Thanks to all my friends for their genuine suggestions on improving this blog …
Bengalees are one race who love celebrating every opportunity that comes our way, be it religious like Dugga Pujo or an apparently “sacrilegious” event like the shunned-by-faggots Valentine’s day. Although, the real aantels (intellectuals of Bengal), who regularly infest the glorious haunts of Rabindra Sadan (the cultural rendezvous of Kolkata) believe, apart from what they speak in their fiery speeches, that the real celebration lies within, in our supremely bong hearts. This passion for celebration or hujug (also, mocchob, a satirist’s views on the need for grandeur in festivities), leads us bongs to enjoy baarey mase tero parbon (in twelve months, thirteen carnivals) and also extends to food. There is a special dish for every occasion, which makes it customary for bongs to have peethey (sweet/savoury rice-cakes stuffed with coconut and steamed) during nobanno (the harvest-festival), semai-kheer (vermicelli pudding) during Eid and invariably, boro diner (big day’s) CAKE for Christmas.
Although the queues in front of select Jewish bakeries like Nahoum’s in New Market have diminished over the years, the fervour for having the largest slice of a two pound fruit cake has not. Christmas gives many bong housewives, an opportune moment to bring out their pressure cookers and flaunt their bideshi (foreign) cooking skills. If you were wondering what pressure cookers were doing with baking, I warn you that it is a technique so bong, that they’re e’en older than Tagore’s verses. I dread the idea of resorting to bake in a pressure cooker myself, fearing that it might burst and wreak catastrophe on my newly acquired flat and “well-decorated” open kitchen, a growing fancy that is fast replacing the traditional henshel (closed kitchen) of bong gerosthos (home-makers). I prefer relying on my safe and occasionally unsound, microwave.
“Jo biwi se kare pyar, who Prestige se kaise kare inkar”
(archaic Indian ad: If you love your wife, how can you deny her the pressure cooker?)
Chocolate-Walnut Cake: with Cottage Cheese and caramelized Apple flakes
My erstwhile office colleagues, who were so used to eating from my lunch box, once requested me to get a home-made cake. I was so elated that I quickly looked up a recipe posted in some famous blog, ran to the nearest mudir dokan (local store) for grocery and that evening itself, retired to vigorously kneading dough, until it dawned upon me that I had actually never made a cake myself and baking was no child’s play. What instantly crossed my wicked brains was to call up my college senior, gifted with rare talents such as origami with pencil shavings and painting with ink-stained sand, to name a few, who was always ready to help.
Thank you, ‘Da (bong for big bro’) for teaching me how to bake, without you I could never have imagined attempting such super-human feats. “Remember to use the proportion of flour to eggs I told you,” his spirited voice quivered across my hand-held phone, “else it’s a recipe for sure-shot disaster.” Years passed by and today the amateur cook that I’ve become, I’m prodded upon by aunts and mom-in-law for my baking. With Christmas fast approaching, my wife insisted that I make a special cake for her, which she could boast off as her own to her unsuspecting office-colleagues. The dutiful husband in me did not disappoint. Here’s the menu.
- Refined flour ~ maida; sieve in heaps of this with a chaluni (bong form of a sieving apparatus)
- Castor/ super-fine sugar ~ mihee chini; if you have the big-crystals sugar that you spoon into your tea or coffee, you can dry-grind the same in a mixer
- Unsalted butter ~ makhon; told you this recipe wasn’t as healthy as you thought. Soften and keep ready
- Eggs ~ deem; broken, beaten and whisked till frothy. Bongs love pau-ruti (bread) and seddho deem (boiled eggs) for breakfast, no wonder they can die for cakes too
- Nutmeg ~ jaifol; one of the toughest nuts to crack; Walnuts ~ akhrot; dry-roast the two over medium flame till you get a lovely flavour and coarsely grind them with mortar and pestle
- Cottage cheese ~ chana; this gives the cake its unique softness
- Chocolate chips ~ as they say, the next best thing after love-making; Baking powder ~ ek chimte (one pinch of this)
Caramelizing the Apple flakes:
Apple ~ apel; just right for the season; Honey ~ modhu; I feel apples and honey are a match made in heaven; Red wine ~ mod; fifth among the shoro ripus (six sins) one should conquer, but this is ghor koli (modern times).
Slice unpeeled apples into as many thin crescent shaped flakes as you can, till your patience gives way. Heat wine in a flat pan and throw in the apples. Do not let them go up in flames; it looks terrific on screen but terrible in the henshel (kitchen). Drizzle honey and toss the apples in the messy syrup till they have lost their brittleness. Keep aside the caramelized apple flakes.
The balance of flour to sugar to egg and butter (in equal proprtions) is delicate and decides the fluffiness of the cake you’re baking. It generally varies between 2:2:1 and 1:1:1 by weight (high ratio cake), depending on the richness you want with the eggs. In case you want some more tips on baking, please feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now let’s get down to baking … 🙂
Whip the eggs with sugar until firm and gently fold in the flour whisked skillfully with softened butter to get a snowy-white, airy mix. Mix everything else together, one by one, in the order the rest of the ingredients are mentioned. Combine well, ensuring no lumps are formed, until the mixture has just about flowing consistency. Add some milk if the mix is too pasty. Obtaining a smooth lump-less fluid is an arduous task. I do not have a food processor for mixing everything at home. So, I flit between using a ladle, a large fork, an egg beater and in moments of extreme distress, a hand-blender.
Meanwhile pre-heat the oven at 200 degrees for about twenty minutes. Grease the bottom and inner sides of a baking tray with some butter and arrange the caramelized apple flakes in a neat circle. Pour the gooey fluid over it and bake on high heat for half an hour or until a toothpick comes out clean after piercing. The cake would have risen to about double the volume. Carefully upturn it on a plate and drizzle very little left-over wine over the apples, now sitting on the upper crust of your cake…
Ekdom jomey kheer (roughly translated, Merry Chirstmas, guru!) …
P.S. : My wife would kill me for posting this but her colleagues would have eaten the cake by now … 🙂