Friday, December 27, 2013

The 'We Knead to bake' Project # 12 - Bienenstich Kuchen - German Bee sting Bread

 Its sad that 99% of New Years resolutions go bust on Jan 2nd. Thankfully this group resolution went on until the year end. Cannot say how thankful I am to Aparna Balasubramanian and her motivation & enthusiasm in guiding the lot of us through a dozen delicious yeasted confections. I admit, I missed out on one assignment - The crunchy salty pretzels (which no one in my family cares for)  while on vacation in India, but got a personal face to face exemption from Aparna herself!

And so here is yeasted confection # 12: The Bee sting Cake, known as Bienenstich Kuchen in German. Couple of anecdotes behind this unusual name  -  The baker who came up with this recipe was shooing a bee away from the sticky almond topping when it retaliated and stung him.
 another story - The inhabitants of a village drove away hostile invaders by flinging beehives at them and celebrated with this victory cake, which they christened Bienenstich Kuchen. But whatever the reason, this luscious  custard filled cake is a treat.

The traditional version is baked in a round pan, sliced and sandwiched with the Custard creme, but I opted to make miniature versions simply because I find that smaller portions tend to be consumed faster and its easier to store away. The recipe for the standard cake makes 12 small cakelets. and the added advantage is that you can get away with less than half the prescribed amount of filling. Also, a teeny bit of orange zest added to the crunchy honey almond topping really kicks up the flavors a couple of notches higher.

Bienenstich Kuchen - Bee sting Cake

You need:

1 cup (8 Fl. Oz) milk (Reduced fat - 2%)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons vanilla flavored custard powder (I used Birds, which yields a light yellow color rather than the intense colors that I find in many Indian brands of custard powder)
200 ml heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch

For the Dough:
1/4 cup reduced fat milk (2%)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons Sugar
1 egg (optional - I did not add it)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

For the Honey-Almond Topping:
 50 grams butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
2/3 cup sliced almonds

Custard & cream filling: (can be made the previous day& refrigerated)

 Combine 3/4 (6 oz) cup milk and sugar in a pan and bring to a gentle boil, making sure that the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the custard powder with the remaining milk, ensuring that there are no lumps. Drizzle the custard/milk mixture in a thin stream into the hot milk, ensuring that you keep whisking vigorously. Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens well, at  which point  take it off the heat. allow to cool down, making sure to keep whisking the mixture at intervals to ensure that lumps don't form. Once its cool down & refrigerated, chances are that it will be a thick clump anyways, so just take a hand blender & whisk it down to smoothness.
When you're ready to fill the cake whip the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. add the corn flour and continue to whip until the cream begins to form stiff peaks as shown. Add the custard to the cream and gently fold in with a spatula to combine well.

For the Dough:

Heat the milk until scalding and drop the pieces of butter into it. Allow the butter to melt completely.
Combine the flour, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of the food processor.. Add the (optional) egg to the mixture and run the processor till the egg is incorporated into the flour. Now add the warm milk/butter mixture to the flour and knead until it forms a sticky brioche like dough. Shape the dough into a ball, place in a bowl, cover and allow to proof for about 2 hours.

Deflate the dough  and shape again into an orb. If you opt for a single cake, then line the bottom & sides of a 8 inch springform pan with parchment paper. Press down to fill the bottom of the pan. (Do NOT omit the parchment paper because the sticky topping will make it difficult to remove the finished cake from the pan otherwise). If you prefer to make smaller individual cakelets, then, cut the dough into 12 portions (My dough weighed in at 528 gms which made for 12 individual pieces of 44 gms each), and place them into specialty baking cups (I picked these up at Home goods and they can withstand temperatures up to 400 F).

Set these aside in a warm place to proof for a second time for about 45 minutes. In the meantime, get started on the honey almond topping.
In a non stick skillet, combine the butter,  sugar and honey and over medium heat, keep stirring until the mixture starts bubbling. continue to heat for about 3 minutes until the mixture turns into a golden amber color. Now add the sliced almonds, vanilla & orange zest, sir well until the almonds are well dispersed and evenly coated. Take the skillet off the heat. The mixture will thicken , don't worry about it.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Once the dough has risen, Spread the sticky almond mixture over the dough using a spoon and bake for 30- 35 minutes, until the almond topping is bubbling, and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, after which gently un-mold the cake(s) using a spatula (The topping tends to get stuck to the walls of the baking pan), and allow to cool completely.

 Once the cake is cooled, cut down the middle and pipe in the custard/cream filling over the lower part of the cake and gently place the top half over the filling. (Remember there may be plenty of filling left over if you opt to make the miniature cakelets.)

Serve with a hot cup of coffee as an evening tea time snack.
Bon Appetit and Happy holidays to everyone!

This Blog post is being Yeast spotted!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pickling & preserving the Buddha's Hand!

 Got your attention with that sacrilegious sounding title on this post, didn't I? Well, I'm as spiritual as the next person out there, and never in my life will I ever commit that variety of Blasphemy, so nothing to fret about. I still wonder why these curious looking citrus entities (other than the obvious visual reason) were called such. It turns out that these fruits are used as a religious offering to the Buddha.

My neighboring Whole Foods Market (which is quite some distance away, in Princeton) had a stock of these weird looking citrus and I must have been the oddball customer who immediately went cuckoo on spotting them. Since I had never seen one before, I immediately went for the biggest fruit with the most tentacles (since they were sold as individual units rather than by weight)

The first three 'tentacles' were peeled off for their zest, dried in the oven and went into making a citrus salt for my Food52 Secret Santa .


Making the Citrus Salt is really simple, I followed the  recipe from the Kitchn. Simply dry out the zest in the oven at ~170 F, crush along with a flaky variety or sea salt  (1 teaspoon of zest with 1/4 cup of salt, add more zest as per your taste) , the texture is entirely yours to decide. Store in an airtight bottle. They're great for sprinkling on your favorite cookie recipe on in cocktails.

For the next couple of weeks that fruit sat in the refrigerator while I made up my mind about what I should do with the rest.
I finally decided to stay close to home, one of my earliest recipes was for a kumquat relish which used just the pulp, no peel. This was a perfect opposite, all peel, no pulp. The relish is an adaptation of the traditional Kerala Naranga curry. Since the fruit inherently lacks any of the traditional tartness that citruses are associated with, you can play around with the intensity of the lemon juice & cayenne pepper heat according to your taste.

Buddha's Hand Relish - Kerala Style
Recipe inspired and adapted from Ammini Ramachandran's book : Grains Greens & Grated Coconuts

You need:
 'Tentacles' from one large Buddha's hand fruit - yields about 1.5 cups of sliced 'coins'
1/4 cup Sesame oil (the light colored 'untoasted' variety)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon asafetida powder
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon toasted fenugreek powder  (toast fenugreek seeds until reddish brown, powder coarsely and use a teaspoon of this)
Salt to taste
1 - 1.5 teaspoon Cayenne chili powder (add as per taste)
juice of 2 lemons

 Cut the fruit in two parts, use the zest from the thick base to make the citrus salt (its much much easier to peel) and slice the fingers for the relish.

Heat the oil in a non reactive skillet and add the mustard seeds when the oil begins to shimmer. Once the mustard seeds pop (take care to shield yourself against these micro missiles), lower the heat and add the asafetida powder to 'bloom' . Quickly add the sliced citrus along with the Cayenne chili powder, turmeric, salt and the crushed fenugreek. Saute until the citrus is soft but still retains its shape. Take care not to over cook the fruit. Transfer to a ceramic container and allow to cool completely. Add the Lemon juice and adjust for seasoning. As I said before, the citrus merely adds its magnificent zesty aroma and texture. The spicing is entirely in your hands. Transfer into clean sterilized jars (I used these beautiful Weck Tulip  jars from Food52's provisions store ) and store in the refrigerator (for up to a couple of weeks).

I used these as a topping for crackers, a dab of cream cheese on whole wheat pita crackers, topped by a single piece of the relish and a teeny tiny bit of dill. Don't be surprised if you continue pigging on these treats until you run out of one of these ingredients!

So the next time you spot this beautiful citrus specimen at your local farmers market or gourmet grocery, don't walk away not knowing what to do with it. buy one, you'll thank me for the advice!


Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Roasted Pumpkin Pilaf

Sometimes, there is no excuse, the brain just does NOT want to sit down and get down to writing a post. And I believe in giving myself that luxury. As much as I enjoy whipping up dish after dish, getting the ingredients ready, Taking notes down to the last pinch, tweaking, trying to make it presentable even within a low maintenance 'plonk & shoot' configuration. There are recipes that linger on in a rough copy format, chicken scribbles that only I can make sense of. This recipe is one of those comfort food dishes that finds a place on my table multiple times (Perhaps the familiarity of the dish is the reason why It hasn't found its way to the blog).

The dish by itself is one of those elegantly easy dishes that defies being categorized into any one particular cuisine, a touch of Mujaddara from the Middle East, spiced with Harissa , a generous chunk of Indian Paneer cheese, and the star ingredient and the chief flavor: Traditional American Pumpkin puree. I paired it with quite possibly the easiest & best tasting Cranberry Sauce one could get, A no cook recipe from David Leite's blog, Leite's Culinaria.

Roasted Pumpkin Pilaf:

For the Rice:
1 cup Basmati rice
2 cups scalding hot water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter

Melt the butter in a heavy bottom pan. Rinse & clean the rice until the water tuns clean. Add the rice to the butter and saute until the grains begin to turn opaque. Add the salt & 2 cups of hot water and stir thoroughly to dislodge any grains ticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the water begins to boil, decrease the heat to the lowest setting, cover and cook until done (~ 20 min). Transfer the rice into a large mixing bowl & fluff with a fork to separate the grains & cool down.

For the Pilaf:

1 can pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons olive oil or ghee
1 cup cooked Beluga, Puy or regular whole lentils
2 cups shredded paneer
1 cup sliced shallots
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons Harissa spice blend
Salt to taste
chopped Cilantro or Parsley for garnish.
1 cup sliced toasted almonds.

Heat oven to 400 F. Pour the pumpkin puree in a baking dish and place in the oven until the quantity reduces by half ( ~ 30 -35 minutes), ensuring to stir the pumpkin at 10 minute intervals. Scrape off the thickened puree (which by now resembles a thick paste) into a bowl & set aside.

Heat the ghee/olive oil in a skillet and add the sliced shallots along with the minced ginger & garlic. Once the shallots just begin caramelizing,  add the roasted pumpkin paste, Harissa, , salt and the shredded paneer. Combine well, and cook on low heat until the flavors combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning (remember the rice also has salt, so be judicious with the NaCl)

Transfer the pumpkin lentil mixture to the mixing bowl containing the fluffed up rice. Add the toasted sliced almonds and gently fold the rice into the lentil mixture until the grain are all evenly coated. Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with cilantro or parsley & serve warm with the cranberry sauce & a side of Raita & paapad (toasted / fried lentil wafers)

Bon Appetit!


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