Quick, grab the hankies, it’s going to be a weepie. Today marks the end of a particularly wonderful period of my life in India: After five years, my great friend Laura is leaving Delhi to return to her home in the Netherlands.
As well as a friend, Laura has also been a co-conspirator in a plan to convert Delhiites to the delights of pukka afternoon tea. Two years ago we launched Uparwali Chai and about once a month since then we’ve baked ourselves to a standstill, piled high the cakestands and popped up in restaurants, museums, rooftops and gardens all over Delhi.
As anyone who has attended any of our teas can testify, Laura has a huge talent for making food look and taste divine. She has an incredible eye for detail and a flair for combining precise and unusual baking techniques with an array of Indian ingredients. She transformed the humble aubergine bharta into a delicate paté and had the brilliant idea of serving it in cutting chai glasses. I’ll remember forever her Carrot Halwa Cups: a hearty Indian dessert transformed into dainty little pecan-crusted wonders. There are about 30 lucky people who came to an event last winter who will never think of her Amarena Cherry Macaroons without a lump in their throats.
We spent many happy hours planning the menus for our teas, especially relishing the challenge of theming our food for particular venues and occasions: Miniuttapams for a south Indian restaurant, Far East florentines for a pan-Asian one, Salted Caramel Macaroons for Mahatama Gandhi’s birth anniversary and cupcakes tied with rakhi bands for Raksha Bandhan.
Laura also encouraged me to finesse my own baking, ruthlessly banishing anything as uncouth as a muffin or cupcake from my repertoire and steering me gently towards daintier, more refined mouthfuls. And for that I’ll be eternally grateful.
When I asked Laura if I could have one of her recipes for today’s column, she chose Boterkoek, a traditional Dutch biscuit similar to our Scottish shortbread. It uses the same three ingredients, butter, flour and sugar, in slightly different proportions, giving the same rich butteriness but with a softer texture than the Scottish version. Usually it’s a fairly homely, rustic recipe but of course in Laura’s kitchen it becomes dinky and delicate.
Laura has decided to formally train as a chef back in the Netherlands and I’m sure she’ll be a star pupil. She’s a genius in the kitchen, her food is always inspired and she makes cooking look fun and glamorous. I’ve even had Twitter followers ask if she’d consider taking Uparwali Chai to Holland. I’m sure she’ll have a Michelin star and a book deal in no time.
I’m not quite sure how I’m going to fill the Laura and Uparwali Chai-shaped hole in my life but when I do figure it out you can be sure Boterkoek will always be on the menu.
Maybe one day I’ll even persuade Laura to come back as a guest chef.
Laura’s Dutch Boterkoek
Makes about 40 bite-sized biscuits
300g plain flour
190g vanilla sugar
200g cold unsalted butter
A good pinch of salt
2 tbsp milk
1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the butter into small cubes and place in a bowl along with the flour and sugar. With your fingertips rub the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the milk, then mix with your hands until the mixture starts to bind together. Although there is little milk, there is a large quantity of butter which holds the mixture together. Place the mixture on the baking tray and press until it is about 1 & 1/2 cm thick. Use a rolling pin to make the top completely flat but leave a gap around the edge of the tin to allow the Boterkoek to expand while it bakes. With a sharp knife, lightly score criss-cross lines all over the surface, then brush the surface with a little beaten egg. Bake for about 30 minutes until the top is lightly browned. About halfway through, put another tray on a lower shelf to stop the Boterkoek browning too quickly. Leave the Boterkoek to cool before cutting into shapes using a pastry cutter. Traditionally, the biscuits are small squares but you can use any shape—as long as it’s nice and dainty.