I’ve been unemployed for a few months now and my professional life has been more or less of a mess since mid 2016. Some days I spend mindlessly refreshing my Twitter and Instagram feeds, other days I come home and weep because I’ve screwed up another interview. But some days, I try keeping my spirits up, reading the several open tabs on my browsers and making way for a score more tabs of reading. And then, I also read actual books. My reading is nowhere as good as it was a few years ago, when I’d probably do a couple of books every month. But then at least I try. Or I think I do. I’ve been reading Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food currently, in an attempt to up my writing skills.
I don’t make very much of the food writing I read here in India. Apart from the odd piece in The Goya Journal, even there, mostly the pieces that involve information and research, I’ve mostly been angered by the poor quality of food writing by Indians. Often, work by foreigners of Indian origin reeks of ignorance and generalization and that leaves me equally irked. But then someone’s has got to change it, right? I’m not saying that I’m going to be the next thing out there on Indian food writing, but I can try. I’m a little confused whether it’s food writing by Indian people that I dislike or writing about Indian food by just about anybody that gets to me. And by reading Dianne Jacob’s book, I hope to find an answer to that. I’m also hoping I can get some good writing done myself. There’s a good chance I will suck at this because that’s one thing that’s not easier said than done. But it’s worth a try or three, right?
At the end of every chapter in the book, is a writing exercise. The first chapter asks that we write about a favourite meal and make sure we use all five senses to describe it. It also asks us to make use of similes and metaphors in our writing, to make it livelier. And lastly, and this is something she stresses on through the course of the book, she asks that we write something in a way that we show, rather than tell. Showing, she says, would be: “Before I knew it, the bowl was empty, with a few shiny kernels rattling at the bottom.” Telling would be “I really love popcorn.”
So, I thought to myself then, bring it on. Put it up on the blog. The half dozen people that DO read, might want to leave some feedback. But then I began to think of a favourite meal that I’d had in the recent past. And for all the cooking I do and as much as I call myself a food blogger (or do I?), I couldn’t think of a single one! There are so many meals I’ve liked! My mum’s three bean and quinoa salad, my lazy night Asian noodles, ramen bowls, South Indian curries… But do I like one more than the other? Or are they all so different, that it’s almost hard to compare…
Since I don’t have a favourite meal that I can remember, but I did enjoy eating the chocolate terrine I made for the cookbook club a couple of weekends ago, I though I should write about making it and eating it.
It’s always fun to pick a tough recipe when you’re cooking for the cookbook club. It tells you how little you know. It gives you an opportunity to fuck up, I say that like it’s a good thing. And if you have enough time at hand, it also allows you to fix what you’ve ruined in the first place. So then, maybe, sometimes, it gives you another chance. One thing’s for sure, at the end of it, you’re one skill stronger in the kitchen. For me, the chocolate terrine was all of that. And much more.
What’s a terrine you ask? In French cuisine, a terrine is typically made in glazed earthenware (also called a terrine, haha) and is very similar to a pâté, in that it’s almost like a spreadable paste. A terrine, more often than not, is a savoury dish containing copious amount of fat along with game meat such a hare or pheasant. This one, though, is dessert. How or why Mr. Gellatly decided to make a dessert terrine instead of a savoury one is something I’d love to know. I’m absolutely delighted that he DID come up with the recipe because it’s something I know I will be making again.
Glazed earthenware is expensive and not readily available in markets here in India, and I had to think of an alternate container to set my terrine in. The closest thing I could find was a glass loaf pan. I’ve used it for ice creams and a bread and they’ve turned out fine, so I decided to go ahead with it.
I’ve inherited a shelf full of Pyrex bakeware from a grand aunt. My grand uncle, her husband, used to be in the Indian Air Force and they used to have high ranking guests over for dinner from time to time – which is why she invested in some very good bakeware and other crockery back in the sixties. Or so I’m told. Turns out, no one used any of the stuff after the seventies because a chronic illness confined her to a wheelchair and an oxygen cylinder until she passed away. Last year, when my aunts finally decided to sell the house my grand uncle and aunt lived in before her passing, they told my mum she could take anything she wanted from the house. And that, dear readers, is the story of the Pyrex loaf pan I used for the terrine. It’ll also be the story for the pie crust I post next week, but let’s just pretend we have the suspense built up and an exciting story the next time around as well, yeah?
If there were one word to describe this dessert, it would be decadent. Nothing else. I’m guessing the key to that decadence is using some extremely good quality chocolate. I usually buy a half decent brand that costs about 85 rupees for a half kilo. I went all out and bought some couverture chocolate for this and it cost me about 8 times the cost of my usual cooking chocolate. Well, for someone who’s unemployed, that sort of luxurious spending better have its rewards!
Of course, with chocolate that expensive, I weighed the 115 grams that were required more carefully than I ever would’ve, making sure I’d scraped that last nugget into my mixing bowl. In went some unsalted butter and an idea that I should scrap the terrine plans and make some edible jewellery instead. The recipe then asked that I whisk some egg yolks and sugar in a bowl for about 5 minutes until they’re white and fluffy, so I got to work. Being familiar with the pale yellow colour egg yolks beaten with sugar take on, I wasn’t sure how white a white to expect, but I whisked the mixture for the full 300 seconds that I was asked to and indeed did end up with a pillowy cloud of beaten eggs and sugar. I sifted in some cocoa powder and added the melted chocolate in, and continued to stir hoping to see a lovely creamy chocolate paste. That’s when things went downhill. And right into a pigsty. Because what I was swirling in the mixing bowl was, quite plainly put, a sludge. I wasn’t the least surprised because it was time something should’ve gone wrong anyway. The recipe mentioned that the mixture could be passed through a sieve to get rid of lumps, so I tried my luck with that, but ended up with a gloop floating around in some cocoa butter instead.
Having put many kitchen disasters behind me, I took a deep breath and decided to proceed, to see how bad this could get. I heated some cream and icing sugar in a saucepan, brought it to a boil and hopelessly, yet extremely slowly, added it to the muck, constantly stirring all along. The recipe had stressed that the cream be hot because that was the key to setting the terrine right. So I obeyed. What happened next was nothing short of a culinary miracle. The sludge and the residual cocoa butter coalesced with the cream into a smooth, silky and thick paste. I poured it into my historic Pyrex loaf pan and put it away to set, while sneaking a taste of the leftover batter from the bowl. It was sinful – rich, dark and with just the right hint of sweet.
The tragedy was that I’d have to wait until the following afternoon to cut a slice out to eat. So I decided to head out of the house altogether, lest the diabolic terrine call out to me.
Recipes for the chocolate terrine and the chocolate and oat snaps that it was served with follow. Both recipes are from Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding: Sweet and Savoury Recipes from Britain’s Best Baker by Justin Gellatly.
Suitable for freezing
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Chilling time: overnight
115g dark chocolate (70%)
225g unsalted butter
5 egg yolks
115g caster sugar
90g cocoa powder (100%), sifted
a pinch of fine sea salt
340ml double cream
35g icing sugar, sifted
- Line the inside of a terrine mould measuring 25cm × 8cm × 8cm with clingfilm.
- Chop your chocolate carefully into small pieces and put it into a large bowl with the butter. Stand the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and let the chocolate mixture melt slowly.
- While the chocolate and butter are melting, put your egg yolks and sugar into a bowl and whisk together until white and fluffy (which should take about 5 minutes).
- Whisk in the sifted cocoa powder and salt – the mixture will become quite stiff – then put to one side.
- Pour the cream into a heavy-based saucepan, add the sifted icing sugar and slowly bring to the boil.
- Add your melted chocolate mixture to the egg yolks, whisking all the time to prevent lumps (you can sieve it later if you do get any, though, so don’t worry too much). It should be like a thick chocolate paste.
- Now take your pan of boiling cream off the heat and slowly add to your chocolate paste. Be very careful of the hot cream – it must be just off the boil, as it’s the heat from the cream which will set the terrine. When all mixed in, it will be smooth and glossy – if there are still any lumps, just pass it through a fine sieve.
- Pour into your prepared terrine mould and put into the fridge overnight to set.
- To serve, unmould the terrine and remove the clingfilm. Then, using a long thin sharp kitchen knife, slice it into thin slices, place on the plate and just run a blowtorch, if you have one, over the slice to shine the chocolate and give it the wow factor.
- Serve with fresh cherries, crème fraîche and ginger snaps or chocolate and oat snaps.
Chocolate and Oat Snaps
Makes about 28
Not suitable for freezing
Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus chilling time
Cooking time: 20 minutes
125g dark chocolate (70%), chopped, or buttons
125g softened unsalted butter
110g caster sugar
85g soft light brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
90g jumbo oats
a pinch of fine sea salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- First cut your chocolate into small pieces if you are not using chocolate buttons.
- In an electric mixer with a beater attachment, or in a bowl with a wooden spoon, cream the butter and both sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the egg a little at a time, beating as you go, until incorporated, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. Put the mix into the fridge for a few hours, until firm.
- Preheat the oven to 140°C/fan 120°C/gas 1 and line a baking tray with baking paper.
- When the dough is firm, take it out of the fridge and roll it into balls about 20g in weight. Place them on the prepared baking tray, making sure you leave plenty of room (about 12cm) between them as they will spread out a lot (don’t cook more than 6 or 7 at a time), and bake for 20 minutes.
- Leave to cool on the tray, as they will be too fragile to move straight away.
- Great served with ice cream (or with the aforementioned chocolate terrine).