(Yoghurt) Cheesecake

February 28th, 2014 was the day I last posted to this blog. So much has happened, since. So so much. I’ve been really happy about it, mostly. But then, I never really got around to re-organizing life to make time for blog posts. And that’s not very nice, to be honest.

So, here’s me, trying to make a come back. With the hope that I’ll be more regular now on.

These seven plus months that I went missing, I was cooking. Cooking a whole bunch of good things. I also did a bit of travelling. And a TONNE of work (that’s my usual excuse, isn’t it?). And amidst all of that, I chanced upon a cheesecake recipe that uses Greek Yoghurt, instead of mascarpone. The couple of times I’d tried my hand at no-bake cheesecakes and regular cheesecakes when I was in USA, I’d ended up with fairly disastrous results. This one worked for me. So well! I did the one suggested in this recipe – a lemon blueberry cheesecake. I played around with it a little and did just a lemon cheesecake. Following that, there was a kiwi cheesecake. There was also a Black Forest cheesecake more recently. And a mango cheesecake when I went home for a bit this May. I also used the hung-yoghurt technique to make some pretty darned good tiramisu and I hope to be able to post that recipe soon enough too.

You can follow A Baking Girl’s recipe to the tee. But I’ll quickly go over the small changes I usually make – depending on what flavour I’m using.

Ingredients:
Must-haves:
For the Filling:
2 500g boxes of yogurt (I buy Nestle or Nilgiri’s), hung for a couple of hours until all the whey is drained out – results in 2 cups of hung yoghurt
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
For the Crust:
2 cups muesli, coarsely ground
2 tablespoons butter

Additional ingredients:
For the Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake:
3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup blueberries, whole
1/4 cup blueberries, crushed or roughly chopped (sieve out the seeds, if you like)
For the lemon cheesecake:
4-6 tablespoons lemon juice
4-6 tablespoons of sugar
A tiny bit of yellow food colouring
zest of 1-2 lemons
For the kiwi cheesecake:
1 kiwi, roughly chopped
1 kiwi mashed to pulp and strained
A tiny bit of green food colouring
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
For the mango cheesecake:
1 mango, roughly chopped
1 cup mango concentrate or mango juice (I used Paper Boat Aamras)
Extra sugar, if required.
A pinch of ground cinnamon
For the Black Forest cheesecake:
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
2-4 tablespoons of cherry liqueur (you can use vodka, in case you don’t have cherry liqueur)
A few whole cherries, to garnish

(General) Method:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Line the base of your springform cake tin with the coarse ground muesli. Melt the two table spoons of butter and pour over so that the muesli is evenly covered. Bake this for 5-7 minutes, until the crust just begins to brown. Allow this to cool down to room temperature, while you prepare the filling.
3. In a bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, yogurt and vanilla with a hand blender for 1-2 minutes, until you get a smooth mixture.
4. Add cornstarch, pinch of salt, and the added flavours and blend again, for another minute or two. Read more on this in the Specific Instructions section below.
5. Pour filling over the crust, now, and bake for 35 minutes. Check the Notes section below for done-ness.
6. Let the cheesecake cool down to room temperature, by which point the centre will have set and then release the springform.

Notes:
1. When the cheesecake is done, it will be a little jiggly in the centre, though the edges will have started to pull away from the sides of the pan.
2. The disadvantage with over-baking will be a cheesecake that tastes more like flavoured cottage cheese with this slight rubbery texture. 30-35 minutes of baking time will ideally ensure a good cheesecake.

Special Instructions:
For the Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake:
1. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest in at Step 4 in the General Method above.
2. After Step 5 above, when you’ve poured the filling in, add the whole blueberries, the crushed blueberries and give the filling a little swirl for a pretty pattern.

For the lemon cheesecake:
1. Add the lemon zest in at Step 4 in the General Method above.
2. In a separate pan, cook the lime juice and the sugar, until the sugar has melted and the mixture reduces to a thick sauce. Add a small amount of yellow food colouring. Pour this over the cheesecake, when both the cheesecake and the lime syrup have cooled. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

(It’s worth noting that my best friend ate a couple of slices without complaining and I made it one more time, the exact same recipe, and this one was gone in 15 minutes flat, 5 people. So maybe it wasn’t *that* lemony, y’know.)
For the kiwi cheesecake:
1. Add the chopped kiwis zest in at Step 4 in the General Method above.
2. In a separate pan, cook a sugar syrup using the water and the sugar. When it has thickened to a sauce-like consistency (though not caramelized), add the strained kiwi pulp and the green food colouring. Pour this over the cheesecake, when both the cheesecake and the lime syrup have cooled. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.
(A few friends were over for dinner when I had made this and we were all too drunk to wait for photographs! Sorry!)
For the mango cheesecake:
1. Add the chopped mangoes in at Step 4 in the General Method above.
2. In a separate pan, reduce the mango pulp and the cinnamon to a thick consistency, adding sugar, if required. Pour this over the cheesecake, when both the cheesecake and the lime syrup have cooled. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

For the Black Forest cheesecake:
1. Soak the pitted, chopped cherries in the liqueur/liquor for at least 30 minutes.
2. Add the cocoa powder and the soaked cherries in at Step 4 in the General Method above.
3. Garnish the cheesecake with whole cherries.
DSC_0040

And because I’ve baked so many cheesecakes over the past few months, I’ve had some pretty random ideas too:

Bread Pudding

You know when you’re craving something sweet and you don’t have anything fancy at home to make into a good dessert? Until I was in Pune, I’d swear by the cake-in-a-mug. But moving to Bangalore, I could afford only either a microwave or am OTG. I picked the latter. And I’ve found my new go-to dessert recipe. Bread Pudding. Just as easy. And I promise you, this takes only 5 minutes to prep (though you must allow it about 30 minutes of bake-time).

If you remember my bread rant from an earlier post, I have an explanation for bread in my house. @surajmenon. I always end up with extra bread when he’s visiting. And then when he’s gone back to Pune or Jamshedpur or where ever it is that he’s headed, I have a good half loaf of bread in my refrigerator, that I invariably make into bread pudding.

Ingredients:
(Makes two bowls)
3 slices of stale bread
2 eggs
A couple of drops of vanilla essence
A handful of mixed nuts/dry-fruits (chopped almonds, chopped cashews, raisins, chopped figs)
4 tea spoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter

Method:
1. Beat the eggs, milk, sugar, spice and vanilla essence in a bowl and keep aside.
2. Cut the slices of bread into smaller pieces, I usually do a 3×3 grid, making nine pieces per slice of bread, and lay them out in ceramic bowls that you can put into the oven. Alternately, you can double the measures and set everything in a baking tin (and then eventually cut out squares of bread pudding while serving.)
3. Chop the butter into tiny cubes and divide them between the two bowls.
4. Add the mixed nuts and dry-fruits to the bowls too.
5. Now add the egg mixture into the two bowls. Dab the bread into the mixture so that the bread soaks well in the mixture.
6. Bake for 30 minutes in an oven at 180 degrees or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
7. Eat while it’s still warm.

Whole Wheat Bread

IMG_0113_edit

And yes, I mean brown bread. Whole wheat bread, in the truest form of the term. Made with the same flour that I use to make chapatis. And it was soft and cooked all the way through and except for the shape, it was every bit as good as store bought bread.

Ingredients:
(makes one loaf)
2 cups wheat flour (plus a couple of tablespoons, for dusting)
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon gluten
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg

IMG_0108_edit

Method:
1. Add the yeast and the sugar to the water and let it sit for 10 minutes, so that the yeast can cultivate.
2. Sieve the wheat flour and the gluten into a bowl, for uniformity, and add the oil, salt, egg and the yeast mixture in and knead into a smooth dough. Continue to knead well for 5-10 minutes.
3. The dough should be smooth and not sticky. Add a few table spoons of flour to achieve the desired consistency, if required.
4. Oil a large vessel and place the dough in to to rest for a few hours, covering with a damp cloth (or until doubled in size).
5. Once the dough has risen sufficiently, pre-heat the oven to 180C and knead the dough into the shape of a loaf. If you have a bread tin, grease it and set the dough into it, else, you can work with a round mound of dough.
6. Brush the top of the mound of dough with some vegetable oil or a beaten egg, and sprinkle sesame seeds or dried onions or herbs and garlic and bake for 30-40 minutes.
7. Let it cool completely (20-30 minutes) before cutting it.

Notes:
1. I made the mistake of being hasty and trying to cut the bread while it was still warm. I ended up not being able to cut perfect slices.
2. Undoubtedly my best baked bread, ever! I made a portion of baked beans to go with it for dinner that evening. And cooked some eggs, sunny side up, the following morning because who doesn’t like dunking good bread in runny yolks and making the most of Sunday brunch!
3. Yes, I know using gluten isn’t the healthiest thing to do. But here’s the thing gluten is protein. Gluten is made by processing wheat flour and regular wheat flour is therefore, devoid of the extra protein content that gluten may have given it, had it not been extracted before hand. All purpose flour (maida) already has enough gluten content in it.
4. A little under 1% people are gluten intolerant – the most common symptoms of intolerance being tummy trouble and cramps.
5. Gluten helps bread cook better – it gives elasticity to dough and lightness to the bread, in itself.
6. There are enough people who think gluten isn’t healthy. But here’s my take on the whole deal. I don’t eat bread very often. In fact, in my one year in Bangalore, I’ve ended up buying bread only thrice. And I’ve baked some about 4 times. That still puts me at once a month, even if I stretch it. And I’m sure my system can handle that much gluten. People who claim gluten is unhealthy are probably the kind who live off bread diets. Well, that’s not very healthy to begin with, right?

Problems:
1. The crust of the bread was hard and non-shiny. I intend to fix that in the upcoming weeks, when I bake some more bread. The pleasure of baking good bread, is unparalleled.
2. I wish I’d used a bread tin. I don’t own one. But come February, and I will.

IMG_0116_edit

Like I mentioned, I made some baked beans to go with the bread Saturday evening.
Ingredients:
1 cup of rajma beans, soaked for 7-8 hours and boiled
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
Tabasco, to taste
salt, to taste
1/2 an onion, minced or finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 large tomato, pureed or finely chopped
Oil, to cook
Chopped coriander, to garnish
Mozzarella cheese, to garnish
Wedges of lime, to serve
Small cubes of butter, to serve

Method:
1. Heat some oil in a skillet and cook the onions and garlic in it, until the onions are translucent.
2. Add the pureed tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes.
3. Now add the spices, tabasaco (add more, if you like it spicy), the salt and the beans (along with the water they were soaked/boiled in) and cook until the excess water from the beans and the tomatoes has boiled off, leaving a mushy mixture of porridge-like consistency.
4. Butter a few slices of bread (you may want to toast them just a little, if the bread is too soft, to prevent the beans from making the bread soggy).
5. Layer the bread with some of the bean mixture. Grate some mozzarella cheese over it and bake at 180C for 3-4 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
6. Garnish with coriander and serve with a wedge of lime and a dollop of molten butter over the beans. The dash of lime and that extra butter do wonders to enhance the taste of the dish as a whole, they do!

Yule Log

I had big plans to keep myself busy the weekend before Christmas. I wanted to make green, red and white cake-pops to take to work. I wanted to try my hand at working with white chocolate to make pretty shapes, snow-flakes for instance, freeze them and use them to decorate cupcakes. Reindeer antlers. Rudolph red noses. All that.

I also wanted to roast a whole chicken, stuffed with lemon and rosemary. And so much more.

But that weekend was a disaster. Sometime during the week I hurt my lower back and it got severely bad by Saturday morning. I spent all weekend in bed, pretty much unable to move.

Yes, I’ve seen a doctor. Yes, he has diagnosed it. Yes, I am working to fix this. But yes, I’m also quite hobbling around to get thing done by the end of the day. But then, my lower back has been a pain point, quite literally, for a few years now. And I try not to let it stop me from doing stuff. (Even if it means going overboard sometimes. Sigh.)

So, I baked a Yule Log. I had always really wanted to. And I was fairly pleased with how it turned out. I took it to Ketki’s house because she invited me over for dinner on Christmas Eve. Ketki is my best friend’s long time girlfriend. And he’s my long time best friend. And given that, I’m still surprised why we (girlfriend and I) never really met or held such awkward (and untrue) opinions of each other for close to eight years. But all is well that ends well. And yay! They’re official now! Parents and all! And I’ve been over the top with all of this. I cannot tell you how much I love them. Together. Gosh! I just really really want them to be happy! Forever! Because sigh. They’ve been through a bunch, just to be together. And they deserve every bit of this.

This is me, meeting my best friend and his girlfriend together. For the first time. EVER. (Which is, to say, since 2005). And she’s just about moved to Bangalore and is still setting up, so I knew dinner would be simple. He’d brought some wine from Bordeaux, on his way back from his student exchange program. And I wanted to make them a nice dessert to make everything feel amazing.

And that, dear reader, is the story of THIS Yule Log.

The real story of the Yule Log, however, has something to do with traditionally setting out a large-ish log of wood (called the Yule Log) in the fireplace and then cooking Christmas Eve meats over it’s flame (and heat). It is believed that the ashes from the log had magical powers and could ward off evil spirits, thus assuring people of all things good and a great year ahead.

I used this Nigella Recipe, to the tee. So, I won’t write it out again, here. I will, however, add everything else that I did to decorate it. And what I thought wasn’t quite right.

IMG_0021_edit
(no snow on this one, yet)

I’d intended to make some meringue mushrooms to decorate the cake. But back and all, I had to give up that. Instead, I quickly made acorns with melted chocolate and cereal.

And then, I made some berries: Parle-G biscuits, a teeny bit of milk and some red food colouring.

I’d also wanted to placed some candied rosemary on the log. I did need to step out to do groceries that weekend and I couldn’t find any rosemary (I went to four stores, broken back and all, yes, bad call). So I just picked up some greens from the florist, along with my usual weekly bunch of flowers for home.

And for the snow, just good old powdered sugar.

Right, that covers the acorns, the berries, the greens and the snow.

To get the effect of the bark, I ran a fork through the frosting when the cake had been refrigerated long enough.

The cake was immensely heavy. I couldn’t make it through a single slice, to be honest. It was delicious, yes. But too rich and chocolatey.

IMG_0026_edit
(bummer, you can’t see the text on the pictures, really!)

My biggest problem was the icing/frosting.
Notes:
1. I don’t like icing. It is invariably too sweet.
2. The recipe calls for confectioner’s sugar (or icing sugar). I use powdered sugar (ground to a fine powder, at home) on the few occasions I DO need to make icing. And it usually turns out very smooth and pretty delicious. This time, however, it didn’t. It was grainy and overly sweet. I guess I’ll just stick with the icing recipe I used for this cake. (Well, I used icing sugar here. So may be it IS my fault after all.)
3. Yeah, next Christmas, I should perfect this recipe.
4. Oh, the interesting part is that a colleague brought in a cake to work a couple of days ago, and she made a very very similar chocolate buttercream frosting and her frosting with a little grainy too! And we arrived at the conclusion that using icing sugar would’ve been a smarter move afterall.

I’ve cooked some amazing things in 2013. I’ve gotten my baking mojo back. I’ve even successfully started baking bread. I’ve consciously started taking better pictures of food and even fewer pictures of myself. Yes, I’ve had a few not-so-great experiments (case in point, New Year’s Eve burger buns about which I’ll blog later).

The one thing I didn’t do in 2013 was travel. Travel to travel, that is. But I hope to fix that soon enough.

I hope 2014 is awesome. I hope there’s tonnes more amazing cooking, feeding people I love, getting to be with them a lot more. I hope there’s a lot of good progress at work (the last couple of months were meh.) I hope I can travel this year to that place I’ve been saving up for. And I hope to read a few more books this year. And then, I hope everything is just the kind of right it has been these past few months and it only gets better.

Enough sap. I’ll end this post here, then! And Happy New Year!

Flatbread with Brie, Caramelized Onions and Oyster Mushrooms

I can say this is probably my first fully successful bread recipe, ever. And while I think about it, I’ve come to realize a lot depends on the kind of yeast you use.

Mum’s best friend’s daughter is doing her PhD in posh things in Physics at Oxford. And while the said daughter and I used to be best friends when we were 8, we can’t care enough to be in touch any more. But she *did* send my mum packets of Hovis yeast and Sainsbury yeast, the last the last time her mum visited her. Another one of mum’s friend’s has sons married, settled, working in the United States of America and when she went to visit them, she came back with some Fleischmann yeast. Sometimes, I wonder whether my move back in the spirit of starting afresh and finding true happiness was every a wise move at all. It may have been the right move, if we’re arguing happiness and such unimpressive things. But materialism, sometimes, I wonder what I could’ve had, had I just stuck around and tried to fit in. Now that the whining’s out of the way, we can get back to the yeast.

flatbread_01

I baked this flatbread back in July and have since tried several bread recipes. I’ve been fairly pleased with most, except this one pullapart bread, for which I used Fleischmann’s yeast. Hovis and Sainsbury have never disappointed. And Hovis is still the better of the two. For this one, I used Hovis.

I used this recipe for the bread.

Ingredients:
For the bread:
2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/4 cup water, warm
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons honey
1 cups all purpose flour
1 cups wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon gluten

For the topping:
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 packed cups of oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
Brie, I used the entire little wheel I had, you can use as much as you like
Rosemary
A dash of vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt, to taste
Pepper
4-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Unsalted butter, to cook

Method:
For the dough:
1. Warm the water, add the yeast and the sugar and let it rest for about 10 minutes, until the yeast cultivates.
2. In a large bowl, sift the all purpose flour, the wheat flour and the gluten, to form a homogeneous mixture.
3. In another bowl, beat the eggs, the oil, the honey and the salt.
4. To this, add a half cup of the flour mixture, and mix well.
5. Now add the melted butter thoroughly. Add another half cup of flour and continue to mix.
6. At this point, add the yeast mixture, along with the third half cup of flour and mix well.
7. Finally, add the last half cup of flour and knead it well.
8. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few more minutes. The dough should be moist, but not sticky. Add a little more flour (of your choice), by the tablespoon, if required.
9. Lightly grease a bowl and place the dough in it. Cover it with a damp cloth and let it right for an hour or two until the dough has doubled in size.

For the topping:
Caramelized Onions:
1. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a heavy skillet and add the sliced onions to it.
2. Saute the onions for a few minutes until they begin to turn golden brown.
3. Add a tablespoon of sugar and stir well, so that the onions begin to caramelize.
4. If the onions don’t seem to take on a dark brown colour by now (remember, the brown is from them being caramelized and not them being burnt), add just a splash of vinegar to aid the process.

Mushrooms:
1. In another pan, melt a tablespoon of butter. Throw in the mushrooms with some salt and pepper and cook until the mushrooms have released all their water, have cooked through and have shrunken considerably.

Assembling the flatbread:
1. Preheat the oven to 375F (190ºC).
2. Roll out the dough into a rectangle, about 10 inches by 12 inches.
3. Press it with your fingers, everywhere except the edges, so that the topping sits in a hollowed out space.
4. Liberally layer the mushrooms and the onions.
5. Then stick in the pieces of cheese and sprinkle some rosemary.
6. Bake for about 30 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

The bread turned out amazingly fluffy and light and the topping on top was to die for, even if I may say so myself. I ate flatbread for dessert the night I made it, and for breakfast the following two days. And no, it didn’t go bad. I just made sure I wrapped it in some clingwrap, before refrigerating it and warmed it in the oven for about 15 minutes at 150ºC, when I wanted to eat it.