Saturday, April 27, 2013

Avocado Brownies

Avocados are the best thing in the whole world. They taste so good and they're so versatile - you can add them to just about anything!

Although, I should mention that I recently had a severe episode of food poisoning when I made pasta with avocado sauce. The husband suspects it was the avocados. I think it was the cheese. Cheese which I had bought way back in January of this year. It could never be the avocados, right? I mean, how can something so good be so bad? It's not like fish. {FYI - I also recently found out that I'm allergic to all kinds of fish, not only shellfish like I earlier thought. Sad.}

Let's make some healthy-for-you brownies, shall we?

Side note: They don't taste of avocados at all. 

Avocado Brownies

 -- adapted from How Sweet Eats

2 ripe avocados, mashed
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil or butter
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350C. 

In a large bowl, mix the mashed avocados with the melted chocolate. Add sugar and fold everything with a spatula. 

Add eggs and fold again. Add flour, cocoa powder, oil, baking powder, salt, and vanilla extract. Mix everything till combined. 

Pour batter in a greased 9-inch square pan. Bake for 35 minutes. 

Let cool completely before slicing. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

No Knead Bread

It's been...very long.

We moved! Yay - to the land of amazing produce and baking ingredients - US of A!

You'd think I would do a lot of baking but nope! Nada. I'm moving towards a healthier lifestyle so it's all low calorie eating here folks (which is so difficult in this country when you go out to eat).

Anyway, let's talk about this bread now. It'll change your world. It's so easy, albeit a bit time consuming - it'll change your world, seriously (I had to say it twice!)

No Knead Bread

- adapted from The Italian Dish

This makes about 2 medium sizes loaves

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oatmeal
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 - 3 cups water

Warm the water for 30-45 seconds in the microwave. It should be warm to touch, not hot. Mix the sugar in the warm water and sprinkle yeast on top. Let sit till the mixture is foamy.

In the meantime, sift the flours, salt, and oatmeal in a large bowl, preferably one with a lid. Add in the yeast mixture and stir everything together with a spatula till well combined. The batter resembles a thick paste.

Cover with the lid (do not snap the lid shut, just place it on the bowl). Let rise for 2 hours and then keep in the refrigerator for another 2-3 hours or till you're ready to bake. The dough will improve in flavor every day.

To shape the loaf, follow instructions on The Italian Dish.

Once the loaf is shaped, place it on a floured sheet of parchment paper placed on an inverted baking sheet. Let rise for 30-40 minutes. The loaf will not rise much, but will expand in the oven.

Preheat oven to 450F. Place an empty cake pan on the bottom shelf of the oven. Once the oven is preheated, add 2 cups of water to the cake pan. This builds steam and gives a nice crust to the bread.

Score the loaf with a sharp blade or knife. Bake for 30-35 minutes till golden brown.

Cool completely before slicing. Keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Store the remaining dough in the fridge with the lid snapped shut on the bowl.

The Italian Dish has very detailed instructions. If you're confused about any step, read her post first.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tips for Using Fresh Yeast

Fresh yeast is ivory colored and available in blocks of a couple hundred grams. In Delhi, you can find it at Modern Bazaar. In other places, you may be able to source some from a local bakery.

In the past week, I had a couple of failures using fresh yeast because it behaves a little differently than active dry yeast. Thankfully, after a lot of trial and error, I found out what I was doing wrong.

A simple rule of thumb -

1 tsp active dry yeast = 10g fresh yeast = 4-5 heaping tbsp {if you don't have a kitchen scale.}

{There are many websites/blogs that have different versions, this worked best for me.}

For my sandwich bread, I use 30g of fresh yeast.

How to use fresh yeast - 

Cut off the required amount from the yeast block. Be careful, it'll start  melting as soon as you touch it. Do the cutting off process directly over your mixing bowl, if possible.

Once your yeast is in the bowl, add 1-2 tbsp sugar {to give it something to feed on}, and mash it with the back of a spoon. The mixture will turn into a mucky liquid within seconds.

Add all your dry ingredients and continue with the recipe you're following.

Important things to remember -

Fresh yeast has a very fast proofing time. If the recipe calls for two hours proofing, check the dough after 30 minutes. It will have doubled in size. 

Fresh yeast has a short shelf life. Keep it stored in the freezer. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight when using.

Never put salt directly on fresh yeast. You will kill it.

Never leave your dough uncovered. Always cover with cling wrap or a damp tea towel. This ensures an even rise and prevents the dough from forming a skin. 

Checking freshness of the yeast - 

Ensure there are no dark or dry spots on the yeast. 

Take a tablespoon of yeast, mix with sugar, 3-4 tbsp flour, and just enough water to make a shaggy dough. If it rises, the yeast is good.

Storage instructions - 

Keep stored in the freezer. 

Wrap in cling wrap or a food safe plastic wrap.

Thaw overnight in refrigerator before using.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Honey Oat Bread

Inspired by my recent success with bread, I took on the challenge to make sandwich bread. I've had a fair share of disasters with yeast, but those days are in the past now.

This recipe is adapted from Julia Child's white sandwich bread, and is everything you want good bread to be - moist, light, and incredibly fluffy.

Making bread at home can be slightly expensive than buying store bought bread, at least in India. In my defense, homemade bread tastes much better and doesn't have any mystical raising agents that commercial bread has.

 Honey Oat Bread

- adapted from Julia Child's recipe, on Dinner with Julie

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup quick cooking oats (I used Quaker)
1 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp + 1 tsp active dry yeast, or 30 gms fresh yeast
4 tbsp honey
2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 tsp salt

Mix honey with 1/2 cup warm water in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and wait 5-7 minutes, till it turns frothy.

Add flour, oats, butter, salt, and remaining water. Using the dough attachment on a hand/stand mixer, mix everything together so it forms a wet, shaggy dough, about 10 minutes. Cover with cling wrap and let it rise for two hours, till the dough doubles in size.

Punch down the dough. Remove from bowl onto a floured counter. Rub some flour on your hands and stretch the dough into a rough rectangle, as shown in the picture below.

Fold the dough into a log, starting from the shorter end of the rectangle. Place it in a greased loaf tin with the seam side down.

Before | After

Let rise for another 2 hours. Preheat oven to 160C and bake for 30 minutes, till the top is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.

Remove the bread from the loaf tin and brush the top generously with milk. Let cool on a wire rack.

Here's a view of the sliced bread.

I'm not sure about the shelf life of the bread. I think it should do okay in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Focaccia Bread

There are few things in life that can compare to the warmth of freshly baked bread. After multiple failures, Nancy Silverton's recipe came to my rescue. I had to adapt it to ensure it resulted in perfect bread. Humid is good for bread, the problem is the flour we get here, which has a low gluten percentage, and the yeast, which never rises as it should.

Nevertheless, I won the challenge this time around, learning from my previous mistakes, to create the perfect loaf of heavenly bread. It's not hard to make bread, but definitely time consuming. At the end, the effort is worth it.

I'm thankful to Del Monte for throwing up this challenge to Indian bloggers! If it wasn't for them, I'd have dodged the idea of making bread forever.

You can browse through some more finger lickin' recipes on their website World Foody, or like them on Facebook ( to see what their chefs are cooking up!

Focaccia Bread
- heavily adapted from Nancy Silverton's recipe

This recipe has two parts - the first step is to make the focaccia sponge, while the second is the dough.

For the sponge:

1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup all purpose flour (maida)
1 1/2 tsp yeast (I used Topsal active dry yeast)

Sprinkle yeast over warm water in a plastic bowl. Add in the flour when the mixture becomes foamy.

Mix everything together using a spatula or a wooden spoon. Cover three times with cling wrap to ensure that no air seeps in. Let this mixture proof for 24 hours. After 24 hours, it will be bubbly and thick.

For the focaccia dough:

1 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp warm water, mixed with 1 tsp honey
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp Del Monte olive oil
Focaccia sponge
1 1/2 tbsp yeast
3 cups + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tbsp salt
Handful of sliced Del Monte stuffed green olives and pitted black olives
8-10 garlic cloves
5-6 fresh basil leaves
1 tsp ground black pepper

In a mixing bowl, sprinkle yeast over the warm water. Wait for the mixture to become foamy. Add 1 tbsp olive oil, sponge, and sifted all purpose flour. Using a hand/stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine all the ingredients at a low speed for two minutes.

Increase speed to medium and add the salt without stopping the mixer. Keep mixing for 5-8 minutes, till the dough starts to slightly pull away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is not pulling away, add 1-2 tbsp flour.

Grease a large bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover tightly with cling wrap, placing 3-4 layers of cling wrap over the bowl. Seal the bowl further by wrapping the perimeter with more cling wrap.

Let the dough rise in a warm spot  (24C to 26C is good) for two hours. Lightly dust the counter with flour and flip the dough on to the floured surface. Place the palm of your right hand on one end of the dough, and stretch the other end using your left hand. Fold the stretched end over the the other end. Repeat three times.

Place the dough in the greased bowl with the folded end placed at the bottom. Cover with cling wrap and let proof for two hours.

Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a cake pan (I used the microwave tawa that came with my convection microwave) to grease it. Flip the dough carefully onto the pan. While flipping the dough, take care not to deflate it and handle it very gently. The dough will be very soft.

Using gentle pressure, stretch the dough to the edges of the pan. Gently press the olives, garlic cloves, and basil leaves into the dough. Let rise for 1 1/2 hour.

Preheat oven to 200C (I bake in a convection microwave, if using a conventional oven, increase temperature by 20C). Brush the dough liberally with more olive oil.

Bake for 40 minutes till the bread is golden and sounds hollow when you knock on it.

Cheers to a beautiful loaf!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rustic Apple Jam

There's something romantic about apples - the beautiful aroma of a great apple that fills your house, the wonderful taste of a luscious fruit, and how you can create mouth watering desserts from such a simple fruit. A recent apple bounty has filled the refrigerator fruit tray, and my little sticky pad is overrun with baking ideas, although I'll ignore the sticky for a while to enjoy whole fruit, unadulterated with butter or sugar.

Food in Jars is a wonderful blog about canning and preserving, and this post did mention that apple is a difficult fruit to "jam" with. Having made a jam promise to myself, I ignored the sage advice of a very experienced canning expert, and decided to take the challenge.

The results hit the palate like a riot of warm, fuzzy flavors. The jam was flavored with apple pie spices and pairs wonderfully with bread or crackers. 

Apple Jam - enough to fill three 500g jars

6 large apples (I used Kinnaur apples)
750 ml water
1 cup regular white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger powder

Pour water in a large pot. Chop the apples and keep adding them in the water to reduce oxidation. You can also rub them with lemon juice instead. Turn the flame to high and cook for 20 minutes, till the apples soften.

Once the apples are soft, remove the pot from heat and mash the apples using a potato masher or a hand blender. Wrap your hand with a towel to protect yourself from the hot steam. Place the pot on the flame and add sugar. Cook for another twenty minutes on a medium flame. 

During this time, the apple mixture will bubble and thicken. Add in the vanilla seeds from the bean, cinnamon, and ginger. Let the mixture cook for ten minutes.

While the mixture is cooking, sterilize the jars for the jam by placing them in boiling water (add 1 tbsp white vinegar to the water). Dry the jars completely. 

When the jam is cooked, pour it into the jars. Close the lids and place the jars in a pan of boiling water (the water should reach the middle of the jar) for ten minutes to seal the jars. 

The jam will thicken as it cools. Keep refrigerated.


* Use fresh apples to make this jam. Fresh apples are rich in pectin, a natural substance used to thicken jams. If you have apples sitting in your fridge since a few weeks, add 2-3 tbsp pectin to the mixture. Pectin is available at Modern Bazaar at Basant Lok Market, Vasant Vihar, Delhi. See this link for instructions on using pectin. Read more about pectin on Wikipedia.

* The jam filled jars are immersed in hot water to seal them. This increases the shelf life of the jam and keeps it fresh longer.

* Since this jam doesn't contain any preservatives, it can get spoiled easily. Keep it refrigerated at all times.

* A homemade jam isn't always smooth in texture like store bought jam. When you bite into this apple jam, you'll get bits and pieces of the fruit. That's just how I like it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Whole Wheat Pita Bread and Hummus

On popular demand, I'm posting my recipe for whole wheat pita bread, along with some tips on using yeast. Sorry, no pictures! I'll add some when I make pita again.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread - makes 4

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp salt

Activate yeast by sprinkling it over warm water. Add salt and sift in the flour. Knead until smooth and pliable, just like you'd knead dough for roti.

Divide the dough into four equal portions, and roll them out, like you'd roll out a roti but not too thin, about 2-3 cms thick. Place the rolled out dough on a floured surface and cover with a wet tea towel. Let it rise for one hour.

You can either bake these or cook them on a tawa or fry pan.  Brush a little olive oil on the uncooked bread, place on a tawa and cook both sides on medium heat. Flip the bread over after about 30 seconds. 

The bread should puff up. If it doesn't, its not really pita bread, although you'd still be able to eat it. When you break the pita bread in half, there should be two distinct layers that form a pocket where you can stuff any filling you like.

Hummus - makes about 1-2 cups

2 cups boiled chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini (to make tahini, grind 3-4 tbsp white sesame seeds with 6 tbsp water)
4 tbsp water
4 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp salt
2 tsp powdered cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves

Mix everything together in a food processor and blend into a paste. Store in an airtight container. 

To make powdered cumin, dry roast cumin seeds on a fry pan and grind them in a mortar and pestle. 

Tips on using yeast

- When using active, dry yeast (the most common kind available here), always make sure you 'activate' it first. To activate the yeast, sprinkle 1 tbsp yeast over 1/4 cup warm water. Wait for it to turn foamy. If the water doesn't become foamy, the yeast is no good. Active, dry yeast is easily available in all department stores. Some brands of active, dry yeast are Topsal and Solar. 

- Whole wheat yeast dough will NEVER rise as much as an all-purpose flour (maida) yeast dough. This is because the amount of gluten differs in both. You can use all-purpose flour if you want a better rise, but it won't be as healthy. Of course, for things like cinnamon rolls or doughnuts, do not substitute whole wheat flour.

- The temperature of water plays a very important role in activating the yeast. Too cold and the yeast will not activate, and too hot will kill the yeast. You can use a candy thermometer to check the temperature of water, it should be about 110F or between 32C and 38C, or do a finger test. Poke your finger in the water, till it feels hot enough to pull your finger away. That's the temperature you need.

- You can also use fresh yeast instead of active, dry yeast. Fresh yeast is available at Modern Bazaar, Basant Lok Market at Vasant Vihar, Delhi. Fresh yeast has a short shelf life and cannot be stored beyond its expiration date. It comes in blocks of 500gms and is priced at Rs. 85, I think. Break a chunk off from the yeast block, and crumble it over warm water. 

- Do not attempt making bread [i.e. bakery style bread, the one you use for making sandwiches etc] with all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour if you live in India. The flour available in India doesn't have a very high gluten content and does not produce a light, flavorful loaf. Professional bakeries use something called a bread prover, which produces a well risen dough. Deeba Rajpal, of Passionate about Baking, uses something called vital gluten, although am not sure if it's available in India. 

UPDATE: Vital gluten IS available in India through bakery ingredient manufacturers. It usually comes in packets of 10 to 25 kilos, so I don't think it's a good choice for the home baker. I'm still searching for a source that sells vital gluten in smaller quantities.