CHOCOLATE CRUSTED PASSION FRUIT TART AND A COOKBOOK REVIEW

This review is long overdue. I first contacted Nancy Birtwhistle to ask permission to blog on a recipe from her first cookbook, Sizzle and Drizzle, in December last year.  But a lot happened to all of us. Life turned upside down, and it will quite likely never go back to what it used to be. To that normal I suppose we all took for granted. Better late than never, I am sharing today a recipe that feels very special to me. Nancy made it in a certain tent during the Great British Bake Off and I remember falling in love with it the first time I watched that episode. How could I not? It joined chocolate and passion fruit. And she decorated it in a simple yet very elegant way. Instead of making a single, larger tart, I made two individual portions. In isolation times, we have no one to share this type of dessert with, so a smaller portion was the ticket.

CHOCOLATE CRUSTED PASSION FRUIT TART
(from Nancy Birtwhistle’s Sizzle and Drizzle)

1 tart pan, 9 inch (23 cm) in diamater, preferably fluted edges, loose bottom

for the crust:
125g flour
20g cocoa powder
90g salted butter, cold, cut in small dice
30g powdered sugar
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice mixture (optional)
2 Tablespoons egg yolks, beaten

for the filling:
(use half if making two individual size tarts)
6 eggs
200g granulated sugar
100g softened butter cut into dice
200mL passion fruit juice
5 gelatin leaves (I used Platinum)

for the decoration:
1 egg white
100g powdered sugar, sifted

Heat oven to 400F.

Make the tart crust. Place the flour, cocoa, sugar and spice in the food process and blitz to mix. Add the cold butter and process until everything is combined, this will take just a few pulses. With the motor running, pour the egg yolks and process until it starts to come together. Stop and gather everything over a plastic wrap. Press into a flat disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll the pastry very thin (I like to do it over wax paper and with a plastic wrap on top), then use it to cover your tart pan. Freeze for 10 minutes. Cover the bottom with parchment paper and fill with pie weights, beans or rice. Blind bake for 10 minutes, remove the beans and bake for 5 minutes more. Trim the edges with a serrated knife, and allow to cool completely.

Make the filling. Soak the gelatin leaves in cold water. Mix the sugar and passion fruit juice in a sauce pan, heating it gently until it fully dissolved. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks vigorously, then add the warm juice slowly, whisking non-stop. Put the mixture back in the sauce pan and heat to 185 F (85 Celsius). Be careful and keep whisking, remove from heat if needed for a few seconds to make sure no curdling of egg yolks happen.

Remove from heat, add the drained gelatin sheets, pass it through a sieve. Add the butter, whisk very well to emulsify. Allow the curd to cool slightly then pour into the pastry case all the way to the top. It is better to do this already in the fridge so you don’t have to move the tart around.

When the tart is set, decorate with the Royal icing mixture that you make by whisking the sugar and egg white together for about 4 minutes in a KitchenAid type mixture.  Adjust the consistency to make it right for piping. Serve at room temperature.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I used the full amount of dough but made smaller tarts, I find it easier to work with larger amounts and not get into pie dough anxiety as I’m rolling it out and trying to make sure it covers the whole surface of the pan. I halved the amount of filling, so if you are considering making just two small tarts, pay attention to that. Of course, the passion fruit curd is delicious and having some extra hanging around in the fridge is not a bad idea.


Nancy gives two important tips: roll the pastry thin, as thin as you can do it. And transfer the empty blind-baked shells to the fridge to fill them. That ensures you can fill them to the top and not spill over the side as you try to carry them to the fridge. Small details matter. As I was piping the swirls, I transported my mind back to the tent, and imagined Nancy grabbing the piping bag with the Royal icing, taking a deep breath and knowing she had to do as perfect a job as possible, with the cameras on her, and the shiny surface of the passion fruit curd ready and waiting. She did such a beautiful job! No wonder she went on to win the whole thing!

This was absolutely delicious, and I urge you to make it if you have access to passion fruit (you will need 8 to 9 fruits to make the full amount of filling). I have still quite a bit of frozen passion fruit pulp, and it worked well for this purpose.

And now a small overview of Nancy’s book, Sizzle and Drizzle.

If I had to define the book with a simple statement, I would summarize it as “superb baking instruction and tips with Nancy’s personality shinning through the whole book.”  One of the things that was evident from her performance in the show, is that she has  a ton of self-confidence and knowledge. She tested her recipes and was not afraid to stand up to Paul. Just one small example, she defended her method to speed up proofing of an enriched dough using the microwave. To Paul, of all people, the Bread King… And I loved when she was proved right (sorry for the lousy pun).  In the book, she mentioned that her first show-stopping challenge in the Great British Bake Off was making 36 mini-cakes. Everybody had butter over their counters (remember, the recipes are all submitted in advance and they set up the ingredients). Nancy was THE ONLY ONE with margarine. She felt a little “wobble in her confidence” but then said to herself – my cake tastes good. I have nothing to worry about. Guess what? She was Star Baker that week. We should all keep her experience in mind when that inner voice starts nagging us with self-doubt.

Her cookbook was entirely conceived, written, photographed, and published by her. And it has a very nice feature (she calls it “Let me show you”): you get access to videos in which she demonstrates parts of her recipes, by using your smartphone to decode a little bar printed on the pages. Very VERY cool. Here is an overview chapter by chapter with a few examples from each. Every chapter starts with her top tips for success.

BISCUITS AND SCONES. I pretty much would like to bake every single item of this chapter. Her approach is to use less sugar than most recipes would call for, and also keep the dough a bit on the dry side, rolling always in between plastic sheets.  My favorites would be Lemon Shortbread, Spiced Christmas Shortbreads, Brandy Snaps, Rose and Chocolate Macarons (how can I resist those?), Rye and Fennel Thins, Cherry Bakewell Scones,  and Cheese Scones. Every single recipe has the “Let me show you” link available so you can watch her making it. Just amazing!

BREADS. “It is better to over bake than under bake bread.”  Music to my ears. I see so many pictures that people share online of breads that clearly needed another 10 to 15 minutes in a hot oven to really shine. From this chapter, I want to bake her Crusty Topped Bloomer (remember Tiger Rolls? this is similar), her Hot Cross Buns, Stromboli, and Yorkshire Teacakes (adorable).

CAKES. “An over baked sponge will have a dark crust on its sides, bottom, and maybe even the top. The perfect sponge should be the same color all over.”  Yes, yes, and YES! Might be my favorite chapter.  Chocolate Fudge Cake (with tips on what to do if your fudge separates), the classic Lemon Drizzle Cake, Pistachio and Raspberry Ripple Swiss Roll, Simnel Cake (on my list to do!), Raspberry Ripple Cupcakes, Gluten-Free Coffee and Walnut Cake (she swears you cannot tell it’s gluten-free), Vegan Lemon Cake. But let me tell you that I baked one of her cakes and will include it here as a teaser. A Coconut and Lime Traybake.  Absolutely delicious!

PASTRY. I lied. This is my favorite chapter. Nancy learned pastry from her Grandma, a huge influence in her life. Her initial description on how to make the perfect shortcrust pastry is worth the whole book, in my opinion. The featured recipe was from this chapter. My other favorites: School Dinners Meat Pie (gorgeous), Courgette Quiche (stunning presentation), Single Serve Whole Apple and Blackberry Pies, Rich Chocolate Tart, Luxury Mince Pies (plenty of tips on how to pull perfect ones, plus her great video tutorial),  Choux Pastry, Puff Pastry, Eclairs, Sausage Rolls

PUDDINGS AND DESSERTS.  This chapter stretched my horizons a bit, as I am not too familiar with some of the UK classics. I am very intrigued by Steamed Treacle Sponge (it does look great), Nancy’s Christmas Pudding, Eve’s Pudding, and obviously at some point I need to make the Queen of Puddings, as it was a technical I missed because a gingerbread sculpture collapsed and I was shown the exit door of a beloved tent (insert discreet tears). Half Sugar Almond Meringues are also calling my name, as well as Summer Lemon and Elderflower Cheesecake, and a stunning Raspberry and White Chocolate Bundt Cake.

HOME TIME. In this closing chapter, she goes over her way of life, growing a lot of the things she eats, preserving things, coming up with clever systems for cleaning that avoid strong chemicals or store-bought products. Everything with the videos ready and waiting for you.

I hope you enjoyed this little review. Her cookbook was clearly a labor of love form page 1 to page 416. Nancy is an author who wants you to succeed in the kitchen, she wants to make sure you can bake every single one of those recipes without issues. I will never forget her last showstopper challenge in the tent, in which she made a Moulin Rouge sculpture with sugar work. To conceive that was amazing, but to pull it all IN THE TENT, with the “male judge” hovering nearby,  just blows my mind.  So I am thrilled that a person with so much talent decided to share it in a cookbook, and we can all profit from it.

Thank you, Nancy, for giving me permission to share the Passion Fruit Tart recipe, and for your support….

ONE YEAR AGO: Lemony Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Almonds

TWO YEAR AGO: Savory Oatmeal with Bacon and Cheddar

THREE YEARS AGO: Air-Fried Carrots, Two Ways (most popular post on my blog!)

FOUR YEARS AGO: Five Minutes in L.I.T (a tour of our laboratory!)

FIVE YEARS AGO: Chicken Thighs with Artichokes and Capers

SIX YEARS AGO: Pea Pancakes with Herbed Yogurt

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Mushroom Stroganoff

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Tomato Sourdough

NINE YEARS AGO: Gamberetti con rucola e pomodori

TEN YEARS AGO: Flirting with Orzo

 

 

 

SPRINGTIME MACARONS BAKE-ALONG


If ten years ago someone would tell me I would be hosting a video tutorial on how to make French macarons, I would roll on the floor laughing. Literally. Somehow, that is actually happening. Mind-blown. Here’s the full story behind it. Back in June last year I joined a Facebook group called Great British Bake Off Fans“, hosted by Christine and Caroline. The group currently has about 20 thousand members, and every once in a while opens to accept new participants, by invitation only. They often host “bake-alongs.”  One baker posts a detailed video of a recipe, and members can bake from Friday through Sunday, posting their results and asking questions if they run into trouble.  Much to my surprise (and with the obvious hyperventilation starting right after I said yes), they asked me to host a macaron-baking video. The big party will take place this Friday. My video (which includes unfortunate footage of yours truly with meringue glued to her chin), is available right now on youtube, thanks to the hard work of Caroline, who edited my 10 short videos, added text, music, and a few well-deserved jokes here and there.

Some steps are omitted from the video, for instance the time the shells rest after piping. I cannot imagine me trying to entertain you with short stories for 30 minutes. And for that I am sure you are grateful. I should warn you that the sound could have been a bit louder. It was my first time doing it, and I now believe a microphone of some kind would be appropriate. I had to place the cell phone a bit far away to get good coverage of a larger area and that compromised the sound a bit. But thanks to Caroline adding text to the video, I think you can get by. Just set your volume to the highest and I hope it will work for you.

SPRINGTIME MACARONS
(adapted from Colette Christian’s recipe)

For the shells:
200g  Icing/powdered sugar (1 ⅔ cups)
115 g Ground Almonds/Almond Meal (1 + scant ¼ cup)
115 g egg whites at room temperature (approx. 4 eggs)
1/8 tsp of cream of tartar (optional)
100 g granulated sugar (½ cup)
¼ tsp vanilla paste or extract
drops of gel food color of your choice (optional)

Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment/baking paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered/icing sugar and ground almonds/almond meal  in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 12 pulses. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl or to a sheet of parchment/baking paper. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.

Slowly rain in the granulated sugar in five additions, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme (marshmallow fluff). Add the vanilla. Whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.

Fold in the ground almond/almond meal mixture in two increments. Paint the mixture halfway up the side of the bowl, using the flat side of a spatula. Scrape the mixture down to the center of the bowl. Repeat two or three times, then check to see if the mixture slides slowly down the side of the bowl. Add drops of gel color and mix them briefly with a toothpick. Put the mixture in a piping bag fitted with your choice of piping tip (round, ¼ or ½ inch in diameter or 6 – 12 mm).   If you don’t have a macaron mat, draw circles on baking/parchment paper about 2inches/5cm in diameter & turn the paper over before placing on the baking sheets.  Pipe shells, I like to count numbers in my head and use the same count for each shell so they end up similar in size.

I pipe inside the circles to about 1 ¾ inches/4.5cm but you can go to 1 ½ inches (3.8cm) & the macarons will spread & fill the circle while drying.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter/worktop. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. In a dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.

While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F (150 C/130C Fan oven/Gas Mark 2). Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide or move (independently of the ‘feet’ when you gently twist the top), then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Check one or two. If they move when gently touched, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes until they don’t move when touched.   Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.  The macarons should release without sticking.

Assemble the macarons: find two macarons similar in size and add a good amount of filling to the bottom of one of them. Place the other on top and squeeze gently to take the filling all the way to the edge.  Store in the fridge for 24 hours for perfect texture.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

A FEW IMPORTANT NOTES BEFORE YOU START

  1. If you want to add solid color instead of the swirls, add GEL FOOD DYE about 1 minute after you finished incorporating all the granulated sugar in the meringue, at the same time that you add the vanilla extract (or other flavoring of your choice). Stop the machine, lift the whisk and add the color right at the bottom of the whisk, this way it goes smoothly into the batter and will not get splashed everywhere.
  2. If you have almond flour that has been laying around for a while, it is a good idea to dry it in a very low oven before using. You can do that the day before. Just add the flour to a baking sheet (over parchment paper) and place in a 250F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Let it cool completely and use. Humidity is a big enemy of macarons, so if my almond flour has been open for more than a month, I do that just as added precaution.
  3. Hollows. DO NOT worry about them. For the most part they will “fill” once you add the filling and place in the fridge. Particularly in your first batches, don’t worry about perfection. They happen, and they almost always go away through maturation.
  4. Every oven is different. It took me many batches of macarons to figure out the best placement of the rack and the temperature of the oven. Once you are comfortable making the batter, you can play with all the conditions and figure out the perfect environment to bake yours. In my case it is 300F with the rack slightly under the center of the oven. One tray at a time. No convection. Your oven might behave in a different way. You can make several small trays and tweak the baking as you go, writing down your results. Just like in a lab!
  5. Contrary to many other baking goodies, macarons will not be hurt if you open the oven to check on them. In fact, Pierre Hermé, the Macaron King, recommends opening the door of the oven to allow some steam (therefore moisture) to be released. I sometimes open the oven at around 6 minutes to look at the little feet forming. And then again at the 11 or so minute mark to check for doneness.
  6. For different ideas to decorate the macs, I invite you look at a few of my posts. I love doing drizzles with candy melts and adding sprinkles (see this post). If you have an air-brush system and stencils, you can have a ton of fun with it (see this post). You can keep it simple and just add sprinkles to the shells right after piping (see this post). You can dye different colors of batter to the piping bag for a nice effect, although I would do that only after you are more comfortable with making them (see Coffee Caramel macarons in this post). You can cut shapes using candy melts and glue to the shells (see this post).  For a very elegant and incredibly simple effect, use a fan brush and pearl dust with vodka or lemon extract (see this post)
  7. Fillings. Over the years I’ve published many posts on macarons using all kinds of fillings. I suggest you go to my  INDEX PAGE  and look at the Macaron category for ideas. If you want to keep it super simple for your first time, open a jar of your favorite store-bought jam and use it. Absolutely nothing wrong with it.

I will be ready to answer your questions during the bake-along, and I hope you will have fun in your kitchen!  See you then….

Caroline, thank you so so much for all the work you put into editing the video, and Christine, you know how much I love the site that you created and turned into a cozy, friendly, wonderful spot in the blogosphere.

ONE YEAR AGO: Macarons for a Little Princess

TWO YEARS AGO: Gilding the Sourdough Loaf

THREE YEARS AGO: Lolita Joins the Bewitching Kitchen

FOUR YEARS AGO: Cashew Cream Sauce

FIVE YEARS AGO: Blood Orange Margaritas

SIX YEARS AGO: Smoked Salmon Appetizer

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Clementine Cake

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Springtime Spinach Risotto

NINE YEARS AGO: The end of green bean cruelty

TEN YEARS AGO: Torta di Limone e Mandorle

 

BRITISH BAPS, A TECHNICAL CHALLENGE

Baps. Very popular in the UK, these are what on this side of the pond we know as rolls or buns. When I was in London, I realized that breakfast baps are all the rage, you slice one of these babies, and add the usual suspects: bacon & eggs, sausage, ham & cheese, or whatever you crave early in the morning. I don’t eat breakfast, but had to try one of these classics at lunch during my visit. Soft, delicate, quite delicious. And as you can see from this post, pretty simple to make.  I modified a bit a recipe from Paul Hollywood to add a touch of whole wheat. Just because. These were the technical challenge last week in the Great British Bake Off. Some of the contestants committed the shameful sins of underbaking or underproofing, but most did pretty good. They also had to make a veggie burger pattie to go with the buns, so the challenge also involved sizing baps and filling appropriately. That is not as easy as one might think, as the patties had to be made while the dough was proofing. Great fun was had by all. Or almost all…

BRITISH BAPS
(adapted from Easy Online Baking Lessons)

350 g bread flour
25 g whole-wheat flour
7 g salt
7 g fast-acting yeast
30 g sugar
30 g butter
250 mL water (I used a little less)

Add all ingredients (but hold back a bit of the water, maybe 25 mL or so) to the bowl of a Kitchen Aid type mixer and knead on low-speed for about 8 minutes. If needed, add the rest of the water.

Place in a large oiled bowl and ferment at room temperature for about 90 minutes.

Punch the dough down (delicately) and divide it in 8 equal portions (about 85 g each). Roll each as a tight little bun. Place each roll on a mat lightly coated with flour and flatten it in one direction with a rolling pin, making it into an oval shape. Turn it 90 degrees and do the same. You will end up with a round, more flat type of roll.  Do the same for all other buns, then place at room temperature covered with a cloth for 30 to 45 minutes, while you heat the oven to 425 F.

Coat the buns lightly with flour, bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool completely.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Even if you are not comfortable baking bread, I think this would be a very nice recipe to try. Yes, it was a technical in the GBBO, but a lot of the complexity in the show has to do with timing (pretty tight) and the preparation of the veggie burger component plus toppings as the dough rises. If you just tackle the bread and don’ worry about a timed deadline, it’s quite doable.

The bread has a tight but moist crumb, if made with white flour only will be even softer, but I like the more assertive taste that the whole-wheat offers. They freeze well, and defrost quickly, so it’s the perfect type of bread to have around.

ONE YEAR AGO: Japanese-Style Cupcakes with Cherry Blossom Icing

TWO YEARS AGO: Quick Weeknight Soups

THREE YEARS AGO: Sourdough Loaf with Cranberries and Walnuts

FOUR YEARS AGO: Sichuan Pork Stir-Fry in Garlic Sauce

FIVE YEARS AGO: Our Green Trip to Colorado

SIX YEARS AGO: Ditalini Pasta Salad

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with a Thai Seafood Curry

EIGHT YEARS AGO:  Post-workout Breakfast

NINE YEARS AGO: Semolina Barbecue Buns

TEN YEARS AGO: Lavash Crackers

 

 

THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF IS BACK!

Americans who love the show will be very happy because Netflix is releasing each episode just a few days after they air in the UK. I was lucky enough to watch the opening show in London, but now I have to be patient and wait from Tuesday to Friday to indulge.  This year the group of contestants seems surprisingly young.  Or, does that mean I am getting so old that I noticed the trend? Hard to tell, but I have the feeling that in other seasons the ages were a bit more widespread. Still, they picked a bunch of folks with interesting personalities so it should be fun to watch. I decided to bake some of the challenges this year, and will start with the signature from episode 2, Biscuits. The theme is deceptively simple: make 12 chocolate-covered biscuits. I went Japanese with my interpretation. Matcha cookies with a miso-caramel filling. Coated with tempered dark chocolate.

CHOCOLATED-COATED MATCHA COOKIES WITH MISO CARAMEL
(inspired by Japanese Patisserie)

100 g all-purpose flour
150 g cornstarch
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoons baking powder
75 g  granulated sugar
113 g softned butter (1 stick)
2 egg yolks
3 g matcha powder
for caramel:
160 ml whipping cream
1 tablespoons corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
200 g granulated sugar
50 g miso paste
to coat and decorate cookies:
500 g dark chocolate, tempered
100 g white chocolate, gently melted and placed in piping bag
sprinkles of choice (I used edible golden stars)

To make the cookies, mix together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and baking powder; set aside.

Beat the sugar with the softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until creamy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, then the matcha powder and beat until fully combined.

Gently fold in the flour mixture to form a crumbly dough. If the dough is too dry, sprinkle a few teaspoons of cold water, a little at a time until it forms a dough that adheres when you press portions with your fingers. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour.  

Heat the oven to 350 F. Roll out the dough, using as little flour as possible on the work surface, to a thickness of around  1⁄4 inch (6mm). Stamp out rounds with the cookie cutter. Roll the scraps again and cut rounds of the same size, but use a smaller cookie cutter to remove most of the central part, so that you can form a barrier for the caramel to be poured inside (as shown in the composite picture). Place the top portion over the circles that will form the base, prick the surface with a fork. Bake in the preheated oven for around 12 minutes until set but not browned. Remove the cookies from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

To make the miso caramel, place the whipping cream into a microwaveable bowl and warm gently for 30 seconds. Put the corn syrup, water and sugar in a small saucepan and heat gently, until it turns into a dark, golden brown caramel color.   Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the warm cream, stirring constantly. Once the cream is fully incorporated, stir in the miso paste. Allow the caramel to cool and then scrape into a piping bag. Add the caramel to the center of the baked, and fully cooled cookies. Refrigerate several hours up to overnight.

Temper the dark chocolate using your favorite method. Dip each cookie in the tempered chocolate, then drizzle melted white chocolate to decorate. Add sprinkles of your choice.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Best component of this recipe is definitely the miso caramel. I could enjoy it by spoonfuls, staring at the trees in our backyard, daydreaming… Come to think of it, a drizzle over vanilla ice cream sounds pretty amazing also. Matcha is a flavor that not everyone is fond of. I like it because it cuts through excessive sweetness and since the caramel is obviously quite sweet, it pairs well with it. If you prefer a less sharp and assertive cookie, omit the matcha powder, add some vanilla or lemon zest. But please do try the miso caramel, it goes more or less along the lines of salted caramel, but more subtle in its savory nature.

After coating the cookies in tempered chocolate, avoid the temptation to put them to dry over a rack. They might stick to the rack, so the best way is to carefully lay them over parchment paper once the excess chocolate drips away. This tip is a courtesy of the one and only Philip, from Phil’s Home Kitchen… And since I mentioned him, stop by to see his recent takes on the technical challenges of this GBBO season with a click here and here.

ONE YEAR AGO: Queen of Sheba

TWO YEARS AGO: Brunch Burger

THREE YEARS AGO: Mango Salsa with Verjus

FOUR YEARS AGO: Raspberry Bittersweet Chocolate Chunk Brownies

FIVE YEARS AGO: Scary Good Pork Burgers

SIX YEARS AGO: Review of exercise program Focus25

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with a Thai Seafood Curry

EIGHT YEARS AGO:  Post-workout Breakfast

NINE YEARS AGO: Semolina Barbecue Buns

TEN YEARS AGO: Lavash Crackers

 

ROSE, CARDAMON AND COFFEE SQUARES: CHETNA MAKAN’S COOKBOOK REVIEW

Last year I binge-watched The Great British Bake Off, originally aired in 2014. One of the reasons it took me so long to go for it, is my intense dislike of ANY food competition. I was never too wild about Iron Chef, barely stand the countless versions of Chopped, and despise Cutthroat Kitchen with every cell of my body. There. I feel better. But, despite all that, one day I sat down and put the first episode of The Great British Bake Off to play. I was hooked. First and foremost for the friendly atmosphere. When you watch any of the competition shows from FoodTV-USA, it is impossible to ignore a certain mean streak in the competitors. Each one wants to win so bad, they keep hammering on why they are clearly better than all others. The blatant arrogance really bothers me. I also prefer the format of the British show, particularly when all contestants need to make the exact same (very challenging)  recipe and it gets evaluated in a single-blind way. Today I share with you a recipe from the cookbook of my favorite contestant,  Chetna Makan. She made it almost to the end, facing all sorts of challenges with poise, grace, and a warm smile. And after the recipe, I will walk you through The Cardamon Trail. What a beautiful name!

ROSE, CARDAMON AND COFFEE DESSERT SLICES
(published with permission from Chetna Makan) 

200g (7oz) chocolate digestive biscuits
50g (1 ¾ oz) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
225ml (8fl oz) milk
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon coffee granules
3 large egg yolks
75g (2 ¾ oz) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
250g (9oz) mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon rosewater
white chocolate curls to decorate

Heat the oven to 180 ° C (350 ° F).

Grease a 20cm (8in) square cake tin and line it with nonstick baking paper. Put the digestive biscuits in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling-pin to crush them to crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and pour in the melted butter, mixing thoroughly so that the crumbs are completely coated. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and press down firmly with the back of a spoon to create a smooth, even base layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.

In a small pan, slowly heat the milk to scalding point. Add the ground cardamom and coffee granules and mix well, then remove the pan from the heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and 2 tablespoons of the spiced milk together to form a smooth paste. Slowly add the remaining milk, whisking the whole time. Tip this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a low heat for 2– 3 minutes until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Strain through a sieve into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes until lukewarm.

Put the measured boiling water in a small bowl and sprinkle in the gelatine. Stir until the gelatine powder has dissolved. Add this to the lukewarm pastry cream and mix well. In another bowl, beat the mascarpone and rosewater together. Fold this into the pastry cream and pour the mixture over the biscuit base. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to set.

When ready to serve, carefully remove the cake from the tin and cut it into squares. To finish, sprinkle with white chocolate curls (or any decoration you prefer). The slices will keep, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Chetna described it perfectly! This is a dessert for grownups. It has that exotic quality, the barely there sweetness, a very unique and complex mixture of flavors. I loved it!  I must confess I messed up big time, though. I used the wrong type of  cookies for the base. She specified chocolate digestifs for the base, but our grocery store carried only two types: regular digestifs, or some with a coating of chocolate at the bottom, very similar to these beauties made from scratch by my friend Karen. After I made the dessert, I exchanged emails with Chetna and she told me I could have used the digestifs either plain or with the chocolate coating, but the type of cookie I used (very thin chocolate Goya Maria brand) would need tweaking, probably some other binding agent to properly work. Learned a lesson there. The result is that the base got a bit too crumbly rather than giving a nice support to the deliciously smooth top layer.  I intend to make it again soon, but did not want to wait any longer to blog about it. So make sure to gather the right tools for the job…

TEASER RECIPE

On the very same day I made a batch of her Clove, Cinnamon and Chocolate cookies… 


OVERVIEW OF THE RECIPE

The cookie dough is made with self-rising flour, butter, two types of sugar, a touch of cinnamon and ground cloves. Then chocolate chips and diced pistachio nuts are mixed in.  I substituted white chocolate because I found out that I had 4 bags of white chocolate chips and not a single one of semi-sweet. Apparently every time I go to the grocery store I tell myself “you better get a bag of white chocolate chips, because you only have the dark ones.”  In case you did not know, I do research for a living. Shocking, I know. Once again, Chetna describes these gems very well:

Yes, everyone thought they come together beautifully….

And now that I shared a recipe and teased you with another one, let’s take a walk through
The Cardamon Trail: Chetna Bakes with Flavours of the East..

Chetna opens the book explaining that it is all about her culinary journey. It brings her food memories in the form of lovely bakes and new taste sensations. She grew up in Jabalpur, a city in central India, and her cooking is heavily influenced by her Mom, who cooked every single meal from scratch while Chetna was growing up.  Her book is divided in six  chapters, as follows:

Cakes. Each of the twenty cakes featured is enticing to me. Always some unexpected flavor that takes them to a higher level.  The very first one, Pear and Cardamon Caramel Upside Cake, already got me dreaming. You might remember that I have a very weak spot for cardamon, so obviously this cake speaks dearly to me.  Second one? Mango, Cardamon & Coconut Cake. Next? Rose and Honey Cake.  But so many more: Rose, Mint, and White Chocolate Cheesecake, Orange and Cinnamon Mini-Cakes (I almost picked them to showcase in this post).  Pistachio, Cardamon, and White Chocolate Cake… Saffron Meringue Cake…  Masala Chai Cake…. Black Sesame and Lime Cake… I tell you, it’s one temptation after another, a showcase of interesting flavor combinations.

Pies and Tarts. This chapter brings savory stuff to the game. I list my favorites: Peach, Star Anise, and Almond Tart…  Chocolate and Mango Tart (beautiful photo!)…  Passion Fruit, Lime, and Ginger Tart. On the savory front,  very creative recipes like Moong Dal Pie, Curry Onion Tart, and Chickpea Curry Pie. I definitely do not bake pies and tarts often enough. Hubby is usually the one in charge of those concoctions. But I need to get more practice and make them by myself.

Sweet Things. Twenty seven goodies for you there… She opens this chapter with something called Saffron Rasgulla, and I think it’s something I had once at a party and fell madly in love with. A little soft ball of curdled milk and saffron, cooked in a simple syrup. I could enjoy that every day of my life without ever getting tired of it. It seems a bit involved to make, but Chetna says it’s not that hard. It is a specialty from Western India.  Now, are you ready for this? Fig and Chocolate Macarons. Yes, my obsession of the past few years! She shares a great take on this French classic. Which of course, I intend to make in the near future. The only reason I did not pick them to feature, is the fact that I have two macaron recipes already waiting in line. The Rose, Cardamon & Coffee Dessert Slices come from this session of her book, as well as the Clove, Cinnamon and Chocolate Cookies, my teaser recipe.  I also bookmarked Sweet Baked Samosas (I am addicted to the savory version),  Mango and Passion Fruit Baked Yogurt, and Star Anise and Rhubarb Profiteroles. She does incredibly nice variations on classic desserts, I love it!

Savory Small Bites. A lot of savory things to tempt you here, I will just list the ones that would be my top choices. Corn Rolls: these are inspired again by one of her Mom’s recipes, Chetna uses phyllo dough to make little parcels with sweet corn kernels mixed with ginger, chilli, and other spices.  They get baked and served warm with chutney. O.M.G. Coriander Chicken Parcels made with puff pastry seem like perfection to me…  Tapioca Vada is another intriguing recipe, different from anything I’ve ever tried. Tapioca pearls are mixed with water to form a kind of dough that gets mixed with mashed potatoes, crushed roasted peanuts and spices. The mixture is fried until golden brown, forming little patties that I am sure are addictive.  I was also quite taken by her Buckwheat Potato Pakoras, I never skip ordering pakoras when I go to an Indian restaurant. Vegetarians will love her Cashew Nut and Paneer Koftas, which use desiccated coconut to improve texture.  But my favorite of this chapter might very well be her Savory Semolina Cake, with spinach and spices such as ginger, turmeric, and black mustard seeds. The photo is drool-inducing.

Breads. Twenty options to make any baker happy.  She opens the chapter with a show-stopping bread: Savory Potato Couronne. It is simply gorgeous, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

The dough is enriched with milk, eggs, and butter, then some grated boiled potatoes are mixed in. The exotic ingredient amchur (mango powder) is also included in the dough. Obviously, I need to get some. Tomato and Paneer Loaf is a nice example of a quick bread, made in a loaf pan. Another absolutely gorgeous picture included. Now, how about some Cumin Bread with Smoked Eggplant? I swear, it’s just one amazing twist after another. Another great temptation for yours truly, Chocolate and Chilli Loaf.  As Chetna put it:

This beautiful loaf has the indulgent feel of a cake yet is, in fact, very light…
The cocoa creates a deep-colored loaf, while the chilli provides a real kick to the aftertaste.

A couple more examples for you, Star Anise, Date, and Chocolate Bread (amazing shaping), and a Lemon Challah with Coconut Paneer. She closes the chapter with several options for Parathas, and a Chicken Naan. Yes, you read it correctly. A version of the quick bread naan, turned into a full meal with ground chicken and plenty of spices. To die for, I am sure!

Accompaniments. In this chapter, she offers little goodies that will go well with many of the recipes in the book. Seven types of chutney, two types of pickles (beets, and cauliflower), Indian Coleslaw, and three types of Raita, the classic cucumber, plus Boondi and Bhindi Raitas. Curious? Boondi are fried chickpeas… Imagine them as a base for raita… Bhindi is okra. Not my favorite veggie in the world, but I bet that prepared the way Chetna describes, I would eat it all with a big smile!

So that wraps up our walk through The Cardamon Trail.  In my mind, it is a perfect cookbook because I adore spices both in savory and sweet concoctions. As I watched the Great British Bake Off, Chetna’s confidence and creativity with the use of spices left a huge impression on me. This book simply confirms her skills. I could not wait to start baking once I got the book downloaded, but then was sort of paralyzed by the number of recipes I picked as “top” choices.

To order the book, click here

I would also like to mention that Chetna has a blog and is also very active uploading videos on her youtube channel.  On youtube you can see her cooking with her kids, with her Mom, it’s really nice!  I subscribe to both blog and videos, so I never miss anything new coming from her.

Chetna, thank you for giving me permission to publish one of your recipes…
I am just about to start a batch of your Black Sesame and Macha Tuiles…
looking forward to enjoying them!

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