Experimenting with Indian Winter Greens and a Recipe for Mustard Leaf Pancakes

An recent, unexpected, quiet weekend at home was a perfect opportunity to take some time to experiment with North India’s leafy green winter vegetables. Recipe: Mustard Leaf (sarson) Pancakes Continue reading

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How I Nearly Became a Health Freak. Then I Made These Muffins That Taste Like Doughnuts

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This is what I was going to write this week: “I along with all the other 4,678,906 people who have viewed Robert Lustig’s YouTube talk, ‘Sugar: The Bitter Truth’, have seen the light. I now fully accept that sugar is responsible for the world’s rampant obesity, heart disease and diabetes. I believe the experts when they say sugar is more addictive than cocaine and that the processed food industry with its fizzy drinks, fast food and hidden sugar with everything is our merciless pusher. Sugar is killing us and it’s time for everyone, including me, to change our ways.”
For a whole week we ate nothing but healthy meals made from our organic vegetable delivery box, and by the weekend I was feeling pretty smug and recommending wholemeal poha for a weekend treat. It was time, I decided, to take a long, hard look at my baking, replace maida (refined flour) with wholemeal atta (flour), sugar with agave nectar and this week’s recipe was going to be a red velvet cake made from spelt flour and beetroot. I even felt quietly chuffed when my husband said I was turning into a health food fascist.
Then this happened. I made some of these doughnut muffins for Sunday breakfast and with one bite my resolve and new-found principles simply evaporated. They were so good, after I had eaten the first I would have sold my granny for another. I didn’t stop until I had eaten four—by late morning I was in a sugar coma.
I decided right then that any life that didn’t contain the occasional taste of something as outrageously sweet and delicious as muffins that taste like doughnuts (and really, really good doughnuts at that) wasn’t the life for me.
One downside is that they are almost too simple to make—certainly much easier than making doughnuts: They take about 30 minutes from weighing out the ingredients to wiping the buttery sugar off your chin. True, they’re not deep-fried like doughnuts so in a sense they are a little healthier, but they still have an awful lot of what keeps Robert Lustig awake at night. But if we all did exactly what we’re supposed to all the time, life would be terribly dull. And where’s the joy in a spelt and beetroot red velvet cake?
Muffins That Taste Like Doughnuts
Makes 12 normal-sized muffins, 24 mini muffins
Ingredients
For the muffins
325g plain flour (maida)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
110g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g caster sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
250ml whole milk
12 tsp strawberry jam (optional)
For the doughnut topping
100g caster sugar
100g melted butter
Method
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Grease a 12-hole muffin or 24-hole mini muffin tin—silicone trays are ideal here.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar for a few minutes until soft and fluffy. Gradually beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Add one-third of the flour mixture with half of the milk and mix well, repeat until both are fully incorporated.
Divide the mixture between the muffin holes. If you want to make jam doughnuts, fill the holes one-third full of muffin mixture, add a teaspoon of jam, then cover with more muffin mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until well risen and browned on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave the muffins to cool for a few moments, then turn them out on to a cooling rack.
Put the caster sugar in a small bowl and the melted butter in another. While they’re still warm, roll the tops of the muffins in the melted butter, then the sugar. These are best eaten warm but will keep for a few hours if kept in a sealed tin. Frankly, you’re more likely to feel you haven’t made enough—three of us polished off 12 at one sitting.

Chocolate and Pear Tart with Lime Syrup

With a general preference for all things sweet, buttery and if at all possible, deep-fried, I don’t think I could ever be accused of pushing a health food agenda. It is nonetheless gratifying when the two coincide. If recent reports are to be believed, for instance, the key to eternal life is eating vast amounts of chocolate.

First there was that dream newspaper headline: “Chocolate ‘may help keep people slim’”. I wonder how many people read no further before rushing out to gorge on brownies? If they had they would have seen that while chocolate is also thought to be good for blood pressure and cholesterol levels and jam-packed with antioxidants, it is also full of those enemies of eternal life, fat and sugar.

 

Now—and this is particularly heartening for someone who has started putting her glasses in the fridge and forgetting the names of close relatives—we learn that a diet high in a bedtime cup of cocoa can ward off dementia. Apparently, the flavanols contained in good-quality chocolate are believed to reduce the risk of dementia by protecting brain cells from damage. Sounds promising, but before we all jump for joy, I should point out that the research was funded by Mars.

Today’s recipe, therefore, may or may not help you live forever but it is pretty, delicious and redolent of the chocolate limes of yore. And those never did us any harm, did they?

Incidentally, I have a tart tin crush at the moment—I bought this fluted oblong tin recently and I have to say I don’t think my pies ever looked prettier.

Step-by-step

Chocolate and Pear Tart with Lime Syrup

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the chocolate pastry

150g plain flour (maida)

25g icing sugar

25g unsweetened cocoa powder

A pinch of salt

125g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 egg yolk, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water

For the pears

3 ripe pears

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 tbsp caster sugar

For the almond filling

100g butter, softened

100g caster sugar

2 eggs

100g ground almonds

50g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

Zest of 1 lime

For the lime syrup

The juice and zest of 2 green limes

250ml water

150g caster sugar

You will need a fluted tart tin, 35x12cm

Method

First make the pastry. The pastry shell can be made ahead and stored in an airtight tin until needed. Sift together the flour, icing sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and water and stir with a knife until combined. With your hands, gently and quickly (don’t handle the pastry too much) form the dough into a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and leave to chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

When the pastry has rested, it needs to be baked blind—to avoid what the great British baker Mary Berry calls “a soggy bottom”. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Put the chocolate pastry on top of a piece of baking parchment paper, then put another piece of parchment paper on top of the pastry (using parchment paper makes this quite sticky pastry easier to pick up once it’s rolled out). Roll the pastry out a bit larger than your tin, unpeel the top layer of parchment, quickly lay the pastry on top of the tin, about 2-3mm thick, and unpeel the top layer of parchment paper. Gently press the pastry into the tin, patch up any cracks that appear and neaten the edges. Take a piece of parchment paper a bit larger than the tin and lay it over the pastry. Then pour in either some baking beans or dried pulses (this is to stop the pastry puffing up in the oven). Bake the pastry for 15 minutes, remove the paper and beans, then bake again for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Peel, core and cut in half the pears. Squeeze lime juice over them to stop them going brown. Heat a non-stick frying pan and sprinkle the sugar in. Add the pear halves, cut side down and heat until the sugar turns into a pale caramel. Remove the pears from the pan.

For the filling, beat together the butter and caster sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, almonds, flour, baking powder and lime zest until the mixture is combined. Spoon the mixture into the chocolate pastry case, then gently lay the pear halves on top. Bake at 160 degrees Celsius for about 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

While the tart is baking, make a syrup by putting the water, lime juice, zest and sugar into a small pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and cool. Let the tart cool slightly before serving, drizzled with the syrup or a good dollop of cream.