Last Saturday was Gayle’s birthday. At the end of this month it’s my mother’s birthday. Next Tuesday is a feast of a saint turned love holiday and on the Tuesday after that Gayle will be going to Spain for an internship at a Basque restaurant that requires you to have a chef’s tweezer on the sleeve of your coat. I got another one. It the type of restaurant that looks like Tony Stark’s house or a gifted/mutant child warrior training centre with a vegetable garden at the back for those meaningful conversations that are a build up to the climactic fight scene(s). All I know is that they make fancy food and if it was me instead of her, I would be happy to wash dishes and wipe down every stainless steel surface three times a day if it meant I could eat every element on the plate in one bite because that’s all I think about while watching Chef’s Table and/or Jiro Dreams of Sushi. …
Tomorrow is the day! To all those celebrating their birthdays today: Happy birthday and thank you for letting me use your day to announce mine!
I suppose I should go into what I’ve learnt so far in this life but all that comes to mind is that it’s good to still be here. Time is this incredibly fragile thing that we are twirling in the middle of, trying to get by as slow as possible. It’s impossible to control so we watch it and say every chance we get that “it goes by so fast”. I can’t even believe I’ve spent five of my birthdays here in succession. It’s been good. I try to make it that way at least so it’s something I remember.
My first birthday in the US was celebrated with ice-cream cake. It was from Cold Stone Creamery and it was also my first time eating an ice-cream cake. I was so surprised. First of all, I never knew of such a thing being a….thing. I’d eaten ice-cream over cake as two separate entities but never as one united religious experience. With a barely-there sweet tooth, I could not eat more than a couple of slices but Matt had no such issues. I still have a barely-there sweet tooth but it’s something I can ignore on days where I turn 29 and a few more after that. At least until this cake is all gone.
This year, we got excellent plans and I’m so excited! I’ll share it all with you really soon.
Thank you for humoring my silly I mean AMAZING birthday week celebrations. This blog – rather creating for this blog – has gotten me through some shitty times. It has totally changed my goals too and I hope to get a chance to work on things I love more often than just a hobby. I know this much: I don’t want to go back to being depressed for moving countries again and as long as I’m here doing this thing, I know I’ll be okay.
Happy 29th birthday to me! It’s my birthday in India so I get to say that!
I’ve been wanting to make fennel ice-cream since I don’t know how long. Fennel is always served along with your bill in tiny trays after meals at restaurants in India. It works as a digestive and a breath-freshener. Sometimes it’s sugar coated and if it’s put in front of you, you have to eat it. It is one of those things. I’m not going to get into the myths about dipping into this community fennel because that takes all the joy out of life. Eat at your own risk, I guess. The good part of this story is that this is my personal fennel stock. No pee hands have touched them. I said it.
This ice-cream is just as delicious as you can imagine fennel ice-cream to be. This subtle, vibrant, fresh taste comes out so well. If you love fennel as much as we do in India, you will LOVE this ice-cream.
- Please use the freshest fennel you can find. Spices have a shelf-life so if you happen to find a handful of fennel sitting in your spice box for the past year, throw it away and buy more. If you don’t use it as often, buy just a little bit from the bulk section of your grocery store.
- The ice-cream could get drippy (as it should) while it’s being layered on the cake. Put it back in the fridge and let it harden if you notice this happening. It’s better to wait than to have sloppy cake.
- If making ice-cream is not your jam, use store-bought, please! A pint should be enough for this recipe..
- The same goes for chocolate cake: Use store-bought or a boxed mix to simplify.
For the fennel ice-cream
Adapted from Gourmet magazine
- 1 2/3 cups heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup sugar, divided
- Pinch of salt
- 4 large egg yolks
Place a small saucepan with the cream and fennel seeds on medium heat. Bring the ingredients to a simmer, making sure it doesn’t boil. Once it simmer, take it off the heat, cover it and let it steep for 30 minutes.
In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the milk, sugar and a pinch of salt to a simmer and stir constantly to help the sugar dissolve. Don’t let the milk boil over.
Make an ice bath by filling a sink or a large container with ice and cold water. Place a large metal or glass bowl into the ice bath put a fine-mesh sieve over the bowl.
Whisk the yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl and add milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking very rapidly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook, stirring with a spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon and registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer. Do not let it boil. If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, a good way to tell the custard is done is by swiping the back of a spoon with your finger. The mixture should be thick enough and form a clean line.
Immediately strain the custard through the fine-mesh sieve into the metal or glass bowl in the ice bath. Stir the custard occasionally until cool for about 15 minutes.
Strain the fennel cream through the same fine-mesh sieve into custard, pressing on solids. Chill the custard in the fridge overnight or for 8 hours. Freeze in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.
The ice-cream can be made a day ahead.
- 85 gms/3 oz dark chocolate chips (62% cacao)
- 185 gms/1 ⅓ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 89 gms/¾ cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 gms/ ½ tsp baking powder
- 2 gms/¼ tsp baking soda
- 113 gms/½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 200 gms/1 cup granulated sugar
- 100 gms/½ cup dark brown sugar
- 4 gms/½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 120 ml/½ cup sour cream
- 120 ml/½ cup whole milk
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 X 1.5 in cake pan and line with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper in the pan.
Melt the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave. If melting over the stove, stir until the chocolate turns smooth. If melting in the microwave, place the chocolate chips in a glass bowl and let it go round for 30 seconds. Remove and stir and put it back in for 10 seconds. Repeat this until the chocolate is smooth.
In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: Flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the melted butter, sugars and salt until combined. Beat in egg, vanilla extract, sour cream, milk and melted chocolate. Fold in the dry ingredients until just combined. Over-mixing could lead to a denser cake.
Scrape batter into prepared cake pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake emerges clean, about 50 minutes to an hour. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool completely.
To assemble ice-cream cake
- Candied fennel, to sprinkle on top
Unmold the cooled cake and smooth out the edges and the top with a large serrated knife. Carefully cut the cake in half horizontally and right through the middle. Skip this step if you want to just set and freeze the ice-cream on top of the cake.
Take the ice-cream out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for 10 minutes to allow it to turn more spreadable. Spread a 1/4 inch thick even layer of ice-cream on top of the chocolate cake. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it set in the fridge until hard (about an hour). Put the container with ice-cream back in the fridge until this time too.
Repeat the above step with the next layer of cake and ice-cream. Coat the sides of the cake with a thin layer of ice-cream. Sprinkle the top with candied fennel and chill until hard.
We’ve had sun (SUN!) these past few days in the PNW. The kind thay warms your bones when it still feels cold on your face. But it’s sun nonetheless and if I have to be even two steps away from it, you might as well lock me indoors because that is torture.
If you think I’m only going to talk about the weather for the next few months, you’re right. Seasons are a new thing for me. Come to think of it, seasons are a new thing for itself! Themselves? I don’t know. All I know is that there are giant piles of snow in Massachusetts and the mayor sounds like he should be in The Departed. If I ever go to Boston, I’m just going to make them say “Baaahhstin”, “car”, “park” and “park my car at the car park” all the time. I’d do the same thing if I met the Brad Pitt from Snatch. Except I’d make him say “dog”.
(Sorry, America’s northeast. It’s going to rain tomorrow, if that’s any consolation. Oh and Washington wants me to tell you that it’s terrible here and it rains ALL THE TIME. ; ] )
Speaking of rain, I made my very first chocolate cake last week just in time for Valentine’s Day. I rarely talk about the food I make while writing my posts but I was really excited about these guys. I’ve been trying to understand baking more as a science lately and less as a magical end result-producing thing. That’s how I do linear equations and I’ll be damned if I’m taking that habit to the kitchen. Stay, linear eqs! It’s a wonderful feeling to set out with a plan and have it work out.
So what’s the big deal, you ask? Well here I am, telling you in my loudest inside voice – that you can make this chocolate cake. You can use two kinds of chocolate, the barest of baking essentials, an oven and YOU. CAN. DO. THIS. I want you to. If you feel like you want to surprise the best person of your whole life, jump on this cake. If you’re sitting on the couch in the evening watching The Mindy Project (always) and you want something deep, dark and delicious to sink your teeth into, this is that cake. If you’ve already seen every episode of The Mindy Project, OMG share my excitement!!!
Also share my excitement over this cake. Rarely does something so formulaic make me so happy. I’m a free spirit. In my mind, I’m not bound by rules. If somebody does something and calls it the coolest thing ever, I want to do the exact opposite. Formulas, yikes. Cake formulas, that I can do. I’m here to give you the basics because I had to dig up the internet just to find me a simple recipe for chocolate cake and I still didn’t see one. Simple is hard to come by in the world wide web of clutter. What I did find instead were encouraging words from Shauna on Gluten-free Girl about cake ratios.
1 part flour
1 part sugar
1 part butter
1 part eggs (which in my case, I broke it up into eggs and sour cream)
I thought: “Why not give myself a confidence boost while teaching myself something new?” It looked like an easy enough plan and so I did it. I’m happy about this chocolate cake. I’m really happy about this chocolate cake. While the rest of the internet keeps churning out flavour combinations that can blow your mind, here I am, claiming my space with the simplest of simple. The easiest party trick in the book and yet, the most glamorous. I’m hardly bragging about my chocolate cake. Instead, I’m trying to tap the non-bakers on the shoulder and say: “If I can do this you’re already on step 3 icing this baby.”
Just like we got early spring, you got this cake. As if chocolate wasn’t a good enough reason.
Mini chocolate layer cakes with dark chocolate ganache
- This cake uses four 4″ ramekins that make 2 mini layer cakes.
- The ganache cane be made up to a week in advance. Store well-covered in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. Once you are ready to use it, bring it to room temperature or to a more spreadable consistency. You can do this much quicker by putting it in the microwave for 10 seconds in 5 seconds intervals. Check it to see if it’s smooth yet firm enough to frost the cake.
- The chocolate ganache recipe makes more than called for. However, this is by no means a bag thing. You can make truffles (with zillions of toppings), cookies, brownies, fudge or you can just plain eat it with a spoon. You can also freeze it for the next time you want to make a cake.
- This cake is a perfect dessert for 4 people which is why I ate almost 1 whole cake by myself. If you don’t want to be like me, wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it till you want to eat it. Bring it to room temperature before you do, of course.
- You can leave out the sour cream and add another egg instead (40 gms though). Remember the eggs have to weigh a total of 140 gms.
Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart
- 1 tbsp of unsalted butter, to grease the ramekins
- 2 tbsp (approx) unsweetened dutch-processed cocoa powder, to dust the ramekins
- 89 gms (1/2 cup) bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao or higher)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened dutch process cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup hot water
- 140 gms unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 140 gms unsalted butter (1 stick + 2.5 tbsp), at room temperature
- 140 gms (1/2 cup + 1/8 cup) granulated sugar
- 2 eggs (100 gms), at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp sour cream (40 gms), at room temperature
- 2 tbsp toasted almonds, to sprinkle on top
For the chocolate ganache
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 227 gms bittersweet chocolate chips
- A pinch of salt
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F and get the ramekins ready for the cake batter. Grease the ramekins with the butter and dust them with the cocoa powder. Just put a bit of the cocoa powder into the ramekin and tap the edges until it coats the whole container.
Put a small saucepan of water on the stove and heat it till the water is simmers. Place a heat-proof or glass bowl over the simmering saucepan and fill it up with the chocolate chips. Whisk in hand, stir the chocolate chips until they are just beginning to melt. As soon as the start to melt, take the bowl off the heat and keep whisking until the chocolate is completely melted.
Use a 1/4 cup of the water from the saucepan and spoon in a 1/4 cup of the cocoa powder. Mix it well until it forms a smooth paste. Set aside for later.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Using a stand-in mixer, your (trusty) hand or a hand beater, cream the butter and sugar. The two should combine and be light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time to the mixture, making sure that the first egg is completely incorporated into the butter-sugar before adding the second one. Next, add the vanilla extract and the whiskey and mix until just combined. Right before the flour, add the melted chocolate and the dutch-processed cocoa powder (that you mixed in hot water). Beat until the everything comes together.
Now comes the flour addition (finally, right?). I recommend doing half the flour at a time. Add the first part of the flour and beat it in until just uncorporated. Add the sour cream and the remaining flour and mix just until no visible streaks of flour can be seen. Don’t over mix. Also, don’t forget to scrape down the bowl and getting in all the flour that sticks there.
Spoon about 3-4 tbsp of the cake batter into the 4 ramekins, filling it to 3/4 level (it might take more or less batter but as long as you stick to the 3/4 level, you’ll be okay). Smooth down the top of the batter ever-so-slightly. If you have a baking sheet, it would come in handy at this point. Place the ramekins on the baking sheet and place it in the oven on the upper-middle rack for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean (if it has some crumbs on it, it’s okay. What you don’t want is the toothpick to be coated with unbaked batter).
Let the cakes cool completely before unmoulding them. Cut off the tops to with a serrated knife just to flatten the cake, making it easier to spread the ganache. You now have 4 mini cake layers that will make 2 mini chocolate cakes.
For the ganache: Put the chocolate chips in a small glass bowl. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until bubbles form along the rim of the cream. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate chips, let it sit for 30 seconds and then whisk until the chocolate chips are completely melted into a smooth, creamy liquid. Let it cool for about 15 minutes and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the ganache for about two hours or until it turns firm.
To assemble: Spread a thick layer of ganache on top of two of the layers. Place the other two layers on top of their buddies. Spread the rest of the ganache over the entire cake. Top with toasted almonds. And enjoy!