Baked Mango Cheesecake

Makes one 8 inch round cake.

Since it’s so hot here, attempts to whip up a delicious no-bake mango cheesecake were made. But after countless taste tests, our palates have come to a conclusion. No matter how well-set or cold – unbaked cheesecake tastes like mousse and is never as good as its baked counterpart. This cheesecake heroes the best thing about an Indian summer – the glorious Aphonso mango. Possessing a rich, creamy mouthfeel and bursting with fruity-fresh sweetness – it is totally worth the effort of turning on the oven. 

At a glance


– This cake comprises a biscuit crumb base + mango cheesecake filling + milk crumbs + mango coulis.
– You will need a blender, a 8 x 3 inch round springform pan, a deep roasting pan/baking pan that can contain the springform pan, a baking sheet, and baking parchment paper.
– This recipe has been broken into 6 stages for ease and comprehension. Please read the entire recipe from start to finish before beginning.

Stage 1: Master mango puree

Ingredients
1. Enough ripe Ratnagiri/Devgad Alphonso mangoes to yield 620 gm mango pulp (I used 6 medium mangoes, weighing roughly 240 gm each)

For the master mango puree, wait till your mangoes are super ripe, as this will ensure maximum flavour and sweetness. When you press the fruit, it should be firm but have a little give (but not be squishy). It will also be super fragrant near the stem. Additionally, if you’re using Ratnagiri Alphonso mangoes, the skin will be juuuust a tad wrinkled. Once cut open, the flesh will be sunset yellow-orange and not pale yellow.

1 – Extract 620 gm mango pulp from your mangoes. I like to cut off the cheeks and then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. To remove the flesh from around the seed; peel off the skin, cut off the flesh around the seed, and then squish the seed along the grain. This method lets you extract all the pulp without pulling off the fibres attached to the seed.

2 – Place the mango pulp into the jar of a blender and puree until completely smooth. This is the master mango puree. 

3 – Weigh out 120 gm of the master mango puree for the mango coulis.  Store it in an airtight container in the freezer until ready to use in Stage 5. 

4 – Set aside the remaining 500 gm for the mango cheesecake filling. Untreated mango begins to oxidise and blacken at room temperature and in the fridge. If you’re not going to make the cheesecake straight away, mix 4 tablespoons of sugar with the puree, then transfer the puree to an airtight container and store it in the freezer. To use it in Stage 3, keep the frozen mango puree in its container, place it on your counter to first thaw and then come to room temperature.

Ratnagiri Alphonso mangoes directly from the farm
slicing off the mango cheeks
scooping out the mango flesh from the cheeks
weighing before pureeing
puree for the cheesecake filling
puree for the mango coulis

If the mango is the king of fruits, the Aphonso (aka Hapus) mango is arguably the king of mangoes. Further, the Ratnagiri Alphonso and Devgad Alphonso variants are the Kings of Alphonso! Grown on the West Coast of India, just north of Goa—these two varieties are available only from mid-April to late May. If you have the privilege, please try to source Alphonso mangoes only for this dessert. Why? Thin skin, small seed, non-fibrous, orange coloured flesh, firm but buttery texture, silky mouthfeel, sweet and juicy pulp, heady aroma, unmatched flavour. Phew! And while Himsagar and Langra mangoes can vie with the Alphonso for best-tasting mango, they’re not as suitable for desserts as the Alphonso. For best results, use ripe and fresh Alphonso mangoes. If you cannot source this variety locally, or they’re simply not in season when you’re making this cheesecake, I recommend using canned Alphonso like this over using any other variety. I sourced 2 dozen fully ripe Ratnagiri Alphonso mangoes in mid-May and immediately made and froze a batch of master puree to use in this cheesecake. If you’re going the frozen puree route, mix 2 tablespoons of sugar per 250 gm puree and then freeze it. Frozen puree will keep for at least 6-9 months if stored correctly! Thaw the frozen puree inside its container and then bring it to room temperature before using it in the recipe. Once thawed, it should not be re-frozen. Store thawed puree in the fridge for up to a day.

Stage 2: Biscuit crumb base

Ingredients
1. 200 gm Shrewsbury biscuits (about 11 ¼ biscuits)
2. 1 tbsp. castor sugar
3. 50 gm unsalted butter, melted and cooled.

Prep
1 – Preheat your oven to 180OC.

2 – Grease a 3 inches tall, 8-inch round springform pan with nonstick spray and line the bottom and inside edges with parchment paper. Your parchment should stick up ½ an inch taller than the pan’s height.

Method
1 – Using a food processor, combine the Shrewsbury biscuits, castor sugar, and melted butter. Pulse until the mixture has the appearance and texture of wet sand.

2 – Press this crumbly mixture into the base of your prepared springform pan, using a flat-bottomed glass/cup to compress it into an even layer.

3 – Bake the base for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove it from the oven and let it cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Thereafter, store the pan it in the fridge if you live in a hot and humid location.

greased and lined springform pan
weighing out the biscuits
biscuit crumb mixture
pressing the biscuit crumb into a tight disc for the base

The reason the base is baked, is to prevent the liquidy filling from making it soggy. If you skip this step, you won’t get that great biscuit texture on the bottom. It’s so hot and humid in Mumbai, that I have to refrigerate the pan as soon as the base has come to room temperature. This is to prevent the butter content from separating from the crumbs. You won’t need to do this if you live in a cooler climate. If you cannot get Shrewsbury biscuits, you could use Scottish shortbread, French sable biscuits, or basic butter cookies. If you use the second two, leave out the sugar in the crust as they’re sweeter than shortbread. What you’re basically looking for is a mild-flavoured, buttery crumb, so don’t use graham crackers or digestive biscuits, or any sort of cookie that will compete with the mango flavour. This amount of biscuits will line an 8 inch round cake pan, or two 6 inch round cake pans. The bake time remains the same.


Stage 3: Mango cheesecake filling

Ingredients
1. 500 gm master mango puree
2. 500 gm full fat cream cheese like this (not cream cheese spread or the whipped stuff)
3. 300 gm good quality couverture white chocolate (30-36% fat content)
4. 120 gm sour cream
5. 2  tbsp. all purpose flour (20 gm)
6. 3 large eggs (171 gm in-shell weight, total)
7. 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
8. 3/4 tsp mango flavour like this
9. ½ tbsp. freshly grated lemon zest (from 3-4 small lemons)
10. Pinch of salt
11. 30-50 gm of castor sugar (if your mango puree is not as sweet as you’d like)
12. 1 ½ ltr water for a water bath or baine-marie

The high dairy-fat content in this recipe is what makes it so delicious. If you use cream cheese spread (which is whipped, lighter, and has more water content than plain cream cheese) or low fat cream cheese, you will compromise the taste AND stability of your cheesecake. Look for cream cheese with at least 33% fat and a moisture content of no more than 55%. If you have blonde chocolate on hand, all you need to do is melt it using your microwave or a baine-marie. Otherwise, like the rest of us mortals, you will need to “caramelise” white chocolate until it becomes blonde. Why have I put caramelise within double quotation marks? Because chocolate can’t actually be caramelised. Caramelising involves high heat, which would flat out burn it. In truth, white chocolate becomes caramel coloured & flavoured due to the ‘Maillard reaction’. So, it would be more accurate to say we’re “Maillarding the chocolate”! See this to know more. In this step, you’ll subject your chocolate to prolonged heating. That’s why it’s essential to use high quality couverture chocolate. Compound chocolate or candy melts will not work, as they will get dry, chalky, and burn. Clueless about “caramelising” chocolate in the microwave? Watch this video for a quick tutorial.


Prep
1 – Before beginning, ensure that all your ingredients are at room temperature (roughly 22OC).

2 – Wrap the outside of your springform pan with heavy duty foil. Do three layers for good measure. 

3 – Preheat your oven to 160OC.

4 – Zest your lemons.

5 – Chop the white chocolate into small shards. Place the chopped chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl and set your microwave’s power to 900 watts. Microwave your chocolate for 60 seconds. Pull out your bowl and give it a stir. Your chocolate should be completely melted. Keep returning the bowl of melted chocolate to the microwave for 30 seconds at a time; stirring between each additional 30 seconds. What you’re aiming for is a colour and texture akin to very smooth and runny peanut butter. I had to return my bowl to the microwave 60 times to get the desired colour and consistency! That’s 60 x 30 second bursts. Depending on your microwave, you may be able to do it faster/slower. As your chocolate gradually browns, it will go through some massive textural changes; thickening, catching, drying out, become grainy and eventually re-emulsifying. Do not panic, this is perfectly normal. As long as you use top quality chocolate, heat it for just 30 second increments, and stir well after each increment, nothing will burn and all will be well. When your melted chocolate is the colour of peanut butter, at pourable consistency and no longer hot to the touch, it’s ready to be used in the batter.

6 – Fill your kettle with 1 ½ litres of water and set it to boil

Method
1 – In a large bowl, add the cream cheese. Using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese until soft and smooth (about 1 minute).

2 – Add the sour cream, the all purpose flour, the vanilla extract, and the mango flavour, and beat to combine (about 30 seconds).

3 – With the mixer on the lowest setting, add the eggs, one at a time, beating in each one until combined. As soon as the last egg has been combined, stop beating. Scrape your bowl down to ensure everything has been mixed in. The mixture should be smooth and creamy, but you must not over-beat it, as this will result in air bubbles and cracking.

4 – Pour 500 gm master mango puree and the cooled and melted blonde chocolate into the bowl. Then add the lemon zest and the salt, and beat the mixture until combined, smooth, and homogenous. Do not over-beat. Scrape your bowl down to ensure everything has been mixed in.

5 – Now, taste your batter, if you feel it’s not sufficiently sweet, add 30-50 gm of castor sugar and mix once again. I added no additional sugar.

6 – Pour the mango cheesecake filling into your springform pan. Gently tap the pan on the counter a few times to level the surface and bring any hidden air bubbles to the top. Don’t be alarmed if the batter comes up higher than the tin, that’s what the extra parchment height is for.

7 – Place the wrapped pan inside your roasting pan/baking pan. Fill the roasting pan/baking pan with hot water, about 1 ½ inches up the sides of the springform pan. This is our water bath or baine-marie.

8 – Lower the oven temperature to 155OC. Carefully place the entire roasting pan/baking pan (containing the springform pan and hot water) into the oven and bake for 90-100 minutes at 155OC. The sides should be just a teensy bit puffy and centre should still have a decent wobble when you jiggle the pan.

9 – Turn off the heat, and keeping the oven door closed, let the cheesecake rest inside for 1 hour. Do not open the door before the hour is up. This is crucial to a flat cheesecake without any sinking or cracking.

10 – Thereafter, remove the baking pan containing the springform from the oven. Take out the springform pan from the baking pan and place it on a wire rack. Your cheesecake needs to come to room temperature before you can refrigerate it. Discard the water bath.

11 – While it’s still warm to the touch, gently run a paring knife around the outside of the cheesecake to loosen the parchment from the sides of the pan. This prevents pulling, which can cause cracks as the cheesecake cools. 

12 – Once sufficiently cool, remove the aluminium wrapping, cover the entire pan with plastic wrap, and transfer it to the fridge. The plastic should not touch the surface of the cheesecake. Chill it overnight or for 48 hours for best results.

springform double-wrapped in aluminium foil
creating the baine-marie (water bath)
baked mango cheesecake
perfectly flat
minimal cracking

When you’re pouring your cheesecake filling into your 8 inches wide x 3 inches tall springform pan, don’t be alarmed if the batter comes all the way to the top – it won’t rise, and the extra parchment lining will give your pan additional height. Because you’re using a water bath, your cake will cook evenly and gently, and sport zero cracks. Once it’s baked, don’t open your oven door for an entire hour. This will set your cheesecake fully and prevent it from sinking in the middle. When you do finally pull it out, it should look perfect. This amount of batter will also fill three 6 inch round cake pans that are 2 inches high. If you’re making smaller cheesecakes of this size, revise the bake-time to 70 minutes. You could stop right there. But. Your cheesecake needs 1-2 days to chill. Rather than idly waiting by the fridge, why not busy yourself with the little extras that will make this mango cheesecake extra? Scroll on!


Stage 4: Milk crumbs

Ingredients
1. 60 gm milk powder; divided into 40 gm and 20 gm
2. 40 gm all purpose flour
3. 15 gm corn flour
4. 25 gm castor sugar
5. ½ tsp salt
6. 55 gm butter, melted and cooled
7. 80 gm good quality couverture white chocolate (not chips)

Prep
1 – Preheat the oven to 110OC.

2 – Melt and cool your butter.

Method
1 – In a medium bowl, combine 40 gm milk powder, the all purpose flour, the corn flour, castor sugar and salt.

2 – Pour in the melted butter and stir together until you get a crumbly mixture with some wet clusters.

3 – Transfer the crumb clusters to a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 110OC for 45-55 minutes (or until they look mostly dried out). They will go from white to deep beige, but should not become brown. Remember to rotate the tray at the half-way mark for even cooking.

4 – Take the tray out of the oven and let it cool on a wire rack.

5 – While the crumb clusters are cooling, cut your white chocolate into small shards and place in a microwave safe plastic bowl. Microwave at 450 watts for 20 seconds. Stir briefly with a spatula and then microwave it for another 10 seconds. Thereafter, keep heating the mixture in 5 second increments until the chocolate has completely melted, making sure to stir briefly each time. The temperature of the white chocolate should reach no more than 29OC. It’s ready when most of it has melted and you can still see a few lumps, which will melt in the residual heat on stirring. Leave aside to cool. The chocolate should be pourable but not hot.

6 – Transfer the cooled crumb clusters to a bowl and break apart any that are larger than ½ inch chunks.

7 – Sprinkle the remaining 20 gm milk powder on top of the dried crumbs and toss together until evenly coated.

8 – Pour the melted white chocolate over the crumbs and toss with a spatula until evenly coated. They will now resemble pebbles.

9 – Toss the mixture with a spatula every 5 minutes, until the chocolate is completely cool and no longer sticky. If you live in a humid and hot location like I do, the chocolate will not set at room temperature. In such a situation, you will need to transfer the coated crumbs to a parchment-lined tray and let them firm up in the fridge. Using a fork, I fish out the largest crumbs and space them out on a tray to set in the fridge for 15-20 minutes. I also tip the smaller residual pasty crumbs into a makeshift mold and spread them into a thin layer. It sets as a thin block in the fridge, which can then be broken into shards #hotweatherhacks.

10 – Once they’re set, transfer the crumbs to an airtight container and keep it stored in the fridge until ready to use.

salt, castor sugar, unsalted butter, milk powder, all purpose flour, corn flour, white chocolate
wet milk crumb mixture
milk crumb mixture ready for baking
baked milk crumbs
cooled milk crumbs ready to be tossed in more milk powder and coated in white chocolate
milk crumbs tossed in milk powder
milk crumbs coated in melted white chocolate
coated milk crumbs laid out individually to set because of the hot weather
smaller, pasty crumbs transferred to a makeshift aluminium foil mould
both get placed in the fridge to set
milk crumbs ‘bar’ cut into shards
milk crumbs shards. Perfect to top desserts or just eat as a snack!

We first tasted ‘milk crumbs’ when we ordered the baked mango cheesecake from Bastian. Holy deliciousness Bastianman! Officially our favourite “mango cheesecake” (that you can buy in Mumbai), it’s actually a New York style cheesecake topped with fresh mango and something called ‘milk crumbs’. The malty-sweet crumb paired with the fresh mango flavour elevated the classic cheesecake to another level. I wanted to recreate that crumb for our cheesecake because it added so much texturally and flavour-wise. Although it doesn’t have the same depth of ‘maltiness’ as the Bastian milk crumb, please don’t leave it off! It takes very little effort and brings huge rewards. The quantity mentioned here is perfect for this cake. If you want to make more to top other desserts, simply scale up the amounts and store the extra crumbs in the fridge for up to 1 week.


Stage 5: Mango coulis

Ingredients
1. 120 gm master mango puree
2. 1 ½ tsp castor sugar
3. 1/4 tsp lemon juice (from 1/4 of a small lemon)
4. 1/8 tsp citric acid
5. 1/16 tsp salt

Thaw the frozen puree before making the coulis.  If using fresh mango, simply pulp 1 medium Alphonso mango and weigh out 120 gm. Don’t leave out the citric acid. It really boosts the mango flavour as well as prevents the sugar from crystallising later.

Method
1 – Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until smooth and homogenous. That’s it! Taste and add more sugar and lemon juice if desired. You’re looking for a bright, fresh mango taste.

2 – Transfer the coulis to a sterilised airtight container and store it in the fridge until ready to use.

This super simple coulis is fresh and intensely mango-ey and amazing as a dessert topping. I make a batch when I want instant mango flavour in ice creams, yoghurts, and the like. The amounts mentioned here are just enough to top each slice of mango cheesecake. If you want more or leftovers, you can easily double or triple the recipe as needed. As it is made with fresh fruit and has very little sugar and contains no preservatives, it should be made on the day you plan to serve your cake and used up within a day or two. 


Stage 6: FinaleUnmoulding, decorating & serving

Decorating components
1. 8-inch mango cheesecake, cooled for 24-48 hours
2. 3-4 large milk crumbs from Stage 4
3. Mango coulis from Stage 5
4. 1 ripe Alphonso mango
5. 3 white chocolate truffles like this
6. 4 white chocolate crispies like this
7. 5 baby spearmint leaves

Serving components
8. More ripe Alphonso mangoes, to serve (½ a mango per serving of cheesecake)
9. Milk crumbs from Stage 4
10. Mango coulis from Stage 5


Prep
1 – Keep the cheesecake in the fridge until you’re ready with all your components.

2 – Transfer your mango coulis to a piping bag for easy application.

3 – Slice off the cheeks from the mango. Thereafter use a round teaspoon measure to scoop out half-spheres of mango from the cheeks. I got 4 scoops per cheek, or 8 scoops per mango.

Method
1 –  When you’re ready to serve, take the cheesecake out of the fridge and release the springform. Very gently transfer the cake onto a serving platter/cake stand and carefully peel off the parchment from around it.

2 – To decorate, pour a 2-inch wide ‘river’ of mango coulis down the centre of the cake, letting it drip and pool down one edge.

3 – Arrange 8 mango half-spheres on top the coulis river.

4 – Stick the baby mint leaves into some of the mango half-spheres. They will look like mini mangoes!

5 – Dot the white chocolate truffles, the white chocolate crispies, and some milk crumbs between the mango half-spheres.

6 – Pop your cheesecake back in the fridge for half an hour. In the meantime, cut your mangoes into cubes. Watch this video to see how.

7 – Slice your cold mango cheesecake and serve each slice with fresh mango cubes, a generous drizzle of mango coulis, and some milk crumbs on the side. Now eat!

On its own, a baked mango cheesecake does not possess the bright flavours of fresh mango. It has the taste and texture of ‘bhapa aam doi’ (steamed mango-yoghurt pudding), where the mango flavour becomes somewhat dulled and muted (much like fresh strawberries baked into batters). To counter this, it absolutely essential to add some good quality mango flavour into the batter. Additionally, this baked mango cheesecake demands a generous topping of fresh Alphonso mango, to restore the pure mango flavour. If you’re not a fan of the baked mango taste, and prefer a classic cheesecake with a fresh topping, I recommend making our glorious New York Cheesecake, and topping it with our mango coulis and a generous heaping of fresh mango. That way, you can enjoy all the richness of a baked cheesecake as well as the flavour of fresh mango. To achieve the perfect cheesecake (taste-wise and visually), do try to follow this recipe to the tee. Make minor adjustments only if your oven runs hotter/colder than normal, or you’re using a 9 inch pan. To serve perfectly clean slices, dip your knife’s blade into a tall container of hot water, dry it off, and then cut downwards in one smooth motion. Wipe off the cake residue after each cut. Again; dip, dry, cut, wipe, repeat.

Tips & Tricks

How to line a springform:

How to cut a mango into cubes

How to slice a cheesecake:


Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Makes 15 large rolls

When it’s hot outside, there’s nothing worse than standing in front of a hot stove or oven. Enter Vietnamese spring rolls, which call for rice paper and minimal cooking! This recipe takes you through 5 types of spring rolls; 3 non-veg and 2 vegan. Cooling, refreshing, light, yet satisfying – each type is a nutritionally complete meal! Make all the types, or a permutation and combination of whatever appeals to you. Served with our homemade peanut dipping sauce, every flavour-packed roll is a perfect parcel of healthy protein, crunchy veggies, leafy greens, and sprightly herbs. 

At a glance

– This dish comprises 5 types of spring rolls + fried shallots & peanuts mix + peanut dipping sauce
– You will need a 22 cm wide frying pan, a deep frying pan, a tray/dish slightly wider than your wrappers, and a lint-free tea towel.
– This recipe has been broken into 3 stages for ease and comprehension. Please read the entire recipe from start to finish before beginning.


Stage 1: spring rolls


If you plan on making all 5 types of rolls, prepare all the filling elements ahead of time and keep them refrigerated until you’re ready to wrap and roll. A 100 gm pack of 22 cm round rice paper contains 9-10 wrappers, so if you buy this product, you will need to source at least 2 packs to make 15 rolls.

type 1; omelette spring rolls

Ingredients
for the omelette:
1. 3 large eggs (in-shell weight 57 gm)
2. 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
3. ¼ tsp salt

other elements:
4. 15-18 small edible flowers (we used pretty blue Borage flowers)
5. 15 fresh Thai basil leaves
6. ½ a yellow bell pepper
7. ½ a medium cucumber
8. 100 gm purple cabbage
9. 50 gm sunflower microgreens
10. 3 readymade rice paper wrappers (22 cm) like this
11. Enough plain water to dunk the rice paper wrappers

This amount fills 3 x 22 cm rice paper wrappers. If you want to make only this type, multiply the quantities by 5 to make 15 omelette spring rolls.

Prep
1 – To make the omelette, whisk together 3 large eggs with ¼ teaspoon salt. Then heat one tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frying pan over low heat. Pour in the beaten egg and swirl it around the pan until the egg is almost set. Allow to gently cook on the heat until the top of the omelette is just set. You don’t want it to brown at all. Touch the surface with your finger, it should no longer be tacky. Transfer the omelette to a cutting board and trim the edges to form a rectangle. My rectangle was roughly 16.5 cm x 13.5 cm. Now cut this rectangle into 3 equal strips measuring 5.5 cm x 13.5 cm each. Set aside. 

2 – Julienne the yellow bell pepper and cucumber into matchsticks, roughly 8 cm long and 2 mm wide. Finely slice the purple cabbage into thin strands, roughly 8 cm long and 1 mm wide. Set aside.

3 – Fill a shallow bowl (that’s a bit larger than the size of your wrapper) with an inch of plain water. Keep a lint-free tea towel next to the bowl. Make sure your prepared fillings are within reach.

cooking the omelette
cooling the omelette
cutting off the sides to get a rectangle measuring 16.5 cm x 13.5 cm
portioning the rectangle to get 3 equal strips, each measuring 5.5 cm x 13.5 cm
mise en place for omelette spring rolls
rice paper wrappers at the ready

Method

1 – To assemble the rolls, place a sheet of rice paper into the bowl of plain water. Count 2-3 seconds, lift the paper, and shake it off. Each brand has a differently soaking time, so you’ll learn to go by feel here. The soaked wrapper should still feel firm when you lift it out of the bowl, as it will continue to soften with the addition of fillings. Lay the dunked wrapper flat on a clean, lint-free tea towel. 

2 – Leave 3 cm on the left and right sides at all times for wrapping. Leaving a 6 cm gap from the top, arrange 5 edible flowers in the upper section of the wrapper, placing them face-downward. Then lay one strip of omelette on top of the flowers. Then place 5 basil leaves on top of the omelette. 

3 – Leaving a 6 cm gap from the bottom, arrange all the following on top of each other, in the lower section of the wrapper just below the strip of omelette; 1/3 of the purple cabbage, 1/3 cucumber, 1/3 of the yellow bell pepper, and 1/3 sunflower microgreens. 

4 – To roll, fold in the left and right sides of the wrapper. Then lift the bottom edge of the wrapper and fold it over the fillings in the lower section.  Now fold this “wrapped section” over the fillings in the upper section. Finally, roll up the entire parcel into a tight, neat cylindrical shape. Repeat for the other 2 omelette spring rolls. 

5 – Set aside and proceed to make the other types of rolls, or jump to Stage 2 and make the peanut dipping sauce.

dunking of the rice paper wrapper
dunked rice paper wrapper placed on a lint-free tea towel
How to wrap a spring roll; click image to enlarge

The rice paper wrappers tend to dry out with time or once chilled, so the rolls should be assembled shortly before serving. If you’d like to keep them fresh for an hour or so, wrap them up individually in cling wrap so that they stay moist. If you want to prepare them 4-5 hours in advance and store them in the fridge, wrap each roll individually in cling wrap and store them in an airtight container in the fridge. 


type 2; chicken spring rolls

Ingredients
for the boiled chicken:
1. 170 gm boneless chicken thigh
2. Enough water to submerge the chicken
3. ¼ tsp salt

other elements:
4. 3 long romaine lettuce leaves
5. 12 baby spinach leaves
6. ½ a medium carrot
7. 12 fresh spearmint leaves
8. 6 sprigs of fresh coriander
9. 3 readymade rice paper wrappers (22 cm) like this
10. Enough plain water to dunk the rice paper wrappers

This amount fills 3 x 22 cm rice paper wrappers. If you want to make only this type, multiply the quantities by 5 to make 15 chicken spring rolls.


Prep
1 – To make the chicken, simmer the chicken thighs in water for 10-12 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 75OC. Remove the chicken thighs and then shred into fine strands and season with salt. You will get about 100 gm shredded chicken. Set aside. (Reserve any leftover chicken stock for soups or gravies or in our case, catses!)

2 – Julienne the carrot into matchsticks, roughly 8 cm long and 2 mm wide. Set aside.

3 – Fill a shallow bowl (that’s a bit larger than the size of your wrapper) with an inch of plain water. Keep a lint-free tea towel next to the bowl. Make sure your prepared fillings are within reach.

boiled and shredded chicken
mise en place for chicken spring rolls
rice paper wrappers at the ready

Method

1 – To assemble the rolls, place a sheet of rice paper into the bowl of plain water. Count 2-3 seconds, lift the paper, and shake it off. Each brand has a differently soaking time, so you’ll learn to go by feel here. The soaked wrapper should still feel firm when you lift it out of the bowl, as it will continue to soften with the addition of fillings. Lay the dunked wrapper flat on a clean, lint-free tea towel.

2 – Leave 3 cm on the left and right sides at all times for wrapping. Leaving a 6 cm gap from the top, arrange 1 romaine lettuce leaf in the upper section of the wrapper, ensuring that the stem is horizontal to you. Then place 1/3 of the shredded chicken on the lettuce leaf. 

3 – Leaving a 6 cm gap from the bottom, arrange all the following on top of each other, in the lower section of the wrapper just below the shredded chicken; 4 baby spinach leaves overlapping the tops with the bottoms, 1/3 of the carrots, 2 coriander sprigs, and 4 spearmint leaves.

4 – To roll, fold in the left and right sides of the wrapper. Then lift the bottom edge of the wrapper and fold it over the fillings in the lower section.  Now fold this “wrapped section” over the fillings in the upper section. Finally, roll up the entire parcel into a tight, neat cylindrical shape. Repeat for the other 2 chicken spring rolls. 

5 – Set aside and proceed to make the other types of rolls, or jump to Stage 2 and make the peanut dipping sauce.

dunking of the rice paper wrapper
dunked rice paper wrapper placed on a lint-free tea towel
How to wrap a spring roll; click image to enlarge

The rice paper wrappers tend to dry out with time or once chilled, so the rolls should be assembled shortly before serving. If you’d like to keep them fresh for an hour or so, wrap them up individually in cling wrap so that they stay moist. If you want to prepare them 4-5 hours in advance and store them in the fridge, wrap each roll individually in cling wrap and store them in an airtight container in the fridge. 


type 3; prawn spring rolls

Ingredients
for the seared prawns:
1. 9 medium prawns, shelled and deveined
2. 1 tbsp. gochujang paste like this
3. ½ tbsp. Sriracha like this
4. 2 tsp soy sauce
5. 1 tbsp. vegetable oil

for the noodles:
6. 50 gm rice vermicelli like this
7. 1 litre just boiled water to soak
8. 1 litre ice water to rinse
9. 1 tsp vegetable oil

other elements:
10. 6 small Thai basil leaves
11. 6 butter lettuce leaves
12. Fresh garlic chives
13. 3 small kaffir lime leaves
14. 3 readymade rice paper wrappers (22 cm) like this
15. Enough plain water to dunk the rice paper wrappers

This amount fills 3 x 22 cm rice paper wrappers. If you want to make only this type, multiply the quantities by 5 to make 15 prawn spring rolls.


Prep
1 – To make the prawns, whisk together the gochujang paste, Sriracha and soy sauce in a medium bowl. Add the shelled and deveined prawns and coat them with the marinade. Heat the vegetable oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Shake off the marinade from the prawns and add the prawns to the hot pan. It will splutter! Cook them for 2 minutes on each side or until they’re fully cooked. Then transfer them to a plate and cool to room temperature. Set aside. (After I fry the prawns, I like to fry the leftover marinade in the same pan for about 2-3 minutes. I then transfer this ‘sauce’ to a bowl. It’s intensely flavourful and can be added to stir fried veggies or noodles, or even slathered on any already cooked proteins. Do not waste it!)

2 – To make the noodles, place the rice vermicelli in a medium bowl. Pour 1 litre of just boiled water on top of the noodles to fully submerge them. Let the noodles soak for 3-4 minutes. Then using tongs, transfer them to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. As soon as the noodles are cool to the touch, pull apart 3 separate portions, and gently squeeze out the water from each portion. Drizzle 1/3 teaspoon vegetable oil on each portion of noodles and toss gently to coat. Arrange each portion on a plate. Set aside.

3 – Cut the garlic chives into 8 cm long blades and portion out 4 blades per roll. Remove the thick stems of the kaffir lime leave. Then roll each leaf into a tight cigar and slice it very finely (this herb slicing technique is known as ‘chiffonade’). You could also use sharp scissors for this. Set aside.

4 – Fill a shallow bowl (that’s a bit larger than the size of your wrapper) with an inch of plain water. Keep a lint-free tea towel next to the bowl. Make sure your prepared fillings are within reach.

marinating the prawns
cooking the prawns
sauce from the collected pan drippings of the cooked prawns & leftover marinade
soaking rice vermicelli in recently boiled hot water
cooling hydrated rice vermicelli in ice water
squeezing out excess water from hydrated rice vermicelli
oil-coated and portioned rice vermicelli
mise en place for prawn spring rolls
rice paper wrappers at the ready

Method

1 – To assemble the rolls, place a sheet of rice paper into the bowl of plain water. Count 2-3 seconds, lift the paper, and shake it off. Each brand has a differently soaking time, so you’ll learn to go by feel here. The soaked wrapper should still feel firm when you lift it out of the bowl, as it will continue to soften with the addition of fillings. Lay the dunked wrapper flat on a clean, lint-free tea towel.

2 – Leave 3 cm on the left and right sides at all times for wrapping. Leaving a 6 cm gap from the top, place 3 cooked prawns in a single line in the upper section of the wrapper, maintaining a 1 cm gap between each prawn. Now place a small Thai basil leaf, face-downwards in each of the gaps between the prawns. 

3 – Leaving a 6 cm gap from the bottom, arrange all the following on top of each other, in the lower section of the wrapper just below the prawns; 1 portion of the rehydrated vermicelli noodles, 4 garlic chives, 1/3 of the kaffir lime leaves chiffonade, and then 2 butter lettuce leaves overlapping each other to fit.

4 – To roll, fold in the left and right sides of the wrapper. Then lift the bottom edge of the wrapper and fold it over the fillings in the lower section.  Now fold this “wrapped section” over the fillings in the upper section. Finally, roll up the entire parcel into a tight, neat cylindrical shape. Repeat for the other 2 prawn spring rolls. 

5 – Set aside and proceed to make the other types of rolls, or jump to Stage 2 and make the peanut dipping sauce.

dunking of the rice paper wrapper
dunked rice paper wrapper placed on a lint-free tea towel
How to wrap a spring roll; click image to enlarge

The rice paper wrappers tend to dry out with time or once chilled, so the rolls should be assembled shortly before serving. If you’d like to keep them fresh for an hour or so, wrap them up individually in cling wrap so that they stay moist. If you want to prepare them 4-5 hours in advance and store them in the fridge, wrap each roll individually in cling wrap and store them in an airtight container in the fridge. 


type 4; mushroom spring rolls (vegan)

Ingredients
for the button mushrooms:
1. 6 medium button mushrooms/shiitake mushrooms
2. ½ tbsp. vegetable oil
3. 1 tsp soy sauce
4. 1/8 tsp salt

for the enoki mushrooms:
5. 100 gm enoki mushrooms
6. ½ tbsp. vegetable oil
7. 1 tsp soy sauce
8. 1 tsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)

other elements:
9. 1 green bell pepper
10. 50 gm Chinese cabbage
11. 9 small fresh Thai basil leaves + 15 regular sized leaves
12. 18 cm green onion stem
13. 3 readymade rice paper wrappers (22 cm) like this
14. Enough plain water to dunk the rice paper wrappers

This amount fills 3 x 22 cm rice paper wrappers. If you want to make only this type, multiply the quantities by 5 to make 15 mushroom spring rolls.

Prep
1 – To make the button mushrooms, cut each down the middle. Then heat ½ tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushroom halves and the soy sauce and fry them for 3-4 minutes on each side. Then transfer them to a plate, season with 1/8 tsp salt and let them cool to room temperature. Set aside.

2 – To make the enoki mushrooms, cut off the bottom 4 cm of the mushrooms (where they’re attached) and discard. Gently separate the individual strands of mushroom and give them a quick rinse. Then heat ½ tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the soy sauce and the kecap manis to the pan. Then add the mushrooms and stir-fry them for 1 minute. Then transfer them to a plate and cool to room temperature. Set aside.

3 – Julienne the green bell pepper into matchsticks, roughly 8 cm long and 2mm wide. Finely slice the Chinese cabbage into thin strands, roughly 8 cm long and 1 mm wide. Finely slice the green onion stem along the dias (into thin diagonals). Set aside.

4 – Fill a shallow bowl (that’s a bit larger than the size of your wrapper) with an inch of plain water. Keep a lint-free tea towel next to the bowl. Make sure your prepared fillings are within reach.

stir-fried button mushrooms
stir-fried enoki mushrooms
mise en place for mushroom spring rolls
rice paper wrappers at the ready

Method

1 – To assemble the rolls, place a sheet of rice paper into the bowl of plain water. Count 2-3 seconds, lift the paper, and shake it off. Each brand has a differently soaking time, so you’ll learn to go by feel here. The soaked wrapper should still feel firm when you lift it out of the bowl, as it will continue to soften with the addition of fillings. Lay the dunked wrapper flat on a clean, lint-free tea towel.

2 – Leave 3 cm on the left and right sides at all times for wrapping. Leaving a 6 cm gap from the top, place 4 mushroom halves in a single line in the upper section of the wrapper, maintaining a 2 cm gap between each prawn. Now place a small Thai basil leaf, face-downward in each of the gaps between the mushrooms. 

3 – Leaving a 6 cm gap from the bottom, arrange all the following on top of each other, in the lower section of the wrapper just below the mushrooms; 1/3 of the green bell pepper, 1/3 stir-fried enoki mushrooms, 1/3 of the sliced Chinese cabbage, 5 Thai basil leaves, and 1/3 of the green onion diagonals.

4 – To roll, fold in the left and right sides of the wrapper. Then lift the bottom edge of the wrapper and fold it over the fillings in the lower section.  Now fold this “wrapped section” over the fillings in the upper section. Finally, roll up the entire parcel into a tight, neat cylindrical shape. Repeat for the other 2 mushroom spring rolls. 

5 – Set aside and proceed to make the other types of rolls, or jump to Stage 2 and make the peanut dipping sauce.

dunking of the rice paper wrapper
dunked rice paper wrapper placed on a lint-free tea towel
How to wrap a spring roll; click image to enlarge

The rice paper wrappers tend to dry out with time or once chilled, so the rolls should be assembled shortly before serving. If you’d like to keep them fresh for an hour or so, wrap them up individually in cling wrap so that they stay moist. If you want to prepare them 4-5 hours in advance and store them in the fridge, wrap each roll individually in cling wrap and store them in an airtight container in the fridge. 


type 5; tofu spring rolls (vegan)

Ingredients
for the baked tofu:
1. 200 gm firm or extra firm tofu
2. 1 tbsp. unflavoured vegetable oil
3. ¼ tsp toasted sesame oil
4. 1 tbsp. Sriracha
5. 1 tbsp. soy sauce
6. 1 tbsp. honey
7. 1 tbsp. corn flour
8. 1/8 tsp salt

for the pickled onion
9. 1 large shallot
10. 1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice from a green lime
11. 1/8 tsp salt
12. 1/4 tsp white granulated sugar

other elements:
13. 3 long/6 small radicchio leaves
14. 6 sprigs of fresh coriander
15. ½ a red bell pepper
16. 1 tsp freshly grated lime zest from a green lime
17. 1 tbsp. white sesame seeds
18. 3 readymade rice paper wrappers (22 cm) like this
19. Enough plain water to dunk the rice paper wrappers

This amount fills 3 x 22 cm rice paper wrappers. If you want to make only this type, multiply the quantities by 5 to make 15 tofu spring rolls.

Prep
1 – To make the tofu, first press your tofu for 60-90 minutes. Click here to see how. Your tofu will have significantly shrunk (weighing about 140 gm) after losing most of its water weight. Thereafter, slice the tofu into 8 cm x 1 cm rods. Then preheat your oven to 200OC and line a baking tray with parchment paper. In a flat dish, mix together the vegetable oil, sesame oil, the Sriracha, the soy sauce, and the honey. Lay the tofu rods in this mixture and toss them in it. If you’ve correctly pressed your tofu, it will soak the mixture up completely. Now sprinkle 1 tablespoon of corn flour onto the rods and gently toss once again. Arrange the rods on the parchment-lined baking sheet, maintaining a 2 cm gap between each rod. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 200OC. Then take out your baking sheet and flip each rod over. Bake for an additional 10-12 minutes or until the tofu is browned, crispy, and dry. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with salt and cool to room temperature. Set aside.

2 – Cut your shallot down the middle and then finely slice each half crosswise. Drizzle the slices with 1 tsp of freshly squeezed lime juice. Sprinkle the salt and the sugar and gently toss. Leave it to steep for 20 minutes or until the raw taste disappears. Keep the romaine lettuce leaves whole. Set aside.

3 – Julienne the red bell pepper into matchsticks, roughly 8 cm long and 2 mm wide. Set aside.

4 – Zest your green lime. You may need to zest 2-3 to get 1 tsp worth. Set aside in an airtight container.

5 – Toast the sesame seeds in a pan for 5-7 minutes until lightly golden and they smell nutty. Set aside.

6 – Fill a shallow bowl (that’s a bit larger than the size of your wrapper) with an inch of plain water. Keep a lint-free tea towel next to the bowl. Make sure your prepared fillings are within reach.

tofu rods
tofu rods marinating
tofu rods tossed with corn flour
half-way baked tofu rods
fully-baked tofu rods
pickled shallots
toasted sesame seeds
mise en place for tofu spring rolls
rice paper wrappers at the ready

Method

1 – To assemble the rolls, place a sheet of rice paper into the bowl of plain water. Count 2-3 seconds, lift the paper, and shake it off. Each brand has a differently soaking time, so you’ll learn to go by feel here. The soaked wrapper should still feel firm when you lift it out of the bowl, as it will continue to soften with the addition of fillings. Lay the dunked wrapper flat on a clean, lint-free tea towel.

2 – Leave 3 cm on the left and right sides at all times for wrapping. Leaving a 6 cm gap from the top, arrange 2 radicchio leaves one overlapping the other, in the upper section of the wrapper. Then place 4 tofu rods on the radicchio leaves. 

3 – Leaving a 6 cm gap from the bottom, arrange all the following on top of each other, in the lower section of the wrapper just below the tofu rods; 1/3 of the red bell pepper, 1/3 pickled shallots, 2 coriander sprigs, 1/3 of the lime zest, and 1/3 of the toasted sesame seeds

4 – To roll, fold in the left and right sides of the wrapper. Then lift the bottom edge of the wrapper and fold it over the fillings in the lower section.  Now fold this “wrapped section” over the fillings in the upper section. Finally, roll up the entire parcel into a tight, neat cylindrical shape. Repeat for the other 2 tofu spring rolls. 

5 – Set aside and proceed to make the other types of rolls, or jump to Stage 2 and make the peanut dipping sauce.

dunking of the rice paper wrapper
dunked rice paper wrapper placed on a lint-free tea towel
How to wrap a spring roll; click image to enlarge

The rice paper wrappers tend to dry out with time or once chilled, so the rolls should be assembled shortly before serving. If you’d like to keep them fresh for an hour or so, wrap them up individually in cling wrap so that they stay moist. If you want to prepare them 4-5 hours in advance and store them in the fridge, wrap each roll individually in cling wrap and store them in an airtight container in the fridge. 


Stage 2: fried shallots & peanuts mix (vegan)

Ingredients
1. 200 gm shallots
2. 1 ltr vegetable oil or canola oil
3. 100 gm raw peanuts (skinless)
4. 1/4 tsp salt
5. 1 tsp red chilli flakes

Please use shallots and not regular onions for this mix. Intensely flavourful, fried shallots are a lot sweeter than fried onions (aka birista). Although both are prepared in a similar manner, birista is more suited to Persianate pilafs and meat dishes, and doesn’t quite work in this dish. Check out my recipe for birista here.

Method
1 – Peel your shallots. Cut them in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into fine slices (roughly 2 mm wide). 

2 – Grab a deep frying pan. Heat up the vegetable oil in it. The depth of the oil should be at least 9-10 cm so that the shallots can deep fry. 

3 – When the oil reaches 180OC, add the sliced shallots, lower the heat to medium-low and deep fry them for 15-20 minutes or until they’re a deep golden colour and crispy. Frequently stir the shallots as they’re frying for even browning. When they’re done, they will stop ‘fizzing’ and sort of float up to the surface of the oil. 

4 – Immediately remove the fried shallots from the pan and spread them out to drain on kitchen paper for 5 minutes. They will continue to cook after they’re out of the oil. Immediately season the shallots with ¼ tsp salt. You will have about 70 gm fried shallots.

5 – In the same hot oil, deep-fry the raw peanuts until golden-brown. This will take roughly 5-8 minutes. 

6 – Remove the peanuts from the oil and spread them out to drain on kitchen paper. Let them cool fully. Then transfer them to a mortar and pestle and begin pounding until you have a mixture of rough chunks and smaller crumbs. Do not powder.

7 – Place the peanut chunks, fried shallots, and red chilli flakes inside a plastic releasable bag. Close the bag and then squish it about to crush and mix the ingredients together. Fried shallots & peanuts mix ready. Keep it stored inside an airtight container in the fridge until you are ready to make your peanut sauce. 

fried shallots left, fried peanuts right
pounding the fried peanuts into rough chunks
mix mix mix

This makes about 175-180 gm of the mix. You will need only 2 tablespoons for one serving of peanut sauce, so keep it stored in the fridge for up to a week for whenever you want to use it. We sprinkle it on South East Asian stir fries and salads and even use it in peanut butter sandwiches! 

Stage 3: peanut dipping sauce (vegan)

I don’t normally claim “this is the best ever” version of anything, but I promise you, this is the yummiest peanut dipping sauce we have ever had. Better than anything we’ve tasted in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and even Thailand. Please do give it a try!

Ingredients
1. 4 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
2. 2 tbsp. hoisin sauce like this
3. 2 tbsp. Sriracha like this
4. 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
5. 1 tsp honey
6. 3 tbsp. thick coconut milk
7. 2 tbsp. fried shallots & peanuts mix
8. 1/8 tsp salt (if required)

Method
1 – In a small bowl, add all the ingredients listed in except for the salt and the fried shallots & peanuts mix. Whisk well to combine. Then taste the sauce and add salt to taste. We didn’t any extra salt.

2 – Top the sauce with 2 tbsp. of the fried shallots & peanuts mix.

3 – Serve the dipping sauce alongside your prepared spring rolls. Now eat!

Most peanut dipping sauces call for 1-2 pods of minced garlic. However, we (well, I) cannot abide by the taste (and hours of aftertaste) of raw garlic, so I leave it out. Feel free to include it in the recipe, but since Sriracha contains garlic, this sauce is sufficiently garlicy as is. You can make this sauce ahead of the rolls and store it in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week. Simply bring it to room temperature and give it another quick whisk, and top with the fried shallots & peanuts mix before serving.


Stickylicious Blondies

Makes 9 blondies; 2 ½ x 2 ½ inches, each. 
If my Fudgilicious Brownies are a bitter-sweet indulgence for adult palates, my Stickylicious Blondies will straight up appeal to the sweet-craving child in you. Moist with butterscotch and sticky with caramel, each bite brings the warmth of cinnamon, the sweetness of vanilla, and the crunch of coarse sea salt. With its crusty top and squishy insides, these blondies are chewy, gooey, and totally scrumdiddlyumptious. Bring napkins. This could get messy.


At a glance

– You will need a medium, heavy-bottomed steel saucepan, an 8 inch square metal brownie pan, and baking parchment.
– This recipe has been broken into 3 stages for ease and comprehension. Please read the entire recipe from start to finish before beginning.


Stage 1: make the cinnamon-caramel goop

Even though blondies have a distinct caramel-like taste, they’re actually made with brown sugar and melted butter, which is the base for butterscotch. Read about the difference between butterscotch and caramel here. In my blondies, I have added a caramel layer for extra flavour and stickiness. Because no one should have to choose between butterscotch and caramel, right? 

Ingredients
1. 110 gm white castor sugar
2. 30 ml corn syrup
3. 15 ml water
4. 45 ml heavy cream, at room temperature
5. ½ tsp vanilla extract
6. 10 gm butter, at room temperature
7. 1 tsp coarse sea salt
8. 1 tsp cinnamon powder

Method
1 – Combine the vanilla and heavy cream in a small jug and set it aside. 

2 – Take a medium, heavy-bottomed steel saucepan. Place the sugar, the corn syrup, and the water inside, and give it a stir.  

3 – Place the saucepan on medium heat. You can stir the mixture at this point to encourage the sugar to dissolve. Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring and pop the lid on. This is the easiest way to prevent your mixture from crystallizing, as the condensation formed will drip down and melt any stray sugar particles on the sides of your pan. If you’re worried about uneven heating, swirl the entire pan on the hob. Do not stir wet caramel. Ever.

4 – Watch your saucepan like a hawk, lifting the lid to peek at the mixture every now and again. Once the water has completely boiled away, and the remaining sugar is a pure, clear liquid (160OC), lower the heat to minimum and take the lid off.

5 – As soon as the caramel turns amber (170-173OC), start paying close attention.

6 – Once the caramel is a nice medium-dark amber, (174-176OC) take the pan off the heat. Whisking continuously, very slowly and carefully trickle in the cream, leaving about a tablespoon’s worth in the jug. Continue whisking, until you have a smooth, homogenous, velvety sauce.

7 – Once the mixture has stopped bubbling and steaming, add the butter, the coarse sea salt, and the cinnamon. Whisk until the butter has fully melted and emulsified into the sauce. Let the sauce cool for about 5 minutes.

8 – Finally, stir in the remaining cream. Bring the goop to room temperature or just warm before using. Cinnamon-caramel goop is ready. Set it aside.

If you’ve never made caramel before, read this and thisBecause this cinnamon caramel goop will be baked into the batter, it is waaaaaay thicker in consistency than my Salted Caramel Sauce, which is ideal for pouring over desserts. This component can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. When you’re ready to bake your blondie, gently warm the goop in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time to bring it back to a ‘scoopable’ consistency.


Stage 2: make the blondie batter

Blondies have the same richness and chewiness as a brownie, but the dominant flavours are vanilla and caramel rather than chocolate. While you can definitely fold in any kind of chocolate chips into the batter, you would never incorporate cocoa powder or melted chocolate into a blondie.

Ingredients
1. 200 gm all purpose flour
2. 1 tbsp. corn flour
3. 1 tsp baking powder
4. 1 tsp salt
5. 1 tbsp. cinnamon powder
6. 140 gm unsalted butter
7. 280 gm dark muscovado sugar
8. 1 large egg (57 gm in-shell weight) at room temperature
9. 2 egg yolks from large eggs at room temperature
10. 1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Prep
1 – Grease your brownie pan. Line it with parchment all the way up the height of the pan and then grease the parchment. Keep aside.

2 – In a medium bowl, place the flour, the corn flour, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon powder. Whisk together well to combine and then set it aside. This is your dry mixture. 

3 – Start preheating your oven to 170OC. 15-20 minutes should suffice.

Method
1 – Add the butter to a large pot and begin melting it on the stovetop over low heat. Simmer the butter on low for a minute and then turn off the heat. The butter should be hot and sputtering, but not browned. 

2 – Immediately add the dark muscovado sugar to the pot of hot butter and keep whisking together until the mixture comes together as a paste and is no longer hot. This will take roughly 5-8 minutes. You should be able to dip your finger into it and it should feel just warm. Don’t worry if the sugar separates from the oil, as the eggs will bring the batter back together.

3 – Add the egg and egg yolks one at a time and and whisk them into the barely warm mixture until thoroughly combined. The batter will become homogenous with the addition of the eggs.

4 – Then add the vanilla and whisk until combined.

5 – Add the dry mixture to the pot. Using a rubber spatula, stir it into the wet mixture until you no longer see any floury pockets and the batter looks homogenous. This is one occasion where it doesn’t matter if you overmix, as you actually want to encourage gluten formation so that you get a fudgy blondie texture. Once you’re done mixing, the batter will be really thick, and fairly tough to stir at this point. Blondie batter is ready, set it aside momentarily while you get ready for the next and final stage.

A blondie is as flavourful and moist as the brown sugar you use, so if you cannot find dark muscavado sugar, then the next best thing is dark brown sugar. Light brown sugar simply doesn’t contain as much molasses—so it won’t impart as much moisture or yield the same degree of fudginess. For richness and gooeyness, you want 1 whole egg and two egg yolks. Separating eggs can be a pain, but if you decide to go with 3 whole eggs instead of leaving out the whites, your blondies will be airy and cakey. Save the spare egg whites and use them to make macaron shells in my Parle-G Xmas Macarons or vanilla chiffon cake in my Strawberries & Cream Cake. While there’s no place for baking powder or corn flour in a brownie, these heavy duty blondies need a little bit of lift and lightness owing to the cinnamon-caramel sauce layer. Without these, your blondies will be too heavy. Once your batter is mixed, you can fold in anything you like; butterscotch bits, chocolate chips, toasted nuts etc. We like our blondies without all the bells and whistles for an unadulterated blondies flavour.


Stage 3: construct the blondie

Components
1. Cinnamon-caramel goop
2. Blondie batter
3. ¼ tsp coarse sea salt
4.  Topping; ½ tsp castor sugar + ½ tsp cinnamon powder

Method
1 – Transfer half the blondie batter into your prepared brownie pan. Spread and smooth it out with an offset spatula so that it sits in an even layer. 

2 – With the help of two spoons, dollop the cinnamon-caramel goop on top of the blondie batter, staying within ½ an inch of the edges of the blondie batter. It will level out on its own.

3 – Evenly sprinkle ¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt on this layer.

4 – Get the other half of the blondie batter and dollop it as evenly as possible over the cinnamon-caramel goop layer. Make sure to spread it all the way to the edges of the pan if it doesn’t level out on its own.

5 – Place the castor sugar and the cinnamon powder in a small bowl. Whisk together to combine. This is your topping. Evenly sprinkle it onto the surface of the blondie.

6 – Place the pan inside your preheated oven. Bake at 170OC for 23-25 minutes, rotating the pan at the halfway mark. 

7 – At 23 minutes, feel the surface of the blondie; the surface should spring back when you gently apply pressure. Check the corners with a bamboo skewer; you should see some crumbs and gooeyness because of the caramel layer and the ultra-moist batter. Unlike a cake, you’re not looking for the skewer to come out clean. A clean skewer means a cakey, over-baked, dry blondie. Now, taste the batter on the skewer. If it doesn’t taste raw, your blondies are done and should be pulled out of the oven. Remember, it will continue to cook on your countertop as it cools, so it’s better to slightly under-bake than overbake them.

8 – Take your pan out of the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. Let it cool completely (for at least 2 hours) before cutting into the blondies, as this helps them to set up. If you attempt to do this while they’re warm, they will simply fall apart.

9 – To serve, take hold of the parchment and lift the blondies out of the pan. Cut the blondies into 9 equal squares measuring 2.5 x 2.5 inches. Your knife will be smeared with sticky caramel with each cut if you’ve got the cook just right. Store leftover blondies in an airtight container at room temperature. Now eat!

All ovens are different. Like me, you too will have to experiment and see which settings will give you the best results.  If you use the convection mode, you’ll have to lower the temperature accordingly. If you have only top heating rods, you’ll have to adjust for that. In my oven, the middle rack at 170OC (upper and lower heating, non-convection) for a total bake time of 24 minutes yields the best blondies. I also turn my pan around when I put it back in for the final bake, to account for any potential uneven heating. 


Tips & Tricks

How to line a square baking pan with parchment:


Salmon Salad & Solkadi

Makes 4 servings

Summertime in Bombay is a heat-stroke waiting to happen. Thankfully the folks in these parts have found a way to beat the heat. Behold, nature’s twin coolants—coconut and kokum! Blitzed together, they form ‘Solkadi’ a magic potion that is 99% cold beverage and 1% spicy curry. In this episode of How I Hate the Stove in Summer, I’ve made a light entrée—where I’ve treated this chilled, tangy concoction as a dressing to accompany a quick pan-seared salmon, raw salad components, and some very cool home experiments with molecular gastronomy. Intrigued? Scroll on!


At a glance

– This dish comprises pan-seared salmon solkadi + coconut water caviar & mango juice caviar (optional) + fresh fruit, veg, greens and herbs.
– You will need a large non-stick frying pan, a blender, some tall glasses, a squeeze bottle, and a fine meshed strainer or muslin.
– This recipe has been broken into 5 stages for ease and comprehension. Please read the entire recipe from start to finish before beginning.

Stage 1: Solkadi


Consumed during Summertime in Maharashtra (and all along the Konkan coast), Solkadi/Kokum Curry/Goan Sol/Kokum Kadhi is the ultimate cold brew. Seasoned with cumin and black salt, it works like a digestif and can be served with or after a meal.

Ingredients
For the kokum concentrate:
1. 15-20 wet kokum petals
2. 250 ml plain water 

To mix with the concentrate:
3. 250 ml water
4. 500 ml coconut milk (UHT is fine)
5. 1 tsp cumin powder
6. 1 tsp sugar
7. ½ – ¾ tsp black salt
8. 1 medium green chilli, slit in half
9. ¼ cup fresh coriander, finely chopped

For the tempering:
1. 2 tsp. vegetable oil
9. 1 tsp black/brown mustard seeds
10. 1 tsp cumin seeds
11. 10 fresh curry leaves
12. 1 small clove of garlic, finely sliced

If you want to use fresh coconut milk rather than packaged, use 50% thick milk (first extract) and 50% thin milk (second extract). Watch this video to see how to extract coconut milk.

Prep
1 – Add 250 ml plain water to a pot and heat it on high, until small bubbles just begin appearing. 

2 – As soon as you see small bubbles, add 15-20 kokum petals to the pot and wait for the water to reach a rolling boil. The more you add, the tarter the taste will be.

3 – Once the water comes to a boil, use a wooden spoon to mash and squish the petals to extract their pulp. Stir and continue boiling for 5 minutes.

4 – After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to come to room temperature.      

Method
1 – Using a fine meshed sieve or muslin, strain all the kokum concentrate into a large bowl, pressing or squeezing the petals to extract as much pulp as possible. 

2 – Add 250 ml water, 500 ml coconut milk, the cumin powder, the sugar and the black salt. Stir the mixture together, it will turn a gorgeous pink!

3 – Now add the finely chopped coriander and both halves of the green chilli.

4 – Heat up 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a small frying pan. As soon as the oil starts to shimmer (not smoke), add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, and garlic slices. Be careful, it will sputter. As soon as all the ingredients have been added to the pan, turn off the heat.

5 – Add the hot tempering to the coconut milk mixture and stir to combine.

6 – Finally, taste the mixture and add more black salt and/or sugar if desired.

7 – Place the bowl in the fridge covered, and chill the mixture for at least 2 hours before serving. Solkadi ready!

8 – Before serving, stir the mixture again. While pouring into individual glasses, strain the chilled solkadi through a fine meshed sieve to catch all the herbs and whole spices. Garnish with more chopped coriander if you like.

kokum concentrate
with the coconut milk, salt, and spice powders added
with the green chilli and fresh coriander added
with the tempering added
ready to be chilled

Kokum (also known as aamsol) is a fruit indigenous to the southern states of India and is widely used for its culinary and medicinal properties. Typically used in Konkan, Maharashtrian, and Goan cuisine, it can also be found in dishes from Karnataka, Gujarat, and Assam. It is not the same as mangosteen, although both belong to the same family. When you buy kokum petals in the market, what you’re getting is the outer covering of the ripe fruit that has been dried. In this form, it can be used as a souring agent, akin to tamarind. However, rather than out-and-out sourness, kokum also brings a sweet, fruity-floral note to a dish. Additionally, it imparts a gorgeous purple-pink hue to any light-coloured liquid it touches. 


Stage 2: coconut water caviar & mango juice caviar (optional)

This element is totally optional, but if you do leave it out, you’ll be missing out on some cool science – spherification through molecular gastronomy. It’s way easier than it sounds and if you’ve ever made snow globes or lava lamps, you’re already familiar with spherification. Generally, oil and water don’t mix. By adding agar agar to a water-based liquid, you give it gelling properties – or the power to turn from a liquid into a solid.  When agar agar solution is dripped into cold oil, it gels up into little spheres. Science, bitches! Whichever caviar you make first, ensure that you don’t leave the 2nd solution around to cool at all. It should be hot when you’re pouring it, else the caviar won’t hold its shape.

Ingredients
for the coconut water caviar:
1. 100 ml coconut water from a tender coconut (packaged is fine)
2. 1 tsp. sugar
3. 1.5 gm (3/4 tsp) agar agar powder

for the mango juice caviar:
1. 90 ml packaged mango juice
2. 1 tsp water
3. 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
4. 1.5 gm (3/4 tsp) agar agar powder

to set the caviar:
1. 1 litre freshly boiled hot water
2. 1 litre very cold unflavoured vegetable oil
3. 2 litre lukewarm water
4. 2 litre chilled water

Materials
1. 2 large tall glasses (freezer proof)
2. 2 small glasses/bowls (heat proof)
3. A wide tray or dish (heat proof)
4. A small saucepan
5. A whisk
6. A squeeze bottle
7. A metal tablespoon
8. A fine-meshed sieve
9. 5 large bowls
10. Some absorbent kitchen paper
11. 2 small containers with airtight lids

Prep
1 – Pour 500 ml unflavoured vegetable oil into each of the two tall glasses. Then place the glasses in the freezer for an hour. The oil must get very cold (1.5OC). You’ll know when the oil is cold enough when it turns cloudy. Keep the oil in the fridge until you’re ready with your coconut and mango solutions.

2 – Chill 2 litres of water in the fridge for about an hour. Keep in the fridge until called for.

3 – Warm up 2 litres of water until 43OC. You should be able to dip your finger into the water without flinching. Keep covered and set aside until called for.

4 – Line two small containers with some absorbent kitchen paper.

5 – Pour 1 litre of freshly boiled water into a wide tray/dish or until the water level is at least 1 inch deep. Set aside.

6 – Make the coconut water solution; add the coconut water, the sugar, and the agar agar to a small saucepan. Whisk to blend, and then bring the mixture to a boil, whisking continuously. Pour the hot solution into a small heat proof glass and place the glass in the tray/dish with the hot water. This will keep the coconut water solution from setting. Wait 2 minutes for the mixture to slightly cool.

7 – Make the mango juice solution; add the mango juice, the lemon juice, the water, and the agar agar to a small saucepan. Whisk to blend, and then bring the mixture to a boil, whisking continuously. Pour the hot solution into a small heat proof glass and place the glass in the tray/dish with the hot water. This will keep the mango juice solution from setting. Wait 2 minutes for the mixture to slightly cool.

preparing the coconut water-agar agar solution
preparing the mango juice-agar agar solution
keeping both solutions hot

Method
for the coconut water caviar:
1 – Transfer the hot coconut water solution to a squeeze bottle. If the bottle is uncomfortable to handle, use gloves.

2 – From a height of about 8 cm, drip the solution 1 drop at a time into a glass of chilled vegetable oil.  The drops will drip down from the surface and form into little caviar like spheres as the make their way down the oil to the bottom of the glass.

3 – Every 20 ml or so, gently give the oil a stir with a tablespoon to keep the spheres from clumping together.

4 – Repeat steps 1-3 until you run out of coconut water solution.

5 – Grab a large bowl and place a fine-meshed sieve on it. Tip the glass of oil with the spheres into the sieve. Gently shake the sieve and let the oil drain from the spheres for about 5 seconds (the oil is totally reusable. Transfer it to a bottle later and reserve it for cooking).

6 – Pour 1 litre of lukewarm water into a large bowl. Keeping the spheres in the sieve, dunk and swirl the sieve in the lukewarm water to rinse off the oil.  

7 – Pour 1 litre of chilled water into another large bowl. Keeping the spheres in the sieve, dunk them in the bowl of chilled water to give them a final rinse and rid them of any residual oil.

8 – Tip the spheres onto some paper towels to briefly drain and then transfer them to one of the containers lined with kitchen paper. This will soak up any excess water. 

9 – Cover the container with an airtight lid and place it in the fridge until needed. Coconut water caviar is ready! Set it aside and proceed with the mango juice caviar.

dripping the hot coconut water solution from a height of 8 cm
coconut water caviar collecting at the bottom of the glass
coconut water caviar collecting at the bottom of the glass
drained and rinsed coconut water caviar
coconut water caviar ready

for the mango juice caviar:
1 – Transfer the hot mango juice solution to a squeeze bottle. If the bottle is uncomfortable to handle, use gloves.

2 – From a height of about 8 cm, drip the solution 1 drop at a time into a glass of chilled vegetable oil.  The drops will drip down from the surface and form into little caviar like spheres as the make their way down the oil to the bottom of the glass.

3 – Every 20 ml or so, gently give the oil a stir with a tablespoon to keep the spheres from clumping together.

4 – Repeat steps 1-3 until you run out of mango juice solution.

5 – Grab a large bowl and place a fine-meshed sieve on it. Tip the glass of oil with the spheres into the sieve. Gently shake the sieve and let the oil drain from the spheres for about 5 seconds (once again, the oil is totally reusable. Transfer it to a bottle later and reserve it for cooking).

6 – Pour 1 litre of lukewarm water into a large bowl. Keeping the spheres in the sieve, dunk and swirl the sieve in the lukewarm water to rinse off the oil.  

7 – Place 1 litre of chilled water into a large bowl. Keeping the spheres in the sieve, dunk them in the bowl of chilled water to give them a final rinse and rid them of any residual oil.

8 – Tip the spheres onto paper towels to briefly drain and then transfer them to the other container lined with kitchen paper. This will soak up any excess water. 

9 – Cover the container with an airtight lid and place it in the fridge until needed. Mango juice caviar is ready! Set it aside and proceed with Stage 3.

dripping the hot mango juice solution from a height of 8 cm
mango juice caviar collecting at the bottom of the glass
mango juice caviar collecting at the bottom of the glass
drained and rinsed mango juice caviar
mango juice caviar ready

Together, this amount makes about 200 gm caviar. You will need 50 gm per serving. There are spherification recipes that use gelatine, but I haven’t tried them, so I can’t attest to them. If you’ve ever wondered why vegetarian jelly has such a different mouthfeel to non-veg jelly, the reason is agar agar or some other plant-based gellant. Solutions set with agar agar are texturally very different from gelatine-set solutions; the first melts on the tongue, while the second one bounces and jiggles. So, even though this caviar looks bouncy, it doesn’t have awesome jiggle-properties. The mango juice caviar tastes just like mango juice in gel form. The coconut water caviar, while it looks a treat, doesn’t possess much flavour. Now that you know the ratios and science, go ahead and make whatever flavour you like! Any water-based liquid will work with spherification, so try making caviar from different fruit juices, energy drinks, carbonated beverages, flavoured milks, condiments like ketchup, sriracha barbeque sauce, etc. Just add a little more water to thin out viscous liquids. You also want to ensure that you use a liquid with a pronounced flavour such as espresso coffee, cranberry juice etc. Once you’ve made your caviar, store it in a kitchen paper-lined airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days, and add it to any drink or dish for a beautiful visual treat and some extra pops of flavour.


Stage 3: pan-seared salmon

For this part, we’re going to up our salmon game by brining it first. Why? Fish contains a protein called albumin. As it cooks, the flesh contracts, leeching albumin onto the surface. Brining your salmon fillets significantly reduces (if not eliminates), that slimy, unattractive white albumin. This is because the salt in the brine solution breaks down some of the muscle fibres around the surface of the fish. When it’s getting cooked, the fibres don’t tighten as much as they normally would, so, less albumin is pushed out. Moreover, brining results in a moister piece of fish and a uniformly seasoned fillet.

Ingredients
1. 4 x 100 gm salmon fillets with the skin on (cut into 11 x 5 cm fillets)
2. ½ tsp salt
3. ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper

For the brine:
1. ¼ cup table salt
2. 4 cups plain water

Prep
1 – Take a deep container and pour in 1 litre of plain water. Dissolve ¼ cup salt in the water. This is our brining liquid.

2 – Fully submerge the salmon fillets in the brine and cover the container. Leave it to stand covered at room temperature for 15 minutes.

3 – After 15 minutes, remove the fillets from the brining liquid and pat the fillets dry with some paper towels. Discard the brining liquid. 

Method
1 – Place a non-stick frying pan on the stove. Do not put the heat on yet. Evenly sprinkle ¼ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper on four sections of the pan. The fillets will sit on those four sections.

2 – Place the fillets on the beds of salt and pepper, skin-side down. Now sprinkle the tops of the fillets with ¼ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper.

3 – Begin heating the pan on medium-high heat and cook the fillets untouched for 5-6 minutes. Get ready to flip when the fats from the skin have rendered and are sizzling, and ¾ of fillet has turned opaque from the skin-side going upwards.

4 – Using tongs, immediately flip the fillets and continue cooking them untouched for another 1-2 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 51-52OC.

5 – Transfer the fillets from the pan and place them on a plate, skin side up. Rest the fillets for 5 minutes before plating up. Do not cover the cover the salmon to keep it warm because it will steam and the skin will lose its crispiness. If you don’t like fish-skin, simply remove it after cooking, but I do not recommend searing the fillets without the skin, as the skin adds tonnes of flavour and helps to keep the fillets moist.

Brining (soaking in a salt-solution) for at least 15 minutes or up to overnight is all it takes to ensure a great cook on your salmon. To brine any amount of salmon, you need only water and table salt, mixed in a ratio of 1 tablespoon of salt to 240 ml plain water. Always use cold water, and make enough brining liquid to fully submerge the fillets.

components for salt brine – only 2 portions of salmon pictured
brining the salmon fillets
drying the salmon fillets
pan-searing the salmon fillets


Stage 4: mise en place 

While your salmon is resting, quickly prep the salad components.

Ingredients
1. 2 baby radish
2. 1 shallot
3. 100 gm ripe Alphonso mango (from 1 medium Alphonso mango)
4. 50 gm coconut flesh ( from half a medium coconut)
5. 80 gm radish microgreens
6. 80 gm sunflower microgreens
7. 40 gm mustard microgreens
8. Fresh coriander leaves from 4 sprigs

Method
1 – Finely cut the radish into wafer thin slices. A mandolin is helpful for this. Set aside.

2 – Finely slice the shallot into ¼ mm rings. Set aside.

3 – Finely dice the mango into 1 cm cubes. Set aside.

4 – Finely dice the coconut into ½ cm cubes. Set aside.

5 – Clean the microgreens and then toss them together. Set aside.

6 – Remove the coriander leaves from their sprigs. Set aside.

radish, shallots, coconut, and mango, components
sunflower microgreens, radish microgreens, mustard microgreens, and fresh coriander


Stage 5: assembly & serving

Components
1. Chilled solkadi from Stage 1
2. Cold coconut water caviar and mango juice caviar from Stage 2
3. Hot and rested pan-seared salmon fillets from Stage 3
4. Sliced baby radish from Stage 4
5. Shallot rondels from Stage 4
6. Cubes of mango from Stage 4
7. Cubes of coconut flesh from Stage 4
8. Mixed microgreens from Stage 4
9. Fresh coriander leaves from Stage 4
10. Salt to season

For the sake of a pretty picture, I was very restrained with the plating, but in reality, the plate is a lot more generous! When you’re plating up, please do follow the proportions mentioned in the recipe, rather than going by our website/Instagram images.

Prep
1 – Stir the solkadi well, and then strain 200 ml into a gravy boat. Strain the rest into 4 glasses. Discard the whole spices and herbs caught in the strainer.

Method
1 – Place ¼ of the mixed microgreens onto the centre of a plate. Lightly sprinkle about 1/8 tsp salt to season.

2 – Place one salmon fillet, skin-side-up on the bed of microgreens.

3 – Arrange ¼ the radish slices on the plate.

4 – Scatter ¼ of the shallot rondels on the plate.

5 – Arrange ¼ of the cubes of mango and coconut on each plate.

5 – Spoon ¼ of the coconut water caviar and mango juice caviar on top of the fish and scatter some on the microgreens.

6 – Arrange ¼ of the fresh coriander leaves on the plate.

7 – Pour about 50 ml of solkadi onto the dish.

8 – Serve the salmon salad with glasses of solkadi. Now eat!

Even though salmon is a fatty fish, as a whole, this dish eats as a really light summer entrée and shouldn’t be served as a standalone meal (unless you convert 4 portions into 2). Please remember, I was very restrained with the plating, but in reality, the plate is a lot more generous! This merits repeating; when you’re plating up, please do follow the proportions mentioned in the recipe, rather than going by our website/Instagram images.

Tips & Tricks

How to extract coconut milk

Raspberry Lemon Tartlets

Makes 30 x 2 ½ inch tartlets

Whoever invented lemon curd should be awarded a Nobel peace prize. That stuff can neutralize all sorts of heat, from fiery tempers to soaring Summer temperatures. Nestled in palm-sized short crust pastry shells and topped with fresh, dried, and freeze-dried raspberries, as well as mini meringues, this lemony dessert puts the tart in tartlets. Sweet and tangy, fresh and light — it is a beaming ray of sunshine with the miraculous power to cool.

At a glance

– These tartlets comprise mini tart shells + lemon curd + mini meringues + white chocolate chips + fresh, dried, and freeze-dried raspberries.
– You will need 30 metal mini tart moulds, a 3 inch round cookie cutter, some piping bags, a small round nozzle, some baking parchment, some baking rice, a silicon baking mat, and a baking tray.
– This recipe has been broken into 4 stages for ease and comprehension. Please read the entire recipe from start to finish before beginning.


Stage 1: mini tart shells

Ingredients
1. 340 gm all purpose flour, sifted + extra for dusting
2. 120 gm confectioner’s sugar, sifted
3. 1/4 tsp table salt
4. 225 gm cold unsalted butter
5. 2 large eggs (114 gm in-shell weight), cold
6. 1 tsp vanilla extract
7. 1 egg yolk + ½ tsp water to make an egg wash

Prep
1 – Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and keep chilled.

2 – Crack the eggs, lightly beat them and keep chilled.

3 – Weigh out your flour and confectioner’s sugar and keep chilled.

4 – Place your mini tart moulds on a baking pan. Lightly grease each mould with baking spray. Set aside.

5 – Cut 2 parchment sheets into 13×13 inch squares. Set aside.

6 – Cut a 4×4 inch square of cling wrap. Set aside.

7 – Cut 30 squares of baking parchment paper measuring 4×4 inches.

Keep all the ingredients chilled before starting. Yes, flour and sugar too if you’re in a hot and humid city like Mumbai. 

Method
1 – In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt.

2 – Add the chopped butter to the bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two butter knives, ‘cut’ the butter into the flour until you achieve a texture akin to coarse cornmeal with dabs of pea-sized butter chunks distributed throughout. 

3 – Add vanilla extract to the chilled beaten egg.

4 – Add the vanilla-egg mixture into the flour mixture, a little at a time, incorporating it with each addition. Mix with the knives in a cutting and scraping motion, until the dough comes together in clumps. It should look crumbly but hold its shape when brought together in your fist.

5 – Transfer the dough to a very lightly floured surface. Gather it into a ball. Do not over-handle it.

6 – Divide the dough in two and wrap the two halves separately in cling wrap. Flatten each piece to form a thick disc. Chill in the fridge for 1 hour, or ½ hour in the freezer. 

7 – After it’s done chilling, remove one wrapped disc from the fridge and let it sit for a minute or two.

8 – Lay down one 13-inch sheet of parchment and lightly flour it. Place your dough on top of it and then place the second 13-inch sheet of parchment on top. Roll your chilled dough between the two sheets until you get a rectangle, roughly 10×10 inches and 1/8 inch thick. It doesn’t matter if it’s misshapen, as long as it’s evenly thick.

9 – Using your 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can. You may need to dip the cutter into some extra flour to prevent sticking. Remove the excess dough, gather it together, wrap it in cling wrap, and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to re-use it.

10 – Place each round into a tart mould. First gently press with your fingers to shape the round to the mould’s contours. 

11 – Place the 4×4 inch square of cling wrap on top of the moulded round. Then place a second tart mould on top of the cling wrap, aligning its fluted edge with the bottom tart mould’s edge. Press down gently. This will shape the inside of the tart shell. Grabbing the cling wrap, lift off the top tart mould and set it aside. See this video for the technique.

12 – Use your fingers or a palette knife to trim off the extra overhanging dough.

13 – Using a fork, lightly prick the base of the unbaked tart shell (4-5 pokes should do it). This will prevent your mini tart shells from puffing up.

14 – Repeat steps 7-13 for all 30 tart moulds or until you run out of dough. (Remember you have another disc chilling in the fridge). To make more rounds, you will need to gather all the extra trimmings as well as chill the dough in the fridge, then re-roll it and re-cut it.

15 – Lightly beat the egg yolk with the water. This is your egg wash. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the surface of each tart with the egg wash. Once baked, this egg wash layer helps to prevent wet fillings from making the shells soggy. 

16 – Cover your baking pan containing all the mini tart moulds with cling wrap. Place the tray in the fridge for 1 hour or in freezer for 30 minutes.

17 – While the tart shells are chilling, preheat your oven at 180OC for 20 minutes. 

18 – Once the oven is done preheating, scrunch each 4×4 inch parchment square into a ball and then open it out. Take your chilled mini tart shells out of the fridge. Place a square of wrinkled parchment on top of each shell and then evenly fill the parchment with baking rice. The parchment will stick up/hang over the edges. Make sure to gently spread the rice and fill the crevice all the way to the top so that it’s properly weighed down. This prevents the pastry from rising and results in an even surface.

19 – It’s time to blind bake your mini tart shells; bake the tray of tart shells at 180OC for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Mine took 14 minutes.

20 – Thereafter take your tray out of the oven. Carefully lift off the parchment squares with the baking rice. Put the tray back in the oven and resume baking the tart shells at 180OC for an additional 10-12 minutes. Mine took 10 minutes.

21 – Remove your tray from the oven and cool it to room temperature on a wire rack. Do not remove the tart shells from their moulds until they have fully cooled.

22 – To remove, simply invert the shells onto your palm. They should slide out. If you feel some resistance, gently tap the edge of your mould on your work surface. They’re delicate, so be gentle!

23 – Store your cooled and unmoulded tart shells in an airtight container and refrigerate them. They will stay fresh for up to a week in the fridge or 6 months in the freezer.

Rolled dough, cut into rounds
Rounds being shaped to the contours of the tart mould
tart shells with pricked bases
raw tart shells brushed with egg wash
individual tart shell, weighed down with rice
tart shells ready to be blind-baked
blind-baked shells
fully-baked shells
fully-baked shells
fully-baked shells

Hot and humid climate? Make your pastry dough in an air-conditioned environment. Work quickly! If it’s warm, use disposable gloves to prevent the transfer of heat from your hands. Pop the dough back into the fridge if you see the butter melting or the dough getting too soft at any stage. You can make and bake the shells in advance. After baking, cool the shells, remove them from their moulds, and store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week in advance. Freeze leftover raw pastry dough. It keeps for 3 months!


Stage 2: lemon curd

Ingredients
1. 3 large eggs. (1 large egg = 57 gm in shell weight)
2. 2 egg yolks from large eggs
3. 220 gm superfine white castor sugar
4. 1 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
5. 125 ml lemon juice
6. 1/8 tsp salt
7. 150 gm cold, unsalted butter, chopped into ½ inch cubes

Method
1 – Take a large, heavy-bottomed steel saucepan. Put in the eggs, egg yolks, castor sugar, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice, and whisk everything well to combine.

2 – Place the saucepan on your hob and cook the mixture over low-medium heat, stirring continuously, until the sugar has dissolved completely. 

3 – Lower the heat to minimum and add 3-4 cubes of cold butter in batches, stirring continuously. Wait until one batch of cubes has melted and emulsified into the mixture; only then add in the next batch. Do this till you run out of butter. 

4 – Continue to cook the mixture on low heat, stirring continuously until the mixture is viscous and coats the back of a spoon. This can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes.

5 – Strain the mixture immediately into a bowl and cover it with cling wrap, making sure to press the plastic down onto the surface of the curd. Refrigerate the mixture for at least one hour. Once it’s cold, it’s ready to use. 

This quantity of ingredients yields 2 cups or 500 ml lemon curd. For this recipe, you’ll need exactly this amount, so if you want leftovers, make a larger batch. I make my lemon curd in advance, and keep it refrigerated in an airtight jar, ready for use, anytime. Leftovers make for a great spread on toast. Use up any leftovers within a week. Tip alert! Use the leftover egg whites from the lemon curd to make mini meringues in the next stage! Leftover egg whites can also be used to make macaron shells in my Parle-G Xmas Macarons or vanilla chiffon cake in my Strawberries & Cream Cake.


Stage 3: mini meringues

Ingredients
1. 50 gm egg whites at 21OC
2. 1/16 tsp cream of tartar
3. 100 gm confectioner’s sugar, sifted 3 times
4. Yellow gel food colour like this

Special materials
1. A bottle of white vinegar for cleaning
2. Some kitchen paper for cleaning
3. 1 medium metal bowl
4. A hand-mixer with a whisk attachment 
5. A rubber or silicone spatula
6. A tall drinking glasses
7. 1 medium piping bag
8. 1 cm wide, round piping nozzle
9. 1 flat baking tray like this 
10. 1 silicon baking mat
11. 1 thin food-safe brush

Prep
1 – Take the eggs out of the fridge. Clean and dry your hands and utensils very well. Egg whites will not whip up properly in the presence of fats or water. To remove any residual oils, wipe down all utensils and attachments with some vinegar. Once you have separated all your egg whites, weigh out exactly 50 gm in a medium metal bowl, cover it with cling wrap and set it aside for 20 minutes or until the egg whites reach a temperature of 21OC. 

2 – Ready your tray; lay your baking mat on top of your flat baking tray. Flat baking trays guarantee even heating from all directions. You can even invert a regular baking tray and use the flat side. If you don’t have a silicon baking mat, you can use baking parchment, but you will need to secure the corners with some meringue so that the parchment stays flat.

3 – Ready your piping bag; first attach your piping nozzle to the piping bag. Then stand the piping bag in a tall glass. If your piping bag is long, fold its overhanging edges over the rim of the glass, like a cuff — this will make it easier to push the meringue to the bottom of the bag.

4 – Sift your confectioner’s sugar and keep it handy, along with the cream of tartar.

5 – Start preheating your oven at 100OC. You will need to preheat it for no more than 10 minutes.


Method

1 – Begin once your eggs whites are at 21OC. Using your handheld mixer, whisk on low speed until the egg whites get frothy and slightly lighter in colour. There will be small bubbles, and it will start to look foamy.

2 – While continuing to whisk on low, add 1/16 tsp cream of tartar and continue whisking until the mixture begins to tighten and have smaller bubbles, almost like shaving foam. You should also begin to see trails being left by the whisk attachments in the “foam”. 

3 – While continuing to whisk, raise the speed to medium, and slowly add in 1 tsp of the confectioner’s sugar and beat for 30 seconds. Add the rest of the sugar in 1-teaspoon increments followed by 30 seconds of whisking, making sure that the mixture remains stiff after each addition of sugar.

4 – Once all your sugar has been added, your meringue will take roughly 8-10 minutes to reach the correct consistency. Raise the mixer to high. After 4-5 minutes, stop the mixer and see if the meringue has reached the soft peak stage. Look at your bowl. The mixture should start to look creamy and gooey like melted marshmallows. When the whisk is pulled out and held upright, the mixture on the tip of the whisk should gently curl back on itself like a wave. 

5 – Resume whisking the mixture on high for another 4-5 minutes or until you reach the stiff peak stage. Stop the mixer again to look at your bowl. The mixture will look smooth and shiny. When you lift the whisk up, the stuff on the whisk will stand up in one or multiple stiff peaks. Take a bit of the mixture and rub it between your fingers. It should feel smooth and silky with zero traces of sugar graininess. This is our meringue and it must be used immediately, so proceed swiftly with the next few steps.

6 – Get your glass with the piping bag. Using the thin brush, paint 3 equally spaced stripes of yellow gel food colouring along the insides of the bag; starting all the way from the tip and going about ¾ of the way up the bag. This will give you yellow striped mini meringues! Check this video to see the technique. You could just as well not do the striping technique. I piped half a batch of plain meringues and made the other half striped. 

7 – Using a rubber spatula, gently transfer the meringue to the piping bag, being careful not to smear or muddle the painted yellow stripes. Twist the end of the bag down to push the meringue towards the nozzle.

8 – It’s not time to pipe your mini meringues onto the prepared baking tray. If piping yellow-striped meringues, do a couple of testers on a plate until the striped pattern emerges. Hold the bag upright and perpendicular to the baking mat, and hover the tip 1/4 inch above it. Keeping the tip still, squeeze the end of the bag to push the meringue out. Do not swirl the tip at all. See this video for the technique. When you’ve piped a 3/4 inch blob, stop squeezing and swiftly lift the tip up to create a little peak. Think baby meringues shaped like Hershey’s Kisses! Repeat until you have run out of meringue. The meringues don’t spread during baking, so you can space them fairly close together. I get about 150 mini meringues from this amount. Do not rest the meringues once they’re piped, or they will develop feet (like macaron shells)!

9 – Immediately place your tray of piped meringues in the middle rack of your oven. Bake at 100OC for 45-55 minutes, or until the meringues come off the baking mat cleanly and without sticking. If you spot any cracks developing, immediately lower the temperature by 20OC. Do not open the oven to check on them before 45 minutes as they may crack from the sudden change in temperature.

10 – Once they’re done, turn off the oven, place the handle of a wooden spoon in the door of the oven (to create a small opening) and leave the meringues inside for 60 minutes or until the oven is completely cool.  

11 – Store your meringues in an air tight container and move on to the final stage. 

plain mini meringues being piped
yellow-striped mini meringues being piped
mini meringues ready for the oven
mini meringues baking in the oven
baked mini meringues
yes, they’re that small

If you live in a hot and humid location, I highly recommend whipping and piping your meringues in an AC environment, and taking your time to achieve the correct meringue consistency. Even so, trying to whip meringue to stiff peaks during an Indian summer is a fool’s errand! I whipped and whipped, and never achieved gorgeous stiff peaks. If that happens, a lot of your meringues will have floppy tips (like mine). My oven also ran a little hotter than normal, which resulted in some cracking. Either way, I wasn’t too concerned—they will work out great in this recipe no matter how they look! These mini meringues can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and will stay fresh in an airtight container, ready for use, anytime.

Stage 4: Finaleconstruction and assembly

Components
1. Prepared mini tart shells (room temperature or cold)
2. Prepared lemon curd (cold)
3. Prepared mini meringues
4. Fresh raspberries
5. Dried raspberries
6. Freeze-dried raspberries
7. Store-bought mini white chocolate chips
8. Fresh baby spearmint leaves

Method
1 – Spoon 15 ml or 1 tablespoon of lemon curd into each tart shell. You could also use a piping bag for this.

2 – Smash some freeze-dried raspberries to get an assortment of shards. Arrange one fresh raspberry, a couple of dried raspberries and some freeze-dried raspberry shards on the lemon curd.

3 – Arrange 3-4 mini white chocolate chips and a couple of mini meringues between the berries. Feel free to cut some meringues in half and keep others whole for some variation.

4 – Finally place a couple of spearmint leaves on the tart. A tweezer is helpful for this. Your market probably won’t have the teeny sprigs of spearmint pictured here. I grew those little lovelies at home from leftover  stem cuttings! Make do with the smallest leaves in your bunch or leave it off if you don’t like mint.

5 – Serve immediately, or after chilling for an hour. Now eat!

Did you know, chilling something mellows out its sweetness? That’s why ice cream tastes overly sweet in its melted state. We prefer eating these tartlets after they have chilled for a few hours in the fridge. All the individual lemon and raspberry flavours get enhanced, the pastry shell crisps up, and the perfect level of sweetness is achieved. 

Tips & Tricks

How to line mini tart moulds:


How to stripe a piping bag:


How to pipe mini meringues:

Calcutta Mutton Biryani

Makes 5 servings.

A mélange of Awadhi cooking techniques, Mughlai flavours, and Bengali sentiments, Calcutta biryani is a true culinary masterpiece. Low on heat and high on flavour, it is undeniably my favourite type of biryani. Back when I was 16 in Calcutta, a bawarchi (masterchef) came to our house to make mutton biryani for a hundred guests. I observed, as over an entire day, he transformed 36 individual ingredients into the best biryani I’ve ever eaten. A blend of tender goat meat, aromatic rice, and buttery potato, this recipe is pieced together from memory and a biryani grocery list from 2001.
Before you embark on this dish, check out its fascinating backstory here.

At a glance

– You will need a fair number of pots and pans for this recipe. The full list of special equipment and materials can be found just below in Guide 1.
– This recipe has been broken into 8 stages for ease and comprehension. To plan your cook, please read the entire recipe from start to finish and go through Guide 2 just below.

Guide 1; click to enlarge
Guide 2; click to enlarge


Stage 1: make the biryani masala

At the heart of an authentic Calcutta Mutton Biryani is the ‘masala’ or spice blend that gives it its signature taste. Unlike a Hyderabadi biryani, which is fiery with chilli, the aromatic and fragrant spices used in a Calcutta biryani are similar to those used in a Lucknowi biryani, which is native to the Awadh region in Northern India. Entrenched in Mughal food culture and perfected in the royal kitchens of the Nawabs—Awadhi cuisine has its roots in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Persia, and bears similarities to Kashmiri, Punjabi and Hyderabadi food. One of the most important differences that make Awadhi or Lucknowi food distinct from Mughlai food is that while the latter is marked by a zealous use of spices, nuts, milk and cream, the former is known for its subtle and delicate flavours, and nuanced use of spices. Even though a Calcutta biryani is made in the image of a Lucknowi biryani and the flavour profiles are similar, a Calcutta biryani contains less masala than its Lucknowi counterpart, which is just how we Bongs like it! 

Ingredients
1. 6 green cardamom pods (chhoti elaichi)
2. 1 black cardamom pod (badi elachi)
3. 1 tsp whole cloves (laung)
4. 1 inch cassia bark (dalchini)
5. ½ a nutmeg (jaiphal)
6. 2 blades of mace (javitri)
7. ½ tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
8. 1 ¼ tsp caraway seeds (golden shahi jeera
9. 1 ¼ tsp or 40 nos. cubeb pepper (kabab chini
10. 1 ¾ tsp white peppercorns (safed mirch)


Method
1 – Place a medium frying pan on the stove. Add all the spices listed to the pan. Gently toast the spices over low heat, stirring continuously, until lightly toasted and aromatic. This will take roughly 5 minutes once the pan is hot. Do not burn!

2 – Immediately transfer the toasted spices to a cold plate. This will stop the cooking process. 

3 – Once cool, transfer the toasted spices to a spice grinder and process them into a fine powder.

4 – Weigh the biryani masala. You should have 20-25 gm or about 7-8 teaspoons worth. Divide the biryani masala. Place 4 tsp (roughly 10 gm) in one bowl and place 2 tsp (roughly 5 gm) in another bowl. Biryani masala is ready, set aside. Move on to Stage 2.

whole roasted biryani spices
finely ground biryani masala

In a pinch, a readymade Calcutta biryani masala like this can be used in this recipe, but there’s nothing better than toasting fresh whole spices and grinding them yourself. Honestly, it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to whip up and makes a world of difference. I always make a double batch so that I have leftover biryani masala to flavour a variety of meat and chicken dishes. This spice blend should be stored in an airtight container and placed inside a cool pantry cupboard or the fridge. 

Stage 2: make the browned onions aka birista

Deep-fried, slow-cooked, golden-brown crispy slivers of onion — birista is an instant flavour enhancer and lends depth and savoury-sweetness to meat and rice dishes. Birista is 100% percent essential to a biryani so don’t leave it out!

Ingredients
1. 100 gm onions to yield 80 gm sliced onions
2. 300 ml vegetable oil or canola oil

Method
1 – Peel your onions. Cut them in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into fine slices (roughly 2 mm wide). 

2 – Spread the onion slices on some kitchen paper for an hour to get rid of excess moisture. 

3 – Grab a deep frying pan. Heat up the vegetable oil in it. The depth of the oil should be at least 2 inches so that the onions can deep fry.

4 – When the oil reaches 180OC, add the sliced onions in small batches, and deep fry them for 5-6 minutes. Then lower the heat and fry them until they’re golden brown. When they’re done, they will stop ‘fizzing’ and sort of float up to the surface of the oil.

5 – Immediately remove the golden brown onions from the pan and set them to drain on kitchen paper for 5 minutes. They will continue to cook after they’re out of the oil. Reserve the oil for Stage 4.

6 – Divide the browned onions; Place half the amount in one bowl (roughly 20 gm) and the other half (roughly 20 gm) in another bowl. Birista is ready, set it aside. Move on to Stage 3.

Traditionally used to season meat and rice dishes, birista can also be sprinkled on soups, salads and sandwiches. 100 gm unpeeled onions yields exactly 40 gm of birista; which is the precise amount you need for this recipe. I generally make a big batch using 250 gm onions, which gives me 100 gm of birista. Thereafter, I store the birista and its frying oil in the fridge for up to a week. For longer periods, store both in the freezer as the onions and the oil can turn rancid over time. The oil is chock-full of onion flavour and should not be discarded. Use it up in your regular cooking for some instant ‘onioniness’ without the chopping. 

browned onions aka ‘birista’

Stage 3: marinate the mutton 

In India, mutton refers to goat meat rather than lamb/sheep’s meat. When making curries, goat meat is superior, with none of the gamey taste that can be quite off-putting to non-hardcore meat eaters. While you could substitute lamb in place of goat, it would not be as tasty in a biryani. This is because the meat structure of goat makes it more suited to slow and wet cooking, whereas lamb tastes best ‘dry cooked’ through methods like roasting or searing.

Ingredients
1. 1 kg goat meat biryani cut (roughly 10 pieces weighing 100g each)

For the marinade:
‍2. 100 gm thick, full-fat yoghurt
3. 3 tsp freshly made ginger paste (roughly 20 gm)
4. 3 tsp freshly made garlic paste (roughly 20 gm)
5. Half portion of birista (roughly 20 gm)
6. 4 tsp biryani masala (roughly 10 gm)
7. ½ tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
8. ½ tsp ground black pepper
9. 3 ½ tsp salt (roughly 20 gm)
10. 1 tsp pandan leaf extract (kewra water) like this

Prep
1 – Peel your ginger and garlic. Using a mortar and pestle, pound them into a fine paste.

Method
1 – In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients listed in ‘for the marinade’. Whisk together to combine.

2 – Add the mutton to the bowl and coat it with the marinade, massaging it into the crevices of the pieces. Cover the bowl and set it aside in the fridge for at least 8 hours. Overnight is best! While the mutton is marinating, begin on Stage 4.

marinade ingredients
mutton-marinade massage
marinating mutton

Keep in mind that biryani cuts are much larger pieces than curry cuts of mutton. Additionally, biryani cuts consist of a perfect ratio of meat, fat, and bone for optimum flavour. If you can only get curry cuts, then you’ll likely have more than 10 pieces per 1 kg. Whatever you use, try to get fresh mutton vs frozen for a superior taste and texture. If using frozen meat, thaw it fully before marinating. I like to marinate my mutton overnight so that the flavours can really penetrate the meat and the yoghurt can fully tenderise it. Remember to bring your marinated mutton to room temperature before cooking it in Stage 5.

Stage 4: Fry the potatoes

A typical Calcutta style biryani must contain potatoes. In fact, Bongs add potatoes to most meat and chicken curries—not just to bulk it up in hard times, but—because like sponges, potatoes soak up the spicy meat juices and take on a rich, complex life of their own. We native Calcuttans love our meat, but we will descend into civil war over who gets that coveted biryani potato.

Ingredients
1. 400 gm starchy potatoes, (roughly 5 whole potatoes, weighing 80g each)
2. 1 pinch saffron yellow powder food colour like this
3. ¼ tsp salt
4. Reserved birista frying oil

Prep
1 – Peel the potatoes and keep them whole.

Method
1 – Place the peeled potatoes in a bowl. Sprinkle 1 pinch of saffron yellow powder food colour and ¼ tsp salt onto them and rub it onto their surfaces (use disposable food prep gloves to prevent your hands from getting stained).

2 – Pour enough reserved birista oil into your frying pan so that the oil is 1 inch deep. Bring the oil to medium heat.

3 – Fry the potatoes on all sides until lightly golden (about 1 minute on each side). Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside until you’re ready to proceed with Stage 5.

coated potatoes
golden-fried potatoes

Always prep and fry the potatoes right before you’re ready to cook the mutton and potatoes in Stage 5. Do not refrigerate the potatoes after frying them, as they will turn an odd shade of green! Do not freeze the fried potatoes either, as this messes up their texture. 


Stage 5: Cook the mutton & potatoes

This step serves two purposes. Not only does it cook the meat and potatoes by 99%, which speeds up the overall cook time, it yields something called ‘yakhni’ a delicious meaty, aromatic gravy used to flavour and hydrate biryani.

Components
1. ¾ tbsp. (roughly 10 gm) butter
2. 1 whole Kashmiri red chilli
3. I large dried bay leaf (tej patta)
4. 5 nos. whole fried potatoes
5. Marinated mutton
6. 150 ml plain water

Method
1 – After the mutton has finished marinating and is at room temperature, grab a 3 litre pressure cooker. Add the butter to the pressure cooker and melt it on medium-low heat.

2 – Once the butter starts to sizzle, add the whole red chilli and bay leaf and sauté in the butter until aromatic, roughly 1 minute.

3 – Turn the heat off and bring the pressure cooker to room temperature.

4 – Once the pressure cooker is cool enough to handle, move the bay leaf and chilli to the side of the pot and lay the fried potatoes on the bottom of the pressure cooker, in a single layer.

5 – Then layer the mutton pieces on top of the potatoes. Also add in all the marinade.

6 – Pour 150 ml plain water into the pressure cooker and then secure the lid.

7 – Pressure cook the mutton and potatoes on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. 

8 – After 30 minutes, turn off the heat. Do not prematurely release the steam to speed things up, as you want the contents to continue cooking within. This will take approximately 15-20 minutes. 

9 – As soon as the pressure cooker lid can be opened naturally, separate the meat, potatoes, and gravy. Using tongs, remove the mutton pieces and place them in a bowl. Then remove the potatoes and place them in another bowl. The delicious liquid left in the pressure cooker is the ‘yakhni’.

10 – Discard the red chilli and the bay leaf, pour the yakhni into a bowl and then weigh out 200 gm. Meat, potatoes, and yakhni ready. Set aside.

separated mutton, potatoes, and ‘yakhni’

You will get about 450 gm yahkni from the cooked mutton. After weighing out 200 gm, store the leftover yakhni covered in the fridge. The next time you make a meat or rice dish, add this liquid instead of water, and boom! Biryani-flavoured goodness!


Stage 6: prep the rice

Biryani rice is typically a long-grained basmati variant, which looks quite magnificent on a plate. Additionally, it is aged, which means a fluffy end result where the fully cooked grains remain separate but whole. 

Ingredients
1. 500 gm long-grained biryani rice like this
2. Enough plain water to submerge the rice by 1 inch

Method
1 – Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Be gentle as you don’t want to break any grains.

2 – Place the rice in a large vessel and pour enough water to come up above the rice by 1 inch. Let the rice soak for 30 minutes. 

3 – After 30 minutes, drain out all the water and spread the rice out in a strainer placed over a bowl. Set it aside until ready to use. 

soaking rice
soaked and strained rice

Soaking the rice for no more than 30 minutes, reduces the overall cook time while letting the grains hold their shape after being cooked. Wash, soak, and strain your rice only when you’re ready to cook it, as this should not be done well in advance.


Stage 7: mise en place

Before you cook the rice and do the final cook, it’s important to have all the elements in place and on hand, so that you can quickly layer the biryani in an organised fashion.

Ingredients

for the rice spice bag:
1. 3 gm dried bay leaves (tej patta)
2. 2 inch cassia bark (dalchini)
3. 3 ½ tsp cloves (laung)
4. 3 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
5. 6 green cardamom pods (chhoti elaichi)
6. 2 black cardamom pods (badi elaichi)

for the colour infusion:
7. 20 ml full fat buffalo milk 
8. 1 pinch saffron strands
9. 1 pinch saffron yellow powder food colour like this

for the aroma infusion:
10. 180 ml full fat buffalo milk
11. 1 tsp food grade rose water like this
12. 1 tsp pandan leaf extract (kewra water) like this
13. 4 drops meetha attar like this 

extras:
14. 70 gm semi-dried plums (alu bukhara) like this 
15. 40 gm reduced milk solids (khoya/khoa/mawa) like this
16. 40 gm buffalo ghee like this
17. 20 gm butter
18. 1 medium lime

Method
1 – Make your rice spice bag; In an 8 inch square of muslin, place all the whole spices listed in ‘for the rice spice bag’. Tie it up with some cooking twine to make a little pouch. This will flavour the water in which the rice will be boiled.

2 – If your alu bukhara contain pits, then deseed them. Else you may chip a tooth while munching down on one! Keep in mind that the alu bukhara should amount to 50 gm after being deseeded. 70 gm with seeds should yield about 50 gm pitted.

3 – Make your colour infusion; Heat 20 ml of milk until just warm (40OC). Add a pinch of saffron strands and a pinch of saffron yellow powder food colour. Stir together and set aside to infuse.

4 – Make your aroma infusion; Mix the rose water, kewra water, and meetha attar with 180 ml of milk and set aside.

5 – Crumble your khoya and set it aside. 

6 – Melt your ghee and butter together and set it aside.

7 – Squeeze out the juice from a fresh lime and measure out 1 teaspoon.

mise en place components

Apart from specific spices, there are certain aromatic ingredients that cannot be substituted or left out of a biryani. While rose water needs no explanation, kewra/keora/kevda water, which is extracted from pandan leaves, is an intensely floral infusion that echoes the aroma of jasmine rice, gobindhobog rice or aged rice. Translating to “sweet scent” meetha attar is an edible perfumed oil made from a blend of various “exotic” flowers and plants. Used primarily in Awadhi and Mughlai cuisine, it is highly potent, and even though you only need a teeny bit, you need it without a double. In fact, all three—rose water, kewra water, and meetha attar—must be procured if you want to create a truly authentic Calcutta biryani. Alu bukhara is another classic biryani ingredient. Although they’re a type of semi-dried plum, they are not the same as prunes, which are purple, meatier, and sweet. Possessing an orange skin and considerably smaller than prunes, alu bukhara are primarily sour and add cheeky little pockets of tanginess.

Stage 8: Assembly and final cook

A great biryani perfectly exemplifies Aristotle’s adage, “the whole is the greater than the sum of its parts”. The difference between an average biryani and an extraordinary one, is the layering of flavours. If you bung in all the uncooked ingredients together and just hope for the best, you’ll get a tasty pilaf, but an underwhelming biryani. To develop a complex flavour that keeps thrilling the palate, each ingredient must be cooked for the right amount of time, at different stages, and put together in the right order. This brings out the individual flavours of each one—making for a truly outstanding biryani experience. For quick access and efficient layering; place all the cooking components together, and keep the cooking materials prepped and ready.

Cooking components
1. Soaked and strained rice
2. 3 litres plain water for boiling
3. Rice spice bag
4. 2 ½ tbsp. salt (roughly 45 gm)
5. Melted ghee+butter mixture
6. 10-15 large intact dried bay leaves (tej patta)
7. 10 nos. pressure cooked mutton pieces
8. 5 nos. fried and pressure cooked potatoes
9. 2 tsp food grade dried rose petals like this
10. Remaining half portion of birista (roughly 20 gm)
11. 50 gm pitted alu bukhara
12. 40 gm khoya, crumbled
13. 2 tsp biryani masala (roughly 5 gm)
14. Prepared colour infusion
15. 200 gm yakhni
16. 1 tsp lime juice
17. Prepared aroma infusion

cooking components

Cooking materials
1. 5 litre cooking pot + lid
2. Large slotted spoon
3. Flat iron griddle or tava
4. 5 litre biryani pot/cooking vessel + tight fitting lid
5. Pastry brush
6. Thick aluminium foil

cooking materials

Method
In this stage, two actions will simultaneously happen.
1 – The rice will be boiled until it’s 80% cooked.
2 – All the components will be layered inside the biryani cooking pot one by one.
For the optimum biryani experience, it’s imperative that you layer the components in a particular order before serving. Check Guide 3 below to see how to layer the components—starting from the bottom to the top.

layering the biryani
Guide 3; click to enlarge


Part 1 – Boil the rice water & prep the cooking pot
1 – Get the rice-boiling water ready; Add 3 litres of plain water to a 5 litre cooking pot and plop the spice bag into the water. Cover the pot with a lid and bring it to a boil. 

2 – While the rice water is coming to a boil, prep your biryani cooking vessel; Place your flat, iron griddle/tava on the stove. Then place the biryani pot/cooking vessel on the griddle and turn the heat on at the lowest setting. 

3 – Using a pastry brush, grease the bottom and sides of the biryani pot with some melted ghee. 

4 – Arrange the bay leaves in a single layer to cover the bottom of the pot. The leaves will provide protection against sticking and over-browning.

Part 2 – Layering the biryani components
5 – Place the mutton pieces directly on top of the bay leaves in a single layer. 

6 – Arrange the potatoes on top of the mutton pieces.

7 – Evenly scatter the dried rose petals, the birista, and the pitted alu bukhara, on top of the potatoes.

8 – Evenly sprinkle half the biryani masala and half the crumbled khoya into the pot. Reserve the other halves for the next layer.

9 – Check on the pot of boiling water. As soon as it becomes a light brown colour and comes to a boil, remove and discard the rice spice bag and add the salt. Then add all of the soaked and drained rice and let it cook for 5-6 minutes or until 80% cooked. To test, check a few grains of rice; the centre should no longer be hard, but the grain should still be firm and hold its shape. Immediately turn off the heat under the rice.

10 – It’s now time to work quickly. Using a slotted spoon, strain the rice one spoonful at a time and directly add it to the pot, gently spreading it in a single layer. Repeat this until you have added half of the partially cooked rice. This is rice layer 1. 

11 – Next, sprinkle the remaining biryani masala and the remaining crumbled khoya onto the rice. 

12 – Now pour the colour infusion onto the rice, drizzling it onto random sections.

13 – Using the slotted spoon, strain the second half of the rice one spoonful at a time and add it to the pot. Using the lightest of touches, spread the rice out, leveling it evenly across the surface. This is rice layer 2.

14 – Pour the yakhni and the lime juice onto the rice.

15 – Then pour on the aromatic infusion.

16 – Finally top the rice off with the melted ghee-butter mixture, pouring it over the centre as well as the sides of the pot.

Part 3 – Sealing the pot and cooking on ‘dum’
17 – Place 2 layers of heavy-duty aluminium foil onto the pot, pressing the sides down so that the top of the pot is sheathed. Thereafter, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid so that it’s properly sealed and no steam can escape.

18 – Let the pot cook on the medium-low heat for 30 minutes. This method of sealing in all the moisture and cooking on low heat is known as “dum cooking”.

19 – After 30 minutes, switch off the stove. Let your biryani sit undisturbed for 15 minutes, before uncovering and serving.

20 – Once you unveil your biryani, take a big metal spoon to plough down deep and pull up layers of meat, potato and rice. The white rice will be saffron-marbled. Take care not to cut into a tender, buttery potato! Every plate should boast one potato, two pieces of meat and a generous serving of rice. Serve your biryani with some plain chilled yoghurt and a simple salad of brunoised onion, cucumber, and tomato, lightly seasoned with a spritz of lime, finely minced green chillies, and a sprinkle of salt and black pepper. The biryani needs no other accompaniment. Now eat!

setting water to boil with the rice spice bag
removing the rice spice bag from the coloured, boiling water
greasing the biryani pot with ghee+butter and lining it with bay leaves
mutton, potatoes, dried rose petals, ‘birista’, ‘alu bukhara’, half the biryani masala, and half the ‘khoya’
rice is 80% cooked and ready for layering
half the boiled rice
remaining biryani masala, remaining ‘khoya’, and the colour infusion
remaining boiled rice
‘yakhni’, lime juice, the aroma infusion, and melted ghee+butter
sealing the pot & cooking on ‘dum’
unveiling the biryani

Preserved and passed down for centuries by generations of bawarchis, a traditional biryani recipe is like a prized artefact. I still have the original list of 36 ingredients, featuring 20 kg of meat, 10 kg of rice, and 8 kg of potato; intended for 100 guests. Whether you make 100 servings or just 5 (as is the case here), a meat:rice:potato ratio of 10:5:4 is customary for a Calcutta Mutton Biryani. However, we always end up with leftover meat and potatoes, but run out of rice! If you love biryani rice as much as we do, feel free to increase the ratio of rice from 10:5:4 to 5:3:2. In this recipe, that translates to 600 gm of rice.
To do justice to the rich heritage of this royal dish, 3 things must be kept in mind.
1 – The quality of ingredients; source the best ingredients at your disposal. Real saffron, organic meat, whole spices, aged rice. These will contribute greatly to the dish.
2 – The manner in which it is prepared; An exceptional Calcutta biryani can be discerned based on how it eats. It’s not for nothing that you went to all that that trouble of pre-cooking and layering the components. Every mouthful will reflect your painstaking labour by offering up layers of sensory pleasure to your palate. Meat, potatoes, rice, spices, aromatics—each with its own distinct taste, flavour, and texture—individual personalities working together in harmony.
3 – The method of cooking it; “Dum pukht’ or “dum cooking”, the practice of slow cooking food in a sealed, heavy-bottomed vessel, is a hallmark of Awadhi cuisine and essential to making a Calcutta biryani. In Urdu, “dum” translates to breath and “pukht” to ‘cooking’, wherein “dum” refers to ‘keeping food on a slow fire’ and pukht to “cooking technique”. In the traditional “dum pukht” method, the cooking vessel is sealed with dough, hot coals are placed on top of the lid, and then the dish is slow-cooked on hot coals for several hours. This offers 2 beautiful advantages. Firstly, the dough seal prevents moisture from escaping, which permits the contents to steam in their own juices as well as the flavourful liquids to be re-absorbed. Secondly, slow cooking allows the delicate flavour of the spices and aromatics to gently infuse and penetrate all the other ingredients. By containing all nutrients within the vessel, the dum pukht method retains maximum flavour. Once the dish is done cooking, the dough seal is only cracked open right before serving. My home-kitchen-friendly method comprises an aluminium foil seal and a hot griddle to facilitating slow cooking, but still offers all the same advantages of the traditional “dum pukht” method. And although I have taken a shortcut by first pressure cooking the meat, the final slow cooking of the dish sort of compensates for that. A dough seal can be a little fiddly, messy, and wasteful, so I prefer the aluminium foil method. If you would like to make an authentic dough seal, knead together 1 cup whole wheat flour with + ½ cup plain water + ½ tsp salt until you have an elastic dough. Then roll the dough into a long, ½ to 1 inch thick “sausage”. It needs to be long enough to go all the way around the lid of your vessel. Once your dish is layered with the biryani components, arrange the sausage around the rim of the pot, pressing it gently to hold it in place. Place the lid on top of the pot and press firmly to seal. The lid should be pushed lightly onto the dough to ensure a tight seal. 

FYI


Research & Citations

https://indianculture.gov.in/food-and-culture/distinctive-cuisines/delicate-flavours-awadh

https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/the-art-of-dum-cooking-1781434

https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/Yh7PMMPtQyA92UTSd9NqJP/How-a-potato-saved-the-nawabs-biryani.html


Turkish Baklava

Makes 40 x 1 ½ inch diamonds + extra

There’s a reason why Baklava is a special occasion dish. Layers of wafer-thin phyllo striated with a rich nutty filling and then doused in perfumed syrup. Talk about luxury! While many countries lay claim to Baklava’s origins, there’s no debate that this luxurious dessert is the perfect addition to an Iftar or any kind of spread. A little bit Greek, a tad Lebanese, and a whole lot Turkish, my baklava is sweet, fragrant, and utterly delicious. Served with a glass of homemade Moroccan Mint Tea, these diamond shaped bites will transform teatime into a grand feast.

At a glance

– This dish comprises Turkish Baklava + bonus recipe for Moroccan Mint Tea.
– You will need a food processor, some cooking pots, and a 9×13 light-coloured, high-sided, metal baking dish.
– This recipe has been broken into 5 stages for ease and comprehension. Please read the entire recipe from start to finish before beginning.


Stage 1: Blanch your pistachios

Blanched pistachios

Ingredients
1. 250 gm pistachios (de-shelled weight)
2. 1 litre water for boiling
3. 1 litre cold water for rapid-cooling

Method
1 – To start, bring 1 litre of plain water to a gentle boil. 

2 – Add 250 gm pistachio kernels to the simmering water and boil them for 1 minute. 

3 – Remove the pistachios with a slotted spoon and immediately transfer them to a bowl of cold water. 

4 – Let the pistachios sit in the cold water for 1 minute and then strain them through a colander. Discard the water. This process of blanching and rapidly cooling the nuts will loosen their skins. 

5 – To peel, pinch each nut and slip off the skin. See this for the technique.

6 – Spread the skinned pistachios on some kitchen paper to fully dry. Once they’re dry, store them in an airtight container in the fridge. Blanched pistachios ready, set aside.

Do not skip this step, because it makes a huge difference! Removing the skins intensifies the pure pistachio flavour and eliminates any unsavoury mustiness from the skins. Plus, that intense green colour of a skinless pistachio is inimitable.


Stage 2: Prep your baklava components

Ingredients
For the pouring syrup:
1. 4 cloves
2. 220 gm white granulated sugar
3. 220 gm golden syrup
4. 120 gm honey
5. 220 ml water
6. 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
7. 1 tsp freshly grated lime zest
8. 1 tsp vanilla extract
9. 1 tbsp. freshly grated orange zest (optional but recommended)
10. 1 tsp rose water (optional but recommended)

This is a thin pouring syrup, which makes for a lighter, less-sweet baklava. The syrup plays a key role in how the final baklava will taste. Add or omit whatever flavourings you like. My husband loves the fruity note from orange zest and I love the light floral hint of rose water, so we add both. If you don’t like one/any, simply leave it/them off. You can also play with the ratio of golden syrup:honey. We don’t like honey to dominate the dish, so we’ve tempered it with the buttery, caramel notes of golden syrup. Feel free to swap the amounts if you like a strong honey flavour.

For the nut filling:
11. 200 gm blanched and skinless pistachios 
12. 100 gm walnuts (de-shelled weight)
13. 100 gm raw almonds (skin on)
14. 100 gm almondette kernels aka ‘charoli’
15. ½ tsp salt
16. 2 tsp ground cinnamon
17. 3 tbsp. golden syrup
18. 2 tbsp. honey

For the phyllo layers:
19. 21 phyllo sheets (at least 9×13 inches)
20. 40 gm unsalted butter
21. 40 gm ghee
22. 40 gm extra light olive oil

For the garnish:
23. 50 gm blanched and skinless pistachios 

Prep
1 – Thaw your phyllo sheets as per the package instructions (this can take 2 hours or more, so plan accordingly). Even if your phyllo sheets have been stored in the fridge, let them rest on your counter for a minimum of 2 hours.

Method
1 – Place the granulated sugar, the cloves, the golden syrup, the honey, and the water in a medium saucepan. Stir together to combine. Bring the saucepan to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. All the sugar will have dissolved by now. Simmer the mixture for 12-15 minutes. Thereafter, turn off the heat. Add the vanilla extract, lime juice, lime zest, orange zest, and rose water and stir the mixture. Set it aside to cool. Once it is cool, remove the whole cloves from the syrup and discard them. Pouring syrup ready. Set it aside. 

2 – To the jar of a food processor, add 250 gm blanched and skinless pistachios. Blitz until you have fine chunks. Set aside 50 gm for garnish and place 200 gm in a large bowl. Then, add 100 gm almonds to the processor and blitz until powdery with a few small chunks. Do not over-process or the oils will start to release from the nuts. Transfer the processed almonds to the large bowl containing the processed pistachios. Next, add 100 gm walnut kernels to the food processor and blitz until you have fine chunks. Transfer the processed walnuts to the large bowl containing the processed almonds and pistachios. Now add the almondette kernels to the bowl. Finally, add the cinnamon powder, the salt, the golden syrup, and the honey to the bowl. Mix everything together with a fork until you have a coarse, crumbly, slightly sticky mixture. Nut filling ready. Set aside.

3 – Melt your fats together; add the ghee, butter and extra light olive oil to a medium bowl/saucepan. Microwave or heat on the stove until the ghee and butter have just melted, and then stir together. This fat mixture will be used to brush your layers of phyllo. Fat mixture ready, set aside.

4 – Once they’re fully thawed, unwrap your phyllo sheets. You will need 21. My packet had exactly 21, so I trimmed all the phyllo sheets (together) to 9×13 inches, to fit my baking dish.  After the sheets are cut to the exact dimensions of your baking dish, lay a sheet of cling wrap on your counter and place the phyllo sheets on top of it. Lay another sheet of cling wrap on top of the phyllo sheets. Then lay a damp tea towel on top of the cling wrap. This will keep your phyllo sheets from drying out and cracking as you construct your layers of baklava. Phyllo sheets ready, set aside.

5 – Keep the following tools ready; a pastry brush and a sharp serrated knife.

Syrup cooling
Processed pistachios
Nut filling
Fat mixture
Phyllo sheets

Traditionally, pistachios or walnuts make up the nut filling in a baklava. But why limit yourself to either? We like to use a combination of our favourite nuts and be really generous with them! For the perfect bite of baklava, don’t process your nuts too finely or too coarsely. Too powdery and you won’t be able to taste the individual textures and flavours. Too chunky, and the nuts will fall out while you’re cutting or biting into the pastry. Since pistachios, almonds, and walnuts have different levels of ‘hardness’, I like to process each type separately, lest I end up over-processing my walnuts and under-processing my almonds. With regard to the fat mixture, you could go all butter, all ghee, or all oil. We wanted the glorious richness of butter and ghee, mitigated with extra light olive oil. This fat blend makes the baklava super tasty but not super heavy. Whichever fat you choose, avoid extra virgin olive oil, as it carries a pretty strong flavour, which will overwhelm or muddle any of the other delicate flavours. When trimming your phyllo sheets to size, use a sharp pair of scissors rather than a knife. It’s much easier to get clean cuts without pressing down on the entire stack.


Stage 3: Construct your baklava

Click to enlarge

Components
1. 21 phyllo sheets trimmed to the size of your baking dish
2. Prepared nut filling
3. Prepared fat mixture

Method
1 – Get your baking dish and lightly grease it with a thin brushing of fat. Don’t use a dark coloured metal dish or a glass dish. Dark metal dishes will cause your phyllo to overbake and glass dishes will prevent your phyllo from crisping up.

2 – Phyllo Layer 1; Grab 2 sheets of phyllo and lay them on the bottom of the dish. The sheets should be flush with the baking dish. Using a pastry brush, brush the top sheet with fat. Grab another 2 sheets of phyllo. Lay them on top and brush the top sheet with fat. Grab 2 more sheets of phyllo. Lay them on top and brush the top sheet with fat. You should have 6 sheets, with every alternate sheet brushed with fat.

3 – Nut Layer 1; Scatter ¼ of the nut filling evenly over Phyllo Layer 1. Lightly press the nuts down onto the phyllo sheet.

4 – Phyllo Layer 2; Grab 1 sheet of phyllo and lay it on top of Nut Layer 1. Brush it with fat. Grab a second sheet of phyllo. Lay it on top and brush it with fat. Grab a third sheet of phyllo. Lay it on top and brush it with fat. You should have 3 sheets, with every sheet brushed with fat.

5 – Nut Layer 2; Scatter another ¼ of the nut filling evenly over Phyllo Layer 2. Lightly press the nuts down onto the phyllo sheet.

6 – Phyllo Layer 3; Grab 1 sheet of phyllo and lay it on top of nut layer 2. Brush it with fat. Grab a second sheet of phyllo. Lay it on top and brush it with fat. Grab a third sheet of phyllo. Lay it on top and brush it with fat. You should have 3 sheets, with every sheet brushed with fat.

7 – Nut Layer 3; Scatter another ¼ of the nut filling evenly over Phyllo Layer 3. Lightly press the nuts down onto the phyllo sheet.

8 – Phyllo Layer 4; Grab 1 sheet of phyllo and lay it on top of Nut Layer 3. Brush it with fat. Grab a second sheet of phyllo. Lay it on top and brush it with fat. Grab a third sheet of phyllo. Lay it on top and brush it with fat. You should have 3 sheets, with every sheet brushed with fat.

9 – Nut Layer 4; Scatter the final ¼ of the nut filling evenly over Phyllo Layer 4. Lightly press the nuts down onto the phyllo sheet.

10 – Phyllo Layer 5; Grab 2 sheets of phyllo and lay them on top of Nut Layer 4. Brush the top sheet with fat. Grab another 2 sheets of phyllo. Lay them on top and brush the top sheet with fat. Grab 2 more sheets of phyllo. Lay them on top and brush the top sheet with fat. You should have 6 sheets, with every alternate sheet brushed with fat. That means the top-most sheet will be brushed with fat. Cover the baking dish with cling wrap and place it in the fridge for an hour to firm up.

Baklava construction components
Phyllo layer brushed with fat
Nut layer

Do not brush too much of the fat mixture onto the phyllo sheets. This will over-saturate the phyllo sheets and make them greasy and soggy after baking. A light, thin brushing of the fat mixture is all that’s required for perfectly crispy layers of phyllo.


Stage 4: Cut your baklava

Click to enlarge

Components
1. Fully constructed and chilled baklava from Stage 3

Method
1 – After 1 hour in the fridge, take the baklava out. Using a very sharp serrated knife, cut through all the layers right down to the bottom of the dish. I do a small sawing motion. Make 9 diagonal cuts from top right to bottom left, and then 9 diagonal cuts from top left to bottom right—to form a diamond pattern. These cuts not only create serving portions, they also form the pathways for the flavoured syrup to trickle down, and then travel upwards into the layers of pastry. Try not to put any pressure or press down on the pastry while you’re cutting it. If you’ve used a 9×13 dish, you will get around 40-42 perfect diamonds and some random triangles all around the periphery.

2 – Place the baking dish back in the fridge, and set your oven to pre-heat at 175OC for 20 minutes.

Step 1; make 9 diagonal cuts one way
Step 2; make 9 diagonal cuts the other way

Phyllo is delicate and slippery once it’s brushed with fat and cutting cleanly can be challenging in hot weather. You may need to refrigerate your dish for 30 minutes halfway through making the cuts, to firm up the pastry (I did). It’s incredibly important to make your cuts of baklava before you bake it. Once phyllo pastry is baked, it’s crispy and brittle. If you try to cut through it after baking, it will simple break apart and all your meticulous layering will be for nought.


Stage 5: Bake & decorate your baklava

Components
1. Pre-cut and chilled baklava from Stage 4
2. Room temperature syrup from Stage 2
3. 50 gm finely processed blanched and skinless pistachios from Stage 2

Method
1 – Place your chilled baklava in the middle rack of the oven and bake the baklava for 50-55 minutes at 175OC, rotating the dish halfway though. Bake until the top layer of phyllo is golden and crispy. Mine took 52 minutes.

2 – Remove the baking dish from the oven. While the baklava is still piping hot, pour the room temperature syrup onto it, only trickling it between the cuts and around the edges of the dish. It will sizzle! Do not pour the syrup on the surface of the baklava as this will ‘glaze’ the tops. You will have some extra syrup left over (we had about 1/3rd left). Do not be tempted to add all of the syrup and over-saturate the baklava. Reserve the leftover syrup to pour on individual servings to taste. If for whatever reason, you forget to add the syrup step while the baklava is hot, all is not lost. Simply wait for the baklava to fully cool, then heat up the syrup till boiling, and then trickle it on the baklava as already instructed.

3 – Once the baklava has cooled down completely, cover the dish with a tea towel or a cheesecloth and allow the baklava to soak up the syrup for 24 hours. After this period, it’s at its crispiest, juiciest best. Don’t skip the waiting time — it’s crucial for your Turkish style baklava to reach optimum yumminess,

4 – When you’re ready to eat, use a regular butter knife to re-cut the already marked out diamonds (just in case the syrup has melded any bottom layers together or you didn’t cut all the way through the first time). Then, use a small offset spatula to gently ease and lift out the individual diamonds of baklava. Ice tongs really help to grab and lift up individual diamonds as well. 

5 – Decorate the tops of each diamond with 1/8 teaspoon finely chopped pistachios and serve each portion with extra syrup on the side. Now…ea…wait! You could serve your Turkish Baklava just like this. Or, you could check out my bonus recipe for delicious Moroccan Mint Tea and serve it with that!

baked baklava
cool syrup meets hot baklava
diamonds of baklava
topped with chopped pistachios

Baklava 101. Pour cooled syrup onto hot baklava, or hot syrup onto cooled baklava. This hot+cold combination ensures that the baklava layers will slowly absorb as much of the syrup as possible and become evenly sweet, without making the pastry sodden. If you pour hot syrup on hot baklava, you’ll oversaturate the pastry and make the whole dish soggy. If you pour cold syrup on cold baklava, you’ll end up with pools of syrup on the bottom, which will make the lower layers soggy and leave the top layers unsweetened. In my recipe, I pour cooled syrup onto the hot, freshly-baked baklava as soon as it comes out of the oven. This way, the hot flaky phyllo properly absorbs the cooled syrup and stays crisp at the same time. Keep your baklava covered with a tea towel and store it at room temperature for up to 5 days. Storing it at room temperature preserves its crispy texture for days, even in Bombay’s hot and humid climate. The longer you keep the baklava, the more solid and crystallised it becomes (not a terrible thing!). But let’s be honest, it’s not going to last more than 5 days! Post the 5-day mark, it starts drying out. If you anticipate that you won’t be able to finish it up within a week, freeze your baked baklava for up to 4 months. Remember to store it in small batches (diamonds of 4) so that you won’t have to thaw the entire amount whenever a craving hits. Thaw your frozen baklava overnight in the fridge, and then leave it on your counter for a few hours to bring it to room temperature before eating. If you still have a lot of syrup left over, use it as a simple syrup to sweeten beverages. We made mojitos and lemonade with our extra syrup!

P.S. When you’re making your baklava “cuts”, you’re going to scratch the crap out of your metal baking dish. Since you have to saw through all the layers down to the bottom of the tray with a very sharp serrated knife, there’s no way to avoid this. The base of my beautiful non-stick 9×13 baking dish is permanently tattooed with a fishnet pattern; an unfortunate memento of my baklava exploits. However, as I always line my pans with baking parchment or aluminium foil, it’s still perfectly reusable if a little scarred.

tattooed baking dish
fishnet pattern


Bonus Recipe! Moroccan Mint Tea 

Ingredients
1. 1200 ml water
2. 1 ½ level tbsp. loose leafed gunpowder green tea like this
3. 6-12 fresh spearmint sprigs (depending on how you like it)
4. 6-8 tbsp. white granulated sugar

Materials
1. 2 litre stainless steel pot (for preparing tea)
2. Tea strainer
3. 1 litre teapot
4. 6 heatproof tea glasses or cups (120-150 ml capacity)

Prep
1 – Boil 1200 ml of hot water in a kettle. Set it aside and keep it hot.

2 – Pluck your mint leaves and discard the stems.

Method
1 – Place all the tea leaves inside your 2 litre pot. Pour 120 ml of just boiled water on top of the tea leaves. Let them steep, undisturbed for 1 minute. Resist the urge to swirl, shake, or stir the contents of the pot! After a minute, pour out this liquid into a tea glass, catching the leaves with the strainer. You’ll only get about 50 to 70 ml liquid, as the tea leaves will have absorbed a fair bit of water. This clear reddish-golden liquid is referred to as the “spirit” of the tea since it contains the unadulterated essence of the water’s first contact with the leaves. Set this ‘tea spirit’ aside; it will go back into the pot in a bit. Remember to catch all the loose leaves in a strainer and return them to the pot.

2 – Add another 120 ml of just boiled hot water to the pot. Let it sit for a minute, then swirl the pot around to wash the leaves. Pour out the murky liquid and discard it. This gets rid of any bitter, sour, and acrid notes in the tea, as opposed to the clear, clean “spirit” which will go back into the pot. Once again, remember to catch all the loose leaves in a strainer and return them to the pot.

3 – Add 1 litre of just boiled hot water to the pot. Then pour the reserved tea “spirit” back into the pot.

4 – Place the pot over medium-low heat and bring it to a simmer.

5 – As soon as you see bubbles forming on the surface of the liquid, add the fresh mint leaves. Gently push all the leaves down into the pot to submerge them. Do not add whole sprigs, as the stems can impart a lot of bitterness. Also keep in mind that the more mint you add, the more bitter the brew will become.

6 – After you push the mint leaves down, add the sugar. I added 6 tablespoons.

7 – Raise the heat to medium and bring the tea to a boil. The mint leaves will first rise to the top, and then the green tea leaves will surface as the brew becomes bubbly and frothy. This will take roughly 2-3 minutes. Take the pot off the heat.

8 – Strain the tea into your 1 litre teapot, making sure no tea leaves or mint leaves find their way into the brew.

9 – Instead of stirring, Moroccan Mint Tea is traditionally mixed by pouring the just-brewed tea into a tea glass and then pouring the tea back into the teapot. Repeat this process about 4 times. When you’re doing this action, try to pour from a height of at least 1 foot to aerate the tea. Carefully! The brew is hot!

10 – When you’re done aerating the tea, serve it in each glass, pouring from a height of at least 1 foot to create the signature foam on the on the surface of each glass of tea. Only fill the cup two-thirds full; this enables the aroma to develop fully. Garnish each glass with a few fresh spearmint leaves and serve the tea along with your already prepared Turkish Baklava. Now eat!

To make truly traditional Moroccan Mint Tea, you will need either a Moroccan teapot or a heat-resistant teapot. This is because Moroccan mint tea is prepared by ‘active infusion’, whereby tea leaves infuse in boiling water on the stovetop for a few minutes. If you own a heat-proof, stove safe Moroccan teapot, always use a diffuser to keep the pot protected from harsh flames. Like me, if you don’t have a heatproof teapot, you can still make this tea on the stove, using a regular steel vessel and a strainer. Authentic Moroccan Mint Tea is very sweet, so please adjust sugar quantity to match your taste preferences. Be as generous as you want with the spearmint; some like it bitter! Remember to wash the sprigs well and remove the stems before adding your leaves in. You can also flavour your mint tea with anything you like, from orange blossom water to cinnamon, but we like it in this pure form.

Tips & Tricks

How to pour Moroccan Mint Tea (at your own risk)


Beetroot Pesto Pasta

Makes 5 servings.

There’s something wholly exhilarating about eating a colourful plate of food. It appeals to our inner child (taste the rainbow, anyone?) and makes for an instant mood lifter. This colourful Holi inspired dish is not just a riot of flavourful hues, it’s also a kaleidoscope of textures ranging from creamy to crunchy. With earthy beetroot as the star and savoury onions, sweet pumpkin, bitter kale, and sour tofu playing supporting roles, it’s everything you want from a vegan dish. Pink, purple, orange, green, and white—this isn’t just pretty looking pasta—it’s a glorious celebration of the spring harvest season.


At a glance

– This dish comprises beetroot pickle + marinated tofu + kale chips + roasted pumpkin + roasted onions + beetroot pesto.
– You will need a big cooking pot (4-5 litre capacity), some baking trays, baking parchment and aluminium foil, some pans, and a blender.
– This recipe has been broken into 7 stages for ease and comprehension. Please read the entire recipe from start to finish before beginning.


Stage 1: beetroot pickle

Ingredients
1. 1 small beetroot or 150 gm equivalent
2. 3/4 tsp red chilli flakes
3. ½ tsp black peppercorns
4. ½ tsp dried dill
5. ¼ tsp caraway seeds
6. ¼ tsp cumin seeds
7. ¼ tsp coriander seeds

For the pickling liquid
8. 55 ml balsamic vinegar
9. 2 ½ tbsp. sugar
10. 60 ml water
11. 100 ml red wine vinegar
12. ½ tsp salt


Method
1 – Wash and scrub the beetroot and pat it dry. Peel and dice the beetroot into ¼ inch cubes. Place the cubes in a heat-proof, sterilised glass jar.

2 – Add the red chilli flakes, black pepper corns, dried dill, caraway seeds, cumin seeds, and coriander seeds to the jar. 

3 – Mix the sugar with the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce and thicken until it’s the consistency of a pouring syrup, roughly 7-8 minutes. 

4 – Add the water, red wine vinegar, and the salt to the same saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. 

5 – As soon as it comes to a simmer, pour the pickling liquid into the glass jar, to submerge all the beetroot. Make sure you leave at least ¼ inch space between the jar contents and the top of the jar (to prevent pressure building up and the lid popping).

6 – While the mixture is still hot, screw on the cap of the jar and leave to cool to room temperature.

7 – Once it’s cool to the touch, place your jar in the fridge and allow the beets to pickle for a minimum of 5 days for best results. 

This component adds crunchy pops of texture to the dish. I recommend making this component first, as it requires a steeping time of at least 5 days. This amount of beetroot pickle fills up a 400 ml jar. For this dish, you’ll only need about a tablespoon per serving, so you’ll have lots left over. Store the rest of the pickle in the fridge, where it will keep for a month or so. For a tangy and crunchy pop, sprinkle it on salads, or add it to sandwiches and wraps.


Stage 2: marinated tofu

Ingredients
1. 200 gm firm or extra firm tofu

For the marinade
2. 120 ml water
3. 60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
4. 60 ml white vinegar
5. 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
6.  1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
7. ½ tsp garlic powder
8. ½ tsp onion powder
9. ½ tsp dried dill
10. ½ tsp dried parsley
11. ½ tsp dried thyme
12. 1 tbsp. white miso paste (fermented bean paste)
13. 1 ½ tsp salt

Prep
1 – Press the tofu; Remove the block of tofu from its packaging and then pat it dry with kitchen paper. Place the block on some kitchen paper and then place it on one half of a soft absorbent towel. Place some more kitchen paper on top of the block and then fold over the towel. Now place a tray or cutting board on top of the wrapped block. Finally, place 4 kg of even weight on the tray. 4-5 coffee table books or hard bound books work very well. Do not stack all 4 kg at once. The trick is to add each book one by one, every 5 minutes so that you don’t smash the tofu. Once all the weight is added, let the tofu press for 40-60 minutes. The tofu will become slightly flatter and lose most of its water content. This step is essential, as removing the water content allows for the tofu to soak up the marinade.

Method
1 – After the tofu is done being pressed, cut it into ½ inch cubes.

2 – Add all the marinade ingredients together in a large container with an airtight lid. Whisk together to combine.

3 – Add the cubes of pressed tofu to the container, making sure they’re all well coated or submerged in the marinade.

4 – Cover the container and leave it to marinate overnight for best results. It can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for about 3-4 days.

The purpose of this component is to imitate salty feta cheese, which pairs brilliantly with earthy beetroot. While this marinated tofu can’t replicate the creamy, crumbly texture of feta, it does offer the same tangy, savoury zing that feta brings. To achieve the texture of actual feta, one has to make ‘vegan feta’ from scratch, using blitzed cashew nuts, tofu, and agar agar. I tried twice and failed twice, as my blitzed mixture refused to set! Miso contributes to the fermented, funky flavour of real feta, so try not to leave it out. This amount is more than enough for 6-8 servings. After the marinated tofu is used up, don’t throw the marinade away! It makes for a zesty, flavour-packed salad dressing.

Stage 3: kale chips

Ingredients
1. 125 gm kale
2. 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3. 1 tsp salt

Prep
1 – First wash and then pat down your kale until it’s completely dry. You could also use a salad spinner for this if you have one. The leaves must be bone dry. I spread them out on a kitchen towel and turned on the fan to get rid of any residual moisture.

2 – Line a baking tray with some parchment paper.


Method
1 – Preheat your oven to 160°C. 

2 – With a knife or kitchen scissors carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and then tear the leaves into bite sized pieces (2 inch x 2 inch).

3 – Transfer your prepared kale leaves to a large bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and then put a lid on the bowl. Shake the bowl well to evenly distribute the oil. Then rub the oil onto the leaves. Their surfaces should be lightly slick with oil. 

4 – Place the oiled kale leaves on your lined baking tray, without overlapping any of the leaves. Sprinkle the leaves with a smattering of salt. You may have to bake multiple batches depending on the size of your oven and how many baking trays you have.

5 – Bake the leaves at 160°C for 12-14 minutes until the edges of the leaves begin to darken. They will significantly shrink. Thereafter, turn the leaves over and bake at 160°C for an additional 3-4 minutes. Keep a close watch on your kale, as you don’t want it to brown and become bitter.

6 – Remove the kale from the oven and let it cool to room temperature before storing in an airtight container lined with kitchen paper. Kale chips ready, set aside.

Crispy, homemade kale chips is the snack everyone needs in their lives. They are incredibly delicious and I can polish off this entire quantity in a few minutes. You will only need about half the amount for this dish, but extra kale chips never hurt anyone! Season your kale with whatever spices you like, but honestly, they have such incredible roasted broccoli-like flavour, that all they need is a little salt. A variety of green leaves can be used to make chips such as beet greens, chard, and mustard leaves. The trick is to go low and slow so that the leaves dry out and crisp up without browning. Even though these are crispiest on day 1, they can be stored in a paper-lined airtight container for about 3 days before they get soft. If they do soften, put them back in oven at 100OC for 30 minutes or so and they will crisp right back up. 


Stage 4: roasted pumpkin

Ingredients
1. 850 gm pumpkin to give 700 gm peeled and cut pumpkin
2. 3 small cloves of garlic
3. 1 ½ tsp cumin powder
4. 1 tsp coriander powder
5. 1 ½ tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
6. ½ tsp turmeric powder
7. 1 tsp black pepper powder
8. 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
9. 3 tsp salt
10. 2 tsp sumac powder

Prep
1 – Cut the pumpkin into quarters and then peel it. Remove the pumpkin guts and seeds. Watch this video to see how. Throw out the guts and keep the seeds, which can be washed, dried, hulled, and then roasted to make a delicious snack. Weigh out 700 grams of pumpkin.

2 – Line a baking tray with some parchment paper.

Method
1 – Cut the pumpkin into wedges, about 2 inches long and ½ inch thick. Place them in a bowl.  

2 – Roughly chop your cloves of garlic, then transfer it to a small bowl along with all the spice powders, except for the sumac. Add the extra virgin olive oil and whisk to combine.

3 – Pour the spiced oil onto the pumpkin. Using your hands, rub it onto the wedges, making sure to get into all the crevices. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes.

4 – In the meantime, start preheating your oven to 230°C.

5 – After 20 minutes, place the wedges of pumpkin onto the parchment lined baking tray, avoiding overlapping the wedges. Salt the pumpkin wedges on both sides.

6 – Roast the pumpkin at 230°C for about 20 minutes, or until the wedges are no longer hard, but not mushy either. Start checking the texture at the 20 minute mark for doneness.

7 – Take the pumpkin out of the oven and sprinkle the sumac on top of the wedges while they’re still hot. Pumpkin ready, set aside.

The quantities mentioned here are more than double of what you need for this dish. Feel free to halve the recipe for the same results. When roasting any kind of vegetables, it’s essential to cut all the pieces approximately to the same size so that they cook evenly and are ready to come out at the same time. Avoid high edged pans and glass/ceramicware when roasting, as the vegetables are likely to steam and get limp rather than roast and get charry. I use metal, low-lipped bakeware whenever I’m roasting veggies. If you’re making the roasted pumpkin for this dish, the sweetness is the perfect foil against all the sour, punchy components like the beetroot pickle and the marinated tofu. If you make the roasted pumpkin as a standalone dish, I highly recommend drizzling some freshly squeezed lemon juice on top of the slices before serving. That extra hit of lemon really amps up all the flavours!


Stage 5: roasted onions

Ingredients
1. 4 small to medium red onions or 300 gm equivalent
2. ½ tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3. ½ tbsp. balsamic vinegar
4. ½ tbsp. kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
5. ½ tsp salt
6. ½ tsp black pepper


Method
1 – Preheat your oven to 230OC.

2 – Peel and quarter your onions. Keep each quarter intact and place the quartered onions in a baking dish. 

3 – Whisk together the extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, kecap manis, salt, and black pepper.

4 – Drizzle this mixture onto the onions and then tightly cover the baking dish with aluminium foil.

5 – Bake the onions at 230OC for 12-15 minutes. Then remove the foil cover and flip the onions. Continue baking the onions, uncovered for 18-20 minutes, until lightly browned.

6 – Remove the baking tray from the oven. Onions ready. Set aside.

While you can use any kind of onion for this dish, red-purple onions really make for a visual treat and pack the most flavour when briefly cooked or cured. Moreover, in India, they’re the most readily available kind of onions; enjoyed raw or used in pickles, dips, salsas, and other condiments. 


Stage 6: beetroot pesto 

Ingredients
For the pesto:
1. 2 large beetroots or 500 gm equivalent
2. 2 small garlic cloves
3. 50 gm raw cashews (to roast the cashews)
4. 1 tsp cooking olive oil
5. 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (80 ml)
6. 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
7. 2 tsp sumac powder
8. 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
9. ½ tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
10. 2 tsp salt

For the pasta:
11. 500 gm fettuccine like this (100 gm per serving is ideal)
12. 1 tbsp. salt
13. 4 litres of water for boiling
14. 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Prep
1 – Preheat the oven to 190°C. Wash and scrub the beetroots and pat them dry. Peel and roughly chop the beetroot into 1 inch cubes. 

2 – Grease a large rectangle of heavy duty aluminium foil and then make a ‘foil bag’. Watch this to see how. 

3 – Place the beetroot cubes inside the foil bag and seal it up. Place the bag on a baking tray and cook in the oven at 190°C for 40 minutes, or until the cubes are fork-tender. 

4 – While the beetroot is baking, roast the cashews in a frying pan with one teaspoon of cooking olive oil. Set aside to cool.

Method
1 – Once the beetroot is done, pull out your baking tray and let the beets come to come to room temperature inside the foil packet. Keep your oven on. 

2 – Lower the oven temperature to 100OC, and then place your trays of roasted pumpkin and roasted onion into the oven. This will keep them warm while you carry on with the rest of the recipe.

3 – Place the garlic and cashews in the jar of a blender and blitz until the cashews are a coarse powder and the garlic is minced. 

4 – Then add the cooled roasted beetroot, the extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sumac powder, Kashmiri red chilli powder, black pepper, and salt. Blend until you have a smooth pesto-like sauce. Taste the sauce and season with more salt if desired. Transfer the pesto to a large bowl.

5 – Cook your pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once it’s bubbling, add the salt and continue to boil for 30 seconds. Then add the fettuccine and cook until al dente. Drain well and reserve about ¼ cup (60 ml) of pasta water. 

6 – Toss the hot fettuccine in the beetroot pesto. Add some reserved pasta water to make it as saucy as you like. Once all the pasta is well-coated and dyed magenta, drizzle the extra virgin olive oil on top and toss together. Get ready to serve it hot and immediately move on to Stage 7. If you want to serve the pasta at room temperature or chilled, rinse the pasta with cold water and set it aside. Do not coat with oil or toss in the pesto, as you only want to do this right before serving.

This amount of pesto is perfect for 500 gm of fettuccine or 5 generous servings. It can be made with a variety of beets, but of course, the deep gorgeous magenta of red beetroot is inimitable. Plus, red beets are the sweetest kind and taste phenomenal when roasted. When buying beetroot, select produce that is firm and heavy. If they come with leaves attached, even better, as you can use the leaves to make green chips! Remember to cut off the leaves and stalks from the root before storing in the fridge, as this will keep all parts of the vegetable freshest for the longest period. You could make the beetroot pesto in advance and store it in the fridge for up to a week. You can then gently warm it in a saucepan before tossing it with the hot, freshly made fettuccine. 


Stage 7: finale; assembly for 5 servings

Components
1. Prepared beetroot pesto pasta
2. Prepared kale chips
3. Prepared roasted pumpkin (warmed in the oven)
4. Prepared roasted red onions (warmed in the oven)
5. Prepared marinated tofu
6. Prepared beetroot pickle
7. 50 gm pumpkin seeds hulled (10 gm per serving)
8. 100 gm radish microgreens (20 gm per serving)
9. Freshly cracked black pepper
10. Extra virgin olive oil

Prep
1 – Toast your hulled pumpkin seeds on a dry skillet, roughly 5-8 minutes on low heat. Lightly season the seeds with some salt. Feel free to use pre-packaged toasted seeds as well.

2 – If your roasted pumpkin and roasted onions have been gently warming in the oven, switch off the oven and take them out.

Method
1 – Arrange 1/5 beetroot pesto pasta onto a plate.

2 – Dot 1 tablespoon’s worth of pickled beetroots on top of the pasta (don’t add the pickling liquid).

3 – Place 4-5 wedges of roasted pumpkin onto the pasta.

4 – Arrange 3-4 wedges of roasted red onions onto the pasta (don’t add the juices).

5 – Arrange 8-9 cubes of marinated tofu on the pasta (don’t add the marinade).

6 – Scatter 10 gm of roasted pumpkin seeds onto the pasta.

7 – Scatter 20 gm of radish microgreens on top of the dish.

8 – Top the pasta with 6-7 kale chips.

9 – Crack some fresh black pepper on top of the dish.

10 – Drizzle some fresh extra virgin olive oil on top. Sing “oh rang barse, Holi hai!” Now eat!

I made this dish to celebrate Holi, the festival of colours that marks the spring harvest in India. However, since the ingredients are pretty much always in season here, it really is a round-the-year dish. You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy vegan food! Both my husband and I eat animal products and we absolutely love this stunning coterie of plant based goodness. And while I wouldn’t add any meat to this dish (it honestly doesn’t need it), feel free to replace the marinated tofu in the recipe with real feta. Radish microgreens with their crunch and fresh pepperiness really cut through the fats in the dish, and pair wonderfully with beets. In fact, this dish can quickly transition from a heavy main to a light salad, by simply replacing all the fettuccine with radish microgreens! 100 grams of microgreens per plate would make for a generous serving of salad.

Tips & Tricks:

How to peel and cut a pumpkin:


How to make a foil bag:


Strawberries & Cream Cake

Makes a three-tiered 6 inch layered cake.

In India, winter is peak strawberry season (read, strawberry cake season). Unfortunately, strawberry cake tends to diminish the vibrancy of fresh strawberries. Rather than subduing their voices by cooking them into the cake batter, I’ve baked a vanilla stage for my strawberry sisters to belt out, “I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it!” Imagine strawberry shortcake, only way lighter and floofier thanks to the chiffon sponge. Where are the strawberries? In the tangy curd, in the silky frosting, in the sweet filling, and right on top—basically in every mouthful.

At a glance

– This recipe comprises vanilla chiffon cake + master strawberry puree + strawberry curd + strawberry filling + whipped cream and mascarpone frosting + fresh strawberries.
– You will need three 6 inch cake pans, parchment paper, and some piping bags.
– This recipe has been broken into 6 stages for ease and comprehension. Please read the entire recipe from start to finish before beginning.

Stage 1: vanilla chiffon cake

Ingredients
For the dry mixture:
1. 190 gm cake flour (or 160 gm all purpose flour + 30 gm corn flour)
2. 150 gm white castor sugar
3. 3/4 tsp baking powder
4. 1/4 tsp baking soda 
5. 1/8 tsp salt

For the wet mixture:

6. 50 gm unsalted butter, melted and cooled
7. 90 ml neutral flavoured oil
8. 170 ml buttermilk (or 2 tsp. lemon juice + 160 ml milk) at room temperature
9. 4 egg yolks from 4 large eggs (60 gm/egg with shell) at room temperature
10. 1 ½ tbsp. vanilla extract
11. ½ tsp almond extract (or 3-4 drops almond flavouring)

For the meringue:
12. 4 egg whites from 4 large eggs (60 gm/egg with shell) at room temperature
13. ½ tsp cream of tartar
14. 100 gm white castor sugar

Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour. This makes for a more tender cake crumb. However, sometimes it’s hard to procure, which means adapting and making your own cake flour substitute. Whenever you make homemade cake flour – measure out 1 cup of all purpose flour, and then remove 2 tablespoons. Then, add 2 tablespoons of corn flour to the all purpose flour. Sift them together three times. This is your cake flour substitute. It’s not quite the same as store bought cake flour, but it does give a lighter, more tender crumb than if you were to use all-purpose flour only. Cultured buttermilk is another ingredient that’s often hard to procure. Luckily, soured milk can work as a substitute. To make your own “buttermilk” – put 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar into a liquid measuring cup with volumetric markings. Thereafter, top the cup up with whole milk till you reach the 240 ml mark. Stir gently and set it aside for 5-10 minutes to thicken. It’s then ready to use. In baked goods, this buttermilk substitute adds sourness and moistness like cultured buttermilk, although it lacks the same ‘yoghurt’ like taste.

Prep
1 – In a large bowl, sift in all the dry ingredients and give it a very good whisk to aerate. This is your dry mixture. Set aside.

2 – Very carefully, separate your egg yolks from your egg whites. Place the egg yolks in a small bowl and the egg whites in a medium bowl. Keep aside.

3 – Melt your butter over low heat and then bring it to room temperature.

4 – Line the bottom of three 6 inch cake pans with parchment. Do not grease or line the sides of the pans as you want the batter to cling to the pan’s walls as it rises.

Method
1 – Start preheating your oven at 175OC.

2 – In a medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, oil, buttermilk, vanilla extract, almond extract, and egg yolks. You can use a manual hand whisk for this. This is your wet mixture. Set aside.

3 – Grab the bowl with the egg whites and add in the cream of tartar. Using a handheld mixer, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they start forming soft peaks. With the mixer still running, slowly and steadily stream in the castor sugar. Once all the sugar has been added, raise the speed of the mixer to high and beat until you reach stiff peaks. This is your meringue.

4 – Add the wet mixture to the large bowl containing the dry mixture and gently fold together with a whisk until the batter is smooth.

5 – Once the dry and wet mixture is homogenous, add 1/3rd of the meringue to the mixture. Using your whisk, fold it into the batter to lighten it. You will see ‘streaks’ of meringue in the batter.

6 – Add another 1/3rd of the meringue and fold again to combine it with the batter.

7 – Finally, add the last 1/3rd of the meringue and gently fold until it is fully incorporated into the batter. To ensure you haven’t left any floury or clumpy pockets, fold the batter one final time with a rubber spatula. Take care not to deflate the meringue. The batter should be light, fluffy and homogenous. 

8 – Divide the batter evenly among your three cake pans and gently tap them on your counter to pop any air bubbles. 

9 – Place your cake pans inside your preheated oven. Bake your cakes for 20-25 minutes at 175OC. Do not open the oven for a full 20 minutes, as chiffon cake may deflate from a sudden drop in temperature. Be sure to check for doneness at the 20 minute mark; that is, if a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cakes comes out clean, they’re done. Mine took the full 25 minutes.

10 – Remove the cakes from the oven and immediately invert the pans onto a parchment sheet. This is a crucial step – as chiffon cake is so delicate that it can collapse back down in the pan as it cools. Leave the cakes to cool like this, without lifting off the pans. 

11 – Once the cakes have cooled completely, remove the pans. The cakes will have released by themselves and the pans should lift right off. If they don’t, run a very sharp knife around each cake and then unmould them. Each cake should be about 4 cm (1.5 inches) tall if they’ve been mixed, baked, and unmoulded correctly. 

12 – As this is a naked cake, you want the sides to look pale and pristine. If you have any crusty crumbs on the sides of your cakes, gently rub them off with your fingers, so that the sides are an even yellow sponge (I didn’t need to do this).

13 – Wrap your cakes with cling wrap to keep them from drying out. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge while you move on to Stage 2. They can be trimmed, layered, and frosted straight out of the fridge.

Chiffon cake is an oil-moistened cake that is very different from regular butter cake. Possessing a super light, airy, and sponge-like crumb, chiffon cake is the perfect flavour vehicle for toppings, curds, and fresh creams because it soaks up flavours without getting soggy or falling apart. Strictly speaking, this is not a traditional chiffon, as this cake also contains butter for some flavour. However, unlike an all-butter cake, it doesn’t impose its own flavour, allowing for clean fresh, fruity flavours to shine through. Always strive for even heating with cakes. My oven has both top and bottom heating sources, so I always place my cakes on the middle rack, unless a recipe specifies otherwise. If you’re serious about baking, get to know your oven, and all its “hotspots”. This is essential to evenly cooked baked goods. If your cakes tend to rise unevenly, or get cracks, or dome rapidly and then sink, their spot in the oven is too hot. To compensate for these irregularities, you’ll need to lower the temperature and/or move your pan around during the baking process. Keep in mind, if your oven has a convection mode, avoid using it for cakes if you can. Although it may speed up your overall bake-time, it will also dry out your sponge, and you definitely don’t want that.

Stage 2: master strawberry puree

Ingredients
1. 1 kg fresh strawberries (post-hulled weight)
2. 50 gm white castor sugar
3. 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
4. 1 tbsp. (15 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
5. 1/4th tsp salt
6. 1/8th tsp freshly cracked black pepper

If strawberries are not in season where you live, feel free to use frozen berries of the same weight. Remember to thaw them before using. 

Method
1 – Wash and then cut the stalks off your strawberries. 

2 – Add the strawberries to the jar of a blender and blitz them into a fine puree. You can also use a stick blender for this.

3 – Add the sugar, salt, pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice to the puree. Give it a final blend. Done! Set it aside for Stage 2.

This amount of strawberries yields 4 cups of master strawberry puree. Here’s the deal. Every single strawberry I tasted this year was lacklustre. Unless you are in possession of amazingly sweet berries, this puree simply tastes like sour, mildly strawberry-flavoured water and must be cooked down for a more concentrated, sweet flavour. Thereafter, it can be used to make a variety of different condiments. In this recipe, we’re going to use this master puree to make a strawberry curd and a strawberry filling. As this puree is made with real fruit and contains no artificial preservatives, you will need to store it in the fridge and use it up within a week or freeze it for up to 6 months.

Stage 3: strawberry curd

Ingredients
1. 300 gm master strawberry puree to give 250 gm strained puree
2. 150 gm white castor sugar
3. 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
4. 3 tbsp. (45 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
5. 1 tsp strawberry emulsion like this
6. 4 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
7. 100 gm butter
8. 1/4 tsp salt

Prep
1 – Cut your butter into ½ inch cubes. Keep it chilled in the fridge until ready for use.

2 – Weigh out roughly 300 grams of the master strawberry puree you made in Stage 1. Pass it through a fine-meshed strainer to collect 250 grams of strained puree. Transfer the pulp caught in the mesh back to the master strawberry puree.

Method
1 – Add the strained strawberry puree to a large, heavy-bottomed steel saucepan. Place the saucepan on your hob and cook the mixture over low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent burning. 

2 – After 15 minutes, a lot of the excess water will have evaporated, the colour of the mixture will have darkened, and the consistency will be akin to a glaze. Take it off the heat and let it come to room temperature.

3 – Once it has cooled, add in the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, and the strawberry emulsion, and whisk everything well to combine.

4 – Place the saucepan back on the hob and cook the mixture over low heat, stirring continuously, until the sugar has dissolved completely. 

5 – Take the cubes of butter out of the fridge. Add 3-4 cubes of cold butter in batches, stirring continuously. Wait until one batch of cubes has melted and emulsified into the mixture; only then add in the next batch. Do this until you run out of butter. 

6 – Continue to cook the mixture on low heat, stirring continuously until the mixture is viscous and coats the back of a spoon. This can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes.

7 – Strain the mixture immediately into a bowl and cover it with cling wrap, making sure to press the plastic down onto the surface of the curd. Refrigerate the curd for at least one hour. Once it’s cold, it’s ready to use. 

An emulsion does the same work as an extract and can be substituted for an extract in 1:1 ratio. While extracts are alcohol based, emulsions are water based. This means that when they are subjected to high heat either in the oven or on the stove, their flavour will not cook out—making emulsions preferable to extracts. Please do not use essence anywhere, as your fnal product will taste artificial! This quantity of ingredients yields roughly 2 cups of strawberry curd. Use as much as you like to fill your cake layers and then keep the rest refrigerated in an airtight jar, ready for use, anytime. Leftovers make for a great spread on toast. Use up any leftovers within a week.

Stage 4: strawberry filling

Ingredients
1. 750 gm master strawberry puree
2. 1/16 tsp citric acid (optional)
3. 100 gm white castor sugar
4. 1 tsp strawberry emulsion
5. 3/4th tbsp. corn starch
6. 1 ½ tbsp. (20 ml) plain water
7. 1/4th tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Even though strawberries were in season when I made this, I had to add this amount of sugar because they were quite watery and lacking in natural sweetness. Taste your master strawberry puree and adjust the amount of sugar according to how sweet your strawberries are.

Method
1 – Add the strawberry puree, the sugar, the strawberry emulsion, and the citric acid to a large, heavy-bottomed steel saucepan. 

2 – Place the saucepan on your hob and cook the mixture over low heat for about 60 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent burning. You’re looking to reduce the puree by half.

3 – When the puree has sufficiently reduced, mix the corn starch with the plain water and whisk together to form a slurry.

4 – Add the slurry to the hot strawberry reduction, stir it in, and raise the heat to medium.

5 – Continue to cook the mixture on medium heat for about a minute or until the reduction thickens and can coat the back of a spoon.

6 – Remove from the heat and stir in the black pepper.

7 – Cool the mixture fully before covering and storing it in the fridge. It will continue to thicken as it cools. Strawberry filling ready. Set aside.

When the fresh strawberry puree is cooked down, it packs a real concentrated flavour punch that’s halfway between a crush and a jam. The citric acid really helps to boost the natural flavour of the berries, so I highly recommend adding it. This amount yields about 1 ½ cups of strawberry filling. You will need roughly 4-6 tablespoons to fill your cake layers. Leftovers should be stored in the fridge for up to a week and can be used like a jam or mixed into buttercreams and cake batters for a completely natural strawberry taste.

Stage 5: whipped cream and mascarpone frosting

Yes, we know it looks like a chicken.

Ingredients
For the stabilised whipped cream:
1. ½ tsp gelatine powder
2. 1 tbsp. cold water
3. ½ tsp heavy whipping cream (30-35% fat); at room temperature
4. 100 ml heavy whipping cream (30-35% fat); very cold
5. 20 gm confectioner’s sugar
6. 1/8 tsp vanilla bean powder

For the mascarpone cream:
7. 100 gm full fat mascarpone cheese, softened but still cool (16-18OC)
8. 20 gm confectioner’s sugar
9. 1/8 tsp salt
10. 1/8 tsp fresh lemon juice
11. 1 tsp powdered freeze dried strawberries


Prep
1 – Keep your heavy whipping cream in a medium mixing bowl in the fridge. Make sure it’s ultra-chilled (not frozen) before you start.

2 – Bring your mascarpone cheese to temperature so that it whips up to the correct consistency. Too cold and it will lead to a chunky frosting. Too warm and it will make for a soupy frosting! I take my mascarpone out of the fridge 10-15 minutes before using it so that it softens just a bit, but is still cool. 

3 – Sift your confectioner’s sugar and divide it into two. Set it aside.

Method
1 – Bloom your gelatine; place the cold water in a small microwave safe bowl. Sprinkle your gelatine over the water and let it steep for 5 minutes.

2 – Melt the gelatine for 5 seconds in the microwave. You can tell it has fully melted when there are no granules of gelatine visible. If still grainy, microwave for another 3-5 seconds. 

3 – After melting your gelatine, mix in ½ teaspoon of room temperature heavy cream and combine. If your gelatine feels cold to the touch, re-heat it in the microwave for 3-5 seconds until it is warm again

4 – Take out your cold mixing bowl with the chilled heavy whipping cream. Using a hand held mixer, whisk the cream for about 15 seconds on medium speed until it is foamy.

5 – Add 20 gm sifted confectioner’s sugar and the vanilla bean powder and continue whisking on medium speed until you reach the soft peak stage. When the whisk is pulled out and held upright, the mixture on the tip of the whisk should gently curl back on itself like a wave.

6 – Turn your mixer down to the lowest speed and drizzle in your warm gelatine. Now, raise the speed to medium and whisk until you reach the firm peak stage. When you lift the whisk up, the stuff on the whisk will stand up and hold its shape. I like to stop the mixer every 15 seconds or so to check, as over-whipping cream will turn it into butter!

7 – Immediately start on your mascarpone cream, as the stabilised whipped cream needs to be mixed in right away, before the gelatine sets. In a separate bowl, cream the softened mascarpone cheese until smooth. Since this is such a small amount of mascarpone, I highly recommend creaming it by hand, else it can get over-whipped, split, and turn grainy in an instant (yup, has happened to me).

8 – Add in 20 gm confectioner’s sugar, the salt, and the lemon juice, and continue creaming by hand until just combined.

9 – Sprinkle 1 tsp of freeze dried strawberry powder onto the mascarpone, do not mix.

10 – Gently fold your stabilised whipped cream mixture into the mascarpone cream mixture until just combined. Fold just until you can see little pink streaks in the white frosting. Do not over mix or the whole frosting will be tinted pink.

11 – Immediately transfer the frosting to a piping bag and place it in the fridge for about 10 minutes. Get ready to assemble your cake in Stage 6.

Since this is a delicately flavoured cake, the frosting needs to taste uh-mazing. Clear vanilla flavourings, while keeping your frosting white, are all aroma, no flavour, and taste artificial. Using vanilla bean powder is a great way to incorporate real vanilla without staining your frosting or cutting into a vanilla bean. You could just as easily use an extract or an emulsion to flavour your frosting, but it will turn a bit yellowish. The quantities mentioned here yield 1 cup of frosting which is just the right amount to fill and top 3 x 6-inch cake layers. If you want more to serve on the side, you can easily double or triple the amounts. Please note, you cannot make stabilised whipped cream ahead of time, and once it’s combined with the mascarpone mixture, it must be used straight away or else the gelatine will set and the entire texture will change. After it is piped or spread onto your cake layers, it will hold its shape and remain nice and fluffy, as long as it’s kept refrigerated or in a cool environment.

Stage 6: Finale; cake construction & assembly

This is what is known as a ‘naked cake’, where the all the individual cake layers are clearly visible. This way all your hard work is on display as every component shines through.

Components
1. Three 6 inch vanilla chiffon cakes
2. Strawberry filling
3. Strawberry curd
4. Whipped cream and mascarpone frosting
5. To stack; 5-6 fresh medium strawberries of the same size, halved
6. To top; 5-6 fresh assorted strawberries, 4 left whole, 2 halved
7. Strawberry glaze (made by diluting ½ tsp strawberry filling with ½ tsp hot water)

Prep
1 – Make sure your strawberry filling is at room temperature for easy spreading.

2 – Evenly trim the tops of your cakes if they’re not flat. 

3 – Ready your decorating surface. A cake turntable with a cake board is ideal for this. Place the board in the centre of your turntable. 

4 – Take your piping bag of frosting. Snip the tip about 1 cm wide.

5 – Fill your strawberry curd into a piping bag for smooth application. Snip the tip to about ½ cm wide.

6 – Make your strawberry glaze. 

7 – Cut the 5-6 medium strawberries in half and set aside.

8 – Keep these handy; a straight palette knife, an off-set spatula, and a small pastry brush.

Method

1– Spread a small dollop of frosting on the centre of your cake board. This will be the glue that holds the first cake layer in place.

2 – Place your first cake on the frosting, top-side up.

3 – Place 2 tablespoons of strawberry filling onto the cake’s centre, spreading it to within 1 cm of the cake’s edges.

4 – Going in a circle from the centre and moving outwards, pipe a skinny spiral of curd onto the strawberry filling layer, keeping it within 2 cm of the cake’s edges.

5 – Place 5-6 fresh strawberry halves, cut-side down on top of the curd, and arranged them in a radial pattern, with the pointy edges poking outwards. Each berry should be positioned about 1 cm shy of the cake’s edges, and lodged down well. These strawberry ‘dams’ will prevent spillage from occurring when you stack your next layer of cake Do not keep them too close to the edge as they will slide out further when pressure is applied.

6 – Pipe blobs of frosting onto and between the strawberries, staying within 3 cm of the cake’s edges. Remember, if you put too much frosting on, you’re in for a strawberry and frosting landslide!

7 – Place the next cake atop the frosting, top-side up. Lightly press down to secure.

8 – Repeat steps 3-6 for your second cake tier.

9 – Place the third and final cake atop the frosting, bottom-side up. Lightly press down to secure. Then, going in a circle from the inside out, pipe the remaining frosting, right on top of the cake. Use a palette knife to create rustic swirls and waves.

10 – Top your cake with whole and halved fresh strawberries, arranged in a wreath pattern.

11 – Glaze the cut-side of the halved strawberries. This will stop them from drying out. Stand back and take a bow! 

12 – Cover and refrigerate your cake for at least two hours before serving. This will allow the gelatine in the frosting to set and prevent it from “weeping”.

13 – Slice and serve with some more strawberry curd and strawberry filling, and a few fresh strawberries on the side. Now eat!

Why the excruciatingly precise instructions? Because the first time I made this cake, I added way too much filling, curd, and frosting between each layer and made a royal mess! There were waterfalls of everything pouring down the sides of the cake (my tears probably added to the deluge as well). If you don’t mind all the mess and spillage, go ahead and dollop at will, but I did warn you! Fully constructed, this cake will not hold up well at room temperature, despite the stabilisation of the whipped cream. Unless it’s cold where you live, do not leave it sitting outside the fridge for more than an hour. For best results, cut yourself a slice whenever you get a craving and store the rest of the cake, covered, in the fridge. This is a tall cake, so cutting a clean slice can be a bit challenging. I find that a serrated bread knife is the best tool for the job and cutting a slice is easiest when the cake is a bit cold. Since this cake contains fresh fruit and cream, it must be finished within a week. The pair of us polished it off in two days flat!

Tips & Tricks

How to invert & cool a chiffon cake


How to trim cakes for even layers


Parmesan Cookies

Makes 24 x 5 cm cookies.

Easy peasy, cookies cheesy. Made with just a handful of ingredients, these savoury cookies take such little effort and time, that you’ll be baking them a little too often. I must warn you though, as easy as they are to make, they’re even easier to eat. Buttery and crispy with punchy, umami hits of parmesan, warm notes of paprika, and the sweet zing of chives—they’re the perfect party appetizer or anytime snack for yourself. Remember to keep 3 or 4 cookies aside for yourself as soon as they’re out of the oven. Served with my flavour-packed red pesto, the entire batch of cookies tends to disappear as if by magic, in no time at all.

At a glance

– This recipe comprises parmesan cookies + red pesto.
– You will need a couple of baking trays, some baking parchment, a 5 cm scalloped cookie cutter, and a food processor,
– This recipe has been broken into 2 stages for ease and comprehension. Please read the entire recipe from start to finish before beginning.

Stage 1: parmesan cookies

Ingredients
1. 100 gm all purpose flour + extra for dusting
2. 100 gm parmesan
3. 100 gm cold unsalted butter
4. 1 large egg yolk  (60 gm shell weight)
5. 1/8 tsp salt
6. 1 tsp sweet paprika
7. 1 ½ tsp mustard powder
8. 1 egg white for the egg wash
9. 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives or 1 tsp dried chives

Prep
1 – Make sure your butter is very cold. Cut it into 1 cm cubes and keep it in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.

2 – Separate your yolk from the white. Keep them aside in separate bowls.

3 – Finely grate your parmesan. Keep it aside in the fridge.

4 – Line your baking tray/trays with parchment. Keep aside.

Method
1 – Add the flour, grated parmesan, salt, sweet paprika, and mustard powder to a large bowl. Whisk together to combine all the dry ingredients.

2 – Add the cubes of butter to the dry ingredients and use a pastry cutter to ‘cut’ the butter into the dry mixture until you have the texture of coarse crumbs with pea sized dabs of butter. You could also use your hands to ‘rub’ the butter into the flour.

3 – Lightly whisk the egg yolk and then add it to the mixture. Stir it into the mixture with a fork. 

4 – Using your hands, start gathering handfuls of dough and rubbing them together with your palms. The dough will begin clumping and coming together. Do not knead it.

5 – Spread a sheet of cling wrap on your counter and lightly flour it. Transfer the clumpy dough mixture onto it. Working quickly, form a dough by gathering the loose mixture together and packing it into a ball. Some loose crumbs are okay at this stage.

6 – Wrap the ball of dough in cling wrap. Using your hands, pat the dough into a rough disc, roughly 2 ½ cm thick. Try to pack the loose crumbs into the dough. Leave the wrapped dough to chill in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.

7 – After it has chilled, take the wrapped dough out of the fridge and lay it on your work surface. Open the cling wrap so that it’s flat on the counter and the rectangle of dough is smack in the middle of it.

8 – Lay another sheet of cling wrap on top of the rectangle of dough. Roll out the dough between the two sheets of cling wrap, to about 4 mm thick. 

9 – Using your 5 cm cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can get. I get 24-26 clean cookies. Remember to dip your cookie cutter in a bowl of flour after every 2 cookies, to prevent sticking. Transfer each cookie one by one onto your parchment lined baking sheet, leaving a 2 cm gap between each cookie. If one tray cannot accommodate all the cookies, use multiple parchment-lined trays (I used 2 trays). If the dough starts getting soft at any stage, place it in the fridge for 30 minutes. This is essential to keeping the shape of the cookies. Soft or melted butter in the dough means the cookies will disintegrate and lose their shape while baking. 

10 – When you’re ready to bake your cookies, use a pastry brush to carefully glaze the top surface of each cookie with the egg white wash. Arrange a couple of fresh chives if you like. Place all your cookies in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. 

11 – Start preheating your oven at 180OC.

12 – After 20 minutes of preheating, begin baking your cookies. Bake each batch of cookies in the middle rack of your oven for 15-20 minutes at 180OC, or until they are a gorgeous golden-brown colour and the delicious aroma of baked cheese wafts through your kitchen. Mine took exactly 16 minutes. While one batch bakes, keep the second unbaked batch in the fridge.

13 – Remove the tray from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Then, using a palette knife, carefully transfer the cookies from the hot tray to a wire rack. 

14 – Repeat steps 11-13 for both batches, remembering to pre-heat for at least 10 minutes with each new batch. Allow the cookies to cool to room temperature before devouring, or storing them in an airtight container. 

If you’ve never made pie dough or short crust pastry, you might find this recipe a tad challenging. Because this dough is suuuuuuper short and crumbly, you need a little patience and a cool environment to bring it together. Those bits of butter you can see in the dough? You want that because that’s what makes the cookies flaky and light. If the bits of butter start to melt and your dough gets too soft, you must chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes before working with it again. Because I live in hot and humid Mumbai, I always put together and roll out short crust pastry dough in an AC environment with the temperature set at 18-21OC. While I’ve added fresh chives to my cookies, you could substitute them for whatever you like; rosemary, thyme, or oregano also work really well. Once they’re baked, these cookies will keep in airtight container for a few days (if they last that long!). And while you could eat them as is, I highly recommend proceeding with Stage 2 and whizzing up a flavour-packed pesto to dollop onto the cookies. When eaten together, that’s when things get really special.

Stage 2: red pesto 

Ingredients
1. 100 gm sundried tomatoes in oil (drained)
2. 150 gm ripe cherry tomatoes
3. 1 large red bell pepper, roasted
4. 70 gm roasted almonds (skin on)
5. 30 gm freshly grated parmesan
6. 2 small cloves of garlic
7. 60 gm Kalamata olives in oil (drained)
8. 2 tbsp. brined capers (drained)
9. ½ cup packed fresh Italian basil
10. ¼ tsp sweet paprika
11. ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
12. ½ tsp salt
13. 125 ml cup extra virgin olive oil or volumetric equivalent of oil drained from the sundried tomatoes and Kalamata olives
14. 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Prep
1 – Roast 1 large red bell pepper on the stove until the skin is blistered and charred. This will take about 15-20 minutes. Once blackened all over and soft, take it off the flame. Immediately place it in a bowl and cover the bowl with cling wrap. Leave the roasted pepper to ‘steam’ in the bowl for 15-20 minutes. Thereafter, slide off and discard the blackened skin, cut open the pepper and discard the seeds and stem, and then chop up the pepper into rough chunks. Keep aside.

2 – Using a skillet or pan, toast your almonds on low heat until aromatic and lightly browned. Keep aside.

Method
1 – In the jar of a food processor, place the sundried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, roasted red bell pepper, roasted almonds, freshly grated parmesan, garlic, olives, capers, basil, salt, paprika, and black pepper. Pulse 2 to 3 times until coarsely chopped and chunky.

2 – Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil and pulse a few more times until the mixture is emulsified and you have reached the desired consistency. I like mine a little chunky. Remember to scrape down the sides as necessary.

3 – Taste the pesto and add additional salt and pepper if desired. Serve the pesto at room temperature with your parmesan cookies. Now eat!

This red pesto or ‘pesto rosso’ can be made well in advance and stored in the fridge for up to a week. This amount yields about 3 ½ cups, so you will have some leftovers depending on how much you polish off with your cookies. You can easily reduce the quantity of ingredients by a half or a third, but I like to make a large batch to keep on hand. Stirred into soups or used as a pasta sauce, this pesto packs bags of flavour. In topping or dip form, it can make even the driest cracker or crostini come back to life. The amount of salt specified in the pesto is perfect if you’re pairing it only with the Parmesan Cookies. Remember to add extra salt when using the pesto with pasta or any other neutral-tasting carbs.