Death by Lemon, a recipe

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Lemon poke cake with lemon curd and cream crease

‘Death by Lemon’ doesn’t sound as appealing as ‘Death by Chocolate’, does it? If anything, Death by Lemon actually sounds like it could be a real thing.

I can’t say I ever felt sorry for the lonesome piece of lemon cake in the shop window. Nobody wanted it even when it was the last piece of cake remaining. It’s sad, really. But understandable, given the competition.

How can a little limboo compete with sinful chocolates, creamy cheesecakes and bright red velvets?

Over the last decade, I’ve been through a lot of phases and the cakes I obsessed over those years are a reflection of my character at that time. My chocolate cake phase started when I was a teenager, so sure of my likes and dislikes that I was unwilling to try anything beyond what I already knew. Red velvet came around in my early to mid 20s when I was riding every new fad – cupcakes, donuts, cronuts, the works! – convinced that I was worldly, witty and wise. The cheesecake era was an on and off again affair depending on how well I did in yoga class – I treated myself to blueberry cheesecake the day I achieved my first assisted handstand, so let’s just say cheesecakes were like crack for most of my late 20s.

Through all of this, that humble slice of lemon cake was never given a chance. Even when I was desperate for a fix and it was the last remaining item remaining in the shop.

But then one day I opened my cupboards to find that I had run out of cooking chocolate. Even the cocoa was sparse. All I had were the basics for cake – sugar, butter, flour and eggs – and a whole lot of lemons rolling around the veggie tray.

Why not? I thought. At least I’d have something to take along to this dinner we were invited to the following day. So I laid out all the ingredients, grated and juiced a whole bunch of lemons and baked something called a ‘Lemon Poke Cake’.

This cake comprises of a lemon sponge that, as the name suggests, has had holes poked into it with a toothpick and are then filled in with lemon curd. The cake is then chilled until the curd sets and then frosted quite generously with lemon flavoured cream cheese.

The end result?

Death by Lemon – the ecstatic kind, not the actual thing. A bite of this cake and everything I had ever eaten over the last 10 years paled in comparison! The sponge was light and lemony. The curd, sweet and sour, hit me right in the face but not too hard because the soft and subtle lemon cream cheese restrained it just in time.

Today, I stand before you, a lemon lover for life. It’s not as intense a love affair as the one with chocolate or cheese. I don’t ache for it at every waking hour. It’s more of a happy, comfortable sort of love, the kind that gives you butterflies in your tummy and, in my case, gets my creative juices flowing.

I don’t have intense affairs with cake anymore. I try to sample new and interesting things on the menu all the time. But if ever I come across a slice of lemon heaven in cake shops or cafes, I choose it above all else because to me it represents the kind of love you didn’t know you were capable of. Love that you didn’t even know you needed.

Love…. that makes you realise that even the simplest of things have the capacity to change your perspective and show you that you’re capable of so much more.

Death By Lemon

  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

For cake: makes one layer of cake in a 9” baking pan

– 1 cup all-purpose flour

– 1 tsp baking powder

– ½ tsp salt

– ¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

– ¾ cup sugar

– 2 eggs

– 1 tsp lemon zest

– 3 tsps lemon juice

– ½ cup yogurt (or sour cream if you have it)

Lemon “curd” topping

– ½ cup (4 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

– ¼ cup lemon juice

Lemon Cream Cheese

– ½ cup (8 ounces) cream cheese

– ¼ cup fresh cream

– ½ cup powdered or confectioners’ sugar

– 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Method

For Cake

Pre-heat oven to 175 degrees C; grease your baking pan with butter (unless it’s a silicone mould in which case, don’t worry) and set aside.

– Have the flour, baking soda and salt ready in a small bowl.

– Add sugar to butter and beat on medium with an electric mixer for 1 minute.

– Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 30 – 45 secs each.

– Mix in lemon juice and zest and beat for another 30 seconds.

– Add the flour little by little and mix it up by hand. Stir in yogurt/sour cream and mix until just incorporated.Batter should be pale yellow by now.

– Pour into pan and let stand at room temperature for 5-7 minutes before putting in the oven.

– Bake for 22-23 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.

– Let it cool in the pan itself until it’s lukewarm before adding the curd topping.

– If you want a nice, smooth surface to work with (I did) slide the bulgy bit off the top of the cake.

– You can crumble these into tiny little crumbs with the sharp edges of a fork. Keep in fridge and maybe consider adding it as a dry topping once the cake is iced.

For curd topping

– Mix together the condensed milk and lemon juice.

– Invert cake on a plate and poke holes with a fork and spread the topping all around the top. Holes should be dug only halfway through the cake, not all the way.

– Let it seep in a little then poke some more holes on the top so the mixture seeps in better.

– Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Lemon Cream Cheese

Beat the cream cheese, fresh cream and lemon juice together.

– Add sugar little by little, tasting as you go along so that the sweetness is to your liking. I used a little less than ½ the cup.

– Beat until all the ingredients are nice and smooth and then frost cake top and sides.

– Spread evenly over cake and then store in fridge until it’s ready for consumption.

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Batter for brats + ragi idli recipe

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As a kid, I loved to lick things. Lemons, saucers, faces, whitewashed walls, the works! By age 6, there were few things, save for wiggly worms (ew), that I hadn’t attempted to lick.

Looking back on this phase, I always recall my favourite thing to lick even though it was taboo. Actually, maybe it’s the prohibition that led me to enjoy it so much.

In a large open-top grinding machine, with two rough stones that went whirl and grrr, used to be a very large batch of idli-dosa batter my grandmother prepared religiously every week. My favourite pass-time was to distract her, which wasn’t tough, and dip my finger in the whirlpool of thick, fresh batter.

“You’re going to get worms in your stomach,” she’d say hoping to dissuade me, knowing full well my aversion to worms. “These worms will one day climb up your throat and come out of your mouth!”

But no number of threats, worm related or otherwise, could keep me from stealing a lick every time I went to visit. Until one day, when the machine stopped whirling, much like my grandma’s mind, which slowly drifted off to the land of “Aren’t you that girl who eats raw idli batter?” “Yes Amamma. I’m also your granddaughter.”

We didn’t have this machine in my house. Mostly because we really didn’t need that much dosa batter or people who wanted to eat it. So Mum started buying the garden variety batter available in shops that eventually turned into packaged rice powder.

Obviously, it wasn’t the same as my grandmother’s — raw or cooked. It lacked that rugged look, the crispy-around-the-edge crunch and the soft-and-puffy-in-the-middle texture. The store bought variety also came with a very tight, glutinous taste and plasticy sheen that just didn’t seem right. Or natural.

That’s when I gave up on idlis and dosas. Though I enjoyed a plate or three in restaurants, I really didn’t have much of an appetite for the sort you “made at home”.

But recently, when I was speaking to a friend in Singapore and she mentioned how her Mum, who had recently been to visit, had prepared a big batch of idli and dosa batter from scratch, the first thing I said was, “Wow! You actually invested in one of those batter grinders??”

“Definitely not,” she laughed. “You can make it in a mixer-grinder, you know!”

I obviously did not know that. So I wrote to her Mum and asked her for her recipe which she was quite happy to share — one part parboiled rice, half part urad dal, soak, blend, leave to ferment.

In the interest of trying something different and perhaps, making it a whole lot more nutritious, I decided to add some finger millets (ragi) to the mix.

It’s a long process, making the batter — Six hours to soak, 10 minutes to blend, another six hours for it to ferment. While the process, I learned, requires very little skill, save for the ability to measure properly, the wait to make your first batch of idlis and dosas requires a lot of patience.

Will the batter rise? Will it hold properly? Will it taste right? Would Amamma have approved?
Well, Ammamma would most definitely have not approved of my dipping my finger into the batter once the fermentation process was over. I had to, you see. So I could tell if it was just like hers!

What I tasted was amazing. The batter, neither too thick, nor thin, was light and frothy and tasted just like hers — slightly grainy and sour.

A test batch — in silicone cupcake moulds, I must add — was soft, fluffy and ridiculously delicious. If only I’d also made a batch of coconut chutney to pipe on the look would have been absolutely perfect.

I won’t ever find out if my grandmother would have liked my version of the idli-dosa batter. But to know that I can keep alive the memories of my childhood, in which she played a very prominent role, makes me very very happy.

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Ragi Idli/Dosa Recipe
Equipment:
1 steamer/pressure cooker
Blender – the regular one that blends chutneys and sauces
3 bowls for soaking
1 pot large enough for the batter to rise

Ingredients:
1 cup parboiled/idli rice
½ cup urad dal
½ cup ragi grains

Method:
– Boil the ragi for 15 minutes. Take it off the stove but don’t drain it. Just, leave it as it is for a minimum of 6 hours, maximum overnight
– Soak the rice and urad dal in two separate bowls too
– Blend the rice with a bit of water until it’s smooth and silky. Ensure that it is neither too thick nor thin. Repeat with urad and ragi. The ragi may have a few bits and pieces that remain but that’s okay because it brings a little nuttiness to the batter.
– Combine all three in a large pot and mix it all up. Cover and leave for 6 hours or overnight in a cool, dry place (not fridge).
– The batter will ferment and rise by a few inches and will smell slightly sour. It’s now ready to go into the steamer. – Boil the water in the steamer with the lid on. Place the idlis – in idli moulds or any cool mould of your choice – in the steamer. I used silicone moulds so didn’t have to grease them. They just popped right out!
– Steam for 10-12 mins or until a knife poked in comes out clean.
– Let it rest for a few minutes after it comes out of the steamer.
– The remaining batter can be stored in the fridge and used to make dosas too!

This post appeared in Bangalore Mirror on November 15,2014

Desktop Dining: Mango salsa

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Every afternoon at 3pm, my ears start buzzing with what is at first a curious sound. I look left, then right and then back at my screen again. I type in the URL to my favourite food website and suddenly the sound gets louder, accompanied by strange sensations from behind my belly button.

Time for tea. And a chocolate ganache. Now if I could get to the food store in the mall across the street before the pangs turn into shrieks. But I don’t arrive in time. The pangs get worse. Before I know it, I’ve spent 30 minutes of the 10 minutes allotted browsing through shelves with munchies of all kinds The humble digestives and crackers are tucked away in the back, on the bottom shelf and by the time I find them I’ve already for myself a box of cupcakes, a cinnamon roll, a hot sandwich and a cold salad.

This isn’t lunch, I tell myself. Control yourself.

Maybe tomorrow. Today, I’ll indulge. Just a little.

By 7pm all my goodies have been polished off and dinner, utterly ruined. I thus settle for a portion of a street side fried snack to go because… it will digest by bedtime. Hopefully.

But then on the bus I’m afflicted with a different set of pangs. Those of guilt, if I’ve judged correctly.

The overindulgence at tea isn’t the fault of my insatiable, illogical post-lunch downer. Sorry, hunger. It’s my disorganisation in the matters of snacking at work.

There’s nothing wrong with it. Except that stuffing up on cakes and rolls and cookies and sandwiches can take a toll in the long run. As long as a week if my weighing scale is right.

So I decided that something needed to be done about this. Now!

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With an abundance of mangoes on my kitchen platform, I decided that maybe it’s time to pull out that old recipe for mango salsa. The sweetness of the mangoes would go perfectly with tea and the citrus and savoury elements would satiate my cravings for a salt.

I decided to lay off the tomatoes for this one because mangoes, so ripe and juicy + tomatoes, also ripe but really runny = euch.

I didn’t compromise on the onions though. I never compromise on onions! The world could end tomorrow and I’d be happy so long as I had one last onion to love before I died. But this doesn’t change the fact that onions can be really jarring when paired with sweet mangoes. So I added some cucumbers to neutralise the flavour and add to the crunch.

The star of this dish of course is the mango. But it’s the lime juice that brings it all together. Our Indian limes, however, can be really strong and acidic in large quantities. So stick to half a lime and add more if you feel the sweetness of your salsa needs more acidity.

The best thing about this dish is that it takes all of 15 minutes — this includes chopping, peeling and mixing it all up.

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Ingredients

1 ripe mango — a variety that’s not overtly soft or sweet. I used Badami

1 small onion –  finely chopped

1 small cucumber – diced

Handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped finely

1/2 lemon

Salt & pepper to taste

Pinch of chilly powder (optional)

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Directions

Slice the mangoes, discard (or plant) the seed; dice into small pieces and place in an air-tight jar.

In the jar, add the remaining ingredients.

Mix well, don’t mush, and seal it up for 15 minutes.

Open up, mix again and put it in the refrigerator. Keeps up to 2 days.

Eat at your desktop or dining table with crackers, savoury cookies, bread or parathas.

Molten Chocolate Cake For Two

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Do you believe in curses? I did. Especially after my fifth batch of ginger cupcakes fell flat. Well, they didn’t fall flat per say. They just bubbled over their moulds in the oven and came out looking and smelling funky.

‘Your baking just sucks,’ my husband declared after a bite. ‘Please don’t try that again. Look on the bright side. There’s beer in the fridge.’

Ok, maybe he didn’t say those exact words. But there was mention of cutting back on the attempts at baking and cheering up with a pint of beer.

I was convinced that there was something wrong with me. That, good as I am with savouries, curries and meats, the universe was sabotaging my attempts at baking.

But then one day I discovered a recipe for molten chocolate cake. Unlike other recipes for breads, cakes and cookies, the measures covered two small portions and involved only six ingredients to the perfect cake.

I poured over this recipe for two whole days wondering whether I should dare to dream until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to know.

So I pulled out a small slab of cooking chocolate and got chopping. I decided to do away with the butter in favour of coconut oil. As I waited for the oven to pre-heat, I read the oven’s manual for the second time since I bought it.

That’s when I found the first explanation to my disastrous baking. I don’t have a full-blown oven, but a humble OTG. Cakes in this device must never be cooked over 150 C. That explained a lot about why my cookies burned and my cupcakes stank. (There are other explanations to my bad baking joujou, but more on that in posts to come.)

Hope renewed, I got to work. I melted the chocolate and the coconut oil in a bowl over the saucepan filled with water and the aroma that wafted over was entrancing. The scent of the coconut and the sweetness of chocolate are so distinct, yet perfectly matched. I honestly don’t know why more bakers don’t pair them together!

From there on, everything went like clockwork. I beat the eggs, added the coco-chocolate mixture and measured out the flour.

I even tried not to stand in front of the oven obsessively doing a cook’s rendition of a rain dance. And finally, for the first time since I started baking, I had two perfect cakes.

The top had formed a thin, brown crust. Hidden just underneath it was a splash of molten chocolate. The bottom and the sides were soft and spongy.

The best thing about this recipe was that it took me 21 minutes to prep, bake and eat. Something that would be perfect for date night and dinner parties alike since you can make the mix and keep it in the fridge until you’re 12 minutes away from dessert.

You know, our favourite food blogs make baking look so damn simple. Like all you need to do is a dash of this, a pinch of that and voila! You’re a domestic goddess. Cookies anyone?

But really, baking isn’t simple. It takes time. Effort. Practice. Experimentation. But most importantly, baking takes patience. So if you’re a novice like me, don’t be a croquem-douche about it. Start small and work your way up.

Here’s the perfect little treat to give your baking a boost.

Molten Chocolate Cake for Two

Ingredients

½ cup butter (but coconut oil just makes the chocolate taste so much more delicious!)

1 cup chocolate chips or chopped up cooking chocolate

1 egg

1 egg yolk

½ cup sugar

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons flour

Method

#1 Pre-heat your oven to 175C. I have a tiny OTG so my recommended temperature is 130-150 C.

#2 Melt the oil and chocolate in a double boiler. I neither have a double boiler nor do I know what it is. So I melted it in a small bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Make sure they melt and mix properly so the lumps of chocolate melt away.

#3 In another bowl, beat the egg, yolk, salt and sugar together for around 3-5 minutes. The mixture should be thick in texture and light yellow in colour.

#4 Add the chocolate and stir it up for another minute. Make sure all the ingredients have mixed up evenly.

#5 Add the flour, one tablespoon at a time and fold. The mixture should now be significantly thicker.

#6 Pour into two oven safe pudding cups (greased with oil or butter, of course). I used silicone cups that are generally used for cupcakes. Advantage of this is that it can be peeled off when it’s done and doesn’t require greasing. Easy peasy!

#7 If you want to bake this later, like just as dinner ends, store it in the fridge but take it out 30 minutes before it’s meant to go into the oven.

#8 Bake for 12 minutes. The top should rise a little and get a little crusty.

#9 Remove from the oven and let cool for a minute. Then turn the cups over and remove the cake into a dessert plate.

#10 Serve with whipped cream, ice-cream or sorbet. Personally, I’d go with sweet and sour lemon or orange sorbet because a little tang is all you need to break the rich and sweet chocolate.

Based on a recipe by Two Tarts