I am done with reading health articles, really. Before looking at pictures of fruits, flat abs and a measuring tape on a page, I pause for a moment and wonder if I should continue. These articles never end on a positive note. And it’s not the question of “truth hurting”. How is refraining yourself from all the good things in life true?
Now there is a new theory doing the rounds. Apparently your cholesterol intake has nothing to do with the cholesterol in your body. Thank you very much for flouting this idea after years of banishing butter! The information overload on health is unwarranted and people really have to calm down.
The first time I ate a cheesecake was when I was in school. I had gone to my cousin’s house in Bangalore for vacation. It was summer and that only meant one thing – mangoes. She taught me how to make a simple, no-bake mango cheesecake. When I say simple, I mean simple and that doesn’t mean it wasn’t delicious; it was smashing.
The weather is playing mind games with the people here. The clouds are a deep grey, the air is still and it looks as though the rains would soothe our scorched souls any minute, but no; just a measly drop here and there, I wouldn’t even go as far as calling it a drizzle. The next thing you know, you feel like giving yourself an ice bath.
Sometime ago, I searched for homemade cream cheese recipes on the net. There were quite a few that popped up, but most of them used rennet as the coagulating agent. For those of you who didn’t know this, rennet is an enzyme obtained from the stomachs of calves, lambs and such other mammals. Vegetarians, sorry to burst your bubble, but most store bought hard cheeses (with the exception of soft Philly cream cheese) have rennet in them.
The recipes of cream cheese that didn’t use rennet seemed long winded, complicated and not so convincing. So my search for homemade cream cheese recipe was put to an end and I continued buying Philly cream cheese even though it was an expensive proposition; now I couldn’t stop making cheesecakes, could I?
Before you go “Pumpkin cupcakes? Eww!” let me just say a few things. From being a hater of yellow pumpkin, or any pumpkin for that matter, I have become a pumpkin fanatic – I have begun to use them in my cooking, made a lovely soup the other day, chutney, salad and now these beautiful cupcakes. The fact that pumpkins are lovely in sweet dishes is not something new..pumpkin halwa better known as dumroot halwa or kashi halwa here, pumkin kheer and cakes, they have always been incorporated in Indian desserts because of their naturally sweet flavour.
So my first class assignment at sophia entailed of using three parts of a single ingredient; for instance, if you want to cook with drumstick you have to use it’s flowers, leaves and of course the drumstick. And voila, what better way to showcase this otherwise ostracized vegetable than in cupcakes? I used the pumpkin flesh in cupcakes, sprinkled the pumpkin seeds (pepita) on the cream cheese frosting and made a little chip out pumpkin skin for garnish.As the yellowness of the pumpkin pervades into the batter, the cupcakes come out a lovely mustard, moist and fluffy. And the icing on the cake? literally? is the cream cheese frosting of course! You will never turn your back on pumpkins again, not with desserts at least!
Ps: If you had to use three parts of one ingredient, which one would it be?
For the cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1 cup soft light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 2 large eggs
- 200 ml pumpkin puree
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the frosting
- 225 g cream cheese
- 55 g unsalted butter
- 125 g icing sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Pumpkin skin chips
Makes 12 cupcakes
- Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 12 muffin pan with cupcake wrappers.
- In a bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger. Mix well and set aside.
- Cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat well using a hand mixer. Add the eggs, one by one. Beat further. Add the pumpkin puree. Beat for 2-3 minutes. Finally add the vanilla extract.
- Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold well. Pour into the prepared muffin pan. Bake for 20 minutes.
- For the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter for 2 minutes until smooth. Add the icing sugar and beat for another 2 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and beat again.
- Allow the pumpkin cupcakes to cook on a wire rack. Smear the prepared frosting over the cupcakes using an offset spatula.
- For the pumpkin skin chips, dehydrate them in a lowest oven temperature for 2-3 hours until crisp.
- To finish off, sprinkle pumpkin seeds and a pumpkin skin chip.
I am not sure if Americans really swear by bagels for breakfast but I do know that they make the rounds ever so frequently in their popular culture. It’s the sort of food that the too-busy-to-make-breakfast-girl (probably a journalist), grabs from a bakery and chomps into, on her way to work; a junk-food-loving-pot-bellied cop, gorges on, slouching in his sleepy-little-car, during his morning duty; a regretful mommy brings home first thing in the morning, for being over-punitive with her rule-breaking children! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I watch a lot of television.
Ironically, the history behind bagels is not as simple as they might seem. They have been christened with many names, adopted and embraced by many a culture and from being a food of luxury it is now a food of the common man. It was the food that the German immigrants brought with them to Poland, in the name of Pretzels, and metamorphosed them into discs with holes in the center, which came to be known as Obwarzanek. Along with the Germans, came the Jews, who were deprived of commercial baking of any sort, because bread was sacred to Christians and Jews were considered anti-church. But Poland being relatively egalitarian in its ways, allowed the Jews to bake and the Jews took to baking bagels among other breads. However, the angry Polish Bishops falsely accused Jewish breads of being poisoned, to prevent the Christians from buying them. Soon after which, Jews were only allowed to bake, so long as the bread was boiled prior to baking. What was brought to America by the Jews to make a humble livelihood is now a billion dollar industry, thanks to the Lender’s.
I have asked friends from America if bagels are tasty and I have always got mixed responses. But in my understanding, bagel might be a habit to an American. Bagels might be to Americans, what vada paavs are to Mumbaikars, you have to grow up with them to cherish them.
Adapted from Lauren Groveman’s Homemade Bagel
- 2 tbsp butter, melted
- 2 1/4 tsp dry yeast
- 2 1/4 cups lukewarm water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 3 tbsp vegetable shortening (known as Dalda Vanaspati here)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 6 cups (approx) unbleached all purpose flour
For the water bath
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Caraway or sesame or poppy seeds
Makes 10 bagels
- Brush a large bowl with some melted butter. Leave it aside.
- Add yeast and pinch of sugar to 1/4 cup of warm water. Whisk well. Set aside. The yeast should react and froth up.
- In the remaining warm water, add the vegetable shortening. Whisk well. To this mixture, add the yeast mixture, remaining sugar and salt. Whisk well.
- Now add 1/2 cup of flour to the liquid at a time, stirring continuously, using a wooden spoon. Continue to add flour and stir, until you have a soft and sticky dough. You may not need all 6 cups to achieve this.
- Using a dough scrapper, scrap the dough out to a floured work surface. Knead the dough for 5- 6 minutes. Make a ball out of the dough and plunge it into the buttered dish. Glaze the surface of the dough with the remaining melted butter. Cover with a cling film and then put a tea towel over the vessel. Set aside for an hour.
- After an hour, deflate the dough and divide it into two halves. Place the halves in two different dishes and cover it like before. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- When the dough is ready, preheat your oven to 250 C (maximum oven temperature, at least in mine). Spray your baking tray with oil and dust with cornmeal also known as polenta. If you don’t have access to polenta, you can use semolina (rava). Set aside.
- In a big vessel, bring water to boil. Meanwhile, take one half of the bagel dough first. You must have the other half covered. Divide the half into 5 equal portions using a dough cutter. On a tray, place a tea towel dusted with flour. Keep an other tea towel, to cover the shaped bagels.
- Cover the remaining portions of bagel dough with tea towel, while you are working with the first one. Dust your hand with flour. To give your bagel a shape and allow the gluten to work, stretch the dough from the bottom and pull it to the top. Do so around the dough, until you have pinched gathering on top and a smooth surface below. Place the dough, pinched surface below. Now, using your index finger, make a hole in the center. Pick up the dough, and using both your index fingers, elongate the hole to a diameter of about 3 inches. Place the bagel on the floured tea towel. Cover it. Repeat the same for all the portions.
- Once the water has begun to boil, add baking soda and sugar.
- Plop the bagel, one at a time, into the boiling water. Have the remaining bagels covered. The bagel will drown to the bottom and will soon surface in top. After they have risen, boil them for a further 2 minutes, on each side, flipping them.
- Sprinkle the prepared tray (cornmeal tray) with caraway seeds. You can use sesame or even poppy seeds. Place the boiled bagels on the tray. Brush the surface of the bagels with egg white. Sprinkle seeds you wish to use on top of the bagels.
- Fill a quart mug with water and pour 5-6 ice cubes into it. Pour this beneath your oven rack (in the bottom) and bake the bagels for 25-30 minutes.
- Repeat the same with the other half.
Note: Bagels may not taste as good without an accompaniment. Slice the bagel into half, spread some whipped cream cheese, place slices of tomato, cucumbers and onions, place the other half on top (like you would for a burger). If you have a ready made cheese spread, that will work too!
I had this recipe as part of my agenda but I didn’t think I would execute it quite so soon. Let’s just say I had other plans and far more exciting recipes to accomplish before this one. A red velvet cupcake is not half as fancy as it looks; there I said it. For those of you who go to a bakery and often find yourself going gaga by looking at red velvet cupcakes – let me tell you, you can bake a batch or two blindfolded.
So why did I bake them? More than the baking part, the finished part is fun, the eating part is even more fun. And for me, they bring back a lot of fond memories. Back home, at my workplace, a bunch of us women would share our woes not over drinks, but over cupcakes. If one of us had boy troubles, we would drive down at least a mile or two to buy these cupcakes. If we had accomplished something, say meet a deadline, we would summon for those cupcakes to celebrate. Um, Tuesday? Cupcakes. Yeah, we didn’t actually need a reason. So much so that we had a pact that we would go through a week without cupcakes. Hardly did we stick to it. Anyway, we would all pick a flavour each, bring the big box to our desks and share them among ourselves. And yes, red velvet cupcake was a popular choice.
I may be dangerously close to being melodramatic when I say this but I think it’s the truth – in a time when many of us in that group (you know who you are) were unsure of things and wanted some direction, some hope, these lovely little smidgens helped us. At least we deluded ourselves that it helped us 🙂 I think what really led us to look forward to the next day were the conversations, the laughter, the shoulders that we ever so easily lent to one another during difficult times and of course, the innocent joy of the licking off that luscious icing on the cupcake 🙂
For the cupcakes
- 125 g all purpose flour (1 1/4 cup), sifted
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa, sifted
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 150 g caster sugar (3/4 cup)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 175 ml vegetable oil (3/4 cup), canola, safflower etc
- 120 ml butter milk (1/2 cup)
- 1/2 tsp red food colouring, preferably gel
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp vinegar
For the icing
- 115 g cream cheese
- 115 g mascarpone
- 113 g butter
- 60 g confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Makes 12 cupcakes
- Preheat the oven to 175 C. Line a 12 muffin tins with wrappers and set aside.
- Sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder. Mix well and set aside.
- Add the red food colouring to the buttermilk. Mix well and set aside. Don’t be alarmed if the liquid looks bloody. It’s supposed to.
- Now, beat together the eggs and sugar till pale and creamy. Add the oil and beat further for a couple of minutes. Add the vanilla essence and give it a final mix.
- Pour the prepared buttermilk into the egg mixture. Fold well. Now add the flour mixture to the egg mixture. Fold well. If you have red, runny batter, you are on the right track.
- Finally, add the baking soda to the vinegar and as it fizzes, pour it into the batter. Mix well.
- Pour your batter into the prepared muffin tins. Bake for 18-20 minutes.
- Once the cupcakes are done, allow them to cool for about an hour.
- Meanwhile, for the frosting, beat the cream cheese till soft. Add the mascarpone cheese, softened butter and vanilla essence consecutively and beat further. Finally add the confectioner’s sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes until you arrive at a creamy consistency.
- I’m not a great piper myself but this is how you frost your cupcakes. Fit a disposable piping bag with a tip of your choice. Fill the bag with the prepared icing. Hold your piping bag at a 90 degree angle from the cupcake and start from the outer circle of the cupcake and work your way inside. If you find this hard, you can always spoon the cupcakes with icing.