checkerboard cookies

checkerboard cookies with cocoa

I received some good news earlier this week, I am nominated in the Best Food and Drink blog category in India. How crazy is that? It's an honor and a humbling experience to be sharing the spot with some amazingly talented bloggers. If you do have a moment to spare, please check out the link and I would really appreciate if you could give me your vote. This past year has been amazing and I have met so many wonderful people via this tiny space of mine, your overwhelmingly positive and encouraging comments have been very supportive and I thank you.

slicing cooking dough

We are off to Charleston this weekend for the wedding of my two dearest friends.  To make our long 8 hour drive fun, I baked one of my favorite childhood cookies, the checkerboard kind. There are so many wonderful things about checkerboard cookies, they look cute, they taste good (cocoa and vanilla), they smell great, take my word for it, they are simply delicious! I got the recipe from one of my mom's old cooking notes, though I am not sure where she got it from.

checkerboard cookie dough sliced
checkerboard cookie dough prebake

Did I forget to mention, how good the kitchen smells when you bake vanilla and cocoa? I need to bake these guys more often before people come over. 

checkerboard cookies in a can

A couple of notes when baking these cookies, the dough is slightly sticky so I prefer to roll out the cylinders on parchment paper, less mess and you don't need to add extra flour. You need the 4 cylinders of cookie dough to stick together so adding any more flour to these ratios might affect the way in which they stick together. The cookies are easier to cut if the dough is firm and they also come out crispier, so refrigerate them for a few minutes before cutting and baking. 

checkerboard cookies

checkerboard cookies

yields: approximately 30-35 cookies

ingredients

1 stick (1/2 cup / 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened 
3/4 cup  sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (7 1/8 ounces) all purpose four
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder (70% cacao)

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy on medium speed using the paddle attachment. 
2. Sift the flour three times and mix half of it into the butter and sugar mixture on medium low speed. Add the egg with the rest of the flour and mix on medium low speed until completely combined. 
3. Remove the dough from the bowl on place on a clean sheet of parchment paper. Divide it into two equal parts. Keep one part aside and take one part and place it in a mixing bowl with the cocoa. Fold with a silicone spatula until completely combined and there are no visible streaks of the yellow flour and the dough takes on the dark color of the cocoa. 
4. Divide each of the two equal parts of the dough (the one with cocoa and the one without) into two equal parts each. By now you should have 2 parts of plain dough and 2 parts of the cocoa dough.  On another sheet of parchment paper, using your hands, carefully roll out each part of the dough into 12 inch long cylinders. 
5. Arrange them alternately to form the checks. To do this place one cocoa cylinder next to the plain flour cylinder and press them lightly together. Repeat this by layering the top and reversing the order of the two dough cylinders (plain flour and then cocoa). This will create the characteristic checkerboard pattern. Wrap the final log of dough with parchment paper along its length. At this stage, I like to smoothen the edges and gently press the cylinders together using the outer parchment paper, it gives a cleaner finish. Refrigerate the dough for an hour to firm up. Once the dough is firm, cut into 0.5cm thin slices using a sharp knife. Place the cookie slices on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate the cookies for 10 minutes to firm up. Bake the cookies for 10-15 mins at 350F in a preheated oven in the middle rack. As soon as the cookies begin to get golden brown at the edges, remove them and allow them to cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. 
Note: When baking these cookies, I prefer to bake one sheet of cookies at a time in my oven. I usually cut the dough and split the cookies between two sheets and then refrigerate the sheet that I am not going to bake immediately. 

sea salt chocolate muffins

Sea salt chocolate muffin

On some mornings, all I want is a muffin, a deep and dark chocolate muffin with my coffee. Okay, perhaps more than one would be ideal and even perfect but either way I really like a good dose of cocoa in them. It's really the best way for me to double my daily am dose of caffeine with a whole lot of joy! Coffee with chocolate it can't get any better than that.

Brown sugar

I never ate a lot of muffins because most of the time they were either too sweet or too greasy and they also never had any interesting flavors that I would have wanted to try. Personally, I like my breakfast muffins to be multigrain or wholegrain based and I am a big fan of oat and oat bran in the mornings. So with the desire to keep things wholesome, I added a couple of different flours into the batter; oat bran, brown rice and whole-wheat give a delicious soft and grainy texture. 

Sea salt chocolate muffins

This is a very deep dark chocolatey muffin with a little bit of sea salt on the crust. When you take a bite into the muffin, the combination of the sea salt with the dark chocolate is simply amazing. The flavors intensify and every subsequent bite is even more exciting than the first, exactly the way I'd like to start my mornings. 

Muffin cocoa and salt

You only need to sprinkle a few salt crystals on top of each muffin, halfway through baking. If you put them on before they will start to sink which is why I recommend placing them once the muffins are slightly firm on the surface but not completely baked. I used a standard 12 cup muffin pan to bake these guys and you could use a smaller sized 24 cup pan as well, just make sure you divide the batter equally between the cups in the pan. You can eat these muffins warm or even at room temperature. Store them in an airtight container for up to 4 days. 

Whole grain sea salt chocolate muffin


sea salt chocolate muffins

yields: 12 muffins

ingredients 

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon dark roast instant coffee powder
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled
1 2/3 cups brown sugar
5 large eggs, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used the madagascar bourbon variety)
1/2 cup plain non-fat greek yogurt, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sea salt crystals

1. Preheat the oven to 350F and place the wire rack in the middle position. Line a standard muffin cake pan with baking cup liners. 
Mix and sift all the dry ingredients from the cocoa to the baking powder.  Transfer any grain bits back to the dry mix. Keep aside.
2. Cube the butter and transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar and fix the paddle attachment to the mixer. Cream the butter and sugar on medium low speed for 5 minutes. Add one egg at a time and beat until completely smooth.  Add the vanilla and mix for another 30 seconds on medium low speed. 
3. Add half of the sifted dry ingredients from step 1 to the creamed eggs. Mix on medium low speed until smooth and completely blended, approximately 3 minutes. Add the yogurt to the batter and beat for 1 minute. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and beat for another 3 minutes until completely mixed.
4. Divide the batter equally among the muffin pan cups. Bake the muffins for 12 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the salt crystals over the muffins. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 8-10 minutes until the centers are firm to touch or skewer comes out clean from the center of the muffin. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool further.

cardamom and saffron olive oil pound cake

Cardamom and Saffron Olive Oil Pound Cake

Happy belated Easter everyone and I hope y'all had a good long holiday weekend. Instead of hosting an  Easter Sunday brunch I chose to host a dinner for the premiere of the third season of my favorite book/tv show Game of Thrones. Needless to say, there was plenty of food to represent the seven kingdoms though I might have overestimated on the amount of food this time. Still, leftovers are great because you get a couple of days off from cooking during the week and I am using the extra time to catch up with reading or any other activity that has been in desperate need of my attention. 

Eggs

I baked an olive oil pound cake for the dinner along with a few other desserts. This is a very simple cake recipe, the cake crumb is moist while the texture is light and airy. That is exactly the way I like my slice of pound cake, of course with a hot cup of tea or coffee. Pound cakes are what I think of when people say a rustic everyday cake or dessert. Though they were originally invented to clean up the pantry (equal quantities of flour, eggs, and sugar; hence the name "pound") they have come a long way and have become a lot more interesting. 

Olive oil and Eggs

I find olive oil pound cakes to be a little more fascinating than the butter based versions because the oil affords a lot more flexibility if you want to get adventurous with flavors. It's a good and heavenly marriage of flavors! A little bit of an herb or a spice seasoning can go a long way with olive oil and this remains true for most olive oil based cakes. This cake also has a slight nutty flavor from ground almond meal and uses skim milk (you can go with whole milk, if you prefer) This version of the pound cake, also uses a sprinkling of freshly ground green cardamom pod seeds and a pinch of saffron strands. The light fragrance of the freshly ground cardamom brings a sweet flavor to the cake while the saffron brightens the color of the yolks in the cake. What could be more wonderful than something so simple and delicious for an everyday cake. Of course you can skip the cardamom and saffron and add your own flavors. Feel free to experiment with other combinations, I've made this cake before with sage/rosemary and crystallized ginger bits just like my cookies.

Cracked Egg and Pound Cake1
Cooling Pound Cake

cardamom and saffron olive oil pound cake

servings : 2 cake loaves, about 20 slices

ingredients

a little olive oil for greasing loaf pans
2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom seeds
a pinch of saffron
5 cold large eggs
1 cup low-fat or skim milk
2 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling on the surface of the cake

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two loaf pans with parchment paper and then grease with a little olive oil. 
2. Sift the flour, almond meal, and baking soda. Return any bits of almond meal that might remain in the sieve back to the flour mix. 
3. In a stand mixer, attach the paddle and beat the sugar, salt, olive oil, cardamom and saffron in the mixing bowl until smooth. This should take about 3-5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the entire batter becomes creamy and light yellow in color. 
4. Add half of the flour mixture to the batter and beat until completely blended. Pour in the milk and the rest of the flour mix and beat until completely blended. 
5. Pour and divide the batter into the two prepared loaf pans. Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the centers are firm or until a bamboo skewer or knife comes out clean from the center. Sprinkle the extra sugar on the top surface of each cake and put the tins back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes in their pans. Slide a knife around the edges of the cake to release it and transfer it to a wire rack to cool. Slice the cakes with a sharp serrated knife at room temperature.

whole-wheat biscuits with nigella-butter glaze

whole wheat biscuits

I generally try to enlist myself in a resolution list for the new year but this year I never put much thought into it and I guess my resolution is to simply go with the flow! The past few days have also been somewhat of an intense start to the new year. My father was hospitalized and underwent surgery, thankfully it all went well and he is making a good recovery.

butter and cutter1

Biscuits are one of my favorite southern treats , they are quick breads since they do not require a rising time before baking. I like my biscuits smeared with butter and marmalade or with a little tapenade while I sip my coffee at breakfast. However, as much as my heart encompasses a passionate fondness for these delicious baked delights, I have never made them at home, until now. I came across a whole-wheat recipe for drop biscuits in Amy Boyce's Good to the Grain. The recipe did not involve the laborious and time-consuming stages of chilling or folding and rolling the dough, and I was immediately drawn to out. However, I did not want the biscuits to be sweet so I did make a few changes to the original recipe by eliminating the sugar and instead adding a little bit of nigella seeds mixed in melted butter for a salty savory glaze on the biscuits. The fat in the cream helps the biscuits develop an amazing flaky crust while keeping them soft inside. You can shape the biscuits dough either by hand or you can mold them in a biscuit cutter or if you are like me just use a circular cookie cutter with curved edges.

biscuits and flour1

whole-wheat biscuits with nigella-butter glaze

yields: 6

ingredients

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, sift the flours, baking powder, and salt twice. If any husks or bits of grain remain in the sieve, add them back to the flour mixture.
3. Using a fork, mix the cream into the flour and incorporate until the dough is completely mixed. Do not over mix the dough.
4. Divide the dough into six equal parts. Place each dough into a 2 inch biscuit cutter and gently press to shape the biscuits. 
5. Place the biscuits about 2 inches apart on a lightly buttered cookie sheet. 
6. Mix the butter and nigella seeds in small mixing bowl. Brush each biscuit with this mixture and bake the biscuits for about 35 minutes till they get golden brown. Cool on a wire rack till warm. 

baath cake/ goan coconut cake

Baath cake with tea

It's finally feeling a lot like winter, the winds are chilly and almost every leaf that was once green and had turned a fiery shade of autumn is now lying on the sidewalks. Even my precious fig tree in the garden has lost most of its leaves and looks like a naked elongated branched creature protruding out from the ground. Cold weather also makes it way harder for me to get up early in the morning when all I want to do is curl up and stay warm under the covers. Thankfully, the holidays make winter fun and it gets me excited for all the things I can do. For me, cooking and baking all sorts of special holiday recipes that I grew up eating or for that matter even venturing out into unfamiliar culinary territories makes it fun. An even more special moment for me is when I surprise my family and friends with some of my favorite holiday desserts. This year will be no different, I've already shipped some stuff out to a few people that I know will be surprised and hopefully happy when they receive their packages this week.

Whisk some Eggs

In the next few weeks, I am going to continue to share some of my favorite holiday recipes with you. One of these holiday recipes is this delicious and traditional Goan cake that was served at almost every holiday occasion such as Christmas and Easter, as far as I can remember. Goa has a lot of coconut trees and consequently they became a major part of the regional diet and lifestyle over time. The Baath cake is rich in coconut flavored with rose water that gives it a wonderfully nutty and floral fragrance at the same time. Besides its heavenly taste and aroma, the cake is also very moist and tender. This is the second semolina based cake recipe that I have shared with you.

Shredded Coconut and Cake

This is a simple and easy cake recipe to prepare. However, you must let the cake batter soak anywhere from a few hours to overnight, this will allow the semolina to absorb all the liquid and swell up. The resultant cake has a nice moist and plump crumb that is soaked up with all the deliciousness of the coconut and rose water flavors. You can serve this cake warm or cold. The original recipe that I had was very rich and had way too much sugar and eggs that I have tried to cut back without really compromising on the taste or the quality of the cake. I used reduced-fat coconut milk in my recipe to cut back on the fat and also because coconuts are seasonal. If you can find fresh coconuts, I recommend using two cups of finely grated coconuts instead of the coconut milk and the 1/4 cup of shredded coconut. The finer the shreds the better the texture of the cake. Personally, I like to serve the cake in small bite-sized pieces with hot tea or coffee.

Freshly cut and baked right out of the oven

baath cake/goan coconut cake

ingredients

1 stick unsalted butter
4 large eggs
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 cups semolina flour

a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder


1/4 cup shredded/grated unsweetened coconut

1/4 cup rose water

2 cups reduced-fat coconut milk

1. Line a 9X10 inch baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper cut to size. Spray the sheet and pan with a neutral cooking oil spray.
2. Cream the butter, eggs, and sugar till fluffy using an electric mixer.
3. Fold in the semolina, salt, baking powder, coconut, rose water, and coconut milk. Then mix for another 2 minutes with the mixer until all the ingredients are combined. 
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Seal the pan with cling film and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to overnight. 
5. The cake batter will have set by this point. Bake the cake for 40 minutes in the center of the middle rack of an oven that is preheated to 350F.
6. The cake is done when it gets golden brown on the surface or when a knife comes out clean from the center.  Allow to cool in the baking pan, serve warm or chilled with tea or coffee.

apple brown betty redux


We went apple picking over the long weekend with our friends to the Showwalter's Orchard in Virginia. It probably wasn't the most idyllic weather to be picking fruit or for that matter even walking around in the rain, especially if  you have a long holiday. The weather had suddenly dropped to the lower 50's and it had rained quite a bit the night before. We still had a continuous drizzle of rain but despite all this it was still so much fun. We came back with about a 100lbs of apples of all sorts of colors, shapes, and varieties. I picked some huge pumpkins, large enough to replace the ab's ball at my gym (despite my fortuitous find,  I am still sticking with the lighter ball at the gym for my workouts). 


One of the fun parts of this trip was the apple cider tasting. This was my first apple cider tasting and if you are like me and thought this might taste sweet and fruity like apple juice then you are in for a bit of a surprise. Cider based alcohol tastes like a cross between wine and beer. The bottles we tried had a bit of mild effervescence and some interesting notes. One of them particularly stood out with an instantaneous hint of a mild blue cheese. Fascinated and intrigued, I picked up two varieties of the cider. I think I might have a future recipe under my sleeve to infuse with some of these unique and delicious ciders.


Until now, I had never tried an apple brown Betty. It is absolutely delicious and easy to make. I made it right after we got back from our fruit endeavors. There are a few changes that I made to the original recipe, for one I bumped up the amount of nutmeg and also added in a little bit of sweet apple cider to give the Betty a little more flavor and syrup. One of the main reasons why I love this dessert is its rustic simplicity and the lack of an overly sweet backgrounds brings out the fruity flavors of the apple. This dessert tastes delicious at any temperature and you can also start your day with it with some whipped Greek  yogurt on the side. This recipe was adapted from Alice Medrich's Sinfully Easy Delicious Dessert  cookbook.


apple brown betty redux

yields: 6 servings

ingredients

1 1/4 pounds firm apples (I used a mix of Fuji and Gala apples)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup apple cider
1 cup crushed saltine crackers
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. In a small mixing bowl, toss the crushed crackers and sugar together. 
3. Wash, peel, and core the apples. Chop the apples into 1 inch chunks. 
4. Toss the apples, cranberries, lemon juice, and 1/4 cracker mix together into a rectangular baking pan. Place the pan in the oven at bake for 15 minutes.
5. After the apples have baked for 15 minutes remove the pan from the oven. 
6. Pour the melted butter onto the rest of the cracker mixture and mix well. 
7. Drizzle the apple cider over the baked apples. 
8. Sprinkle the rest of the butter and cracker mixture evenly over the fruit. 
9. Turn the oven temperature to 400F. Bake the fruit again  for another 20 minutes. The apple brown betty is done when the juices of the fruit are bubbling and the crust is golden brown.
10. Serve hot, warm, or cold. You can also serve this with chilled Greek yogurt for breakfast.


ruffled blueberry chocolate cake


Last weekend we drove to Virginia to visit the Fall Harvest festival at Mount Rogers. Fall is is one of the most beautiful seasons to visit the Virginia outdoors and enjoy the beautiful colorful foliage. I was very lucky on this trip, for many, many reasons. I got to see sugarcane being harvested and squeezed for its sweet juice. I watched molasses being prepared from the sugarcane juice over a hot stove. The molasses are sold in pint jars to raise money for the local fireman's station. A worthy cause indeed! I tasted my first hobo pie, picked up some homemade apple butter, ate ripe and juicy red apples off a tree. There was just so much to do and too much to squeeze in a short two day trip. 


Unlike D.C. where it is currently still relatively green, the Virginia fall is in full swing. It was also pretty chilly in the evenings but nevertheless breathtaking. I couldn't wait to share these photographs with you and I do hope you enjoy them!


I got to bite and chew on fresh sugarcane and sampled their sticky sweetness. The sugarcane juice brought back sweet memories of India. As kids growing up, we would always run out to the vendors on the street in the Bombay and wait eagerly while they ground the juices out of sugarcane and fresh ginger into glasses heaped with ice. It was so refreshing and simple but yet delicious.


Last weekend was also the birthday of one of my friends, Walt. Birthdays and special events are probably the only few times that I will actually venture out in making a cake that is rich and decadent. It turns out that Walt loves blueberries and any cake that incorporated blueberries would be perfect for him. In my personal opinion however, birthday cakes should have some amount of chocolate. After all, it is that a special moment where things should be a little over the top. In preparation for Walt's cake, I made the blueberry and chocolate jam. I designed his birthday cake completely around these two ingredients. Genoise chocolate cakes are layered and sandwiched with the jam and lightly drenched with a blueberry-white wine syrup. I then used a vanilla flavored buttercream icing that was spiked with a little creme fraiche to keep things simple yet rich. On how to decorate the cake with the ruffles, I used this icing idea from Martha Stewart.


ruffled blueberry chocolate cake

ingredients

for the chocolate cake  follow this chocolate genoise sponge cake recipe. I made two 9 inch cakes, sliced each in half, and then layered them. If you want more cake layers you can either increase the number of cakes or cut thinner layers of the cakes. If you do this, then you should increase the amount of jam, syrup, and icing accordingly.

for the blueberry chocolate jam follow this recipe. You will need 1 and 1/2 cups of the jam. You can use less if you prefer the cake to be a little less sweet.

blueberry wine syrup

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 cup white wine like Reisling or Chardonnay (I used the Pearmund Reisling 2011)
1 cup sugar

Mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan. Cook on a medium flame till the sugar dissolves completely. Bring to a boil and then cool to room temperature before use. You can also refrigerate this and prepare it at least 3 days in advance.

buttercream icing

2 cups unsalted sweetcream butter at room temperature
3 3/4 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
10 drops of blue food coloring ( you may need more depending on how blue you want the icing to look)
a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
No. 104 icing tip

Chop the butter into small cubes and place it in the bowl of an electric blender. Using the paddle attachment, beat the butter and creme fraiche at a medium speed for about 6 minutes till it is completely smooth. Sift the sugar once onto a sheet of parchment paper. Sift the sugar into the butter in 1/2 cup installments till completely mixed in with the butter. The butter will keep getting lighter as more air is incorporated into it. Add the vanilla, salt, and food coloring at the end and beat for another two minutes. Transfer the icing into a bowl (preferably metal as it will chill faster) and cover with cling film until ready to use. You can make the icing at least two to three days in advance. 

Assembling the cake
Slice each cooled cake in half with a serrated knife and keep aside. Cut out a 10" circle of cardboard and cover with a clean sheet of aluminum foil and two 12 inch X 2 inch strips of parchment paper. Place the two strips about 2 or 3 inches apart from each other on the smooth side of the aluminum covered cardboard circle. Add a tablespoon of the frosting in the center of the aluminum covered cardboard sheet. This will help to glue the cake down to the surface and prevent it from moving. Place one cake layer in the center of the circle and brush the cake with the blueberry wine syrup. You will use about 1/4 cup of the liquid. Smear the surface it with about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the blueberry and chocolate jam. Cover with a second layer of cake and repeat. Continue and repeat the addition of the syrup and jam till the entire cake is complete. For the top most layer of the cake, only brush the cake with the syrup but do not add the jam. Place the cake in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to cool. 

Icing the cake

Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of the buttercream icing to create a "crumb coat". This helps the rest of the icing to stick easily to the surface of the cake. Cool the cake in the refrigerator for another 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, scoop the icing into an icing bag or icing syringe with the No. 104 tip attached. Make sure there are no air bubbles in the icing bag. When the cake is cooled, apply the icing by keeping your hand in the vertical position and moving in a zig-zag fashion from left -to-right on the side of the cake. The ruffles should be 1 inch apart from each other. Repeat the same procedure for the top surface of the cake, moving from the outer end to the inner center of the cake. Additionally, you might want to dollop a little bit of jam in the center of the cake or perhaps sprinkle a little bit of chocolate shavings on the top. 


whiskey-kissed brown turkey fig cake


Strange things can happen! I was never a big fan of fresh figs while growing up and my dislike for dried figs was even more severe. However, now I find myself stuck with an intense love for the fruit, so much so that I planted a fig tree in my garden this past spring with the hope that I might have my own personal supply. Folks, as luck would have it, I have no figs yet but the tree is growing taller and taller. Thankfully, I have found other places that will satisfy my fig cravings. The farmer's markets and on occasion some of the little farm stores we run into when we drive out into the country. 


Instead of opting for a destination vacation for our Labor Day weekend, we decided to stay in and spend one day out in the country. The rest of the weekend I devoted to finishing up a couple of home projects which included making a console table and some floating shelves. We planned a picnic with our neighbors, Krysta and Travis and drove out to Little Washington in Virginia. Krysta packed up a delicious picnic for us and we made our way through a couple of vineyards, a whiskey distillery, and several antique stores. Yes, you have to squeeze in the shopping whenever you can!


The weather was just right (even at 90F) and even with the high humidity, we still had winds that kept us relatively cool. Most of the vineyard owners are friendly and will let you walk around the vines and explore. As you might have noticed, this is an image heavy post but I wanted to share some of the sights from our trip. 


My inspiration for this cake came from a few of the different things we sampled on our picnic, Krysta's figs and the whiskey tasting from the Copper Fox distillery. For some reason, the thought of figs and whiskey sounded deliciously decadent and indeed it is so! The baked figs and whiskey get a rich honey like flavor that melts in your mouth. Since figs are expensive (at least here in our area), I used fig preserves that are rich and packed with a concentrated amount of figs and flavor.


This cake is soft, moist, and buttery. I put the sliced figs about 20 minutes into baking the cake so that they don't burn and get bitter. This worked out perfect and the little amount of brown sugar on the surface helps to develop a sweet brown crust. The whiskey adds a gentle flavor to the cake and the figs become even "figgier"! Since the amount of alcohol is pretty small and as the cake is baked, I found no traces of any alcohol while eating the cake, the whiskey simply dehydrates the figs a little and helps in their caramelization during baking but it also gives a much more flavorful taste to the cake.


This cake will last for a couple of days outside but if refrigerated it should last for a little more than a week. A good quality honey bourbon will do wonders for the cake but any other whiskey should be equally good with the figs.


whiskey-kissed brown turkey fig cake

ingredients

6 fresh ripe figs (brown turkey figs or any other kind you can find)
50ml honey bourbon whiskey or any other whiskey
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups of a good quality fig butter/preserves (I used the Trader Joe's brand of fig butter-it is rich and dark and not overly spiced)
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon brown sugar


1. Preheat the oven to 350F. 
2. Cut the stems of the figs and slice them lengthwise. Add the figs to the whiskey and let them sit for 30 minutes at room temperature. 
3. Sift the flour and salt twice and keep aside. 
4. In a thick-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and the preserves on a medium flame. Stir constantly till the butter and preserves are combined and smooth. Remove from heat and keep aside. 
5. Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and with an electric mixer cream the eggs and sugar till they expand to four times its original volume. The goal here is to beat as much air as you can into the cake batter and this should take about 15 minutes if you use the high speed setting of an electric mixer. Pour half of the melted butter-fig mixture into the whisked eggs and sugar. Drain the whiskey from the sliced figs and pour it into the batter. For now, keep the sliced figs aside. Fold the batter gently with a spatula and then add the rest of the butter-fig liquid and combine gently. Do not over-fold the batter because you will lose the air that you have carefully whisked in.  Fold in the raisins.
6. Take an ungreased rectangular baking dish (12 X 10 inches) and pour the batter into the dish. Bake the cake in the preheated oven. The cake will begin to rise and brown as it bakes. After 20 minutes during the baking stage, open the door of the oven and carefully add the sliced figs across the surface of the cake (I like to space them out equally so I can later cut slices each having a fig on top). Sprinkle the brown sugar on the surface. Be quick and don't let the cake stay out for more than 2 to 3 minutes. Put the cake back into the oven and bake the cake till the crust is golden brown and the center of the cake is cooked. This will take another 20 minutes (A knife should come out clean from the center of the cake). Remove the baked cake and allow to cool to room temperature in the pan, before you serve. 

Disclaimer: I did not receive any financial compensation for the fig preserves from Trader Joes. All my opinions listed here are my own.

peach and black raspberry cobbler


Sometimes during our summers we would visit our grandfather's family home that was located a few hours away from the city. Since the house faced the port, we would watch the ships enter and leave the docks. Some days were spent on the sandy shores of the beach where we'd act silly and play in the water. The house also contained a big garden at the back and we would collect and eat plenty of fresh coconuts, mangoes, jackfruits, and cashews. We'd come back to the city with crates of fresh mangoes to potentially last us for the rest of summer but that would never really went as well as planned. Those were wonderful days. Later as time passed the house was sold and the bountiful garden was gone. A newer and larger building came in its place. We'd still visit but I secretly missed the smell of the old house and its fruit trees.


These days I get to relive my childhood summers and recreate them in a more grownup way. There are several beautiful vineyards and farms out in Virginia and Maryland. Fortunately for us, most of them are only an hour or so away from D.C. making it the perfect getaway. A few weekends back, we took a day trip down to the Hollin's farm in Virginia where we picked peaches and black raspberries among other fruits and vegetables. Coincidentally, August is also the National Peach Month and the orchards were loaded with all sorts and sizes of peaches. We picked more peaches than we could actually eat but that did not stop us from filling four pecks. Later we walked through the groves of black raspberries and picked the ripening berries straight off the vines. Some of them squeezed under the pressure of our fingers and stained our palms with a sweet and sticky purple color. By the time we were done, we had the car full with our "day's catch".


After sharing some of the peaches with friends and neighbors, I was still left with some 80+ peaches. Some I canned and froze and some that ripened fast we ate quickly. Still it is hard to keep with that many peaches and this is where my friend Alex came to my rescue. Alex was hosting an impromptu party at his home and he wanted a dessert. I told him about my peach overload situation and he suggested a peach cobbler for his party. To me this seemed like an answer to my prayers. A large peach cobbler for several people would use up several ripening peaches and so Alex got his peach cobbler.


The original cobbler that I baked Alex had only peaches in it. This second batch of individual cobblers that I later had Alex and another friend Daniel taste-test during the week used up the black raspberries in addition to the peaches we picked at the farm.


I originally had a delicious cobbler recipe given to me by Shelly that called for yellow food cake mix and jello. However, I made a few changes this time to the recipe and made my own crust. The first time I tried to make a crust, it didn't have the right texture and was too doughy. I used milk and water to make a wet dough which resulted in a tragic mess. The fruit filling was great but the crust lacked the flakiness  that was needed. I had earlier noticed that Shelly's recipe called for a dry dough mix rather than a wet dough mix that most other recipes recommend using. Perhaps the problem and the solution was the liquid in the fruit. I realized that most fruits are rich in water and I could perhaps use the steam of the cooking fruit to moisten and bake the dough while it cooked. This turned out to be the perfect solution to my problem. Frozen and chilled butter helped to create the flaky crust that I was missing in my previous batches.


This recipe makes about six individual 6" cobblers depending on the size of your baking dishes. You can also make one large cobbler. You can substitute the fruit with almost any fresh cherries, berries,  apples, etc. I have previously used both gelatin and cornflour to thicken the fruit juices but I find gelatin to give a better thicker and richer sauce. If you use cornflour, you should use two tablespoons and mix it with the fruit before filling the baking dish. 


The beauty of a cobbler is its no-fuss method and style. A cobbler is rustic and should be easy. I like to serve cobblers hot, bubbling with its juices and dripping from the sides. It should always look messy and sticky. Some people like to serve cobblers with ice-cream, I rarely tend to do so but if you do like ice-cream, I would recommend a plain and simple flavor like vanilla that does not distract from the strong fruit flavors.


peach and black raspberry cobbler

ingredients 

1 pint black raspberries
4-5 large ripe peaches (or 4 cups of chopped peaches)
1 vanilla bean pod
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar + 1/4 cup brown sugar for sprinkling on top of the cobblers
1 stick cubed chilled butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 individual sized baking dishes (about 4 to 6 inches in diameter)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Peel the peaches and slice each of them in half to remove the stone at the center. Cut the peaches into large 1 inch thick pieces. 
2. In a mixing bowl, mix together the raspberries, peaches, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Using a sieve dust the cornstarch over the berries and mix well (the sieve helps to prevent clump formation and allows even mixing). Carefully scrape the vanilla seeds out of the pod and fold the seeds into the fruit mixture. Cover the bowl with a lid or cling film and let it rest in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
3. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, butter, kosher salt, and baking powder and keep aside. 
4. Place the individual baking dishes on a baking sheet. Scoop around 3/4 cup of the fruit mixture into each baking dish. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the dry flour mix on top of the fruit in each dish. Randomly spread about 1 tablespoon of the chopped butter over the flour mixture. Bake the cobblers in the baking tray for about 45 minutes or till the crust is golden and crisp. Let them cool for 5 minutes outside the oven. Serve hot or warm with/without vanilla ice cream.