An Irani café for dessert?

One of the things I lament the most when I visit coffee shops both in Singapore and back in Mumbai is the disappearance of good old fashioned tea cakes. Much as I like a brownie or a cheesecake every now and then, nothing quite complements a cup of tea or coffee like a simple tea cake. Even a plain old sponge or ribbon cake will do, I seek nothing fancier.

One of my favourite tea cakes is the Mawa cake. And nothing compares to the Mawa cake that was sold at B.Merwan’s outside Grant Road (E) station. When I worked in Advertising, our office used to be at Kemps Corner and very often my colleague, Firoz, would stop at Merwan’s to pick up some fresh Mawa cakes and the crusty Brun maska and bring it to the office. I would postpone my breakfast as much as possible on the off chance that Firoz had managed to secure either the cake or the brun, as both would run out very fast. And on the lucky days when he did manage to get them, I would be over the moon. Ah, the joy of biting into the soft yet decadent Mawa cake or dunking the Brun muska into a cup of tea to soften it just a wee bit before taking a bite. I have heard that B.Merwan’s closed down and then heard another rumour saying they were open again – not sure which is true, but it would be an absolute shame if they had really closed their doors forever.

Of course nothing compares to the experience of having the Mawa cake in an Irani establishment because then you have the joy of eating it with hot Parsi or Irani mint tea, complete with the ambience of an Irani cafe. Parsi Choi is like masala chai, sweet but a little less heavy on the spices and with the addition of fresh mint leaves. The mint leaves make all the difference and the tea is the perfect pairing to any freshly baked item.

Recently I was looking through the album of our trip back to Mumbai last year and came across photos at Kyani & Co. Aniruddha and I had gone to indulge in a cup of Parsi Choi (called Irani mint tea at Kyani) with Bun maska (a soft bun with butter vs. the crusty Brun). And seeing those photos got me thinking about how I could bring this amazing combination on to our menu. It had to be dessert, since I wanted to serve Mawa cake and then it struck me…why not convert the Parsi Choi into ice-cream! When in doubt, everything can be turned into an ice-cream 🙂

I have posted about Mawa cakes earlier on the blog, but now am sharing the recipe I use. I had to search for a Parsi Choi recipe and came across one on Peri’s Spice Ladle (http://www.perisspiceladle.com/2014/01/03/mint-and-cardamon-parsi-choi-or-chai-an-indian-tea). I first made a regular cup of Parsi Choi, which turned out amazing – a little more spicy and less milky & sweet than the ones I have had in Irani restaurants. I then took the recipe and married it with my basic ice-cream recipe to create the Parsi Choi ice-cream! Warm Mawa cake with Parsi Choi ice-cream – takes you back to an Irani cafe!

Priya

Mawa cake adapted from Tartelette Blog

  • ½ cup + 2 tbsp mawa
  • 1 ¼th cup flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 6-7 strands of saffron
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 9 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp cardamom powder
  • Chopped pistachios for decoration (optional)

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven at 180C, gas mark 3
  • Warm milk and soak the saffron strands. After a couple of minutes, grind gently to release the colour
  • Sift the flour, cardamom powder and baking powder together
  • Beat the sugar, mawa and butter till soft and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat till incorporated. If the mixture starts to look curdled, add a tbsp. of flour
  • Alternately add the flour and milk and beat well till mixed.
  • Pour into greased and floured cupcake holders or in a baking tin and bake for 20-25 minutes. Keep a close eye toward the 20 min mark, as if the oven gets too hot, the top of the cakes can start to burn
  • Insert a toothpick to check if the cake is baked. Remove the tin/cupcakes and let them come down to room temperature. Remove the cakes from the cupcake holders or from the baking tin and leave on a rack.

Parsi Choi ice-cream

  • 300ml milk
  • 125ml cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 70-75g sugar
  • 4-5 tsp loose black tea (add more if you want it stronger)
  • 12-15 mint leaves, shredded by hand
  • 8-9 cardamom pods, crushed to open
  • ½ inch piece of ginger, sliced

Method

  • Make cooked tea by boiling milk, mint, ginger, loose tea and cardamom. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for around 5 mins. Turn off the heat. Strain the tea and keep aside in a saucepan.
  • Whisk the sugar and egg yolks till pale and frothy. Add a little of the strained, milk tea while still hot. Whisk together and then add the egg and sugar mixture to the saucepan containing the remaining milk, whisking as you add it. Cook the custard on a low heat, whisking to avoid the egg from scrambling. When the custard coats the back of a spoon, turn off the heat and let the custard cool down
  • Whip the cream till slightly thick and add to the custard. Chill the mixture in the fridge till it is completely chilled.
  • Pour the mixture into your ice-cream maker and churn for 25 minutes till it forms into a smooth ice-cream. Take out into a container and freeze.

To serve, warm the mawa cake, serve a scoop of the Choi ice-cream over it and top it with fresh mint leaves and slivered pistachios.

Mango Shrikhand Tarts

IMG_5336Mango Shrikhand tarts are not new on this blog…in fact this little dessert was one of the first things I wrote about when we started the blog! But what makes this post special is a little upgrade on the moulds that I used to make the tarts.

When we were in Mumbai earlier this year, I chanced upon a little hole in the wall bakery shop at Santacruz market, where a couple of guys were sitting and moulding aluminum sheets and strips into cake and tart rings of all shapes and sizes. Intrigued, I started looking around at the different moulds on display and asked if they had any baking tins shaped like a mango. I had been on the lookout for a mango or paisley shaped tin for a while and where better to look for one than in Mumbai! One of the guys rummaged in a drawer and held up a tiny cookie cutter in a mango shape!! Delighted I asked if they would be able to create a larger size for me and after some drawings to finalize the size and much haggling over the price, I managed to acquire these beautiful mango-shaped tart moulds 🙂

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I knew it would be tricky to fold the pastry into this shape, but after a couple of attempts I managed to successfully produce the tarts. For the filling, the base of the tart has white chocolate ganache flavoured lightly with saffron, cardamom and a pinch of sea salt (yes, you read that right….helps balance the sweetness!). I used to earlier put dark chocolate ganache at the bottom but felt it competed too much with the yoghurt, so this time I replaced it with white chocolate ganache. The shrikhand is made with hung yoghurt mixed with Alphonso mango pulp and flavoured with saffron, cardamom, a pinch of nutmeg and some sugar. And finally decorated with pistachio powder and some pomelo (inspired by the mango pomelo sago dessert from Hong Kong)

The Marathi and Bengali yoghurt-based desserts, like shrikhand and bhapa doi go down well with our guests, especially our non-Indian guests, because no one expects yoghurt-based desserts to taste so good and they’re much lighter to eat as compared to many other Indian desserts! Especially after the full-on meal we serve 😉

At the request of a reader, I am adding the recipe to the post. I’ve tried to be precise with my measurements, but invariably I do play around with the flavours when cooking. So feel free to adapt the sweetness or amount of mango or spices depending on your personal taste. Hope you have fun making these! 🙂

MANGO SHRIKHAND TARTS  

  • Mango Shrikhand
    • 250ml greek yoghurt, chilled
    • 3 Alphonso mangoes, cut and pureed
    • 1 ½ tsp nutmeg powder
    • 1 ½ tsp cardamom powder
    • 8-10 strands of saffron
    • 2 tbsp milk (to soak saffron)
    • 1/3rd cup chopped pistachios (for garnish)
  • Pastry
    • 100g plain flour
    • 60g butter
    • 20g icing sugar
    • 1 egg yolk
    • Pinch salt
    • 2 tsp cold water
    • ½ tsp cardamom powder
    • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • White chocolate ganache
    • 50 g white chocolate
    • 25g cream
    • pinch of salt, pinch of nutmeg/mace, pinch of cardamom

For the shrikhand:

Place the yoghurt in a muslin cloth. Tie the cloth to create a knot over the yoghurt and place in a colander over a bowl to allow the whey to strain. Warm the milk and put the saffron strands into it to release the colour and flavour. Peel the mangoes. Cut the flesh in large chunks and put it in a blender to make a smooth puree. Untie the muslin and scrape the yoghurt cream into a bowl. Gradually add the mango puree into the yoghurt. Add the cardamom powder, nutmeg powder and milk with saffron. Whisk the mixture till creamy. Adjust mango and spices for taste & add a little sugar if needed. Pour the shrikhand into a piping bag and keep in the fridge (or freezer to chill faster)

For the pastry:

In a bowl, add the flour. Make a well and add the butter, icing sugar, salt and spices. Mix to incorporate the butter till the mixture becomes crumbly. Add the egg and water to form a dough. Turn the dough onto the counter and using a little extra flour, knead 3-4 times to bring the pastry dough together. Place the dough in cling wrap, flatten it and chill it for an hour. After it has chilled, take the dough out and let it stand for 5 mins. Depending on the tart tins you are using, divide the dough into appropriately sized balls and roll out the pasty to a size larger than the pastry tin. Place the pastry into the tin and using your fingers press it gently into the tin all around and on the base. Using the rolling pin, roll over the top of the tin to cut out the extra pastry. Once done, press the pastry on the sides to raise the dough slightly over the surface. This is to account for some shrinkage as the pastry cooks. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork and place the lined pastry tins back in the fridge for 20 -30 mins. Pre-heat the oven at 180°C (Gas 3). Remove the pastry tins from the fridge, line them with baking paper/aluminium foil and place baking beans/rice/beans. Blind bake for 10 mins. Then remove the baking paper/foil and bake them for 5 minutes to let the pastry get some colour. Remove from the oven and let the pastry cool down. Once cool, remove it from the tin.

For the ganache

Chop the white chocolate into small pieces. Gently heat the cream in a pan. When it starts to simmer, remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir well to allow the chocolate to melt. Add salt and spices and mix. Once the chocolate is completely melted and the ganache is smooth, keep it aside to cool down.

To serve

Once the tarts have cooled down, pour a little ganache to line the base of the tart and keep it in the fridge for 30 mins to chill. Then remove and pipe the shrikhand into each pastry tart. Decorate the top with chopped pistachios.

Priya

 

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Puran Poli

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Puran poli

Puran poli is a sweet chapatti or flatbread filled with cooked chana dal (Bengal gram), jaggery and spices, essentially cardamom and was one of my favourite things to eat as a child. My grandfather knew how much I loved it and would get a box as a treat for me from Girgaon (South Mumbai) at least once a week.

I would start my eating ritual by pouring warm toop (ghee) over the puran poli and then tear off small pieces, dip it into the ghee and polish it off quickly. But it didn’t end there! I would then take the filling that would crumble and settle onto the plate, pour it into a bowl, add a little milk, mix it into a soggy paste and then eat it with a spoon. May sound crazy but I simply couldn’t waste the delicious combination of chana dal and jaggery!

As I got older, I ate it less frequently and eventually when I moved abroad, it became a distant memory. Sometimes when I came home for a holiday, my mother would get puran poli for me to eat. But a slower metabolism (I could no longer manage to eat a whole puran poli!) and the long list of other delicacies to try, meant I didn’t always end up eating it.

After we started Bombay Howrah Dining Car, I decided I had to try my hand at puran poli and find a way to bring it on the menu. Something that was so special for me, deserved to be discovered and enjoyed by other people.

 

puran poli masala

Spice mixture

I first wanted to make it the traditional way, to get the basics right. After scouring many recipes and videos, I wrote up a recipe that appealed to me. For the poli (bread) I used a combination of refined and whole wheat flour. For the filling I cooked the Bengal gram, mixed it with the mashed jaggery and spices and cooked it a little further. Instead of just cardamom I also added fennel, cinnamon and pepper to make it more fragrant. Once it was cool I blended it into a smooth paste and then placed a ball of the filling into a slightly bigger ball of dough, wrapped it over the filling and rolled it out as thin as I could. And finally I cooked it on a tawa (pan) till pinkish golden spots began to appear.

Making puran poli is quite straightforward. The trick, which is true with any filled flatbread, is getting the right consistency of the filling and making sure you roll it out evenly without letting the dough tear and expose any of the filling inside. There is another more traditional way of making the poli and here’s a video that shows how it’s done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dv8ryg9MraA

Someday I will become this proficient! But for a first attempt, I thought my puran poli was quite good. Unfortunately I knew I couldn’t serve puran poli in its traditional form to our guests, because it would come as dessert after a fairly big meal and it could become a tipping point to something I had no desire to witness 😉

 

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Puran Poli inside out

A small sized poli could help…but wasn’t interesting enough. So I started taking the elements apart and came up with the following version. I converted the filling into kulfi and made it with reduced milk, a little condensed milk, cooked Bengal gram, jaggery & spices and then set it with the ice-cream machine. For the poli, I decided to use filo pastry as it would give a similar flavour after baking and the crisp texture would complement the ice-cream well. To serve, I placed the filo pastry on the plate, topped it with the puran ice-cream, some honey, a little ghee, some of the extra filling from the traditional poli and pistachios.

It doesn’t look like puran poli at all, but it sure tastes like it. A couple of more trials before it debuts on to the menu! 🙂

Priya

My new favourite dessert

Bhapa doi with apricot side

I have done a post earlier about trying to combine all the yoghurt/milk based desserts between Marathi and Bengali cuisines and in that post I spoke briefly about a very easy to prepare Bengali dessert called Bhapa doi or steamed yoghurt pudding.

Keen to do more with it, I kept doing some research on yoghurt based desserts till I stumbled upon ricotta cheese. In my quest for yoghurt, I had overlooked the fact that Bhapa doi, once cooked, was also close to cheese, either as a cheese cake or ricotta.

And so inspired by many ricotta based desserts I came across, I did my own trials and came up with what I think is a beautiful dessert – Bhapa doi, served with poached apricots (poached in a simple sugar syrup with cardamoms, cinnamon and rose water), toasted almonds and pistachios and a generous drizzle of orange and lemon zest. And it is beautiful, both to look at and to eat!

This particular serving was for a friend’s dinner party and it was a hit!

Bhapa doi with apricots

Sandesh…at last

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Kanchagolla

Without knowing it my first introduction to Bengali cuisine had happened when I was very young, while gorging happily on sandesh from a Bengali sweet shop in Nagpur, my father’s home town. It’s only later I realized just how integral this wonderful sweet is to Bengali cuisine and culture.

Sandesh is a very popular dessert made from cottage cheese and comes in a variety of flavours and shapes. Compared to most other Indian sweets and desserts, it is much lighter to eat – something I greatly appreciate as I get older!

But since I had assumed making the sweets at home were difficult, I relied on Bengal Sweets in Bombay for my regular supply of sandesh. Until recently, after living in Singapore for a while and not being able to get them, I decided it’s time to give sandesh a try at home.

To make sandesh you first need to make chenna or cottage cheese. This is simple and acquired by boiling cow’s milk and curdling it with lemon juice. You then strain the mixture to separate the cheese from the whey. This cheese which has not been shaped is apparently called makha sandesh. If you mix simple flavours like cardamom powder, rose water and sugar and then shape it you would get one type of sandesh called kanchagolla.

If you cook the mixture over low heat for a short time, you get naram pak. This is not as soft as makha sandesh but can still be molded. Cooking it longer will give you karak pak, which I haven’t tried making yet.

My first attempt at making chenna or cottage cheese was very successful. I then tried to make both kanchagolla and naram pak. My naram pak got a bit more dry than I would have liked but both versions still tasted damn good for a first attempt at this wonderful dessert. I used some very old sandesh moulds that my mother-in-law had given us – the ones made from stone. And decided to add a little colour to my kanchagolla 🙂

Next try – different flavours and my favourite variety, ice cream sandesh.

Priya

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Kanchagolla

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Naram pak sandesh

Shrikhand continued…

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A new flavour for shrikhand – roasted figs, orange juice and pistachios. I used dried turkish figs and roasted them to get more flavour. I prepared the yoghurt as I normally do for shrikhand, using a cheese cloth to drain out the whey. And then I blended the yoghurt cream with the roasted figs and a little squeeze of orange juice, chilled it and served it topped with a slice of fresh orange, pistachios and walnut. The graininess of the figs provided a nice texture to the shrikhand and made for a very different and enjoyable taste.

Mawa cakes – creamy, buttery and utterly delicious!

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I have recently rediscovered the joy of mawa…much to the dismay of my weight watching, try-and-eat-less-sweets regimen. For the uninitiated, mawa is milk solids. It is made by a mildly laborious process of taking full fat milk and cooking it over low heat for some time, till it is reduced to nothing more than a mass of creamy milk solids.

While I love using mawa, the idea of spending time to actually make it at home was not appealing. And since there is no chance of popping into a neighbourhood ‘halwai’ in Singapore, I had pretty much written of ever using it. Till lo and behold I discovered a packet of mawa sitting in the chiller section of Mustafa! I snatched it with much glee and decided that the first thing I would make is my favourite mawa cake.

I didn’t have a recipe so I first turned to the Parsi cook book I had been presented at my wedding, ‘Jamva Chalo ji’, thinking surely it must have a recipe for the cake. But alas, it did not. So I then scoured the net and came across a recipe that I adapted.

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The recipe is quite simple and pretty close to making a regular sponge cake. Except it includes the addition of mawa, spices like cardamom and saffron and lots of butter. I omitted the pistachios in the batter and added more butter to compensate for the mawa, and to prevent the cake from drying out. And wanting to get as close to the Bombay original I baked it in my cute polka dotted cupcake cups. The batter tasted amazing and I could already recollect that creamy and buttery taste of the famous mawa cake from Bombay. But ultimately it had to taste good after baking, so I popped them into the oven and waited….

Oh my – the cakes turned out almost exactly as I had wanted them to! The top perhaps got a bit more brown than I wanted, but it actually gave the cake a lovely texture. And the bottom was soft, creamy, buttery and utterly delicious. You could taste the cardamom and a hint of the sweetness from the saffron. Almost as good as the one I used to gorge on from the Irani cafe, Merwan’s in Grant Road (E). Now all that I need is a cup of masala chai and a good book to enjoy this with 🙂

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Gulpoli – sweet flat bread

Gulpoli is a sweet flat bread that can be eaten as an indulgent snack or as dessert. The chapati is made with a combination of whole wheat and plain flour with the addition of some gram flour. While the filling inside is made from jaggery, roasted sesame seeds and roasted gram flour with a little nutmeg and cardamom.

Making these requires a little practice as you need to ensure the chapati does not break and expose the filling while it is being rolled out. If that does happen, the filling will stick to the pan when cooking the chapati. After cooking the jaggery will harden as it cools down, making the chapati a bit crispy/crunchy.

The jaggery and gram flour filling makes these very tasty, but also a bit heavy. So gulpoli is best enjoyed in small installments if you are strong enough to control your temptation!

Priya

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