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Pistachio Rose: Rethinking Indian Desserts

26 May

At a chocolate tasting event in London in February, I met Rekha who was in the process of starting her own range of Anglo-Indian desserts inspired by her bi-cultural heritage. A month later, her boutique bakery Pistachio Rose was born.

Last month, Rekha and I chatted over chai because I felt that her inspiration behind establishing Pistachio Rose resonates closely with the essence of this blog – how cultural heritage and identity influence what people eat, cook and share culinarily with others. Typically, Anglo-Indian cuisine is a term used to describe dishes that adopted aspects of British cuisine and blended them with Indian spices and ingredients during the British Raj. However, Rekha’s inspiration draws not from nostalgia for a past era but her personal reference points of growing up in an Indian-English household.

Born to an English mother and a Gujarati father whose family migrated from Uganda to the UK in the late-70s, Rekha has had a penchant for cooking and baking since as long as she can remember. “For me it’s always been about flavours and delicately balancing them, which requires time and attention” she remarks also recalling how even as an 11-year old she prepared a 3-course meal on Mother’s Day.

Rekha began her career in food buying for a large UK supermarket before transitioning into working as buyer for Amazon. A few years down the road, she no longer found her chosen career path fulfilling and craved a change. A trip to India in 2010 for a cousin’s wedding provided the required impetus for her to consider formalizing her passion for baking and cooking into a formidable product line.

As much as Rekha’s inspiration is derived from childhood memories of spending time on the counter-top of her paternal grandmother’s kitchen in Bracknell nibbling on churma, a major motivation has been what she feels is the underrepresentation of Indian desserts in the London foodscape. As she observes, “often, what you find in the market is Indian sweets that are artificially coloured and sweetened and dripping in oil. I wondered what sort of desserts could be created that are authentic but also clean and simple in their flavour profile.” She believes that Pistachio Rose is all about recreating Indian sweets improvised and perfected over time in a manner that retains their heritage. The English influence is reflective in the clean flavours and presentation and making the sweets less overwhelming.

Rekha started her baking business with cakes such as the eponymous Pistachio Rose cake, recreating the classic sweet gulab jamun  – a deep-fried cardamom-spiced sponge served in rose syrup and sprinkled with pistachios, and then developed a range of chocolate products such as the tarts and naans.

I have tried the chocolate naans and spiced chocolate tarts and was blown away. The white chocolate tart is infused with a blend of crushed fennel seeds, aniseed & menthol and the dark chocolate tart is infused with a signature chai blend. The subtlety with which she has introduced the spices into the tarts is admirable since you can taste a hint on your palate without the flavours being overbearing.

Her latest creation, which I have yet to try, is the mukhwas – a beautifully aromatic biscuit containing a gentle blend of betel leaf, areca nut & other spices, decorated with candied aniseed & fennel (pictured below).

Rekha gets excited at the prospect of being able to create and present an afternoon tea banquet experience featuring her signature desserts and a lot more. She has many other interesting creations up her sleeve that are a twist on the Indian dessert, which I won’t divulge now but remain excited to see how they shape up.

She has participated in the Chocolate Festival in Bristol and the Taste of India in the last two months. To remain updated on where she will be next and what’s next on the horizon you can follow Pistachio_Rose on Twitter or browse through her blog Crumbs and Chronicles

**Note: All photographs in this post are courtesy of Rekha

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La Gelatiera and the Renaissance Ice Cream Men

31 Mar

The origins of ice cream can be traced back to the Tang period in China 618-907 AD where the Chinese heated buffalo, cow and goat milk along with grounded rice, allowed it to ferment and then buried it in snow. Some accounts suggest that the Chinese taught Arab traders how to combine syrups and snow, which morphed into an early version of what we now know as the sorbet and it was then the Arab traders who taught Venetians and Romans how to make this novel frozen delicacy.

It is also widely believed that the tradition of Italian gelato began during the Italian Renaissance. The famed Medici family in Florence sponsored a contest, searching for the greatest frozen dessert. A man named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer, happened to win the contest for his tasty frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice. Other popular accounts suggest that gelato was infact invented by Bernardo Buontalenti, an Italian architect who was hired by the Medici family in 1565 to cater banquets. He created frozen desserts from a mixture of frozen sweet milk with egg yolks and other flavorings, which became widely popular but mainly among the elite.  Meanwhile, in the South, the frozen rendition was lower in fat, predominantly water-based, slightly higher in sugar content due to the intense flavourings and was called Sorbetto, known today as Sorbet.

* * * * * * *

Let’s come back to 5 centuries later. My mother is the sort of person who will skip a meal just to be able to eat double the amount of ice cream you should typically have as one helping of dessert. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit her passion for this frozen treat.

But that didn’t deter me from discovering La Gelatiera, an artisan gelateria in Covent Garden, through a Chocolate Walks deserts tasting event in February. Ever since, I have returned every week, sometimes even more frequently not just to enjoy the delectable range of inventive flavours that never cease to surprise me but also the conversations with the friendly staff and owners.

Opened by three friends; Antonio, Simona and Stephane, La Gelatiera is truly a labour of love. Antonio’s paternal grandfather was a gelato maker in Calabria, southern Italy and this new venture is his homage to the tradition of gelato-making that he fondly remembers from his childhood.

One can sense the owners’ passion and dedication towards their craft and the choice of name (which literally means the machine that churns gelato, photographed below) embodies their desire to share the gelato-making process with those who visit. You can also peak into their lab through its transparent roof to catch a glimpse of the gelato churning process.

La Gelatiera

Co-owner Antonio spent a year researching and carefully studying books on gelato-making and he describes the process as being somewhat mathematical since it involves meticulously balancing the sugar, water and fat content in each of the ingredients that is used. It’s as much chemistry as it is an art. This approach lies at the heart of artisanal gelato-making and lends La Gelatiera’s products the depth that communicates the effort and love that went into creating them. 

The owners are inspired by the Slow Food movement, which originated in Italy to preserve traditional cuisine and agricultural biodiversity. La Gelatiera is committed to sustainability not only in the use of fresh, seasonal and organic ingredients but also by using reclaimed wood for the stools and small tables and using a water recycling machine. The milk is locally sourced, organically certified and pasteurized on premises.

With flavours such as black sesame, saffron, prosecco and peaches, wensleydale cheese and blackcurrant, La Gelatiera is pushing the boundaries of creative experimentation. My favourite is the salty caramel that is nearly as good as the salted butter caramel ice cream I had at Berthillon in Paris in January.  The mango gelato is also delightful especially since they clearly know that the best mango gelato can only be made with Pakistani mangoes! The flavours change on a daily basis so there may be days on which your preferred flavour is not available.

I was curious to know whether innovation in gelato flavours is also taking place in the Italian foodscape. According to Antonio, experimentation in avant-garde gelato flavours is not very common but it is taking place largely focused in the North of Italy in cities such as Milan, Florence and Bologna. Antonio draws inspiration from Japanese and French cuisine and he recently collaborated with a French chef to develop a savoury gelato flavour – Delice des Cabasses provencal goat cheese with real truffle & honey. He hopes to continue the practice of collaborating with other chefs to merge flavour profiles and influences. In addition to gelato, you can’t escape the aromas of La Gelatiera’s home-made cakes and desserts such as panettone and tartufo, which are freshly baked on premises and inspired by co-owner Simona’s family recipes from Modena.

Panettone

La Gelatiera

27 New Row

Covent Garden

WC2N 4LA, London

Recipe: Honey & Walnut Pie with Homemade Maple Cream

17 Feb

I recently read online that the sugar concentration in honey is so high that no bacteria can live in it which is why it is often used as a natural antiseptic  for wounds & cuts. Who knew? My paternal grandfather had always been a proponent of honey and the health benefits it had and told us to make sure we had a spoon of honey daily!

So when I found a tub of honey in my fridge last week I decided I must come up with a recipe to use it. Since I was too lazy to go to the grocery store and buy ingredients I decided to make something from ingredients already present in my pantry so I came up with Honey & Walnut Pie drizzled with Home-made Maple Cream sauce!

NOTE: You can substitute by buying a pre-made pie crust and maple syrup however in this part of the world such things are not readily available in the grocery store hence I improvise and make them at home!

Ingredients

SWEET PIE CRUST:

  • 1 ¾ cups of flour
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 slightly beaten eggs
  • ¾ stick of cold butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of baking powder

HONEY & WALNUT FILLING:

  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup of white sugar
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 2 whisked eggs
  • 4 tablespoons of butter


MAPLE CREAM SAUCE:

  • ½ cup fat-free whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup white sugar1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 tbp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

METHOD:

SWEET PIE CRUST

  • Mix all the dry ingredients together (flour, sugar, baking powder & salt)
  • Cut the cold butter into small cubes and add it to the dry mixture until it is fully incorporated and the mixture resembles crumbs.

  • Add the slightly beaten egg to the mixture and knead until it forms a dough
  • Cover the dough and place in the fridge for at least 30 – 45 minutes before using it
  • When you are ready to make the pie take out the dough and sprinkle some flour on a flat surface and work the dough until it becomes smooth and roll it into a flat disk
  • Spread the dough out into a pie tin pressing it along the sides to make sure its firm

HONEY & WALNUT FILLING:

  • Combine the honey, white and brown sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan
  • Heat mixture on low heat without stirring until it comes to a boil
  • Remove from heat once it starts to boil and add the butter
  • Stir mixture until it has a smooth consistency and add the whisked eggs
  • Whisk the mixture until eggs & and the syrup have combined – don’t overmix it!
  • Let the filling cool a bit and then add in chopped walnuts and oats to the mixture
  • Pour the mixture into the pie crust and pop into the pre-heated oven and bake for 45-1 hours at 350F/175C
  • Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or some home-made maple cream

MAPLE CREAM SAUCE:

  • Place white sugar in a heavy base saucepan on low heat until the sugar melts and turns brown – make sure it doesn’t burn
  • Simultaneously place brown sugar into a separate heavy base saucepan. Pour boiling water over brown sugar and bring to a boil without stirring
  • Add caramelized white sugar to the melted brown sugar in the saucepan. Simmer, stirring often, until the maple syrup thickened (around 5-10 mins)
  • Remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla essence (This yields 1 cup maple syrup which can be stored for later use with pancakes etc)
  • Pour whipping cream into a saucepan and add ¼ cup of the prepared maple syrup and stir over moderate heat until thickened and reduced by half then remove from heat
  • Refrigerate maple cream until it is cold and pour over the warm Honey & Walnut Pie when you are ready to serve!

~ F

Recipe: Brown Sugar Biscuits

29 Nov

One of my earliest childhood memories is baking “brown sugar biscuits” with my maternal grandmother – Ammi.

Ammi rarely ventured into the kitchen so after much convincing, having her bake us brown sugar biscuits was quite a feat.  My sister and I would be her helpers in mixing and eating the left over dough while she measured the ingredients and rolled the dough into small balls, dipping each biscuit carefully into egg white rolling it on a bed of walnuts & sugar before placing it onto a greased pan.

This recipe has become quite a tradition as it has been passed down across generations….The best part is that it uses simple ingredients that can be found in any pantry!


Biscuits before baking

Ingredients:

* 1/2 cup brown sugar

* 1 stick unsalted butter

* 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

* 1 egg, separated

* 1 and 1/4 cup flour

* 1/4 tsp salt

* 1/2 cup finely chopped, or crushed walnuts

* jam or jelly

== yields around 10-15 biscuits ==

Method:

– Pre-heat oven to 350F/150C

– Separate the egg – beat the egg white slightly

– Mix brown sugar, butter, vanilla essence and egg yolk in a bowl

– Stir in flour and salt, knead the mixture manually till the dough holds together

– Shape dough into 1 inch balls – press your thumb gently into center of each ball

– Dip each ball into egg white, roll a bed of walnuts & sugar

– Place on a baking sheet about 1 inch apart

– Bake for about 15 mins, or until brown

– Remove from oven, cool it, and fill the thumprint with your favorite jam or jelly!

TIP: If your brown sugar has hardened, place a damp paper towel on top of the brown sugar overnight – the brown sugar will soften by the morning!

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