Category Archives: dessert

Thanksgiving treats: Cheeseless Pumpkin Cheesecake

 
As if to compensate for the dreary daylight saving change of time, the short day’s and the brown scattered leaves fluttering about in the cold breeze, Nature gives you glimpses of some pretty spectacular colors that are best appreciated in autumn, like this gorgeous sunset a couple of days ago

 I’m gracefully resigning my self to the crisp cold sunny  days of Fall, and beginning to look forward to the seasonal bounty that the season brings along, The bright colored winter squashes & pumpkins, the gemstone colored cranberries, Persimmons, pomegranates..and the list goes on.

The recipe for this post ironically uses none of these, relying instead on a canned ingredient. Yep, I’m referring to the good ol’ canned pumpkin that makes its appearance around now.

Its convenience lies in the fact that the texture and flavor is consistent and pleasantly enough it wasn’t too sweet, which meant that I could use the contents from the same can in a dessert as well as a savory spinach curry.

Back to the ‘Cheeseless’ Cheesecake: I’d first tried Raghavan Iyer’s recipe for the 10 lb Cherry Challenge that was hosted by Oxo . The dessert is basically a classic Bengali bhapa Doi , a steamed yogurt that is flavored with cardamom. This time around, I tweaked the recipe with the addition of pumpkin puree and a spice blend of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.

Cheeseless Pumpkin cheesecake (Recipe inspired and adapted from  Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer)

 You need:

2 1/2 cup plain low fat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup Pumpkin puree
1 can condensed milk
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon spice blend* (as per taste) -see the note below the recipe for instructions
18-20 strands saffron
8-10 Pistachios for garnish (optional, leave out if concerned about nut allergies)
9 ramekins (4.0 oz / 1/2 cup volume)
Plenty of boiling hot water in a kettle

Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Combine the yogurt, condensed milk, spice blend and the pumpkin puree in a mixing bowl and whisk to thoroughly combine

Ladle the mixture evenly into the ramekins. Garnish each bowl with 2 strands of saffron and microplane the pistachio over the mix. Place the ramekins in a large baking pan. Fill the baking pan with about 3/4th inch of  the hot water.

Place the water bath into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, allow to cool and refrigerate for atleast 2 hours prior to serving. Garnish with a piece of sugar glass ** and serve chilled.

 ** Sugar glass
 In a saucepan, combine  1 cup of sugar and 2 table spoons of water.
Bring to a boil to completely dissolve, keep stirring with a wooden spoon, lower the heat and allow the sugar to cook down beyond the hard crack stage. Keep 2 sheets of silpat silicone mats next to you on the counter. Once the sugar solution begins to turn a light amber, remove it from the heat. Allow the sugar to cease bubbling. Carefully dip the wooden spoon into the molten sugar and drizzle the liquid onto the silicone mats, making random criss cross patterns. Allow to cool completely before gently breaking the pieces. store the pieces in an airtight jar.

*Spice blend:
2 cardamoms pods (just the seeds)
4 cloves
1/2 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon powdered nutmeg

Combine all the ingredients and crush to a fine powder using a mortar & pestle. Use the required quantity of the blend.

Bon appetit!

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Gluten Free Rice Crepes and a Giveaway from OXO

Crepes.. Those delicate lacy handkerchief thin wisps of cooked batter, slathered with delicious Nutella, the kind of stuff that seems to be possible to savor & enjoy  in restaurants , food trucks and any other food establishments, EXCEPT the home!

To be honest, I’ve never attempted making a French crepe, or entertained the possibility of even trying. For one thing, my neurotic avoidance of using eggs and second, the general aura of the whole crepe making process.  The egg phobia thankfully, seems to be getting relegated to the past, with credit going to OXO for getting me to try some of their egg related tools. The recipes are slotted for future posts.

I’ve been a fan of OXO tools ever since my dad bought me a pair of OXO knives while settling me in Grad school at NYU (sometime in the last century). over the years, I’ve added a vast  array of OXO tools to my collection and have never been disappointed with ANY of my purchases. SO when OXO sent out a set of their latest tools for working with eggs,  I was more than happy to put the tools to good use. I already had an egg beater in my arsenal and OXO has graciously let me give away the  one they sent me to one lucky reader in the US of A.

Growing up, my mother would occasionally whip up these magical rice dosas which would be eaten along with a Tart tamarind dip made with fire roasted eggplants. They were known as ‘Kali Kanji dosai’ or ‘verrum arisi dosai’ depending upon whether I asked my mother or Paternal grandmother respectively (which in turn reflected their district of origin in South India).
The batter was made of rice, water and salt, thats it. The trick to make the starch bind into a crepe was to boil some of the batter (the stuff stuck to the blender jar) into a syrupy broth (the Kanji) and mix it with the rest. This makes the batter gel up into a crepe. The best part of the crepe is that it pairs equally well with savory or sweet fillings. I’ve tried this with warm Jack fruit Pate as well as caramelized bananas spiced with cardamom and frankly loved them both equally.




Rice Crepes with Cardamom spiced Caramelized bananas

You need :
For the caramelized bananas

3 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch slices
1/3 cups sugar,
2 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds

In a non stick skillet, add the sugar along the water and slowly  melt until the crystals begin to turn color and caramelize. Add the bananas and cardamom and gently toss to coat the pieces of fruit. Set aside to cool


(For the crepes)

1 cup basmati rice
1/3 – 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder (or) 1 teaspoon Rapid rise yeast 
1 stick of cold butter to grease the pan
2 cups water 

1/4 teaspoon salt
Microplaned pistachio nuts for garnish.

Wash & soak the Basmati rice in adequate quantity of warm water for about 3 hrs till its softened.

Transfer the soaked basmati with as little water as possible to a blender jar & grind completely into a very smooth (& extremely thick) paste (it’ll have the consistency of wet concrete). Add a cup of water to dilute the paste & give it a whirl in the blender to dislodge the thick rice paste. Transfer the batter into a container. lightly scraping out the sides of the jar.


Add the second cup of water to the blender jar & completely wash out the remaining rice sticking to the sides, lid & blades of the jar. Transfer this liquid to a separate container & SAVE.


Transfer this washed out rice liquid to a saucepan and bring to a boil. The liquid will take on a syrupy appearance, due to the starch swelling up (similar to what happens when you cook oats). Remove from the stove & strain this liquid into the batter. Stir to eliminate lumps. The consistency should be like that of crepe batter. (should have a yield of about 3 cups (~ 24 oz) of batter.
Add the salt,  confectioners sugar (adjust to your personal level of sweetness and omit for savory fillings) and the yeast or baking powder. beat thoroughly to eliminate lumps and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. 



Heat a 6 inch nonstick skillet over the gas.

Rub the melted butter over the surface of the skillet to season it. Wipe uniformly over the hot surface using a paper towel.

Using a (1 oz) coffee scoop spoon, pour 2 scoops of the batter ( whisk the batter well before using each time, the rice tends to sink to the bottom) into the skillet. Using the wrist, swirl the batter around the base & the sides of the skillet to coat evenly. 



Cover & cook over a medium heat for about 1-2 minutes till the edges begin to brown & leave the surface of the skillet. ‘. Gently dislodge the crepe from the sides of the skillet & slide it onto a serving plate. The Omelet spatula is perfect for dislodging the crepe and flipping it over.

Spoon about a tablespoon of the caramelized banana filling onto the center of the crepe and gently fold the crepes over. Garnish with the microplaned Pistachio shavings and serve warm.


 Bon appetit!

Now for the details on the Giveaway. I have ONE egg beater that Oxo has allowed me to send to a lucky reader. I can only ship within the USA for this particular giveaway, but hopefully there will be others for all those of you around the world in the days to come. To enter just follow the directions on the ‘Raffle copter’ box below. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good wishes for ‘Vishu’ – Happy New Year!

The second week of April generally marks the New Year in many Indian communities. Baisakhi (Punjab), Rongali Bihu (Assam) , Ugadi (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka), Gudi Padwa (Maharashtra), Varsha Pirappu & Vishu in Tamil Nadu and Kerala respectively. The week marks the passage of the Sun into the constellation Aries, and as with all other Indian festivals its marked by plenty of food as religious offerings. There is one particular tradition that makes Vishu an annual event to remember. Its referred to as the ‘Vishu Kani’ . The Lady of the house has a cornucopia of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and dals along with money and jewelry arrange in a beautiful ‘Uruli’ (An artisanal cooking pot made with a bell metal alloy).In the centre of the dish is a mirror and large Lamps are lit. Children are led to the prayer room where the Kani is arranged and are asked to open their eyes to view themselves in the mirror. The belief is that it is auspicious to open ones eyes to prosperity first thing in the morning. The head of the family then hands out the ‘Kaineetam’ gifts of Money and new clothes (Oh yeah, Its just like Christmas!). For a detailed version of the festival, I’m going to refer you to Ammini Ramachandran’s informative article in Zesterdaily.

One of the classic desserts served up for a traditional Kerala Vishu feast is the Parippu payasam (a coconut milk and toasted mung based pudding sweetened with Jaggery) and a decadent Jam-like Pate made from Mango or Jackfruit. I hit it lucky this time around when I found some perfectly ripened Jack fruit at my local Indian grocery and converted it into this delightful dish with help from Mrs. Ramachandran’s recipe from her book ‘Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts’

The chakkai varatti (as the jackfruit pate is called in Malayalam) in  my recipe is used as a filling in a sweet ravioli, Its a delicious dessert morsel to savor warm with just a dusting of powdered sugar, or for an elegant plated dessert, you may serve the ravioli over a layer of traditional Paruppu payasam. Since the sweetness in both the payasam and the jam come from the same jaggery, this tends to confer a singular note. To counter this I’ve added some spice through the addition of Ginger (I used powder, but adding juice from the fresh root will work beautifully as well).

Chakka Varatti: (makes a little over 1 cup)
(Jackfruit Pate – Recipe from Grains, greens and grated coconuts by Ammini Ramachandran –I’ve reduced the quantity of Jaggery as per my personal preference. The original recipe calls for equal amounts of fruit and Jaggery, and ~1 cup of ghee )

You need:

3 cups jackfruit (fresh or canned)
2 cups crumbled Jaggery (Gud)
1/2 cup Ghee
1 cup water

Cut the Jack fruit into thin strips (deseeding the fresh pieces of fruit from the entire chunk needs another blog post and I’ll save it for later, in the mean time go ahead and get yourself  2-3 cans of the ripe fruit from the local Oriental grocery).  If you do opt for the fresh fruit, do save the seeds, they taste just like chestnuts when roasted.

 

Add the strips to the water in a heavy bottom pan and gradually bring to a boil. once the fruit has softened enough to mashup when squeezed between the thumb and index finger, Mash the pieces thoroughly using the back of a wooden ladle. (Alternatively you could use an immersion blender, but that tends to completely puree the cooked fruit, resulting in a smooth pate) 

Once the mixture has reduced in volume by about a third, add the crumbled Jaggery (test for sweetness as the canned fruit can be cloyingly sweet from the syrup ) and cook down the mixture on low heat, constantly stirring the bubbling liquid. I use a spatter shield as a guard to prevent any drops from scalding me accidentally. Add the ghee gradually by the tablespoonful and let it get incorporated into the thick paste. As the water evaporates, the Pate begins to leave the sides of the pan and you can see the ghee sizzling at the edges. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before transferring into a glass jar for storage.

Paruppu Payasam:
I used a pressure cooker to make the payasam but making it in a conventional pan is equally easy.

 You need:

1/3 cup crumbled Jaggery loosely packed.
1/4 cup yellow mung dal, toasted golden
1 can coconut milk

1 tablespoon powdered ginger or 1 tablespoon ginger extract from the fresh root
½ tsp Cardamom powder

Pressure cook the toasted mung dal till soft. Mash well and add the jaggery, ginger and coconut milk. bring to a boil and immediately lower the heat to a simmer and allow the flavors of the ingredients to combine well (~ 10 minutes). Allow to cool down and chill until ready to serve.

For the Ravioli:

1 cup All purpose flour + some more for dusting
1/4 cup 2 % milk
a pinch of salt
Knead into a soft dough.

OR

Store bought Wonton wrappers
Chilled Chakkai Varatti
Sesame Oil or Ghee for deep frying
1 teaspoon chickpea flour whisked with 2 oz milk for brushing

Spoon  bits of the  chakka varatti and roll them between your well oiled palms and set aside on a plate

Divide the dough into two and roll out 2 equal sized rectangles Setting aside one piece, lightly brush one rectangle of  with the chickpea / milk mixture (this helps in sealing the two pieces of dough. Arrange the Chakkai varatti potions over the dough leaving ample space between the filling. Place the other sheet of dough over the pieces and, using your fingers, lightly press down to expel any air trapped between the layers of dough. Using a ravioli press stamp out the ravioli and arrange in a single layer on a plate. If you opt for the readymade wonton wrappers, then use 2 wrappers to make the ravioli as shown in the photograph below.
 
Heat oil / Ghee in a cast iron pan. Once the oil gets hot fry each ravioli one at a time.
To plate, Spoon a layer of the chilled payasam in a bowl. Place a couple of the fried ravioli and dust with microplaned pistachio,  Or serve the Payasam on the side.



Plated version 1
Plated Version 2


For a homely casual version, Allow the Ravioli to soak and soften in the Payasam and serve chilled. I call this version ‘Zuppa Keralese con ravioli’!!

Wishing all my readers in India a Wonderful, happy & prosperous New Year!

Cake Hacking – Spiced apple buckle cake..

I seem to be running out of excuses about avoiding eggs. Yes, I have a teensy fear of  eggs. I enjoy them as much as anybody else, in custards, cakes, cookies & ice cream, but the mere mention of trying to buy a box, and my brain goes into an overdrive to come up with bizzarre excuses to get away from that part of the grocery store. I've analyzed & hyper analyzed it & am perfectly aware that I sound like one of those afflicted  patients described in V.S Ramachandran's book 'Phantoms in the brain', perfectly capable of acknowledging that my quirk is 'eggcentric' to say the least, but balk at the thought of doing something to overcome it.

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Countdown for my ‘ A Dish – a Day ‘ blog – Day 8

 Its Christmas Eve, so in the true spirit of things, there is the enevitable flurry of excitement that only Kids can excel at. First there was the Class Christmas party that I had helped out. Got the kids involved in a fragrant project that they seemed to love, making a little single serve mulling spice sachet for their parents, complete with a recipe instruction.

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As American as.. (Cardamom, Ginger & Saffron flavored) Apple Pie!

As much as I look forward to the finished product, Pies are something I never seem to get around to trying. Its always been the fear of the pie crust, what if its too soggy, too lumpy..and until last week, these niggling doubts have always sent me packing to the supermarket freezer aisle in search of a great frozen pie crust that did not involve lard.

Turns out, it was Food52 to the rescue again. I came across this ultra simple recipe for pie crust . So unbelievably simple, I kept pinching myself as to the usual, what? how? and ‘no way’ threads of pleasant surprise that were swimming through my head while I cut up the apples for this years Thanksgiving dessert. The inspiration for the filling was a trip to Terhune Orchards in Princeton  to pick up some fabulous organic apples and the consequent reminder of the fabulous Kashmiri Chai style mulled apple cider I had cobbled up.

Cardamom, Ginger Saffron flavored Apple pie
For the pie crust: (From Food52.com)

1 cup (2 sticks or 1/2 lb ) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8-10 tablespoons ice water

Combine the butter, flour and salt in the food processor, and pulse lightly until the mixture appears to resemble bread crumbs . Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing a couple times after each tablespoon. Continue adding water by the teaspoon until the mixture just comes together into a ball of dough. Transfer into a large mixing bowl and gently massage into a ball. Split the dough in half and place each into a re-sealable plastic bag, pat each into a disk. Let the dough sit in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the pie.

Spice blend
1 2 inch piece cinnamon
5-6 cardamom pods, just the seeds
6-7 cloves

Pulverize the spices in a coffee grinder to a fine powder. Using a tea strainer, sift the blend to remove the gritty bits. Measure out required amount.

For the filling
2 apples each of Granny Smith and Jonathan varieties, peeled, quartered and sliced.
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
12 – 15 strands of saffron, crushed.
1 teaspoon spice blend .

Combine the apples, crystallized ginger, almonds, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, saffron and the spice blend in a large mixing bowl and  gently toss to coat the fruit evenly.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove one of the discs of dough from the refrigerator onto a floured surface and roll out into a 10 inch circle. Carefully place the  dough onto a buttered pie dish and gently press down the sides. Spoon out the filling into the dough evenly.

Roll out the other  half of the dough and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter. Gently place the shapes over the pie filling to cover the surface of the pie. (& yes, Finn McMissile & Lightning McQueen are perfectly legal!)

Place the pie dish over a large baking sheet covered with Aluminum foil. This ensures that the liquids from the filling do not ooze onto the oven rack and below. Bake the pie in the oven for about 40 – 50 minutes until the crust turns a golden brown and the filling is bubbling.


Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve warm alongside whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Bon Appetit!

Wedding Traditions and an Ice cream recipe

If you’re a South Indian ‘Tambram’ (Tamil Brahmin) who went through the traditional ‘whole nine yards’ , wedding ceremony to literally ‘tie the knot’, you would probably remember the ‘oonjal’ ceremony. Its a beautiful social part of the whole 3 day event (yes, the ceremonies span 3 days!). where the bride & groom are seated on a double swing (decorated to the hilt with fragrant garlands)  & are revered as Lord Vishnu & Lakshmi. They get their feet washed (albeit, just ceremonially, with a fingertip’s worth of milk) and are fed a mix of milk  with bananas (‘Paalum Pazham’) by the spoonful, by all the older married female relatives. and this is where the interesting innovative hacks begin to fall into place.

Thats my left palm with a wad of tissue!

It does not matter how much one prepares for the ‘paalum pazham’ session. The box of tissues wedged in between the couple will invariably be knocked over by the 1/2 a dozen well meaning children that are strategically placed hitching a ride on the swing, (with beaming non verbal hints from the trove of elder ‘maamies’ (older married women, collectively referred to as maamies or aunts). The said box of tissues will  then be kicked out of reach in the jostling. To cut a long story short, unless you want to clean your sticky palms on your soon-to-be other half’s ‘angavastram’ (a silk shawl that partially covers the upper half of the body), inviting a buzz of giggles mixed with disapproval from the maami crowd, or even worse, use the pallu of your gorgeous & expensive Kanjeevaram, you’re stuck with sticky palms.

Hacks for overcoming this sticky  situation include
a.  Having a thoughtful cousin stand next to you with a hand towel, which gets sticky & practically unusable after the third round.
b. Using tiny silver cups to receive the paal pazham blessing, which means that you’ll have to literally drop it down your hatch (sipping is a big NO NO for ceremonial purposes).
 & c. resign yourself to the situation..

Which brings me to this weeks recipe, inspired by Food52’s genius recipe and an article from The Kitchn. I believe the idea and the concept originated from none other than Nathan Myhrvold, the guy who cooks with all that fnacy space age equipment, but for once you do not need anything more advanced than a regular food processor.
I opted to add cardamom, saffron & crystallized ginger to the bananas simply to give an interesting contrast in taste, a delicious add-on to the single note banana flavor.

Now if only the maamies would spoon dollops of this decadent frozen paal pazham to future bridal couples.. AAH that would be a true Panfusine moment!

Paal Pazham Ice cream: 
(recipe inspired by and adapted from The Kitchn & Food52)


You need: (makes 4-5 servings)

4 – 6 well ripened ‘spotty’ bananas
2 oz. heavy cream (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom
12-15 strands saffron
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

Peel and cut the banana into 1/2 inch slices. Toss gently with the lime juice (to retain color) . Layer on  a tray (or simply toss into a mixing bowl) and place in freezer for about one hour. (these can be frozen indefinitely, just thaw them for 10 -15 minutes when you’re ready to make the ice cream.

 Add the bananas into the  food processor along with the crystallized ginger, cardamom and the saffron. Start running the machine.

 The mix will initially look crumbly like ‘dipping dots’. At this point add the optional heavy  cream (the cream simply fulfills the requirement of the dish being a ‘paal pazham’ version), with the machine running. within 30 seconds you should see the mix congeal into a creamy mass  as you see below.

Scooping up a bit, you’ll be able to feel how silky smooth and creamy it really is!

 Scoop up the ice cream straight from the food processor into bowls and serve immediately.

Freeze the left overs and simply drop it into the food  processor again  to reconstitute the ice cream all over again!

Celebrate these last days of glorious summer.. Bon Appetit!

‘Karupatti’ Kaapi Brownies with Fresh Raspberries

You know you're passionate about something like blogging when missing out on one post for  a week sends you into a spiral of guilt & blanked out grey matter. The confusion, nagging feeling of  the high that invariably kicks in once you click on the orange 'Publish' button.

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Cure for the blues – T-B-A (Tata – Birla – Ambani) Shortbread

(T-B-ATata –  BirlaAmbani. For those of you unfamiliar with Bollywood lingo, these powerhouse Industrial names are synonymous with wealth & riches in India)
(Crore: a numerical term used in India, equivalent to 10 million;
 Crorepati : Some one whose net worth is over 10 million rupees)


 
For recipes like this, the lesser said the better. Yapping on and on about inspirations etc is like teasing a puppy by holding a delectable treat just out of reach.

As far as decadence goes, it can’t get any better (or easier)  than a tray of millionaire’s shortbread. I mean, whats not to love? – buttery shortbread, salty caramel, decadent chocolate ganache.
The combination of crunch shortbread, a delicately chewy caramel & silky chocolate makes for a textural treat for the tongue.
OK.. have I annoyed you enough? I found my inspiration from Merrill Stubb’s recipe from Food52. The touches that give it the Indian touch is the trio of spices that flavor each layer. Ground ginger in the shortbread, cardamom in the caramel & a touch of  long pepper (Pippli/ Thippili) in the ganache. So here goes.. The ‘Crorepati shortbread’

Crorepati Shortbread:  

 (recipe adapted from Merrill Stubb’s recipe on Food52)
Makes about 16 pieces (and  a generous bit of the yummy edge)

Shortbread layer:

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon powdered dry ginger.
12 (1 1/2 sticks) tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 F . Line a 9 x 9 inch square baking ban with parchment paper.
Sift the Flour, salt, sugar and dry ginger into a mixing bowl.

Cut the butter into small cubes. Add to the dry mixture. Mix with a fork & gently fold together until the mixture  combines to make a soft ball of dough.
Transfer the dough to the baking pan and press into an even layer (Using a large offset spatula  for this works great). Using a fork, prick holes all over the dough.

 Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until the top is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

 Caramel layer

(Sorry, no pics for this round, I was too busy focusing on getting this tricky layer right)

1¼ cups sugar
¼ cup water
5 tablespoons heavy cream
seeds from  6 – 7 pods of cardamom powdered fine
5 tablespoons salted butter, cubed
1 tablespoon crème fraiche

Combine the cream with the cardamom powder.
Heat the water and sugar in a heavy bottomed pan. Bring to a boil, swirling the pan until the sugar completely dissolves. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes till the sugar begins to turn into a deep amber color. (Watch the pot carefully at this stage. You don’t want the mix to start getting burnt). Remove the pot from the heat, and add the cream carefully while vigorously whisking the mix. The mix will bubble furiously, so take extreme care. Add the butter, followed by the creme fraiche ( For those of you in India who are fortunate enough to make yogurt every day, simply skim the heavy creamy layer off the top of the yogurt, whip to a smooth consistency with a fork & use).
 Once the caramel has cooled down to a point where you can touch it, pour the layer over the shortbread. Tilt the pan to ensure that the caramel spreads evenly all over the shortbread layer and tap gently to get rid of any bubbles. Allow to chill in the refrigerator while you make the chocolate.

Chocolate layer:

1/3 cup heavy cream
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 a long pepper grated over a microplane (or 1/4 tsp black pepper)
Himalayan pink salt crystals for garnish.

Heat the heavy cream along with the spice & bring to a boil. Add the semisweet chocolate and whisk into a smooth shiny consistency. our over the shortbread/caramel layer, tipping & tappling to get an even layer minus any annoying bubbles. Allow the chocolate to set at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

Finish with a sprinkling of salt and place in the refrigerator for about 2 hours before removing the confection out of the baking pan & cutting it.

 These make a great gift, placed into little paper cups & boxed with a ribbon.


 & the crumbs and ‘imperfect pieces’ are a great treat to mop up with a cup of coffee!

Bon appetit!

Marmalade marathons..& a recipe for rustic thumbprint shortbread

 Produce wise, I have no complaints about the past 12 months. Seasonal local vegetables from Hillsborough farm throughout the summer and a wonderful time exploring citrus varieties after that. My  clear favorite was the Mayer lemon. I simply fell in love with its vivid color, fragrance and sweet/tart taste. The best priced ones were from Whole Foods, priced at a modest 3.49 /lb (about 6-7 lemons). Indulged in making ‘achar’, preserved lemon, Lemon rice, margaritas & a dozen bottles of marmalade! (this was in addition to a community pick testing for Food52 , a fragrant Five-citrus marmalade.

 

 Back to Meyer lemons.  What?: A hybrid citrus thought to be native to China, a cross between lemon & mandarin orange. The skin is smooth and thin with minimal white pith, while the juice is not quite as tart as a regular lemon and it has a faint trace of orange, no doubt from its mandarin genes.

 Making a marmalade, I learned, is not for the beginner cook. It requires a good hefty dose of old fashioned labor. Just slicing through  10 lemons takes time, a task which seemed trivial though after I had gone through chopping 2 pomelos (huge chinese grapefruit similar to pamplemousse better known as ‘pumplimaas’ in Tamil) and a generous assortment of other citrus. If dedicated cooking is your passion, then here is my recipe for a yummy Mayer lemon marmalade spiked with crystallized ginger and cardamom. The recipe is adapted from Epicurious.com and I believe the original recipe was featured in Gourmet magazine in Dec. 1999.

Mayer Lemon Marmalade with crystallized ginger and cardamom (makes 10 1/2 pint jars)

You need:

10 Mayer lemons (or 8 regular lemons)
6 cups water,
6 cups sugar
1.5 cups finely chopped crystallized  ginger
1 tablespoon powdered cardamom

10 sterilized 1/2 pint canning jars with sealing ring lids.

Cut the lemons into halves and remove and reserve the seeds/pips. Tie up the seeds in a cheesecloth/muslin cloth/bag. (If you’re South Indian or related to one, look for a clean ‘veshti’ or ‘angavastram’ to rip off a piece!)

Cut the lemons once again into quarters and slice thinly. Combine the lemon, water and the bag of lemon pips in a large non reactive pot. Cover and allow the mixture to rest at room temperature for a whole day. (yes, 24 hours).

Add the crystallized ginger pieces to the Lemons the next day and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and cook down the liquid until the quantity reduces to less than half the original volume (~ 1 hr).

Add the sugar and the cardamom powder and boil over medium heat, taking care to skim off any foam. Using a candy thermometer, monitor the temperature. (which is going to stay at 212 F for a LOOONG time ~ 1/2 hr).

Once all the residual water has evaporated, the temperature of the thick jammy mixture will quickly rise to 220 F. Immediately switch off the heat & remove the pot.

Ladle the marmalade into the sterilized jars leaving about 1/4 inch air gap at the top to allow for vacuum sealing. Wipe the rims thoroughly clean, screw on the lid & ring & tighten till the point of minimum resistance. Allow to cool slightly and then process in a vacuum bath canner. (I like to follow the timing prescribed from a post on Indian Food Rocks, viz, 10 minutes at sea level adding a minute for every additional 1000 ft above sea level, depending upon where you live).

Thumbprint shortbread cookies (with the marmalade that you just made!)

You need: (about 12-15 cookies)

1 cup All purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon Orange zest
1/4 cup of marmalade or any of your favorite store bought jam

Preheat oven to 325 F.
Sift the All purpose flour, sugar,salt and the baking powder together in a mixing bowl.

Add the butter and the orange zest (I used the frozen variety from Perfect Puree) to the flour blend. Using a silicone spatula, gently combine the ingredients together to form a dough.

Using a cookie scoop, measure out equal portions onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. (I personally like a rustic looking edge, but for a smoother circular shape, gently roll the dough into a sphere using your palms)
Gently press down to flatten. Using your thumb, make a well in the center of the dough.

 Fill the wells with 1/4 teaspoon of your favorite jam or marmalade.

 Bake at 325 F for 20 minutes, turnin the baking sheet around 180 degrees halfway through the baking process. until the base begins to turn a golden brown color

Cool the cookies on a cooling rack (they crisp up slightly upon cooling)  and serve these  rich buttery morsels with a hot cup of coffee or tea.

Bon Appetit!