Corn flour halva

Halvas are amongst some of the most popular of Indian sweets. Saying that, Indians are not the only ones who make halvas, it is popular with the Greeks, and most parts of the Middle East. Each region has their own versions. The word ‘halva’ has Arabic roots and means ‘sweet’. Halvas are sweet, have a thick texture and are mostly translucent with any color depending on the food coloring used. It can be made of maida, wheat flour, corn flour, semolina and so on.  They could be made solely from fruit pulps too. Some of the very popular ones amongst fruit halvas are jackfruit (known as ‘chakka varattiyathe’) and plantain (banana halva). Both use jaggery instead of sugar. These are especially popular around the Malabar region. A bakery called “Malabar Bakery” in Kannur makes some of the best banana halvas. My Achamma (Grand-mom) used to stock these along with cream colored Barley biscuits and ‘Tea cakes’ (plain sponge cake pieces, cut into about palm ‘s length, 2 inches in width and 1 inch in thickness, with a thin layer of baby pink colored icing along the length in the middle and wrapped like a toffee, in parchment paper) at home, at all times and they used to be a regular snack, amongst others, as tea time snacks and for any guests who appear every now and then, mostly some relative or the other.
Coming back to halvas, the varieties are endless. They can be flavored artificially or with real fruits. Most halvas are time consuming and a bit of hard work.  The version I have made is not too sweet, has much less oil (ghee) compared to most halvas, and is one of the easiest ever  to make. I have used Raspberry essence to flavor the halva, and pink food color to match the flavor, but you can experiment with different flavors and colors that compliment the flavor,  as you like. For instance, you could use yellow color and mango essence or red color and rose essence. If you don’t prefer to use essence, then you could replace it with some fresh or dry  fruits like pineapple, dates, kiwi, figs etc. Or you could use elachi (cardamom) for a very Indian touch.
Corn flour halva has a jelly like texture once it sets. This preparation requires very little ghee, hence making it a healthy halva. I have made it just sweet enough without being sickly and overbearing. I chose to serve it cold, cut it into cubes, but it can also be be served hot, if you prefer it that way. And instead of cutting it into cubes, you could leave it to set in tiny (greased) moulds, in any shape and empty onto plates.
Ingredients:
Corn flour – 1/2 cup
Sugar – 1 1/2 cups
Water – 2 cups
Raspberry essence – 1/2 tsp
Pink food color – A pinch
Ghee – 1 tbsp
Cashews – 4-5, broken into pieces
Golden raisins – 6-8
Almonds – 3-4, slivered1.  Mix corn flour, sugar, water and food color in a microwavable bowl. Mix well to dissolve any lumps.
2.  Microwave this on high power for 3 minutes. Remove from the microwave and stir the mix well with a wire whisk (do not whisk). Microwave again for another 2-3 minutes, remove and stir again with the wire whisk. The mixture will start getting thicker after the second time. Repeat the process, till the mixture becomes a thick (halva) consistency, stirring well after each microwave session.
3. Meanwhile, in a small pan, heat the ghee and slightly brown the cashews. Next add the raisins and when they swell up turn off heat and add the almond slivers.
4. Add this to the halva, mix well. Move into greased moulds.
5. Keep aside for sometime till it sets. Cut into cubes, or if you have set it in moulds, turn it out onto a plate. As I said earlier, this can be served hot or cold, as per your choice. For a twist, I sometimes cut the halva into small cubes when it cools, and give them a light coat of icing sugar. Tastes better this way and also looks better, especially if you are giving it a bright color, like candy pink.

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Black forest cake

Black Forest Cake… for Dad’s 50th birthday

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Black forest cake or gateau is originally a German dessert, which is now popular around the globe. It’s called ‘Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte’ in German, which literally translated, means Black forest cherry torte. Usually it consists of two or more layers of chocolate cake separated by cherry filling and whipped cream, and decorated with whipped cream and chocolate shavings and finally topped with whole cherries. There are quite a few versions for this cake, but most of them rotate around this basic combination. I did a quite a bit of research before setting out to make my first Black forest cake. The base recipe is derived from my sister’s recipe journal. She learnt it at her ECA class at school. I did a little improvising to the original recipe. It’s an assembled combination of 4 parts – chocolate cake, cherry filling, whipped cream, chocolate ganache and finally the icing. The decoration is up to your imagination, although it usually consists of whipped cream, a good amount of chocolate shavings and whole cherries. This is my first Black forest cake. I made it for my Dad’s 50thbirthday. We gave him a surprise party too by the way.

The first part, the chocolate cake,

All-purpose flour – 1 ¾ cups

Baking powder – 1 ½ tsp

Baking soda – 1 ½ tsp

Cocoa powder – 1 cup

Castor sugar – 2 cups

Salt – ¾ tsp
Eggs – 2

Milk – 1 cup

Vegetable oil – ½ cup

Vanilla essence – 1 tsp

Vanilla sugar – 1 tsp (If you can’t find this, you can double the essence instead)

Hot water – 1 cup

· Pre-heat the oven.

· Sift all the dry ingredients together. Keep aside.

· Add the eggs, milk, oil, vanilla essence and vanilla sugar to a bowl and mix very slowly with a wire whisk.

· Add the dry ingredients to the bowl. Mix gently, without forming any bubbles.

· Add the water and blend it into the batter.

· Pour the batter equally into two 8” baking dishes.

· Bake this at 180⁰C for 35-45 minutes or till a skewer inserted comes out clean. I kept it for 45 minutes.

· Once it’s done, tilt it onto a wire rack and let it cool. I made the cake the previous night so that it cooled completely.

Now for the cherry filling, though the original recipe asks for ‘Kirschwasser’ rum, a clear liquor distilled from tart cherries. Apparently other liquors are also used such as rum, which is common in especially common in Austrian recipes. I used ordinary rum as I couldn’t get my hands on Kirschwasser. In the United States, Black Forest cake is most often prepared without alcohol but German statutory interpretation states Kirschwasser as a mandatory ingredient; otherwise the cake is legally not allowed to be marketed as Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. If you do not prefer to use alcohol, you can skip it. It’ll make a difference to the taste, but I can guarantee that it would still taste great.

For the chocolate cake,

Icing sugar – ¾ cup

Instant coffee powder – 1 tbsp

Salt – 1 pinch

Butter – 2 tbsp

Canned pitted cherries – ¼ cup (drained)

Rum or Kirschwasser, if you have it – 3 tbsp

· Add all the ingredients except the rum to a bowl. Mix slowly till all the ingredients are well combined.

· Finally add the rum and combine. Keep aside.

The next part is the Whipped cream. This is used for the filling as well as for the icing.

Whipping cream – 1 ½ cups

Icing sugar – ¼ cup

Vanilla sugar or vanilla essence – ½ tsp

Kirschwasser rum – 1 tbsp

· Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla sugar (or essence) at high speed, till it thickens and becomes light and fluffy. Keep aside.

For the ganache,

Bitter chocolate (grated) – ½ cup

Sweet chocolate (grated) – ½ cup

Rum – 1 tbsp

Heavy cream – ½ cup

· Add both the grated chocolates and the rum to a bowl and set it aside.

· Add the cream to a heavy sauce pan, and heat it over a low flame. Turn off flame as soon as it starts to boil. Do not let it boil completely, as it will spill out of the saucepan.

·Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and rum and whisk it with a wire whisk, till it turns into a smooth mixture. Set aside and let the mixture cool completely.

When all the parts are ready, you can assemble the cake.

· Start by placing one of the cakes on a cake plate.

· First spread half of the ganache on the cake evenly.

· Then add a layer of whipped cream to cover the top portion of the cake layer, saving the rest for icing the cake.

· Next add all of the cherry filling and spread it evenly.

· Now place the second cake on top, aligning it well with the first layer.

· Pour the remaining ganache over this layer and let the cake soak it up a little.

· When the ganache hardens, start the icing.

· Spread the whipped cream all over the cake neatly.

· Once that’s done, decorate with the chocolate shavings as per your imagination. I patted it up around the cake, leaving the top portion; you need to be careful not to spoil the whipped cream coating.

· Next you can use an icing cone to make small mounds with the whipping cream on the top and place some cherries around, all this is upto your imagination. You could spread some chocolate shavings too on top.

· Finally, when you’re done with the decoration, refrigerate the cake for a couple of hours before serving. Enjoy your cake!!

Raspberry Cheesecake with a little twist

Cheese cakes are a pleasure indeed, combine that with raspberries, its just amazing. And that’s exactly what I did. I find the crunchy, fruity, cheesy combination a treat for the mouth. I couldn’t get my hands onto any fresh raspberries to decorate, so  I decided to make do with something I had around—Willy Wonkas Gobstoppers, I know its silly, but I thought that adding one more ingredient which I love to something that’s already so lovable was harmless, and anyhow since there were no fresh raspberries, this seemed like a fun replacement.

 Bottom layer – the crunchy biscuit layer:

Digestive biscuits – 100 gms, crushed finely

Butter – 50 gms

Take a shallow, loose bottom, microwavable cake dish, around 6” in diameter, put the butter into this, heat it up, in a microwave oven till the butter has melted, this takes just around 20 seconds. Add the crushed biscuits to this, stir it in, and press it down  evenly around the base of the cake dish. Heat on high in a microwave oven for 1 minute. Keep aside.

 Middle layer – the cheesy layer:

Philadelphia cheese (or any soft and full fat cheese) – ½ cup

Cottage cheese – ½ cup

Egg – 1, beaten

Lemon juice – 1 tsp

Powdered sugar – 3 ½ tbsp

Raspberry essence – ½ tsp

· Add all the ingredients to a bowl and beat lightly till its all well combined. Pour it through a sieve into another bowl. You will have to press the mixture down to help it pass through the sieve.

· Place the bowl in a microwave oven on high for about half a minute. Take it out, whisk it with a wire whisk, put it back into the oven and cook for another 30 to 40 seconds, remove and repeat the process of whisking and cooking once more. The mixture would be thickened now, whisk once more and pour over the biscuit layer in the cake dish.

· Place it into the microwave oven and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Keep turning the dish a bit after every half minute. Keep aside till it cools down.

· Now store the dish in the chiller section of the refrigerator till the remaining parts for the cheese cake are done.

Top layer – the fruity layer:

Canned raspberries in syrup – 1 can, about 250 gms

Corn starch – 2 tbsp

· Strain canned raspberries and keep the raspberries aside. Pour the syrup into a bowl.

· Mix the corn starch with equal amount of water to make a loose paste. Mix this with the raspberry syrup and cook in a double boiler for a few minutes, stirring continuously, till the mixture thickens up to a dropping consistency.

· Add the raspberries to this mixture and stir it in. Keep it aside for 5 minutes.

· Now pour it evenly over the chilled cheesecake and put it back into the refrigerator.

· Let it chill for at least 4 to 5 hours.

You can decorate it with whipped cream and fresh raspberries, which is your typical cheesecake decor, or you could get whacky and use something you have on hand, like Gobstoppers  😉

Pazhampori – Banana Fritters

Pazhampori or Banana Fritters is one of Kerala’s most popular evening snacks. Nice and ripe plantain slices coated with lightly sweetened white flour batter and deep fried, it just melts in your mouth after each bite… My love for Pazhampori started since the time I could trace back my memory, we had a neighbor, who made Pazhampori every single day, and she would get me a few… every single day. There came a point when I kind of got addicted to it, then mom stepped in and told me I couldn’t have em regularly, with the promise that she would make it for me once in a while, she kept her promise, but still, I wasn’t too happy about foregoing my daily share of Pazhampori, and was quite sour at that point… it took me a few years from there to put together things like hogging on fried items, putting on weight, the troubles of losing that weight, the health issues and so on and on. I got over the craze gradually, and settled down to rejoicing at the occasions when  Mom made em at home. Later on, when I was on a train journey once, I happened to pass through Palakkad railway station, amongst many other noises around the station, one in particular caught my attention, the monotonous calls of one food vendor, it was none other than the one selling Pazhamporis. Not that you don’t get Pazhampori elsewhere, but I had heard from many that the ones you get at Palakkad railway station are yumm. I had my hubby running for the Pazhampori guy… It is quite good for the store bought standards, but definitely nowhere close to the homemade ones, but I still loved it nevertheless.

Ingredients:

Ripe plantains – 2; sliced slanted or lengthwise into ½” thick, and about 4” long pieces

Maida/All-purpose flour – 1 cup

Rice flour – 2 tbsp.

Sugar – ¼ cup

Cardamom – 1; powdered

Salt – 1 pinch

Egg – 1 (optional)

Baking powder – 1 pinch (Optional)

Water – 1 cup (just enough to make a thick batter)

Oil – for deep frying

Method:

Heat the oil in a deep bottomed pan, on a medium flame. While that is getting heated, you can prepare the batter.

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients, except the plantains. Add the water gradually; the batter should be of thick but pourable consistency.

Dip the plantain slices into the batter to coat it well, and immediately drop it into the hot oil, you could fry 4 or 5 at one time, turn them around to fry both the sides, till they turn to a golden color.

Strain out of the oil onto a tissue paper to remove excess oil.

Serve hot with tea!! Chai and pazhampori!!

Chocolate Mud Cake

Cake:

Flour – 1 ¼ cup

Cocoa powder – ½ cup

Baking powder – 1 tsp

Baking Soda – 1 tsp

Powdered sugar or castor sugar – 1 ¼ cup

Eggs – 2

Milk – 1 ¼ cup

Hot water – ¾ cup

Oil – ¼ cup

Salt – 1 pinch

Vanilla extract – 1 tsp

Frosting:

Icing sugar – 1 cup

Powdered sugar – 1 cup

Cocoa powder – ¾ cup

Softened cooking butter – ½ cup

Milk – ¼ cup

Vanilla extract – 1 tsp

Method:

  • Mix all the ingredients to make a thick mixture. Keep aside till the cake is done.
  • In a large bowl sift together maida, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Keep it aside.
  • In a moisture-free bowl, add the eggs, and beat it till its very fluffy, this may take about 10 to 15 minutes with an egg beater. Now add the milk, oil, vanilla extract and boiling water to the eggs. Beat again at medium speed for a minute or until the mix is well-combined.
  • Add the powder ingredients to the batter and mix slowly till it’s well-combined. Pour into a greased round pan and bake at 170° C until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. This may take about 30 to 40 minutes, but start checking on the cake after 20 minutes. When it’s done, keep it aside to cool.
  • When it’s cooled completely, top with the frosting.
  • Store in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving.

Apple Pie

Apple pie is probably one of the oldest pastries. The English and Dutch Apple pie are said to date back centuries.  The first printed copy of the English apple pie recipe was by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1381. The ingredients for the pie were good apples, good spices, figs, raisins and pears. He also mentioned a cofyn, which is simply a casing of pastry. The last ingredient, saffron, is used to color the pie filling. Most the above mentioned ingredients aren’t used in my pie, but then, I’m not English. I adapt to food from all over the world and learn to cook it and eat it in my own way… here’s a tried and tested apple pie adapted from my mom’s cookbook.

Crust and cover:

Maida  1½ cup

Baking powder ¼ tsp

Salt  ¼ tsp

Sugar  1 tbsp

Butter  3 tbsp

Iced water, about 4-5 tbsp

Filling:

Apple 2, peeled, cored and chopped to tiny pieces or sliced thinly, as you like it

Lime juice 3-4 drops (so that the apple does not change color)

Maida 2 tbsp

Salt 1 pinch

Sugar 2 tbsp

Cinnamon powder ¼ tsp

Butter ½ tsp

Method:

·        Mix lime juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon powder and salt in bowl. Stir in the apple pieces. Set aside.

·        Pre-heat oven to 400° F.

·        Mix baking powder, salt, sugar and maida together. Add butter and mix it in roughly, till it starts to look like bread crumbs. Add the water now, slowly, little at a time. Mix until the dough holds together, add a bit more water, if necessary.

·        Shift the dough to a lightly floured surface, knead again, and then divide it into 2 equal portions.

·        Flatten one portion into a disk (for the crust). Keep aside for 20-30 minutes.

·        Roll out the other portion on a lightly floured surface into a thin circle (for the cover).

·        Stick the first portion which was kept aside for the crust onto a pie dish, trimming any extra dough from the edges with a sharp knife. Poke all over it with a fork.

·        Add the apple filling onto the base. Drop a few specks of butter in 3 or 4 places.

·        Add covering as you like it. Either top the pie with the plain cover (with the rolled out dough) and put a couple of slits on top or cut the flattened out dough into strips and make a woven cover for the pie. Use a fork or your fingers to pinch the edges together.

·        Once that’s done, bake the pie for about 20-30 minutes, at 400° F, until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in the crust.

·        The traditional way to serve apple pie in some parts of England (such as Yorkshire) is with cheese. In many Commonwealth countries, apple pie is served with ice cream, custard or double cream. But like the majority of people, I love it just the way it is with no additions whatsoever. I love to relish the flavour of the pie in itself, with no other flavours interfering.

Enjoy your pie!