A Soulful Cake: Marbled Cherry Cream Cheese Cake

Let me tell you about Alon’s, my favorite bakery in town. It’s my comfort destination, a place where I go to cheer myself when I am down, lost, confused or plain craving. It’s a place where I can lose myself in the midst of glistening chocolate cakes, fancy baked goodies and inviting cookies.  A place whose allure just increases thanks to the variety of european wines and cheeses and spreads and chocolates and relishes it stores. The fact that it has a terrific deli serving some mouth watering lunch stuff (Tunisian Tuna Sandwish, oh my !) is a good arguement to visit them when hungry. And then some sexy mocha to down it all. I mean, how can I – a chocolate and coffee lover, a passionate baker, a food lover – not love this place that does it all in style, panache and with outstanding quality. Of course, every visit cuts through the heart of my purse is another matter alltogether :) It’s the kind of place, with its rustic, cozy and inviting feel, that I would like to open up in some far flung town flanked by the mountains, once I find the sponsor to burn through a neat pile of cash and the guts to deal with it head on :D :D.

And so, it was one of those days that I went there with hubby darling and we lunched on a fabulous Tunisian Tuna sandwich and a velvety smooth Opera Cake, with a tall Mocha to sip – a lovely winter afternoon with the love of my life :) But that was not enough when I was at Alon’s. I had to have the lovely goodies too. So post lunch I was looking to pick up something sweet for next day breakfast table when I saw this lovely wrapped cream cheese pound cake. It looked lovely and knowing it was from Alon’s I had no doubt would taste lovely too. And it did –  creamy, rich, moist and sweet. Not a big fan of pound cakes, but this was special. So much so that I decided to bake one myself. The result was this marbled cherry cream cheese pound cake that I came up with post multiple recipe searches and some chit chat with a friendly Alon’s s salesperson :D. The cake is cherry flavored but you can put in virtually any flavor combination that you desire. All you need is your imagination and the related pantry items :) A classic would be chocolate marbling but that would also be so classic. I would encourage you to come up with some interesting options as well :). The cake freezes well and can be baked in a bundt pan for maximum oomph. Too bad I don’t have a bundt pan yet (hint ye readers :D) …

Ingredients:

Cake:

1. 3 cups all-purpose flour

2. 1 tsp baking powder

3. 1/2 tsp salt

4. 8 Oz cream cheese, softened

5. 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (one stick)

6. 1.75 cups granulated sugar

7. 5 large eggs

8. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

9. 4.5 Oz Cherry flavored baking chips (or use any flavor chips, chocolate baking bars etc), melted, cooled and kept aside

Chocolate Glaze: (optional)

1. 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

2. 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

3. 4.5 Oz good quality chocolate chips/couverture/coarsely chopped chocolate bar, preferably semi sweet

Method:

1.Preheat oven to 325 degrees(F). Prepare a 9″ pan by greasing and dusting with flour.   2. Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and keep aside.

3. Beat cream cheese and butter in an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 2-3 minutes, until well blended. Slowly add sugar, beating on medium till light and fluffy (and super yummy :D).

4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating 30-40 seconds after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix well.

5. Mix in the flour mixture till combined. remember to scrape the bowl in between using a spatula to ensure a proper mix.

6. Spread half batter in the prepared pan. Now pour the melted cherry chips and top with remaining batter. Once all the batter is in, drag a fork/knife/cake tester through the batter to create a marbled effect. Do not mix too much lest you get a uniform cake instead of a marbled one :D

7. Bake 75 odd minutes or till the cake is done. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack and cool completely.

Make the glaze: (If using)

1. Heat the cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat till its scalded (bubbles start forming on the sides). Remove from heat, add chocolate and stir to get a smooth mixture. Cool the glaze until for about 15  minutes at room temperature to allow it to thicken a bit. Now drizzle/pour over the cake and let it set in the fridge. Enjoy afterwards :)

Remember:

1. You may use a little corn syrup in the glaze to make it even shinier.

2. Use the excess/dripped glaze to add oomph to your morning bread :)

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Say Cheese Fudge or Say Peda/Barfi/Sandesh

Today I tried my hand at something very different from my usual items of interest – I made a highly popular and versatile Indian dessert called Barfi/Peda. It is a class of milk based sweet that can take a variety of flavors, textures and colors depending on the maker and the idea. Traditionally cardomom, pistachio, milk, rose, saffron, almond, cashews etc have been the dominant flavor but these days there is a variety of new flavors making waves (think chocolate and some new fruit based flavors). Most of these desserts start with what is called as fresh chhena/paneer which is very easy to make at home. However easy does not mean No Effort and so, when on a time crunch or cooking on impulse, I choose to use the nearest substitution available here in US  – Ricotta Cheese. Ricotta Cheese is an Italian (mainly) dessert cheese made from (primarily) sheep’s milk and belongs to the family of cottage cheese more than a cultured/aged cheese. It is as wonderful on its own as when used in dishes like cheesecake, cannoli, crepes, pancakes, beignets and other fried dough stuff etc. And here is the sweet little thing for us Indians. It acts as a great substitute of chhena in Indian desserts. I have made a very popular Indian Cheesecake using Ricotta, called Chhenapoda and while it was not the absolute authentic version, I can vouch for it’s effectiveness as a close substitution.

Similarly, the other ingredient very often used in Indian desserts includes khoya (or heavily reduced sweetened milk, almost of a fudgy consistency). Again, since that is not exactly a common pantry item found here, I use sweetened condensed milk as a close substitution. And it works :) Using these two items, you can try your hand a variety of desserts including peda, sandesh, kalaland, barfi etc… I tried making barfi using these items the result was good enough for me to keep this recipe in my favorites folder. Hope you feel the same :)

FYI, this came out to be fudgy, soft and smooth in texture. We loveddddd it :)

Ingredients: Makes makes 12-16  servings

1. 15 Oz Ricotta Cheese

2. 15 Oz sweetened condensed milk

3. 6-8 pods of cardomom

4. 1 tbsp minced pistachio (optional)

5. 1-2 tsp rose water (optional)

Method:

1. De-skin and de-seed the cardomom pods. Then crush the seeds coarsely using a mortar-pestle or a coffee grinder.

2. Heat a heavy bottomed pan on medium high. Add the condensed milk to it. Now add the ricotta cheese and mix well to remove all lumps and get a smooth, pasty mixture.

4. Keep stirring the mixture continously till it reduces to a cake batter like consistency, about 15-20 mins. Remember – stir continously to avoid burning, take ample care to avoid the hot splatter and finally do not overdry the mixture since cooling will make it way firmer than what you have in the pan.

5. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 odd minutes. Then transfer it into a baking/pie dish and set it uniformly.  Put the dish in the fridge for at least 30 mins.

6. Sprinkle pistachio and rose water before serving.  Serve cut up into pieces.

Variations:

1. You may choose to use different flavors like kewra, khus, or orange as well as different food coloring to pep up the dish. Add it just before turning the heat off.

2. You can add sweetened cocoa powder to come up with a chocolate version. I am going to try this some day for sure.

3. You can choose to keep the dish as dry or as moist as you want – just reduce the heating time by a few minutes to keep it a bit more moist and a little less fudgy.

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Building Blocks: My other Favorite chocolate cake recipe

I discovered this chocolate cake as part of an elaborate cake that I was baking. For me it was like another chocolate cake claiming to be absolutely awesome AND, it did turn out to be absolutely awesome. So much so that now it has become my to go chocolate cake recipe when I have to bake something fancy or something simple :D. It is super  moist, super chocolatey and the right amount of sweet, the secret ingredient being sour cream. It is as perfect a cake for evening coffee as it for creating a layered concoction. So keep it in your repertoire and go for it.

Ingredients :

1. 2 cups sifted cake flour

2. 1 1/2 tsp baking soda

3. 1/2 tsp salt

4. 3 bars (1.5 ounces each) Godiva Dark Chocolate, coarsely chopped (or any other equally good quality dark chocolate)

5. 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened

6. 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

7. 1 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar

8.1 tbsp vanilla extract

9. 3 large eggs, at room temperature

10. 3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature

11. 1 cup milk, at room temperature

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of two 9×2-inch round cake pans (or a 10 inch springform pan). Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Dust the sides of the pans with flour/baking spray.

2. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Place chocolate in microwave-safe bowl. and microwave in bursts of 30 second for a total of 1 minute. Stir well at each 30 second interval. Microwave 1 minute more or until chocolate softens. Stir until smooth and glossy. Let cool.

3. Beat butter in an electric mixer at medium speed, until creamy. Add brown sugar. With the mixer on, add sugar very gradually and mix the whole thing. Continue beating for another 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture is light in texture and off-white in color. Beat in vanilla.

4. At medium speed while continuing to beat, slowly add eggs, one by one, to the batter, making sure they mix well after each addition. Add sour cream and beat until smooth. Beat in melted chocolate until blended. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula and beat for another 30 seconds.

5. At low speed, beat in flour mixture alternating with milk, beginning and ending with flour, mixing until just blended. Mix batter for 10 more seconds.

6. Divide batter between prepared pans and smooth top. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until center springs back when gently pressed with a finger. Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes. Take the cake out and cool completely on a cooling rack. Enjoy

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A Veggie Might : Black Bean Soup

Sometimes, necessity is truly the mother of invention. Most of you might think it is usually the case but I have had so many necessary but uninspiring phases in life that I figured in my case God made that statement optional !!! However, however my darlings, it is not a lost cause yet, as I discover from time to time. The latest was a hungry weeknight when I was too tired to cook, too hungry to sleep, too fussy to eat fruits or cereal for dinner, too lazy to grocery shop, too frugal to order takeaway and too worried that I have been skipping protein for stupid fats since the last couple of days. So I raided my pantry/fridge, literally, and found that the only substantial stuff that I had which could make me a meal were a can of black beans, avocado and some frozen onions+peppers mix. Thus began my attempt to create my own black bean soup with my focus only on having something warm, easy and filling to eat on a cold night. The last thing on my mind was a gourmet taste – I mean a desperately hungry female working on weeknight dinner cant be too fussy, can she ????? But then, as I always say, life happens when you least expect it to. I came up with the best black bean soup I ever tasted. Believe me, so enamored was I by the taste that I actually wrote down the recipe before I got too busy eating the delicious thing and forgot what went into it. If only all my carefully planned and executed efforts would pay off as handsomely, I could by now be delivering lectures on success at Harvard !!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, coming back to the recipe, I used frozen onions and peppers since that is all I had. But I remade it with fresh veggies later on and you can’t beat it. Of course it takes a little more effort, claning and chopping, but hey, that’s gourmet steps you are taking :). You can dish it up with sour cream or avocado or both, but I would rather give the cream a miss, so creamy is the soup naturally. So here is an outstanding creation by moi, born in a most unoutstanding fashion :D

Serves 2 as entrees

Ingredients:

16 Oz canned black beans

1 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large bell pepper, seeded and chopped

3 medium to large cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon ground roasted cumin powder

1 tsp paprika, if you want some kick

Salt to taste

3/4 cup water/vegetable stock

2 tbsp chopped cilantro, optional but preferable

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 ripe avocado, sliced (optional but recommended)

Method:

1. In a sauce pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté till golden, 1-2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook for another minute. Now add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3-5 minutes.

2. Stir in cumin, paprika and salt and cook for another minute.

3. Add drained beans and 3/4 cup of water/stock.

4. Bring soup to a boil, and then lower to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 10 odd minutes, until beans are tender.

5. Turn the heat off and take the pan away from the heat source. Using a hand blender, coarsely puree the soup in the pan itself. The consistency and texture can be as per your choice though I like to puree it a little coarse.

6. Stir in cilantro and lime juice, top with diced avocados and you are ready to go.

7. Serve with salsa, Mexican rice and grilled veggies, if you like.

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Chocolate Caramel Tart: Simple meets Sexy :D

Chocolate Caramel Tart

Chocolate Caramel Tart:  9″ tart serving 6-8

As an amatuer baker, it’s so exciting to get sucked into the esoteric world of decadent desserts and complicated processes. Completing each step successfully feels like an achievement, even though perfection remains aeons away :) In a way it is as helpful as it is harmful. On one hand it goes a long way in increasing your understanding, knowledge,confidence and sense of satisfaction and yet at the same time it takes you away from perfecting and indepth understanding of any one technique, any one subject. Do I like it – of course yes, since I am not here to attain PhD in the changing heights of cake domes depending on the changing mood of the baker :D. I am here rather to indulge in a passion which allows me to satisfactorily create sublime and luxurious home made desserts that touch the heart and soul of each individual I serve it to. But at the same time, I have come to realize, in my race to conquer each challenging creation, I have sometimes overlooked the sheer power of simplicity; Simplicity of processes, ingredients and recipes.

So it was time for me to pause and think on this topic when I came across this amazingly delicious and deceptively simple chocolate dessert that I write about today. Of course it comes from master pastry chef David Lebovitz, an expert whose blog I follow as much for its recipes as for the stories of his Parisian rendezvous :) He talks about going for the best ingredients and working them in simple ways to come up with utterly fabulous results. Case in point the chocolate caramel tart, a plain yet rich chocolate dessert that allows the chocophile to rejoice in the sanguine seduction of chocolate just as it allows the sweet satisfaction of caramel to enhance the chocolate experience even further. It made me think how such a simple and non fancy looking dessert can create such strong rapture and delight. Perhaps I had been too hasty in trying to figure out more complicated desserts in the process overlooking the power of calculated simplicity. Late I was but arrive I did. And when I made and served this dessert to a few friends, their satisfaction was a testament to my new learning from the treasure trove of Monsieur Lebovitz. This recipe has been adapted from his website with minimal changes to the filling but I have gone ahead and used my own tart/pie recipe in place of his. It works wonders, trust me !!! The secret to this recipe is the use of truly high quality ingredients. I used Valrohna chocolate for the filling but you can use any other equally great brand of chocolate. Since the flavor is predominantly chocolate and caramel, compromising on the chocolate quality direclty compromises the taste of the tart :)

A. 1 recipe Tart Dough ( or go ahead with your favorite version, if you have one, as long as it is sweet and simple :D)

B: 1 recipe filling (as follows)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup  (10 Oz) sugar

6 tbsp warm coffee (I mixed 2 tbsp of instant coffee with 6tbsp water, but if you have strong brewed coffee, even better)

4 Oz unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature

Pinch of salt

4 Oz high quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 Oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped

2 large eggs

1/4 cup  flour

1 tablespoon dark rum or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or both :D)

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spread the sugar in an even layer in the bottom of a large, heavy-duty saucepan or Dutch oven. Cook the sugar over moderate heat until the edges liquefy and being to caramelize. Use a heatproof utensil to stir the sugar a bit and encourage even melting.

2. Once the sugar is melted, it caramelizes rather quickly. When it starts to smoke, but before it burns, turn off the heat and stir in the coffee. (The mixture will bubble and seize a bit.)

3. If the caramel has seized up in places, stir it gently over low heat until smooth. Then add the butter and salt, and stir until melted, then stir in both chocolates until smooth.

4. At this point, while Mr Lebovitz asks to go ahead and add eggs, I let the mixture cool a bit (about 10 mins) and then added the eggs. Just wanted to make sure I didn’t have chocolatey scrambled eggs for dessert :D. Once you have added the eggs, mix in the flour. Stir in the rum or vanilla extract.

5. Pour the mixture into the pre-baked tart shell, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes, just until the filling starts to rise and crack at the edges but the center is still jiggly. Do not overbake.

6. Remove from oven and let cool completely before slicing. Serve it with whipped cream, any style :)

Expert tips:

1.Tart will keep for up to three days at room temperature, well-wrapped (or 4-5 days in the refriderator).

2. If any bits of caramel remain after adding the butter, simply stir the mixture over very low heat until they’re all completely dissolved. If any stubborn little bits remain, you can strain the buttery caramel through a mesh sieve, before adding the chocolate.

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But of course a Banana Bread !!!!!!

If you can find me a baker, amateur or professional, that has not attempted a banana bread at least once, I will find you Titanic. Possible, but highly improbable !!! This universally popular, adorably easy and unfailingly delicious breakfast/snack staple can perhaps boast of as many ‘unique’ recipes as there are bakers :) True to my point, I too have my own ‘secret’ recipe that never fails to wow anyone who takes a bite of it. Banana is a staple fruit in my house and is consumed almost daily. While I adore it as it is, its vesatility makes playing with it in recipes a pleasure. Pancakes, cakes, muffins, breads, smoothies, shakes, desserts, salads, side dishes – it is an amazing fruit that can be enjoyed in an amazing number of ways. But, per my husband, nothing beats the taste of a banana bread. Hence, my interest in baking it often. The secret to a terrific banana bread/cake, I feel, is a really ripe banana and/or addition of a ‘moistening agent’ like sour cream or yoghurt. I don’t go for a sour cream/yoghurt addition unless I have to bake the bread but have only firm bananas with me !!! In such situations, I just add 1/2 cup of either sour cream or yoghurt and maybe increase the amount of sugar by another 3-4 tbsps. And then of course you can add nuts/chocolate chips and other stuff to pep it up further. The other thing about a banana bread/cake is that it freezes amazingly well. Which means, that extra batter will actually serve you very well in terms of instant gratification :D. The recipe I am about to share with you,my ‘secret’ one is taken from many sources and then modified/edited/amalgamated to come up with this version of mine. In its as-it-is form, it is closer to a cake than bread, or maybe a rich bread for breakfast and snack. However, you can always reduce sugar, eggs and butter by a little to suit your taste and health concern and come up with a healthier bread version. I do that when I know I will be the one eating it rather than my husband. But when I bake it for him, then I bake it without any changes. You might want to start with this version and then tinker with it to figure out your ‘secret’ version :D

Ingredients: For a 9″ loaf 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon fine salt 3 large eggs, at room temperature 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 cup sugar 3 very ripe bananas, peeled, and mashed (about 1 cup) 1/2 cup toasted walnut/pistchio/almond/chocolate chip/macademia/hazelnut/pecan pieces

Method: 1. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl, set aside. Whisk the egg with the vanilla and set aside. 2. Lightly brush a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan with butter/baking spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 3. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with an electric hand-held mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (or just use a fork/rubber spatula/hand blender whisk attachment to do so) . Gradually pour the egg mixture into the butter while mixing until incorporated. 4. Add the bananas (the mixture will appear to be curdled but don’t worry) and mix well. 5. Mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated. 6. Fold in the nuts, if using. 7. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Turn the bread out of the pan and let cool completely on the rack. Wrap in plastic wrap. The banana bread is best served the next day and/or can be frozen very well upto 3 months!

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The Yummiest Roast Potatoes: Easy Breezy

Twice Roasted Potatoes

Growing up, I was always a very non fussy eater, fond of food in general. (It showed amply on my bountiful health, but that is another story :D). It made my mom a very happy woman, since she did not have to run after me with vegetables in one hand and vigorous waving with the other :) And especially since my brother was my polar opposite. A  lovable and affable spirit, he believed vegetables were grown to make humans pay for their sins. In his world, vegetables comprised of potatoes, onions, potatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, peas and potatoes. Hence, if you haven’t figured it out yet, mi madre had to throw in potatoes in pretty much anything and everything she cooked, just to get my brother to eat his mouthful !!! It might be the reason why I never really cared for potatoes till I left house and started life’s independent journey.

A long time away from potato laden stuff, and gradually I rediscovered the yumminess of that universally loved root. Mashed (Indian style), stir fried, deep fried, curried, roasted, baked, boiled – I realized its versatility and utility. But I was still far from loving it like my brother did. And then I landed in the deep south of the USA, met Arby’s curly fries and decided I was reborn; into a potato lover, specifically arby’s curly fries lover. Mio Dio, it turned to be my poison, something I ended up forcing myself to enjoy exclusively during road trip, holidays or superbly downcast, grey and rainy weeks, just so that I could eat it without adding to the fat quotient of this already heavy weight nation !!!!. Of course what I did not know was how easily I will be falling in love with a much simpler and healthier vesion, the ubiquitos oven/skillet roasted breakfast potatoes. A thousand versions abound, each one as amazing, and yet my favorite happens to be the Europeanstyle with a mix of a few simple ingredients. While I was happy with my own little simple recipe, a search on the net led me to the Smitten Kitchen where I found this amazingly simple twice roasted potato recipe that beats so many of the others. I took my own spin on it, a slight one though, and made it for a brunch. The result – I had to share it with half of the guests, on request. I now share the same with you and wish you nothing but Bon Appetit :)

Ingredients: Serves 2-3 as a side dish

3/4 lbs medium sized gold potatoes, halved and then cut into medium thickness chunks or fries

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2-3 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

2 bay leaves (preferable but optional)

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)

1/2 cup Romesco sauce (optional)

Method:

1. Heat oven to 350 deg F.  Toss potatoes with 1 tbsp olive oil, garlic, bay leaves and salt/pepper to taste in a pan lined with aluminium foil. Wrap the foil tightly around the potatoes and bake in the oven for 30-40 mins, till they are tender when pierced. Take out of the oven and remove foil.

2. Heat an iron skillet (or heavy non stick pan) with a 1-2 tbsp olive oil.

3. Place the roast potatoes in the pan in one layer and season wtih more salt and pepper if needed. Let it cook (more like let it brown) on high heat for 2 mins . Then flip the potatoes one by one and brown on high for another coupel of minutes or so.

4. Stir in parsley and serve hot.

5. Else serve it with Romesco sauce to turn it into the lovely spanish tapas dish, Patatas Bravas :)

Posted in American, Breakfast, European | Tagged , , | 2 Comments