Chocolate Pecan cake for Easter

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A recent unexpected visit from a dear friend of mine and the lovely time had we together as she waited to catch her plane reminded me of the cosy home and conversations that I bring to the few people who do drop by at this cooking misfit’s home. I realised that some comfort food would add so much to the cosy chit chat in the midst of the wearying and difficult times we are in. Although any sort of main course is usually a disaster, my desserts and cakes have been usually well received. And that’s when I decided, I would invest in an electric oven, and hone my baking skills.

Well, Easter was approaching and I was thinking what could I add to the stupendous layout my parents would prepare for Easter. And that’s when I saw this as an opportunity to start on the baking: The awesome chocloate cake recipe on La Tartine Gourmande

I have been following the blog La Tartine Gourmande for a few years now, primarily because of her awesome food photography. I know I can never be as good, but it’s always good to remain inspired. Chocolate cake is a favourite, and when I saw this, I decided this would be my contribution to my parents Easter spread, even though it had ambitious, exotic ingredients like pecan nuts and millet.

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So, off I went to the local Nature’s Basket to collect all the ingredients. Though it’s a gluten free recipe, there’s no one in the family who’s allergic to wheat. But, I went ahead with this because I was excited at seeing a chocolate cake and excited at trying out a recipe of someone who I’d been following for so long. The pecan nuts and the baking chocolates at Natures Basket are quite expensive, which means I make a mental note to stick to simpler and cheaper ingredients for any further baking forays. The recipe asks for dark chocolate (70% cocoa), and I remembered getting some Lindt dark chocolates for the family many Christmases ago. The orange flavoured dark chocolate was marked down by 50%  and I heaped them on. It was only when I distributed them among the aunts and uncles and cousins that I too took a bite, and realised how extremely bitter they were for the typical Indian palette. So, I took the middle road this time and opted for 55% cocoa. There was pure vanilla extract available, but with the pecans and the chocolates taking me over budget, I decided that the (very expensive) vanilla extract would be a present for my parents on my next trip home. This time, I’d have to make do with vanilla essence. I couldn’t find any blonde cane sugar (although, there was plenty of cane sugar around) or muscovado sugar and decided that this cake was going to be made with regular sugar and realised the that percentage of “exotic” in this recipe was rapidly declining with all these substitutions. I wound up the shopping with some millet (whole) and a few chocolates for my parents.

 

Raw materials

Easter was resplendent with the Chicken biriyani that Dad made and the phone calls from dear ones across the globe. Since cake baking and other random food experimentation  is not uncommon at home, I get all the remaining ingredients at home. So, the large eggs, unsalted butter, baking powder, cream, vanilla essence and of course regular sugar were all at home, with all the baking tools I could ever need. Milky Mist is something my mother has discovered in the local supermarket. I’ll have to see if there’s an equivalent when I get back to Mumbai.

Now, I’d left all the ingredients out at room temperature for about an hour. But, the chocolate was still a little stiff. So, I had to first microwave the chocolate separately on HIGH for about 2 minutes (I stopped and checked after a minute) and then added the butter to this and microwaved for another 30 seconds. I added the vanilla essence to this and kept it aside.

Now comes the part that made this cake almost a disaster. Whole millet is slightly bigger than mustard seeds and a little smaller than coriander seeds. And the little grinder, try as it might, couldn’t make a fine powder of the millet. The grinding was coarse, at best, which probably means that some of the bigger particles actually remained undercooked. Then came the pecan nuts, which ground easily, but the grinding caused the mixture to extrude oil and the powdered pecan formed ungainly clumps. The baking flour was replaced in half by the millet and in half by the pecan nuts, not a bad idea when there’s a necessity, but I’m sticking to flour the next time around.

Cake batter

 

The rest was standard operating procedure, though, I still wonder I if beat the eggs to the correct consistency. I beat the yellows, till they slightly turned a lighter yellow; and the whites till it resembled whipped cream. I folded in everything and mixed the batter with my hands. The batter smelled and tasted nice, but I could feel the coarseness of the millet flour and dreaded that the cake wouldn’t be all that I had expected. We pre-heated the oven, probably a bit too long and set the bake time to 30 minutes. I had expected the lovely baking smell to come wafting into the living room, and to take a peek then. This being summer, we had the AC on and the door to the living room closed, and no warning wafting smells. At 25 minutes, we rushed to the kitchen, wrinkling our noses at the overdone smell and checked the cake. It was slightly dry and I think it did not rise at all. My heart sank and I told the dear friend of my disaster. She’s a food aficionado and consoled me that millet flour is very heavy and needs a lot of baking powder for it to rise. Another reason why I’m sticking to baking flour.

For the ganache

 

We let the cake cool for a day and I prepared the chocolate ganache, which gave me an opportunity to look it up on Wikipedia and completely demystify this very exotic sounding word. This was by far my favourite part. The measurements for this was way too much for the cake I made. We can probably stick to 100 gms of dark chocolate and proportionately reduce the cream as well. I didn’t powder the sugar, as it would melt while heating the cream. I had left the chocolate outside overnight, so the though it looks stiff in the picture, it quickly mixed when the hot cream was poured over it. The ganache tasted overwhelmingly of the chocolate. Maybe I could try for 70% cocoa for the ganache to reduce the sweetness and bring in a slightly different flavour.

 

Final outcome

The top of the cake was decorated with the warm chocolate ganache and kept in the fridge to set the pretty pattern. After lunch, we served the cake with butterscotch ice cream in order to offset the dryness of the cake. It wasn’t a bad combination. Later on, I started stealing slices directly from the fridge, though the recipe says the cake should be eaten at room temperature. The cold cake was actually delicious. I had a lot ganache left over. So, I cut slices, slapped on the ganache and transformed what I truly thought was a disaster, into probably my first original exotic cake recipe. Thank you, La Tartine Gourmande!

NB: Picture of Lindt chocolate is sourced from the Internet

A tryst with the Lord of the harvest

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ImageLast night I took a journey
To a land across the seas.
I didn’t go by ship or plane –
I traveled on my knees.

I saw so many people there
In bondage to their sin,
And Jesus told me I should go,
That there were souls to win.

But I said, “Jesus, I can‟t go
To lands across the seas.”
He answered quickly, “Yes, you can –
By traveling on your knees.”

He said, “You pray, I‟ll meet the need.
You call, and I will hear.
It‟s up to you to be concerned
For lost souls far and near.”

And so tiny, tiny groups of people went out from my city to the farthest corners of the state I live in. To the almost unreached state of Maharastra, India’s third largest state and according to wikipedia with an area almost the size of Italy. What does happen when one heeds the command to pray for the lost? When one  is beset with an ocean of perishing souls?  Are there rising waves of inadequacy? Or a surging fount of compassion? Here’s what four of my friends who are associated with a student ministry came back with.

Deepa hoped that she would meet a lot of students. That she would get a chance to interact with them and share her experiences of Jesus Christ with students who had never heard of Him. But she met only one student. This young girl took Deepa up and down the lanes of her city, pointing out the colleges, one by one. Colleges with tens of thousands of students, who live in darkness, children who have spent their entire lifetime without the knowledge of the living God. This one student was enough for Deepa to see the enormity of the unsaved souls in that city. Deepa has now come back with a burden to pray for the students of that city to know the living God.

Shobhan was called upon to translate a sermon. In the midst of a crowd hungry for the word of God. A crowd, simple and humble and naked in their desire to know God. How could I let them down? How could God ever trust a guy like me to speak to these people? I am not worthy to carry God’s message…Young, easy going Shobhan was overwhelmed by the tremendous trust God had placed in him. He has decided to live a disciplined life, to be prepared for the next time God wants to use him.

Nagalakshmi was told the story of how there was nothing happening last year in the city that she visited. And how this year, God had opened to door to many new students who showed an interest in attending a bible study. Nagalakshmi, encouraged by this act of God has come back convinced that the God who worked in a far away city can work the same miracle in our city too.  She has now come back with a renewed burden to pray for the dry area of West area.

Manoj was in a dilemma whether to set out for his city since he had a job interview lined up for just after he got back. Entrusting the preparation and the interview into God’s hands, he decided to keep his commitment. A young guy on a bike happened to stop next to him as he was walking the city streets. Noticing a christian sticker on the boys bike, they struck up a conversation. Miraculously receptive, the boy took them to his Pastor. Who again was miraculously receptive and called a youth meeting in church so that they could speak to them about salvation and a personal relationship with Christ. Manoj looks back and now says, when one is ready to leave one’s comfort zone, watch out for miracles coming up.

Weekly Photo Challenge:My 2012 in pictures

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Even when I was high school, I remember my Dad had a dream of visiting his younger brother in Canada. Now my parents belong to a dying breed of people. They are honest, hard-working, put their parent’s and children’s needs before their own and spent money on only what was needed. So, going to Canada went on the back-burner. For almost 20 years.

Last year, that dream finally came true. .And they visited not just Canada, but the United States too. The Statue of Liberty, the White House, Johnson Space Center, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the museum of civilization in Ottawa, the city of Montreal. Above all the joy of being with their loved ones and cherishing a long held dream come true. I marvel at God’s goodness in making 2012 a year to remember for my parents and me.

Though my parents visited in the Summer, it being the high point of the year, I thought I’d spend a few words, reliving the joy of that time, before I started off chronologically. I found it surprising, I don’t have pictures for all the months. And some months have so many events crowded together! I know I could go on forever, and so decided to restrict myself to 12 photos for this post, concentrating on the many ‘firsts’ I had this year.

Let’s start off with my first visit to a museum here, for the Presidents Day Holiday last year (Feb 12). I spent only a couple of hours at the American Museum of Natural History, most of it reading and viewing the history of the Native Americans. I was mesmerized and vowed I’d be back . I did visit again, with my parents in Summer.

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Mask of the Bella Coola Indians

Then came the wedding in April. Mum had a cousin in California whose boy was getting married. I remember him (Mum’s cousin) when I saw him last. On his vacation to India. In Mumbai, when he’d gotten my number from Mum and thundered over the phone to come meet him. He introduced me to every member of the extended family there and warned me never to consider myself friendless in Mumbai. I had to go, even though all I would be doing over the weekend would be flying to and from California. I’m glad I did. He passed away a month later.

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Getting ready for Tommy’s wedding

June was my aunt’s visit to NY. I was elated. It was my first time as a tourist guide. Showing them the subway, taking them on the ferry, and enjoying the delicious hot dog lunches.

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My Aunt and her daughters at the Statue of Liberty

July was a busy month. I finally got a visa-worthy photo and applied for a Canadian visit visa. On the 4th of July, I finally visited Ground Zero and bunkered down outside the Hoboken Terminal for a few hours to view the Macy’s fireworks over the Hudson River. Here’s a picture of the Bronze memorial dedicated to the first responders from this Fire Station who lost their lives on 9/11.

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The FDNY Wall memorial outside Ground zero

I visited my friends in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and received the happy news that a couple were expecting a second baby. So, we of course went out to celebrate – bowling, my first time.

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The International bowling league in MA

And of course, this is the month my parents touched down at Pearson International in Toronto. And visited me as well. Here we are again at the Statue of Liberty, with my parents standing against the Manhattan skyline. It was absolutely delicious catching up with my uncle too who drove them all the way down here.

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My parents, the tourists 🙂

August, was when I bought my first DSLR camera. A second hand one, slightly old, but bought with much love. Here’s one of the first photos taken with the new camera.

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Flowers at Camp-of-the-Woods in the Adirondacks

A major part of my adult life has been associated with a student ministry in India, that bring the claims of Christ to many who seek the truth. Many students travel abroad and settle down and seek to bring their light to their new surroundings. And thus the torch passes on, generation to generation. Here is the newest generation having some fun at the North East Regional conference I attended in September.

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Children enjoying the sparklers at the campfire

No pictures for October. Super Storm Sandy saw to that.

It was followed by the first snow storm barely 2 weeks later in November. Winter was finally here.

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Heralding the end of out door dining in Stamford

December, again was a very busy month. A friend had recently gotten married and they have forever been asking me to visit them. I did. And we danced on the lit up streets of NYC, melded in to crowd at Rockefeller Center, and cheered and clapped when right before our eyes a fellow went down on his knees and proposed to the girl he was skating with. Magical, magical city.

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Angels we have heard on high – At the Rockefeller Center

It wasn’t exactly a tradition, but my parents would try to squeeze in a Carol night at one of the nearby churches for my brother and I when we were kids. Working in a hospital, that wasn’t easy, but I loved getting dressed, sitting almost always in the last row, out in the open air, under the stars and hear the lovely voice of humans declaring the angels messages – Gloria, in Excelsis Deo! This year, thanks to Augustine and Theertha, I attended their church Carol service at Calvary Baptist Church in NY.

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Carol Night

And lastly, my year end vacation to Canada. It was lovely. Waiting for my cousin to give birth, putting up the Christmas tree, watching The Hobbit with my uncle and cousins, playing card games late into the night, joining my cousins to surprise their best friend on her birthday, forcing my cousins and their friends out for a snowy photo-shoot with silly props. It was a year that ended in joy!

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Weekly Photo Challenge:Happy (The Bean of Happiness)

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This was to be a gallery of photos that make me happy (for the weekly photo challenge), but I couldn’t get all the ones I wanted, so I have settled on a write-up and one photo of one of the things that make me happiest. The photo above was taken at the local coffee shop that opened in my office complex a few months ago.

My earliest fascination with coffee started in a Lebanese Roastery, where we had landed because of my father’s quest for a release from the bondage of Instant Coffee.The ugly, black, thick amorphous powder had the most heavenly smell that ever permeated this earth.It was the drug that made everything alright with the world again. My father loved his coffee and has passed that on in huge dollops to my brother and me.

In my teenage years, I was enthralled by ancient Rome and their gods, and by extension, modern day Italy as well, and their notorious mobsters enshrined in the collective psyche of human kind by Marlon Brando. It was the last year of school, the year when every action was stamped with the legend “on the eve of going to college”. My first coffee was a cappuccino, albeit from a vending machine, Italian and “on the eve on going college”. It was a beautiful promise of the things to come.

Endless college days, carefree and aglow in the shade of the promise of everything, Four years of under graduate life gave me friends, freedom, a lifelong vocation, and the sure shot cure of splitting headaches, which I discovered at the Indian Coffee House on our University campus. The ICH was the last bastion where the “bearers” still wore elaborate turbans, starched white uniforms and made excellent coffee, not to mention at a price the perpetually broke under grad could afford. Don’t get fooled by the name though, ICH is a restaurant chain,and still offers the tastiest meals for the paisa.

Having adventurous and richer-than-you friends has it’s perks, and when they visit you, during the season when cafes was becoming all the rage, where else to take them except to most exotic one in South Bombay? As we sat there, on my first visit to a cafe, drinking bright hued liquids, gazing at a guitar in the corner, shifting from one corner to a more convenient one as the crowd dwindled, talking, talking, recklessly abandoning the passage of time and the shackle of the last train home. Another life realisation – If coffee was my Holy Grail, the coffee shop was my Jerusalem.

Several years later, Canada blew in, with it’s undergrounds streets, beautiful shop windows, snowy pavements, microscopic parks, even tinier dogs, audacious hairstyles and the friendliest people on earth that I had met. And perhaps with the most coffee shops per capita in the world. A country whose memories fail to erase themselves from that corner of my heart labeled pleasant. Mochas, Lattes, Espressos, Macchiatos found it’s way into everyday vocabulary, and visiting a coffee shop, some times alone, sometimes with a book, some times with a dear friend is a way of life Toronto taught me.

When I came to Chennai, I came full circle. Filter kaapi, that had opened the eyes of my father to the potent joy of the coffee bean, was now mine to enjoy. Traditional filter coffee is made with a device, which looks like 2 cups stacked, one over the other. Coffee powder and chicory is stacked into the upper cup and boiling water is poured over this, and the brewed coffee is allowed to slowly drip into the cup below. The resulting brew is potent and is traditionally consumed by adding milk with the preferred amount of sugar. South Indian coffee is typically served after pouring back and forth between the dabarah (a wide metal saucer with lipped walls) and the tumbler in huge arc-like motions of the hand. Along with cooling the hot coffee, this produces the landmark froth of the filter kaapi. You never really experience Chennai, till you drink coffee from the dabarah 🙂

My parents still stop at ICHs on their long drives. My uncle still stops at Tim Hortons on his long drives. My brother still loves his first ‘real’ job, at Mugg & Bean, and I still recklessly throw time to the wind and tell long, rambling, soul searching stories whenever I meet up with an old friend at a coffee shop.

“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.”

my first bowling game

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The International bowling league