Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Almond Hazelnut Dacquoise Cake

It was our anniversary and what is a celebration without a home baked cake? In all honesty, i was looking for another reason to indulge my sweet tooth and challenge myself at the same time. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the regular cakes and bakes, but something challenging is always fun for me. So i set out with a recipe i had bookmarked a while back - the french classic, the dacquoise cake. I ended up baking an Almond Hazelnut Dacquoise Cake with a chocolate mousse and ganache filling, and topped it off with more ganache. I also did a few spun sugar elements to top the cake. The whole process will take a while, so i had spread out the elements over the weekend, thus making it not-as-labor-intensive. But the end result bowled me over and i'm already looking for an occasion that'll justify this yummy dessert.

The dacquoise is a meringue based French dessert, it is exquisite and is different from the conventional soft, spongy cake. The different elements add depth to this masterpiece. The elements can be made upto 2 days ahead so that it is not too much strain on a single day and assembled on the day of serving.
P.S: The recipe has been adapted from here with changes made to different components.

1) Dacquoise layers:
¾ cup almond toasted
¼ cup hazelnuts toasted
1 tablespoon cornflour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites (room temp)
Procedure: Preheat oven to 120 C. Using ruler and pencil, draw 13 by 10 1/2-inch rectangle on piece of parchment paper. Grease baking sheet and place parchment on it, ink side down.
Process almonds, hazelnuts, cornstarch, and salt in food processor until nuts are finely ground. Add 1/2 cup sugar and pulse to combine.
Using a mixer, whisk egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy. Increase speed to medium-high and whip whites to soft, billowy mounds. With mixer running at medium-high speed, slowly add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to whip until glossy, stiff peaks form. Fold nut mixture into egg whites in 2 batches. With offset spatula, spread meringue evenly onto the parchment, using lines on parchment as guide. Bake for 1.5 hours. Turn off oven and allow meringue to cool.
(Do not open oven during baking and cooling. Cooled meringue can be kept at room temperature, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days)

2) Chocolate mousse:
170 g Semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons Butter
1 cup Cold Heavy whipping cream
½ teaspoon Pure vanilla extract
Procedure: Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Continue to stir and once melted, let it cool to room temperature
Meanwhile whip the cold whipping cream in a bowl.
Whip till you get soft peaks using hand mixer or stand mixer. Add the vanilla extract.
Add a third of whipped cream to the cooled chocolate mixture and fold it in gently.
Continue with the remaining cream and fold. It will be airy in texture. Keep refrigerated till serving.

3)  Ganache:
200 g Chopped Dark chooclate
200 g Fresh cream
Heat the cream in double boiler till it gets hot and starts to form little bubbles on the edges. Add the chopped chocolate and stir it into the cream as it melts. Take off the double boiler and let it cool to room temperature.

4) Spun sugar (Optional):
¼ cup sugar
½ tablespoon water
Place a silpat on the workspace.
Heat the sugar and the water in a thick, wide bottomed saucepan. As it starts to caramelize, swirl it around, till it turns a dark amber in color. Take off the flame and once the sugar starts to cool,  using a fork, dip into the sugar and twirl patterns onto the silpat. Once it starts to cool, form shapes and set aside in an airtight box.

Carefully invert meringue and peel off parchment. Re-invert meringue and place on cutting board. Using serrated knife and gentle, repeated scoring motion, trim edges of meringue to form 12 by 10-inch rectangle. Discard trimmings. With long side of rectangle parallel to counter, use ruler to mark both long edges of meringue at 3-inch intervals. Using serrated knife, score surface of meringue by drawing knife toward you from mark on top edge to corresponding mark on bottom edge. Repeat scoring until meringue is fully cut through. Repeat until you have four 10 by 3-inch rectangles. (If any meringues break during cutting, use them as middle layers.)
Place 3 rectangles on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Using offset spatula, spread 1/4 cup ganache evenly over surface of each meringue. Refrigerate until ganache is firm, about 15 minutes. Set aside remaining ganache.

Using an offset spatula, spread top of remaining rectangle with 1/2 cup mousse; place on wire rack with ganache-coated meringues. Invert 1 ganache-coated meringue, place on top of mousse, and press gently to level. Repeat, spreading meringue with 1/2 cup mousse and topping with inverted ganache-coated meringue. Spread top with mousse. Invert final ganache-coated strip on top of cake. Use 1 hand to steady top of cake and remaining mousse to lightly coat sides of cake and to coat top of cake. Smooth until cake resembles box. Refrigerate until it firms, about 2 hours.
Final ganache layer: Make sure the ganache is fluid and of pouring consistency. Keeping assembled cake on wire rack, pour ganache over top of cake. Using offset spatula, spread ganache in thin, even layer over top of cake, letting excess drip down sides. Spread ganache over sides in thin layer
Holding bottom of cake with one hand, gently press almonds onto sides with other hand. Chill on wire rack, uncovered, for at least 3 hours or up to 12 hours. Transfer to platter. Garnish with spun sugar and almond flakes. Cut into slices with sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water and wiped dry before each slice. Serve and enjoy! Bon appétit! :)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Thenga paalu meenu curry / Fish curry in coconut milk

 We are back with a recipe after what feels like eons, and here's hoping the next one will not be after eons.

Fish and seafood play a vital role in our meals. This below recipe is a close cousin, if not a replica of the classic, the fish moilee, i do not knowthe connoisseurs could chime in here. In any case, this dish was born one fine day when we happened to have coconut milk, fresh fish and tomatoes handy, in additon to the other staples. It can be done in a jiffy, and is an excellent accompaniment for chapathis.

You will need:
-1/2 kg sliced sear fish
-2 medium sized onions
-2 medium sized tomatoes
-5 green chillis
- 1 teaspoon mustard
-1.5 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
-1/2 teaspoon turmeric
-1.5 teaspoon ground pepper
-2 stalks curry leaves
-juice from half a lemon
-1.25 cups randaam paal (coconut milk diluted a wee bit)
-salt to taste

For the marinade:
-1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
-1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
-salt to taste

-Marinate the fish in the ingrediens for marinade (turmeric, chilli and salt). Shallow fry halfway through and keep aside.

-Heat mannu chatti with oil, sputter the mustard, curry leaves and add onions, ginger and green chillis. Saute till onions turn translucent and then add tomatoes, Saute for another 5 minutes.

-Add pepper, turmeric and lemon juice and cook for 3 minutes.

- Reduce heat, add half a cup of water and stir it in. After a minute, add the coconut milk. Let it simmer for couple of minutes.

-Add the fish and let it simmer for five minutes or till just cooked.

-Serve piping hot and enjoy!

P.S: Garnish with thick coconut milk and curry leaves before serving for added flavor and visuals

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunset Grill, Westin, Chennai

We recently visited the latest offering at Westin, the Sunset Grill, and boy, was it an experience. Situated on the rooftop, it offers a sweeping view of the Chennai skyline and a good breeze to accompany the cozy dinner or an elaborate group affair. Being an open space, rains are a foreseeable threat, however it did not rain the night we were there; and instead, the excellent sea breeze accompanied a memorable dinner with eclectic music, a no-frills ambiance, delicious food and hospitable service. The Executive chef was kind enough to join us and offer his delightful company; he took us through the elaborate meal and explained the thought and insight behind every dish.

The food is, as the name suggests, a good mix of grills and on the outset, will certainly do any meat lover proud. Don't get me wrong, the vegetarian options are quite the sizzle too, but if you have a meat lover in your circle, then Sunset grill will not disappoint.
Cooked to order in the open kitchen in vicinity of the restaurant, not only does the chef take pride in the freshness of the meals he dishes out, but also the breads that are served along side the meal. These breads, including focaccia and assorted buns are freshly baked in their oven. This ensures the freshest, tastiest  loaves to accompany the rest of the meal. Needless to say, we were impressed!

Moving onto the meal, their peri peri prawns and boti talwar lamb kebab in the appetizers section are dishes to look out for. The peri peri prawns are juicy and the peri peri rub lends a flavor unlike any other. They have an eternal fan in me with their bharawan e khumb, it is a mushroom dish, stuffed with cheese and spices, and cooked in the tandoor.  The boti talwar kebab was an instant hit, tender and moist, seeing as it is baby lamb legs in spiced yogurt and cooked in a clay oven to retain all the flavorThe other veg dish of note was the lahori paneer tikka, the freshest and softest paneer with a hint of  spices and again, cooked in a clay oven. They were succulent and left us asking for more. The murg hawa mahal, coated in egg white and cooked in the clay oven was a different take on chicken, and was alright. Frankly, we were too busy with the lamb, mushroom and prawns to notice anything else! The ocean crumbed calamari was served with a garlic aioli and it would have tasted best if we had eaten it as soon as they brought it to the table - the constant breeze cools the food in a jiffy.

They take their salads seriously, with a short but interesting range, they are fancy and leave a refreshing hit. The mesclun with feta and orange segments was the favorite of the day, and the insalata parmigiano e limone came a close second - it is a vegetarian ceaser salad with parmesan dressing, a garlic baguette and arancini. Wholesome, light and refreshing! The tuna nicoise looked fascinating too, but we were ready to move onto the mains.

The mains blew us away with the Sunset grill signature dish, the Slow roasted spiced pork belly - it is a thyme, coriander, fennel and demerara sugar rubbed juicy belly ensconced in the crispiest crackling that just snaps and cracks with the knife passes through it. A delight to the senses, it is by far the best belly eaten here in Chennai.

The tenderloin steak is commendable, served on a bed of mash, the lamb chops knocked it out of the park, as did the jumbo prawns. The other main dish worthy of mention is the Norwegian Salmon. A point of mention at the Sunset Grill is, the quantity per portion. The Salmon weighing in at 10 oz. is a meal in itself. Fresh Salmon with crisped skin and served with a side of sauteed veggies, the meat, though a little overcooked was delicious.

As always, all's well that ends well, and so was the case here at the Sunset Grill as well - the desserts of course! The New York Cheesecake did not disappoint, and the Tiramisu was a crowd pleaser as well. The best dessert though, was the baked yogurt with a berry compote.

We are looking forward to the next visit, and can't wait to find out how they have maintained the initial standards. They are generous with the portioning and flavors, and that makes it easier on the conscience to order that extra jumbo prawn main course dish.

P.S: The food portions featured in the pictures were tailored for the photography and not the regular servings.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Masala Klub fare at Beyond Indus, Taj Club House

I was thrilled when invited and told that the Taj Club House here in Chennai was having a 10 day Masala Klub food festival - the idea of contemporary Indian food served with a twist made me push aside all my weekday commitments and head over to Beyond Indus with heady anticipation.

The Masala Klub is the Indian restaurant at the Taj West End in Bangalore and is known to specialize in Indian fare cooked with a healthy twist and using ingredients such as olive oil, pine nuts etc and western cooking techniques such as boiling and steaming as opposed to the traditional sauteing and frying of ingredients. As Chef Chandan of the Masala Klub explained to us, Masala Klub looks at serving Indian food with a healthy twist. They aim at making the diner feel at ease and not ''over fed'' with all rich fare that has been tucked in. All this sounded fascinating and I was even a bit skeptical wondering how a sumptuous Indian meal can leave a diner feeling anything but stuffed and this piqued my interest all the more.

We started with a pani puri with a twist - the pani had a strong smoked pineapple flavor and an assorted platter with the goodies: excellently seasoned pan seared sea bass, a delicious palak pappad ka kebab which was florets of broccoli with mustard, and fresh and succulent char grilled prawns. This was served with a portion of veggies picked in the usual suspect of vinegar and the more bizzare ingredient of rose water. But ,et it be noted that this seemingly alarming mix of ingredients did wonders to the palate and cleansed it paving way for the main course.

The main course was a more subdued affair with a few different types of bread, with the chili naan deserving special call out and four gravies. I personally found my favorite in the water chestnut and lotus stem curry and had dollops of it with the roti. I also felt that that it would pair excellent with plain white rice as well. The Anardana Jhinga or fresh prawns tossed on the griddle with roasted coriander seeds and topped with pomegranate seeds was the second favorite - the gravy paired excellently well with chili naan. The Dal Indus also deserves special mention, it is a black lentil curry simmered for over 40 hours and then finished with fresh tomatoes. It was thick, creamy and reminiscent of dal makhani, but different in aspects. I didn't taste the Patiala Mutton curry myself but my friends at the table found it alright, though it was remarked that one of the spices stood out and eclipsed the flavor of the others.

Dessert was a baked anjeer halwa - mashed figs topped with thickened milk and baked and served hot. It came with a side of coconut ice cream, which was very crystallized and sliced figs and kiwi.

An interesting turn of events was, the famous galouti kebab which was not on the menu for our dinner that night, but is available as part of Masala Klub's festival. A couple of my kebab connoisseur friends stayed back to taste it after all of us left, and they can't stop raving about it. I take their word for the fact that it was delicious, and strongly recommend you try the galouti kebab if you are at the restaurant.

The Masala Klub festival is on from the 12th to 22nd of June at Beyond Indus, Taj Club House, Chennai

Monday, September 2, 2013

Vanilla bean caramel custard

We are back with a recipe after what seems like eons and a promise to have more recipes going forward. Folks who have been patient and not given up on us, thank you and we love you! :) We are breaking the hiatus with a perennial favorite at most homes in Kerala, the quintessential Caramel Custard. The reason it enjoys that status is probably because it is fast, easy, kinda healthy considering it only has milk, eggs and sugar AND can be made with ingredients already existing in the pantry. Plus, it can make a statement all on its own. I remember my mother whipping these up pretty often; she'd steam it in the rice cooker too and I remember eating it by the spoonfuls even when steaming hot!
It is versatile, you can infuse any number of ingredients, exotic or otherwise (i'm thinking saffron, pistachio and chocolate to name a few). It can be eaten cold or for the more weird ones like me, warm. When made the traditional way, it borders on comfort-food-ism and who can say no to that?

I made a simple variant, the vanilla bean caramel custard because I had a vanilla bean at hand.
Two eggs did not feel overpoweringly eggy, but feel free to reduce the amount of egg used if you feel the need - it may not set as well when baked being the only downside. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

For the custard:
-400 ml milk
-100 ml condensed milk
-2 eggs
-20 g sugar (or as per taste)
-1 vanilla bean
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the caramel:
-20 g sugar
-3 tablespoons water

Prep the ramekins by placing them in a large, flat tray that can hold the ramekins as well as water halfway upto the height of the ramekins.
Mix the milk and condensed milk and scrape the innards of the vanilla bean into it along with the bean. Heat the mixture in a medium sized saucepan and bring it to the boil. Let it simmer for 2 minutes before switching off the flame and closing it with a lid and leaving it to steep for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 170C.
Whisk the eggs and sugar till incorporated and add the hot milk mixture through a strainer in a steady stream. Keep whisking the egg mixture with the other hand just to make sure the eggs do not cook. Whisk well, taste to see if it is sweet enough and then pour into the prepared ramekins. Place in the oven and let it bake till just set, but still wobbly when touched (you do not want it to set firm). That was about under 30 minutes in my oven.
Once cooled, refrigerate, and when ready to eat, run a knife carefully around the rim and turn it over onto your saucer/dessert plate. Watch the amber caramel ooze around the custard - Bliss!