Bhog’er Khichuri

Makes 6 servings.

For our 50th recipe, we’re doing something very special to me—khuchuri—the Bong avatar of the ubiquitous desi ‘khichdi’. A savoury porridge of rice and lentils, khichuri can be made as plain or rich as the occasion warrants. Watery and mild for when you’re feeling poorly, moderately-spiced for regular days, and heavily-spiced and ghee-laden to serve as bhog (food offerings) during Durga Puja. Ours belongs to the third variety, fondly called Bhog’er Khichuri. We serve ours with a side of sweet tomato chutney and crunchy bitter gourd chips. Ohmmmm mmmm mmmm.


At a glance

– This recipe comprises bhog’er khichuri + tomato chutney + bitter gourd chips.
– You will need a 5 litre cooking pot, a 3-4 litre non-stick/enamel/stainless steel cooking pot, and a large, deep frying pan.
– 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: bhog’er khichuri

Made with roasted moong dal and fragrant Gobindobhog rice, this khichuri is a labour of love and requires a fair amount of ingredients and time. Don’t be intimidated! The effort is 100% worth it.

Ingredients
1. 218 gm/1 cup moong daal (yellow split gram)
2. 215 gm /1 cup) Gobindhobhog rice
3. 2.5 litres/10 cups water for cooking + extra for soaking
4. 400 ml hot water for soaking
5. 80 gm/1 medium tomato, roughly chopped
6. 6 fresh green chillies
7. 3 tbsp. sugar
8. 5 tsp salt
9. 150 gm frozen peas


for the fried veg:
10. 3 tbsp. mustard oil like this
11. ½ tsp turmeric powder
12. ½ tsp salt
13. 3 medium potatoes (130 gm each) cut in half
14. 1 small cauliflower (250-270 gm) cut into 2-inch florets


for the whole spices:
15. 2 tbsp ghee like this
16. 1 inch cassia bark
17. 3 Indian bay leaves
18. 3 dried red chillies
19. 3 cardamom pods
20. 3 cloves
21. 1 tsp cumin seeds


for the spice paste:
22. 1 tsp turmeric powder
23. 1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder 
24. 1 tsp cumin powder
25. 1 tsp coriander powder
26. 4 tbsp water


for the coconut tempering:
27. 2 tbsp. ghee
28. 2 inch piece ginger
29. 100 gm grated coconut
30. ¾ tsp Bengali garam masala like this


for serving:
31. 1 tsp ghee per serving

Prep
1 – Dry roast the moong daal on low heat until the colour changes from pale yellow to deep orange and it becomes very aromatic (roughly 10-12 minutes). Stir continuously for even colouring. 

2 – In the meantime, put the kettle on. As soon as the moong daal is done roasting, transfer it to another bowl and pour hot water onto it until it comes up 2 cm above the daal. Leave it aside to soak for 30 minutes.

3 – Wash the rice 3-4 times – don’t wash till the water runs clear, as you want some starch. After washing, leave the rice to soak for 30 mins. Thereafter strain it.

4 – Finely grate your ginger and keep it aside.

all the ingredients for the khichuri
pre-roasted moong daal
fully roasted moong daal
adding boiling water to the hot, roasted moong daal – it will bubble
soaked, roasted moong daal
rice, soaking
soaked and strained rice
grating the ginger

Method
1 – Peel the potatoes (I don’t) and then cut each potato in quarters. Cut the cauliflower into 2-inch florets. Then toss the cauliflower and potatoes in salt and turmeric powder. Set aside.

2 – Place a large heavy bottomed pot on the stove. Heat up 3 tablespoons mustard oil until smoking. Then lower the heat to medium. Fry the potato halves in the mustard oil until golden brown on all sides, roughly 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from the pot. Then fry the cauliflower florets in the same oil, until lightly golden brown on all sides, roughly 4-5 minutes per side. and. Remove from the pot and set aside.

3 – In the same pot, add 2 tablespoons ghee. Once it’s melted and hot, add the whole spices and fry until aromatic, roughly 30 seconds.

4 – Now add the chopped tomatoes and fry for 1-2 minutes or until lightly softened.

5 – Make the spice paste. Add the strained rice and the soaked daal to the pot and then add the spice paste to the pot. Fry together on medium until the grains absorb all the paste and begin sticking to the bottom and sides of the pot.

6 – Add the fried cauliflower florets and potato halves to the pot. 

7 – Add all the 2.5 litres of water to the pot, followed by 5 teaspoons salt. Give the pot a good stir and then throw in the 6 green chillies. Wait for the water to come to a simmer.

8 – Once at a simmer, lower the heat to minimum and cook the mixture covered for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. Cook until the starches release, the daal liquifies and thickens and the rice grain begin to break apart. The daal and rice will also start to stick to bottom of the pot.

9 – When you have 6-7 minutes remaining on the 40-minute cook, beging making your tempering; in another medium frying pan, add 2 tablespoons ghee and heat until hot. Add the grated ginger and fry for a minute until fragrant.  Then add the grated coconut and fry until lightly browned, roughly 6-7 minutes. Finally, add the Bengali garam masala and fry for another 30 seconds. Turn off the heat. This is our tempering. 

10 – After the khuchuri has had 40 minutes, add the frozen peas and 3 tablespoons sugar, and stir them into the mixture.

11 – Immediately add the just-made tempering to the pot of simmering khichuri. Simmer for an additional minute and then turn the heat off. Leave the khichuri to rest, covered for at least 30 minutes before serving. It will look a tad watery, but will continue to thicken to the perfect consistency while resting.

cauliflower and potato portioned out
cauliflower and potato tossed in salt and turmeric powder
lightly fried cauliflower and potatoes
tempering the whole spices in the ghee
adding the chopped tomatoes to the ghee
spice paste
adding the spice paste to the daal and rice
frying the mixture until the liquids dry up and it starts to stick
adding the lightly fried califlower and potatoes
adding the water, salt, and green chillies
bringing the pot to a simmer, then covering it to cook for 33-34 minutes
khichuri consistency after 33-34 minutes
all the ingredients for the tempering
sizzling grated ginger
grated fresh coconut
Bengali garam masala
khichuri after 40 minutes
adding the frozen peas and sugar
adding the tempering
cooking the khichuri for a final 1-2 minutes
bhog’er khichuri, ready!

This is a BIG batch of khichuri. However, think of it as a meal of rice, daal, and veg, served all in one. That’s 3 dished in one. Plus with 6 people (who will inevitably ask for seconds), it disappears surprisingly quickly. Khichuri tastes even better the day after it’s cooked, once all the flavours have truly settled. Feel free to make it in advance and store it in the fridge for up to 5 days. I do not recommend freezing khichuri as the texture of the potatoes becomes very strange. Gently reheat on the stove or microwave before eating.

Stage 2: tomato chutney

This is a modified version of my husband’s Dadima’s recipe. Of course, she never uses weight measurements while cooking, so I had to work the amounts out after some testing. After making this, my husband declared that it tastes exactly like his grandmother’s! I always make this large a batch and we savour it for months.

Ingredients
1. 1 tbsp. mustard oil like this
2. 1 tsp paanch phoron (equal volumetric measure of the following 5 spices; cumin seeds, brown mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds, and fennel seeds)
3. 550 gm ripe tomatoes
4. 1 fresh green chilli
5. 1 tsp salt
6. ¼ tsp turmeric powder
7. ½ tsp citric acid
8. 350-400 gm brown sugar (depending on how sweet your tomatoes are)
9. 30 gm whole or halved cashews
10. 40 gm golden raisins
11. 50 gm pitted dates
12. 90 gm aamshotto (aam papad/mango fruit leather)

Prep
1 – Roughly chop the tomatoes into 2 cm chunks and set aside. I had some wonderfully sweet cherry tomatoes in the fridge so I used those and simply cut them into quarters. 

2 – Cut the dates lengthwise into quarters. Set aside.

3 – Chop the aamshotto into 3 x 2 cm squares. Set aside.

all the ingredients for the tomato chutney
chopped aamshotto and chopped tomatoes

Method
1 – Add the mustard oil to a 3-litre cooking pot and begin heating in on medium. 

2 – Once the oil begins to smoke, lower the heat to minimum and add in the paanch phoron. Let it sizzle in the oil for about 30 seconds to release its aromas.

3 – Add the chopped tomatoes and one green chilli to the pot. Then add the salt and turmeric powder. Stir everything together and pop a lid on. Raise the heat to medium and cook covered for 5 minutes or until the tomatoes soften.

4 – After 5 minutes remove the lid and add the citric acid. Stir once again, pop a lid on and cook covered for 2 minutes or until the tomatoes become very mushy. 

5 – Add the brown sugar and the cashews to the pot. Stir together and wait for the mixture to begin bubbling, roughly 2-3 minutes. The mixture will also become dark and very runny.

6 – Once the mixture is bubbling, add the raisins, the dates, and the aamshotto. Stir and continue bubbling the mixture on medium heat for an additional 2-3 minutes or until you’re happy with the consistency. Do not over-reduce the mixture as it will get more viscous and stickier on cooling.

7 – Turn the heat off and let the mixture cool to room temperature completely. If not using up or serving immediately, store the tomato chutney in sterilised air tight jars in the fridge.

tempering the mustard oil with paanch phoron
adding the tomatoes and the green chilli
adding the salt
softening the tomatoes
adding the brown sugar and cashews
adding the raisins, chopped amshotto, and quarted pitted dates
tomato chutney, ready!

Tomato chutney is normally made in winter, when the tomato crop in India is perfectly ripe and at its sweetest. Pre-December tomatoes tend to be acidic and take ages to break down. Even then, they’re disappointing. The solution? Cherry tomatoes! I actualy discovered this by accident because I wanted to use up 400 gm of cherry tomatoes that were left over from another shoot. They made the sweetest, yummiest chutney I’ve ever made, and I am never waiting for winter to make chutney again! This makes about 3 cups of chutney can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 months. A word of unwarranted advice. Do not add fresh green chillies to hot oil. They will literally burst in the pan, and you will end up with oil burns on your face. True story.

Stage 3: bitter gourd chips

With all the mushy textures, you need an element with some real crunch for a textural disruption. If you’ve ever tried the ‘Karela chips’ from a Hot Chips franchise, this is what the homemade version is. You might think of bitter gourd and jump to health food; but as we’re going to remove some of the bitterness and then deep-fry it, there’s really nothing healthy about this. Does it matter? Nope! 

Ingredients
1. 500 gm bitter gourd (4-5 large bitter gourds)
2. 2 tsp salt
3. 2 litres canola oil or unflavoured vegetable oil for frying

for the batter:
4. 60 gm (8 tbsp.) corn flour
5. 80 gm (8 tbsp) rice flour
6. 2 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
7. 1 tsp turmeric powder
8. 1 tsp black pepper powder
9. ½ tsp salt
10. 1 tsp ginger paste
11. 1 tsp garlic paste
12. Optional; red food colouring
13. 150 ml (10 tbsp). plain water 

for sprinkling:
14. 1 tsp chaat masala like this
15. Extra salt if desired 

I find the Hot Chips Karela chips way too spicy, so I have used very little red chilli powder, and that too a very mild variety. Add as much red chilli powder as you like! Chaat masala has no Western equivalent. Available in South Asian stores, it is a tangy spice blend that contains a mixture of dry mango powder, black salt, cumin, coriander, black pepper, ginger, mint, bishop’s weed, and asafoetida (among others). It has a lot of complex flavours going on and there’s really no substitute for it, so do try and get your hands on it.

Prep
1 – Cut the bitter gourd into 2 mm slices, on the dais. Then sprinkle 2 teaspoons of salt on the slices and toss. Leave to macerate for 30 mins. This will draw out any excess moisture as well as well as some of the bitterness. 

2 – After 30 minutes, place the slices in a colander or strainer and shake off as much moisture as you can. Set aside.

all the ingredients for the bitter gourd chips
slicing the bitter gourd on the dais
macerating the bitter gourd slices in salt
draining the bitter gourd slices of extra moisture

Method
1 – Add the corn flour, rice flour, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, black pepper powder, and ginger-garlic paste to a large bowl. Whisk together with 5 tablespoons of plain water or until you have a thick batter that coats the back of a spoon. Add food colouring if desired. I added 10 drops of tomato red food colouring to make it look like store-bought hot chips.

2 – In the meantime, heat 2 litres of oil in a deep frying pan on medium, until the temperature of the oil is 175OC.

3 – While your oil is heating up, add the bitter gourd slices to the batter in batches and toss. Leave aside for 5 minutes. Don’t add all the slices to the batter at once, as they will sweat in the batter, causing it to become watery.

4 – Once the oil is at 175OC, add the first batch of the bitter gourd slices to the hot oil and immediately lower the heat to minimum. Fry on low heat for about 30 minutes. As the chips get crispy, they will rise to the surface of the oil. Continue frying until the chips are crispy and you can hear a knocking sound when you tap on them with a slotted spoon. At this point, raise the heat to medium and fry for an additional 4-5 minutes or until dark reddish-brown and ultra-crispy.

5 – Transfer the chips from the hot oil to a wire rack with some paper towels placed underneath it. While the chips are hot, season with chaat masala and extra salt if desired.

6 – Repeat steps 3-5 until you run out of bitter gourd slices. 

7 – Serve the bitter gourd chips along with your hot khichuri and tomato chutney. I also like to serve some papad on the side, followed by mishti doi, bhog’er payesh and ice-cream sondesh for dessert.

8 – When serving, top each plate of khichuri with a teaspoon of melted ghee. If you don’t have tomato chutney, drizzle some honey onto the khichuri. Now eat!

radioactive orange batter!
deep frying the battered-bitter gourd slices in batches
bitter gourd chips, ready!

After cooling the bitter gourd chips fully, stored them in an airtight container for up to 15 days (if they last that long). Because these take a while to make, I like to make them well in advance and keep them on hand for meals. If they lose some of their crunch, simply spread them out on a plate and microwave them for 30 seconds at a time until they’re crispy again.  


Ice-cream Sondesh

Makes 96 servings (32 servings of each type)

Ice-cream Sondesh. Just the name gives me happy chills. Made with fresh cottage cheese that is steamed and then refrigerated, this sweet treat from Bengal is addictively soothing. Fun story—there’s no ice cream in ice-cream sondesh—it owes its name to the simple fact that it is served cold. For this recipe, I have made my two favourite ice-cream sondesh flavours—rose, and saffron—as well as a Japanese inspired Matcha one. Impossibly soft and mildly sweet, they will melt in your mouth and have you reaching for seconds and thirds…and fourths.


At a glance

– This recipe comprises cottage cheese + rose-cashew ice-cream sondesh, saffron-almond ice-cream sondesh, & matcha-pista ice-cream sondesh.
– You will need a large cooking pot (4-5 litre), a stand blender, three 6-inch square cake pans and aluminium foil, a 4-5 litre steamer pot, and some trivets for steaming.
– 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: cottage cheese

Homemade cottage cheese is much softer than store-bought paneer and is an essential component of this dessert. Readymade paneer simply won’t yield as soft a sondesh – so do go the extra mile and make this component from scratch. 

Ingredients
1. 3 litres full fat, whole milk 
2. 15 ml ghee (roughly 1 tbsp.)
3. 250 ml vinegar + 250 ml water
4. 250 ml plain water

Do not use low fat milk, homogenised milk, or UHT milk in this recipe. You must use full-fat whole milk, as anything else won’t yield enough cottage cheese curds.

Method
1 – Place the milk in a large cooking pot and bring it to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally to reincorporate the cream and fats.

2 – Once it comes to a boil, add the ghee and boil for an additional 20 seconds, stirring constantly.

3 – Turn off the heat and let the milk rest for 5 minutes to bring down the temperature.

4 – Add 250 ml water to the milk, and stir. This will bring the temperature of the milk down further.

5 – Now dilute 250 ml white vinegar with 250 ml plain water. Add this diluted mixture to the milk in 3 batches, stirring well and waiting for the curds to coagulated between each addition.

6 – Once the curds have completely separated from the whey, line a strainer with some cheesecloth and place the strainer over a bowl. Now transfer the contents of the pot to the strainer.

7 – Pour 1 litre plain water over the curds to gently rinse them. This will get rid of the vinegar smell. 

8 – Now lift the corners of the cheesecloth and twist to form a bundle. Do not squeeze the bundle, simply twist and allow the whey to strain out naturally.

9 – Suspend the bundle of cottage cheese from a height so that the whey can drip out naturally for 6 hours. Do not discard the whey! It can be re-used to curdle milk, added to flour to make flatbreads and doughs, or even used as a cooking liquid for daals and pilafs. I used my leftover whey to make chhola’r daal.

10 – After 4-5 hours, all off the whey will have dripped away, leaving you with a very soft textured and dry cottage cheese that is perfect for using to make Bengali cottage-cheese based desserts from rossogolla to sondesh. Simply untie the bundle and use in this recipe as directed. I got 600 gm from 3 litres milk. You might get more or less.

all the ingredients for the cottage cheese
milk coming to a boil
adding the ghee to the milk
adding water to the milk to bring the temperature down
loose curds after first dose of the vinegar-water solution
tighter curds after second dose of the vinegar-water solution
full-formed curds after third dose of the vinegar-water solution
straining out the curds
getting ride of the extra whey
suspending the curds to let the whey drip away for 6 hours
dry, soft homemade cottage cheese
Chhola’r daal made with the leftover whey

You can use either lemon juice or vinegar to curdle your milk. However, you will have to squeeze a loooot of lemons to get the amount of lemon juice, so I find vinegar to be more convenient. Do not use flavoured vinegar as its taste will infuse into the cottage cheese and you do not want that. Let the milk cool down a little before you curdle it: If you add the vinegar while the milk is still boiling or it’s too hot, you will get a harder-textured cottage cheese which will compromise the softness of the final dish.

Stage 2: rose-cashew ice-cream sondesh, saffron-almond ice-cream sondesh, & matcha-pista ice-cream sondesh

I made these three flavours—because I remember the first two most fondly from my childhood, and the third is a personal experiment (and I love matcha). You could keep the sondesh plain, or even switch things around by adding cocoa powder, date palm jaggery (gur), strawberry syrup, or mango syrup. You do you!

Ingredients
for the rose-cashew sondesh:
1. 1/3 the cottage cheese (200 gm)
2. 15 gm raw cashews (8-10)
3. 125 ml heavy or whipping cream
4. 125 ml sweetened condensed milk
5. 30 ml rose syrup like this (roughly 2 tbsp)
6. Optional; 1 drop pink food colour like this
7. Optional; 8 Rose petals for topping or edible rose gold flakes like this

for the saffron-almond sondesh:

1. 1/3 the cottage cheese (200gm)
2. 15 gm blanched and skinned almonds (14-15)
3. 125 ml heavy or whipping cream
4. 125 ml sweetened condensed milk
5. 15 ml warm milk + 10 strands of saffron
6. 1/16 tsp cardamom powder
7. Optional; 5-6 drops saffron yellow food colour like this
8. Optional; 8-16 saffron strands and finely sliced almonds for topping, or edible gold flakes like this

for the matcha-pista sondesh:
1. 1/3 the cottage cheese (200 gm)
2. 15 gm blanched and skinned pistachios (30-32)
3. 125 ml heavy whipping cream
4. 125 ml sweetened condensed milk
5. 15 ml warm milk + 2 tsp matcha like this
6. Optional; matcha powder for dusting and finely chopped blanched pistachios for topping, or edible silver flakes like this

to steam the sondesh:
1. 1/4 tsp ghee per mould, for greasing
2. 1-2 litre plain water per pot, for steaming

If you don’t get 600 gm cottage cheese from 3 litres of milk, and you’re in a pinch, buy some soft fresh readymade cottage cheese (paneer) like this. Weigh out how much you need to make up 600 gm total, and then finely grate that portion with a cheese grater (small holes). Don’t have blanched almonds? Watch this video on how to blanch almonds at home. If you don’t know how to skin pistachios, check out this post.


Prep
1 – Line all your baking pans with two layers of aluminium foil. Then lightly grease each mould with ghee. Set aside.

all the moulds lined and greased

Method
for the rose-cashew sondesh:

1 – Add the cottage cheese, cashews, heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, rose syrup, and food colour to the jar of a blender. Blitz until very smooth and creamy, scraping down routinely and re-blitzing at least 3 times. You will end up with a thick, smooth, runny batter, tinted pastel pink.

2 – Pour the rose-cashew sondesh batter into the prepared cake pan. Lightly tap the pan on your counter to remove any air bubbles. Now cover the top of the cake pan with more aluminium foil, to fully seal it.

3 – Set a steamer pot on your stove. Add 1 litre of water and place a trivet or steamer basket inside. Once the water comes to a boil, lower your covered cake pan into the pot, making sure it’s not in contact with the water. Cover your steamer pot with its lid and lower the flame to minimum.

4 – Steam the rose-cashew sondesh on low heat for 20-25 minutes. To check for doneness, lift off the aluminium foil cover and gently touch the surface of the sondesh. If nothing transfers to your finger, it’s done.

5 – Remove the cake pan from the steamer basket, and immeditaly take off the aluminium foil cover. Cool to room temperature with the cover off.

6 – Once it’s cool to the touch, put the aluminium foil cover back on and place the pan inside the fridge to chill and set for 12 hours or overnight.

7 – After it’s fully set, take the pan out of the fridge and remove the aluminium foil cover. Now pull the aluminium mould out of the pan.

8 – Transfer your rectangle of rose-cashew sondesh to a plate or board, and peel back the aluminium mould from all sides. Using a very sharp knife, cut the rectangle into 8 equal pieces. Then each piece diagonally into 2 rectangles.

9 – Optional; decorate the tops of your rose-cashew sondesh with rose petals and/or edible rose gold flakes.

all the ingredients for the rose-cashew sondesh
rose-cashew sondesh batter
all 3 ice-cream sondesh batters ready
trivet placed inside the steamer pot with water. ready to bring to the boil (keep lid on)
steamed rose-cashew sondesh – 25 minute cook time (with lid on)
all 3 ice-cream sondesh ready
all 3 ice-cream sondesh ready
rose-cashew sondesh fully chilled for 12 hours
cutting into the rose-cashew sondesh
dividing the rose-cashew sondesh into 16 squares, measuring 1.5 x 1.5 inches each
edible rose-gold cupper flakes to decorate the rose-cashew sondesh
cashew nuts and rose petals to decorate the rose-cashew sondesh


for the saffron-almond sondesh:

1 – Heat the milk in the microwave for 30 seconds. Place 10 saffron strands in the hot milk and leave to steep for 10 minutes.

2 – Add the cottage cheese, blanced almonds, heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, the saffron infused milk, the cardamom powder, and the yellow food colour to the jar of a blender. Blitz until very smooth and creamy, scraping down routinely and re-blitzing at least 3 times. You will end up with a thick, smooth, runny batter, tinted pastel yellow. 

3 – Pour the saffron-almond sondesh batter into the prepared cake pan. 2 – Pour the rose-cashew sondesh batter into the prepared cake pan. Lightly tap the pan on your counter to remove any air bubbles. Now cover the top of the cake pan with more aluminium foil, to fully seal it. Now cover the top of the cake pan with more aluminium foil, to fully seal it.

4 – Set a steamer pot on your stove. Add 1 litre of water and place a trivet or steamer basket inside. Once the water comes to a boil, lower your covered cake pan into the pot, making sure it’s not in contact with the water. Cover your steamer pot with its lid and lower the flame to minimum.

5 – Steam the saffron-almond sondesh on low heat for 20-25 minutes. To check for doneness, lift off the aluminium foil cover and gently touch the surface of the sondesh. If nothing transfers to your finger, it’s done.

6 – Remove the cake pan from the steamer basket, and immediately take off the aluminium foil cover. Cool to room temperature with the cover off.

7 – Once it’s cool to the touch, put the aluminium foil cover back on and place the pan inside the fridge to chill and set for 12 hours or overnight.

8 – After it’s fully set, take the pan out of the fridge and remove the aluminium foil cover. Now pull the aluminium mould out of the pan.

9 – Transfer your rectangle of saffron-almond sondesh to a plate or board, and peel back the aluminium mould from all sides. Using a very sharp knife, cut the rectangle into 8 equal pieces. Then each piece diagonally into 2 rectangles.

10 – Optional; decorate the tops of your saffron-almond sondesh with more saffron strands, sliced almonds and/or edible gold flakes.

all the ingredients for the saffron-almond sondesh
saffron-almond sondesh batter
all 3 ice-cream sondesh batters ready
trivet placed inside the steamer pot with water. ready to bring to the boil (keep lid on)
steamed saffron-almond sondesh – 20 minute cook time (with lid on)
all 3 ice-cream sondesh ready
all 3 ice-cream sondesh ready
saffron-almond sondesh fully chilled for 12 hours
cutting into the saffron-almond sondesh
dividing the saffron-almond sondesh into 16 squares, measuring 1.5 x 1.5 inches each
blanched almond flakes and saffron strands to decorate the saffron-almond sondesh
edible gold flakes to decorate the saffron-almond sondesh


for the matcha-pista sondesh:

1 – Heat the milk in the microwave for 10 seconds. Mix the matcha powder with the milk and whisk to combine. It will become a thick paste. 

2 – Add the cottage cheese, the blanched skinned pistachios, the heavy cream, the sweetened condensed milk, and the matcha paste to the jar of a blender. Blitz until very smooth and creamy, scraping down routinely and re-blitzing at least 3 times. You will end up with a thick, smooth, runny batter, tinted pastel green.

3 – Pour the matcha-pista sondesh batter into the prepared cake pan. 2 – Pour the rose-cashew sondesh batter into the prepared cake pan. Lightly tap the pan on your counter to remove any air bubbles. Now cover the top of the cake pan with more aluminium foil, to fully seal it. Now cover the top of the cake pan with more aluminium foil, to fully seal it.

4 – Set a steamer pot on your stove. Add 1 litre of water and place a trivet or steamer basket inside. Once the water comes to a boil, lower your covered cake pan into the pot, making sure it’s not in contact with the water. Cover your steamer pot with its lid and lower the flame to minimum.

5 – Steam the matcha-pista sondesh on low heat for 20-25 minutes. To check for doneness, lift off the aluminium foil cover and gently touch the surface of the sondesh. If nothing transfers to your finger, it’s done.

6 – Remove the cake pan from the steamer basket and immediately take off the aluminium foil cover. Cool to room temperature with the cover off.

7 – Once it’s cool to the touch, put the aluminium foil cover back on and place the pan inside the fridge to chill and set for 12 hours or overnight.

8 – After it’s fully set, take the pan out of the fridge and remove the aluminium foil cover. Now pull the aluminium mould out of the pan.

9 – Transfer your rectangle of matcha-pista sondesh to a plate or board, and peel back the aluminium mould from all sides. Using a very sharp knife, cut the rectangle into 8 equal pieces. Then each piece diagonally into 2 rectangles.

10 – Optional; decorate the tops of your matcha-pista sondesh with a dusting of matcha powder and finely chopped blanched pistachio/or edible silver flakes.

all the ingredients for the matcha-pista sondesh
matcha-pista sondesh batter
all 3 icea-cream sondesh batters ready
trivet placed inside the steamer pot with water. ready to bring to the boil (keep lid on)
steamed match-pista sondesh – 20 minute cook time (with lid on)
all 3 ice-cream sondesh ready
all 3 ice-cream sondesh ready
match-pista sondesh fully chilled for 12 hours
cutting into the matcha-pista sondesh
dividing the matcha-pista sondesh into 16 squares, measuring 1.5 x 1.5 inches each
matcha powder to decorate the matcha-pista sondesh; I made a little leaf cutout with acetate to create a leaf design
edible silver flakes and blanched and skinned pistachios to decorate the matcha-pista sondesh

After the steaming step, refrigerate your sondesh only after it comes down to room temperature. Let it set in the fridge for at least 12 hours; do not attempt to unmould and cut it before that, else it will fall apart. If you would like to make only one type of sondesh, simply follow only that recipe. My rose-cashew sondesh took 25 minutes to steam, while the saffron-almond sondesh and the matcha-pista sondesh took only 20 minutes. I have no idea why! Check on your sondesh at the 20 minute mark and continue steaming only if needed.

Tips & Tricks

How to blanch almonds


Paturi & Pulao

Makes 6 servings.

I first sampled chhana’r paturi during our wedding celebrations, and wanted to marry it as well. To make it, soft cottage cheese is mixed with a mustard seed paste and patted into a rectangle to look like a fillet of fish. It is then wrapped and cooked in banana leaves. An homage to the flavours of Bengal, this fully vegetarian, Satvik meal comprising chhana’r paturi and fragrant, gondhoraj ghol pulao (lemony little millet pilaf) can be enjoyed even by those following Navratri diet norms—and is proof that you don’t need fish and rice to make a wholesome and delicious Bengali meal.

At a glance

– This recipe comprises chhanar paturi + gondhoraj ghol pulao.
– You will need banana leaves, cooking twine, a large iron skillet (9-10 inches), and a large cooking pot (4-5 litre).
– 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: chhana’r paturi

Ingredients wrapped and cooked in leaves are called “paturi” in Bengali. Usually made with barramundi (Bengali; bhetki) filets, this paturi is the vegetarian version. Once cooked, the cottage cheese should hold together as a ‘fillet’, but melt in your mouth. Although mustard seed is pungent and mustard oil is sharp, this is a mild mustard paste and won’t have your sinuses clearing with every bite!  

Ingredients
1. 400 gm fresh cottage cheese (chhana/paneer)
2. 2 tbsp. mustard oil like this
3. 3 green chillies
4. 6 lime leaves from Gondhoraj limes like this


for the mustard paste:
5. 3 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
6. 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
7. ¾ tsp turmeric powder
8. 1 tsp sugar
9. 3 tsp salt
10. 1 green chilli
11. Plain water for soaking

for the coconut paste:
12. 100 gm (roughly ¾ cup) freshly grated coconut
13. 1-2 green chillies

To wrap the paturi:
14. 3-4 banana leaves
15. 4 tsp mustard oil like this + extra for greasing and cooking
16. Cooking twine

If you plan to use readymade Bengali mustard powder like this, use 2-3 tablespoons of it and follow the package instructions when rehydrating it. The more you add, the more pungent your paturi will be.

Prep
1 – Grab your banana leaves. Remove the central midrib of each leaf while taking care to keep the rest of the leaf intact. Then cut the banana leaves to a manageable size (I did slightly smaller than 13×9 inches) to fit my 13×9 inch tray. 

2 – Fill a deep tray with hot water. Then submerge the portioned leaves in the hot water. After 5 minutes, remove them from the tray and lay them out on a kitchen towel. Thereafter wipe them dry, going along the grain. Watch this for a full demonstration on how to clean banana leaves.

3 – Cut the banana leaves into 6 equal sheets, 9 inches by 7 inches. Set aside.

fresh banana leaves from the market
midrib cut out and discarded
portioned sections for easier management
soaking the portioned sheets in hot water
wiping the sheets dry

Method
1 – Soak 3 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds and 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds in plain water for 30 minutes. 

2 – After 30 minutes, strain the water from the seeds and place the wet seeds, turmeric powder, salt, sugar, and 1 green chilli in the jar of a wet grinder. Grind to a coarse paste. Set aside. Hack alert! Since this is such a small amount, I used a textured cutting board and rolling pin to grind my mustard paste. It takes some time—and totally works—plus it’s more efficient than using a large blender wherein the blades can’t reach the mixture. 

3 – To the jar of a blender, add the grated coconut and 1 green chilli (or another if you like it hotter). Grind together until you get a coarse paste or a smooth paste. A smooth paste will make for a finer textured paturi. Set aside.

4 – Using a cheese or vegetable grater (small holes), grate the cottage cheese so that you get a fine, lump-free texture. Even if you’re using homemade cottage cheese, I highly recommend doing this step to get an even texture.

5 – To the grated cottage cheese, add all of the mustard paste, all of the coconut-chilli paste, and 2 tablespoons mustard oil and mix well. Knead the mixture for a minute or two. You will have about 600-610 gm of the mixture.

6 – Divide the mixture into 6 equal portions, weighing roughly 100 gm each.

7 – Heat the banana leaf sheets from one end to the other (dark side-down) over a low flame for a few seconds. This softens the leaves, making them pliable for easy folding. Take care not to burn or blacken the leaves. 

8 – Once they’re soft, grease the pale side of each of the leaf sheets with ½ a teaspoon of mustard oil.

9 – Now place each portion of the cottage cheese mixture carefully over the greased side of a banana leaf sheet. Using your fingers, gently shape the mixture into a rectangle, roughly 3 ½ inches by 2 ¾ inches.

10 – Slit 3 green chillies down the middle. Place 1 slit green chilli (slit-side down on top of the shaped rectangle of cottage cheese. Now place a Gondhoraj leaf alongside. Finally, drizzle a teaspoon of mustard oil on top of the rectangle.

11 – To wrap up the parcel, fold over the top and bottom sections of the banana leaf sheet. The fold in the left and right sides of the sheet. Tie up the parcel with some cotton cooking twine. Repeat steps 7-9 until you have all 6 parcels or 6 paturi. 

12 – Generously grease an iron tawa or a cast iron skillet with mustard oil and heat it on low. Once warm, place the paturi on the skillet. Cook covered for 15 minutes on low heat, flipping the paturi every 5 minutes. The paturi will swell up as they steam and fry. Remove the lid, flip the paturi one last time and cook for a further 5 minutes for a total cook time of 20 minutes. The colour of the paturi will go from green to dark brown over the course of the cook. 

13 – After 20 minutes, turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let the paturi rest for 5 minutes before serving and unwrapping.

all the ingredients for the mustard paste
getting ready for an arms workout. this is old-school grinding
rise and grind
mustard paste ready
coconut paste ready
grating the cottage cheese
all the ingredients for the paturi
portioned out paturi mixture
heating the banana leaves to make them pliable
mustard oil – make sure you use the pungent stuff
greasing the banana leaves with mustard oil
shaping of the paturi
all the paturi shaped
final drizzle of mustard oil
all wrapped up
and ready to be cooked
all the wrapped up paturi
searing the paturi
flipping the paturi – first flip
cooking the paturi covered – see how they’re puffed up
chhana’r paturi ready!

In this cooking method, the banana leaves slowly get toasted roasted, and the tea-like smokiness is transferred to the food. So, even though you do not eat the banana leaves themselves, they play a big role in the overall flavour profile of the dish. As such, the dish cannot be made with baking parchment or en papilotte methods of cooking. Although it tastes best right off the skillet, paturi can be reheated in the microwave (leaves and all) before serving. 

Stage 2: Gondhoraj ghol pulao

This very old, very traditional Bengali recipe has been made Navratri-friendly, by swapping out the Gobindhobhog rice for Little Millet (Samai Rice)—which tastes very similar to broken rice when cooked. Cooling against the pungency of the paturi, this refreshing pulao perfumed by Gondhoraj lime (Rangpur lime), is a true feast for the olfactory senses and pairs wonderfully with a range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian main dishes.

Ingredients
1. 400 gm (roughly 2 cups) Little Millet aka Samai rice
2. 250 cup plain yoghurt
3. 750 ml water
4. 1 tbsp zest from 2 medium Gondhoraj limes like this 
5. 2 tbsp juice from 1 ½ medium Gondhoraj limes like this
6. 4 tsp salt
7. 4 tbsp ghee like this
8. 20 raw cashews split
9. 20 golden raisins
10. 2 Indian bay leaves
11. 1 inch cinnamon
12. 6 cloves
13. 3 cardamom pods
14. 9 whole black pepper
15. 4 green chillies
16. 5 Gondhoraj lime leaves from a lime like this
17. 2 tbsp. sugar

Gondhoraj literally translates to “King of Aromas” in Bengali. If you cannot get gondhoraj limes or their leaves, kaffir limes may be used in a pinch, but regular limes or lemons just will not do. Much like its distant cousin—the kaffir lime—the gondhoraj is wonderfully versatile; where the zest, leaves, and juice are all serviceable in recipes. Hard to juice but packed with aroma, the gondhoraj is cut lengthwise to expose its pale insides, which, when squeezed, emits a tiny aerosol of perfume that’s powerful enough to permeate the entire house. They are hard to grow outside of Bengal, but are readily available to buy online from here and here. My husband’s grandmother couriers us a big stash from her garden in Kolkata. If you’re outside of India and want to follow Navratri norms but cannot source Little Millet, you could use quinoa. You may need to add more water and increase the length of cooking time accordingly.

Prep
1 – Wash the millet well until the water runs clear. Transfer it to a bowl and add water to fully submerge. Leave it to soak for 30 minutes.

2 – After 30 minutes, use a fine-meshed strainer to drain the millet and spread the grains out to air dry. You could also place the soaked and drained millet under a fan to speed things up. 

Method
1 – Once the millet is dry, transfer it to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of ghee to the bowl and coat the grains with the ghee. Set aside. 

2 – Zest and juice your Gondhoraj lemons. I got 40 ml juice and 1 tablespoon zest from 2 average-sized limes. Set aside.

3 – Place the yoghurt in a bowl. To it, add 250 ml plain water, the salt, the lemon juice, and half of the lemon zest. Whisk well until you have a thin liquid with zero lumps. Now add another 750 ml water to thin it out further. This is our slurry or ‘ghol’, or. Set aside.

4 – Place a heavy bottom pot on your stove and begin heating it on medium. Add 2 tablespoons ghee to the pot.

5 – Once the ghee has melted, add the cashew halves and cook on medium heat until dark golden (roughly 2 minutes). Remove from the pot and set aside.

6 – Now add the golden raisins and fry in the ghee for about a minute or until they are plump and look like peanuts. Remove from the pot and set aside.

7 – To the same pot, add the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pods, and whole pepper. Temper in the hot ghee for about 30 seconds.

8 – Once the spices are aromatic, add the millet to the pot. Sauté the for 2-3 minutes or until lightly roasted and nutty.

9 – Give the ghol a final quick whisk and add it to the pot. 

10 – Using a knife, poke a slit into each green chilli and add them to the pot. Now add 4 Gondhoraj lemon leaves. Cut the 5th leaf into very fine ribbons (chiffonade).

11 – Wait for the liquid to come to a boil, and then cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. I like to line my lid with aluminium foil to make it extra tight. Cook the millet on medium heat for 15 minutes or until 90% of the water has been absorbed.

12 – Remove the lid and sprinkle in the sugar. Using a spatula, gently fold the millet to incorporate the sugar. Cook covered for a further 15-20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed and the grains are fully cooked; taste a small spoonful – it should not be crunchy or gritty.

13 – Turn the heat off. Add a final tablespoon of ghee, the remaining lemon zest and the chiffonade lemon leaf. Put the lid back on and leave the millet to steam for 10 whole minutes before removing the lid. Thereafter, cover loosely with some tented foil.

14 – Before serving, remove the lid, fluff up and separate the grains with your fingers and then add the fried cashews and raisins. Toss together to combine. Gondhoraj Ghol Pulao ready.

15 – Serve your hot Chhana’r Paturi along with the Gondhoraj Ghol Pulao and loads of tomato chutney (recipe coming soon) on the side. Now eat!

ghondhoraj lime stash
gondhoraj lime vs regular Indian lime
all the ingredients for the pulao
little millet coated in ghee
frying of the cashews
frying of the raisins
tempering the oil with whole spices
frying the little millet
the gondhoraj ghol
adding the gondhoraj ghol to the little millet
fresh green chillies and gondhoraj leaves added
gondhoraj leaf chiffonade
90% of the water absorbed
100% of the water absorbed – adding ghee, gondhoraj leaf chiffonade and gondhoraj lime zest
gondhoraj ghol pulao ready!

Millets are coarse grains that belong to the grass family. A rich source of proteins, fibre, and antioxidants, they come in various sizes and varieties. Please keep in mind that while Little Millet tastes like rice, it does not cook into separate grains like long grained rice such as Basmati. In fact, the end cooked result is kind of like upma in terms of texture. You will get clumps, but these can be easily fluffed into separate grains with your hand or a fork. If you’re not following any Navratri diet norms, please feel free to swap out the little millet for actual rice—our grain of choice is Gobindhobog Rice. It’s not just perfectly suited to Bengal pilaf dishes, it also possesses a beautiful buttery fragrance that marries perfectly with the heady aroma of Gondhoraj limes. If you use rice in this recipe (including any kind of long grained variety like jasmine rice), the rice weight and cooking times will vary (rice cooks up faster).

Tips & Tricks
How to clean banana leaves:


Tomato Soup & Caprese Salad

Makes 4 servings.

We’re bidding goodbye to Summer with this fresh, fast, and fabulous meal. Featuring a refreshing tomato basil soup that comes together in less than half an hour, and a bright, spritely Caprese Salad that requires 5 minutes of assembly, it’s an ode to both seasonal produce and laid-back cooking. Served with store-bought sourdough (I’m working on a homemade Sourdough recipe), this is fast food with all the flavour of a slow-cooked meal. 


At a glance

– This recipe comprises + tomato soup + Caprese Salad.
– You will need a small pressure cooker, a medium cooking pot, a stand blender, and a small saucepan.
– 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: tomato soup

Deliciously fresh and summery, this flavour-packed tomato soup comes together really quickly and with just a handful of pantry staples. Perfect for dunking slices of sourdough, it has a creamy mouthfeel with zero addition of cream! Feel free to make this soup vegan by replacing the butter with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Ingredients
for the butter beans:
1. 50 gm giant lima beans/butter beans (roughly 1/3 cup)
2. 250 ml water for soaking
3. 150 ml water for cooking

for the soup:
1. 800 gm canned San Marzano tomatoes (peeled and in tomato juice)
2. 250 ml vegetable stock (hot)
3. 1 tbsp. cooking olive oil
4. 1 tbsp. salted butter
5. 100 gm red onion (roughly 1 large), diced
6. 2 small cloves of garlic, minced
7. 1 tsp sugar
8. 2 tbsp tomato paste
9. Cooked butter beans + cooking liquid
10. ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
11. 10-12 fresh basil leaves + 3-4 extra for garnish
12. ½ tsp celery salt
13. 4 tsp extra virgin olive oil


Prep
1 – Place the dried butter beans in a bowl and submerge them in water. Leave them to soak for at least 8 hours or overnight.

2 – The next day, strain out all the water and place the beans in a pressure cooker along with 150 ml water.

3 – Close the pressure cook and cook on medium-high heat. Once the cooker has reached full pressure, wait for 2 whistles and then turn off the heat (sometimes this will vary depending on how old your beans are. Fresh beans will take just 1 whistle, older beans may take 3. Mine took exactly 2 whistles to fully soften).

4 – Let the steam release naturally and then open the pressure cooker. Butter beans ready, set aside.

pressure-cooked butter beans, ready

Method
1 – Add the cooking olive oil and salted butter to a 3-litre cooking pot. Heat on medium until the oil begins to shimmer and the butter starts sizzling.

2 – Add the diced onion along with the sugar and sauté on medium heat until the onions are golden-brown, roughly 10-12 minutes.

3 – Add the minced garlic and sauté on medium heat until aromatic, roughly 1 minute.

4 – Add the tomato paste and continue sauteing for another minute.

5 – Now add the canned tomatoes and their juices, as well as the hot vegetable stock. (I used 5 gm of this vegetable bouillon broth + 250 ml boiling water to make my stock). You can use homemade vegetable or chicken stock if you have it.

6 – Raise the heat and bring the pot to a simmer. Once it’s bubbling, lower the heat and gently simmer the mixture for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

7 – After 10 minutes, turn off the stove and allow the mixture to cool completely.

8 – Strain the cooled mixture through a medium mesh sieve. Transfer only the stuff caught in the sieve to the jar of a stand blender. Now add the cooked butter beans as well their cooking liquid, 10-12 basil leaves, celery salt, and pepper. Blitz together until fully blended and totally smooth. Because of the fresh basil leaves, you’ll see gorgeous flecks of green speckled throughout the mixture.

9 – Pour the mixture back into the cooking pot and mix with the rest of the strained liquid. Taste the mixture and season it to taste, adding more celery salt, pepper, and sugar if desired.

10 – When you’re ready to serve, gently heat the mixture back up. Before serving, drizzle each cup of soup with 1 teaspoon of good quality extra virgin olive oil and top with some fresh basil leaves. Tomato basil soup, ready!

all the ingredients for the tomato soup
butter and cooking olive oil being heated
onions turning golden-brown
tomato paste being fried
canned tomatoes added to the pot
vegetable stock being added to the pot
straining the soup to catch the solids
getting ready to blitz the solids
tomato soup solids after blitzing
tomato soup, ready

I don’t recommend using fresh tomatoes to make this soup, as they can be notoriously unreliable when it comes to sweetness. Moreover, when they’re acidic, they take hours to break down. Packed with tomato flavour and possessing just the right amount of acid, canned San Marzano tomatoes are naturally sweet, vine-ripened, and harvested and canned at peak ripeness. This results in a soup that takes very little time and tinkering to whip up and is consistently tasty whenever you make it. If you want to add creaminess without heaviness, butterbeans are the way to go. Make a big batch of beans and freeze them to use whenever you want to make this delicious soup. This recipe makes 4 cups of soup and can be doubled or tripled to make a larger batch. Portion and store the soup in the freezer for 3-4 months and thaw and reheat as desired.

Stage 2: Caprese Salad

Bursting with clean flavours and fresh textures, Caprese Salad really brings out the taste of plain sourdough bread. Made by layering thick slices of fresh mozzarella and tomato with basil leaves—the resulting green, white, and red mirrors the Italian flag and makes for a simple but stunning visual effect. In my version, I use bocconcini and cherry tomatoes for easy transportation from platter to sourdough slice.

Ingredients
for the balsamic glaze:
1. 120 ml balsamic vinegar
2. 2 tbsp honey.

for the salad:
1. 400 gm Bocconcini Di Bufala (small, fresh buffalo mozzarella balls)
2. 250-300 gm cherry tomatoes
3. 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4. Balsamic glaze (you’ll have about 3 tbsp.)
5. 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
6. 1/4 tsp coarse sea salt
7. 66 fresh basil leaves (small)

Prep
1 – Add the balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil and then simmer on low or until it is reduced by about 3/4th and thickly coats the back of a spoon (roughly 5-6 minutes). Thereafter, add the honey and whisk to combine. Balsamic glaze ready. Set aside.

all the ingredients for the balsamic glaze
simmering the glaze till it’s 1/4 its original volume
reduced glaze, thickly coating the back of a spoon
adding honey to the reduced glaze
balsamic glaze, ready

Method
1 – Cut your cherry tomatoes into 3 slices. Set aside.

2 – Cut each bocconcini into 3 slices. Set aside

3 – Pluck the basil leaves off their sprigs and set aside.

4 – Get your serving dish. Arrange the bocconcini and tomato slices in a spiral pattern going from the outside in, alternating between the white mozzarella and the red tomato so that you can see both (like you’re arranging slices for ratatouille).

5 – Tuck in a basil leaf before every slice of mozzarella, so you see green, white, and then red in a continuous sequence (like the Italian flag). Set aside while you heat up the other elements.

6 – Re-heat your tomato basil soup if desired (it’s good cold too), slice up a loaf of sourdough and quickly toast the slices on a grill. 

7 – Right before serving, sprinkle the salt and pepper over the arranged Caprese Salad. Finally, drizzle on the extra virgin olive oil and the balsamic glaze. Caprese salad ready! Now eat!

cutting the bocconcini into thirds
slicing the cherry tomatoes into thirds
Caprese salad after assembly

We love Caprese Salad so much, we make it nearly every week. It’s perfect as an appetizer before a meal, as a side dish with pasta, or even as a main. If you prefer a lighter taste, you needn’t reduce the balsamic – although it does amp up both the presentation and the flavour.  Remember to arrange all of your salad ingredients, and season and dress the salad only right before serving. Adding salt and vinegar too early will make your tomatoes sweat.


Bounty Hand Pies

Makes 16 x 4-inch pies

Come September, households across India begin planning festive menus. A usual suspect is a half-moon shaped, coconut-filled, fried hand pie called ‘karanji’ (gujiya/bhaja puli). It’s utterly delicious and available at every sweet shop, so why would we bother making it? Instead, we’re going to ring in the seasonal feasting with these babies. They look like karanji, are assembled like hand pies, but taste like Bounty, my favourite chocolate bar. Made with chocolate short-crust pastry, and stuffed with a sweet coconut filling—this is one dessert you’ll want to add to your faral platter this festive season.

At a glance

– These hand pies comprise chocolate short-crust pastry + “Bounty” coconut filling + dark chocolate dipping sauce.
– You will need a 4 inch scalloped cookie cutter or mini tart pan, baking parchment, and some baking trays.
– 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: chocolate short-crust pastry 

Ingredients
1. 315 gm all purpose flour, sifted + extra for dusting
2. 60 gm dutched or natural cocoa powder, sifted
3. 20 gm confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4. ¼ tsp salt
5. 200 gm cold unsalted butter
6. Yolks from 2 large eggs (58 gm in-shell weight per egg)
7. 60 ml milk
8. 1 tsp vanilla extract

The type and brand of cocoa powder you use will determine the colour of the dough. I used this extra dark natural cocoa powder, which is why my hand pies are such a dark shade of brown. If you prefer a lighter brown, choose a lighter-coloured cocoa powder

Prep
1 – Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes and keep chilled.
2 – Whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla extract and the milk and keep chilled. This is your wet mixture. Save the egg whites to use as glue in Stage 3.

3 – Cut 2 parchment sheets into 12×12 inch squares. Set aside.

4 – Line some fridge-safe trays/plates with parchment paper.


Method
1 – Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar, and salt in a bowl and then whisk together well to combine.

2 – Add the cubed 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, and pea-sized knobs of butter distributed throughout. 

3 – Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and use your hand like a claw to ‘swirl’ the mixture together, and cup it together. Within a minute or so, it will come together as a ball of dough. Do not knead it. 

4 – Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment, fold over the sides of the parchment and press down to flatten until you have a thick square. Wrap the square in cling wrap and place it in the fridge for 1 hour, or in the freezer for 30 minutes.

5 – After it’s done chilling, remove the wrapped dough from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes (do not unwrap it yet). If you left it in the fridge to chill overnight, it will take up to an hour to become pliable. Once it’s soft enough to roll, cut the dough in half. It’s a lot easier to roll out a half portion at a time than the entire dough at once. Keep the second portion wrapped, while you work on the first.

6 – Lay down one 12-inch sheet of parchment and lightly flour it. Place your dough on top of it and then place the second 12-inch sheet of parchment on top. Roll your chilled dough between the two sheets until it’s roughly 1/8 inch thick. It doesn’t matter if it’s misshapen, as long as it’s evenly thick. When rolling out chilled short-crust pastry dough, start in the centre and work your way outwards, making tiny little rolls and rotating the parchment frequently until the dough becomes easier to roll. Go slow and steady. Rapidly rolling a cold dough will result in major crackage!

7 – Using your 4-inch scalloped cutter, cut out as many circles as you can. You may need to dip the cutter into some extra flour to prevent sticking. Remove the excess dough, gather it together and re-roll it until you run out of dough. Then repeat with your second portion of dough. I got exactly 16 circles from the entire portion of dough, but made only 15 circles and kept the 16th circle as a spare in case I needed to patch up any cracks.

8 – As you’re cutting out the circles, lay each chocolate circle in a parchment-lined tray without overlapping any. Cover the tray with cling wrap and place in the fridge for 10 minutes to chill before assembling your hand pies.

all the ingredients for the dough
cutting the butter into the dough
pea-sized dabs of butter spread throughout
adding the wet mixture to the dough
bring the dough together with the “claw”
mixed dough; sides of the bowl are clean
forming the dough into a square
flattened dough, ready to be chilled
chilled and rested dough, ready for rolling
rolling the dough between two parchment sheets
cutting out the fluted circles
cut out as many as will fit before removing the excess and re-rolling
one scalloped circle

Chocolate short-crust pastry dough is tough to handle in hot and humid climates. For that reason, this chocolate dough contains very little sugar—the more sugar you add, the stickier it gets, and the harder it becomes to handle. I make my pastry dough in an air-conditioned environment to prevent the butter from melting. 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 the dough well in advance and store it in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months. When freezing the dough, double wrap it and place it in a resealable plastic bag. You will need to thaw the dough before rolling.

Stage 2: “Bounty” coconut filling 

Ingredients
1. 75 gm desiccated coconut (fine flakes or shredded)
2. 150 gm sweetened condensed milk
3. 1/8 tsp salt 

Did you know that sweetened condensed milk that’s sitting in an unopened can will get darker and thicker with time? Mine was sitting in my pantry for 7 months, hence its caramel hue! As long as it’s within the expiration date, it’s absolutely fine to use.

Method
1 – Place the shredded coconut in a mixing bowl.

2 – Add the salt to the sweetened condensed milk and give it a stir. 

3 – Then pour the sweetened condensed milk onto the shredded coconut and stir with a spatula to combine. That’s it!

all the ingredients for the filling
salted condensed milk being added to the shredded coconut
coconut filling ready

If not assembling your hand pies immediately, store the filling in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Depending on your taste preferences and what you can source, feel free to use either desiccated coconut or freshly grated coconut (defrosted frozen-fresh coconut works too). Keep in mind that 75 gm of fresh coconut will be a smaller quantity than 75 gm desiccated coconut, so you may need to use more. If using fresh coconut, taste the mixture and add more coconut as required. You’re essentially looking to make a very sweet, sticky, wet mixture. Remember, because the chocolate short crust dough is high on bitter cocoa and low on sugar, the filling itself has to be quite sweet to balance the flavours out.

Stage 3: assembly and baking

Components
1. Chocolate hand pie dough circles
2. Prepared “Bounty” coconut filling
3. Optional; 1/2 tsp softened butter per hand pie
4. Leftover egg whites to use as glue
5. 1 egg yolk + ½ tsp water to make an egg wash

Method
1 – Take your trays of dough circles out of the fridge and let them rest for 10 minutes. They should be fully pliable before assembly; else they will crack while folding.

2 – Take 1 heaped teaspoon of coconut filling in your palm and shape it into a half moon. This is easy to do if your mixture is cold. Place the shaped coconut filling on one half of each circle of dough, with the curved side parallel to the curved side of the dough. If your filling is warm and on the runnier side, use a spoon to place a heaped teaspoon of filling on one half of each circle of dough and then nudge it into a half moon shape. Don’t add too much filling, as an over-stuffed pie is harder to seal and you risk them bursting while baking.

3 – If you desire a wetter/moister filling, scoop about half a teaspoon of butter on top of each portion of filling. I didn’t do this step.

4 – Brush the inside circumference with egg white (it will act as a glue). 

5 – Then fold over the other half of the circle and seal the scalloped edges by pressing down with your fingers while pushing out any air that might be inside. 

6 – Do a final seal by pressing the tines of a fork against the scalloped border. I do not recommend using a dumpling/empanada/karanji press to shape your hand pies, as the pastry is too short and delicate to be handled that much.

7 – Using a fork, pierce the surface of each hand pie just once. The holes will act as vents and let out any steam while baking. Take care not to poke all the way through.

8 – Cover your tray of assembled hand pies with cling wrap and place them in the fridge to chill for a minimum of 60 minutes or overnight for best results. I assembled mine the previous night as I wanted to bake them early in the morning.

9 – Preheat your oven at 190OC for 20 minutes. Keep the pies in the fridge.

10– Just before placing them in the oven, lightly brush the surface of each hand pie with egg wash. If the vent holes get blocked with egg wash, simply re-pierce the holes with a fork, taking care to insert the tines in the existing holes.

11 – Bake the hand pies at 190OC for 20-22 minutes. They will be ready once they are firm on top and the air smells deliciously chocolatey. Mine took exactly 20 minutes.

12 – Remove your tray of hand pies from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. The filling will be piping hot, so please wait for the hand pies to become cool enough to handle. While they’re coming to temperature, move on to Stage 4 and make your dark chocolate dipping sauce. 

all the components ready for assembly
half-moon fillings , shaped and placed on the scalloped circles
brushing on the egg white “glue”
lifting over the pastry dough
folding over the pastry dough
sealing the hand pie
properly sealed hand pie
further sealing the scalloped edges with the tines of a fork – it also makes it pretty!
poking holes for the vents
hand pies ready for a final chill
brushing on the egg wash right before baking
here’s why you need those vent holes!
fully baked hand pies – those ‘bobbles’ of condensed milk are hollow and peel right off!

Once cooled to room temperature, these hand pies can be placed in an airtight container. Store them in the fridge for up to 3 days if they’re not inhaled within the day! You can cook these pies in an air fryer! Preheat your air fryer at 175OC for 5 minutes, then spray the air fryer basket with nonstick cooking spray. Place as many as will fit without touching each other into the air fryer basket and air fry at 175OC for 12-15 minutes or until the crust looks shiny and the air smells chocolatey. Carefully remove the pies and transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining pies. 

Stage 4: dark chocolate dipping sauce 

Ingredients
1. 75 gm high quality couverture dark chocolate (50-60% cocoa)
2. 150 ml full fat heavy cream

Chocolate ganache is a confection that consists of chocolate and cream, in varying ratios, depending on how it will be used. Read about ganache here. For a thick, pipeable ganache that’s perfect for truffles, the chocolate to cream ratio is 2:1. For fillings and frostings or thick glazes, you want a 1:1 ratio. Finally, for thin glazes or drips and dipping, a ratio of 1:2 is required. Because I live in a hot and humid location, I often toggle with the ratios, whereby I increase the amount of chocolate, for extra stability. In this recipe, I have used a 1:2 ratio. 

Method
1 – Chop the dark chocolate into small shards (not required if using chocolate calets), and then place them a heatproof bowl.

2 – In a medium saucepan, heat up the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and the cream begins to steam. Do not bring to a simmer or boil.

3 – Remove the cream from the heat and pour it onto the chocolate shards. Let the mixture stand undisturbed for 5 minutes and then stir until you have a smooth and glossy ganache. 

4 – Serve your warm Bounty Hand Pies with the just made dipping sauce and any leftover coconut filling. Now eat!

pouringthe hot cream onto the chocolate calets
mixing the ingredients after 5 minutes
silky smooth chocolate dipping sauce, ready!

To give yourself the best chance at success, use fresh, high quality couverture chocolate, always. You’ll want to use couverture chocolate with at least 50% cocoa. Any less and it will be too sweet. Whatever you do, don’t use compound chocolate or candy melts, ever! Even when you source the best ingredients, things can still go wrong. A big enough difference in cream and chocolate temperatures, overheating your cream or stout, or even overmixing can result in a greasy, split mess. Err on the side of caution. Be mindful. Be vigilant. Be patient! If you run into trouble with your ganache, read this


Black Cake

Makes a 9-inch bundt cake

The first time my husband and I met, he was wearing an all-black suit (shirt as well). Back then, I didn’t realise just how black-obsessed he was (his wardrobe is basically 30 black t-shirts). To feed into his black fixation, I made an all-black cake for his birthday! Much like him, it is not too sweet, a tad bitter, and full of beer (haha). Painted black with ultra-dutched cacao powder, deepened with dark beer, and draped in dark chocolate ganache – this tall, dark, and handsome chocolate cake is not just deeply black, it’s deeply delicious.

At a glance

– This recipe comprises black chocolate stout cake + black stout ganache.
– You will need a 10 cup (2.36 litre) bundt pan like this.
– 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: black chocolate stout cake

Ingredients
1. 250 gm all purpose flour
2. 2 tsp baking soda
3. 2 tsp baking powder
4. 1 tsp salt
5. 50 gm black cocoa powder like
this + extra for dusting
6. 40 gm natural cocoa powder like
this
7. 400 gm dark muscovado sugar
8. 125 ml oil
9. 260 gm sour cream
10. 2 large eggs (60 gm/egg, in-shell weight) + 1 yolk at room temperature
11. 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
12. 250 ml stout like
this
13. 5 ml (1 tsp) black gel food colour like
this (optional)
14. Shortening for greasing

In this recipe, I use black cocoa for the colour and natural cocoa for the flavour. Natural cocoa powder is acidic and is leavened with baking soda. Being a variety of dutched cocoa, black cocoa powder will not react with baking soda, so the baking powder aids in leavening. Stout is a kind of dark beer, classified as an ale. It is sweet and full-bodied, possessing roasty caramel aromas and coffee-like flavours. For this reason, stout and chocolate make the perfect pair. Do not use white sugar or butter in this recipe! Because black cocoa powder has almost no fat, this cake needs all the moisture it can get from brown sugar, sour cream, and oil. Sorry, butter. Not today.


Method
1 – Begin preheating your oven to 180OC. 15-20 minutes should suffice.

2 – In a large mixing bowl add the eggs + egg yolk, dark muscovado sugar, oil, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Whisk together well to combine. This is your wet mixture. Set it aside for a moment.

3 – In another large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and both cocoa powders. Whisk together to combine. This is your dry mixture. Set it aside for a moment.

4 – Using a pastry brush, apply a thin coat of shortening to the insides of your bundt pan, making sure to get into every crevice. The pan shouldn’t be white with shortening, but you should clearly see the layer of grease. Then dust the inside of the pan with cocoa powder and tap out the extra.  Once again make sure that every spot is covered – this is essential for a bundt pan! Do not prepare your pan well before-hand, as any humidity in the air will muddle the layers of shortening and cocoa you’ve applied in order to prevent the cake from sticking.

5 – In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the stout to a simmer and then switch the heat off. Keep the stout hot.

6 – Sift the dry mixture into the bowl containing the wet mixture and gently whisk together until just combined and you have a smooth batter. Do not overmix. If you’re adding the black gel food colour, add it now and gently whisk to incorporate.

7 – Get the pan of hot stout and pour it into the batter. Whisk together until all the ingredients are fully blended. The batter will be runny.

8 – Immediately (and gently) pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan. Do not let the batter sit around at all, as the baking soda will have begun leavening the mixture.

9 – Place your bundt pan in the lower-middle rack of your preheated oven and bake for 30 minutes at 180OC, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Mine took exactly 30 minutes.

10 – Once your cake is cooked, remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack. Let the cake cool upright in the pan for 15 minutes. Then tap the pan firmly on your counter a few times, as well as gently tilt it in a swirling motion to help loosen the cake from the pan’s edges (remember to use oven gloves while holding a hot pan).

11 – Place a plate on top of the pan and invert the pan onto a plate. Then gently lift off the pan. Hopefully your bundt cake will be standing on the plate in one piece! Allow the cake to cool completely and then move on to

Stage 2.

all the ingredients for the dry mixture
all the ingredients for the wet mixture
local, Indian stout – delicious!
dry mixture and wet mixture ready
brushing the inside of the pan with shortening
dusting the inside of the pan with black cocoa powder
prepared bundt pan – fully greased and dusted
heating the stout
combining the wet and dry mixtures
and then adding the hot stout
adding the batter to the prepared bundt pan
this is a runny batter
full cooked black cake, resting in the pan for 15 minutes
inverted black cake – as you can see, I had some minor sticking where I hadn’t adequately greased the pan

If you’ve never heard of black cocoa powder, it’s the stuff that makes Oreo cookie shells black. So, what is it exactly? There are 2 kinds of cocoa powder; Natural and Dutched. Dutched or dutch process cocoa powder is natural cocoa powder that has been treated with an alkalizing agent to neutralize its acidic content. This process of ‘dutching’ reduces bitterness as well as darkens the cocoa powder. Black cocoa powder is therefore ultra-dutched, making it almost black! It’s awesome because it automatically dyes things black, greatly reducing the need for food colouring. While this makes for a dramatic look, black cocoa lacks the signature chocolatey flavour of natural cocoa—so always use it along with some natural cocoa. Bundt pans can be tricky. If every crevice is not greased and floured, or you use the wrong kind of grease (do not use flourless baking sprays), your cake will stick, and you will feel sad. After using the amount of stout you need in this recipe, do yourself a favour and drink the rest immediately. Do not attempt to seal the bottle and and place it in the fridge to drink later at leisure. It will pop inside like a volcano and you will have to spend 2 hours cleaning stout out of fridge crevices. True story.

Stage 2: black stout ganache 

Ingredients
1. 90 gm high quality couverture dark chocolate (50-60% cocoa)
2. 100 ml full fat heavy cream
3. 25 ml stout like this
4. 5 ml (1 tsp) black gel food colour like
this

Chocolate ganache is a confection that consists of chocolate and cream, in varying ratios, depending on how it will be used. Read about ganache here. For a thick, pipeable ganache that’s perfect for truffles, the chocolate to cream ratio is 2:1. For fillings and frostings or thick glazes, you want a 1:1 ratio. Finally, for thin glazes or drips and dipping, a ratio of 1:2 is required. Because I live in a hot and humid location, I toggle with the ratios, whereby I increase the amount of chocolate, for extra stability. In this recipe, the ganache lands somewhere between the thick glaze ratio and thin glaze ratio. 

Method
1 – Chop the dark chocolate into small shards (not required if using chocolate calets), and then place them a heatproof bowl.

2 – In a medium saucepan, heat up the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and the cream begins to steam. Do not bring to a simmer or boil.

3 – Remove the cream from the heat and pour it onto the chocolate shards. Let the mixture stand undisturbed for 5 minutes and then stir the mixture until you have a smooth and glossy ganache. 

4 – Heat the stout in the microwave until it is just hot. 20-30 seconds should suffice. Now pour the hot stout into the ganache and mix until smooth.

5 – Add a teaspoon of black gel food colour to the ganache and mix until fully blended and evenly black. Move on to Stage 3 immediately, as the ganache has to be used while still warm and at a pourable consistency.

all the ingredients for the black stout ganache
hot cream being added to dark chocolate calets
stirring the mixture after 5 minutes
adding the hot stout to the mixture
shiny stout ganache
adding the black food colouring (this is a black cake after all)
black stout ganache ready!

These quantities make just enough ganache to glaze the cake in a drip pattern. If you would like to fully coat the entire surface with a thick glaze, double the recipe. To give yourself the best chance at success, use fresh, high quality couverture chocolate, always. You’ll want to use couverture chocolate with 50-60% cocoa. Any less and it will be too sweet. Any more and it becomes unpleasantly bitter because of the stout. Whatever you do, don’t use compound chocolate or candy melts, ever! Even when you source the best ingredients, things can still go wrong. A big enough difference in cream and chocolate temperatures, overheating your cream or stout, or even overmixing can result in a greasy, split mess. Err on the side of caution. Be mindful. Be vigilant. Be patient! If you run into trouble with your ganache, read this. I reiterate; after using the amount of stout you need in this recipe, drink the rest immediately. Do not attempt to seal the bottle and and place it in the fridge to drink later at leisure. It will pop inside like a volcano and you will have to spend 2 hours cleaning stout out of fridge crevices. This is not fun!

Stage 3: assembly & decoration

Components
1. Black chocolate stout cake

2. Black stout ganache
3. 1/4 tsp black lava sea salt flakes like
this (optional)
4. 8 fresh blackberries plus more to serve (optional)

Method
1 – While the ganache is still warm and at a pouring consistency, spoon it over the top of the cake to gently flow down the sides. As it cools, it will set as a glossy glaze.

2 – This bundt cake has an alternating pattern of 8 wide panels and 8 thin panels. Place one blackberry, lying down, on the crown of each of the wider panels of the cake.

3 – After the ganache has set for about an hour, sprinkle the top of the glaze with some black lava sea salt flakes, avoiding the blackberries. Black Cake ready. Now eat!

pouring the black stout ganache on the cake
topping the cake with blackberries
sprinkling on the black lava sea salt flakes

After it is glazed, this cake can stay out at room temperature for an entire day (since it is topped with fresh fruit, it should not be kept in the sun or hot environments). Thereafter, it’s best to store it in the fridge, in an airtight container. Even though it stays super moist in the fridge, chilled cake slices should be brought to room temperature to soften the ganache before eating. Fair warning! Owing to the black food colouring in the ganache, your tongue and teeth will get temporarily stained, but it’s totally worth it!


Lamb Barbacoa Tacos

Makes 6 servings or 24 tacos.

While this Mexican export may be beloved the world over, it’s close to impossible to get a decent taco in all of Mumbai. To honour what makes the taco so immensely popular, I set out to make every single element from scratch. My recipe features soft corn tortillas filled with shredded slow-braised lamb that has been crisped up carnitas style. The soft-shell tacos are then garnished with a variety of toppings and served with homemade black beans, fresh guacamole and salsa. Our resounding verdict on these tacos? ¡Ay, caramba!


At a glance

– This dish comprises lamb stock + braised lamb “carnitas” + black beans + fresh salsa + guacamole + corn tortillas + miscellaneous toppings.
– You will need a big roasting tray, a blender, a couple of medium cooking pots (3 litre capacity), a large cooking pot (6 litre capacity), a large skillet, and a flat griddle.
– 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: lamb stock

Feel free to use 1.5 litres of ready-made lamb stock for this recipe and skip this entire step. I couldn’t, so I had to make it from scratch. 

Ingredients
1. 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2. 1 kg raw lamb bones
3. 150 gm carrot (roughly 1 medium)
4. 100 gm onion (roughly 1 medium-large)
5. 100 gm celery, stalks, leaves and all
6. 2 large cloves of garlic
7. 1 large Indian bay leaf (or regular bay leaf if you have it)
8. 20 black peppercorns
9. 2500 ml plain water (cool)
10. 1 tsp salt

Method
1 – Preheat your oven to 200OC and line a baking tray with aluminium foil. While your oven in preheating, wash the bones very well under running water and then pat them dry with paper towels.

2 – Rub the lamb bones with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and then place them on the prepared baking to roast for 40 minutes or until well-browned.

3 – When the bones are done roasting, transfer them and any released tray juices to a cold 6 litre stock pot. 

4 – Now clean your carrot, onion, celery, and garlic. There’s no need to peel any of the veg. Cut the carrot and celery into 4 cm chunks, quarter the onion, cut the garlic cloves in half, and then add all the veg to the pot. Now pop in the bay leaf and peppercorns. 

5 – Add 2500 ml plain water, which should be enough to submerge everything. Bring the pot to a gentle simmer, ensuring it never comes to a boil. As it’s coming to a simmer, impurities will rise to the surface. Periodically remove this ‘foam’ by carefully skimming it off with a large metal spoon. 

6 – Once the liquid comes to a simmer, add the salt. Gently and steadily simmer the stock for about 2 hours or until the liquid has reduced by a third. Do not put a lid on. Every 15 minutes or so, skim off the foam from the surface (lamb bones release a tonne of scum). Do not stir the stock or boil it at any stage or it will become cloudy.

7 – After it’s done, turn the heat off and strain the stock through a muslin-lined fine mesh strainer with a clean bowl placed underneath it. You should have about 1.5 litres of stock. Do not push anything through the strainer as this will make your stock cloudy and undo all your hard work! There’s going to be a lot of stuff in the strainer; you can totally eat the carrot, but it won’t offer much in the way of nutrition. Discard everything else.

8 – Let the bowl of strained stock come to room temperature, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge overnight if not using immediately. It will stay fresh in the fridge for up to one week. 

all the ingredients for the lamb stock
lamb bones ready for roasting
lamb bones after roasting
stock ingredients, ready to be simmered
remove the scum as it builds up
lamb stock after 2 hours of gentle simmering
strained lamb stock, ready to be used in your recipe

Lamb stock is the perfect broth to make hearty soups and stews. Keep in mind that store-bought stock contains a lot of sodium, whereas this stock is seasoned with very little salt — allowing you to add as much salt as you want when you’re using the stock in a recipe later. If you want to save time on future meals, make a double batch and store it in the freezer for up to 6 months. That way you can make this dish in no time at all! 

Stage 2: braised lamb (lamb barbacoa)

Originating from the Oaxacan region of Mexico, Lamb Barbacoa is a rich and robust dish featuring in-bone lamb, braised in a marinade of dried smoky chillies and warm spices. Traditionally prepared with an entire shoulder of lamb, I’m using portioned lamb shanks in this recipe, to ramp up the richness and flavour. Slow-cooked over gentle heat until it is juicy, tender, and falling off the bone, it’s the perfect protein component for tacos and burritos.

Ingredients
1. 3 kg portioned lamb shanks (or weight equivalent bone-in meat from the shoulder) to give 1.2 kg braised and shredded lamb

For the lamb marinade:

1. 2 dried Guajillo chillies like this
2. 250 ml hot water
3. 2 tbsp. tomato paste
4. 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
5. 6 medium cloves of garlic, peeled
6. 60 gm onion (roughly 1 small) peeled and quartered
7. 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
8. 1 tbsp. freshly grated orange zest (from a Valencia orange)
9. 125 ml freshly squeezed orange juice (from a Valencia orange)
10. 2 tsp ground coriander
11. 2 tsp ground cumin
12. 1 tsp smoked paprika

For braising the lamb:
1. 2 tbsp. cooking olive oil per batch of lamb
2. Marinated lamb shanks + remaining marinade
3. 1 tbsp. chipotle paste like this
4. 3 inch cinnamon stick
5. 1/4 tsp ground cloves
6. 125 ml freshly squeezed orange juice (from a Valencia orange)
7. 1.5 litre prepared lamb stock or readymade lamb stock
8. 3 tsp salt plus extra in case desired
9. 1 tsp dried oregano
10. 1 tsp dried marjoram like this
11. ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper

If you live in India and cannot get Mexican Guajillo chillies, you can sub them with 2 dried Kashmiri or 2 Bedgi chillies, both of which impart a smoky, mild heat, albeit a different flavour. If you have access to dried Mexican oregano (also known as Mexican marjoram or Mexican wild sage), replace the dried oregano and dried marjoram with 2 tsp Mexican oregano. If you’re using ready-made stock which is already salty, you will need to use less salt. Taste your stock first and add salt accordingly.

Prep
1 – Clean the lamb shanks and then pat them dry. Set aside in a bowl.

2 – Tear the Guajillo chillies in half and then place them in a heat proof bowl. Pour 250 ml hot water onto them. Leave them to soak for 20 minutes, bobbing them down in the water once in a while to fully submerge them. They will plump up and become soft.

3 – Place the soaked chillies and their soaking water into the jar of a blender. Also add all the other ingredients listed in ‘for the lamb marinade’. Blitz to a very fine paste.

4 – Transfer the marinade to the bowl containing the lamb shanks and coat every piece very well. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge to marinate overnight.

portioned lamb shanks, cleaned and dried
all the ingredients for the marinade
soaking the Guajillo chillies in hot water
lamb mariande
marinating lamb shanks

Method
1 – After its overnight marination, take the lamb out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature. 

2 – If you’re using the homemade lamb stock and it was stored in the fridge, it will need to be heated until fully liquid and just hot.

3 – Heat up 2 tablespoons of cooking olive oil in a 6 litre heavy-bottomed cooking pot. Keep the heat high.

4 – Once the oil is hot, add the lamb shanks and sear them on all sides in batches, roughly 2 minutes each side.

5 – Add back all the seared lamb, the remaining lamb marinade, chipotle paste, the cinnamon stick, ground cloves, and 125 ml orange juice.

6 – Now add the lamb stock and salt to the pot. After adding all the stock, the lamb will be mostly submerged.

7 – Let the braising liquid come to a simmer. Then cover the pot with a lid and turn the heat to low. Simmer on low for 2 ½ hours or until the meat is almost falling off the bone.

8 – At the 2 hour mark, or when the meat is almost done, remove the lid and add the cracked black pepper. 

9 – Now take the dried oregano and dried marjoram in your palm and use your thumb to lightly crush it into your palm (like you are crushing tobacco). Add the dried herbs to the pot and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes or until the meat is falling off the bone. Mine took exactly 2 ½ hours . Switch the heat off and let the lamb rest for 30 minutes before proceeding with the next step. 

10 – Take the cooked lamb shanks out of the pot and place them in a fresh bowl. 800-900 ml braising liquid will be left in the pot.

11 – Pull the meat off the bone and transfer any fat or sinew back in the pot. Before discarding the bones, scoop out any marrow and add it back to the pot.

12 – Put the braising liquid back on the heat and begin reducing it on medium-high. Reduce it down to the consistency you like, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. I simmered it for half an hour or until its volume had reduced by half.

13 – While the braising liquid is reducing, use two forks to shred the meat into small pieces. Weigh the shredded meat after you’re done so you know how much you’ll have for each taco (mine came to a total of 1200 grams or 50 grams of shredded meat per taco).

14 – After the braising liquid has reduced to your desired consistency, strain it using a medium mesh strainer. This will catch any bone fragments or undesirable bits. You now have a fabulously rich sauce! Post straining, my braising liquid came down to 320 ml. You might have more or less.

15 – Add 50 ml of the reduced braising liquid (now a sauce) to the shredded lamb and toss together to coat. Taste the lamb, and season with additional salt if desired (we didn’t).

16 – Place the shredded lamb in an airtight container and transfer any remaining braising sauce into another airtight container. Place both containers in the fridge until ready to use.

all the ingredients for slow-braising the lamb
searing the lamb shanks in batches
seared lamb shanks
adding the orange juice and spices
adding the stock and salt
that’s all the liquid in; meat is more or less submerged
wait for the liquid to come to a simmer
and then pop the lid on and leave to simmer for 2 hours
add the pepper and dried herbs when then meat is almost done
lamb barbacoa ready! (you can totally eat it like this with some flatbread, yum!)
after the lamb has rested, remove the shanks from the braising liquid
keep the braising liquid in the pot and begin reducing it on medium-high heat
shred the lamb using 2 forks
shredded lamb ready; I got 1.2 kg’s worth
reduced braising liquid
strained braising liquid
braising sauce ready!

Lamb cooking times will vary based on weight and cut. I had my lamb shanks portioned into 4-inch pieces for faster cooking. Allow 2 ½-3 hours for small, portioned shanks and 3 ½-4 hours for an entire 3 kg bone-in shoulder piece. I always factor in an extra hour (just in case).

Stage 3: black beans (frijoles negros)

Black beans are medium to small, oval-shaped beans with a glossy black coat. Like most varieties of the common bean, black beans or turtle beans are native to the Americas, and date back over 7,000 years. Especially popular in Latin American cuisine, they can also be found in Cajun and Creole dishes. FYI, Indian food is no stranger to black beans! They’re called karuppu kaaramani in Tamil, and kala ghevada in Marathi. I know what you’re wondering—and no—they cannot be substituted with kidney beans (Hindi; Rajma), as they simply don’t taste the same. After they’re cooked, black beans have a creamy white interior (perfect for mashing) and a, smoky-meaty flavour, which kidney beans lack.

Ingredients
to pre-cook the beans:
1. 180 gm dried black beans like this
2. 30 gm onion (roughly ½ small) finely diced
3. 30 gm green bell pepper(roughly ½ small) finely diced
4. 3 small cloves of garlic (minced)
5. 1 small bay leaf
6. 1 dried Guajillo chilli like this
7. 1 tsp salt
8. Enough plain water to submerge the beans by an inch (700- 800 ml) + hot water as needed

for the sofrito:

9. 1 tablespoon cooking olive oil
10. 1/16 tsp asafoetida*
11. 30 gm onion (roughly ½ small) finely diced
12. 3 small cloves garlic, finely minced
13. 2 tbsp. tomato paste
14. ½ tsp ground cumin
15. ½ tsp cayenne pepper or Kashmiri red chilli powder
16. 4 green olives stuffed with pimientos, sliced
17. 1 tsp sugar
18. ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
19. ½ tsp 1 tsp dried oregano
20. ¼ tsp dried marjoram like this
21. 1 tbsp. salted butter
22. 8-10 drops liquid smoke like this
23. 1 tsp salt

If you live in India and cannot get Mexican Guajillo chillies, you can sub them with a dried Kashmiri or Bedgi chilli, both of which impart a smoky, mild heat, albeit a different flavour. If you do have access to dried Mexican oregano, replace the dried oregano and dried marjoram with ½ tsp Mexican oregano. *Asafoetida (Hindi; hing) is a pungent seasoning used to ease digestive discomfort (typically caused by beans and cruciferous veg). It has a strong garlic/onion like aroma and taste, but since we’re using such a small amount, the overall flavour of the dish won’t be affected. I highly recommend adding it to the dish, else you’re in for a fart fest! If you cannot get asafoetida, add one 6×1 inch strip of kombu or one medium sprig of fresh epazote/1 ½ tsp dried epazote to the pot while pre-cooking the beans. Remember to remove the strip of kombu or sprig of epazote from the pot afterwards. 


Method
1 – First, rinse the black beans really well, drain them, and place them into your cooking pot. 

2 – Add 1 small bay leaf, 1 guajillo chilli broken in half, half an onion diced, 1 small green bell pepper diced, and 3 minced garlic cloves. Add enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch, sprinkle in the salt, and then give everything a gentle stir. 

3 – Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. 

4 – As soon as it’s bubbling, remove the lid and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Maintaining a gentle simmer, cook the black beans uncovered for 1-2 hours. 

5 – After 1 hour, test a couple of beans by using a spoon to press them against the side of the pot. If they squish down without any resistance, turn the heat off. Else, continue cooking; testing the beans every 15 minutes until they’re plump and tender. As water evaporates, periodically replenish it with about 250 ml hot water to ensure that there’s enough liquid in the pot to fully submerge the beans as they’re cooking. Mine took the full two hours and I used a total of 1500 ml water (750 ml to start + 750 ml additional hot water). Once ready, turn off the heat and set the beans aside.

6 – Cut your stuffed olives into 3 mm thick slices, finely dice your onion and mince your garlic. Set it aside.

7 – Now heat up a large skillet over medium-high heat. Then add the olive oil and let it heat up. 

8 – Add in the asafoetida and the diced onions and sauté for 5 minutes until lightly softened. 

9 – Add in the minced garlic, tomato paste, the sliced olives, cayenne pepper, and cumin powder, and sauté 2 minutes. This is our sofrito.

10 – Now add the cooked black beans plus all the juices from the pot. Let the beans simmer on medium-low for 15-20 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

11 – Add the sugar and the freshly cracked black pepper. Now, take the dried oregano and dried marjoram in your palm and use your thumb to lightly crush it into your palm (like you are crushing tobacco). Add it to the pan as well and let everything simmer for another 2-3 minutes. 

12 – Add the liquid smoke and butter to the bean mixture and let the butter melt down. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. I added 1 teaspoon at this point. Switch off the stove.

13 – Before serving, remove the bay leaf. If not serving immediately, cool the beans to room temperature and then store it in an airtight container in the fridge.

all the ingredients for the black beans
simmering the black beans until they’re plump and tender
plump and tender beans; mine took 2 hours, but yours may take less or more time to get there
prepping for the sofrito
the sizzle of asafoetida or “hing”, as it’s commonly known in India
sofrito coming together
sofrito ready!
adding the cooked black beans and all their cooking liquid
simmering the black beans until the liquid has almost fully reduced
releasing the aromatic oils from the dried oregano and marjoram
adding in the butter for creaminess
black beans ready!

While researching this dish, I came across the Spanish term “sofrito”, which means ‘to lightly fry’. Generally comprising tomato paste, olive oil, onions, garlic, herbs, and peppers, a sofrito is the aromatic element of a range of Spanish-inspired dishes. It is used as a flavour-base for paella and stews, added to the stuffing for empanadas, or served with rice or eggs as a topping or side-dish. Unlike thick-skinned beans such as kidney beans, chickpeas, and certain lentils, black beans are thin-skinned and do not benefit from a pre-cook soaking. In fact, soaking black beans dulls their colour and flavour. Unless you have a batch of very stale or old beans, do not soak them before cooking. Here’s the unfortunate reality about cooking beans from scratch – you’ll never know exactly how long they’ll take to cook. Check your bag for a packaged/manufactured date. Ideally, the beans should be cooked within 4 months of that. If they’re reasonably fresh, they’ll be done cooking on the stove between 1-2 hours. If you store loose beans and don’t know their age, it’s impossible to say how long they might take and how much water you’ll need during cooking. In fact, sometimes, very old beans will never properly soften, making them unfit to eat. I do not recommend cooking black beans in a pressure cook to speed things up. For starters, you can’t keep an eye on them. And because cook times for black beans vary with every batch, there’s too much trial and error involved. If they’re undercooked, you’ll need to re-pressurize the cooker and cook the beans for longer (how much longer is always a guessing game). Sometimes, the beans cook unevenly because they run out of water along the way. Or you cook them a few minutes too long and they become mushy and bland. Moreover, whenever I have cooked black beans in the pressure cooker, 80-90% of the beans have blown out because they rehydrate too rapidly thanks to the intense, pressurised heat. When I make them on the stove, not a single bean blows out! So, while cooking black beans in an open pot does take time, the end results more than makes up for it in terms of flavour, texture, and saved time and effort. You can make these beans in advance and store them for 4-5 days in the fridge or even freeze them for up to 4 months to eat later! After cooking, bring the beans to room temperature. Then transfer them to freezer-safe containers before stowing them away. Defrost the beans in the fridge before using them in tacos or burritos, or just to eat with some plain rice. 

You can double or triple the amount of beans you want to make using the below table as a guide:

*One 15 ounce (425 gm) can of cooked black beans like this holds 9 ounces (260 gm or 1.5 cups) cooked black beans, and the remaining weight is the cooking liquid. This is useful if you want to use your own black beans in recipes that call for canned black beans.

Stage 4: corn tortillas 

Mayan legend has it that a peasant invented the corn tortilla (pronounced tor-ti-yaa) as a gift for his hungry king over 12,000 years ago. In fact, the corn tortilla can trace its roots back to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mesoamerica, where it was called “tlaxcalli” in the native language. The term “tortilla” meaning “little cake” in Spanish, was only given in the 16th Century, with the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Made tremendously popular through the proliferation of Mexican cuisine, today, this humble unleavened flatbread is no stranger to Indian households.

Ingredients
1. 400 gm instant corn masa flour aka masa harina like this
2. 720-740 ml hot water (55OC)*
3. 1 ½ tsp salt

Materials
1. A tortilla/poori press like this
2. A large resealable plastic bag
3. A bowl lined with a tea towel which can overlap to cover its contents or a chapati dabba lined with cloth
4. A flat griddle or skillet, preferably cast iron

A traditional corn tortilla begins with nixtamalization; the process of curing dried corn kernels in an alkaline solution, which causes the skin to peel off. The corn kernels are then ground, cooked, and kneaded into a dough. This dough gets divided into golf ball-sized portions and then each ball is patted into a thin round and cooked on a hot griddle. Ain’t nobody got time for that! To make fresh tortillas in the kitchen, we’re going to use something called instant corn masa, or what’s popularly known as ‘masa harina’. Please note, masa harina is made from corn that has undergone nixtamalization and cannot be substituted for corn starch (aka corn flour), maize flour (Hindi; makki ka atta), or any other kinds of maize meal or cornmeal. This dough recipe makes twenty-four 5-inch tortillas. Please feel to scale up or down according to how many servings you want to make.

Prep
1 – Take your resealable plastic bag and cut out 2 rounds, slightly smaller than the size of your tortilla press plates. My press plates have a diameter of 8 inches, so I cut out two 7 ½ inch rounds. Make sure your rounds of plastic are completely free of wrinkles or folds.

Method
1 – Add the masa harina to a large bowl and sprinkle in the salt. 

2 – Pour in the hot water, reserving 20 ml. Stir the mixture with your fingers until the dough starts to come together.

3 – Lightly knead the dough for a few minutes until you have a texture resembling modelling clay and can form a smooth ball. Add the rest of the water if you see the dough crumbling or cracking, or sprinkle in more flour if the dough feels wet or sticky. Your environmental humidity will determine how much water you end up adding. I added exactly 740 ml.

4 – Cover the ball of dough with a damp towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.

5 – Divide your dough into 24 equal portions, weighing 45 gm per portion, and roll each portion into a smooth ball. Cover again with the damp cloth. Now, begin heating your skillet on medium-high.

6 – Lay one round of plastic on the bottom plate of your tortilla press. Place one dough ball in the centre of the plastic, and flatten it lightly. Now cover the flattened ball with the second round of plastic.

7 – Fold the tortilla press over, and press down on the lever until the tortilla flattens to a diameter of 5 inches.

8 – Peel off the upper round of plastic and set it aside. Cradling the plastic, lift up the tortilla with one hand and gently flip it onto your second hand. Now use your free hand to carefully peel off the second round of plastic.

9 – Gently lay the tortilla on your hot skillet; any sort of violent slapping down of the delicate tortilla will cause it to break or tear!

10 – Keeping the flame on medium-high heat, cook the first side for 60 seconds. When the tortilla releases naturally from the pan, it’s ready to be flipped. Gently flip it over with a spatula and cook the second side for 60 seconds. Flip it a third time and cook for 30 seconds, lightly pressing down on the tortilla once or twice with a spatula until it puffs up slightly. Flip it one last time and cook for 15 seconds. The fully-cooked tortilla will be white with a few brown spots and appear to be a little dry. Don’t worry if it doesn’t puff, it will still be great!

11 – Transfer the tortilla to the tea towel-lined bowl and immediately fold the cloth over to trap any heat and lightly steam the tortilla. This will soften it up. 

12 – Repeat Steps 6-11, pressing and cooking the rest of the balls of dough, and placing each fresh tortilla on top of the previous one until you have a stack of 24 tortillas.

13 – Leave the stack of tortillas wrapped for at least 15 minutes or until ready to serve. They will stay warm and become soft and supple. This gives you ample time to prepare some fresh toppings and finish the cook on your lamb in Stage 5.

masa harina, salt, and hot water. that’s it!
adding the hot water
smooth, soft dough, akin to modelling clay
cover the dough with a damp towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes
dough balls weighing 45 gm each (I made 2 batches of 12)
lay the first round of plastic on the bottom plate
place the ball of dough on top of the plastic and lightly squish it down
place the second round of plastic on top of the dough ball
press the plate down
until you have a 5-inch tortilla
peel off the top round of plastic
lift up the tortilla and transfer it tortilla-side down to your open palm
splay your fingers out and hold the tortilla for maximum contact
peel off the second round of plastic; the risk of breakage is high at this juncture, so do it slowly and gently
it’s delicate, be careful!
gently place it on a hot skillet and cook for 60 seconds
flip, and cook for another 60 seconds
flip, and cook for another 30 seconds, gently pressing down with a spatula 2-3 times
flip one last time and cook for a final 15 seconds
fully cooked corn tortilla
homemade corn tortillas, ready!

Although they only require three ingredients and sound easy to make, homemade corn tortillas take a bit of practice to get right. Because masa harina is gluten free, it’s not a stretchy dough and does not behave like other unleavened flatbread doughs made from wheat flours (such as chapatis). Being more delicate, it needs to be treated with gentle hands. Here are some things I learnt (the hard way) while making corn tortillas. 1) Not to press them too thin, or else they will get stuck to the plastic and you’ll have to scrape off the dough and start over. 2) To only press them as wide as your hand-span! If you try to make tortillas that are bigger than the diameter of your splayed-out hand, you risk breakage at two junctures. The first is when you’re peeling off the plastic sheet as you’re cradling the tortilla in your hand. And second is when you’re transferring the tortilla from your hand to a hot skillet. So, if you want bigger than 5-inch tortillas, please get yourself bigger hands! If you don’t have a tortilla or poori press, you can roll out the tortillas or flatten them by using your own body weight, as demonstrated here. Corn tortillas are traditionally served and eaten warm. When they get cold, they tend to become dry and mealy, so keep them warm until ready to serve. If they do happen to get cold, simply reheat them in the microwave for 30 seconds with a cup of hot water to create a steamy environment.

Stage 5: toppings & mise en place

Before we get to assembling, we need to prep some fresh toppings. For this taco, I’ve put together a range of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy toppings while keeping them traditional. Both guacamole and fresh salsa are classic taco condiments, so please do not leave them out. We also need to turn our shredded lamb into “carnitas”. In case you were wondering, I have put the term “carnitas” within quotes throughout this recipe, because carnitas (meaning little meats) actually refers to braised pork chunks that are then crisped up.


Raw toppings

1. 2 juicing oranges ( I used Valencia oranges)
2. 2 green limes
3. 12 fresh coriander sprigs, leaves only
4. 80 gm red onion (roughly 1 medium)
5. 40 gm red jalapenos (roughly 2)
6. 40 gm green jalapenos (roughly 2)

Wet toppings
Fresh salsa (salsa fresca/pico de gallo):
1. 200 gm tomatoes (roughly 2 medium), finely chopped
2. 60 gm onion (roughly 1 small), finely chopped
3. 20 gm green jalapeno (roughly 1), finely chopped
4. 4-5 sprigs of fresh coriander, finely chopped
5. 1/2 tsp salt
6. 1/4 tsp dried oregano
7. 1/4 tsp dried marjoram like this

Guacamole:
1. 480 gm Hass avocados (roughly 2 medium)
2. 2 small cloves of garlic, minced
3. 3/4 tsp salt
4. 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
5. 1 tsp freshly grated lime zest (from 1 medium green lime)
6. 1 – 1 ½ tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (from 1 medium green lime)

Readymade:
1. 200 gm sour cream
2. 200 gm feta cheese

To be warmed:
1. Prepared black beans
2. Prepared braising sauce

Protein
Lamb barbacoa “carnitas”:
1. Shredded braised lamb + 1 tbsp. cooking olive oil per batch of shredded lamb


Method
1 – Cut the peel off your oranges and portion them into segments. Then cut the segments into 1 cm wedges. Set aside.

2 – Cut each lime in half crosswise and then cut each half into 4 wedges. Set aside.

3 – Pluck the leaves off your fresh coriander stems. Save the leaves as garnish and set aside the stems for the fresh salsa.

4 – Cut your onion into half rings; cut it in half lengthwise and then cut each half crosswise into 2 mm slices. Set aside.

5 – Cut you red jalapenos in half, deseed them, and then cut the halves crosswise into thin slices. Set aside.

6 – Cut your green jalapenos into thin rondels (do not deseed) and set aside.

7 – Make your fresh salsa; finely chop your tomatoes, onion, fresh coriander, and green jalapeno. Season with salt, dried oregano + dried marjoram (or Mexican oregano if you have it). Set aside.

8 – Make your guacamole; deseed your avocado and then scrape out the flesh. Lightly mash it into chunks, and then add the minced garlic, salt, pepper, and lime zest and juice. Using a fork, stir everything together. We like our guacamole a little chunky-a little smooth. Make yours how you like it. Cover it with cling wrap, pushing the plastic down onto the surface of the guacamole. Set aside. 

9 – Transfer your sour cream into a bowl, and then crumble your feta cheese into another bowl. Set them aside.

10 – If they’re cold, warm up the braising sauce and the black beans. Set aside. 

11 – Finally, the main event! We’re going to turn our braised lamb or lamb barbacoa into crispy “carnitas”.  Heat a wide skillet over high heat with 1 tablespoon of cooking olive oil so that there’s a very thin layer of oil in the skillet. Fry the shredded lamb in batches on high heat for 3-4 minutes, turning every minute or so, or until golden and just crispy around the edges (I did 4 batches, and fried each batch in 1 tablespoon of oil). Set aside.

slice off the top and bottom of the orange for stability
slice off all the skin and pith
cut out neat segments of orange
proceed till you’ve segmented the entire orange
orange segments skinned and cut to size
cut each lime in half crosswise
then cut each half of lime into 4 wedges
cut the onion in half lengthwise
then cut each half into slices, crosswise
slicing an onion crosswise results in half-rings that look great in salads or other raw preparations
cut each red jalapeno in half
deseed each half
then cut each deseeded half into thin slices
cut the green jalapenos into rondels
all the raw toppings, ready!
all the ingredients for the fresh salsa
finely diced tomatoes, onions, and jalapeno plus finely chopped coriander
fresh salsa ready!
all the ingredients for the guacamole
cut the avocado in half running your knife around the seed, and then twist to open
scoop out the flesh from the avocado halves and mash everything together
guacamole ready!

Fresh salsa also known as salsa fresca, salsa cruda, and pico de gallo should be made as spicy as you like it. Don’t deseed the jalapenos if you like it hot! If you want to make your guacamole well ahead of time, you will need to prevent it from browning. To do this, flatten the guacamole in the bowl, gently pour enough water to come up by 1 cm and then cover and store it in the fridge. When you’re ready to serve, pour off the water and give the guacamole a stir.

Stage 6: assembly & service

When building a taco, you want to work fast and pile on the components starting with the protein followed by the raw toppings, and then serve the wet toppings alongside so that the tortilla doesn’t get soggy. Here’s how I layer my tacos.

Components
1. Tortillas (warm)
2. Lamb barbacoa “carnitas” (hot & crispy)
3. Crumbled feta
4. Black beans (warm/room temperature)
5. Orange segments
6. Sliced red jalapeno (deseeded)
7. Sliced red onions
8. Fresh or dried blue cornflower petals (optional)
9. Coriander leaves
10. Fresh salsa
11. Guacamole
12. Braising sauce (warm/room temperature)
13. Sour cream
14. Lime wedges
15. Sliced green jalapenos


Method
1 – Place a warm tortilla on a plate. 

2 – Place 50 gm (roughly ¼ cup) lamb barbacoa “carnitas” in the centre of the tortillas.

3 – Crumble 1 tablespoon of feta onto the meat.

4 – Scatter 1 tablespoon black beans onto the pile.

5 – Add 4-5 orange segments to the pile.

6 – Scatter some red jalapeno slices (to taste).

7 – Scatter some red onion slices (to taste).

8 – Scatter some fresh or dried blue cornflower petals if you have them. They have a gentle clove-like flavour which echoes the actual cloves in the lamb (plus their cobalt blue hue makes the dish extra gorgeous).

9 – Arrange 4-5 fresh coriander leaves (to taste).

10 – Serve each taco open, with extra coriander leaves, wedges of lime, slices of red and green jalapeno, and the bowls of fresh salsa, guacamole, sour cream, braising sauce, and black beans alongside. Let everyone add as much of the wet toppings as they like. Now eat!

And that’s it! Legit Lamb Barbacoa Tacos made entirely from scratch! They completely outshine anything you’ll get at a fast-food chain or even your favourite Tex-Mex restaurant, so it really is worth all the trouble. Although a great amount of research went into this recipe, I dare not claim that this is a totally authentic Mexican taco—it’s simply what I could create with what I could reasonably source (Abuelas everywhere will be confused by my use of asafoetida). But like a traveller who absorbs local culture, this Mexican dish has taken on a tiny hint of Indianness while staying here. 

Tips & Tricks

How to flatten tortillas without a press:

How to segment oranges:

How to cut limes into small wedges:


Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 9 rolls; 2 ½ x 2 ½ inches, each

Pssst! Have you heard about the perfect cinnamon rolls? You know. Sticky bottoms swathed in melted butter and fused together with treacly cinnamon-sugar? Golden-brown crusty tops scored by pale intersections where the rolls are standing cheek to cheek? Tender, just-about-baked-fluffiness all along the coiled length of the inner scrolls? These homemade cinnamon rolls are all that and much more! Perfectly soft, humming with cinnamon through and through, and slathered with our buttery cream cheese icing, they’re best enjoyed with a shot of strong black coffee, or a steaming mug of hot chocolate. 


At a glance

– This recipe comprises cinnamon rolls + vanilla cream cheese icing.
– You will need an 8 inch square baking pan (a brownie pan will work) and 2 ramekins.
– 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: cinnamon rolls

Ingredients
For the dough:
1. 325 gm all purpose flour plus more for dusting
2. 1 tsp bread improver like this
3. 75 gm castor sugar
4. ¾ tsp salt
5. 1 ½ tsp instant yeast
6. 1 tbsp. cinnamon powder* like this
7. 1 large egg (in-shell weight 58 gm) at room temperature
8. 90 ml UHT milk or whole milk boiled and cooled
9. 90 gm sour cream
10. 65 gm unsalted butter
11. ¾ tbsp. pure vanilla extract 

For the filling:
12. 60 gm unsalted butter at room temperature and very soft
13. 100 gm dark muscovado sugar like this
14. 1 tbsp. cinnamon powder* like this
15. 1 tsp vanilla bean powder like this
16. 1 tbsp. corn flour
17. 1/8 tsp salt

If you’re not using UHT milk, you must boil your milk first. Certain whey proteins in milk can weaken gluten formation—preventing doughs from trapping gasses and rising properly. What you’ll get is a dense and heavy crumb. When you boil the milk, you effectively deactivate (denature) the whey proteins—allowing for maximum gluten formation, and a light and airy crumb. *When using cinnamon in this recipe, please look for Ceylon Cinnamon (true cinnamon) powder. Ground Cassia chips (dalchini/darchini) should not be substituted, as they’re not the same thing. Cinnamon is made from the trunk of the tree; and is very fragrant, tastes sweet, and is milder than Cassia. On the other hand, Cassia is made from the bark of the cinnamon tree—and is much coarser, harder, and spicier—making it unsuitable in this dish. Cassia is best used sparingly or as whole chips; to lend a warm note to curries, stews, and more. Plus, because it’s so hardy, you’ll never be able to get a really finely ground powder using cassia chips, no matter how powerful your home grinder. This will make your cinnamon rolls gritty, unpleasant, and really hard to swallow. 


Method

1 – To a medium bowl, add the flour, bread improver, salt, and cinnamon powder. Whisk together well to combine. This is the dry mixture. Transfer ¼ cup of the dry mixture to a small bowl and set both bowls aside. 

2 – To a microwave safe bowl, add the milk, butter, vanilla extract, and sour cream. Microwave in 30 second increments until all the butter has melted and the mixture is warm to the touch (about 44OC).

3 – Now add the sugar and the yeast to the warm milk mixture and give it a quick stir to make sure all the yeast is submerged. 

4 – Lightly whisk your egg and then add it to the warm milk mixture. 

5 – Pour the entire warm, wet mixture into a large bowl. Add the larger portion of the dry mixture to the wet mixture, about ¼ cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to incorporate each new addition. Hold the spoon straight down into the bowl and rotate your arm in a cranking motion (almost as if your arm is the dough hook in a stand mixer). Use a scraping motion, gathering any big bits of loose flour into the dough and pressing them in. Your dough will be shaggy and very tacky.

6 – Remember the ¼ cup of dry mixture you had set aside? Tip it onto your work surface. Now transfer the dough to your work surface. It will be very wet and hard to manage. Do not panic! It will come together as you progress.

7 – Incorporating the rest of the dry mixture a little at a time as you’re kneading, knead the dough for 8-10 minutes on your counter. To knead; fold the dough over itself towards you, push it down, and then give it a quarter turn. Scrape in flour whenever it gets too sticky to handle. Repeat until all the flour has been incorporated and the dough is smooth, elastic, and bounces back when you lightly press your finger in.

8 – Grease your mixing bowl with vegetable oil. Form the dough into a neat ball and place it in the bowl. Lightly coat the dough ball in the oil and then cover the bowl with cling film. 

9 – Place the bowl in the fridge and allow the dough to ferment for 8-24 hours. If you want to bake the rolls on the same day, ferment the dough in a warm place for 90-120 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size. I have done both types of fermentation with equal success, but I prefer working with a refrigerated dough as it’s a lot easier to handle and shape.

10 – After the dough has had its proof, transfer the chilled dough onto a lightly floured surface. Let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. This will make it easier to roll out. If you didn’t ferment your dough in the fridge, you will need to deflate the dough by pressing out the extra air before transferring it to your floured work surface. 

11 – Butter the bottom and sides of your 8-inch square baking pan as well as two ramekins. Keep aside.

12 – Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a flattened rectangle, roughly 18 inches long, 12 inches wide and to a thickness of ¼ inch.

13 – Ready your filling; mix all the ingredients listed in ‘for the filling’ into a thick, spreadable paste. 

14 – Dollop bits of the filling all over the surface of the rectangle and then use an off-set spatula to spread the paste in a thin, even layer, leaving a 1-inch strip untouched on the 18-inch side of the dough that’s further away from you.

15 – Starting from the 18-inch side that’s closer to you, roll the dough up into a tight log (without squishing down), ending with the 1-inch strip of untouched dough. The tighter you roll, the more domed your rolls will be. If you want rolls that bake flat, don’t apply pressure while rolling up your log. After rolling, my log was about 20 inches long. If your log feels very soft and difficult to manage, carefully roll it onto some parchment paper and place it on a baking sheet. Chill it in the fridge for 20 minutes or the freezer for 5 minutes and then move to the next step.

16 – For 9 perfect rolls, you will need to even out the sides of the log. Get a 1-foot long strand of sewing thread. Place the strand under the left side of the log, and then bring both ends to the top. Pull them together to slice off a perfect round. This will cut the dough perfectly without smashing it down. Repeat for the uneven right side of the log. Place each of these side rolls into their own buttered ramekin.

17 – At this point, your log should be roughly 16 inches long. Using the blunt side of a knife, score the log every 1.7 inches to get 9 equal segments. Now use the sewing thread to divide the log into 9 rolls. As you cut each roll, pick it up and place it into your buttered pan. Place the first roll bang in the centre of the pan and use it as a guide to position all the other rolls. You need to leave equal space from the pan’s edges as well as between the rolls to give the rolls room to expand. I like to arrange my rolls so that all the ‘tail’ ends are pointing in the same direction. .

18 – Cover the pan and ramekins with cling film and leave them to proof in a warm place for 60-90 minutes or until the rolls in the pan have expanded by half their original size (not double their original size) and are just touching each other. If you didn’t ferment your dough in the fridge, your proofing time may be shorter.

19 – When you have 20 minutes remaining on your proofing time, start pre-heating your oven to 180OC.

20 – Place your pan of rolls and the ramekins in the lower-middle rack of your oven and bake at 180OC for 20-24 minutes or until the tops of the rolls just start to brown. If your tops start browning too quickly, cover the pan and ramekins loosely with a square of aluminium foil. I used a ceramic baking dish, so my 9-batch of rolls took 27 minutes and my ramekins with the smaller rolls took 24 minutes. While your rolls are baking, move on to Stage 2 and make your icing.

all the ingredients for the cinnamon roll dough
prepping the wet ingredients
wet and dry ingredients ready
adding dry ingredients to the wet mixture in batches
mixing mixing
batter will get thicker as you add more flour
scrape and gather all the dry bits. btw, the dough has been tinted brown by the cinnamon!
transfer the very wet dough to your bench with the remaining dry ingredients
incorporate the remaining dry ingredients
knead for 8-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, and then leave it to proof
roll the dough at least this wide, making sure it’s uniformly 1/4 inch thick
roll the dough at least this long, making sure it’s uniformly 1/4 inch thick
all the ingredients for the filling
filling ready
dollop small amounts all over; this makes it easier to spread
spread filling in a thin layer, leaving 1 inch free at the top-edge
roll up the dough (keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, yeah)
fully rolled and ready to be cut
side ends cut off and placed into buttered ramekins
slightly over 16 inches
scoring the 16 inch log for 9 equal rolls (I didn’t do a very consistent job)
here’s how to cut the rolls; the sewing thread should slide easily under the log
draw the two ends of the thread together and pull to cut each roll
all the rolls, ready for proofing
post proofing; rolls have expanded by 50% of their original size and are just touching each other
baked cinnamon rolls
look for surface browning and the dough to puff up

Please note, if you use a metal brownie pan, your bake time will be about 20-24 minutes. If you use ceramic or glass bakeware, it will be anywhere from 24-30 minutes. This is because of the relatively short bake time wherein your non-metal baking dish will take a while to get hot. If you want to prep the cinnamon rolls and bake them the next day, follow the recipe all the way up to Step 17 and then cover the pan tightly with cling wrap, and place it in the fridge overnight. The next morning, take the pan out of the fridge. If the rolls have already expanded by 50% of their original size, let them sit on your counter for 30 minutes to take the chill off, and then bake them. If they did not rise in the fridge overnight, place them in a warm environment until they expand by half their original size and are no longer cold, and then bake them. To prep your cinnamon rolls waaaaay ahead of time, follow the recipe all the way up to Step 17 and then cover the pan tightly with cling wrap as well as aluminium foil. Place the pan of unrisen rolls in the freezer for up to 3 months! The next time you’re craving cinnamon rolls, transfer the pan from the freezer to the fridge and let the rolls thaw in the fridge overnight. Then place the pan in a warm environment so that the rolls can expand by 50% of their size, and only then proceed to bake.


Stage 2: vanilla cream cheese icing

Ingredients
1. 100 gm full fat cream cheese at room temperature
2. 45 gm unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3. 100 gm confectioner’s sugar
4. 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (optional)
5. 1 tsp lemon juice
6. 1/8 tsp salt

If you prefer a pure cream cheese flavour, omit the vanilla extract. We love it both ways.

Method
1 – Begin by whisking the cream cheese and room temperature melted butter until you have a smooth and creamy mixture. You can use a manual whisk for this.

2 – Next, add the confectioner’s sugar a little at a time and whisk until fully blended with the cream cheese mixture.

3 – Finally add in the vanilla extract (if using), lemon juice, and salt, and whisk everything together. The icing should be smooth and thick, somewhere between scoopable and pourable. 

4 – As soon as the cinnamon rolls are done baking, remove your pan and ramekins from the oven and place them on a wire rack.  Spoon half the glaze onto their tops while they’re fresh out of the oven and hot. This layer of glaze will slightly melt and soften rolls. If you prefer the tops of the rolls to stay crispy, don’t glaze them.

5 – After they have cooled for at least 10-15 minutes, pour the remaining glaze onto the rolls or glaze the individual rolls as you serve them. Devour them while they’re still warm. Now eat!

all the ingredients for the icing
melted and cooled butter and cream cheese whisked together
incorporating the confectioner’s sugar a little at a time
smooth and creamy icing
topping the rolls with half the icing as soon as they come out of the oven
hot cinnamon rolls ready!
add more icing when serving individual rolls

Cinnamon rolls taste best fresh and hot out of the oven and are best enjoyed the day they are made. Much like croissants and doughnuts, they don’t stay tasty for too long, and quickly lose their fluffiness and signature aroma. In fact, with every passing hour, they get drier and gummier, so try to polish them off within a few hours of baking them (as if you weren’t going to do that anyway).


Tips & Tricks

How cut your cinnamon rolls with floss or string


Meat & 3 Veg Tapas

Makes 4 servings.

Fried sausages, roasted potatoes, caramelised onions, and sautéed peas snugly sit together in this tapas-inspired, family-style spread, served not with gravy, but with an entire wheel of oozy Camembert cheese! For this dish, I cook all the elements in cast iron, except for the baked cheese dip. That way, the outsides of the potatoes get properly crispy, the onions break down evenly and take on deep, umami notes, the peas retain their sweetness and texture, and the sausages get that perfect sear. And while you do not need cast iron cookware to make this version of Meat & 3 Veg, I guarantee it will taste heaps better if you do.


At a glance

– This recipe comprises roast potatoes + caramelised onions + sautéed peas + baked camembert + fried sausages.
– You will need a 5 litre steamer basket and pot, some large cast iron skillets, and some baking pots.
– 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: Roast potatoes

Ingredients
1. 1 kg starchy potatoes 
2. Enough water to fill  your 5 litre pot by 1-2 inches
3. 1 ½ tsp salt 
4. ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
5. 1 kg steamed potatoes
6. 10-12medium garlic cloves, whole
7. 10 cm sprig of rosemary
8. 2 tbsp. vegetable oil/neutral flavoured oil or pork fat
9. 50 gm garlic butter*

*To make garlic butter, mince 1 small clove of garlic and combine it with 50 gm softened, salted butter, and ¼ tsp dried oregano.

Prep
1 – Peel and cut your potatoes into 4 cm wide chunks. Then keep them soaked in cold water.

2 – Make your garlic butter. Keep it in the fridge until ready to use.

3 – Remove the leaves from your sprig of rosemary and give the leaves a rough chop.

potatoes cut into 4 cm chunks
quick garlic butter

Method
1 – Set your steamer to boil; fill a steamer pot with enough plain water to come just below the steamer basket, and bring it to a boil with the lid on.

2 – Once the water comes to a boil, place the peeled and cut potatoes on the steamer rack. Lower your steamer basket with the potatoes into the pot. Immediately put the lid on and steam on medium heat for 18-20 minutes or until you can easily pierce through the potatoes with a fork.

3 – The instant the potatoes are cooked (fork-tender), transfer them from the steamer to a large bowl with a lid and secure the lid tightly.

4 – Using moderate force, shake the bowl of steamed potatoes while they’re still hot. I do about 10 good shakes; this roughs up the surface of the potatoes, making them ‘fuzzy’ and ensures their outsides get crispy while roasting.

5 – Remove the lid (be careful, a gust of steam is about to blast out), add the salt and black pepper, secure the lid and toss the potatoes in the seasoning.

6 – Remove the lid again, and set the potatoes aside.

7 – Place a heavy skillet (cast-iron is perfect) on your stove-top and begin heating it on medium. When the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of oil and wait a few seconds for it to heat up.

8 – When the oil is hot and shimmering, toss the steamed potatoes into the skillet.

9 – Pan-roast the potatoes on medium heat for 25-30 minutes or until the outsides are crispy and golden. Toss the potatoes every 3-4 minutes for even browning, or go nuts and keep some sides pale and some sides super brown (that’s what I like to do).

10 – After 20 minutes, add the cold garlic butter and all the garlic cloves to the skillet. Continue roasting on medium heat until the garlic is golden and crispy, 5-7 minutes. Toss the potatoes and garlic frequently for even browning. Garlic burns very quickly, so keep your eye on the skillet.

11 – Finally, add the roughly chopped rosemary to the skillet, and continue cooking and tossing everything together for a further 5 minutes. The rosemary will become very aromatic but shouldn’t brown. If not serving immediately, cover the potatoes loosely with some aluminium foil so that they don’t ‘sweat’. They re-heat really well in the same pan, so if they get cold, simply warm them up on low heat till they’re lovely and crispy again.

4 cm chunks of potato, ready for steaming
shaking up the steamed potatoes to ‘fuzz up’ their surfaces
fuzzed up potatoes seasoned with salt and pepper
ingredients prepped for the potato-roasting stage
potatoes added to the hot skillet
potatoes after 25 minutes of roasting
adding the garlic and garlic butter
adding the rosemary
roasted potatoes, ready!

There’s something deeply satisfying about properly made roast potatoes. I have been making roast potatoes this way for years now and it’s never let me down! When cooked to perfection, each chunk should offer up just the right amount of golden crispiness on the outside and warm fluffiness on the inside. When cooking your raw potatoes before roasting them, steaming is always preferred to boiling so that the taste and nutrients are not discarded with the boiled water. Additionally, steaming makes the interior of the roast potato fluffier. I like to roast my potatoes on the stove as it’s faster and gives me more control over the browning and crisping than if I were to use the oven. Try to follow this recipe to the tee. I promise you, these roast potatoes will become a family favourite!

Stage 2: caramelised onions

Ingredients
1. 5 large red onions or 500 gm equivalent
2. 1 tbsp. cooking olive oil
3. 30 gm salted butter
4. 1 tsp sugar (brown or white)
5. ½ tsp salt
6. 100-150 ml water
7. 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
8. ¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper


Method
1 – Peel and then cut each onion in half down the middle from root to stem. Place the cut side down on your work surface and then slicing along the length of the onion, make ½ cm cuts into the onion, angled towards the centre of the onion (like thin, orange segments). Chop off the stem and root and then separate the segments of sliced onion.

2 – Begin heating a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet (like cast-iron) on the stove over medium heat until hot, and then add 1 ½ tablespoons oil and the butter. Be careful! The butter will sizzle in the hot pan! 

3 – Lower the heat and add all the sliced onions into the skillet. Toss them in the fat to coat, and then spread them out as much as possible for maximum surface area contact. Stir the onions and spread them out again evenly, every 2-3 minutes.

4 – After 10 minutes, add the salt and sugar to the onions, and stir once again. The sugar helps with the caramelisation process as well as enhances the taste of the onions. 

5 – Cook the onions for the next 30 minutes repeating the following sequence every 2-3 minutes; wait for the onions to start sticking to the pan, let them stick for 10 seconds or so (to lightly brown, but not fry), then add a tablespoon of water to the pan to deglaze it, and finally stir the onions and spread them out in the pan. The key to caramelising onions is to leave them be long enough to get some colour and brown, but not so long so that they fry or burn. 

6 –After 30 minutes, stop adding water to the pan and continue cooking the onions for a further 30-40 minutes. From this point on, the onions will start to brown faster. As the onions lose more and more moisture while cooking down, you will need to scrape the pan every minute, instead of every 2-3 minutes. Continue to caramelise and scrape, caramelise and scrape, until the onions are a rich, brown colour and fully glossy and translucent. 

7 – When the onions are completely caramelised (my entire cook took 75 minutes from start to finish), turn off the stove and add the red wine vinegar to the pan. This will deglaze it as well as add a fruity-sweet note to the onions. Add the black pepper and mix. 

8 – Set the onions aside until ready to use. They will need to be gently warmed before serving.

cut the onion in half
½ cm cuts into the onion, angled towards the centre of the onion
1/2 cm slices of onion
ingredients prepped for the caramelisation step
sizzling butter alert!
adding in the sliced onions
onions at 0 minutes; coated with oil + butter
onions at 10 minutes; losing their purple
onions at 20 minutes; softening up and going from purple to pink
onions at 30 minutes; softening further and losing their pink
onions at 40 minutes; almost white and translucent, with browning about to begin
onions at 50 minutes; slippery as hell, with browning underway
onions at 60 minutes; getting brown and sticky
onions at 70 minutes; getting brown and roasty
onions at 75 minutes; totally caramelised and ready!

Caramelised onions can be prepared in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days. They taste amazing cold and hot, and I like to like to make a big batch and keep it ready for anytime grilled cheese sandwiches! Caramelised onions are not just brown-looking onions. While fried onions taste sweet and get their brown colour fairly quickly (caused by actual caramelisation of sugars at high heat), caramelised onions get their colour and flavour by way of the ‘Maillard reaction’, which is a gradual browning caused by proteins reacting with sugars. See this to know more. To make proper caramelised onions, you must cook them low and slow to break down the sugars, soften them, and bring out their savoury, umami notes. How long this will take depends on the type of pan you use (non-stick will take aaaaaages).

Stage 3: sautéed peas

Ingredients
1. 200 gm frozen peas
2. 1 tsp cooking olive oil
3. 30 gm salted butter, cold
4. 1 tsp sugar
5. 2-3 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice according to taste
6. 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
7. ½ tsp salt
8. ½ tsp sweet paprika
9. ¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
10. 1 tsp whole pink peppercorns* like this

*Pink peppercorns are actually a variety of dried berry. And while they do pack some heat, their sweet, fruity flavour takes them closer to a fresh chilli than a dried peppercorn. Think of them as berries with a fiesty attitude. Their unexpected fruitiness plays well with cheese, which is why we’ve used them in this recipe.

Method
1 – Begin heating a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet (you guessed it, cast-iron) on the stove over medium heat until hot, and then add 1 teaspoon oil. 

2 – Once the oil is shimmering, add the frozen peas, sugar, lemon juice lemon zest, and butter to the skillet and cook on medium heat until the butter has melted and the peas have defrosted and are heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Stir occasionally to evenly cook the peas.

3 – Turn off the heat and add the salt, paprika, black pepper, and pink peppercorns to the skillet. Toss together to combine. Set aside until ready to use. They will need to be gently warmed before serving.

ingredients prepped for the sautéed peas
frozen peas straight into a hot pan with butter, lemon juice and zest
cooked peas tossed with the seasonings and spices
sautéed peas, ready!

When it comes to cooked peas, I prefer the taste and texture of packaged frozen peas over fresh peas—which take longer to cook and often turn out dry and mealy. Frozen peas are harvested and flash-frozen during peak ripeness, so they tend to be uniformly sweet. In some instances, frozen peas are first flash-steamed before they’re frozen—they’re essentially ready to eat—so you only need to cook them until they’re fully thawed and just warmed through to maintain their slight bounce and vibrant colour.

Stage 4: baked camembert

Ingredients
1. 2 x 200gm wheels of Camembert cheese* like this or 400 gm equivalent
2. 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (divided)
3. 2 tbsp. honey (divided)
4. 2 x 10-cm sprigs of thyme
5. 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt (divided)
6. 12 pink peppercorns like this divided
7. 4 green peppercorns like this or 1/16 tsp freshly cracked black pepper, divided

As mentioned before, pink peppercorns are actually a variety of dried berry, so their spicy-fruitiness goes very well with cheese. Do try to get your hands on it! Green peppercorns are simply under-ripe black peppercorns. They have a mild peppery flavour and a bright aroma. Feel free to substitute them with black peppercorns. *We used this locally made, locally sold (made in Mumbai) Camembert style cheese, which only sells them in 200 gm wheels. Feel free to use whichever brand of cheese you can source. If you use a 400 gm wheel, add all the ingredients to that wheel without dividing them up.

Method
1 – Place a baking tray in the middle rack of your oven and begin preheating your oven to 180OC. 15 minutes should suffice.

2 – Remove any plastic or paper packaging and place the wheels of Camembert into individual baking pots, that are just a tiny bit bigger than the wheels themselves. Don’t use wide or flat containers, else the cheese will flatten out while baking and you want them to hold their shape. I used these super cute baking pots for each 200 gm wheel.
3 – Using a sharp knife, score a crosshatch pattern (think tic-tac-toe) on the top-side of each rind of cheese. 

4 – Cut the sprigs of thyme into fours and insert them into the crosshatch cuts. Then drizzle the honey and extra virgin olive oil onto the crosshatch pattern.

5 – Place the pots of Camembert on the pre-heated tray inside the oven and bake them for 12 minutes at 180OC. When they’re ready, the wheels of camembert will puff up, feel soft under the rind, and jiggle like jelly when you jostle them.

6 – While they’re baking, crush your peppercorns. Pink peppercorns are fragile and cannot be ground in a regular pepper mill. Use a knife or the back of a spoon to squish them. Green peppercorns can be pounded in a mortar and pestle. Proceed with Stage 5 so that everything is ready to serve at the same time.

7 – As soon as they’re baked, take the pots out of the oven, and immediately sprinkle their tops with the coarse salt, and crushed pink and green peppercorns. They should be served right away while hot, molten, and oozy. If you’re not ready to serve everything together just yet, keep them in the hot oven to stay oozy. 

ingredients prepped for the baked camembert
locally made camembert-style cheese
cutting the crosshatch pattern
deliciously cheesy tic-tac-toe
thyme insertion
olive oil and honey being poured on top
baked camembert, ready!

The next time you stress about making a gravy or sauce to serve with your meat and veg, consider a baked cheese into which stuff can be dunked! If you use a 400 gm wheel, up the bake time to 14-15 minutes. Keep an eye on it and take care not to overbake it, as it goes from molten and creamy to hard, and there’s no returning from that. While we used our baked camembert to dip our sausages and roast potatoes, it also pairs amazingly with so much more. Serve it hot with a variety of crudités, fruits, and breads.

Stage 5: fried sausages

Ingredients
1. 500 gm sausages* (2-3 sausages per serving)
2. 2.5 tbsp. cooking olive oil

* The wonderful team at Zorabian sent us these Chicken Cheese n Onion Sausages, around which we designed this entire recipe. The sausages came frozen, so as per the package instructions, we had to thaw them fully before using. Check out Zorabina’s complete range of products here.

Prep
1 – Cut your sausages into 3 cm-wide rounds, on the dias.

chicken cheese n onion sausages from Zorabian
cutting the sausages into 3 cm rounds, on the dias

Method
1 – Begin heating a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet (cast-iron for the win!) on the stove over medium heat until hot. Then add 2 tablespoons of oil.

2 – Add the cut sausages to the pan and fry them for 9-10 minutes until cooked through and evenly browned. Use this time to re-heat your roast potatoes, caramelised onions, and sautéed peas. Check on your baked Camembert, it should be ready by now!

3 – Serve all your hot components straight from stovetop and oven to table with some big fat red grapes on the side to balance out all the salty elements. We like to serve this meal family-style with little tapas plates, so that everyone can help themselves and graze at will. Now eat!

sausages hitting the hot skillet
fried sausages, ready!
Meat & 3 Veg Tapas, ready!

While we have used pre-cooked chicken sausages in this recipe—a variety of fresh (raw) and processed sausages(pre-cooked/fermented/cured/smoked) will pair wonderfully with the rest of the elements in the dish. Try to find continental cheese sausages that mirror or complement the flavours used in the other components; anything with a little rosemary, thyme, garlic, and black pepper will work. Avoid sausages that contain Indian or Mexican spices and herbs, as their flavours will clash with everything else. Some sausages need to be cooked for a long time, some need to be removed from their casing before being cooked, some are better kept in their casing, whole. Depending on what sort of sausages you use (breakfast, frankfurter, cocktail etc), always follow the cooking instructions on the package. All the cooked elements are heavy and savoury, so you definitely need to add some fruit to counteract the fat and salt. Red grapes are perfect.


Brown Butter Wedding Cake

Makes a 3-tiered, stacked mini wedding cake.

Usually a feature of Christian nuptials, today, the cutting of the wedding cake is a part of popular wedding culture, irrespective of faith. We got married in 2016, way before the world changed. Back then, we chose a bitchin’ Star Wars themed cake, over the traditional white wedding cake #noregrets. To celebrate our 5-year anniversary in these irregular times, I decided to stick with tradition! Featuring layers of nutty brown butter sponge, a fresh pear filling, and a silky vanilla bean buttercream, this cascading wedding cake is for all of us at home, celebrating by ourselves. A wedding cake with all the works, scaled down for two.

At a glance

– This recipe comprises brown butter cake + peach filling + vanilla bean buttercream.
– You will need one 10 inch round cake pan, three round cookie cutters (5 inch, 4 inch and 3 inch), parchment paper, a 6 inch cake board, some piping bags, and a 2 mm round piping tip.
– 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: brown butter cake

Ingredients
For the brown butter
1. 225 gm unsalted butter to give 170 gm brown butter

For creaming:
1. 170 gm brown butter
2. 100 gm dark brown sugar
3. 200 gm castor sugar
4. 3 large eggs (60 gm/egg in-shell weight) at room temperature

For the dry mixture:
5. 300 gm cake flour (or 255 gm all purpose flour + 45 gm corn flour)
6. 3/4 tsp baking powder
7. 3/4 tsp baking soda 
8. 1/2 tsp salt

For the wet mixture:
9. 210 ml buttermilk (or 1 tbsp. lemon juice + 195 ml milk) at room temperature
10. 115 ml neutral flavoured oil
11. 1 ½ tbsp. pure vanilla extract

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 – Make your brown butter. Place 225 gm unsalted butter in a stainless steel or light-coloured saucepan. Begin melting the butter on medium heat, whisking it ever once in a while. Once the butter has melted, it will begin to foam and bubble up. Keep whisking and cooking the butter on medium heat until it goes from deep yellow to a toasty brown colour. This will take about 4-5 minutes. The butter goes from melted and bubbling to brown and toasty in a flash, so keep your eye on it throughout the cook. When it’s ready, you will be able to see some dark brown solids in the pan and the butter will smell gorgeously nutty. Immediately remove the butter from the heat and transfer all of it (brown milk solids and all) to a heat proof container to stop the cooking process. You will have lost about 50-55 gm in water weight during the cooking process. The butter now needs to be cooled to room temperature so that it reaches a scoopable consistency (think apple sauce). To speed things up, you can place the hot butter it in the fridge for about 60 minutes.

2 – Sift the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and give them a very good whisk to aerate. This is your dry mixture. Set aside.

3 – Combine your buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract in a jug and give it a whisk. This is your wet mixture. Set aside.

4 – Grease and line the bottom of your 10-inch round cake pan. Then grease the parchment and sides of the pan. Keep aside.

heating the butter
cooking the butter; foamy stage
cooking the butter; bubbling stage
perfectly cooked down with bits of browned milk solids
measuring out the brown butter
brown butter fully cooled and ‘scoopable’
cake ingredients laid out; brown butter, dry mixture, wet, mixture, sugars, and eggs.
prepared 10-inch pan

Method
1 – Start preheating your oven at 175OC.

2 – Add the room temperature brown butter to a medium bowl. Using a handheld mixer, beat on high speed for 1 minute or until pale and creamy.

3 – Sprinkle in both varieties of sugar. Now beat the brown butter and the sugars together on high until pale and fluffy, roughly 4-5 minutes or until the sugar has all but dissolved.

4 – Add in the eggs one at a time, and beat on high speed for roughly 10 seconds with each new addition. Do not add them all at once, as the mixture could separate. Remember to periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure that everything is being mixed properly. Turn the mixer off.

5 – Grab the bowl of dry ingredients and the glass of wet ingredients. Now turn your mixer on at the lowest speed. You could also use a large hand whisk for this step. Add the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients to the batter in thirds; starting with the dry, alternating between the two, and ending with the wet. After each fresh addition, mix on low until just incorporated. This is a pretty thick batter, so go slow, and ensure that its properly mixed. Once combined (you should see no floury pockets or liquidy pools), stop mixing the batter! Overmixing will result in a dense, stodgy cake. 

6 – Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan and then level it out with a spatula. Finally, gently tap the pan on your counter 3-4 times to pop any air bubbles. 

7 – Place your cake pan inside your preheated oven and bake for 35-40 minutes at 175OC. This is a large cake, so the edges will cook a lot faster than the centre and may even brown just a bit. Don’t stress about that, since we’re going to be trimming it. At around the 35-minute mark, the cake’s edges will start pulling away from the sides of the pan, and you should check it for doneness; that is if the top springs back when you touch it, or a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean, it’s done.  Mine took exactly 35 minutes.

8 – Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for about 10-15 minutes. Once the pan is comfortable enough to handle, run a knife around the edges of the cake and invert the cake onto a wire rack to completely cool. I used a springform pan, so removal was very easy, and I didn’t have to flip my cake.

9 – When it’s completely cool to the touch, wrap your cake with cling wrap and store it in an airtight container in the fridge to chill overnight. This is a crucial step because we have to torte and trim our cake, and a cold cake is easier to handle. It will be trimmed, layered, and frosted straight out of the fridge. 

10 – When you’re ready to portion out your cake, take it out of the fridge, remove the cling wrap and get torting. If the top of your cake is uneven, level it with a large serrated knife. Now measure the height of your cake. My cake was 1.5 inches tall.

11 – Using your 5-inch cookie cutter, cut out a 5 inch circle from the cake.

12 – Using your 4-inch cookie cutter, cut out a 4 inch circle from the cake.

13 – Using your 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out a 3 inch circle from the cake. Set the scraps aside for a moment.

14 – Using a large, serrated knife, split each cake into two even layers. All in all, you should have two 5-inch layers, two 4-inch layers, and two 3-inch layers; where each cake layer is about ¾ inches tall. These are your stackable cake layers. Wrap each one up individually in cling wrap, place them inside airtight containers and store them in the fridge. 

15 – Gather all your cake scraps and store them inside an airtight container in the fridge and eat at leisure. Don’t waste even a crumb! Move on to Stage 2.

beating the brown butter until until pale and creamy
beating the butter and sugars until pale and fluffy
batter after adding the eggs; thick and creamy mixture, no separation
thick batter after all the wet and dry ingredients have been incorporated and mixed
cake batter smoothed out in the pan
fully baked cake, fresh out of the oven
a smooth, flat top is a sign of even cooking at the correct oven temperature
cutting out the 5-inch, 4-inch, and 3-inch cakes
checking for correct tier width
the ‘skirting’ or edge around each stacked cake should be half an inch
splitting each cake into 2 layers
two 5-inch layers, two 4-inch layers, and two 3-inch layers
cake scraps aka cook’s treat!

Brown butter is like butter but better. Nutty, with notes of toffee and caramel, it gives dishes a depth of flavour and richness that can’t be achieved with regular butter and oil. Similar to clarified butter and ghee, it can be substituted in any cake recipe that calls for regular butter. Make a giant batch and keep it in the fridge for up to a month; it can be used in sweet baked goods or added to savoury dishes as a last-minute flavour enhancer. 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: peach filling

Ingredients
1. 2 medium, ripe peaches (roughly 250 gm) to give 200 gm peach flesh
2. 20 gm white granulated sugar
3. 2 tsp honey
4. 1/4 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
5. 1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
6. Cornflour slurry; 1/2 tsp cornflour + 2 tsp water
7. 1/8 tsp citric acid
8. 1/8 tsp salt
9. Optional; 1 drop peach flavour like this

You could make the filling with the same amount of frozen peaches, but you will get a completely mushy filling, and I prefer something with a little more texture.

Prep
1 – To remove your peach flesh, you will first have to skin and de-stone your peaches. First cut an ‘x’ at the bottom of each peach. Don’t cut deep, simply score the flesh. Now bring a medium pot of water to a boil. As soon as the water is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and then submerge your peaches into the water. Let the peaches steep for 30 seconds and then turn off the heat. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer the blanched peaches to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. The skin where you marked the ‘x’ will be peeling back. Simple tug the skin back to remove it. Watch this video to see how. Once the skin is done away with, segment your peaches into slices and discard the stone. You will get 200-210 gm peach flesh after discarding the skin and stones. 

x marks the spot
blanching the peaches in boiling water
‘shocking’ the peaches in an ice bath to stop the cooking process
de-skinning the peaches
segmenting the peaches
weighing out 200 gm peach flesh

Method
1 – Place the peach flesh in a small saucepan. Cook the peaches over medium heat until they just start to stick to the pan, roughly 1 minute (this will take 6-7 minutes if you’re using frozen peaches).

2 – As soon as the peaches are sticking, add the sugar, honey, lemon juice and lemon zest, and cook for another 1-2 minutes until all the sugar has dissolved and peaches soften slightly. At this point, I like to lightly mash the peaches, keeping some parts whole and some parts mushed.

3 – Dissolve ½ a teaspoon of cornflour in 2 teaspoons of water. Mix well to combine and ensure there are no lumps. This is the cornflour slurry.

4 – Add the cornflour slurry to the pan and cook the peach filling for another minute or until the mixture thickens.

5 – Turn off the heat, add the citric acid, the salt, and the peach flavour, and give the mixture a stir. Let the peach filling cool down to room temperature. Thereafter store it inside an airtight container in the fridge until it’s ready to use. Proceed to Stage 3.

all the filling ingredients; peaches, sugar, honey, citric acid, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, corn flour slurry
adding the ingredients when the peaches start sticking to the pan
thickening the filling with corn flour
peach filling just about ready

This makes about 178 gm of filling and you will need about half of that for the filling. I served the leftover filling along with the slices of cake. When making this filling, try to find the ripest peaches possible; or leave your peaches to ripen until there is some “give” when they are gently squeezed. In India, peak peach season is early April to late June (sometimes early July), so that’s the best time to make this dish if you live here.  Always taste the raw peach before you begin cooking; a ripe peach will taste sweet and juicy and have deep-yellow coloured flesh. Unripe, hard, or sour peaches lack natural flavour and sweetness and you’ll have to increase the amount of sugar in the recipe to make it taste nice. Here’s how to quickly ripen peaches at home. If you’re using the peach flavour, be really stingy with it. A hint too much and it will taste ‘soapy’.

Stage 3: vanilla bean buttercream

Ingredients
1. 100 gm high ratio vegetable shortening at room temperature
2. 100 gm unsalted butter at room temperature
3. 450 gm icing sugar + 50 gm extra if needed
4. 1-2 tsp heavy cream (full fat) at room temperature
5. 1 tsp pure vanilla extract like this
6. 1 tsp vanilla bean powder like this
7. 1/4 tsp salt

It’s super important to use real vanilla extract and not essence or flavour for this buttercream. For that speckled vanilla look and genuine taste of vanilla, you could also scrape out the seeds from a fresh vanilla pod and add it to your buttercream. Since I didn’t have any, I used readymade powdered beans. In an ideal world, a buttercream would be all-butter. But thanks to temperatures fluctuating between 35-40OC during Summer months here, there’s no way such a buttercream would hold up. The addition of high ratio shortening is purely to make it stable in this hot and humid weather. Please feel free to replace all of the shortening with butter of the same weight, i.e. 200 gm butter, total.

Prep
1 – Bring your butter to room temperature (18-22OC). It should be firm but soft to the touch (and never melted).

2 – Sift your icing sugar. Set it aside.

Method
1 – Place the butter and vegetable shortening in a large bowl. Using a hand held mixer, beat them together for 2-3 minutes on medium speed until very smooth and creamy. Scrape the bowl down as needed to ensure even mixing.

2 – Add in the vanilla extract, vanilla bean powder, and the salt. Beat on medium for 60 seconds to combine. You will see flecks of vanilla evenly visible throughout the buttercream.

3 – Add in the icing sugar, ¼ cup at a time, beating on low speed for 30 seconds with each addition. Repeat until all the icing sugar has been incorporated and is well-combined. I added 450 gm in total. Scrape down the bowl as needed to make sure the sugar has been incorporated properly and fully. Beat for an additional 2-3 minutes until the mixture is smooth and thick. 

4 – Transfer ¼ of the buttercream to a piping bag and place it in the fridge for 15 minutes before you move on to Stage 4. This thick consistency buttercream will be used for piping our ‘dams’ when we’re constructing the cake tiers. 

5 – Now we will thin out the remaining buttercream in the bowl. Add the cream in 1 teaspoon increments, beating on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition. The more cream you add, the wetter and runnier your buttercream will become. I added just 1 teaspoon, as the weather was quite humid. 

6 – After you add all the cream you want, beat for an additional minute until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Cover the bowl with cling wrap, making sure to push the plastic down against the surface of the buttercream to prevent a crust from forming. Place this thinner consistency buttercream in the fridge for 15 minutes before you move on to Stage 4.

buttercream ingredients; confectioner’s sugar, vanillas, heavy cream, salt, high ratio shortening, and butter
creaming the butter and shortening together
adding both the vanillas and the salt
adding the confectioner’s sugar, 1/4 cup at a time
thick consistency buttercream ready
thinning out the rest of the buttercream with heavy cream
thick consistency buttercream on left, thin consistency buttercream on right

Just so you know, even with the minimum amount of sugar needed for optimum stability ( i.e. 450 gm), this is a very sweet buttercream. If your buttercream is too loose, keep adding icing sugar, a teaspoon at a time until you achieve the desired consistency. If it becomes too thick, add a teaspoon of room temperature milk or cream. This buttercream can be made up to 3 months in advance and stored in the freezer, or up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Before using chilled buttercream, take it out of the fridge and rest it on your counter for 15-20 minutes. If you’re using frozen buttercream, thaw it in the fridge first. If it looks a little seized up, re-beat the buttercream for a few seconds so that it’s light, airy, and creamy again. This amount of buttercream is more than enough to generously layer, frost and decorate your entire cake, and have about 1/4 cup left over.

Stage 4: Finale; cake construction & assembly

click on image to enlarge

40 steps? What? Before you start panicking, keep in mind that most of the steps will be repeated for each cake tier. Click on the image below to see the overall scope of work. 

Components
1. 2 x 5-inch brown butter cake layers (trimmed and chilled)
2. 2 x 4-inch brown butter cake layers (trimmed and chilled)
3. 2 x 3-inch brown butter cake layers (trimmed and chilled)
4. Peach filling (chilled)
5. Thick consistency vanilla bean buttercream
6. Thin consistency vanilla bean buttercream
7. To decorate; small artificial flowers and leaves. I got mine from here
8. To serve; leftover peach filling

Materials
1. 6-inch cake board
2. Baking parchment
3. Small offset spatula
4. Small bench scraper
5. Cake turntable
6. 2 medium bowls to hold any scraped-off buttercream
7. A piping bag fitted with a 2 mm round tip

Prep
1 – Take your piping bag of thick consistency vanilla bean buttercream and your bowl of thin consistency buttercream out of the fridge and bring them to piping consistency (about 15 minutes).

2 – Ready your decorating surface. Place the cake board in the centre of your turntable. 

3 – Cut 2 squares of baking parchment; a 5 inch square, and a 4 inch square.

Method

1 – Grab your piping bag of thick consistency buttercream and snip the tip about 1 cm wide. Pipe a 2 cm blob of buttercream on the centre of your cake board. This will be the glue that holds the first 5-inch cake layer in place.

2 – Place the bottom 5-inch cake layer on the buttercream ‘glue’, cut-side up.  Pipe a 1 cm ring of buttercream around the top circumference of the cake keeping a 1 cm gap from the edges. This will function as a ‘dam’ that holds in the filling.

3 – Grab your bowl of thin consistency buttercream. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of buttercream on the centre of the cake and then spread it evenly inside the ring, coming ¼ up the height of the ‘dam’. This layer will prevent the filling from soaking into the sponge.

4 – Fill the ring of buttercream with 1-2 tablespoons of peach filling, making sure to spread it in an even layer and keep it just below the height of the ‘dam’. Do not overfill. I repeat, do not overfill.

5 – Place the top 5-inch cake layer atop the pear layer, cut-side up. Lightly press down to secure. Is filling oozing out? You’ve overfilled! Fix asap by removing some.

6 – It’s time to create the ‘crumb coat’, which is basically a layer of buttercream that will seal in any loose cake crumbs. Use an offset spatula to generously dollop thin consistency buttercream right on top of the cake. Then generously lop thin consistency buttercream all around the cake, starting at the base, and moving upwards. 

7 – Use your palette knife to evenly spread the buttercream all around the outside of the cake (sides and top) and then use a bench scraper to remove the extra buttercream. Place this extra buttercream in a fresh bowl.

8 – Place your crumb-coated 5-inch tier in the fridge for 30-60 minutes to firm up, and proceed with the 4-inch tier.

9 – Place your 5-inch parchment square on the cake turntable. Pipe a 2 cm blob of thick consistency buttercream on the centre of the parchment. This will be the glue that holds the first 4-inch cake layer in place.

10 – Place the bottom 4-inch cake layer on the buttercream ‘glue’, cut-side up. Pipe a 1 cm ring of thick consistency buttercream around the top circumference of the cake keeping a 1 cm gap from the edges. This will function as a ‘dam’ that holds in the filling.

11 – Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of thin consistency buttercream on the centre of the cake and then spread it evenly inside the ring, coming ¼ up the height of the ‘dam’. This layer will prevent the filling from soaking into the sponge.

12 – Fill the ring of buttercream with 1 tablespoon of peach filling, making sure to spread it in an even layer and keep it just below the height of the ‘dam’. Do not overfill. I repeat, do not overfill.

13 – Place the top 4-inch cake layer atop the pear layer, cut-side up. Lightly press down to secure. Is filling oozing out? You’ve overfilled! Fix asap by removing some.

14 – Create the ‘crumb coat’ (re-use the scraped off buttercream for this purpose). Use an offset spatula to generously dollop thin consistency buttercream right on top of the cake. Then generously lop thin consistency buttercream all around the cake, starting at the base, and moving upwards.

15 – Use your palette knife to evenly spread the buttercream all around the outside of the cake (sides and top) and then use a bench scraper to remove the extra buttercream. Place this extra buttercream in the bowl containing the previously scraped-off buttercream. 

16 – Place your crumb-coated 4-inch tier in the fridge for 30-60 minutes to firm up, and proceed with the 3-inch tier.

17 – Place your 4-inch parchment square on the cake turntable. Pipe a 2 cm blob of thick consistency buttercream on the centre of the parchment. This will be the glue that holds the first 3-inch cake layer in place.

18 – Place the bottom 3-inch cake layer on the buttercream ‘glue’, cut-side up. Pipe a 1 cm ring of thick consistency buttercream around the top circumference of the cake keeping a 1 cm gap from the edges. This will function as a ‘dam’ that holds in the filling.

19 – Spoon ¾ tablespoon of thin consistency buttercream on the centre of the cake and then spread it evenly inside the ring, coming ¼ up the height of the ‘dam’. This layer will prevent the filling from soaking into the sponge.

20 – Fill the ring of buttercream with 1 teaspoon of peach filling, making sure to spread it in an even layer and keep it just below the height of the ‘dam’. Do not overfill. I repeat, do not overfill.

21 – Place the top 3-inch cake layer atop the pear layer, cut-side up. Lightly press down to secure. Is filling oozing out? You’ve overfilled! Fix asap by removing some.

22 – Create the ‘crumb coat’ (re-use the scraped off buttercream for this purpose). Use an offset spatula to generously dollop thin consistency buttercream right on top of the cake. Then generously lop thin consistency buttercream all around the cake, starting at the base, and moving upwards.

23 – This is the hardest past, because this cake is so tiny and fiddly! Use your palette knife to evenly spread the buttercream all around the outside of the cake (sides and top) and then use a bench scraper to remove the extra buttercream. Place this extra buttercream in the bowl containing the previously scraped-off buttercream. If there are a lot of crumb particles in this batch, you won’t be able to use it for the final coat. Save it to serve along with the cake and grab a fresh bowl for the final coat! If the buttercream is devoid of crumbs, feel free to use it for the final coat.

24 – Place your crumb-coated 3-inch tier in the fridge for 30-60 minutes to firm up. 

25 – After its crumb-coat has set, get back to your chilled 5-inch cake, to apply the top-coat of buttercream. Place your 5-inch tier back on the turntable. Going in a circle from the inside out, spread a generous layer of thin consistency buttercream, right on top of the cake. While rotating your turntable, spread a generous layer of thin consistency buttercream all around the cake, starting at the base, and moving upwards.

26 – Use the bench scraper and the offset spatula to completely smoothen the buttercream on top and around the sides of the cake. Place scraped-off buttercream in a new bowl. Place the fully-coated 5-inch tier back in the fridge to chill for 30-60 minutes.

27 – After its crumb-coat has set, get back to your chilled 4-inch cake, to apply the top-coat of buttercream. Place your 4-inch tier back on the turntable. Going in a circle from the inside out, spread a generous layer of thin consistency buttercream, right on top of the cake. While rotating your turntable, spread a generous layer of thin consistency buttercream all around the cake, starting at the base, and moving upwards.

28 – Use the bench scraper and the offset spatula to completely smoothen the buttercream on top and around the sides of the cake. Place scraped-off buttercream in the new bowl containing the previously scraped-off buttercream. Place the fully-coated 4-inch tier back in the fridge to chill for 30-60 minutes.

29 – After its crumb-coat has set, get back to your chilled 3-inch cake to apply the top-coat of buttercream. Place your 3-inch tier back on the turntable. Going in a circle from the inside out, spread a generous layer of thin consistency buttercream, right on top of the cake. While rotating your turntable, spread a generous layer of thin consistency buttercream all around the cake, starting at the base, and moving upwards.

30 – Use the bench scraper and the offset spatula to completely smoothen the buttercream on top and around the sides of the cake. Place scraped-off buttercream in the new bowl containing the previously scraped-off buttercream. Place the fully-coated 3-inch cake tier in the fridge to chill for 30-60 minutes. 

31 – At this point your 3 tiers should be chilling in the fridge getting ready to be stacked. The hard part is over! Transfer any remaining ‘clean’ buttercream (thick and thin) to the piping bag fitted with the 2 mm round tip and place it in the fridge. Leave your scraped-off buttercream in its bowl. 

32 – Once all your cake tiers have chilled and the top-coat of buttercream has fully set, it’s time to get stacking. Place the 5-inch tier on your turntable. Get your bowl of scraped-off buttercream and spread a 2 cm blob of buttercream on top of the 5-inch tier, bang in the centre. This will act as a glue.

33 – Get your 4-inch tier. Very carefully, slide your offset spatula between the cake and the baking parchment it’s sitting on. In a scraping motion, drag the spatula under the cake to release it from the parchment. Now gently mount the 4-inch tier on top of the 5-inch tier, making sure that it’s centred. Press down lightly to secure.

34 – Spread a 2 cm blob of scraped-off buttercream on top of the 4-inch tier, bang in the centre. This will act as a glue.

35 – Get your 3-inch tier. Very carefully, slide your offset spatula between the cake and the baking parchment it’s sitting on. In a scraping motion, drag the spatula under the cake to release it from the parchment. Now gently mount the 3-inch tier on top of the 4-inch tier, making sure that it’s centred. Press down lightly to secure. Place the stacked cake in the fridge to chill for 60 minutes or until fully-set.

36 – After your stacked cake has chilled for 60 minutes, it’s ready for decorating. Take your piping bag of buttercream fitted with the 2 mm round tip out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes or until pipeable. Now take your stacked cake out of the fridge and place it back on the turntable. 

37 – Pipe a string of 4 mm dots all along the seam between the bottom tier and your cake board, as well as along the seam between each stacked tier. To do this, hold the piping bag at a 90-degree angle over the spot on which you want to pipe, and squeeze a 4 mm dot onto the spot. Then stop squeezing the bag and swipe right and pipe another dot. Repeat all around the cake, for all 3 tiers. Watch this video to see how. 

38 – Zhuzh up the cake with whatever you like. Great options are sugar flowers, edible flowers, or even fresh or artificial flowers. We decorated ours with artificial ranunculases and leaves from Ikea, because even these have been designed to be modular! You can actually pull the flowers off their stems, insert toothpicks into their cavities, and plant them into the cake. When you’re done, you can remove the toothpicks and reattach the flowers to their stems! Additionally, you can dismantle the larger flowers and re-assemble them to be the size you want (which is particularly helpful when you want your flowers to be proportional to a mini wedding cake).

39 – Now place the cake back in the fridge for 30-60 minutes to fully set the flowers into the buttercream before serving. 

40 – Stand the fully decorated cake on your serving platter. Take a bow! You’ve just made an 8 inch tall, 3-tiered, stacked mini wedding cake! When serving, cut through all 3 stacked layers to see every gorgeous layer. Serve with extra peach filling on the side. Now eat!

ring of thick consistency buttercream to create a dam
layer of thin consistency buttercream to prevent filling seepage
layer of peach filling
top layer placed on filling, cut-side up
crumb coat
final coat
stacked tiers
buttercream dots to hide the seams between each tier
fully constructed cake!
adding some flowers to decorate the cake
notice the toothpicks for easy (and sanitary) application and removal
remember to remove any decorations (if you’ve used inedible decorations) and skewers before serving
I’m very new at stacking cakes, so for extra stability, I went overboard with my final coat of buttercream. Feel free to apply a thinner final coat to reduce the amount of sweetness in each slice of cake.

The nemesis of stacked cakes is overfilling. If your filling oozes out when you press down to sandwich your cake layers, you won’t be able to apply a ‘secure’ coat of buttercream. Too much filling will also cause the individuals layers to slip about inside and compromise the overall stability. Always under-fill your cakes and serve extra filling on the side. Since this is such a small cake, there’s no need to reinforce the individual tiers with cake boards and dowels. However, if you’re a nervous ninny like me, you might want to push 3 bamboo skewers down into all 3 tiers, just to be super safe! When transferring your cake from the fridge to a room temperature environment, you’ll want to first place the cake in an air conditioned room to prevent condensation from appearing on the cake (which always happens when it goes from a very chilled to a warm environment). Gradually increase the AC temperature over an hour, until it’s about the same as room temperature. Because the buttercream has been stabilised with high-ratio shortening, the cake will hold up relatively well at room temperature for an hour or so. Do not keep it under any hot lights or direct sunlight, as the butter in the frosting will start to melt! 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 narrow tall, tapering cake, so cutting a clean slice can be a bit challenging. I find that a large, sharp serrated knife is the best tool for the job and cutting a slice is easiest when the cake is a bit cold. 


Tips & Tricks

How to torte a cake


How to trim cakes for even layers


How to ripen peaches fast


How to peel peaches the easy way


How to fill cake layers


How to pipe buttercream dots