Monday, December 15, 2014

Eggless CutOut Shortbread Cookies



Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
'Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

Looking outside through my family room window I can still see the yard full of Christmas decorations and lights in one of the houses in our development.  We barely did any decorations outside this time.  Our outside decoration was limited to a Christmas wreath on the door.    Boxes full of icicle lights are still sitting in the basement untouched.  There are so many things going on around this time that we are hardly finding time to do all these decorations this year.  Kids were excited to put the Christmas tree up, so it happened a week ago.  Yes I know it was late too!!!  Anyway, I didn't want to miss the baking spree I always enjoy during this time of the year.  Honestly speaking last few days, I was busy baking batches of cookies for the Christmas Carolers.  Our Church has a tradition of going to houses with most of the church members including kids and sing carols.  It's a fun filled whole day process.



Here is a recipe for eggless Shortbread Cookies that you can make with your kids or even by yourself.  My kids were excited to cut out different shapes with the cookie cutter.  They look so cute and you can decorate as you wish.  I simply used some melted chocolate to do the final touch of decorations rather than sugar coated icing.  You can use Vanilla or Coconut or Almond flavoring for these cookies.  I prefer pure Vanilla extract flavor for these cookies.  This is one of those simple recipes that use the ingredients you can find in your pantry all the time.  If you don't have a cookie cutter, you can even use a serrated knife to cut out the cookies in rectangles, squares or in triangles.  You can even use a floured Mason jar lid to make some round cookies. 



Recipe adapted from here

Yields - 15 - 20 cookies (number will vary with the size, shape and thickness)

Ingredients:

2 cups - all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp.. - salt
1 cup / 2 sticks - unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup - powdered sugar
1 tsp. - pure Vanilla extract


To Decorate

1/2 cup - semisweet dark chocolate / milk chocolate pieces

Directions:
  • Beat the butter to achieve a smooth and creamy texture in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer using paddle attachment or using a electric hand mixer or a rubber spatula.
  • Add the powdered sugar, salt and vanilla.  Beat well on low speed for 30 seconds.  Now add the flour and mix well till the dough is all crumbly and wet and holds together.
  • Transfer the dough to the center of a plastic wrap sheet.  Cover the dough with another long piece of plastic wrap.   Now use your hands to smooth up the dough little bit to form a ball with the plastic wrap on.  Using a rolling pin roll the dough to 1/4 inch thick circle with the plastic wrap on.  Transfer the rolled dough to a flat plate and make sure all the edges are covered with the plastic wrap. 
  • Keep the plate with the plastic wrapped dough into the freezer to set for 5 - 6 minutes.  If the dough is very sticky keep it for 10 minutes.
  • Pre heat oven to 350 F.
  • Now the dough is ready to be cut out into shapes.  Using your favorite cookie cutter cut out some shapes.  Try to cut out maximum number of cookies from the first batch.
  • Bake the cookies on  a parchment paper lined baking sheet for 8 - 10 minutes or till the sides of the cookies starts to get very light golden brown.  You have to make sure that the cookies are not over baked.  Cookies should have white color.
  • Repeat the rolling, freezing, cutting out process till all the dough is used up.  Let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack.
To decorate
  • Using a double boiler method melt the 1/2 cup of chocolate pieces or microwave 4 cups of water in a microwave safe bowl  for 4 minutes.  Place the chocolate pieces in a smaller heat proof bowl and place over the bowl with hot water.  Use a spoon to stir the chocolate, it will melt completely.    I used 2 measuring cups of different sizes to do this.  You can either dip a part of the cookie into the melted chocolate to decorate it and place on a baking sheet with parchment paper to cool.  Or you can use a piping bag with writing tip to make some designs.  Let the chocolate  designs harden completely before transferring to an air tight container.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Kerala Plum Cake/Christmas Fruit Cake



Kerala Plum Cake or Christmas fruit cake is a rich, dense and moist cake famous in the Southern part of India (Kerala) which is traditionally served during Christmas time.  There are few popular brands of these cakes available in Kerala which people religiously buy during Christmas time.  Local Bakeries bake tons of plum cakes during Christmas and New Year time and this is exigent with some red wine during the Christmas feast in typical Central Travancore Christian families.  The authentic Kerala Plum cake is made with loads of dry fruits soaked in either Rum/Brandy with a blend of spice mix.  The aged soaked fruits and caramel syrup gives the flavor and dark color for the traditional Kerala Cake.  The labyrinth steps and longer list of ingredients coerce one to rely on the Plum cake from local bakers.  Now days there are several variations to these cakes with fewer ingredients and less alcohol or no alcohol. 


I have been making this cake for the past couple of years and it’s a no fail cake and my family and friends love it.  To be honest, I was never a fan of Kerala Plum cake till my marriage.  It was a boozy and spicy cake for me.  My attitude towards the Plum cake changed when I found out that my hubby was a big fan of Kerala Plum cake.  He used to make sure to get a cake whenever he visits my parents where Kerala stores stack these cakes on the front desk.  I remember once when my son's baby sitter who offered me a small loaf of rum cake which was dark, fruity and full of flavor.  It was an amazing cake, just like the Jamaican dark rum cake.  If you go for cruise to the Caribbean islands, make sure to get one of the dark rum cakes, they are so addictive and tastes similar to the Kerala Plum cake.  Since my hubby is a diehard fan of Plum cake, I was forced to give it a try in my kitchen.



My first attempt was a flop.  It turned out to be a very hard cake even though the taste was awesome.  I never gave up my experiment with Plum cake.  The next attempt was a success with a bang.  Since then, I follow this recipe word by word which I came up by tweaking few recipes from our family and my friends.  I highly recommend you to read the recipe and notes to the end before you start baking the cake.  If you strictly follow the recipe without improvising, I can guarantee you that you will get a most flavorful Kerala Plum Cake.  Once you are confident with the first trial, you can certainly improvise the recipe in the next attempts.  I am warning you because I learnt it in a hard way by ruining the cake in my first attempt and you don’t want to waste all the dry fruits and the amount of effort you took to make it.



I had made the Plum cake using red wine which equally imparts the flavor as the Rum/brandy version.  Once you start making your own Plum cake, you would never like to buy one from the bakery.  The homemade Plum cake is less sweet and more flavorful than the store bought Plum cake.  This recipe yields a soft yet dense cake which is very moist and goes well with a glass of red wine or Masala Chai/Tea.  The aroma of the freshly baked Plum Cake is so tempting that you cannot wait to cut the cake soon after baking.  But hold your horses and let the cake mature in flavor.  Trust me the fruit of patience is rewarding and you will thank me for waiting.  I usually bake the cake beginning of December and have it wrapped and sit till Christmas for cutting, which helps to develop the right flavor. 



I usually soak a big jar of dry fruits and make several 6 inch cakes and share with family during Christmas season.  You can make these and wrap in nice Christmas themed boxes and give to your family and friends as a Christmas gift with other edible homemade goodies. 





This is my trusted no fail Kerala Plum cake recipe that yields the best Plum cake that suits my family's taste each time when I bake it.

The recipe is using US measurement standards.  Here is the conversion chart you can use to convert it to Metric measurement equivalents.

Yields - a 9'' round or Bundt cake

Ingredients:

To Soak the Fruits
3 cups - chopped dry fruits   (Black &Golden raisins,Black Currants,Prunes,Dates,cranberries, cherries, Pineapple, Apricot, Cashews, almonds)
1 1/2 - 2 cups - red wine  or use enough to soak the fruits

Caramel Syrup
1 1/4 cup - granulated Sugar
3/4 cup - hot water

Fruit Cake
1 cup or 2 sticks -  butter at room temperature
2 1/4 cups - powdered sugar
4 - eggs yolks
  
2 ½ cups - All purpose flour
2 tsp - baking powder
1 tsp - baking soda
1/2 tsp - salt
1/2 tsp - Cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp - Clove powder
1/2 tsp - Cardamom powder
1/4 tsp - Nutmeg powder
1 tsp - Vanilla Extract
Caramel Syrup
1/4 cup - hot water
3 cups - dry fruits soaked in wine


 To Whip
4 - egg whites
2 tbsp -  powdered sugar


Directions:

For Soaking the fruits
  •  Soak the fruits in the red wine at least 3-4 weeks in advance.  Keep them in an airtight container; once a week stir the mix with a clean dry spoon to make sure the fruits are getting soaked well.
Caramel Syrup
  • Take a heavy bottom pan and melt 1 1/4 cup sugar on low flame.  When it started to get light brown color, use a long wooden spoon to mix the sugar well.  The sugar needs to get brown in color without burning.  Lower the flame and add the hot water to the melted sugar.  Be careful, as the melted sugar is very hot and starts to splutter.  The melted sugar will start to crystallize.  Increase the flame to medium heat and let the syrup boil.  This will help the crystallized sugar to melt again.  Once all the sugar is melted.  Turn off the flame and let the syrup cool.
For the Fruit Cake
  •  Preheat Oven to 350°F.
  •  Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices twice and keep aside.
  •  Beat the butter with powdered sugar till smooth and creamy using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer.  Add the egg yolks one at a time until the mix is creamy and fluffy. Add the Vanilla essence and Caramel syrup and smoothly combine everything together.
  • Add 1/4 cup of hot water to the pan where the caramel syrup was made and bring to boil to dissolve any left over caramel.  Let this liquid cool for 5 - 6 minutes.  Add this light liquid to egg butter mix and beat for 30 seconds.
  • Now add the dry ingredients slowly and beat to mix well.
  •  Strain the wine soaked fruits and reserve the wine.  Fold in the fruits into the batter.
  •  Beat the Egg Whites and 2 tbsp. of powdered sugar in a separate clean mixing bowl until soft peaks are formed.  If using a stand mixer, attach the whipping whisk for this step.  Gently fold in the whipped egg whites into the cake batter without deflating much of the whipped egg whites.
  •  Pour the cake batter into greased cake pan and bake for 55 minutes to 1 hr or until a tooth pick/ wooden skewer comes out clean when tested on the center of the cake.
  •  Take the cake out from the oven and drizzle 2-3 tbsp. of the reserved wine over the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan.
  •  Transfer the cake from pan to a wire rack and brush the reserved wine over the cake.
  •  Wrap the cake with plastic wrap and cover with an aluminum foil and keep in cold dry place.  In between you can brush the cake with left over wine for more flavor till ready to use.
Notes:
  • The dark color of the cake comes from the caramel syrup.  Make sure that the syrup is not burned but has the right color.  A burned syrup can ruin the flavor of the cake.  The color of the caramel syrup should look similar to the dark vanilla extract.
  •  It is very important to whip the egg whites separate and fold them into the batter at the end, otherwise the cake will turn out to be hard.
  • Make sure that the butter is at room temperature but not melted.  The butter, egg yolks and powdered sugar when beaten together should yield a creamy yellow fluffy mix.  Any lumps of butter can ruin the texture of the cake.  I usually leave the butter 15/20 minutes outside at room temperature before starting to make the batter.  While the butter gets to room temperature, you can get all other ingredients ready.  The butter should be retaining the shape of the finger when pressed, that is the right consistency to start with.
  •  I used a dark metallic bundt pan to bake the cake.  The cooking time varies from light aluminum pan to dark metallic pans.  Light metals uses less time than dark metallic pans and glass baking dishes.
  • The longer you soak the fruits, the more flavorful the cake will be.  If you don't have enough time, just soak the fruits is warm wine and bake the cake.
  • The dry fruits should be cut into smaller pieces so that they won't sink to the bottom of the cake.  You can mix 1-2 tbsp of flour to the fruits before mixing into the batter.  This helps to the fruits from sinking to the bottom.
  • I usually bake this cake during winter time, so keeping them in a dark cold place keeps the cake stay longer without spoiling the cake.  If you are not sure how to store it, keep it refrigerated.
  • Since its a butter based cake and has lots of flavor from wine and spice mix, I prefer to warm up the cake for 10 - 20 seconds before serving.  This enhances the flavor of the cake.
  • This is not a soft fluffy cake, it has a dense texture with lots of fruits and nuts.  Due to this texture, it has a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan.  Make sure that you use a non stick pan or grease the pan well or use parchment paper for easy release.
  • Over baking the cake makes the cake hard.  Under cooking the cake will result in sticky cake.  So it is important to bake the cake to at least 1 hr if using dark metallic pan.  Opening the oven door in between can cause cracks and a dip in the center of the cake, so wait for at least 50 - 55 minutes before checking the readiness of the cake.
  • If you are planning to store the cake for long time, make sure you use the same amount of sugar in the recipe, otherwise the cake will spoil fast.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Baked MeatBalls With Cranberry Orange Glaze



'I am not ready for this yet'.  Each winter, you hear this.  Seriously, I don't think that I ever thought that way till last weekend when the first snow showered on us.  I always wished for more Sunlight and longer daytime though.  Nature seemed to be not ready yet as the trees were still bearing the colorful leaves while the gusts of chilling snowflakes were dumped over these leaves.  I was not expecting the snow to be this early; it looks more like January when piles of snow appear on the sides of the roads.  Boots, jackets, scarves, gloves...there goes the list.  All are out now and I love it!!!



Thanksgiving is around the corner and I bet you all are ready to go on a baking spree.  Did you pick the bird to bake?  Did you sort out the menu for the Thanksgiving dinner?  Here is a perfect lip smacking appetizer that you can serve for Thanksgiving.  These meatballs got the zing that makes you go for more.



 The picky eater in my house was well impressed by the taste and he didn't even care when I told him that I made it with turkey meat which he dislikes.  It was a big hit in my house and I even packed some in thermos for their lunch.  I think I said enough about the meatballs.  Let’s dig into the recipe.



Yields - approximately 45 - 50 meatballs

Ingredients:

3 lb. - ground Beef/Chicken/Turkey
4 slices -  bread pulsed in food processor/chopper
2 - eggs
1 tsp. - pepper powder
1/2 tsp. - garlic powder
1 tsp. - salt
1/2 tsp. - red chili flakes

For the Sauce
1 cup - fresh/frozen cranberries
4 tbsp. - brown sugar
1 cup - freshly squeezed orange juice
2 cups - barbecue sauce of your choice
1/2 tsp. - red chili flakes

Directions:
  • Pre heat oven to 400°F.
  • Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs together and roll them into balls with 1 tbsp. of the mix for each ball.
  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Apply cooking spray and bake the meatballs for 30 minutes or till the center is no longer pink.  You may have to do this in 2/3 batches.
  • Meanwhile the meatballs are baking, you can make the sauce.  In a sauce pan add the cranberries and 4 tbsp. of brown sugar, cook on low heat.  The cranberries starts to pop.  Use a wooden spoon to mash the cranberries and cook on low for 15 minutes.  Add the orange juice, chili flakes and barbecue sauce and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes.  The sauce starts to thicken.  Turn off the flame.
  • Place the meatballs in a heat proof bowl that can hold all of them.  Pour the sauce over the meatballs.  Gently shake the bowl to coat the sauce on the meatballs.  Let the meatballs cool for 5 minutes.  The sauce will stick to the meatballs forming the glaze.  Enjoy them while they are warm.
  • The left overs can be refrigerated up to a week in air tight container or they can be stored in the freezer for later use.
Notes:
  • Like the recipe suggests, you can use any ground meat of your choice.
  • You can use Cranberry Jelly if you don't have fresh/frozen cranberries.  You may have to adjust the amount of sugar as the cranberry jelly is already sweet.  The fresh cranberry imparts a nice taste and I liked biting into the skin of cranberry along with the meatballs.
  • Adjust the amount of seasoning per your taste. 
  • Frozen meatballs can be either heated in microwave or in the oven.  Pre heat the oven to 350 F, line them on a greased baking sheet and cook for 15-20 minutes or till done.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Best Chocolate Cupcake With Nutella Swiss Meringue Frosting - A Dynamite CupCake









I can never say enough about the Swiss Meringue Frosting.  It’s my favorite frosting next to the whipped Cream frosting.  The beauty about Swiss Meringue frosting is that it is so light and fluffy and can be confused with whipped frosting.  Swiss meringue frosting is a short cut way of making the famous Italian Meringue frosting which involves intricate steps. 


 I highly recommend this frosting; it’s worth all the effort and pipes so well.  They are ideal for decorating layered cakes and regular cupcakes.  I always like to try this frosting with different flavor.  I made these cupcakes for a potluck at my work and I got raving comments like 'Killer Cupcakes, Dynamite Cupcakes' from my coworkers about these cupcakes.



 I believe it was the combination of the black magic chocolate cake and the Nutella Swiss meringue frosting that made them the exquisite chocolate cupcakes.  This experimental combination turned out to be the best chocolate cupcake I ever made.



 If you are planning to make any chocolate cake in the future, I insist to try this recipe for the best moist chocolaty cake you can have and top them with this fluffy silky smooth Nutella Meringue frosting.  It's a luscious combination that you cannot resist.




Yields - 36 cupcakes

Ingredients
Cupcakes - recipe from here

Frosting
5 - large egg whites (refer notes)
2/3 cup - sugar
2 cups /4 sticks - cold butter
2/3 cup -  powdered sugar
2 tsp. - vanilla extract
6 tbsp. - Nutella

Directions:
 Cupcakes
  • Use 1 batch + 1/2 batch  of the black magic chocolate cake recipe to make 36 cupcakes.  Make sure that you fill only 3/4 of the cupcake liner with the batter, so that the cake batter won't ooze out while baking.  Bake the cupcake at 350 F for 25 minutes or till a tooth pick comes out clean when tested in the center of the cupcake.  I made them in batches to avoid burning.  Let the cupcake cool completely before decorating.
Frosting
  • Double boiler Method - Fill half of a sauce pan with water and let it simmer over a stop top.  Place 5 egg whites and 2/3 cup of sugar into the heat proof bowl that can fit on top of the sauce pan without touching the water.  Using a wire whisk, stir the egg sugar mixture continuously till you don't feel any sugar crystals when rubbing the mixture between your fingers.  At this point you can notice that the egg sugar mixture is clear with light pale color.   If you have a candy thermometer, it should read  160°F which makes the egg whites safe to use. Turn off the flame. 
  • Transfer the egg white mixture into the standing mix bowl.  Make sure that the steam from the bottom of the bowl don't get into the mixture while transferring.   Use the whipping paddle and whip till the egg whites are silky white and forms soft peaks.
  • Now add the cold butter pieces one at a time and whip till the butter is mixed well with the egg white.  This needs good 10 minutes of whipping.  At this point you will notice that the frosting looks lumpy and soupy, you will also notice little wetness in the frosting.  Don't panic, this is part of the process.  Just keep beating.  It will start to come along.  Add the powdered sugar in batches to the butter mixture at this point and keep beating.
  • The frosting will come along as a smooth fluffy frosting within 2 -3 minutes.  Now add 4 tbsp. of Nutella and vanilla extract.  Whip it on high for 1 - 2 minutes or till the frosting forms sharp peaks.
  • Place the frosting into piping bags  and decorate the cupcakes.  I used Wilton 1M and 2D tips to decorate the cupcakes.
Notes:
  • If this recipe yields more frosting than what you need, just half the recipe.  You can use 3 small egg whites and half the amount for rest of the ingredients to make half batch.  Please note that  my recipes follow the US Standard measurements.
  • You can add more Nutella.  Just keep in mind that the sweetness of the frosting will increase, or else you can adjust the amount of powdered sugar to keep the balance.
  • Left over frosting can be stored in air tight container in the refrigerator.  To reuse the refrigerated frosting,  keep the frosting at room temperature for 15 - 20 minutes; whip the frosting again before decorating the cake.
  • If the temperature is higher outside, the decorated cupcakes can be kept in the refrigerator which helps to hold the frosting intact.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Easy Breakfast Frittata



Last couple of days, the sun seldom showed up through the clouds.  I had no mood to cook anything and post.  I woke up a bit earlier on the weekend when I heard the TV downstairs turned on by my little one.  I went down to tell him that it was too early, but he pointed to the window 'Mommy look at the sun, its not early!!'.  The sunlight straining through the blinds lit the spark in me.  The sun is out today, I have to do something!!!  It was matter of minutes to rejuvenate the blogger in me.  I knew exactly what to make for the breakfast.  I got my camera and started taking pictures of the eggs.  Soon I had to comprehend the fact that the sunlight was not going to last longer after moving my props and the board several times from patio window to another window to get the glimpse of the precious sunlight.  Few trips to the basement to get the boards and running back and forth from kitchen to get the ingredients woke the rest of family :).  So all the hungry tummies were wandering around me to finish the photo shoot.  Somehow I managed to take few pictures of the frittata before it got dim again.  I made 2 sets, one in a smaller 6 inch pan and the other in 10 inch grilled cast iron pan (ideal for making grilled sandwiches and grilling vegetables & meat) with more eggs.



Breakfast frittata is something I make very frequently for my kids during weekdays for their breakfast.  I even pack them for lunch and they love it.  All you need is some eggs, veggies, cheese, some seasoning and a cast iron pan.  You can chop all the veggies the night before.  Mix all of them together and bake in the morning.



A freshly baked protein rich breakfast is ready within 20 minutes which will keep your body fueled till lunch!!



Serves - 2  to 3
Ingredients:

4 - Eggs
1/4 cup - milk
1/4 cup - chopped onion
1/4 cup - red bell peppers chopped
1/4 cup - spinach / Swiss chard /broccoli chopped
1/4 cup - Cheddar / Mexican Cheese blend
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:
  • Pre heat oven to 400°F.
  • Using a wire whisk beat the eggs, milk, salt and pepper well till everything is blended well.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix well.
  • Apply oil or non stick oil to a 6 inch cast iron pan.  Pour the mix and cook it uncovered for 20 minutes.
  • Cut the frittata into pieces and serve warm with ketchup or your favorite hot sauce.
Notes:
  • If you don't have a cast iron pan, you can use a oven proof baking dish or glass dish.  Cast iron provides the uniform heat to bake the frittata and helps it to puff up to the top without burning.  If you are using a baking dish or glassware the cooking time may vary.  Please check the readiness of the frittata using a tooth pick after 20 minutes.
  • I used to make them on stove top in regular non-stick skillet, but the base used to get burned.  So for better results bake them in a cast iron pan in oven.
  • You can add meat sausage and any vegetables and cheese of your choice.