Sweet success: New York Cheesecake

This cheese cake thing has been a mystery to me for long. I’ve read dozens of recipes in books and online. Even attended a cooking class. Nothing gave me the confidence to go ahead and make the cheese cake at home. It seemed daunting. The cheesecake we get in the market looks too sophisticated therefore difficult. The recipes  I found  online called for ingredients that were hard to find or if available, were expensive. Some asked for ingredients I didn’t think went well with  cheesecake (amul cheese spread, really?). There seemed no recipe that sounded right.

After many months of procrastination, it was time to give a recipe, any recipe a shot. I was prepared to overturn a whole tin of (terrible) cheesecake into the bin, but the cheesecake had to be tried.

I zeroed in on Anita’s recipe and tried it out after work yesterday. It was simple with ingredients within my reach and didnt seem to be time consuming. Much to my surprise, it was successs at first attempt!! Very unexpected. Very delightful. 🙂

I tweaked the original recipe a bit, increased the lemon content and halved the recipe.  Here it is for your reference. Ingredients modified are in italics.

New York Cheesecake

New York Cheesecake
Serves 4-6 ( if you eat only one wedge each !)

For the Crust

2 T melted butter
50 gm crushed Britannia digestive biscuits
1 T powdered sugar

For the filling
300 gms hung curd at room temperature (original recipe suggests hanging the curd overnight. I didnt have time for that so I hung it for 2 hours only. I used store bought curd.)
100gms powdered sugar
1 T plain flour
pinch of salt
1 t vanilla essence
zest of 2 lemons
2 t lemon juice
1 T plain flour
1 eggs
75  ml soured cream (Anita suggests you can make sour cream at home by adding a teaspoon of yoghurt to cream and leave to set for a few hours. I had no time for sour cream so I used regular Amul cream)

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 180 C .
  • Grease a small pan/tin with butter.
  • Crush biscuits, combine with sugar and butter and lay out in an even layer at the tin /pan base.  If you would like to have crumbs of the side of the cheese cake, reserve 2 T or so. Bake for 10 mins at 180 deg C , till the crumbs brown a bit. Keep aside.
  • Take the hung curd and whisk it well till it is smooth in consistency.  You can use a hand beater for this. I did it manually. Slowly add the sugar,salt, vanilla essence, flour, lemon juice and zest. Ensure it all incorporates well.
  • Add the egg and whisk some more.
  • Finally add the sour cream and whisk.
  • Brush sides of the tin with butter and  sprinkle the crushed biscuit crumbs, if you’ve reserved some biscuit crumbs for the side.
  • Pour the filling and put the tin in a preheated over to bake for about 20 mins at 150 deg C. ( I tried baking at 110 deg c for 10 mins as the original recipe suggested but since I had not hung the curd overnight, mine was  moist and needed to bake more). When the cheesecake is done, it will be firm from the centre.
  • Remove from oven and cool (preferably refrigerate) before serving.

The cheese cake was smooth, creamy, lemony. What I learnt was that  I needed to hang the curd for longer. Its higher moisture content made the biscuit crust a bit soggy. .. not that anyone complained!

If you’ve been intimidated by cheesecake (like I was), I suggest you start your cheesecake journey with this one!

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Tutti-frutti cake

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Never a fan of tutti-frutti, not even as a child, I still wanted to make a small tutti frutti cake yesterday. Browsing through the internet, I found that there is no standard/commonly used/popular recipe. Everyone seemed to have made their own version. So I did exactly that. The results were good and I share them with you here.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 100 gms maida
  • 100 gms sugar( I used brown sugar)
  • 100 gms butte/ cream ( I used fresh cream)
  • 1 tsp baking power
  • 1/2 C tutti frutti
  • 1/4 C raisins
  • few crushed cashews
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1-2 tbs milk

Method:

  • Sift flour and baking powder.
  • Beat eggs till fluffy.  Add the sugar (powdered is better) and when well incorporated add the butter/cream and vanilla essence.
  • Fold in the maida- baking powder. If you find the batter is too thick, add 1-2 tbsp milk.
  • Throw in the tutti-frutti and raisins.
  • Pour into a greased tin. Decorate with cashew on top and bake at 180Deg.C for 20 mins. or till done.

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The cake was light and the brown sugar added a lovely layer of flavour. If you prefer a richer cake  (tutti frutti cake is better when rich), use butter in place of cream. Also a dash of rum may add to the flavour.

Rum Balls

A recent disaster forced me to think of ways to salvage my not-so-great chocolate cake. The cake itself wasn’t terrible- but I had to cut off its top and sides to frost it.  The frosting was a disaster and I was left with a too-sweet-to-eat cake and a heap of left over crumbly cake sides.

I remembered eating rum balls once long ago. Basically cake infused with a bit of rum, some chocolate and lots of nuts. The perfect rescue route!

After reading several recipes on the internet, I came up with this one.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 C of crumbled chocolate cake
  • 1/3 C of chopped  nuts( walnut and raisin)
  • 2-3 tbsp melted chocolate (Morde chocolate mixed with Amul Cream)
  • 2-3 tbsp rum (Old Monk)
  • desiccated coconut (optional for coating)

Method

  • Crumble the cake left-over with your fingers.
  • Melt chocolate in a double boiler. To get a smooth consistency, add some  Amul cream. I used about 30 gms of chocolate and 2 tbsp of cream. You can moderate this- basically the consistency should be slightly on the thicker side so that it binds well with the crumbled cake.
  • Chop the walnuts and raisins.
  • In a bowl, mix the crumbled cake,chopped walnuts and raisins and pour in the melted chocolate and rum.
  •  Divide the “dough” into equal parts and rolls into balls.
  • In a plate place some desiccated coconut and roll the balls in it. I ran out of coconut so the balls were left plain.
  • Refrigerate for a 10-15 mins to set.

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I got  8 balls (2” each) which was good enough for us. You can multiply  the ingredients to  make a large quantity of  rum balls.  Pardon the picture quality. It was a long day, made longer by the cake disaster!

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Chocolate frosted banana cake squares

Inspiration strikes at unexpected times.

We were sitting through a long official meeting in one of the hotels in Gurgaon last week. The meeting stretched on and on.  I was secretly praying for a break- a hot cup of tea and a little something to eat was much needed.

When a break was finally announced, we headed towards the tea stall.  The variety of tea was limited  but they made up for the limited option with lovely munchies.  There were a variety of cookies, sandwiches and neat squares of frosted cake. The cake caught my eye. They were evenly shaped squares of banana bread with chocolate frosting and a almond atop each square for decoration. They looked lovely.  The image registered in my head and I was keen to create my own version of it.

And that’s what I did last night.  I used my old banana bread recipe and tweaked it to create this!

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The original recipe is reproduced here for easy reference. Since this was an experiment for me, I halved the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 3 ripe bananas (roughly mashed)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2C Maida
  • 1 ½ C powdered sugar
  • ½ C butter (softened but not totally melted)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ¼ t salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder or cardamom powder
  • ¼ C of dry fruits/nuts of your choice
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • a few tablespoons of milk(optional)

Method:

  • Sift the maida, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon/elaichi powder thrice and keep aside.
  • Beat the eggs till light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat for 3-4 minutes more. Then add the butter and beat the mixture some more.
  • Add the mashed bananas and vanilla essence and beat for a minute or two to ensure even mixing.
  • Cut and fold the maida mixture(prepared in point 1) along with the dry fruits/nuts.
  • Bake at 180-190 Deg. C for 35-40 minutes( or till a toothpick comes out clean.)

On halving the recipe I got a rectangle tin of 6” x 4”. On cooling I cut it into 8 (almost) equal squares. I also removed the top crust and the sides to allow for easy frosting.

For the chocolate frosting I worked mostly by approximation.- mainly because I don’t have a kitchen scale. The last time I had made frosting of any types was many, many years ago so it was as good as starting afresh. I worked based on a memory of a chocolate frosting recipe I had once read- miraculously it worked well for me!

Ingredients for chocolate frosting

  • 40 gms of chocolate (I used selburn which is easily available in Delhi)
  • 2 tbsp of fresh cream
  • 2-3 tsp of milk
  • 8 halves of walnut

Method:

 

  • Cut the slab of chocolate into small pieces.
  • In a double boiler, melt the chocolate till its soft and liquid-y
  • To improve consistency so that you can pour it over the banana cake squares, add the cream and milk.  Stir well.
  • I faced some trouble with my consistency, so its a good idea to try and frost one of the waste crust pieces to see how the frosting flows.  You can add more chocolate or cream as you see fit. Im my case I added too much milk and then had to add more chocolate. The basic idea is to get a smooth, pouring consistency.
  • Once the chocolate is ready, place the cooled banana cake squares on a plate. Using a spoon, pour the chocolate over the squares- allow some to drip down the sides. Place a walnut half on top of the squares.
  • Place in a fridge for a short while to allow chocolate to set.

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I took these  squares to office and though they were over in a jiffy, I realised the warm Delhi weather is not too kind to the frosting. By mid morning, the frosting was soft to touch but  it didn’t become runny and flow down. Depending on the weather, you can consider placing it in the fridge for a few minutes before serving.  I also felt that I should have reduced the sugar content since there was a sweet frosting. For half the recipe, instead of 3/4 C I could have worked with 1/2 C. Others didnt mind, but I felt it was on the sweeter side.

Caterpillar Bread with fresh yeast for a fresh start!

Lakshmi and I began this blog  some seven years ago. We set out enthusiastically and baked like there was no tomorrow. It was truly an obsession.  Then life took over and we went on to do all or a combination of moving jobs, moving cities, marrying and starting a family. This meant responsibilities  took over and time was short. We also grew older and all the sugary sweet baking was no longer an acceptable dietary choice. So without us formally closing this blog, it gradually fell silent. There were some attempts to revive it, but they remained sporadic and inconsistent. And then one day Lakshmi and I connected again over the phone. It was a warm, free wheeling conversation between people who hadn’t met in over ten years yet had a connection.  It was natural that baking popped up. It was also natural that we both got excited about it.  Keen to restart we decided that the rules of the game had changed. We now needed to forage/ create recipes that were healthy, could be relished by the family and didnt require too much time. The frequency of baking also had to be realistic. Back with our baking resolve, we present to you the Caterpillar Bread. I found the Caterpillar Bread while hopping through food blogs on a slow afternoon at work. A quick share over whatsapp and  we were were both keen to try it out.  We used the same bread recipe as we did for the Basic French Bread Rolls many moons ago on this blog.  Its reproduced here for your convenience. The stuffing, of course, is your choice. Ingredients: For the bread: 

  • Maida – 2 cups
  • Milk/ Water – 3/4 cup
  • Yeast – 2 tsp
  • Honey/ Sugar – 2 tsp
  • Salt – 1/2 tsp
  • Olive Oil – 2 tbsp
  • Butter (optional) – to grease the top

For the stuffing:

  • 200 gms cottage cheese (crumbled)
  • 1 small onion (chopped finely)
  • 1 small capsicum (chopped finely)
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic (chopped finely)
  • seasoning : salt, red chilli powder

Method:

  • Warm the Water/Milk. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Dissolve sugar. Add yeast and set aside for 10 minutes until yeast is activated.
  • Add 2 cups of flour and the salt to the yeast and incorporate. Gradually add the rest of the flour and incorporate into a dough. Add the oil.
  • Knead for 5 minutes until the dough feels smooth and elastic. Transfer to a kneading surface if needed. Cover and let the dough rise to about double its size – about 1-2 hours.
  • Prepare the stuffing.
  • Deflate the dough.Divide into two. Roll out each part evenly in an oval shape.
  • Divide the stuffing  into 2 parts. Place one part in the rolled out dough. Roll the dough 3/4th the way. In the last 1/4th part, cut inch long strips. Fold the inch long strips over the roll.  On one end place 2 pepper corns close by to represent eyes. For a picture by picture guide you could look at this blog post.
  • Allow a second rise ( takes 30 mins to an hour).
  • Bake at 200 deg C for about 20-25 mins.
  • Brush with butter and serve hot.

Mandira’s Notes: This cute looking bread is a breeze (as long as you have the basics of bread making in place).  Its easy to shape and looks great.  I stuffed mine with crumbled paneer (cottage cheese).  Since I ran out of cottage cheese, I made one caterpillar bread and with the remaining dough, I shaped it roughly  like a focaccia. I kneaded in some oregano and chilli flakes and topped it with olives and home made sun dried tomatoes. 20150329_201147 Caterpillar Bread

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Focaccia of sorts
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Focaccia from another angle

Lakshmi’s Notes: In many years that Mandira and I cooked our separate ways into life, my pot has remained boiling in the same spot, in the same job, in the same city, in such an epic state of sameness, that often people comment on how I look exactly the same as I did ten years back. Of course, they are being too nice, still I marvel at the sameness of my life. Mandira’s call a week earlier was like a much needed boost to reconnect and rekindle with all that used to once occupy personal meaning and joy. This is my tenth summer in Chennai, a city that earns complaining accolades for its heat even from those who live in deserts. Of course, this doesn’t mean the bread will bake itself, one still needs an oven. But liberties can be taken with the time for rise and second rise and so on. This is an especially forgiving recipe, the stuffing does most of the work, the dough need not be laboured over for hours on end in waiting and rising and sundry techniques of kneading. Caterpillar bread I stuffed it with panneer with some tomatoes, garlic and onions. A, the almost 6 year old, food critic at home, sealed it with her approval of ‘romba tasty’ – ‘romba’ is tamil for ‘very’. Caterpillar bread - Stuffing

Nankhatai

Quick and easy, these cookies get done in a jiffy. The only apparatus you need is a measuring cup and a mixing bowl – another reason to love them.

I learnt this recipe at a hobby class I attended many years ago in Navi Mumbai. At a loss of what to bake yesterday evening, I pulled out my old notes. These simple, indian cookies appealed to me. They required practically no effort and that was their main selling point.

Ingredients:

  • Maida- 1 1/2 C
  • Ghee (solid)- 1 C
  • Sugar (powdered)- 3/4 c
  • Rawa/besan- 1- 2 tbsp (optional)
  • Cardamom powder- 3-4 pinches

Method:

  • In a mixing bowl, mix together ghee,maida, sugar rawa/besan and cardamom power. You can bring the dough together using your hands. If you add besan(chickpea flower) or rawa/suji (semolina),it will have a slightly course texture.
  • Divide the dough into equal portions. Roll each portion into a circular shape and place on a lined baking tray. You can put half an almond or a pistachio on top of each cookie.  Or if you prefer make a design with a sharp knife. I kept mine plain.
  • Bake in a preheated oven at 180 deg. C for about 12 minutes.
Stacked up
Stacked up
Broken off
Broken off

The cookies can be flavoured with saffron instead of cardamom.  While my orginal recipe doesn’t mention baking powder, most recipes I have read tuse a pinch or two. We liked the way the cookies turned out but a little leavening would make them better.

I made half the quantity given in the recipe and I got 9 cookies of 2.5” diameter.

The nankhatai made it to office as well. It was well received and polished off quickly.

Boxed!
Boxed!

Pull-apart rolls: chutney and cheese

The internet is a wonderful thing.

Just a few days back, I was lamenting the fact that I completely out of touch with baking. If you look at the archives on this blog, you’ll notice the last entry was made some time in 2010- a good 5 years ago. Many blogs I followed years ago had moved on and become too advanced for me. Blogs from across the globe were great but finding all the ingredients they use has always been a challenge. I wanted something simple, easy to follow and based out of India.

I found  this blog quite by accident last week. I spent  a few stolen minutes in office browsing though it. Yesterday, I jotted down the recipe of the pull-apart rolls  and tried it out last night. The result was lovely. Thank you Saee!

I made minor changes in the recipe- only in terms of flavours- marked in italics. All proportions are exactly as on the original blog post. 

Ingredients:

  • 200 gm flour/maida
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. fresh yeast
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • ¾ cup lukewarm water
  • Home-made hari (green)chutney
  • 1 cube of amul cheese
  • Chilli flakes
  • Butter for brushing ready bread

Method:

  • Heat ¾ cup water till it’s warm. You should be able to comfortably dip your fingers in it.  Dissolve the sugar and then add the yeast. (On earlier occasions, I have also used honey in place of sugar and got consistent, good results.) Keep aside till it is frothy and mix well.
  • Sift together maida and salt. I simply mix it well using a spoon. Add the water-sugar-yeast mixture to this. Knead well for 5 mins or so. I found that the dough was slightly on the sticky side. To bring it all together I used a little olive oil and made a neat log.
  • Cover and keep the dough log in a warm place till it doubles in size. This takes about 30 mins. Delhi has seen rains in the last week so the weather is cooler than it usually is in March. Despite that, my dough could rise well in 30 mins.
  • Remove the dough and flour a flat kitchen surface. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin.
  • Since I wanted two flavours, I split the dough into two halves and rolled them individually. In one I spread  coriander chutney that I had ready and in the other grated amul cheese and chilli flakes.  Roll each of the logs and  with a sharp knife cut  approx. 1.5- 2’’ size rounds.  I got 6 chutney rounds & 5 cheese ones.
  • Grease a baking tin with olive oil. Place the rounds keeping some space in between to allow for rising.
  • Cover and keep aside for 20-30 mins, till the dough rises to double again.
  • Place in a preheated oven and bake at 200 deg.C for about 20 mins. Brush with butter when removed from oven.

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Fresh out of the oven, we had these rolls with soup and paneer bhurji. The rolls were soft and their texture lovely. We polished off 10 rolls between 2 people!