The perfect ending to a Sumptuous meal

As a child, I could never fully understand my selective liking for sweets and for Indian sweets in particular. For a very long time the only sweet dishes I loved were – caramel custard and bread butter pudding. An occasional piece of Gulab Jamun or Jalebi was ok too.

I never gorged on chocolates, cookies, muffins, cakes and I used to turn my face away even at the sight of milk based sweets… All this made no sense.

Over a period of time, I accepted milk in my diet in all its forms. I also gradually developed liking for chocolates (limited mostly to bitter chocolates). The range of sweets I liked widened but I remained choosy.

It is very recently that I figured out the real reason for my sweet aversion.

We Indians have this strange affinity for Cardamom. We add cardamom to almost every sweet dish we cook. So much so that at some point all the dishes smell alike and taste almost the same. This was the reason for my sweet intolerance – Cardamom.

This revelation changed my perspective towards eating and cooking sweets in a big way. I try to retain the fundamental taste or essence of the dish I am making.

The recipe I am going to share today is one such Indian dessert that has a distinct taste of its own. My favourite – Firni.

It’s a pudding like rice based preparation. Tastes best when made using finest quality Basmati rice.  In fact I would suggest if Basmati rice is not available, don’t make it.

 

Ingredients;

 1 cup Basmati rice (at least a year old)

3 cups milk (don’t use skimmed / slim milk)

1 cup sugar (can reduce or increase the quantity as per your desired level of sweetness. I recommend not making it too sweet.)

A few strands of saffron

Some water (keep it handy, use it in case needed)

Rose water

 

Coarsely ground rice

Coarsely ground rice

Saffron strands soaked in water

Saffron strands soaked in water

 

Procedure;

  1. Soak rice in water for 45 to 60 mins.
  2. In a separate small bowl soak strands of saffron in water. Many soak saffron in milk. It is my personal experience that the colour and fragrance of saffron comes out better when soaked in water.
  3. Spread the soaked rice on a kitchen towel so that excess water is absorbed. Leave it to dry for 15 mins. Grind the rice coarsely while it is still moist.
  4. In a bowl, bring milk to boil on a low flame. Add the coarse ground rice and keep stirring on a low flame. The milk will start to thicken.
  5. Add sugar. Keep stirring. If the mixture is very thick at this point, don’t add water yet. Sugar when cooked has a tendency to release water. Wait for it.
  6. Add the saffron water along with the strands.
  7. Keep stirring the mixture till the rice is fully cooked. If the mixture gets too dense and the rice is not yet fully cooked, then add a bit of water (quarter cup at a time).
  8. 8.       Lastly, once the rice is cooked add a drop of rose water (Just a drop. don’t go overboard with it, excess of rose fragrance will kill the dish)
  9. Take the mixture out in a serving bowl. Let it cool down to the room temperature and then refrigerate.
  10. Serve it cold.

 

Firni - refrigerated and served

Firni – refrigerated and served

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Another Shot at the Shortbread

This isn’t my first attempt at the shortbread. But I finally I managed to get the dough right, cooked it at the right temperature, followed the technique to the T and every bite of the shortbread is a perfect melting moment.

The classic shortbread needs only 4 ingredients, then what could possibly go wrong?  Take care of the following and you should get a decent shortbread.

  1.  Butter should be at the room temperature and soft enough to mix well.
  2. When you cream together butter and sugar, don’t over beat it. Beat only till the two are mixed well.
  3. When you add flour to sugar-butter mix, mix with the beater for a minute then knead the dough with hand.
  4. Don’t roll the dough before baking it. Flatten it / make shapes of your choice with your hands.

In my pursuit of making shortbread, I read a few blogs, watched some videos, scanned through cookery books – I am amazed to know that there are so many different methods of making that perfect shortbread. Some recipes replace 1/4th plain flour by rice flour, some add corn starch and some use icing sugar instead of granulated sugar. While I stuck to my basic four ingredients, here are some interesting links on ‘shortbread’;

http://bakingforbritain.blogspot.in/2008/02/scottish-shortbread.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2010/sep/30/how-to-make-perfect-shortbread

Note down the recipe.

Ingredients;

½ cup sieved granulated sugar

1 cup lightly salted butter at room temperature (if you use unsalted butter, add a tsp of salt to the flour)

1 ½ sieved plain flour

A dash of vanilla (essence or use seeds from the vanilla pod)

 Procedure;

  1. Cream together butter and sugar with a spoon or blender.
  2. Add vanilla essence, all the flour and mix only till the time all the ingredients come together.
  3. Keep the blender aside and mix the dough by hand.
  4. Divide the dough in equal portions. Shape the dough as shortbread fingers – the length of a finger and thickness of about 1cm.
  5. Line up the entire lot of shortbread fingers on a baking tray.
  6. With a fork make light puncture marks at three places on each shortbread finger. This will help release bubbles
  7. Chill the fingers for 20 mins before baking.
  8. While the fingers are in the fridge, preheat the oven at 160 C
  9. Remove the fingers from the freezer and put them straight into the oven. Bake for about 35-40 mins till they turn golden brown.
  10. Take the fingers out of the oven. Sprinkle granulated sugar on them while they are hot.

 

Let the shortbreads cool. Store in air tight container.

Go green with sweets | Doodhi Halwa

 

 

India’s love for sweets is not unknown. There is a sweet for every time of the day, every mood and every occasion. Even if you are the odd one like me who doesn’t have a weakness for sweets, you can’t escape from it for long.

The recipe I am going to share today is an Indian dessert made from a vegetable ‘Lauki’ / ‘Doodhi’ (Bottle gourd).

I know several methods of cooking Doodhi the savoury way. But I haven’t come cross anything except ‘Doodhi-halwa’ for Doodhi in its sweet avatar.

I am not sure what ‘Halwa’ means, but there are many variants of Halwa – Gajar (Carrot) Halwa, Suji (semolina) Halwa, Moong daal halwa, Aate ka (wheat flour) halwa and Badam (almond) halwa. They are all made more or less the same way.

 

Note down the recipe

Ingredients;

350 grams grated Doodhi (bottle gourd)

350 ml Milk

200 grams of Sugar

½ tsp of Elaichi Powder (Cardamom)

A few blanched Pistachios

2 tbsp of Ghee (purified butter)

2 drops of green food colour (optional)

 Preparations before you start

  1. Soak pistachio in a cup full of luke warm water for 30 minutes. Peel and cut into fine pieces.
  2. Wash Doodhi and peel the skin off with a peeler. Then grate.

Procedure

  1. Heat ghee in a think bottomed vessel on a low flame. Careful not to burn the ghee.
  2. Add grated Doodhi to ghee and sauté it for 5 minutes.
  3. Add milk and stir. Keep stirring till the water content in the milk evaporates. This should take around 15 minutes. You can keep switching between low and medium flame as needed.
  4. Add 150 grams of sugar to begin with. Taste and add remaining 50 grams if you want it sweeter.
  5. Sugar will make the mixture a bit thin as sugar will release water.
  6. Mix till the water dries completely.
  7. Add 2 drops of green food colour. This is an optional step. Doodhi after cooking turns to a shade of pale green-brown. Food colour will add visual appeal if you are cooking for an occasion.
  8. Add Elaichi powder.
  9. Once water dries completely, the mixture will become shiny and will come off the vessel smoothly. Switch off the burner and let the halwa cool.
  10. Mix pistachios.

Serve hot or cold.

You can replicate this recipe for Gajar halwa simply by replacing doodhi with Gajar and don’t forget to replace the green color!

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