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.


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


Weekly Photo Challenge:My 2012 in pictures


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

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Another coincidence this week. I had just posted a few pictures about the magical place the city I lived in had become when, the next day, the weekly challenge turned out be the one on changing seasons. Fall is the time God waves His magic wand over this earth, while winter nights gives us earthlings a chance to emulate the spectacular starry display in the heavens with a few LEDs 🙂

When I was in Canada, I wondered what would become of me the first winter. I heard jokes like that the refrigerator is warmer than the outside, in Canada. But when winter finally came, i was delighted to see the lovely Canadians fight the cold with colour. Fashionable jackets and bright, cozy gloves and scarves. Splashes of joy and cheer all around.

Come Connecticut, and all those trees bereft of their leaves now wore little lights. Enough to lift the hearts of anyone walking home after a long day at work. I am so glad that winters don’t mean cold and bleak and harsh, but still remains a time for us to ponder about the greatest wonder of all – life.

I have to tell you a secret. I’m all excited feeling like a little kid who’s opened her Christmas presents. I’ve enjoyed following many awesome photography blogs here on WordPress and am thankful for the constant itch they provide. I’m also thankful for the various tips and tools they share. I got a couple of them this month, snapseed and frameartist, both of which I think are really awesome apps for the iPhone. Here’s another another picture, since I’m still so super-excited, using FrameArtist with a bunch of kids all zipped up in their winter gear, but just bursting to get away and play ‘airplane’ tag, which I’m sure was invented right that day.


Starlight, Starbright, Stamford

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I am a bad photographer. The irony is, I love to take photographs. I was beginning to wonder how this could be. I think it’s probably genetic. My father, his brother, my brother are all photography enthusiasts, the older generation spending a good deal of money on camera equipment, and have some amazing photos to show for it as well.  In family get-togethers and school reunions, I have occasioned to see photographs that I never knew existed. My friends and I would gasp and reminisce and in all probability cry till the tears come out. Perhaps it is to capture this essence of humanity, this sense of history forever, that compels me to take pictures.

Anyhow, my city is now decked up like a Christmas tree. I remember, last year, almost to the day, reading a letter from one of my friends back in India, while walking on these ‘dreamily lit up’ streets, I’d called it. I’d even made a note of how I felt that night – “Lights against an infinite darkness has always had that effect on me-a divorce from reality, to a land that is fairer and purer, free from pain and sin. A breathtaking glimpse of Heaven?”

This time, I took some pictures too 🙂




Parking Lot Art

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I enjoy the train and bus rides on my commute to work, and watching a microcosm of an era go about their daily life. It also provides infinite opportunity to photograph the everyday treasures we never pay heed to. Here’s a bunch of pictures of the fantastic work the City of Norwalk has done to liven up it’s below ground passageway that connects the  NY-bound and CT-bound platforms. Plywood cutouts of various eras of US history.

Weekly Photo Challenge:Reflections (A River runs through it)

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The last bit of my train commute takes me past some interesting cityscapes. There’s a cemetery. There are old brick buildings. There’s a graffiti strewn overbridge. And a stream that is broad and placid in a few places, a tiny gurgling brook in others. Yesterday, looking out for heretofore unseen bridges, I was caught by surprise at a serene swathe of water that formed the perfect background for the still life of ‘Trees and Reflection’.A still, perfect, will-o-the-wisp moment, I wished the train would stop and I could take a picture.

Which is why I was more than surprised to find out that the Weekly Photo Challenge for this week was ‘Reflections’. And I was more than willing to accompany a friend who wanted to take a break and a walk. The perspectives aren’t nearly as beautiful as from the train, but here’s a picture I took on my phone and edited with different effects in BeFunky.

Autumn Sonata

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I remember the first time I saw trees with leaves that changed colour. It was in the campus of the Indian Institute of Science in Banglore, where I’d gone to write an exam. After years of carrying the terms deciduous and evergreen in a corner of my curious little mind, I think I finally understood why deciduous forests was every bit as interesting as the evergreen trees that kept their foliage all year round. Years later, in Canada, quaint names like Algonquin (Park) were added on the pages of the book of Autumn. New England added it’s wooded forests and Romantic poets. I have never gone on a Fall Drive. But my heart leaps with joy at every maple leaf that flutters and prances and loops and does an aerial ballet before it carpets the earth with serrations and patterns that it just takes your breath away. Here are a few pictures taken in and around on my daily travels this fall.

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