Sunday, December 20, 2015

Pahadi Limbu infused Hot Buttered Brandy Pound Cake

I have become a little obsessed with citrus - every sort of citrus fruit seems to occupy my mind these days. And of course, the cosmos conspires to provide me with plenty of variety! Not only have I had top quality sweet limes or mosambis as we call them, from Luv Thy Farmer, which I used to make this amazing Mosambi Cake, I got Meyer lemons from Imtiaz and Sue which I used in these beautiful Lemon Cakes, and then Rushina gave me a couple of Pahadi Limbus that she'd got from her in laws' village in Garhwal! My cup of happiness was overflowing. Did I mention I have been haunting gourmet stores, making a beeline for their fresh veg sections and getting busy scratching and sniffing the lemons looking for the fresh and flavourful ones?!

Anyway, coming back to the pahadi limbus. They are huge. Bigger than your average apple, in fact. The skin is thin and must be zested carefully. But what a burst of freshness when you give it that light scrape against the microplane!

The limbus waited patiently for me to find a recipe worthy of them and I chanced upon this Hot Buttered Rum Pound Cake recipe. The recipe uses oranges but I thought the pahadi limbus would shine here, and oh they did!  A look in the drinks cabinet for something instead of rum, a hunt through the pantry cupboard for the rest of the ingredients, and I was set.

The recipe has three elements - the pound cake, the soaking syrup, and the hot buttered brandy. I'm going to give you the recipes in the order they are made so you're not going back and forth between ingredient lists and the methods, thereby giving you less room for error and confusion. Though I have largely followed the recipe above, I have made a few adjustments and replacements to make it more suited to what the hubby likes.

Pahadi Limbu infused Hot Buttered Brandy Pound Cake

Brandy syrup for soaking cake

1/2 cup sugar
zest from one pahadi limbu
2 to 3 tbsp brandy

Mix the zest into the sugar with your fingers and help them release their oils. This gives more flavour.

In a small pan heat the sugar-zest mix with the brandy and a little water. Bring it to a boil stirring gently till all the sugar is dissolved. Boil the mix on a medium flame for another minute and then leave it to cool as you make the cake.

Pound cake

1 1/3 cups ground sugar
zest from one pahadi limbu
2 cups maida, sifted
1 tsp cinnamon powder
6 green cardamoms, seeds pounded
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups Amul butter
6 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Set the oven to preheat at 180C.

In a clean mixing bowl combine the flour, salt, cinnamon powder, and the crushed cardamom seeds with a whisk.

In a small bowl mix the zest into the granulated sugar till it starts getting clumpy. This step helps release the oils from the zest and extracts maximum flavour from it.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, or in a regular mixing bowl beat the butter on medium speed till it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar-zest mix to the butter and beat for a few minutes till it's all mixed and light. Beat at a high speed for a few minutes. Make sure you stop the beater and scrape the sides of the bowl and the paddle to mix everything properly at least once.

Now it's time to add the eggs. Add one egg at a time and beat well to mix completely before you add the next one. Once all the eggs are added in  pour in the vanilla extract. The original recipe has zest and a flavour extract - I opted not to use the flavour extract because I was sure it would mask the flavour from the zest completely. I'm glad I did because the cake was full of natural lemony flavour and didn't need any help at all.

Once the eggs and vanilla have been fully incorporated add the flour mix next. I do this a little at time with the help of my 1/4 or 1/3 cup measuring cup, whichever is clean and at hand. Keep adding a scoop of flour and continue beating till you have a smooth batter. This cake has a thick batter beautifully speckled with the crushed cardamom seeds and cinnamon powder.

Though the original recipe says a 9x4 loaf pan will do, I found it was not big enough. I used a disposable loaf case for the leftover batter and had two beautiful bars of pound cake. I think two medium loaf tins should work well. Line the tins with parchment or grease well and dust with flour before you pour the batter in. Level the top with a spatula and it's ready to be baked

Pop into the preheated oven and bake for roughly an hour at 180C, till the cake is a nice golden colour. It should ideally split along the middle too. If your cake is browning too fast reduce the temperature to 160C and bake it longer till it is cooked through. Test with a skewer to check for done-ness.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin for around 10 mins or so and only then remove to a wire rack to cool further. Place a tray under the rack to catch any drips, poke the surface of the cake with a thin skewer and then brush it with the brandy syrup you have left to cool. Be generous and keep slathering the cake - it will absorb a lot of that syrup. Do this while the cake is still quite warm. Let it cool on the wire rack.

Hot buttered brandy glaze

50 gms Amul butter
1/3 fine sugar, preferably brown
2-3 tbsp brandy

Heat the butter in a small pan till it begins to foam and turns brown. It will start to smell nutty. Stir with a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula to brown the butter evenly. Take off the heat and let it cool for a minute. Now add the sugar (preferably brown) and then the brandy. Stir nicely to combine. Use a fine grain sugar for a smoother glaze.

Spread the glaze on top of the cake with a pastry brush. Slice and serve your Pahadi Limbu infused Hot Buttered Brandy Pound Cake immediately. Keep any leftover glaze in a covered jar and warm it slightly to serve with any remaining cake.

This is another beautifully flavoured tea cake that has the freshness of lemon and cardamom along with the warmth of cinnamon. Since the pahadi limbu is difficult to get, you can use regular oranges as in the original recipe. The cake has many sugary elements and therefore I have cut down the sugar slightly in the cake. You can adjust the sugar according to your preferences. Meyer lemons would also work very well in this recipe as would mosambis or sweet limes. Use more zest if you're using mosambis as they tend to be quite mild in flavour.

You might have noticed there's no baking powder or baking soda in this recipe. As in the classic old pound cake recipes, this one has none. Yet, I had a wonderfully light and well aerated cake. It's all in the slowly added ingredients and the many minutes of beating. In spite of a thick 'heavy' batter, the cake rises perfectly. The more recipes I explore, the more I learn :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Memories of a Another Flood - Mumbai, 26 July, 2005

Image from Mid-Day

The inundation of Chennai over the last so many days and the sheer magnitude of the ravagement that city faced has left many of us, safely far away, just watching in disbelief. Yes, we mobilised ourselves and did what we could - from simply sharing information on social media to actively getting involved in relief efforts.

It was only natural for me to remember how my own city ground to halt all those years ago on the 26th of July, brought to a standstill by incredibly heavy rains. We were brought to our knees for two days. No communication, no transport, and thousands trapped or stranded in cars, buses, on the roads, in offices, and all manner of random places. More than a thousand people lost their lives.

We were living at V.T., on the top floor of an old building, with my parents in law on the floor below us. A family gathering had been planned and we were gearing up to have a feast for dinner with all the family present. The parents were going to drive in from Lonavala that day. Some time that afternoon I noticed how strangely overcast it had suddenly become and some instinct urged me to check with the parents to see where they'd reached. They hadn't passed Panvel yet and I urged them to go back. I don't know why I felt it so strongly but after a bit of an argument with Dad, I managed to convince them to go back. It was drizzling already but the overcast sky had made me nervous for some reason. The parents drove back to Lonavala.

By the evening it was raining seriously and news trickled in from the suburbs that there was a lot of water logging, the local trains were severely late, and crowds had built up at the stations, packed with stranded passengers.

There was no Facebook or Twitter, but I was active on the Ryze Network. I saw posts there from various people about flooded roads, stranded vehicles, traffic jams, stalled trains, and worse. The city was in crisis and there were thousands and thousands stuck out there in the rains.

I called up a couple of my friends to check if they were okay. Mostly people were still trying to go back home and it hadn't quite registered to us in South Bombay just how much rain fell in the suburbs that day - a whopping 944 mm in 24 hours. I did urge them to feel free to come over and stay with us, just in case they couldn't get home.

I stayed online keeping track of my friends on Ryze. I remember chatting with one girl who was stuck in her office, till late in the night, just keeping her company. The Internet is an incredible thing and I was experiencing that incredible-ness right then.

As the evening progressed things only got worse. People were stuck, unable to get home as the trains had shut down, and there was severe water logging on most arterial roads so traffic wasn't moving either.

That night we had around 20 people staying over at our house. We knew just one person among them all, a friend. The rest were her office colleagues. Fortunately there was plenty of food (remember the family get together?) and space because the parents' house was empty. Between upstairs and downstairs we managed to fit everyone in.

Hundreds of people opened up their homes, kitchens and hearts to help people in need. That is the way we are - fundamentally good and willing to what little we can to make things better in a crisis. We do the same today too. But in those days of no social media, at least not in the form it is today, there was no tom-toming of Muslims helping Hindus, Hindus helping Sikhs, or any of that. It was just about people helping people. And that's the way it should be.

But we live in a world where politicians hijack relief materials and shamelessly delay the distribution to stick the face of their leader on the packets, and where the politics of religion is inescapable.   

Monday, December 7, 2015

Of Microplanes, Meyer Lemons and Lemon Cake

It's no secret that I love baking. It's no secret that I love kitchen gadgets. And it's no secret that I like playing with new ingredients either.

I had wanted to add a Microplane to my small tools drawer for a long time but somehow never actually got around to it. This year the hubby gave me a stash of money to spend on random things I wanted, as a birthday treat. I bought that Microplane finally! I'm not fond of fruit in general but I do love the citrus ones. I saw Meyer lemons at a gourmet food store and decided to indulge myself, their steep price-tag notwithstanding.

And there I was! Armed with the ultimate zesting tool in creation and a variety of lemons I'd been drooling over from a distance for a long, long time - it was time to bake!

I have spent many hours looking at lemon cake recipes and even bookmarked quite a few to try out once I had everything in place. But somehow, I couldn't settle on any recipe when I set out to bake. After hours of back-ing and forth-ing between recipes I decided to just wing it and do my own thing. After all, I'd been baking for as long as I could remember and how hard could it be?

Lemon Cake

1 cup Maida or APF
3/4 cup Sugar, powdered
3 Eggs, at room temperature
125 gms Butter, softened
1 tsp Baking powder
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 Meyer lemon, zested, and juice extracted
1 -2 tsp Sugar for the drizzle
a little zest, reserved for the drizzle

Grease and flour an 8 inch cake tin. Set your oven to preheat at 180C.

In a clean bowl sift the maida with the baking powder.

In the bowl of your stand mixer or in a mixing bowl using a hand held mixer cream the butter with the sugar till it's smooth and pale.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue beating. Add the vanilla extract too.

Once the mixture is smooth, chuck in the lemon zest. Mix till it is combined nicely.

Add the flour into the mix in small amounts. I use the 1/4 cup measuring cup from my set, and whisk well after each addition. Mix in all the flour to get a smooth batter.

Pour batter into the cake tin and bake at 180C for 35 to 40 minutes. Check with a cake tester in the centre and if the tester comes out clean your cake is done.

In the mean time make the lemon drizzle. Combine sugar into the lemon juice and mix well till the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the reserved zest. Taste and check for a good balance of sweet and lemony sourness.

Sprinkle the drizzle randomly on your cake while it's still warm. Let the cake cool completely before you unmould it. I didn't soak the entire cake with the drizzle but just randomly splashed it on the surface. This resulted in surprise lemony explosions of flavour while eating the cake, which I loved.

Serve this beautiful cake at tea time, add slices to lunch boxes or, like me, make them in disposable cases and distribute to your friends. Deliciousness, like happinesss, must be shared. So go on, get baking!