Third World Baker

I live in India and I love baking. This for me is a process riddled with substitutions and inventions. This is how I make things still taste great. (Now featuring non baked food as well, as the mood strikes.)

In which I attempt the greatest culinary feat of my life (till date), and partially succeed.

Freshly out of ideas for my next baking project, I asked my friend Diviani what I should make next. She suggested these Argentinian cookies called Alfajores. They sounded delectable - lemon flavoured white cookies sandwiched with Dulce de Leche and topped with grated coconut. It was a terrifying undertaking, mostly because you don’t get Dulce de Leche in India, which meant I would have to make it myself. The process sounded similar to the Indian Kheer although the consistency was different. Now, making good Kheer is a tedious task - you have to stand at the stovetop stirring away for hours. I was not looking forward to it. There were a few recipes though that suggested baking a tin of condensed milk in a bain marie in an oven but I was freshly out of suitable utensils to construct one (read: I don’t have any). So it had to be the stovetop method. It was a daunting task but like a good soldier I ploughed on. Milk in India has an exceptionally low fat content, so I started by adding fat to the milk in the form of cream. I added a tin of condensed milk for good measure. Then began the stirring. Thankfully for the most part I had company in the form of my best friend while doing so and we had Fruit Ninja championships on our phones while the milk cooked under our mostly watchful eyes. Then we hit a snag. The milk looked at one point that it had thickened enough (it was forming ribbons) so I took it off the heat and dumped it in the blender. But a few pulses later it was all runny all over again. Dismay and devastation! We thought of bunging it in the freezer but that didn’t work. In the end, I went at it for one more round of heating and stirring during which my poor lazy arms almost fell off and the result as the thick gooey goodness you see in the photo above. 

As for the cookies, as for the cookies. Well. I used the first recipe I found  (which was this one) and from the beginning it looked a bit suspect. 1/2 cup of butter to 2 cups of flour? But I have this thing that takes hold of me sometimes when I simply HAVE to follow a recipe to a t, and against my better judgement I did so this time. The results were… not great. It was a soft yet dry, dense cookie which could have done with a lot more butter and a bit more baking time. I’m not putting up the recipe here because I am not pleased with it. However I have had an idea of modifying the recipe to something far more delectable - watch this space! 

Homemade Dulce de Leche

Ingredients: 

900 ml milk

750 ml heavy cream

1 tin condensed milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

Generous, and I mean extremely generous splash of vanilla

Combine all the ingredients except the baking powder and the vanilla and set to heat in the largest pot you have. The milk is going to foam up when heated and you need something big to accommodate the volume. 

When the milk is slightly warmed, add the baking powder and vanilla. The milk will foam up at this point due to the baking powder. Lower the heat accordingly when it does.

Turn up the heat again till the milk boils over and foams. At this point turn down the heat exactly as much as you need to turn it down to keep the milk from spilling over. The idea is to keep the heat as high as possible. You do not want additional cooking time. 

Give it a stir once in a while as it bubbles away and skim the foam from the top. You don’t have to do this all the time, just once in a while. 

As the milk reduces stir it more and more often till you come to the point where you have to stir it continuously to keep it from sticking to the bottom. It should be pretty thickened by now. 

At one point the thickened milk will start to sputter with little bubbles. Be careful to not get burned at this point, because I did. Turn down the heat a bit when this happens but DO NOT stop stirring. 

When the milk has thickened enough to form ribbons (you should see a distinct ribbon of thickened milk forming if you drop a ladleful of it onto its surface) take off heat and blend. It should become runnier after this. 

Return the milk to the pot and stir over medium/high heat. This will take a lot of energy, more so as it keeps thickening. But you cannot stop. Keep changing arms and keep on stirring. Eventually you’ll come to a point where you will be able to see the bottom of the pot with every scrape of the ladle. Keep at it for a bit more until you get a consistency which you can spread on biscuits for example. I thickened mine a bit more than that in my zeal. 

This should keep in a fridge for a few days or in the freezer for a bit more. I am planning to make ice cream with mine! 

In which I cook dinner
Dinner. As simple as you can get. I got this recipe for enchorer torkari or curried jackfruit from my best friend’s mum who is the most amazing home cook ever. Seriously, everyday meals at her place is some of the best food I have ever had. When it comes to everyday cooking, I can only hope to recreate something like that. 
Ingredients:
Half or a quarter of an unripe jackfruit (depending on the size, about 500-600 gms) cut into 1 inch cubes
One potato, cubed
Splash of cooking oil (shada tel)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3-4 small or 2 large bay leaves
1 tablespoon gota gorom moshla (whole cloves, cinnamon sticks and cardamom seeds)
2 medium onions, 6-8 cloves of garlic and 2 inches ginger blended together into a paste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
3 tablespoons yogurt, beaten
1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)*

In a wok heat oil and add the cumin seeds, bay leaves and gorom moshla. 
When it they are fragrant, add the onion-ginger-garlic paste and the turmeric powder and fry till oil separates out.
Add the yogurt. 
Add the jackfruit and the potatoes.
Add as much salt as you like. 
Add about a litre of water and cook uncovered till all the water has evaporated. 
Check seasonings and just before taking off heat, add a bit of ghee. 

*To clarify butter, heat butter over medium heat until it foams. When the foam subsides and the milk solids have settled at the bottom, you’re done. Take care to not burn it. 

In which I cook dinner

Dinner. As simple as you can get. I got this recipe for enchorer torkari or curried jackfruit from my best friend’s mum who is the most amazing home cook ever. Seriously, everyday meals at her place is some of the best food I have ever had. When it comes to everyday cooking, I can only hope to recreate something like that. 

Ingredients:

Half or a quarter of an unripe jackfruit (depending on the size, about 500-600 gms) cut into 1 inch cubes

One potato, cubed

Splash of cooking oil (shada tel)

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

3-4 small or 2 large bay leaves

1 tablespoon gota gorom moshla (whole cloves, cinnamon sticks and cardamom seeds)

2 medium onions, 6-8 cloves of garlic and 2 inches ginger blended together into a paste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

3 tablespoons yogurt, beaten

1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)*

In a wok heat oil and add the cumin seeds, bay leaves and gorom moshla. 

When it they are fragrant, add the onion-ginger-garlic paste and the turmeric powder and fry till oil separates out.

Add the yogurt. 

Add the jackfruit and the potatoes.

Add as much salt as you like. 

Add about a litre of water and cook uncovered till all the water has evaporated. 

Check seasonings and just before taking off heat, add a bit of ghee. 

*To clarify butter, heat butter over medium heat until it foams. When the foam subsides and the milk solids have settled at the bottom, you’re done. Take care to not burn it. 

In which I am utterly confused

Not having baked anything for a few days I was feeling baking withdrawal. Unfortunately the thing I really wanted to make, chocolate chip cookie dough truffles, requires an inordinate amount of chocolate which I can’t afford right now. So I went to my trusted recipe blog, Smitten Kitchen, and looked up the recipe for these Russian teacakes. Walnuts and cinnamon? Count me in! 

Unfortunately I hit a snag right at the beginning. The recipe called for 1 cup of butter and 2 cups of flour. Usually when something calls for 1 cup of butter I just go ahead and use a 100 g packet. But it was clearly stated here that 1 cup is 240 g. My entire universe was shattered. If 1 cup meant 240 g, would that hold true for flour and sugar as well? Without my trusty measuring glass I was utterly lost. In the end I measured out two large cups of flour, put some of it back in the jar and added some more at the end of making the dough. So essentially I have no idea how much flour I used. The same goes for the walnut meal. The recipe called for 1 cup. I dutifully measured out 1 cup of walnuts, put it in the blender and added some more. I was rewarded by a tremendous amount of walnut meal which was more like 2 cups. In the end it turned out just fine, with the right amount of walnuttiness and cinnamoniness. I still have no idea what to do with the masses of cinnamon sugar I have acquired in the process though. Apple pie? Maybe! 

Ingredients:

240 g butter

1/2 cup sugar

Generous splash of vanilla

2 cups flour

1 cup walnuts

1 egg (the original recipe didn’t call for eggs but I was suspicious about what would bind the cookies together. They turned out pretty crumbly while warm even then, but settled down on cooling)

For the dredging sugar:

1 cup sugar

Couple of sticks of cinnamon (about 2-3 inches each)

In a small blender jar, grind the cinnamon as much as possible. Add the sugar and grind until it is powdery. 

Grind the walnuts into walnut meal as well. Do not over blend in this case because then you will get an oily mess instead of a fine meal. 

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and the sugar together. 

Add the egg and the vanilla.

Spoon this mixture into the flour and add the walnut meal to it. 

Mix till the dough just comes together. It should be pretty sticky. 

Chill the dough in the fridge for 1/2 hour. 

Preheat oven to 170 C.

Grease a cookie sheet and roll out rounds of dough onto it. 

Bake for about 10 minutes each way, turning the cookie sheet round halfway through. I used both the top and bottom heating elements after turning the sheet around, as opposed to just the bottom element before turning it around. 

Take the cookies out and place carefully onto a wire rack. While they are still warm, dredge them in the cinnamon sugar. 

In which I make up my entirely own recipe


My favourite cake shop in the world has gone downhill slightly but only very slightly in recent years. Back in the day their chocolate chunk cookie used to be this gooey chocolatey proposition infused with chocolate chips and walnuts. These days you would be lucky to find either. Thankfully their other offerings remain the same. The attempt here was to recreate my favourite cookie but I am a) not rich enough for two bars of chocolate dedicated to one recipe and b) seriously, chocolate is expensive. With this in mind, I took to recreating a modified version of my favourite cookie, with still no chocolate chunks but with extra added walnuts. I am pleased to note that the results look (and taste) exactly the same. 

I thought of this recipe while making the brownies which were the first post evar on this blog. Since I didn’t have enough batter to fill the tray the sides of the brownie had turned out thin and cookie like. I realised then that it would be pretty easy to modify the brownie batter to a cookie batter. This is how you do it. 

Ingredients:

1 2/3 cup flour

1 cup sugar

100 grams good quality dark chocolate

130 g butter

Splash of vanilla

2 eggs (small/medium eggs)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or as much as you like

First, preheat the oven to 170 C. 

Then melt the butter and the chocolate using either a bain marie or the homemade chocolate melting method (in which you put the chocolate and the butter in a soup bowl and hold it over a pot of boiling water using that handy implement of all Indian kitchens, the shaNrashi, stirring occasionally) 

Wait for the chocolate-butter mix to cool a bit.

In a blender add sugar to the chocolate-butter mix and blend.

Add the eggs and the vanilla and blend.

In a large mixing bowl, stir around the flour and the baking powder to mix. 

Pour in the blender mix into this and stir until just combined. 

Let it sit for a while in the fridge or freezer so that it is possible to shape the batter into rounds. (I was impatient so my first batch turned out to be monster cookies (or drop cookies.))

Bake for 10 minutes and then turn the baking sheet around and bake for 10-11 more minutes. Halfway through I changed the setting from ‘bake’ (lower heating element only) to ‘toast’ (both elements). This ensures that the cookies don’t get burnt on the bottom.  

In which I follow a recipe to the t

After yesterday’s banana cookie disaster I decided to go for the simplest thing I could possibly find. And what can be simpler than a pound cake? I was very much tempted to take a pound of butter, sugar, flour and eggs and see what I came up with but first off I have no idea how much a pound of eggs is, and secondly a pound of butter.  I live by the principles of intuitive eating and don’t diet but even then a pound of butter seems a bit excessive. Not to mention I wasn’t sure if my baking pan would hold a batter containing a pound of flour. In the end I followed the first recipe google came up with. It’s the one I reblogged earlier and I followed it as well as I can follow any recipe while baking. (Read, no tweaking!) The results are lovely, producing a moist cake with a soft crumb. If you are new to baking I suggest you try this out because seriously, nothing can be simpler than this. 

Ingredients:

4 small or 3 large eggs at room temperature

3 tablespoons milk at room temperature (I used warm milk but it didn’t seem to make a difference)

Generous splash of vanilla (and do be particularly generous, it takes quite a bit to get rid of the smell of 4 whole eggs)

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 cup sugar

185 grams of butter at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 175 C.

Butter a baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. (I neglected to do this and it was a bitch to get the cake out.) 

In a mixing bowl, combine flour and baking powder with a whisk till incorporated. 

Cream the butter and sugar till it’s whippy.

Add the eggs one by one beating well after each addition so that it is fully incorporated. 

Add the vanilla and beat. 

Add the milk and beat. 

Pour this mixture (it should be pretty runny) into the flour and mix till just incorporated. Do not be worried if the batter is lumpy (mine was slightly lumpy) but it will sort itself out while baking. 

Bung in preheated oven and bake will a knife inserted comes out clean. In my baking pan which is big and shallow it took 20 minutes. In a proper cake tin it ought to take longer. The original recipe states baking time as 55-65 minutes. I do not think it will take that long though in any baking tin.