Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vatteppam/Vattayappam – Kerala’s Queen of steamed rice cakes…..

Typically, a steamed round rice cake leavened with yeast, sweetened with sugar and flavored with the wonderful aroma and taste of cardamom, dotted with golden brown cashew nuts and plumped up raisins, that satiated my hunger innumerable times as a “Naalumani palahaaram” for those after-school tea time sessions, because of the ease with which my mother could whip it up by just steaming the batter leftover from the Paalappam made for breakfast, by adding some sugar and flavoring and ghee roasted nuts and raisins to dress it up a bit……..

…and in my teens, the same round steamed rice cake started appearing on the glass shelves of bakeries, wrapped stylishly in clear plastic……and very soon , someone tried to give a fashion makeover to those humble round steamed cakes by steaming in idli moulds and thus giving it a cute little flying saucer shape…..

…and whether it is homemade or bakery bought, for many like me it is part of teatime memories and for some out there, it is synonymous with Christmas and for some , it is that sweet snack that completes a wholesome royal breakfast, especially when guests are invited. Spongy and airy by texture, I find this one the queen of steamed delicacies from Kerala, for the ease of preparation and taste.

To Grind:
  • 1 cup raw-rice/Pachari or Idli-Ponni rice, soaked for 6-8 hours
  • ¾ cup freshly grated coconut
  • 2 tbsp cooked rice
  • ½ cup water or enough to grind the above ingredients to make a batter ( as thick as idli batter)
To Proof yeast:
  • ½ tsp active dry yeast ( I use Fleischmann’s active dry yeast)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2tsp sugar
To Make Thari Kurukku/Rice porridge: (Use only 4tbsp of this paste/porridge)
  • 1 ½ to 2 tbsp coarse ground paste
  • Around 1/3 to ½ cup water
To sweeten and flavor:
  • ½ cup sugar ( to taste)
  • 10-12 cardamom/elakkaya crushed/powdered ( Add as per taste and pungency of the spice)
  • ½ tbsp cashew nuts
  • ½ tbsp raisins
  • 1 ½ tbsp ghee
  • Grind rice in an Indian mixer/blender, adding water, just enough to operate the mixer. When ground rice reaches a coarse texture, remove the required quantity mentioned under, “To Make Thari Kurukku/Rice porridge” and keep aside. Now add freshly grated coconut to the main batch of ground rice and grind thoroughly to a fine batter. Towards the end, add cooked rice and grind again. Leave the blender bowl on the kitchen counter until it is cold and comes to room temperature.
  • Meanwhile, proof yeast by warming water in a microwave for 15 seconds. Add sugar and yeast; dissolve both the ingredients in this warm water and keep the mixture in a warm place for 15-20 minutes, or until it inflates and foams, creating a ‘dome of foam’, on top of the mixture. I usually keep the bowl inside the microwave itself, undisturbed until it foams.
  • Also make Thari Kurukku/Rice porridge by heating a pan and adding the couple of spoonfuls of coarse ground rice, kept aside earlier and water; bring it to a boil and keep stirring in low-medium heat until it is fully cooked and reaches the consistency of a thick paste /porridge and turn off the stove and keep aside till it is completely cool.
  • When Thari Kurukku/Rice porridge (and batter) is cool, add about 4 tbsp of the same to the main batch of ground rice batter and spin for one more time to blend it thoroughly with the batter. Next, add yeast mixture and pulse one or two times just to blend everything well.
  • Pour the entire batter to a steel/glass bowl and let it ferment in a warm place for about 4-6 hours or overnight, depending on the weather zone you are in. Pick a stainless steel or glass bowl big enough to hold double the quantity of batter as during the fermentation process, the batter rises well and it should not over flow from the bowl.
  • When batter is doubled and fermented, add sugar and stir gently and mix and again let it ferment for another 1 ½ to 2 hours.
  • In the meantime, heat ghee in a small pan and roast cashew nuts till golden brown and raisins till they plump up fully.
  • Just before steaming, add crushed/powdered cardamom, ghee roasted nuts and raisins to the batter.
  • For steaming, heat some water in a pressure cooker; grease a 6 inch round pan/or cake tin with some ghee or oil. Pour the prepared batter and fill till half of the pan/cake tin; when it starts to steam, place that flat plate with holes, which comes with the cooker and on top of it, gently drop the batter filled pan/cake tin and close the cooker tightly with lid and its rubber in place (do not keep the weight/whistle) and let it steam cook for about 20 -30 minutes in medium heat. Cooking time varies depending on the stove, utensil and consistency of the batter. After about 20 minutes, remove the cooker from the heat and carefully open the lid and insert a knife or tail of the spoon and if it comes out clean or with very less crumbs, then that shows it is done or almost done, in which case, keep it covered for some more time and let it cook in that locked in steam for some more time or if you think it needs some more steaming, close the lid tightly and bring it back to the stove and heat and steam cook for some more time, till it is fully done and cooked well.
  • Lift the pan/cake tin from the cooker and leave it on the kitchen counter till it is completely cool and comes to the room temperature. Now run a knife by the side of the pan and gently separate the steamed cake/vatteppam/Vattayappam from the edges of the pan. Now, slowly try to lift off the cake with a spatula or anything that has a flat surface and it will come off easily; plate it and cut into squares of wedges and serve with tea/coffee.
  • If you would like to see some of those ghee roasted raisins and cashew nuts on top of Vatteppam/vattayappam as garnish, try to open the pressure cooker, at about 10 -15 minutes into steaming ; at this stage the batter has just risen to the top and you can drop some of those ghee roasted nuts and raisins on top, to get a beautifully decorated Vatteppam/vattayappam.
  • You can make Vatteppam/vattayappam, using a mix of rice flour and coconut milk as well but whether it is ground rice or ready-made rice flour that you use , the texture of Vatteppam/vattayappam, is very much dependent on the quality of the rice you use; it is ideal to use rice that is less starchy to see those tiny holes and crevices on the sliced pieces.
  • You may adjust the quantity of sugar to make it sweeter or adjust to your taste.
  • Fermentation time varies depending on the weather zone you are in. The weather zone I am in compels me to heat the oven at 350F for 10 minutes and then switch it off; wait for 30-40 minutes or till it is warm enough to hold my hands inside the oven without any discomfort. At this temperature, keep your batter covered for the prescribed time. By the end of this process, the batter will rise-almost double and you will notice thick foam like ballooning on top and a sharp fermented smell.

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