Easy Chocolate Eclairs

I always assumed it would be impossible to replicate chocolate éclairs at home and even if you could—well, imagine being able to conjure up éclairs whenever you felt like it—that way lies ruin. But having promised  a pro-chocolate drive, I decided to have a go. Selfless, I know.

Finger-licking: A perfect batch of home-made éclairs needs a bit of practice and lots of patience.

Priyanka Parashar/Mint

 

 

 

 

I started by consulting Raymond Blanc, a French chef, and Delia Smith, an English cook and television presenter, hoping that somewhere between the two extremes there would be a middle way to choux perfection. In the end, I had to make five batches and call on chef and author Rachel Allen and Larousse Gastronomique before I had anything approaching an éclair. The first, Delia-inspired batch was just downright flat and soggy inside and out, Allen’s and Blanc’s were like a pile of crazy paving, with deep cracks all over the surface but still soggy inside. It wasn’t until I consulted the Gallic aloofness ofLarousse and pastry chef friend Susan Jung (yes, she of the amazing curry puffs) that things started to look up.

Larousse specifies more water and eggs than other recipes, but it was the one that worked best for me so my recipe is loosely based on theirs. Susan pointed out that choux is unlike other types of pastry, in that it is made from a wet flour and water paste which has to be lightened with egg to make the pastry puff up in the oven. The most important stage, she advises, is the adding of eggs to the mixture—the paste has to be gently cooked first to dry out slightly to enable as much egg as possible to be incorporated.

Part of the problem, as always, had to do with the vagaries of my oven, which I suspect is a problem for many aspiring bakers in India, so I’m giving precise instructions for times and temperatures.

As I say, fifth-time lucky. My son and I managed to eat about 20 each and stash away 40 in the freezer. I leave it to you to decide how lucky that’s going to be.

Chocolate Éclairs

Makes about 20 finger-length éclairs

Ingredients

For the choux pastry

125ml water

35g butter, cut into cubes

1 tsp caster sugar

65g flour (maida)

2 eggs, well beaten

For the filling

Whipped double cream

For the icing

180g icing sugar

2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

2-3 tbsp boiling water

Method

To make éclair shapes, you will need a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle. If you don’t have a piping bag, make little choux buns instead and use a tablespoon to pile the pastry on to the baking sheet.

Grease a large baking sheet and preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

Put the water, sugar and butter into a large pan. Heat gently until the butter melts, then bring to a boil. Immediately take the pan off the heat to stop the water evaporating.

Quickly pour the flour into the liquid and mix well with a wooden spoon. Put the pan back on low heat and cook the paste for a minute or so until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan.

Take the pan off the heat and let it cool for a minute. Add a small amount of egg and beat until completely incorporated in the mixture. Continue to add and mix small amounts of egg, beating well each time until the mixture is soft and glossy. Don’t let the mixture become too runny—you may not need all the egg.

Spoon the paste into a piping bag (or use a tablespoon) and pipe 4cm strips, widely spaced (they will puff up in the oven) on to the greased baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet into the oven for 10 minutes. I use an electric stand-alone oven that has top and bottom heating elements. For the first 10 minutes, I baked the éclairs with both elements on. Then I reduced the temperature to 200 degrees Celsius for 5 minutes with both elements on. To finish, I switched off the top element for a further 5 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius to make sure the insides were cooked but the tops didn’t burn.

Take the by now beautifully puffed up and golden éclairs out of the oven and immediately split them down one side to let out the steam and leave to cool on a baking rack.

Make the icing by sifting together the icing sugar and cocoa powder, then adding enough boiling water to make a not-too-runny paste.

When the éclairs are cool, fill the centres with the whipped cream and either pipe or carefully spoon the icing on top. Neaten the icing by dipping a metal knife into a cup of boiling water and using it to smoothen the surface.

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Choc Chip Cookies

 

Quick fix: Bake cookies for choco emergencies.

Priyanka Parashar/Mint

I’ve been depriving Lounge readers in the most heinous way and it’s time to make amends.

As part of the whole taking stock and moving forward process required at the turn of the year, I was looking back at the recipes I’ve done over the last year or so and to my astonishment discovered that only one of them is remotely in the chocolate category. Even then the Chocolate and Cherry Muffins were egg-free, so they hardly count as full-blown chocy wantonness.Inexcusable, I know, and I can’t really account for it except to acknowledge that my baking with fruit tendencies have got way out of hand. By way of an apology, and in the spirit of a fresh start, my New Year’s resolution is to step away from the cape gooseberries and lavish you with chocolate.

We’re going to limber up with everyone’s favourite, choc chip cookies. Like many bakers I’ve had my share of choc chip disappointment—too hard, too dry, too sweet. Trial and error brought me to this recipe, a simple one but so good it has been pinned to my fridge for years now. It’s what we make in our house when sweet/chocolate cravings have to be staunched quickly. They take about 5 minutes to make, 10 to bake before reaching biscuit perfection: crispy around the edges and chewy in the middle. Warm from the oven and savoured with a glass of cold milk, you’ll be in choc-chip heaven. Nothing you buy will ever come close.

The recipe, of course, is merely a template to be adapted at will. For emergencies, I keep a pack of chocolate chips to hand but it’s best to use a good-quality chocolate (anything with more than 70% cocoa content). My current passion is a milk chocolate bar (which ordinarily would be against the rules) containing chunks of almond brittle. Chewy, crispy, buttery, caramelized, nutty and above all CHOCOLATEY perfection. So good.

Here’s to a choc-tastic 2012!

A word about size: It isn’t everything. In the choc chip cookie stakes, less is definitely more. No one needs a 12-inch cookie—I guarantee you’ll be bored to death of it by the fifth bite, so don’t be tempted.

Choc chip cookies

Makes about 16-20

Ingredients

125g salted butter

75g Demerara sugar

75g caster sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

150g flour (maida)

1/2 tsp baking powder

100g chocolate (chips or a bar of good-quality chocolate chopped into small chunks)

Method

You will need a large, greased baking tray.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Begin by melting the butter in a small pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter and two types of sugar. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat again.

Sift in the flour and baking powder and stir until all the ingredients are combined. Finally stir in the chocolate.

At this point, you could chill the cookie dough until ready to bake the cookies. Usually though, I’m responding to an urgent chocolate/cookie need so I make them straightaway. Spoon dessert-sized spoonfuls on to the baking tray. A little irregularity is no bad thing with home-made cookies but if you’re a neat freak, roll the dough into balls somewhere between the size of a walnut and a golf ball. Make sure they’re spaced well apart because the cookies spread a lot during baking.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 10 minutes. If you like a crispy edge and chewy centre, take the tray out when the edges are lightly browned. If you like a crispier cookie, leave them in for a few more minutes. But watch them carefully, they burn quickly.

Note: I use a large stand-alone electric oven for most of my baking. For this recipe, I switched on both top and bottom elements and the cookies baked in about 7 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.

A Recipe for Cape Gooseberry Tarte Tatin

[first published in Mint Lounge on December 17th]

My love of the cape gooseberry, rasbhari, physalis or sometimes “Chinese lantern”, knows no bounds. Every year at this time I can never quite get over seeing in abundance a fruit which at home is bought by the handful rather than the kilo. As well as being the most cheerful-looking of fruits, cape gooseberries are perfect for baking and I always have more ideas for recipes than I have time to make.

French connection: Gooseberries lend a welcome piquancy to desserts. Divya Babu/Mint.

Divya Babu/Mint

Like old-fashioned varieties of apple and the green English gooseberry, they lend a welcome tartness to otherwise over-sweet desserts. They’re perfect for all sorts of puddings, pies, crumbles, fools and compotes. In fact one of my end-of-year rituals is making a batch of Cape Gooseberry jam as the ultimate topping for morning toast.

Today, though, we’re letting them loose on the tarte Tatin, named after the Tatin sisters, who ran a hotel-restaurant in Lamotte-Beuvron, France, at the beginning of the 20th century. The original was a tart of caramelized apples cooked under a pastry lid, then flipped over so that the pastry is on the bottom and fruit on top, then served with lashings of crème fraîche. For some reason, in our house, my husband holds the tarte Tatin portfolio—I’ve never actually made one.

I always assumed they were a major French faff (perhaps that’s what my husband would like me to think!); in fact nothing could be easier—the only thing that requires some effort is the pastry but you can even use a ready-made puff pastry for the least strenuous dessert imaginable.

Cape Gooseberry tarte Tatin

Serves 6

Ingredients

Pastry

170g cold unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces

250g flour (maida)

A pinch of salt

3 tbsp caster sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp orange flower water or cold water

Cape gooseberries

400g cape gooseberries, paper casings removed and washed

100g caster sugar

60g unsalted butter

1 vanilla pod

Method

You will need a 20-23cm tin or dish that is happy both on the stove and in the oven.

To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour with fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, then add the egg yolks and orange flower water. Stir to bring the mixture together. If it is still dry and crumbly, add a little water, but don’t let the pastry get sticky. Knead the pastry gently to form a ball, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

In the oven-proof and flameproof shallow tin, melt the butter and sugar. Split the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape the seeds into the tin. Tip the cape gooseberries in and coat with the caramel. Make sure you use enough fruit so it’s tightly packed on the bottom of the tin—this will improve the appearance of the finished tart. Let the fruit cook for a few minutes to release some of its juice into the caramel. Then let the caramel bubble long enough to thicken, a couple of minutes—stop before the fruit darkens or gets soggy. Take off the heat and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the pastry to a little larger than the tin. Carefully lift the pastry and place on top of the fruit. Press the edges down to encase the fruit.

Bake the tart for about 30 minutes until the pastry is nice and brown.

Let the tart cool for a minute or two, then take a plate that is larger than the tin and place it face down over the tart. Carefully flip the tart on to the plate and remove the tin. The cape gooseberries should now have formed a wonderfully sunny, caramelized topping. If any of the cape gooseberries has rolled out of position, just push it back so that the fruit is evenly distributed over the pastry.

Serve warm with crème fraîche.


Previous Lounge columns

Monsoon: Perfect Bread-Making Weather

Well, things have certainly been a bit quiet around here – I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.  

Not much blogging but a whole lot of kitchen and garden envy

It seems like every summer I head off to Scotland with the very best of blogging intentions and every summer Eat and Dust lapses into near-silence. We had a wonderful time at home catching up with family and friends though.  At my sister’s house I even contracted a severe case of garden and kitchen envy:  my brother-in-law has built an amazing outdoor kitchen in the woods behind their house, along with barbeque area and bunk house – how cool is that?

I want this kitchen

  

 I also want a garden that produces fruit like this

We also spent a week in Corfu where our friends Jane and Emilios have a house.  Jane and her daughter cooked up all sorts of Greek wonders ( I’ll blog about them soon) which I’ve been trying out since we got back. But first…

What’s a hot sticky  monsoon kitchen good for? 

Before I go off into an Ionian reverie, I need to give you a recipe to use right now, a recipe that is so utterly  perfect for our  humid, Monsoon Indian kitchens that you mustn’t waste another second before making it.  

It’s also something everyone is always telling me is impossible to make in India.

Good bread (loaf-style as opposed to flat), they say, can’t be done  here because we don’t get  strong bread flour. Well this recipe for ‘Whey Bread’ proves that you can make a loaf better than anything you can buy with the humble plain/all-purpose/maida  flour available in every corner shop.  

It must be true – Dan Lepard says so

I’ve been making bread, mostly variations on this recipe in fact, ever since I’ve been in Delhi – I use bread flour if I have it, plain if I don’t and I’ve not really noticed any difference.  

I was chatting to Dan Lepardbaker extraordinaire, one day on Twitter and he basically said – ‘you can make a respectable loaf out of pretty much any type of flour.’  He also said that Indian plain flour is perhaps less refined than western versions so innately better suited to bread making.  Well, how about that?

This recipe is as easy as can be and very adaptable.  Don’t have cream? Use milk.  No Whey?  Water will do just fine.  But the beauty of it right now is that the humid warmth of our kitchens is the perfect environment for yeast to do its work. You’ll have a full blown rise in no time.

Here’s what I wrote on the subject (followed by recipe) for Mint…..

Last month saw the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Chorleywood baking process.  I say celebrations, but you may well feel that commemorating the invention of pre-packaged, long-life, tasteless white sliced bread is not necessarily a reason to start popping champagne corks. Whatever your point of view, back in 1961 a revolution in bread making occurred and Britain led the way in replacing wholesome, nutritious, hand-baked bread with limp white sliced loaves tasting of cotton wool.

The Chorleywood baking process is named after the town in Hertfordshire where scientists at the British Baking Industries Research Association devised a means of turning cheap low-grade flour into mass-produced bread.  The means, of course, were a highly mechanised mixing process and a cocktail of additives.  Traditionally, a loaf of bread takes up to 20 minutes to knead – the Chorleywood chaps reduced this to three by radically speeding up the mixing process.  Proper bread, though, needs proper flour and the inferior variety used in sliced white has to be enhanced with salt, sugar, fats, flour improvers, emulsifiers and enzymes.

In India, the Chorleywood process is responsible for the ubiquitous Britannia loaf and a billion bread pakoras. In fact, it accounts for 80% of bread produced in India and the UK. But if a mouthful of cotton wool ‘enhanced’ with sugar, salt and chemicals isn’t to your taste, and you’re crying out for a pukka loaf, then you’re in tune with a new generation of  food revivalists urging a return to real bread making.

As there are very few artisan bread makers in India, making it at home is the only option. And turning out a loaf at home couldn’t be easier, especially at this Monsoon time of year when kitchens are hot and humid – ideal conditions for encouraging yeast to work. This recipe, as well as being a great way of using the whey left over in paneer making, uses a method introduced to me by British baker extraordinaire, Dan Lepard. Incidentally, if you’re at all interested in starting to bake bread at home, Dan’s book The Handmade Loaf is the only one you’ll ever need. Follow him on Twitter, too, for daily dough-y wisdom.

You will need to buy some imported Fast Action Yeast but it’s well worth the investment.  On the upside, there’s no need for expensive ‘Bread Flour’, the home grown maida makes a loaf far, far superior to anything you could buy in a packet.  Dan also introduced me to a new way of kneading: instead of the traditional long knead and long rest, the kneading and resting is broken up into short bursts over a few hours.  Having tried both methods, I can confirm that Dan’s produces a much better loaf. Try it – you’ll never look at Britannia again.

Whey Bread

Makes 1 large loaf

125ml cold cream (malai)

250ml whey

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 sachet (7g) fast action yeast

550g plain flour  (maida)

A few drops of sunflower oil

  1. Heat the whey until hand hot (not boiling) then pour into a large bowl with the malai.  Add the sugar, salt and yeast.  Whisk gently to mix then add the flour.
  2. With your hands mix quickly until you have a soft, ragged slightly sticky mass – no need to knead a this point – then cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave for 10 minutes.
  3. After 10 minutes, smear a few drops of oil on a clean work surface.  Tip the dough out and knead for 10 seconds. Put the dough back in a clean bowl and leave for 10 minutes.  You will notice that the dough has already changed structure – the yeast has already started to work on the flour, making it springier and more elastic.
  4. Again, knead for 10 seconds and leave for 10 minutes.  Give the dough a final knead, it will now be quite soft and pillowy.  This time leave the dough, covered, to rise for 1 hour, until it has doubled in size.
  5. Lightly oil the inside of a loaf tin.  If you don’t have a loaf tin, you could make a freeform loaf on a baking tray.
  6. Tip the bread dough onto the work surface and pat it into a shape that fits in the tin or an oval shape if you’re going freeform.  Put the bread into the  tin and leave to rise again for about one hour
  7. Heat the oven to 200­ºC and bake the loaf for about 45 minutes.  If you like a crustier loaf, take the bread out of the tin and bake for a further 5-10 minutes.

Laura leaving, the end of Uparwali Chai and a recipe for Boterkoek

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 and husband Jeroen on our last night in Delhi which, of course, we spent at Gunpowder restaurant

Laura’s Dutch Boterkoek

Makes about 40 bite-sized biscuits

Ingredients

300g plain flour

190g vanilla sugar

200g cold unsalted butter

A good pinch of salt

2 tbsp milk

1 egg, beaten

Method

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.


The only cake recipe you’ll need this summer

This was last week’s Mint recipe and I can’t stress enough just how useful it is.  It’s bailed me out of many a dessert fix – 5 minutes to make, half an hour in the oven – quite possibly the only summer cake recipe you’ll ever need…

I frequently get messages from readers pleading for recipes which don’t require scales—most Indian “andaaz”-based kitchens, they say, simply don’t possess a set. Although I recommend investing in scales if you’re at all keen to explore home baking—personally, I’m a slave to mine—I come from a long line of cooks who weren’t. My mother, an excellent baker, would have been completely at home in an Indian kitchen, using a tablespoon to measure everything—at least until she went through a weird midlife crisis Cordon Bleu phase in the 1970s.

I have inherited her beautiful, but now rather thin and worn, old spoon and use it most days—it makes me feel as if I’m stirring some magic into a cake or biscuit mixture. Today, I have used it as the base measure for a gorgeous, fruity sponge cake which is a perfect showcase for every glorious soft fruit about to make its way down from the Himalayas: I’ve used the fragrant little peaches which are in season briefly now, but you could substitute apricots, plums, cherries and later the apples and pears.

It’s inspired by a wonderful recipe in Jane Grigson’s 1982 masterpiece Fruit Book,given to the author by the owner of the village store near her French home. This, along with its companion volume on vegetables, is a book I refer to constantly—in fact, my copy falls open at this recipe’s page. Grigson named it Tarte de Cambraibut it’s really more of a cake. It requires minimal time in the kitchen—ideal for the next few months—about 5 minutes if you use fresh chopped fruit. I decided to use some peaches I had poached in a vanilla syrup first, again with imprecise measurements. I think it takes the cake up to new (Himalayan) heights.

Vive l’Andaaz.

Vanilla Peach Andaaz Cake

Serves 6

A word about the tablespoon measure: My mother’s spoon, heaped with flour or slightly rounded with caster sugar, measures one ounce (approximately 25g) but as long as you use the same spoon throughout, it doesn’t really matter, your cake will just be larger or smaller according to your spoon size—the main thing is to keep the ratios the same.

Ingredients

For the fruit

1/2 kg of just-ripe (not squishy) Himalayan peaches

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups water

2 vanilla pods

For the cake

10 level tbsp plain flour (maida)

1 tsp baking powder

6 level tbsp vanilla sugar (caster sugar which has been kept in a jar with vanilla pods)

4 tbsp sunflower oil

8 tbsp milk

2 whole eggs

Finely grated zest of a lemon

A pinch of salt

A little extra butter and sugar for the topping

Method

First prepare the fruit: Dissolve the sugar and water in a pan large enough to hold all the peaches and bring to a boil. Place the peaches in the syrup and let them simmer for 3 minutes, no longer. Lift the peaches out of the syrup and when cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Slit the vanilla pods and remove the seeds. Add both pods and seeds to the sugar syrup, then put the peaches back in and leave to cool to soak up some of the vanilla flavour.

When you’re ready to make the cake, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Grease something to bake the cake in. This also can be flexible. I used my beautiful Assamese earthenware dish but it works equally well in Pyrex or a metal cake or pie tin. Just make sure to grease it well.

Remove the stones from the peaches and lay them in the baking dish to form a single layer—you might not need them all but whatever’s left is delicious with a dollop of cream.

Measure all the ingredients into a bowl with your trusty tablespoon, then whisk to mix, or use a mixer. Pour the mixture, which will be like a batter, over the peaches. Put small dabs of butter over the surface along with a sprinkling of caster sugar.

Bake for about 35-45 minutes until a skewer prodded into the centre comes out clean.

Eat straight from the oven with thick cream or cold later.

Indian Shortbread Three Ways and Grapefruit Soda

I wrote recently about the delights of “locavorism” (http://www.livemint.com/locavore.htm), and the benefits, both health- and planet-wise, of eating locally sourced ingredients as opposed to those flown halfway round the world.

What I failed to mention is that while it’s no hardship to go local with Indian mangoes instead of Scottish raspberries and coconuts over parsnips, there are other items which require a little more fortitude. I haven’t, for example, managed to make the switch from olive to mustard oil and the chocolate in my baking is stubbornly Belgian. I have also failed completely to find a local butter which is good to bake with—Amul is too salty and white butter too watery—and have been a slave to the expensive French unsalted variety. Until now.

I recently went to stay at a friend’s family home in Madhya Pradesh and spent four days watching a traditional Hindu vegetarian kitchen at work, returning to Delhi with a notebook crammed with new recipes and techniques. My friend’s family still keeps a small organic dairy herd and it was wonderful to watch all the daily rituals that revolve around milk and the forgotten (in the West) skills of yogurt, butter and cheese-making.

When it was time to leave reluctantly, my friend’s mother gave me a large tub of home-made ghee to bring back and I knew my precious golden gift had to be put to some divine purpose, that is, baking.

I decided to make nan khatai biscuits, one of my favourite Old Delhi treats. Because they taste so like our own shortbread, I had always assumed Scottish roots for nan khatai, but they are, in fact, thought to be a legacy of Dutch colonizers in Surat who left behind their ovens when they shipped out.

I made two batches, one with fancy French butter and one with my Sagar ghee, giving them three chic modern toppings: pistachio and lemon, fennel sugar and grapefruit. I think it might be the start of something big in my kitchen. I can’t stress enough how much better the ghee version was—lighter, richer, crumblier—than the one made with imported unsalted butter. It may even be the best biscuit I’ve ever made or eaten.

I recommend eating these nan khatai warm, immediately after a sneaky siesta, with a glass of iced grapefruit soda—guaranteed to nudge you zestily back towards productivity.

Nan Khatai 3 Ways

Makes 18-24

Ingredients

100g of your finest ghee— preferably from cows you can see from your kitchen window

30g icing sugar

60g plain flour (maida)

50g chickpea flour (besan)

25g semolina (sooji)

1 tsp baking powder

A pinch of salt

Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods, crushed

Toppings

Grapefruit: grated zest of 1 grapefruit, blitzed in a grinder with 2 tbsp of granulated (not fine, caster) sugar until a sandy texture

Pistachio and lemon: grated zest of 2 lemons (nimbu) blitzed briefly with 2 tbsp sugar—try to keep some of the bigger pieces of pistachio

Fennel sugar: 1 tsp of fennel seeds blitzed with 2 tbsp sugar, ground to a powder

Method

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Grease or line a baking sheet.

First make your toppings and set aside.

Tip the ghee into a large mixing bowl with the icing sugar and whisk until light and creamy. Sift in the flour, besan, semolina, baking powder, salt and fold into theghee/sugar until you have a soft mixture.

Take teaspoonfuls (small enough so there’s no guilt at eating one of each flavour) of the mixture and roll them between your palms into a ball, using icing sugar on your hands to stop them sticking. Place them, well spaced, on the baking sheet and sprinkle on generous amounts of the toppings. For the fennel variety, decorate the top with whole fennel seeds after sprinkling with the fennel powder.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes until baked but not brown. Eat while still warm (although they keep well in a jar for a few days), with tea or grapefruit soda made from the fruit you have zested.

Grapefruit Soda

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

Juice of 1 grapefruit

Juice of one lemon

Soda water, as required

Method

Put sugar and juices in a pan with one cup of sugar and bring to boil. Let it bubble for a minute or two until syrupy, then leave to cool. Strain into a jar and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. To serve, add ice cubes and top up with soda water.

Holi, the start of summer, and a recipe for crumpets

Well, the warm weather is finally here in Delhi.  As always, Sunday’s festival of Holi marked the start of the long summer slog.  As the streets drowned in colour and revellers succumbed to the effects of Bhang Lassi, the mercury crept up.  Westrayed into a Holi party in Lodhi Gardens while we were out walking the dogs and were cordially invited to eat our fill of samosas, patties and gujjia – all washed down with ‘special’ lassi.  Just look what was in the bottom of my glass:

So we’ve put away our jumpers, heaters and hot water bottles until the end of October, and  braced ourselves and our air-conditioning for the sweaty months ahead.

But with a longer than usual winter this year, I’ve had plenty of time to perfect my crumpets – those fiendishly moreish thick yeasty pancakes, specially designed to soak up obscene amounts of dripping butter.

Just what is so sexy about crumpets? Elizabeth David noted in 1977 that “crumpet” had long been a colloquialism used to describe “a piece of skirt, any likely young woman, a girl with whom someone is having a passing affair, and other less polite interpretations”. In the heyday of political incorrectness, a leading British broadcaster, Frank Muir, coined the phrase “thinking man’s crumpet” to describe Joan Bakewell, a woman audacious enough to be both attractive and intelligent. The term has also been applied over the years to Helen Mirren and Nigella Lawson.

At first sight, though, the crumpet, with its pudgy paleness, is the shrinking violet of the baking world. It only becomes irresistible when slathered in salty butter, becoming a great and illicit pleasure on a par with, to use the language of the 1970s Carry On films, a spot of slap and tickle.

More importantly, crumpets are a great example of the many unsung heroes of British baking, conjuring up visions of roaring fires and hissing kettles, steamy windows keeping out the worst of a northerly winter. They’re delicious, comforting and indulgent but rarely made these days—a great shame because they could definitely give their more glamorous and feted European counterparts a run for their money.

The key to a perfect crumpet is creating a mass of tiny holes for lots of butter to seep into. The yeast is partly responsible for this texture but while researching all things crumpet for this column, I discovered a 1937 recipe by Walter Banfield which incorporates a little bicarbonate of soda at the end of the first fermentation. This, Mr Banfield pronounces, will avoid “grotesque, unfair creations”, that is, crumpets without holes, sometimes described as “blind”.

I can’t decide whether crumpets are best straight from the pan or after cooling and re-toasting. I can also never decide what’s more delicious—crumpets bearing nothing but melting butter or with butter and jam for an exceptional salty sweet hit. One thing I do know is that the best time and place to experiment is Sunday morning—in bed.

Traditional British Crumpets

Makes approximately 18 crumpets

Ingredients

450g plain flour (maida)

1 tbsp salt (this seems like a lot but crumpets are meant to be quite salty)

1 tsp sugar

1 sachet (7g) of fast action, dried yeast

350ml cold milk

350ml boiling water

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

150ml warm water

A little extra butter for greasing the pan and rings

For traditional-style crumpets, you will need some metal rings. If you don’t have rings, you can go free-form and make the flatter variety known as pikelets.

Method

Sift flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar and yeast. In a jug, mix the cold milk, boiling water and oil, then pour into the flour mixture. Stir with what Walter Banfield describes as “vivacious turbulence”, until the batter is well mixed.

Cover the bowl and leave the yeast to do its work. Depending on how hot your kitchen is, it could be anything between 45 minutes and 2 hours before the batter has doubled in size, with a surface bursting with tiny bubbles. Crumpets are one of the few baked treats which actually thrive in a hot, humid Indian kitchen.

When the batter has risen, mix the bicarbonate of soda with the warm water, then stir well into the batter. Cover the bowl and leave until the surface is again covered with bubbles.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over low heat—I prefer to cook the crumpets slowly to prevent the bottoms browning too quickly. Grease the pan and rings (if using) thoroughly with butter. Pour a heaped tablespoon of batter into each ring and leave to cook until the surface is dry and covered with tiny holes—this should take 5-7 minutes. If the holes don’t appear, the batter may be too thick, so add a little more warm milk or water to the next batch—but don’t make it too thin or it will run out of the bottom of the rings.

Gently lift away the metal rings, then flip the crumpets over to lightly brown the holey side. Keep the crumpets covered with a clean tea towel to keep warm.

If you click here, there’s a step by step slideshow to making crumpets

Orange and Cardamom Fig Rolls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In all the excitement of the article about me in The Telegraph, I completely forgot to post last weekend’s Mint recipe. I’ll confess my head was temporarily turned.

A huge thank you, though, to Telegraph food writer Xanthe Clay  who, along with photographer Heathcliff O’Malley came out from London a few weeks ago to attend one of our Upar Wali Chai tea parties.  They also ventured into Old Delhi to sample some of my favourite street food. Xanthe’s feature is lovely and Heathcliff’s pictures gorgeous – including a sweet one of the whole family – Spike the dog and all.

Anyway, back down to earth.  The fig rolls I wrote about in Mint last week are one of the best things I’ve made recently.  If, like me, you ate the packaged variety as a kid, you’ll wonder why you never tried making this far superior home made version.  The orange and cardamom are perfect partners for the soft sweet figginess.

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