Please respect the fact that this is a humble attempt from my side to record some recipes, handed over to my family through grandmas & great-grandmas and also share some favourite dishes of my family, including the one I married into. All the content in this blog (text and photographs) are mine, unless noted otherwise. Copying, re-writing, republishing, redistributing or altering any text or photograph or part of the text, for any commercial or non-commercial purposes, without my written consent is strictly prohibited. Users with non-commercial purposes may link to the page or a specific post, but not allowed to reproduce or alter the content( text and photographs) without prior written permission. Please ASK first at email@example.com. Kindly use comments section for any recipe clarifications and e-mails will not be entertained in this regard.
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Dear Friends...Lets take a moment to wish and pray for a beautiful life, filled with love, peace and happiness.....Lets hope for the great new beginnings and lets wish that all our dreams come true !! We wish you all a wonderful year ahead :)
Those days when I showed no interest in cooking, my mother and aunts used to impart the words of wisdom through the ever popular saying that “The way to a man's heart is through his stomach” and that it would be very difficult for me when it comes to cooking, after marriage; and I grew up seeing some of my elder cousins and college seniors complaining about their husbands who gave them a hard time saying , “ …this is not how my mom cooks…..” or “….or my mom’s version is better …” !!! Am sure some of you out there are able to associate yourself with this situation and I would say, you guys are lucky as you are at an advantage that you know the ‘chef’ here in person and you can very well get recipes from your MIL and learn her secrets, unless she is someone like our dear friend Marie from Everybody Loves Raymond, who shares her precious meatball recipe with her daughter-in-law Debra, by sabotaging the cooking lesson, by gluing a fake label of basil on a jar of tarragon!.
Though I have no idea how I entered into my man’s heart, I had to face a different standard of comparison. In my case, I never had to compete with my MIL’s cooking skills; rather I had to compete with some local Pachakakkaran/Chef from a small restaurant or a Thattukada (road-side eatery) at Kesavadasapuram, Trivandrum, who used to prepare the best beef curry or chicken fry, my husband has ever eaten!!!!! It’s not that simple a situation for me to learn recipes from some unknown guy, earning his livelihood, in a small town in Trivandrum, whipping up these delicacies, my husbands has a craving for. There were times I used to get irritated when CJJ used to rave about the Porotta ( Flat bread) and chicken fry he used to have from Chinnu’s Restaurant, Kesavadasapuram or seeing him getting excited at the mere mention of beef curry and porotta from Ambalappatu restaurant while I cook and serve one of these; but slowly I realized that it is the trademark of guys hailing from this capital city of Kerala. If two guys from this small city meet in some other corners of the world, you will see them cherishing their bachelor days with a reference to those “thattu” specials from Kesavadasapuram quite nostalgically. If you think I am exaggerating, see what a true-blue Trivandrum-ite blogger friend of mine from here , says: “I can go to the best hotel in town and eat till I can’t take in anymore. But they don’t taste as good as the parotta bought using hard saved money from Ambalapattu…” !!!!! Yes, these small restaurants seem to have cast a spell on these guys, raising the standards and giving trouble to poor spouses like me!
Anyway, I have stopped competing with those local chefs realizing that I will never be able to reproduce the same taste but that does not stop me from learning one of the best methods of cooking up these dishes and one such style is his grandma’s Kuttanadan preparation. I have already blogged some of her precious recipes and many of you have tried them out successfully. Here’s one more to your collection. Beef Varattiyathu aka Beef Roast is a red- meat preparation where the meat is cooked with pungent flavour of the spices and fresh herbs and roasted enough to make it stay good for several days when refrigerators were a luxury of the day.
¾ kg (approx. 1.60 lb) fresh beef cubed and washed
1 cup red small onions thinly sliced
3 tbsp garlic minced
2 tbsp ginger minced
6 green chillies split lengthwise
2-3 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
½ - ¾ cup small coconut slices/'Thengakothu’
Masala powder (Recipe follows)
2 tbsp coriander powder
1 ½ tsp red chilly powder
¼ tsp + ¼ tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
2 tbsp coconut oil
To make the Masala Powder: (For ¾ kg beef)
2 tbsp fennel seeds/'Perinjeerakam’
¾ tbsp black peppercorns
6-8 small ½ inch cinnamon sticks
Grind and powder the spices, mentioned to make the masala powder. Keep ½ teaspoon masala powder aside; make a marinade with the rest of the masala powder, turmeric, salt, minced garlic and ginger, adding few drops of water; apply it thoroughly on the meat, using your hands and leave it in room temperature for around 20 -30 minutes.
Pressure cook the marinated meat, without adding water, until it gets cooked well. (Note: My pressure cooker takes about 4 whistles to do the cooking but it varies depending on the meat, and the wear and tear of the cooker. If it is not a tender meat, add a teaspoon of vinegar to speed up the cooking.)
Once the pressure cooking is done, heat oil in a big shallow pan, sauté the small onions and green chillies until they turn pale in low flame, At this stage, add turmeric powder, red chilly powder and coriander powder and stir continuously until the raw smell goes, making sure that you don’t burn your onions or spice powders. Now add the coconut slices and 2 sprigs of curry leaves and combine well with the base mixture and then add the cooked beef to this and cook covered, in medium heat, for around 4 minutes, until it starts boiling. (Do not add water at this stage as pressure cooking must have already produced some water from the meat). Now remove the lid and add the ½ tsp masala powder, kept aside earlier, and roast the meat, in low flame for 10-15 minutes, until it reaches a brown colour, as in the picture. Do a taste –test in between and adjust the salt, if needed. Just two minutes before turning off the heat, add a sprig of curry leaves; do not omit this stage of cooking as it really helps the dish to attain a wonderful aroma and fresh fragrance of the curry leaves.
Serve warm with rice or Palappam (Laced pancakes), chappathi or porotta (Indian flat breads). This dish attains its real flavour after a couple of hours from cooking and tastes the best, after a day or two!!
Note: The taste is largely dependent on the quality of the meat and also the fat content. If you thoroughly remove all that fat from the meat, it reduces the taste. The black peppercorns I have used are those I got from CJJ’s place and it’s quite strong; so if you re using the store-bought ones, make adjustments according to the spice level. Substituting small pearl onions with big onions is not a good idea if you are looking for the authentic "Naadan" taste. If you plan to include this in your x’mas menu you may think of cooking this one or two days in advance as it will only enhance the taste.
We had our first snow fall early this week and all I see is snow covered rooftops and pine trees holding snow flakes……to me the Mother Nature is looking like a beautiful bride clad in her satin white bridal gown, after her colourful autumnal fashion parade in red, yellow, orange, crimson and brown! As the British poet, Edith Sitwell says, “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home”. So to extend that friendly hand shake into a friendly talk beside the fire, last year all we needed was a plate of cookies and a hot cup of tea! Around this time, last year we had one of CJJ’s friends making an impromptu visit and as expected, my pantry was not geared up to entertain guests on such a short notice; luckily our cookie tin was not empty and I shared those homemade cookies with our friend……he seemed to be enjoying those baked goodies a lot to the extent he was embarrassed when I refilled the plate :) Yes, Paula Deen’s Mexican Wedding cookies are so fabulous and irresistible…….they just melt in your mouth, tempting you to go for one more piece!! This is a simple and easy, MUST- TRY cookie recipe and the best cookie I have ever baked!! I halved the original recipe and flavored with powdered nutmeg, instead of vanilla extract, which gave a wonderful aroma too and every time our friends seem to prefer the batch with nutmeg rather than the vanilla one. DO TRY, you will be glad that you did :)
½ cup ( 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for coating baked cookies
¼ tsp nutmeg, powdered ( OR 1 tsp vanilla extract as per original recipe)
½ cup + 6 tbsp all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting hands
½ cup pecans, chopped into very small pieces
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper or no- stick aluminum foil.
Cream the butter and sugar at low speed, using an electric mixer, until it is smooth. Add the powdered nutmeg and start the mixer again and slowly add the flour (½ cup + 6 tbsp) in small quantities. Once it is mixed well, stir in the pecans with a spatula.
You can make the cookies in any shape you want. For the crescent shape mentioned in the original recipe, dust your hands with some flour and scoop out about 1 tbsp dough and shape into a crescent; else you can make them into small balls or footballs or slightly flatten the dough in your dusted palms and use a cookie cutter to get your preferred shapes. You may also make drop cookies by dropping about 1 tbsp dough onto the prepared cookie sheet.
Bake for about 40 minutes and when cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in additional confectioners' sugar. Cool on wire racks. You may also sprinkle sugar on top using a small strainer.
Note: I have tried freezing the dough and it stays good for a couple of weeks.
This goes to Eat Christmas Cookies event, hosted by Susan of Food Blogga . Susan has been quite gracious enough to pass the “You Make Me Smile Award to me”. Around the same time, very creative and talented Anne of Simply Annes also passed the "Nice Matters Award" to me. Let me tell you, I am really flattered :) I am supposed to pass these titles to others in the blog world but since all of you, my readers and fellow bloggers, make me laugh through your comments and posts and since all of you have been so supportive and nice, I think it is fair enough to pass it on to each of YOU out there :)
Last week my stat-counter took me to a site where I was quite surprised to find out that my last post, Fruit Cake- A rich Christmas Tradition of Kerala, has been nominated for “Best Food Blog – Post” at WELL FED, by one of my readers, Sati. I have absolutely no idea how this works but let me tell you Sati, I am truly honored and moved by your gesture and treasure this appreciation you have shown. I remember seeing your comment once and I am really glad that you are enjoying my posts, THANK YOU :)
Happy, happy Christmas that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home! - Charles Dickens
Isn’t it so true..? In my case, it does not matter if it is Christmas or Onam, the festival season just takes me back to those good ole days and the clouds of nostalgia envelope me and eventually I get drowned in the waves of memories of childhood and teenage, those years I spent at home with my family…..and as much as I enjoy holiday spirit here with CJJ, I miss those family get-togethers and knowingly or unknowingly I wish for a holiday season where our house is crowded with our families and friends and our nieces and nephews running around, with lots of love and laughter…..yeah, I miss home!!!
Though growing up in a Hindu household, our parents never deprived us of enjoying the festive spirits in the air, especially during the Christmas season…….for me and my brother, it was that magical time of the year when our father would hang those colourful, glowing stars…..sometimes decorating a small tree in our garden with strands of multi-colored lights and hanging crepe paper streamers and balloons and I still remember the year where we painted a big dried branch of a tree white and placed cotton balls, to recreate the snow flakes on pine trees from our story books…..those days White-Christmas was a just a romantic picture from some unknown fairy land!!! Another cherished memory is crossing those jam-packed roads, tightly holding my father’s hand and hitting the general store for buying the Christmas cards where my father would literally lose his patience over our indecisiveness, then coming back home and writing those cards, showing our best penmanship…..oh, I just wish I could freeze those moments !!! The last two weeks prior to Christmas, we used to have some guests, our family friends and my father’s colleagues, visiting us with trademark of the season, a store bought plum cake in a soft card board box and a bottle of home made wine!!! I remember how me and my brother used to wait impatiently for them to leave and the moment they start the vehicle and leave the front gate, our ever popular 50 meter sprinting would begin to open that box and grab those pretty pink flowers placed on the white royal icing on the plum cake….as we grew old, we realized those sugar flowers were not tasty but it was the rich fruit cake underneath that icing that tasted better :) As much as I loved these fruit cakes, I could not think of celebrating Christmas without making a visit to my grandma’s house where her neighbor P aunty and S chechi used to give us the Chirstmas paltter filled with fruit cakes, cookies, doughnuts and diamond cuts and what not…….I never missed those platters and the stunning cribs, displaying scenes of nativity V chettan used to make, showing his best creativity……it was sheer fun for me watching him and his friends arranging the cribs and decorating the house with lights and glowing stars……..
I am glad and proud that atleast I have these memories to relive on! Even though I am miles away from home now, I am doing the best I can to make some memories here……celebrating Christmas with CJJ in a beautiful country, filled with festive spirits in the air, going to the church on a snowy evening and attending the midnight mass, waiting anxiously so as not to look like a stupid when those sitting next to me, would turn and say “Peace be with you” as I may not have any idea when and where it comes exactly!! For me, the charm of that Christmas eve here is just dream-like, sitting there listening to those soothing Christmas carols and getting lost in “Silent Night……Holy Night” and waking up to enjoy a White-Christmas the next day!! Am sure, 10 or 15 years from now, I will be sitting in some place and rewinding all these memories I make here, NOW!
Well, Christmas is not complete without a glass of sweet wine and piece of fruit cake and talking of fruit cake, here is a recipe that has been my loyal companion ever since I started baking. A cake that is often baked at our place irrespective of the occasion….. our family favourite recipe…. something which I owe to my wonderful friend SM who shared this recipe with me few years back and now it is my turn to share the recipe with you all and spread the joys of baking and Christmas as well :)
Ingredients: (Yields one 8-inch and one 6-inch cake)
For the Batter:
1 ½ cups All-purpose flour/Maida (measure & sift)
¾ cup butter at room temperature ( 1 ½ sticks)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks at room temperature
3 large egg whites at room temperature
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract/essence
For soaking the fruits:
1 cup tutti frutti (candied lemon and orange peels)
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup nuts ( mix of almonds and cashew nuts)
1/3 cup dates, chopped
1/3 cup glace cherries, chopped
1 ½ -2 cups rum, or enough to soak all the fruits
For the Caramel:
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp water + ½ cup water
For the spice powders:*
1 tsp Caraway seeds/cake jeera/Sahjeerakam/Shahjeera ( measure and powder)
¼ tsp powdered nutmeg
¼ tsp powdered cinnamon
¼ tsp powdered cloves
¼ tsp powdered cardamom
Chop all the fruits into small pieces and soak them in rum or a combination of rum and sweet wine, atleast one day in advance. (Note: Soaking can be done days or weeks or months or even up to an year in advance, it will make the fruits more plump and hydrated. The fruits should be soaked thoroughly in alcohol, as in the picture shown below. Also shake the jar once in a while.)
Prepare Caramel by heating and melting sugar along with 1 tbsp water, until they turn dark brown. Keep swirling the pan but do not stir. When sugar is completely melted and bubbles start coming up and if it has reached the colour you want, turn off the stove and place the pan in your sink and pour ½ cup cold water to the caramel and let it come to room temperature (Note: Hot caramel can create serious burns, so make sure that you play safe and kids are not around while preparing it. Also while pouring cold water to the caramel, stand at a safe distance as it will splash in the beginning which may lead to serious burns. Caramel should be completely cold before adding it to the batter, else it will spoil the entire batch. You can prepare the caramel in advance and refrigerate it as well.)
Preheat the oven at 350F (180C). Prepare one 8-inch cake pan and a 6-inch pan by lining the bottoms with parchment paper, butter the paper and grease the sides and sprinkle lightly with flour.
Sift the flour and baking powder together.
In another small mixing bowl, add the egg whites and beat on medium speed until foamy, and the whites begin to look shiny and smooth and form soft peaks, when you stop the mixer and lift the whip. Note: It is important that the egg whites are beaten in a clean and dry bowl without any trace of grease/fat/water; otherwise the whites will not expand to its full volume.
Mix egg yolks and vanilla extract and beat well for a minute, in low-medium speed.
Mix butter and sugar until they are creamy and combined well. Add the beaten mixture of egg yolks and vanilla to this butter and sugar mixture, followed by wine, spice powders and caramel (1/2 cup) and beat thoroughly till everything is creamy and combined. At this stage, add the flour in small quantities and scrape down the bowl once or twice. At the end, stop the hand mixer and using a rubber spatula, fold the thoroughly beaten egg whites very gently, (Do not beat) until no white streaks are visible.
Finally, drain the soaked fruits and keep half a cup of soaked fruits aside; add the rest of the fruits to the batter and gently fold them into the batter. Toss the ½ cup fruits, kept aside earlier, in 1 tbsp flour.
Pour the batter into prepared baking pans and just before smoothening the tops, add the fruits tossed in flour and then level the top with an offset spatula, making sure that the fruits are coated with batter as well. (Note: Tossing the fruits in flour is to make sure that they spread evenly in the cake and not crowd at the bottom of the cake. You will find this contradicting in my pictures as I forgot to toss them in flour :D But do not add more than the prescribed amount as too much makes the fruits harder. )
Bake for around 1 hour; baking time differs depending on the pan size and the oven and hence, towards the end, if a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean without any crumbles, it shows that cake is ready.
Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes and later invert them onto a wire rack and let it cool completely for about 45 minutes or until they reach the room temperature. DO NOT CUT the cake at this point. Resist your temptations and double wrap the cakes using clear plastic-wraps and leave it on the kitchen counter for 4 days. On the 5th day, you can cut the cake using a serrated knife and serve with sweet red wine. This cake can be saved in the refrigerator for several weeks. (Note: It is very important that the cake should rest for 5 days for all the flavor and sweetness to set in. If you cut any day before that, you will find that the texture is not right and not all that sweet and tasty.)
Note *: I use the ready made spice powders from McCormick. If it is not available in your pantry, powder 3 cardamom, 2 small pieces of cinnamon, and 2 cloves and a small piece of nutmeg along with caraway seeds/cake jeera.
Back home in Kerala, this fruit cake is served with a glass of sweet red wine. I have already blogged the recipes for beetroot wine and pineapple wine; those interested may check out the recipes.
UPDATE: Based on few of the comments I received asking for brands of rum and wine I used, here is a small note that might help you. You can use any brand of rum for this recipe; the brand does not make any difference; I used BACARDI Gold which is available in liquor stores and some supermarkets here in US; stay away from flavored liquor. For the wine part, I used my home made wine but you can use any wine of your choice. For the soaking part, fruits can be soaked fully in rum or a combination of rum and wine, thats purely a personal choice. Hope it helps!
UPDATED ON 24th Nov, 2008: Last year, I had received lot of queries asking for the availability of tutti-frutti in US and I thought of making a small note here that it has started appearing in the baking aisles of the supermarkets and shops like, Walmart has set up an aisle specially for baking goods for the holiday season. Look for a brand called, SUN-RIPE fruit mix which is mix of candied orange and lemon peels, cherries et al. Kindly go through the recipe in detail as well as the updates and the answers I have given in the comment section of the this post as I find it repetitive to answer the same question again and again, which I have cleared for the previous readers. Still, if you have queries, please feel free to drop a line in the comment section, I am more than happy to help you :)
Let me make a quick post today, with a quick question :) How about using hand crafted gum paste flowers as centerpiece? Gum paste is a popular medium among confectioners and cake designers for making long lasting decorations such as fancy flowers, leaves, ribbons et al. They are much preferred for their versatility and flexibility. I have played with this medium a couple of times and recently, I was trying my luck with orchids using gum paste; though it did not look as perfect as those in the reference pictures I had, I thought it would look good if I place it in a flower vase on our dining table rather than using it for cake decoration, as this way, they adorn our table everyday and I did notice a tinge of curiosity in the eyes of some of our guests , so I guess such gum paste decorations work not only on cakes but as tabletops too. Check out the orchids below.
Hand made flowers using gum paste look majestic especially on a fondant covered cake and is widely used for tiered wedding cakes. Somehow, personally I do not enjoy the taste of fondant and hence whenever I make cakes for our friends, I prefer using butter cream but do use gum paste flowers for decorations. This buttercake below is layered with fresh raspberry filling, frosted with butter cream, and decorated with cornelli lace work and shell borders and topped with hand crafted flowers using gum paste.
I am unable to share the recipes here since the butter cake and butter cream recipes were taken from another website which is now a paid site!
He had heard a lot about her…..her delightful characteristics……..her popularity…simple elegance…….the magic spell she casts on people…. still somehow he was reluctant to make a move or ask her out on a date….after a series of internal tug of war, he decided to bite the bullet and there he was! It was love at the first bite….followed by proposal at the second….everything was moving so fast...they exchanged vows and he brought her to his place and everyone seemed to be enjoying her company or not getting enough of her...he found the whole situation magical...he saw his life changing drastically….he became a better person…he started coming home early….attended gym regularly and waited for those beautiful moments with her! she was a whole new discovery for him……a discovery for life!
Yes, I am talking about CJJ but NOOOO, he is not cheating on me :D I was just painting his relationship with Tiramisu :D
A popular Italian dessert, “tiramisu is a pudding-like dessert that usually consists of sponge cake or ladyfingers dipped in a liqueur, then layered with grated chocolate and rich custard”. We have never been to Italy and hence have no idea how a traditional and authentic Tiramisu tastes like. Our one and only acquaintance with this dessert starts and ends with the popular Italian restaurant chain, Olive Garden, and the day we tasted this dessert from there, we fell in love with this classic!. It is definitely a “heaven in your mouth”. We had heard a lot about this dessert but somehow the descriptions did not sound much interesting to us mainly because someone said, it is a dessert dipped in coffee and coffee liquor et al. Not being coffee lovers, we never thought of giving it a try, especially when we were stuffed with food till our throat but the day we tasted this heavenly dessert, we literally regretted all those years we wasted not tasting this creamy and melt in mouth dessert.
Recently both of us were getting some selective cravings for Tiramisu and on one of our visits to Olive Garden, we seriously pondered over the idea of reproducing this at home. Since we have never been lucky to get its authentic taste and with no point of reference for a traditional taste and look,I was more interested in reproducing a recipe that tastes something like the restaurant one and that’s how I stumbled upon this page. Though I was taken aback a bit seeing the amount of cheese used, I gave it a shot and we were hooked! Both of us don’t have much of a sweet tooth, especially CJJ and if he gets addicted to a dessert and a recipe, then that’s a real compliment and also a green signal for me, that I can serve this recipe to our guests next time for dinner and also blog this! He was so hooked to this dessert that he was quite regular in gym the whole of last week, so he could find pleasure in each bite, without feeling guilty, thinking of all that saturated fat and cholesterol :)
Notes based on my experience:This recipe is a winner for sure. We were 98% satisfied! I used sponge lady fingers, instead of lady finger cookies or Savoiardi biscuits as the sponge ones were used at the restaurant. I used halved slices of the sponge cake fingers as it came in the box and don't remember how many I used,lets just say, as many to get two layers. For the 3 cups of mascarpone cheese, I used three 8 oz tubs of the same cheese and as written in the recipe, used one 8 oz cream cheese and blended it together. The recipe just calls for cocoa powder, since we both don’t prefer the bitterness of the regular cocoa powder, I used dutch-process cocoa powder but that was purely a personal choice. The only deviation I did was using more liquor and coffee as instead of just dabbing the sponge lady fingers, I applied a bit more which is not at all necessary and am sure next time I will not make that mistake. So, it is better to follow the recipe as such. Again recipe has not specifically mentioned what “several hours” are, so I chilled mine for 12-16 hours. Another thing I noticed is that, instead of making it in an 8 * 8 inch pan, next time I would be using individual dessert or trifle bowls or even a martini glass, to make the serving easier and not wasting my time trying to get the perfect slice!
Those who are completely new to the ingredients can find the mascarpone cheese at the specialty cheese /deli section of your local store and if you don’t have espresso at home, you may use extra strong coffee like I did. Kahlua coffee liqueur is sometimes available at supermarkets but if you are looking for small bottles, better to go to a liquor store. It is quite funny that at our place, my pantry has more variety and stock of liquor bottles than CJJ’s personal collection :D
Do I recommend this recipe for your Thanks Giving dinner or X’mas lunch? YES! YES ! YES!
UPDATE : Some of you have problem accessing the recipe link marked in my text; I don't know why that happens! I am able to access the link though sometimes it is broken. So adding the link again below: the first one takes directly to the recipe and the second one takes you to the main recipe section where you can give a search for the recipe:
I know there is a general impression that this is predominantly a non-veg blog, even though I try to point my fingers to the vegetarian recipes I have blogged; (Yes, please do check out the recipe gallery, you can find a lot of vegetarian recipes) unfortunately, the desserts and the cakes & cookies are not considered vegetarian either!! For the same reason, I always admire and appreciate all my fellow bloggers, who are core vegetarians, who visit my blog and drop encouraging comments each and every time I publish a post. Even when it is a non-veg delicacy, they pour words of appreciation on the little notes in the introductory section or on the presentation of the dish or share some of their experiences and sometimes wonder about the substitutions they can make to vegetarianize the recipe or simply come and drop a hello! For a change, the whole of last week, my comment section witnessed a reverse trend after posting the recipe for Potato Stew; there were enquiries asking for the meat substitute, “ …. I tried the stew and it came out well. Can I substitute chicken for the veggies next time?” and some wondered “….Shn,eshtu looks delicious ,but desperately hope those potatoes were replaced by some chicken or mutton ! ".
This is exactly the reason why I noted in my last post that generally carnivores like us don’t prefer the vegetarian version of many of the traditional Kerala delicacies though Potato Stew is an exception. Beef stew is the non-vegetarian take on the potato stew and is traditionally served with Palappam ( Kerala’s laced rice pancakes, shown in the picture) and its equivalents are chicken stew and mutton stew, delicacies a typical Keralite would die for. Cooked beef and potatoes stewed in rich coconut milk and flavored with whole spices and fresh herbs is a rich, thick and creamy dish whose first love is Palappam, at the same time ready to have a date with white bread or Idiyappam (Kerala’s string hoppers) or Chappathi (flat Indian bread).
½ kg beef (Around 1 lb), cleaned and cut into small bite size pieces
1 small potato
4 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped (around 2 tbsp)
1 tbsp + 1tbsp finely chopped ginger
5 + 9 Indian green chillies split open lengthwise
2 sprigs of curry leaves
1/4 - 1/2 tsp freshly crushed pepper powder
2 tbsp oil, preferably coconut oil
4 small ½ inch pieces of cinnamon4 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 large big onion thinly sliced
1 - 1 ¼ cups thin coconut milk/Randaampaal
¾ cup thick coconut milk/Thanipaal
Salt to taste
In a pressure cooker, cook beef cut into small bite size pieces, finely chopped garlic, 1 tbsp finely chopped ginger, 5 green chillies and salt & pepper powder together, until it’s cooked well and beef turns tender and soft. Note: There is no need to add water while pressure cooking the beef as the meat is moist and will produce some water while cooking but if you are scared of safety issue of pressure cooker, you may add ¼ cup of water.
Chop the potatoes into small pieces and microwave or boil the potato with a pinch of salt till it is cooked and when warm enough to touch, peel off the skin from the potato.
In a large deep bottom pan, heat oil, throw in the whole spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves and let it fry in oil for 30 seconds. Add the thinly sliced big onions, 1 tbsp finely chopped ginger, green chillies and 1 sprig of curry leaves and cook until they turn soft and transparent. To this add the cooked beef mix well and then add the cooked potato cubes and combine well. Add thin coconut milk and salt and let it cook covered in low heat, for around 10-15 minutes. Now add the thick coconut milk and in medium heat, bring it to a boil and immediately reduce the heat, until it reaches a creamy and thick stew consistency. Just before turning off the stove, add rest of the curry leaves for the flavour and fragrance and stir well.
Serve with Palappam/white bread/Idiappam/chappathi. Taste better after 2 hours from cooking.
Notes: Stew prepared in fresh coconut milk tastes better but I generally use canned coconut milk for the ease of cooking and they taste good. If you are using canned coconut milk, do add water to dilute it, even if you are preparing thick coconut milk. Also I prefer using golden big onions, rather than the red ones; it's a personal choice. The colour will be slightly different than the potato stew as we re using red meat here. You may add 1/4 - 1/2 tsp home made masala powder/garam masala towards the end , to have more flavour and smell; this is again a personal choice, depending on the taste and flavor one is looking for; at my place, we are happy with the whole spices alone, but if that is not satisfactory to you, feel free to add a pinch of homemade garam masala towards the end. Those who don't eat beef, can replace the meat with chicken and follow the same procedure.You get a better colour for Chicken stew, compared to beef stew.
My vegetarian friends, please help yourselves with Potato Stew :)
Hailing from God’s own country, CJJ and myself are God’s own kids brought up in two different corners of the same state and hence the differences in usage of certain phrases or names of objects or food and the local slangs, used to sound weird and strange and at the same time, it used to bring smiles on our faces, especially in those days when we were getting to know each other and by the time we presented our marriage proposal to our families, we had become quite fluent in each other’s vocabularies. Indeed, the real fun started after marriage, when my mother got an opportunity to pamper her son-in-law. My mother being a 100% central Kerala product was not at all familiar with the phrases and words CJJ used and it was more or less the same case with CJJ too. Real fun used to happen at the dining table. Since my mother knows that CJJ loves her cooking, she used to whip up a huge spread, with all his favourite dishes and then once we start sharing the food, we saw ourselves breaking into laughter as these two start uttering the names of the dish or the ingredient which would not be familiar to the other. For instance, “kodappan” is the local name for banana-flower in our area but CJJ was familiar with the name, “koombu” and used to find the other name quite hilarious. Similarly, Stew is also known as “Eshtu” in many parts of Kerala, especially on the central regions but somehow CJJ has not been in acceptance of that, so he used to tease my mother and tried to correct her. Next time my mother served the same dish, she used to deliberately use the same name, ”Eshtu” , just to see him doing that “correction-speech” again ; somehow she still finds the whole thing amusing and never misses an opportunity to say “Eshtu” and make him start all over again :)
"Eshtu" aka Stew is traditionally served with Palappam ( Kerala’s laced rice pancakes). Generally carnivores like us don’t prefer the vegetarian version of many of the traditional delicacies but Potato Stew is an exception. It is as good as its opponents like Beef Stew or Chicken Stew or Mutton Stew and the taste and charm of this traditional favorite lies in its simplicity. Cooked potatoes stewed in rich coconut milk and flavored with whole spices is a treat on its own and this is one dish that I prepare confidently whenever we have some vegetarian friends coming home for food and I don’t remember an instance where our friends have left without asking for the recipe or atleast the method of cooking. So here we go:
2 large potatoes
3 medium size big onions, thinly sliced (around 3 cups)
6-8 Indian green chillies, slit open lengthwise
1 small piece of garlic, thinly sliced
A small piece of ginger ( 1 ½ to 2 inch piece)
2 sprigs of curry leaves
4-6 small pieces of carrots (Optional)*
3-4 small ½ inch pieces of cinnamon
2 bay leaves
1 ½ cups thin coconut milk/Radaampaal
½ cup thick coconut milk/Thanipaal
2 tbsp oil, preferably coconut oil.
Salt to taste
Wash and clean the potatoes thoroughly and cut them into big cubes; pressure cook or microwave the potatoes in enough water with salt, until cooked well. When warm enough to touch, peel off the skin from the potatoes.
Heat oil, throw in the whole spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves and let it fry in oil for 30 seconds. Add the thinly sliced big onions, ginger ,garlic and green chillies and cook until they turn soft and transparent. To this add the cooked potatoes and halve each of those cubes with the back of a wooden spoon and mash a portion of the halved ones. (Note: The cubes should not be mashed overly; they should still remain as pieces and at the same time a small portion should be mashed lightly as this adds thickness to the stew). Add the carrot pieces and combine everything well. Add thin coconut milk and salt and let it cook covered in low heat, for around 10-15 minutes. Now add the thick coconut milk and bring it to a boil and immediately reduce the heat, cook uncovered in low heat, until it reaches a creamy and thick stew consistency. Just before turning off the stove, add the curry leaves for the flavour and fragrance and stir well.
To Serve: Though Appam and Stew is a match made in heaven, Stew served with white bread also makes a great pair.
Notes:* Adding carrot is purely optional; it’s my mother’s suggestion to bring in some colours in the stew and hence make sure that you use very few pieces without adding more carrot flavour to the potato stew. Stew/Eshtu prepared in fresh coconut milk tastes better but I generally use canned coconut milk for the ease of cooking and they taste good. If you are using canned coconut milk, do add water to dilute it, even if you are preparing thick coconut milk. Also I prefer using golden big onions, rather than the red ones; it's a personal choice.
Update: You may try this dish with Paalappam.
UPDATE : More on regional variations and local food habits HERE & HERE. Luv Shn
Growing up in a carnivorous family, meat cutlets were a part of our menu ever since I can remember. I remember both my mother and grandma start the preparations immediately after lunch, allotting one full afternoon, chopping the onions, getting the cooked meat minced and mashing the boiled potatoes without even a small lump, and then patting each of the meat balls again and again until they get firm cutlets. And I have burnt my tongue umpteen times while trying to gobble up those crispy brown beauties as this has been my favourite snack ever since I tasted it the first time, with some “Challas” (pickled onions in vinegar or fresh lemon juice). Something which I cannot resist and something which always tells me “eat me, pleeeaaaase” till the plate is empty, leaving me with an embarrassing smile in front of my host!! I blame it on these brown beauties, none can just stop with 1 or 2, one needs atleast half a dozen, to really get the taste of the cutlets , to get a feel of satisfaction of relishing them. Perhaps cutlet is the first appetizer that comes to the mind of menu planner, if he/she is from Kerala when a dinner party is announced ………A marriage reception is organized and cutlet, vegetarian or non-vegetarian, is first in the list of starter menu………. Friends coming home on short notice, and then you see someone from the family heading towards the bakery to catch hold of some cutlet or meat puffs. …..After a late evening class, going to the bakery nearby the college to grab some cutlets and hot cup of tea or a fresh lemon juice is something most of us have done while studying...... and still, if someone asks me about my favourite snack, it is meat cutlet forever :)
Ingredients: (Approx.) (Yields around 18-20 cutlets)
2 ½ cup cooked and minced chicken/beef, loosely filled
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a shallow pan, and sauté finely chopped onion and when it turns transparent, add minced ginger, garlic, green chillies and curry leaves and cook until everything is soft, in low flame, without burning any of the ingredients. Add pepper powder and mix well; add garam masala and combine everything together, adding a tinge of salt. Now add the minced meat to this mixture and stir well and thoroughly combine the minced meat with the mixture. Next add the boiled and mashed potatoes and blend well and adjust the salt and if you think, you require more spice, add one or two pinch of pepper powder and masala and mix well and turn off the stove. (Note: For the minced meat, I pressure-cook cubed chicken breast or beef with a simple marinade of salt, pepper powder, a couple of green chillies, ginger and garlic and when cooked and cool enough, mince them in a food processor. For the mashed potatoes, boil and cook the potatoes until they are soft and mash them with a fork.)
When the mixture is cool enough to touch, divide the mixture into small elongated balls and shape them into a round or oval shapes, patting gently with a flat side of the knife, from all sides of the meat balls, until all the cracks that form in between are sealed well.
Keep a bowl of bread crumbs and a bowl with beaten egg ready. Dip each of them in beaten egg and then roll them in bread crumbs, coating all the sides evenly. Do this one by one. Once more pat them with the flat side of the knife and remove excess bread crumbs and make them firm.
Heat oil for frying; when the oil is hot, shallow fry the cutlets, in low-medium heat, until they turn brown as in the picture.
To serve: Serve warm with ketchup or “challas”. To make challas, chop some fresh big onions and squeeze fresh lemon juice to it and sprinkle with some salt.
NOTE : Making a meat cutlet is a method one masters over the course of time. Even if you follow the recipe thoroughly, sometimes you will be shocked to see your cutlets falling apart or breaking while frying. This happens mainly when the meat and mashed potato is not in the right proportion or when they are not at all moist. Sometimes it could be because of the variety of potato used too; some are overly moist when mashing which causes problem while frying the cutlet. If your mixture or meat balls are too moist and not holding the shape, add some bread crumbs which will help in shaping them. Besides, there should not be any lumps in the mashed potato. Feel free to use your hands if it is necessary to break them. So, even if it is not 100% successful at the first time, this is something you can perfect, if you can figure out the basic problem. Meat cutlets can be made in advance for the party/dinner and refrigerate them or freeze them if it is not going to be used for the next 2 days and when you want to use it, thaw them in the room temperature and fry them just before serving; whether to shallow or deep fry is one’s discretion. I do not like deep fried cutlets, soaked up in oil and hence I like to shallow fry them.
Sometimes we tend to romanticize a place a lot and it could be because of all the reading we have done or all those documentaries we have seen or it could be because of the food we have tasted or the people we have interacted with. I have been building up such a heightened image of Kuttanadu, “the rice bowl of Kerala” through some of my posts and if you are a regular here, perhaps you already know that it is mainly because I have never been to this place, blessed with natural beauty and known for it simple people and CJJ has the habit of waxing eloquently about its scenic beauty, calm and quiet surroundings and ofcourse the fabulous food he has tasted from his grandma.
Today when we were having our lunch together, I pulled up the topic of Kuttanadu, clearing my doubts as to how they used to visit their maternal home, traversing through those narrow canals in small boats, how the private boat-jetty was used, how the houses were built behind those thin stretches of pavement, built with clay and mud from the canal and so on. He started explaining with a smile on his face, telling me stories and anecdotes from his childhood and teens but slowly I saw him getting wrapped by the clouds of nostalgia. He mirrored some of those cherished moments of his childhood when they used to visit the maternal house traveling 3-4 hours in a public transport bus and then taking the private boat from the jetty and along with his two brothers, climbing on to the top deck of the boat, under the strict supervision of their father….and when they arrived at the village, in their well pressed flashy shorts and T-shirts, wearing black or canvas shoes, CJJ still remembers ,the natural inquisitiveness on the face of the villagers wondering where these “Pattanathile kuttikal” ( city kids) were headed to or to which house they belonged.
During their week long vacation, they made a visit to their paternal house as well and he remembers how they used to play cricket along with their distant cousins in their spacious backyard and those days when they used to go for hunting, with their uncles and coming back with 10-15 birds from crane family and grandma making her signature dish, “Mundi” (from crane family) Roast and all of them relishing the peppery, crispy and roasted bird. Though as kids their main duty was to hold the torch light, the adventurous days of the childhood still holds a special place in his mind. And if it was a Sunday, they used to go to the nearby church, starting 30 minutes early, though it was only 10 minutes walk, so they had time for a casual chit-chat with the locals on the way; and in the evening, his uncles used to take them to the school ground to watch football matches between local clubs and again the kids enjoyed all the attention as the villagers would be curious to see the not-so-familiar kids around. When CJJ started working, he still used to visit his maternal house once in a while and those traveling with him in the boat would be staring at him as he would be in his jean and trendy shoes and carrying a backpack which was again another unfamiliar sight for the villagers and enough to give them an impression that he was a “varathan”, meaning an outsider and then one of them would ask him, “Mon, evidutheya?” meaning “ Honey, Which family are you from ?” and the moment he told them their family name, that triggered another set of enquiries about his parents and their well-being as everyone know each other and that’s the beauty of this village .
One funny incident that’s still tickling CJJ’s memories is his visit during his +2 days and this is how he describes the incident,”….. I was tagging along my father to his ancestral home and I was wearing my ankle shoe which was the IN-style those days, and on the way, there was this pavement work going on with mud taken from the canal. Normally people remove their footwear and walk barefoot. But coming from a city and wearing trendy clothes, my pride didn’t allow me to do so. So by the time we reached home, my shoes were covered with mud, a thick 2 inch layer of heavy mud. I learned the lesson the hard way and on the way back, I walked barefoot :)…It took me couple of days to clean my shoes :) “.
Do you have any idea how I feel when I get mails from my brother-in-law, R with photographs capturing the lush greenery of this place, supplementing CJJ’s stories?? And that’s one of those days, I change my tone of gratefulness, for giving a romantic house-boat ride in the backwaters, to one of complaint, for not taking me to Kainakary, the village where his grandma resides and in his defense, he always has the excuse that the house was locked that day and grandma was not there!! Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to let you have a sneak-peak into the simplicity I keep talking about, before getting into the recipe. These are some of the pictures R sent me, from his last trip to Kuttanadu.
Click on the picture to start your slide show
Chemmeen/Prawns Roast is another Kuttanadan recipe I learned from CJJ’s grandma. In the initial years of my stay here in US of A, I never used to cook prawns much for the simple reason that it did not taste the same like the ones we used to have in Kerala. But ever since I tried this concoction, I am a convert. I generally don’t do a taste-test while cooking, except towards the end to check if the salt is right as I don’t prefer to get used to the taste before it comes to the table but trust me, when I prepare this particular dish, I love to do sampling as the smell is quite irresistible and I keep nibbling them until a good quantity is missing from the pan! CJJ was not a prawn lover until he tried this delicacy and these days I see him walking to the kitchen and taking small bites even before it reaches the table :) This is a hot and spicy seafood preparation, spiced up with the aroma of fennel seeds and pungent black peppercorns, cooked along with small onions which has a distinct taste and wonderful aroma of coconut oil and the enticing fragrance of the curry leaves. I prefer to have this dish with a bowl of warm rice without any other dishes, not to dilute the taste of the dish:) A MUST –TRY for prawn lovers!!
1 lb (approx. ½ kg) prawns or shrimp peeled, deveined and washed thoroughly
1 cup red small onions thinly sliced
¼ cup garlic minced
1- 1 ½ tbsp ginger minced
4 green chillies split lengthwise
2-3 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
1/3 cup small coconut slices/’Thengakothu’
1 piece ‘kudam-puli’/Gamboge
Masala powder (Recipe follows)
1 ½ tbsp coriander powder
2 tsp red chilly powder
¼ tsp +1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt to taste
2 tbsp + 1tbsp coconut oil
To make the Masala Powder: (For 1 lb prawns)
1 tbsp fennel seeds/’Perinjeerakam’
½ tbsp black peppercorns
4-5 small ½ inch cinnamon sticks
Grind and powder the spices, mentioned to make the masala powder. Make a marinade with this masala powder, turmeric, salt and lemon juice and apply it thoroughly on the cleaned prawns, using your hands and leave it in room temperature for around 20 minutes. Soak the kudam-puli in some water to make it soft.
In the meantime, chop the red small onions, ginger and garlic.
Heat oil in a big shallow pan , sauté the small onions until they turn pale in low flame; add minced garlic, ginger and green chillies cook until everything turns transparent, At this stage, add turmeric powder, red chilly powder and coriander powder and stir continuously until the raw smell goes, making sure that you don’t burn your onions or spice powders. Now add the coconut slices (coconut slices should be smaller than the prawns) and 2 sprigs of curry leaves and combine well with the base mixture and then add the marinated prawns to this; take out the leftover masala from the bowl by adding a couple of tablespoons of water and pour it to the pan and also the softened kudam-puli (without water) and cook covered, in medium heat, until the prawns changes its colour and is almost cooked. Do not add water to cook the prawns. Once the prawns are almost cooked, remove the lid and roast them, in low flame for 10-15 minutes, until it reaches a brown colour, as in the picture, and fully dried up. Do a taste –test in between and adjust the salt, if needed. Just two minutes before turning off the heat, make a well in the centre of the mixture and add 1 tbsp coconut oil and a sprig of curry leaves and coat the entire dish well with this oil and herb; do not omit this stage of cooking as it really helps the dish to attain a wonderful aroma of the coconut oil and fresh fragrance of the curry leaves.
Serve warm with rice or chappathi (Indian bread). This dish attains its real flavour after a couple of hours from cooking and tastes the best, the nexy day!!
Note: This Chemmeen/Prawns Roast is a spicy dish and if you are used to medium heat, you may reduce the amount of chilly powder. Please do not substitute small onions with big onions for convenience sake, as it completely changes the taste of the dish. It might be time consuming to clean up and slice the small onions but the taste it produces is worth the effort and time. Some non-Keralites might be hesitant to use coconut oil; yes, you are free to use your preferred oil but I suggest using coconut oil, to all my fellow Keralites, as the taste this particular oil gives is quite unique and very significant in this preparation, for its authentic taste. If you do not have Kudam-puli in your pantry, you may skip it as, in this preparation, it is added mainly to speed up the cooking as well as for easy digestion.
Have you ever been in a situation where you learn that someone close to you is celebrating a special day in his/her life and then you make plans to prepare something to give them a sweet surprise… you wait for the day and finally the big day arrives….you roll up the sleeves and knot the apron and wear your chef hat and start whipping up and just when you are halfway through the whole project, your spouse calls up frantically, asking for help , to tag him along to somewhere outside to run some important errands………then you make a treaty with your husband, to drop you back in an hour and throw the whole thing into the refrigerator and tries to get into a decent outfit and leave the house ……and then you get back home just half an hour before you wish to leave for the gathering….. you hysterically run around the place, trying to dress up the whole thing , trying to finish the project as though you are under a time bomb .......grab your tools and accessories, forgetting the fact that your body is not as flexible as the trapeze artist from circus, only to end up with a sprain and pain on your back…….you roll on the floor crying for help, your hubby dear rushes to the place, trying to lift you up, though trying his maximum to control the laughter , seeing your funny facial expressions……finally you try to bring your body in control…..starts styling up the piece of food, only to come to the stark realization that it’s all messed up….try to do a make-over but more mess and finally come up with some last minute damage control techniques and ask your hubby, to receive a confidence boosting comment, ”how does it look….is it ok?” Mr. Husband looks at the beauty you have made, analyses from all the sides and corners and speaks out the unthinkable,” hmm…something is missing….an incomplete feeling…” ….clock is still ticking…….convincing talks go on between Mr & Mrs…..finally you notice that only 5 minutes is left before you pack up and leave the place…...so the selfish blogger in you suddenly pops up its head and compels you to ask your husband, to click some snaps, meanwhile you get ready to go, to meet your friend, and at the end of the day you see your friend’s face brightening up with full of surprise and smiles , eyes showing all that joy and happiness and grabbing you to give a hug….Have you ever been in such a situation, being part of all that happiness ???
Well, that’s pretty much the story behind this cake!! This was made for an elderly friend of mine, D, who was turning 81 last month, whom I got lucky to meet early this spring and she touched my heart and left her handprints, sharing the story of her life and passing a bit of her passion too. D is a cancer survivor; the disease damaged her ability to speak normally and chew properly and to worsen her burden, she also suffers from arthritis and yet she continues her passion in life and earns her livelihood and drives around on her own, without depending anyone and more importantly without complaining about her plight!! Directly or indirectly, she helped me look at life with more hope and positive thoughts…….taught me what independence and self sufficiency really mean……taught me what passions mean to one. Now when I get a minor toothache and am forced to chew with one side, I think of this brave strong woman. Honestly, standing there, looking at the surprise and happiness on D’s face that day, really filled my heart!
Ingredients for Yellow Cake (Makes two 8” inch cakes) (Recipe Source: “Wedding Cakes You Can Make” by “Dede Wilson”)
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¾ tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs at room temperature
¾ cup whole milk, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare cake pan by lining the bottoms with parchment paper and grease the sides and sprinkle lightly with flour.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; Set aside.
Beat the butter until creamy, about 2 minutes and add sugar and beat until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes ; scrape down the bowl once or twice and then continue beating.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, allowing each eggs to absorb fully with the mixture; scrape down the bowl a couple of times.
Add the flour mixture in 4 additions, alternatively with the milk and flour, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and beat until smooth on low –medium speed after each addition.
Divide the batter evenly into the prepared pan and level the tops with a spatula. Bake for about 23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted shows a few moist crumbs or the sides of the cake have begum to come away from the sides of the pan, showing a very light golden colour. Cool on racks in pans for 8 minutes before unmoulding.
Buttercream Recipe (Source: Recipe By Tami Smith from www.baking911.com.Click on the link to go to the page for the recipe.)
Note: I halved the original recipe of Tami Smith, to reduce the quantity, so as to avoid refrigerating the leftover and it yields the right quantity for this cake.
Ingredients for Praline
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dry toasted almonds or cashew nuts
1 tbsp water
Prepare caramel by heating and melting sugar along with water, specified in the ingredient list, until they turn medium brown. Keep swirling the pan but do not stir. When sugar is completely melted and bubbles start coming up and if it has reached the colour you want, turn off the stove and add the dry toasted nuts to it, and pour them onto to a non-stick aluminum foil or a lightly oil coated aluminum foil sheet, placed on a cookie sheet and let it set. While pouring the caramel coated nuts, make sure that a thick layer is not created. When completely dry, crush the caramel coated nut sheet using a rolling pin and then powder them in a food processor or in the smallest jar of a mixer/blender. (Note: Hot caramel can create serious burns, so make sure that you play safe and kids are not around while preparing it. The taste of the caramel depends mainly on the intensity of the colour. If the caramel turns too dark brown, then it will be quite bitter and it is better not to use that batch for this particular cake. Target for a medium brown colour.)
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup water
¼ to ½ tsp vanilla extract or any flavored liquor or citrus juice
Boil water in a pan and add sugar and let it boil until sugar melts. Turn off the stove. Just before assembling the cake, add vanilla essence and mix well to the syrup. (Note: Start adding the vanilla essence in small drops as it can be overpowering; add to taste. If you are using flavored liquor, use 1 tablespoon only, just before assembling the cake.)
Assembling the Cake: When the cakes are completely cool and ready to assemble, get the counter-top ready with baked cakes, buttercream, praline and moistening syrup. Place one round cake on a cake board or a plate and sprinkle about 3 tbsp moistening syrup. Pour some buttercream on top of that and make a thick layer of frosting. Sprinkle praline generously on top of the frosting and then place the second cake and wet the top cake with 3 tbsp moistening syrup. Cover the top and side of the cake with a thin layer of buttercream and chill for 2 hours. This is done mainly to lock the crumbs and to get a smooth surface when you apply the final coating. After this stage, apply the final thick later of buttercream and smoothen the top and sides of the cake quite well with a spatula and immediately after that cover the whole cake with powdered praline. Use your hands to apply the praline.
Baking Schedule I followed:
Baked the cake one day in advance and when completely cool, double wrapped in a plastic wrap and kept at the room temperature.
Made buttercream and praline just before assembling everything. You can make the buttercream in advance and refrigerate as well. If you made the frosting in advance make sure that you beat it vigorously with a heavy spoon before using to take away the spongy texture.
VERDICT: This has become one of our family favorites and I have received requests for the recipe after that get-together. I have made this cake twice and from my experience, one good slice is pretty impressive for any informal gathering or small birthday parties or tea-time get-togethers. The cake provides a balanced and neutral platform to absorb the flavour of the buttercream and praline and for the same reason, I feel it will go well with any other more predominant flavours. The yellow cake is soft but it is not extremely moist, like the ready-made cake mix. From my experience, I have noticed that the cake tends to become dry if you overcook the cake even 3 or 4 minutes more but moistening syrup will bring it back to its soft texture. Tamy’s buttercream recipe has been my loyal companion ever since I tried it. I am pretty happy with its consistency and taste.A bite into the soft cake feeling the crunchiness of the caramel and richness of the buttercream is quite satisfying.
Note: If you are not planning to layer the cake, then there is no need for moistening syrup, in which case make sure that cake is not baked more than the specified time.