Dorie Greenspan’s Almond Biscotti

This is one of those rare treats that my hubby truly enjoys and actually insists that I bake this more often.  Biscotti require double baking and that is where it puts me off.  But that’s double standards when I am so patient with my breads and their multiples rises but none for my hubby’s favourite biscotti! So I decided to make this biscotti for my hubby to see him devouring it. He did not forget to thank me too.

Last year I made biscotti (twice) around the same time when were all under home arrest; self-induced. The first time it was an almond biscotti which vanished off in a jiffy and the other was a chocolate biscotti which was an equally good contender. The Almond biscotti I did not mention in my older post because I have none left  but I was quick enough to take some pictures of the chocolate biscotti. But that was last year.

This year, I searched and searched in my archives for the same almond biscotti recipe and I couldn’t trace it. I was feeling so disgruntled because I clearly remembered my hubby telling me he preferred the almond one over the chocolate. Hmmmpppfff..

Call it divine intervention and I do believe in this miraculous mumbo-jumbo; I was flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s book ” Baking from my home to yours” and there I found an Almond Biscotti recipe that I hadn’t ever laid my eyes on before. I have gone through this book more than a dozen times but never saw this recipe!!

But it solved my problem in a jiffy. I set on the task immediately and finished the job in mere 1.5 hours ( including the double baking and the cooling bit). I realized I have come a long way since last year where it took me so much time to put the ingredients together to start baking etc. Now I am much more at ease and so much more confident in the process.

These may not be the prettiest looking biscotti but the flavour was spot on. All the credit to the almond flakes and almond essence. This got rave reviews from my hubby, his colleagues at work, my friend, Gayathri and my daughter. So even if they weren’t that perfect looking, I was pretty happy.

Recipe for Almond Biscotti

Ingredients

All purpose flour – 1 1/2 cups

Baking powder – 1 1/2 tsp

salt – 1/4 tsp

Yellow cornmeal – 1/2 cup

unsalted butter at room temp – 8 tbsp

sugar –  1 cup ( I used 3/4)

eggs – 2 large

Pure almond extract – 1 1/2 tsp

almonds , sliced – 3/4th cup

Preparation

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F/ gas mark 4/180 C. Line a baking sheet with parchment

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together. Add the cornmeal and whisk again to blend.

3. Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment,  beat the butter and sugar until very smooth for 3 minutes. (Mine did not become too smooth because it is cold here that even at room temperature the butter was quite solid. I thought at this point, that this project of mine was heading for a doom. But I soldiered on anyways.)

4.  Add the eggs and continue to beat, scraping down the sides to incorporate everything. The mixture will turn light and creamy –( BUT mine did not. That didn’t deter me. I went ahead like Dorie had got it wrong.)

5. Beat in the almond extract.

6. Now incorporate the dry ingredients in 3 lots and slowly. Let it mix until everything is just combined. Add the almond slices and combine well. ( At this time, I got the sticky dough out and used a spoon to combine the almonds well)

7. Using your hands or a spatula, work the dough into 2 logs about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide, each.  ( I got smaller ones and I think it was because my butter +sugar+ egg mixture wasn’t the dream like creamy and fluffy)

8. The logs that you shape will be more rectangular than domed. It will bumpy, uneven and rough.

9. Place both of them with a lot of care into the parchment paper of the baking sheet

10. Bake for 15 minutes or until the logs are lightly golden but still soft and springy to touch.

11. Transfer the baking sheeting to the rack and cool the logs on the baking sheet for 30 mins.

12. If you turned off the oven, bring it back up to 350 F/ gas mark 4/ 180 C AGAIN.

13. Using a spatula transfer the logs to a cutting board after they have cooled for 30 minutes and then using a serrated knife, cut the logs into 3/4 inch thick slices. Return the slices to the baking sheet – this time standing them up and slide the baking sheet back to the oven.

14. Bake the biscotti for 15 minutes, or until they are golden and firm. Transfer them to the racks and cool to room temperature.

I think the cornmeal gave it that special crunch and the almonds lend the wonder depth of flavour. The sweetness was just right and I feel biscotti obsession coming through. I feel I need to try savoury ones and ones with pistachio and other nuts. Watch this space!

Peter Reinhart’s Pizza Dough Recipe

This is such a hurry-scurry kind of post. I have been tardy in updating this space but now am back with a wonderful pizza dough recipe from one of the greatest artisan bread makers in the world. I had made this many months ago and it has been languishing in my drafts for some time now. The photographs are not the best because of the paucity of time.

I have tried quite a few Peter Reinhart recipes of which I had posted one about Lavash crackers before and I have to say that I have met with 100% success. I would highly recommend the book ” The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” for the beautiful, no-fail recipe instructions and the stunning photographs of all the gorgeous breads and its variants.

It is suggested that a finer pizza is loaded with simpler and fewer toppings but simple and light is not my thing. It is always a little over the top, exaggerated and dramatic for me; applies to my life in general, also.

In my pizza eating life, a random observation that I have made is that while a pizza with a thicker crust is always devoured with much gusto the  thinner crust makes for dainty nibbling. Peter Reinhart in his book vouches that it is the crust that makes for a great pizza and not the toppings and I have to agree. I have made pizza before but none were as satisfying and so wonderfully done as this one. In one of my earlier post I suggested baking pizza at a lower temperature but I have been made to eat my own words. I have to admit that whilst I did enjoy my earlier pizza because they were home  made ( read, made by me) I knew that the crust wasn’t the best and  a lot was left to be desired.

Here are the reasons that Peter Reinhart gives for NOT baking your pizza at lower temperatures –

” Baking pizza at a low temperature ruins the crust because it takes so long to brown it that all the moisture evaporates, leaving a cardboard -dry shell behind. The key to great pizza is extremely hot oven and baking surface.”

Another rule of the book that he mentions is ,” The single biggest flaw in most pizza dough recipes is the failure to instruct the maker to allow the dough to rest overnight in the refrigerator. This gives the enzymes time to go to work, pulling out subtle flavour trapped in the starch. The long rest also relaxes the gluten, allowing you to shape the dough easily, minimizing the elastic springiness that so often forces you to squeeze out all the gas.”

 I did not shape the pizza by tossing it up in the air because I cannot even in my dreams imagine that I would be able to do so. Instead I resorted to using the good old-fashioned rolling-pin and my palms to get the thin crust that I desired. The Master recommends that in order to do the tossing in the air act, one has to flour their hands and use the fists rather than the fingertips.

I rested the dough overnight in the refrigerator and then I let it stay out for 3 hours before I wanted to bake it. I thought it would rise just a tiny little bit but it did not. I was quite skeptical about the outcome at that point and it worried me because I had made no alternate arrangements for lunch that day. But the end result was nothing short of what you can call spectacular. I made it twice : Once for the family and once for a dear friend who had come for lunch. Both the times it was just as brilliant.

Another key-note that Peter Reinhart suggests is to use chilled water to make the dough. Use the coldest that you can manage for wonderful results. It also helps if you put the flour in the refrigerator at least 1 hour before mixing or preferably the day before.

I followed each and every recommendation of his blindly and it helped me reap the benefits for sure.

Pizza one without mushroom

Like I mentioned before, I made two pizzas with different toppings and all vegetarian and for once there were absolutely no leftovers. The hubby who had propounded a theory about how the last slice of pizza tastes the worst had to accept an exception to his theory.

Pizza two with mushrooms

The Recipe for Peter Reinhart’s Pizza

Ingredients

Unbleached  high gluten bread flour Or All purpose flour ( I used AP) – 4 1/2 cups

Salt – 1 3/4 tsp

Instant yeast – 1 tsp

Olive or vegetable oil – 1/4 cup

water , ice cold (40 F) – 1 3/4th cups

Semolina or cornmeal for dusting

Preparation

1. Stir together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a bowl and then stir in the oil and cold water until the flour is all absorbed. You can do this in an electric mixer where you can mix all the aforesaid ingredients at a low-speed with a paddle attachment. If you are using your hands, like I did, repeatedly dip one of your hands into cold water and use it , much like a dough hook,  to work the dough into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5-7 minutes or as long as it takes to make a smooth, sticky dough. You’d know you have done a decent job when the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom. If the dough is too wet and sticks to the sides then sprinkle flour to get it off it and continue kneading. AND if it clears the bottom of the bowl then you need to add a few teaspoons of cold water to get it sticking to the bottom of the bowl.  The finished dough will feel elastic, springy and sticky.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter now. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment. I used a large tart pan to bake my pizza on and placed that on the sheet pan instead. Whatever surface you use to bake your pizza, make sure to mist it well with oil. The next step is to cut the dough into equal parts depending on what size pizza you want. I made large pizzas ( 2 in nos. and 8 slices).

3. Sprinkle flour over the dough and flour your hands before you start. Shape it into a round ball and mist it with oil and transfer it into a bowl ( which I did) or into a food grade plastic bag ( as the Master suggests).

4. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough. Each dough ball has to be refrigerated in a separate bowl.

To freeze : If you want to save some for future baking then you can store balls (misted with generous coat of oil) in a zippered freezer bag. The day before you plan to make the pizza, transfer them to the refrigerator.

5. On the day you plan to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Dust the counter with flour and mist the counter with oil. Gently press the dough into flat discs and then mist and flour it. Let it rest in a bowl,covered,  for another 2 hours ( yes, it starts to get a little tedious here but it so worth the effort)

6. Atleast 45 minutes before making the pizza preheat the oven up to 500F or gas mark 8 or 260 C or even higher if you oven permits.

7. Dust the sheet pan or the tart pan, in my case with semolina or cornmeal. Make pizzas one at a time if you intend on making several on one day. After this the master proceeds to explain how to toss the dough to resemble a flying saucer but I was sure of my limitations and used my palms and fists to spread the dough on my moist tart pan.

8. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction, layer it with the sauce that you have prepared. I made a regular tomato based one spruced with herbs and pepper. I layered the toppings of my choice with different cheeses such as feta, mozzarella and cheddar on both the pizzas.

9. Bake the pizza for about 8 minutes. In spite of being top-heavy ( no pun intended) my crust baked to perfection. Lighter toppings ensure a faster bake time of say 5 minutes.

10. Wait for 7-8 minutes before you can cut and serve it.

Peter Reinhart points out that the race between browning the crust and melting the cheese is one of the great culinary dramas, and if they converge at exactly the same moment, you will have a memorable experience.

After writing this statement, my mind can’t help but race all possible directions to draw parallels with life, in general. A dirty mind, you may say. But don’t tell me you did not think of it while you read it!!!

He also adds that the thinner and more even that you can stretch the base, more likely it is that you would get this baking convergence…

I would highly recommend this to all the passionate pizza lovers that they ought to try making this once to taste the difference!

Calling All to Celebrate with Strawberry Ice Cream

And you would ask what is the reason that calls for such an announcement?  Well, I am about to get published for the very first time. I am over the moon at this thought and I cannot but help rave about it on my blog. And ofcourse, celebrating it with some yummy, oh-so-baby-pink Strawberry Ice Cream. I have been writing movie reviews for a National Daily – The Daily Tribune,  here in Bahrain which I may not have mentioned before on my blog. My movie reviews appear every Friday in their weekend edition. But having my work printed in a book along with other wonderful writers is something I have been looking forward to for months.

In February 2010, I had the opportunity to join a Writer’s Circle here in Bahrain and it has been a great experience meeting and exchanging ideas with plenty of talented writers on the island. As a part of this fabulous group, I also got to attend creative writing workshops which in my opinion have really helped me break  the mould and set my thoughts free. As a part of this group, I was given the opportunity to contribute towards compiling a beautiful book about Bahrain, in lieu of the political tension that has tarnished this island’s image.  The administrator of our group, Robin Barratt explained to us what this book is going to be about in few words.

My Beautiful Bahrain : A collection of short stories about life and living in The Kingdom of Bahrain. With lots of fascinating personal ‘life’ stories, quite a few tourist-type information and fact based contributions, some wonderful poetry, an occasional piece of fiction (set on the island) and a mixture of other diverse and captivating prose, with fifty contributions from forty writers from fifteen countries (almost 300 pages), My Beautiful Bahrain is both varied and unique, and an undeniably indispensable guide for travellers and visitors to the island, as well as a ‘must-read’ book for people living here, doing business here, or just interested in what life is like living on this tiny, tiny island in the Arabian Gulf. The aims and goals of this book are to show the world that; firstly, there are a great many terrific and talented writers on the island that most definitely should be read and heard and secondly, for most people here, Bahrain is a wonderful place to live! “

So in my tryst to prove that I am serious food blogger I took up the onus of contributing an article about the food (both traditional and modern) of Bahrain. I convinced my friend Namit to help me capture the food – culture of Bahrain through beautiful photographs. That is how we managed to come about with an article of about 3000 plus words – Bahrain: A Culinary Oasis. Now that dream of seeing our work in print would come true in a month or so. I say so because the beautiful cover page of the book is out. ( Pardon me if  I sound like a lovelorn teenage, giddy with excitement)

The beautiful cover was painted by the island’s own Ella Prakash, a painter extraordinaire.

I had to celebrate this occasion with something special and I couldn’t think beyond the simple, sweet, rich and creamy Strawberry Ice cream adapted from my friend La’s blog. La and I have been following each other’s blog for sometime now. In fact she was the one who helped me proof read my article in a professional way. I cannot thank her enough for picking on the silly usages, the redundant sentences and grammar. She proof read it for me countless times as I prepared one draft after the other. There is no other way to thank her enough but by making something wonderful from her lovely blog. Thanks so much La. <3

The Recipe for Strawberry Ice Cream

Yield: 1.5 litres
Serves: 12-15
Preparation time: Under 30 minutes
Setting time: 4 hours
adapted from foodslice
Ingredients
3 cups fresh strawberries + some more for pulp
3 cups fresh cream ( I used full cream)
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons strawberry essence
Preparation
1. Wash, hull and chop the strawberries.
2. Blend milk and sugar quickly. Add the vanilla essence. Now add the cream and whisk it again until smooth and creamy for a couple of minutes.
3. Add the strawberries and mix into the cream in the blender. You will get a creamy mixture in dreamy pink.
4. Transfer to a freezer safe bowl and keep it in the freezer for 3-4 hours. Before it freezes completely, take it out and blend again to get a creamier texture to the ice cream.
5. I repeated this process  four times and got  a softer creamier texture to my  ice cream without any ice crystals at all.
6. After the last round of pulsing, I blended some fresh strawberries into a coarse pulp and added to the mixture between returning it back into the freezer.
I was most happy with the results and would try the same recipe with other favourite flavours like Mango, chocolate and peach too. The ice cream was rich and creamy without being overtly sweet. The addition of strawberry pulp provided the a delightful tone to the ice cream. Scoopfuls have been disappearing since I made it as ice cream is my daughter’s favourite dessert these days.
I hope to share the good news of the book coming out on the stands in a month and a half or so. I want to thank my husband, my family and all the friends who provided me plenty of encouragement and helped me research the food and culture of this glorious Kingdom. It has been an enchanting journey indeed.

Sweet Memories with Gajar Ka Halwa (Toasting the first year of Marriages)

You have to agree when I say that the first year of any marriage is the toughest. I married for love and despite a 6 month courtship period before the wedding, it was very tough trying to adjust to each other’s way of life. I thought I was the messiest person that I knew ( you should ask my hostel room mates)  but my hubby took ‘messy’ to a whole new level. Picking up after him was the prime duty that I assigned myself those days. In the initial days, I did my dutiful wife bid but a month or two later I realized he showed no inclination whatsoever to clean up. That was probably the reason of the very first row.

Oh wait, we did fight before that on our honeymoon to Thailand. He refused to try anything outside of the McDonald’s Burger and I was excited about trying all kinds of cuisine and explore sorts of tastes. I freaked out over fresh water mussels, octopuses and squids with sauce, gravy, fried and steamed. It was exhilarating for me as a food lover while my hubby watched me with resigned exasperation. I asked, coaxed, cajoled and even blackmailed him to taste something outside of the regular but he stood his ground. That was definitely our first fight. I couldn’t imagine why he wouldn’t grant the wish of his beloved, newly wedded wife.

As for him, he was amused by how fickle and vacillating I was with my interests. It would be singing one day, Jazz on others, squash on certain days and waltz on most. He was  the one to suggest that I should start penning my thoughts on a blog so that I can have a more centered approach to my life. I laughed it off saying he  should try to keep up with me. But realized that I was dissatisfied with not keeping up with my interests and being true to any of them. These were  just a few of the many skirmishes in that roller coaster of a first year.

There are so many aspects of each other that we discovered only after we got married. It was like knowing a new person altogether. It wasn’t all terrible. We had many sweet moments too. He was astounded that I could actually cook a complete meal and confessed that he did not believe me when I told him that I loved to cook. As for him, I found out what a huge movie buff he was and inevitably we would end up watching atleast 2 movies in a week. He conveniently opted to rent a place very close to a Cineplex so travel woes were little. He made me fall hopelessly in love with the glorious world of movies. We soon realized we shared a passion for reading, travelling and all things sweet and he would go ga-ga over the Kheer ( rice pudding), Gulab jamuns, Sheera/ Sooji halwa that I prepared for him over weekends. On one such weekend he was particularly  ecstatic when I made Gajar ka Halwa. The usually reserved hubby showered it with a lot of praise and it pushed my culinary confidence many notches higher.

Recipe for Gajar Ka Halwa

Ingredients

Carrots – 1/2 Kg ( I prefer the pink Indian varieties that flood the local markets during winter)

Condensed Milk – 3/4 of the 395 gm tin

Ghee/Clarified butter – 1 -2 tbsp

Sugar – 2 tbsp

Whole Milk – 1/2 cup ( only if required)

Golden raisins – handful, soaked a few hours

Cashews – handful

Pistachios  – chopped for garnish

Almonds – chopped for garnish

Preparation

1. Wash and peel carrots and then grate them.

2. Heat some clarified butter / ghee in a pan and then add the grated carrots to it and toss them well. Let it cook in it’s own juices and the ghee will coat the carrots with a sheen.

3. Add condensed milk and continue cooking the carrots, stirring well in between. It would help to stick around to see it doesn’t burn.

4. Add the 2 tbsp of sugar only after tasting it first. If you find that the condensed milk sweetness is good enough then you can skip adding the sugar.

5. While the carrots cook in the condensed milk and sugar, you can fry the soaked raisins and cashews in another small pan. I used ghee to fry them and they lend a remarkable flavour to the nuts.

6. If you feel that the condensed milk has dried faster than you would liked, you might want to add 1/2 a cup of milk to the Halwa.  Keep stirring. ( I did not have to)

7. Now add the fried raisins and nuts to the halwa and toss it all well.

8. The Halwa will start to look dry and well cooked and that is the time to take it off the heat and garnish it with Pistachios and Almonds if you want.

9. It can be served hot or cold; with or without a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

This is a perfect winter treat and there would hardly be a North Indian household that wouldn’t have Gajar ka Halwa in their refrigerator at anytime of the day or night. Hubby devoured the entire lot at all times ; before and after meals. He prefers it cold from the refrigerator while I prefer it hot. I just pop it in the Microwave for 30 secs and enjoy the delicacy, savouring the gorgeous flavour and colour of the Halwa. After 6 years of our marriage, we still love our sweets and our books. Travelling has become a little restricted because of Mimi but we can’t wait for her to grow up so that we can share with her our love for wanderlust. Sometimes when we sit back and talk about how silly the first year of our marriage was, we end up in a fit of giggles.  

But in my opinion, we as people, constantly change and it is wonderful to discover this person who is your partner, every single day. A new dimension to admire, a new habit to adjust to, a new discussion to debate and a new hobby to encourage. Sure, we still have differences and that is what makes being married interesting. But when I look at them closely, these differences are new differences and it feels like the first year of marriage all over again. But I am not complaining as long as he is still in love with my Gajar Ka Halwa.

Muffin Mondays : Oreo Muffins

Happy New Year, you guys!!

How did your New Year celebrations go?  Mine was absolutely super. My daughter danced and tottered around the dance floor until 2 am and I watched her all the time. It was the best feeling ever.

It’s the morning after, you know… well not the kind you all want to hear about but the morning after where I am still reeling from the after effects of partying too hard. My legs ache from those heels, my head feels a little heavy and all I want to do is pull a comforter over my head and sleep the entire day. But I cannot,  because I believe that whatever I do on the 1st of New Year, I would be doing it all through out the year.  So I did all the wonderful things that mean so much to me because I want to do them all around the year and much more.

1. Video chatted on Skype with my parents and listened to my father’s New Year advice in perfect silence.

2. Lot of cuddling with hubby and Mimi.

3. Spoke to all my best friends.

4. Had my favourite Teriyaki noodle soup ( love that stuff)

5. Lazed around and read Ruth Reichl’s memoir about being a Restaurant Critic called ” Garlic and Sapphires” . Hilarious stuff.

6. Wrote a bit

7. Took photographs with my wonderfully talented  friend, Namit.

8. Made Oreo Muffins!!!!

Shucks!! I should have gone shopping too!

How awesome can a list get? I mean it has drama, action, and so much romance in it. Perfect! Just the way I wanted it to be without planning too much.

Now here we are back with the last of the Holiday Muffin series and I am so excited to usher in the New Year with some scrumptious Oreo Muffins. When you think oreos and then Muffins, whats not to like!

Only change I made was I halved the recipe since I already had some candied rose petal and chocolate cake I had made on New Year’s eve. Though I understand that there cannot be anything like too much cake, halving it ensured I had more Oreos left to dunk  into my milk  at breakfast. *laughs her evil laugh*. I am jotting down the recipe here with its original proportions.

Recipe for Oreo Muffins

Source: Food.com

Ingredients

1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup sour cream

1 egg

1/4 cup margarine

20 Oreo cookies

Preparation

1. In medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, set aside

2. In small bowl, combine milk, sour cream, and egg

3. Stir the egg mixture in to the flour mixture with margarine until just blended

4. Gently stir in the cookies

5. Spoon batter greased  muffin pan cups.

6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

7. Remove from pan, cool on wire rack.

8. Serve warm or cold.

These muffins looked wonderful with little specks of Oreo cookies that I crushed into the batter. I used a few to chop them into quarters to embellish the muffins. They looked quite royal, methinks. I had some chocolate ganache in my refrigerator from my Black Forest Cake preparation which I used to frost the Oreo Muffins. They were simply decadent and the best possible muffins to sign off such a wonderful series of Holiday Muffins.

I have to thank Anuradha for letting me participate as it has helped me gain a good number of gorgeous muffin recipes and make acquaintance with such splendidly talented fellow bakers.

My friend Namit, whom I have been urging for ages to start his photography blog, has helped me click these muffin pictures. Thanks so much, Namit.

In other news, my Black forest cake photo was accepted by Tastespotting and that makes me so happy that I had to share the news here.

Here’s wishing each one of you a wonderful, sweet start to this New Year.

Muffin Monday is an initiative by Baker Street. A culinary journey of sharing a wickedly delicious muffin recipe every week. Drop in a quick line to join her on her journey to make the world smile and beat glum Monday mornings week after week.