer until ready to eat.

Notes:
Frozen coconut is available at Indian grocers.
I had a little mixture left as I have small popsicle moulds, and I poured this into an ice cube tray to throw into my smoothies.

Bounty bar popsicles 2

Crumbly Olive oil, Rosemary and Pear Cake

I don’t have many words for you today. What I do have though, is a cake.  A simple offering that is so thoroughly unattractive that you just know it’ll be divine.

Last weekend, this cake was my plus one to lunch at the home of my sparkly friend Julia.  Lunch was followed by a dessert buffet of sorts.  Some stunning cupcakes, a decadent chocolate mousse, giant scoops of ice cream and of course, this cake.

I intended to take more photos of my offering……some action shots of it being devoured perhaps.  Or more of it’s slices, so that you can gain a better visual appreciation of the robust exterior surrounding the moist crumb, studded generously with perfectly baked chunks of pear.

Olive oil Pear cake 2

Suffice it to say that when a dish disappears so fast that you don’t get a chance to photograph it as you intended, that can only really be a good thing.

The recipe is from Valli Little’s delicious. Love to Cook, and for once I followed the recipe fairly closely.  The only exception is the addition of cinnamon, which was politely requested by the pears themselves.

Olive oil Pear cake 3

Crumbly Olive Oil, Rosemary & Pear Cake

Modified slightly from delicious. Love to Cook, Valli Little (ABC Books, Harper Collins)

Get:

1 1/2 cups (225g) plain flour
3/4 cup (120g) wholemeal flour
3/4 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil (fruity or light variety)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups peeled and diced pears (about 3-4 pears)
2 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
1/4 cup dried cranberries, currants or sultanas
mascarpone, creme fraiche or whipped cream to serve

Make:

Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Grease and flour a cake tin- mine was 18 cm, Valli Little uses a 26cm tin.

Sift together flours, baking powder and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl.  Add sugar and mix.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, olive oil and vanilla, then add to the flour mixture and stir to combine.  Gently fold through pear, rosemary and currants

Spoon mixture into cake tin and level out with a spatula.  Bake on the middle shelf for 45-55 mins or until a skewer that is inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Best served warm with a dollop of mascarpone or cream.

Olive Oil Pear Rosemary cake