Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Saffron Macarons with Cardamom Infused White Chocolate Ganache

I know! It’s macarons again. But before going to the recipe, I need to tell you something that you would want to know. It’s just that, the feed on my blog is not working, which in simple words means that whoever is subscribed to my blog will not be getting any updates, and for bloggers, my updates doesn’t even show up on the google reader or dashboard! I have been trying to sort this issue for the past few days and nothing works! It started getting worse and I thought I will leave it alone for a while to see if it gets fixed by its own, which in case I would be lucky. Else I would have to set up the subscription form again and you would have to subscribe to my blog yet again to receive any updates from my blog. I play around with the template coding quite a bit, and I don’t know if that’s me who screwed up the code and jumbled the feed up or if it is the feedburner that is to blame! I am sorry for the inconvenience caused, I hope this issue gets sorted soon. And if anyone could help me fix the issue, please let me know. I would be very grateful.

 Coming to today’s recipe, Saffron is one among many flavours that I wanted to try. I love saffron, and I am sure I would love it in macaron as well. After a whirlwind of macaron flavours that I had in mind and lot of thinking, I stuck to saffron as I know people here love saffron, and that too they love it quite strong. This was one among few other things that I made for our lovely neighbour Kate who was celebrating her 70th Birthday. The shell is made of a mixture almonds and cashewnuts and is infused with crushed saffron. They are wonderfully aromatic and pairs well with cardamom infused white chocolate Ganache. The whole house smelt of saffron while these were baking, and I should say, it is a must try if you love saffron.

 I bake my macarons both at 140 ºC and 150 ºC, but lately I have been baking them at 140ºC. I then started noticing that most of the macarons in the same batch comes out little shrivelled with less perfect shells after it sits outside for a while! I have been facing this issue for a while now, not being able to figure out why that was happening. I just found out the culprit during my last bake. I thought it was something to do with the mixing, but no, it is the oven! My oven has hot spots, it is hotter around the sides than in the middle. So, when I bake them at 140 ºC, macarons that goes around the side of the tray comes out perfect, but that goes in the centre get a bit wrinkled after they sit outside, which was very annoying. It is not nice to see a wrinkled cookie in the gift box especially when you have to present it to somebody! It’s just the look that wasn’t great, but taste and texture remains the same, divine.

 Recently, while I was making another batch of them, accidently I baked them at 150 degrees and to my surprise, I got shells that has smooth, shiny top with no wrinkles, but it got done in 12 minutes and then the shells started taking brown colour. So when you bake your macarons for the first time, try piping them in 2-3 sheets. Pipe just 2 macarons each in 1-2 baking trays to see what temperature is best for your macaron and the remaining in another tray for final baking. Try baking the trays containing 2 macarons at different temperature and then bake the one that has many at the temperature that is best. Doing it this way, you don’t have to ruin the whole batch just because your temperature is not right.

Regarding the pictures of this post, if you notice, the pictures are grainy in here, as I shot them by setting ISO to 800. It was not intended, but a mistake that I realized once I saw the pictures on the PC. By then, it was too late and I couldn’t bother re-shooting the whole thing again! I have been playing around with my camera the previous night, setting ISO to 800, trying to shoot the moon at night and I forgot to set it back!

Saffron Macarons with Cardamom Infused White Chocolate Ganache

Makes 16-17 Medium sandwiched macarons


For shells: 
32g almonds, whole, ground or slivers
33g raw cashew nuts
100g Icing sugar
15g caster sugar
45g aged egg whites
½ tsp saffron
few drops of orange or yellow colour


Cardamom infused White Chocolate Ganache:

70g white chocolate
70mls double cream
¼ tsp cardamom powder

Preparation (shells):
**For an elaborate macaron post with my tips and links to other helpful sources, check out my first macaron post here

1.For ageing egg whites: Place egg whites in a clean bowl. Cover it with a cling cover and poke few holes in the film. Keep it in your kitchen counter for 24-48 hours or in fridge for up to 5 days. This ageing of egg whites helps to reduce the moisture content in the egg whites and make firmer shells. Fresh egg whites make fragile cookies which may break off as you try to lift them off the baking paper.

2. Powder the nuts, saffron strands and icing sugar together in a food processor or a grinder into very flour-like fine powder. Transfer them to a large bowl and sieve 1-2 times to break up the lumps. Transfer them to a large mixing bowl and keep aside while you work with meringue and prepare your baking sheet and piping bag.

3. Line your baking sheets with baking paper or silpat. Fit your piping bag with a plain round tip and place it in a tall glass or a jar to make the job easier while scooping the batter in.

4. For making meringue, using an electric blender, whisk egg whites in a squeaky clean bowl (preferably metallic bowl as it is difficult to maintain a plastic/glass bowl grease free) on high until it starts to form soft peaks. Add in caster sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. It should be like a smooth, glossy shaving cream like form. If adding any colour, add once stiff peaks are formed and then beat again to stiff peaks incorporating the food colour. Make sure it is not over beaten and dry, which would result in dry shells.

5. Add the dry mixture to meringue in 2-3 portions and start folding it until everything is just combined and no more of dry mixture could be seen. Use a flexible spatula for this and mix until you get a smooth, shiny batter that ruggedly drips down the spoon once you lift it. DO NOT over mix once you have reached that thick batter stage. For testing, place a teaspoon of batter in a plate and you see it spreading flat slowly, then the batter should be ready. If it has a peak on top, give couple more folds and check again. Keep checking the batter at each stage by placing a spoon of batter in the plate to judge the consistency.

6. Pour the macaron batter into the piping bag. Once the batter is all poured in, twist the ends of piping bag tight to seal the batter in. Pipe out small rounds of about 2 cm diameter on your baking paper leaving about 2 inches in between. The macaron batter will spread and then join hands with the next one if they are piped too close, so make sure leave at least 2 inches between them. Rap the baking sheet few times on a table to remove any bubbles trapped in the batter. (To help you with the round shape, you can use this template).

7. Let the macarons sit to dry for as long as it forms a thin skin on top or is dry and leaves no indentation once touched or the batter doesn’t stick to hands once touched. It depends from place to place depending on the weather and humidity. In a humid place it will take as long as 2-3 hours whereas here it takes under 30 minutes, but I leave for a bit more.

8. Preheat the oven to 150 degress Celcius. Bake the macaron for 11-13 minutes. Do not open the oven until they are completely done. Take them out and let them cool down for
30 minutes. Peel them out gently and sort them out with same size shells. Fill them with Ganache and leave it in fridge to mature for a 2-3 days two to get maximum flavour out of it.
It is very important to mature the cookies as that filling will steep into the shells and the flavours blend well. Unfilled shells can be frozen.

For the filling:

Bring double cream to simmering point in a heavy base pan or in microwave. Once you start seeing small bubbles appearing along the sides, turn the heat off and add chopped chocolates and cardamom powder into it. Leave it for couple of minutes and then stir well until combined. Leave it in fridge until it firms up enough to pipe or spoon. It should not be runny and should be stiff and easy to spread. If it gets too stiff, place in the microwave and warm for few seconds until spreadable.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Naan (Indian Leavened Flat-bread)

Traditionally Naans are baked in the hot tandoor or clay oven. Although these are cooked in the conventional oven or the skillet it is just as authentic as the tandoor made naans. This recipe is adapted from one of my favourite Books – Indian Food & Cooking by Shehzad Hussain and this is one recipe that I  make over and over again and again. I have tried several different recipes for naan, and  this is the best of the lot and I am very happy with the result. 

As the traditional naan is baked in real hot oven, taste would vary slightly from the home made ones. The high heat in the tandoor results in perfect, chewy naan with a light crisp on the outside and soft, fluffy and slightly chewy bread. The dark brown spots are characteristic of naan bread which gives it a nice smoky flavour and is a bit difficult to achieve while being made in the conventional oven or the skillet. 
I usually make these in the skillet, as it is more easier, and brings out the perfect results. Over-cooking them can make them tough and chewy. The texture of your naan can vary depending on the time, the method used and the thickness of the dough you make. Play around with the thickness of the dough until you get it right. Will take a bit of practice, but soon you will reach there. I have used kalonji/onion seeds to flavour naans, but you can also use chopped garlic and coriander, another favorite combination of mine. . You can also stuff the dough with your favourite filling like cooked and seasoned minced meat, cheese, dry fruits and nuts etc. The recipe may look lengthy as I have explained it in detail, but believe me, it is very easy, and it is quick to make apart from the resting time of the dough.

Naan (Indian Leavened Flat-bread)
Makes 6-8
¼ cup lukewarm milk
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
450g / 3 cups plus 3 Tbsp plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp – 1tsp salt
150 mls / ½ cup plus 2 tbsp  (2/3 cup)milk
125mls / ½ cup natural plain yogurt, beaten
1 medium size egg, 55g, beaten
2tbsp melted ghee
flour for dusting
ghee for greasing
chopped coriander leaved and onion seeds (Kalonji) to garnish
1.Mix the yeast, sugar and warm milk and leave it aside to become frothy, takes around 15-25 minutes, depending on the heat of milk and quality of yeast.

2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Make a well in the dry mixture and add the yeast mixture, milk, yogurt, beaten egg and melted ghee. Slowly draw in the flour to the wet mixture and knead it gently for about 10 minutes to form a soft but pliable dough. If it’s too sticky, dust it with little flour. Cover the bowl containing the dough and keep it in a warm place until the dough doubles in size. To test, push a finger slowly into the dough – it should spring back.

4. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C 10 minutes before baking.

5. Divide the dough into 6-8 portions. Roll out the dough on a floured surface. Make each naan slipper shaped or teardrop shaped, about 8-10 inches long.

6. Sprinkle with coriander leaves and press kalonji into the dough. Place on the greased trays and bake for about 9-12 minutes until you get brown spots here and there.

7. This naan can also be made in the tawa/skillet, the method I prefer and I follow. For that, place a tawa on medium heat and place the naan in. Cover the tawa with a lid. This step is important as covering the naan brings up the air pockets. Once it is cooked on one side, flip the naan over and cook until it gets black spots here and there, pressing down gently with a spatula. To get the black charred spots on, you could follow this way too - Once the naan is cooked on one side, cook the other side on direct flame using a tongs until you see charred spots on.

8. Brush with melted butter as soon as it comes off the oven/tawa and keep it covered with a clean cloth to keep it warm and moist. Serve hot with any curries.

1.If the naans are being made in the oven, roll it slightly thick about ¾ cm thick else it goes a bit dry in the oven. And while making it on tawa, roll it quite thin almost like you roll for chappathi.

2. Do not over bake naans as they can get tough and chewy. It will be difficult to get brown spots in oven. Take them off, as little brown spots appear. If it goes bown through out, it can be tough.

3. I always prefer the skillet method and make my naans always in that. The pictures in the post are of naans cooked on skillet, cooked on both sides in skillet.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Moghrabiyeh (Lebanese couscous)

Change. Who doesn’t like it? I love changes. Well, that’s when it comes to food, clothes etc.  And when it comes to food, I don’t like cooking or eating the same food over and over again. For that reason, what cook completely depends on my mood and my craving. Spending a major chunk of my life in the Emirates, I have a soft corner for anything Arabic. I often get cravings for Arabic food, especially the street food like the popular shawarma, falafel or anything that smells Arabic. While I was in the college, there were quite a few Lebanese restaurants and bakeries nearby where I and my friends often fetch Lebanese pizza, the popular shawarma and Lebanese sweets during our intervals. I go to those places and get something every time I visit my parents. Nostalgic. Looking back, those were one of the best days of my life, full of life in spite of my college being overly strict with lot of security guards to watch the students.

I am blessed with a few libraries here where I get to borrow brilliant books anytime. On my last visit, I picked up a Lebanese cook book from the library which is just fabulous. I am planning to keep the book for a while so that I can try out few recipes from it. It’s got loads of fantastic recipes, mostly savouries and some sweet dishes. Sweets are very tempting for me to try, but I am holding the temptation back as I would be the one to gulp down most of them. The book is a haven for fabulous Lebanese recipes. 

 f/5.6, ISO 100 , Shutter speed - 1/13 s - Manual shoot

I am also sending this post to Aparna’s second photography Exercise - Less is more. In this exercise, she asks to shoot the picture with minimal props. I think that’s such a brilliant idea as I myself had felt that I ruin the importance of the subject at times by overcrowding the picture with props. I like a well composed pictures with props used neatly rather than the attention being drawn completely on the props. Now, that sounds like me. I almost always give more importance to the props that use, than really considering the subject of interest. So, this time I decided to keep it to the minimal side and I am not sure if I am happy with these set of picture I took as it looks a bit too plain for my taste and needs a bit of practice to shoot them simple. I will try shooting another set before the deadline.

  f/5.6, ISO 100,  Exposure time - 1/13 s - Shot in Manual Mode

Here is a couscous that I tried from the book this week and couldn’t wait to share. I have modified the recipe slightly my mixing it with couple of other couscous recipe I had in hand. Couscous is something that is really easy to prepare, but I had trouble getting it right, just because I din’t know how to deal with it. It is a really quick to prepare, where you can modify it according to your palette and make a whole meal with less time, especially when someone fancies coming home unannounced. You can easily make this a vegetarian version omitting the chicken and stock and adding more vegetables. Many recipes I came across calls for using stock for cooking couscous. Here I have used plain water for cooking couscous as I have tried using stock out of readymade stock cubes and it wasn’t appealing at all. But preparing a fresh stock and using it as a dressing was quite a nice way to round up the whole dish. Although couscous is mostly associated with the culinary cultures of North Africa, it is also enjoyed in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, where is it called Moghrabiyeh, meaning ‘from the Maghreb’.

Moghrabiyeh (Lebanese couscous)
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: less than an hour
Adapted from: Lebanese Food and Cooking by Ghillie Basan

2 cups couscous, rinsed and drained
2 cups boiling water
2 tbsp ghee or 2 tbsp olive oil with a knob of butter
1 large onion, 125, finely chopped
1 large carrot, 100g, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp raisins
2 tsp baharat / Arabic spice mix
a handful of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to season

For the stock:
650g chicken , skin on
1 large onion chopped
3 cups boiling water
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
4 cardamoms
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp salt or as required
pepper powder as required

1. Place the chicken in a deep pan with other ingredients and cover with water. Bring the water to boil, reduce the heat and simmer until chicken is tender.

2. Transfer chicken to a plate. Strain the stock and return it to the pan. Boil over high heat to reduce the stock.

3. Remove and discard the skin from chicken and tear the flesh into thin strips or cut into bite size chunks. Cover and keep warm. You may season it pepper powder and salt.

4. Meanwhile, heat ghee or olive oil and butter in a heavy saucepan. Throw in onion, garlic and finely diced carrot.  Sauté until the vegetables go soft.

5. Add spice mix and half the chopped coriander and stir for few seconds.

6. Stir in the couscous and sauté for a minute.

7. Add boiling water and salt. Bring it to boil, then turn the heat off, cover the pan and let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes, so that couscous absorbs all water. Fluff it up using a fork to avoid any clumps forming. Keep covered for further few minutes.

8. Turn the couscous on to a warm serving plate and arrange the chicken on top. Spoon some reduced stock over chicken to moisten it.

9. Garnish with remaining coriander leaves and pour the remaining stock in a bowl for spooning over individual portions.

1. The shredded chicken in the recipe is quite bland, you can season it the way you like or stir fry it using your own blend of spices.

2. I made my own blend of Arabic spices many a months ago but you can use any store bought spice mix, or use ½ tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp chilli powder, ½ tsp cumin powder.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Cream cheese Brownies / Cheesecake Brownies

Hello chocoholics, how are you all doing today? Here is a very decadent rich, fudgy and gooey brownie to treat yourself; to add an extra pound to your waistline while you find yourself in solace on this bank holiday weekend. I have already made these brownies thrice now, and surely have helped others gain some weight too as I gave most of them away! The first time I baked, I dint get time to shoot pictures and the second time I baked, the cream cheese part got too runny due to over mixing, so I dint get a swirl effect. Each time I baked, I tried it by modifying the ingredients slightly to see the change. The recipe given below is so far my favourite. I baked it once by adding baking powder, but that was kind of cakey for my taste and I don’t like brownies that are not fudgy.

We have a set of friends, dear hubby’s college mates who reside in Birmingham and whom we meet on every other occasion or just for a get together. And I have the habit of carrying some baked goodies every time I go as there are few of them who love baked stuff, and I get a chance to bake too. They too are my loyal guinea pigs and give me their valuable comments or criticism. Last time I made these, the chocoholics in the crowd loved the stuff and non-chocoholics, didn’t like it a bit, which includes my hubby. They found it too chocolaty. Hello, this is brownie!

I don’t usually bake anything repetitively unless until I like it really well, or does my family. Or I bake them to share or giveaway to friends. Some of the things that keep appearing in my kitchen are the biscotti and brownies. Cheesecake brownie is nothing but a regular brownie mixture topped with a cream cheese mixture and swirled to a get a marbled look. These look so pretty and taste as good as they look. As with any brownie, if you like it dense and moist, as I like it, undercook it until you see few moist crumbs sticking to the skewer inserted into the cake. Else if you like it slightly cakey, bake it until your skewer comes off clean.

It’s the queens diamond Jubilee, 60 years into the reign and it’s officially off for most of us here if not all. I have been watching the star studded Jubilee concert in front of the Buckingham palace on the telly and it was just fabulous. The palace was used as the backdrop for the show and it was spectacular.Check out some of jubilee day celebrations here, here,  and here.

Cream cheese Brownie/Cheesecake Brownie
Adapted from
Preparation:10 minutes
Baking time: 40-50 minutes

110 unsalted butter
125g dark chocolate (70 % cocoa solids) *
1 ¼ cup caster sugar
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
½ cup plain flour
1 tsp instant coffee powder (Optional)
¼ tsp baking powder **(optional – check notes)
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 large eggs
¼ tsp salt

200g full fat cream cheese at room temperature
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 medium egg at room temperature

1.Preheat the oven to 180 ºC 10 minutes before baking. Line an 8 inch square pan with baking paper all the way above the pan, so that you can lift off the brownie easily.

2. In a bowl, sift in salt, cocoa powder and flour. Reserve.

3. In another large heat proof pan, combine chocolate, coffee and diced butter. Heat them in a microwave, stirring them in between until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and velvety. Make sure you keep checking the mixture in between, every ½  a minute or so, so that the chocolate is not burnt. You may also melt the mixture by placing it over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the water beneath doesn’t touch the bowl with chocolate.

4. Whisk in sugar and vanilla and allow the mixture to cool down slightly before adding eggs.

5. Add in eggs one by one, incorporating each fully before adding the next one.

6. Add in the flour mixture and fold until no dry mixture is seen. Pour it in the prepared pan.

For the cream cheese mixture:
1.In a bowl, beat cream until smooth using a wire whisk.

2. Add in sugar, egg and vanilla and gently mix until incorporated. Do not beat well here as the mixture can get very runny. You just want a smooth chunky mix. Put dollops of this cream cheese mixture all over the chocolate mix and using a blunt knife, swirl the mixture to get a marbled effect.

3. Bake it in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes or until the centre is set and when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out with few moist crumbs. Let the brownie cool in the pan. Chill it for 2 hours and then cut into 16 squares.

1.Adding cocoa and coffee is optional, omit if you want to make the brownie less intense.

* If you are using chocolate with 50 % cocoa solids, just use 1 cup of sugar as 70 % chocolates are bitter than 50% percent ones.

** This cake is very moist, fudgy, gooey and really rich. If you want it slightly cakey, add ¼ teaspoon of baking powder into the mixture and increase the flour to 2/3 cups keeping all other ingredients with the same ratio.
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