The lovely Krissy is a globe-trotting India-phile, who has spent several summers in the Tamil-speaking region of the country. She wants to share with you some tricks she’s picked up on her adventures there.
Everything I cook (or eat) lately is somehow inspired by my food experiences in Tamil Nadu, South India, where I lived the past two summers. Whenever I grab a Starbucks latte while rushing to class, I fondly think back to lazing around in the afternoon heat drinking ten-cent “kapi,” which achieves a similar frothy-top effect sans espresso machine by pouring steaming hot milk coffee back and forth—the higher the better (here’s proof!)—between a stainless-steel tumbler and bowl. And whenever I sit down with a plate and fork, I think of the small “mess” restaurants where I’d be served unlimited piles of rice and vegetables on a banana leaf and eat it with my hands. What to do when it’s 40 degrees, blustery, and the grocery stores are filled with pumpkins and squash?
As I was deciding what to bake tonight, I surveyed my meager stock of baking ingredients, which happens to be rather disproportionately represented by Indian options. My eyes fell upon three things in particular: a jar of raw honey that has been absolutely begging to be used up, chai spice (from Milwaukee’s The Spice House, which is certainly worth a visit if you’re ever in that part of the Midwest), and a bunch of cardamom pods (move over, nutmeg!!). I’d never heard of honey cake before, but this recipe I found seemed promising and extremely versatile, so I decided to heat it up with my two Indian ingredients: chai spice and cardamom. The subtle kick of cardamom added a perfect balance to a topping of caramelized autumn fruit, and the chai spice added much-needed diversity to the lonely cinnamon that was carrying the weight of this cake. The cake itself ends up having a pleasant chewy almost caramel-like surface and a moist interior. Since Thanksgiving has just passed, I went for a topping of the autumn classics: caramelized apples, pears, and some cranberries, and I’d highly recommend “cooling it off” with vanilla ice cream! (And maybe pairing it with apple cider?) But I’d imagine you could put any spin on it that you wanted, depending on the season or your mood. Bunches of oats, perhaps?
Honey Chai-Spice Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Honey Cake with Caramelized Pears
Unsalted butter, softened, for pan
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
a pinch coarse salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. chai spice
2 large eggs
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. packed light-brown sugar
1/2 c. plus 2 tablespoons best-quality honey
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. vegetable oil
Carmelized Autumn Fruits (recipe to follow)
Freshly whipped cream, or ice cream for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8×8 inch baking pan. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon, and chai spice in a bowl; set aside. Mix eggs and sugars until pale and thick, about 3 minutes.
Whisk together honey, milk, and oil. (For this, I needed to melt down my raw honey.) With mixer on low, add honey mixture to egg mixture; mix until combined, about 1 minute. Add half the flour mixture; mix until smooth. Mix in remaining flour mixture. Pour batter into pan. (The batter may be thinner than you are used to—never fear! It should bake up just right.)
Bake until dark golden brown and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of cake; carefully remove sides of pan. Transfer cake to a platter. Top with fruit. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.
Caramelized Autumn Fruits
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar (white or brown)
1 3/4 lbs. red Anjou pears/Apples cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (or 1/4-inch-thick wedges if firm)
Handful cranberries (for color)
1/4 c. best-quality honey
2 green cardamom pods
a few dashes chai spice
Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sugar, cardamom pods, and chai spice; cook, stirring, until almost dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. (A note about cardamom pods: often in Indian cooking, you let flavors “seep” into a liquid and you let that liquid flavor the dish. This, as far as I can tell, is what “tempering” means, e.g. adding tempering oil to chutneys. And similarly with Indian sweets, cardamom pods are often thrown whole into the milk to infuse it with a light flavor—this is the method I used here. If you would like a more intense cardamom flavor, you can break the pods open and add the seeds or buy powdered cardamom and add a few pinches.) Add fruit; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and just golden, 12 to 20 minutes. Pour in honey; cook, stirring, until fruit is coated and very soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the cardamom pods before serving.
Traditionally, pound cake is made with a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs, and a pound of flour. Essentially that’s four pounds of crazy. Who can eat all that? This version is much more manageable: loaf size. It’s not a cake of the super moist variety, but has a consistency more like a breakfast bread. As such, it holds up beautifully to the marinated strawberries. The balance of zingy and sweet here is delightful. Balsamic and strawberries are a genius combination that I was introduced to by Kat Santore many moons ago. Thanks, Kat!
Lemon Pound Cake with Balsamic-Marinated Strawberries
1 lb. strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. sugar.
Combine all ingredients well and let sit in the fridge while you make the pound cake. The longer, the better. With a slotted spoon, spoon the strawberries on top of each slice of cake to serve.
Lemon Pound Cake
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
2 sticks butter
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2/4 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 350.
Grease and flour a loaf pan.
In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add lemon extract and zest.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking, powder, and salt. Gradually add to the sugar mixture.
Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Hello chocolate. Hello creamy shot of seratonin to my brain. Custards, mousses (meese?), puddings–anything creamy and rich sends me into hog heaven. This recipe is no exception. Jen passed it along to me after raving about it, and she adapted from the good ol’ Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.
I made it to go with my chipotle tacos. It was a lovely accompaniment, as well as a nod to the long history of cacao in Mexico (documented as far back as 1100 BC, with the word deriving from Nahuatl).
It made a whole lot of custard–or perhaps my ramekins are especially small for this recipe. Either way, equip yourself for a hearty dose of luscious milky mocha.
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, via Jen (the Soupista)
2 1/4 c. milk
1/3 c. sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbsp. instant coffee
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 eggs, whisked
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Topping: Bailey’s + Heavy whipping cream, whole coffee beans
Preheat oven to 325.
Heat milk, sugar, cocoa, coffee and cinnamon, stirring until just dissolved. Pour into mixing bowl with eggs and vanilla (preferably bowl with pour spout). Beat for a few minutes.
Put 6 custard cups (or ramekins or coffee cups) into a deep baking dish. Divide mixture among cups. Pour boiling water around cups to depth of 1 inch. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool on wire rack. Cover and chill at least 2 hours before serving (will keep for about 24 hours). Garnish with cream whipped with baileys and whole coffee beans.
My lovely friend Juliette has been living in Panama for the past three years, first as a Peace Corps volunteer, and now as a new mom to a gorgeous Panamanian-Californian baby named Adrian. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to go visit her in her idyllic, green village–a remote community that requires an hour and a half hike to reach (no road).
She’s now living in town, so hiking boots and a horse are no longer required to visit her.
When I was there, she made me hot chocolate directly from a cacao pod, with a bit of milk and sugar. It was the most concentrated chocolateness I’d ever experienced–bitter, rich, coating my tongue. Needless to say, Juliette does not take chocolate lightly. Her trick for amazing brownies is all in the cocoa. Her notes below:
I would recommend leaving out up to a 1/2 cup of sugar for those bakers who prefer brownies with more emphasis on the chocolate than on the sugar. I followed the recipe exactly and they almost tasted like fudge because they were so sweet, though the texture was absolutely perfect. The chocolate I used was 100% cacao from a farmer in Bocas del Toro. Cacao producers working with Peace Corps volunteers can always make a bit of money selling chocolate to all of the PC folks throughout the country. Needless to say, it’s in high demand! This last batch of cacao I bought has notes of cinnamon, so the brownies came out with the same flavor– pretty delish! The recipe is below. I got it off of Epicurious.com, but I believe the original recipe is from Bon Appetit.
10 tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
Special equipment: An 8-inch square baking pan
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test.
Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using.
Spread evenly in the lined pan. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.
Chocolate note: Any unsweetened natural or Dutch-process cocoa powder works well here. Natural cocoa produces brownies with more flavor complexity and lots of tart, fruity notes. I think it’s more exciting. Dutch-process cocoa results in a darker brownie with a mellower, old-fashioned chocolate pudding flavor, pleasantly reminiscent of childhood.