Tag Archives: baking

Strawberry Goodness!

9 Jan

Strawberries are such a burst of flavours! They have so much to offer – sweetness, tanginess, a surprise element and so much visual appeal. That’s why strawberries are my absolute favourite dessert fruit. This time while craving for some balanced flavours which do not leave an overly sweet or tangy taste in the mouth, I decided to make a Strawberry Shortcake.

Ingredients (For the shortcake, makes about 8 of them)

Flour – 340 gms

Caster Sugar – 2 teaspoons

Salt – ½ teaspoon

Unsalted Butter – 120 gms

Baking Powder – 1 teaspoon

Milk – enough to make the dough moist

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Ingredients (For the topping) 

Fresh Strawberries

Whipped Cream

Chocolate Sauce (Optional)

Step 1

It’s best to get the shortcakes ready first since they need some baking time. Put all the shortcake ingredients together and mix it to make a dough. Remember not to over knead. Once done, put it aside in the fridge for about half hour.

Once out of the fridge, roll into small patties and place on a buttered tray or butter paper. Bake the shortcake for 15-20 mins but ensure it doesn’t become very crisp.

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Step 2

While the shortcakes are getting ready, cut fresh strawberries and get whipped cream ready. To serve, cut the shortcake into two halves. On one side place whipped cream with a piping bag and place fresh strawberries on it.

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A little bit of chocolate makes everything better for me so I topped my shortcake with some Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Such a treat this one was!

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A ‘Berry’ Red Christmas!

24 Dec

When I think Christmas, I picture a burst of ‘red’ and comfort food with rich aroma in the air. That’s why while thinking of a Christmas dessert recipe I wanted to bring these three elements together – red, rich aroma and a melt in the mouth experience. That’s how I put together the recipe of my ‘Red Velvet Brownies with Strawberry and Cinnamon Jam’. This new recipe could well be the winner of your Christmas meal 🙂

Ingredients for the Red Velvet Brownies (Makes 12 mid sized brownies)

150 gms flour

60 gms coco powder

120 gms caster sugar

75 gms butter

2 eggs

½ teaspoon salt

Red food colour

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Ingredients for the Strawberry-Cinnamon Jam

24 mid sized strawberries (finely chopped)

25 gms unsalted butter

50 gms caster sugar

1 cinnamon flavored teabag or fresh cinnamon powder

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Step 1

For the brownie, mix all ingredients together and pour it on a buttered tray to form an even layer. Ensure semi liquid consistency. Once the mixture is in the baking tray, place it in a pre-heated oven and bake at 180 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Insert a toothpick after 20 minutes to see if it’s done. Take it out of the oven only if the toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool.

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Step 2

For some rich aroma I chose to add cinnamon in the jam. You could use fresh cinnamon powder but I used one of the best flavored tea I’ve tasted (a treasure I brought back from my trip to Sri Lanka). Place the Cinnamon tea bag in 1/4th cup of water till it turns dark and has soaked in the cinnamon flavours.

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Step 3

Now for the jam, heat a pan and add butter and caster sugar. Now add the finely chopped strawberries and cinnamon flavoured tea. Let it cook at medium flame for 10-15 minutes or until the strawberries have turned soft. Now pour the jam in a bowl, let it cool and place it in the fridge.

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Step 4

When its dessert time, cut the brownie and place the aromatic, flavorful jam on it. Trust me, it’s going to be one awesome treat for the taste buds 🙂

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The good part about this recipe is that you don’t have to scramble on the last day to bake your dessert, this can well be made a day or two in advance but will still taste fresh when you serve it.

Swirling Up a Cupcake Storm!

20 Nov

27-year old Shitija Nahata started baking as a hobby for family and friends. Little did she know that in just less than two years she would be on her way to building one of the most sought after dessert destinations in Bangalore and Chennai. Her delectable delights have made The Cupcake Company a favourite among most dessert lovers in these two cities. I got chatting with her about her journey so far, future plans and what baking means to her.

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On finding her passion

Soon after her wedding, Shitija bid adieu to her 7 year long career in marketing and started spending a lot of time in the kitchen, doing what she loved doing since childhood – baking for friends and family. “Baking wasn’t new to me. I loved doing it as a little girl and it always caught my fancy. I still remember the first time I made a chocolate mousse, I’ve been fascinated with baking ever since. I probably just didn’t have enough time for it when I was building a career in the corporate world. But soon after my wedding I decided to get back to it” says Shitija. Baking for family and friends and posting pictures of her creations on Facebook attracted a lot of attention and compliments, and even offers from the best bakeries in Chennai for partnerships. But Shitija didn’t want to be a supplier to these bakeries, she wanted to create a brand of her own. After testing her products and baking from home for over a year, Shitija took the plunge and opened her first store in Chennai – The Cupcake Company.

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On building a business and a brand

While passion is key to creating a truly wonderful product, a good business sense helps take the product to places. In my conversation with Shitija, I sensed strong business acumen and great emphasis on ‘brand building’. “When you are confident of your product and know it’s good, the next step is to ensure it’s in the right place at the right time. Your choice of store location, interiors etc can play a big role in creating aspiration with your consumers and building your brand. For example, we chose Indiranagar in Bangalore because it felt right to be there, we wanted to be visible in the company of the best” says the businesswoman in the baker.

To be able to build a brand, one has to be very closely involved with every aspect. Apart from quality control and routine baking, Shitija makes note of every feedback the store receives “I ensure I reply to every email, every Facebook comment and every message myself. It helps me stay in touch with reality and know the good or bad first hand”.

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On creating a niche

There are thousands of bakers across these two cities and cupcakes are no novelty anymore and are available in plenty, so what sets The Cupcake Company apart? “I can confidently say that our quality sets us apart. We have never compromised on our ingredients; we use only the best even if it costs a little extra. And loyal customers are won only with great quality and service “ says a confident Shitija. “Customization is another forte we are proud of. There is no customization request that we have ever turned down and we have always delivered to perfection”.

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On learning and growing

Shitija never went to a culinary school, she’s a self-taught baker but a firm believer in ‘practice makes a man perfect’.  She still remembers an incident when a friend challenged her to make macrons, something she had never done before. She tried and tested different recipes for over four months until she perfected the art and was proud of her creation. “I travel extensively and always bring back some learnings from my travel. I do a lot of research before I visit any place about the bakeries and chefs in the city and ensure I pay a visit to stay updated on what’s happening in the baking world”.

Expanding to other cities is definitely on the radar for The Cupcake Company but Shitija wants to do it herself and not with franchisees “We will expand to other cities but I’d much rather do it myself than get into a franchisee model because I want to have complete control over quality”. As she reveals her ambitions she adds, “One day I want to open a restaurant too, I’m just not sure if it’s the right time yet”.

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On her support system

While the idea and the effort is her own, there are a lot of people who have contributed to Shitija’s success. She doesn’t shy away from talking about her husband and mom, who have helped her build The Cupcake Company from scratch. “My husband is a finance guy and he knows the tricks and traits of business too well. Everytime I think of expanding or opening a new store he makes me present a business plan to him and weighs out all pros and cons with me. He ensures I don’t get carried away and helps me make smart decisions” says Shitija. “My mom has always been around to help me, she spends time in the stores when I’m traveling or manages the show when I’m busy experimenting with recipes. She’s been a big part of my journey” she adds.

Photo Credits : Kunal Chandra & The Cupcake Company

The Soiree Pie! (Orange Meringue Pie)

10 Nov

Oranges hold a very special place in my heart.  I was born and brought up (till the age of 11) in the Orange City of India – Nagpur. I still have memories of the house filled with the fragrance of fresh oranges from my granddad’s orange farms every year starting October, all the way till February.  Even today, like a child I wait for the orange season and even more thinking about the desserts I’ll make using this delightful fruit.

This time I knew I was going to make a tart with oranges but was pretty clueless till the last minute about the other ingredients. But closer to baking time I pretty much knew what my pie would look like. So this is essentially a pie with a layer of chocolate ganace, fresh oranges and French Meringue.

I’m going to divide this recipe in four different parts and in the end I will tell you how to put it all together and I suggest you follow the same order. With this recipe you can put together a medium sized pie.

Step 1 – Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients

80 ML Fresh Cream

100 Gms Dark Chocolate (Cooking chocolate is preferred but I chose to use Lindt Dark Chocolate)

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Start with the chocolate ganache first because it takes the longest to set. On a double boiler mix the cream and chocolate until it has mixed completely. Now pour it in a bowl, let it cool and place it in the fridge for atleast 3-4 hours (best way to do this is to let it set overnight).

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Step 2 – Sweet Paste

Ingredients

100 gms Flour

80 gms Butter (melted)

3 Teaspoons Egg

40 gms Icing Sugar

A pinch of salt

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Mix all the ingredients and knead the dough. Remember not to over knead it. If you feel the dough is not moist enough, sprinkle some water but remember not to make it runny. Now wrap the dough in a clean wrap and place it in the fridge for half an hour.

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Once the dough is out, butter a pie plate and place the rolled dough in it. Adjust the dough around the plate in gentle upward direction so it is equally distributed.  Remember your pie is going to hold a few things inside so it shouldn’t be too thin at the same time it should be easy to bite into, so it can’t be too thick either. After trimming the edges with a knife, blind bake it in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for atleast 20 mins or till turns golden brown.

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Step 3- Fresh Oranges

Dice two fresh oranges in small pieces (without the peal ofcourse) and place them in the fridge.

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Step 4 – French Meringue

Ingredients

2 Eggs

80 Gms Caster Sugar

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Carefully pour only the egg whites in a bowl. Now start whisking it with an electric whisker. Once the egg white starts getting a little fluffy, start folding in the sugar slowly.

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Keep whisking it (for atleast 5-7 minutes) until the meringue starts to look shiny. One trick to know if your meringue is done is to turn the bowl with the meringue upside down. If it’s not runny and stays in the bowl, your meringue is done.

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Step 5

Now is the time to put it all together. Once your pie is out of the oven, let it cool down. Pour the chocolate ganache in the pie.

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Next, place the fresh oranges on the chocolate ganache.

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You can either make a pattern with the meringue on top or cover the pie with a layer of meringue.

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Garish it with some chocolate chips and your pie is ready to be served.

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A Coffee with Chef Rajith!

6 Nov

Closer to my travel dates to Colombo I started doing my research on the bakeries I must visit while I’m there.  One common name showed up in almost all reviews – ‘Pebbles’ at Taj Samudra. It is rated as one of the best there, though I had my doubts. I know Taj serves the best quality food but in my mind the best bakeries are usually found in the most cosy and unexplored nooks and corners. But since I was staying there I thought it might be worth dropping in.

So there I was, at Pebbles on a cloudy evening in Colombo with a beautiful view of the ocean and a cup of cappuccino by my side as I waited for Pastry Chef Rajith Kalhara to join me.  Expecting a forty something year old man to join me (I assume it would take that long to reach such a prestigious position in one of the best hotel groups), I was startled when I was greeted by a humble, 29-year old who introduced himself as the pastry chef at Taj Samudra. Soon as he joined me, I knew I wasn’t going to chat with him about the desserts he had to offer there (well, the reviews and the delectable looking desserts spoke for themselves) but I wanted to hear his story and how he’s made it there.

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Chef Rajith with some of his creations for the day

A Computer Science student by qualification, Chef Rajith discovered his love for food and creating it by chance when he decided to find a part time job on the side to support his education. Little did he know that a job at a Chinese restaurant will change his career and life forever.  From an assistant to the chef at the restaurant, in just about four years he was now the head chef himself. While Computer Science was long forgotten, he still felt the need to polish his baking skills, something he discovered his love for over time. That’s when he decided to do a course at PRIMA and in a year he was all set to venture into the baking world.

Looking back at his training years, he fondly remembers his experience at Taj Clubhouse in Chennai “It was one of the best experiences that prepared me to become a tough baker.  Stretched hours at work, almost upto 16 hours a day helped me become a perfectionist. I was literally breathing desserts. It was almost like my life revolved around it and the joy of creating made me more and more passionate about this profession everyday”. Now, for over 16 months he’s been cooking quite a storm at Pebbles.

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Some of the best from the counter – Carrot Cake, Chocolate Cake & Swiss Roll

So what makes Pebbles one of the most loved bakeries in Colombo? In the chef’s words, “Striving for excellence and perfection in whatever we do and create, that’s what the entire team works for”. The Chef is a big fan of traditional recipes and believes, deep down eventhough we all try innovative desserts, most of us feel happiest with a simple chocolate or sponge cake (I must agree, that statement hit a chord with me). No wonder, the daily spread of desserts include Chocolate Cakes, Swiss Rolls, Pineapple Upside Down Cakes, Walnut Brownies, Carrot Cakes and many more such popularly loved desserts. That doesn’t mean there’s no scope for experimentation. The chef also believes in doing the different and offering a variety to his regular visitors. “In any profession, innovation is important and as bakers we will continue to showcase our creativity with new additions and interesting recipes that are rare in Colombo”.

I can’t end this post without mentioning what a brilliant chocolatier the chef is. Though I did try the chocolates and absolutely loved them when I met him, what made me realize the amount of hard work that team of bakers puts in when I found a personalized chocolate box in my room in the night. With such massive volumes everyday, there is no compromise on the taste whatsoever!

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Chocolates made at the Taj Samudra Bakery

Juicy Mango Tarts!

13 May

Mangoes mangoes everywhere…wondering what dessert to make? If you have already tried the mango mousse and mango cheesecake from my recipes, it’s now time to try the mango tarts. These no hassle tarts are good to indulge in at any time of the day, especially with your evening tea or coffee!

For fresh, crispy tart base, follow the sweet paste recipe from here

For the filling, you need these ingredients

Custard powder – 4 teaspoons (heaped)

Milk – 2 cups

Caster Sugar – 40 gms

Mango pulp – ½ mango

Sliced mangoes – 2

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Step 1

Heat the milk and sugar in a vessel and stir until the sugar dissolves completely.

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Step 2

In a bowl take a small part of the milk and mix it with the custard powder (not on the stove) until it dissolves completely and is free of lumps. Now add this custard mix to the remaining milk and sugar mix

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Step 3

Mix until the custard reaches a semi solid stage. At this point, add the mango pulp and mix for some more time at a low flame.

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Step 4

Take the custard mix off the stove and let it cool. Refrigerate it for 2 hours before piping it into the tarts

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Step 5

Top it with freshly cut mango pieces.

Your awesome summer dessert is ready 🙂

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Chocolate & Fresh Fruit Tarts

23 Apr

People often associate desserts with something they eat after a meal, post lunch or dinner. How about making something that you can munch on at any time of the day? (yes, I know that’s dangerous for the weight watchers ;)) Here is a simple recipe of a Chocolate & Fresh Fruit Tart, best suited for a tea party!

For the sweet paste

Unsalted Butter – 60 gms

Icing Sugar – 30 gms

Flour – 125 gms

½ an egg (medium sized)

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For the Chocolate Ganache

Fresh Cream – 100 ml

Dark/Cooking Chocolate 40 gms

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Fresh seasonal fruits, cut aesthetically

Step 1

Get started with the chocolate ganache first. On a double boiler, mix the fresh cream and chocolate together until the chocolate has melted completely. Let the ganache cool and let it refrigerate.

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Let the chocolate blend in with the fresh cream completely

Quick Tip : The ideal chocolate ganache should be refrigerated over night, but if you are not able to plan your dessert so much in advance, an hour or 2 will also do.

I also know a lot of people who refrain from making chocolate ganache because ‘double boiler’ sounds like a complicated technique. But it is really quite simple. You can use any container you have at home and pour water into it. Place another container on it that sits well. Ensure the water in the lower container does not touch the container on top. That’s it, your double boiler is ready 🙂

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Simple, home-made double boiler

Step 2

To make the sweet paste, mix the flour, icing sugar, unsalted butter and egg together until you get a dough like consistency. Do not over knead.

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Step 3

Press the dough into the tart moulds. Ensure the dough is not too thick and to get an even tart, press your thumb into the tart mould in upward direction. Once it is evenly placed, cut the extra dough from the top edges with a knife.

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Step 4

Place the tart moulds in a pre- heated oven and bake at 180 degree C for 20-25 mins or until the tarts turn light golden-ish. Don’t let the tarts turn brown.

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Step 5

With a piping bag and a nozzle with swirls, pour in the chocolate ganache into the tarts once the tarts have cooled.

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Step 6

Now place the fresh cut fruits on top. To beautify this further, drizzle some icing sugar with a strainer on the tarts

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Voila, your tea time treat is now ready!

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