Sunday, March 25, 2012

Baker's Corner: Caramel Peach Upside Down Cake

This is a story of a beginner's tryst with baking...

I love baking (not that I've done much of it but just I love everything about it!). I guess I can call myself an aspiring baker. I have no problem with following recipes from a book as long as I'm confident that the outcome is worth it. Baking invariably involves measuring out ingredients, following precise instructions and techniques and fortunately for me, that is something I've never had an issue with. Although I can be incredibly impatient in general (patience is not one of my virtues), this is one area where I prove myself wrong! I used to bake a few simple cakes and apple pie as a teenager and my efforts were always highly appreciated. After I got married, I decided that I would spend more time learning different recipes and perfecting the art of baking. But I was never able to broaden my baking repertoire as over the years, I somehow ended up in homes with non-functional ovens. How is that for bad luck? And with my crazy busy schedule, I didn't have the time, inclination or the patience (what did I tell u?) to get them repaired. On a few occasions, I did bake chocolate cake using a microwave and they did turn out pretty decent but I was always dejected that I couldn't use a classic built-in oven. So, when I became a first time homeowner, I knew for sure that my kitchen was going to have a fabulous oven

So, I finally got the oven of my dreams (Bosch HBN331E0B) and I was mulling over what to bake for the first time. Some time ago, I had seen a cake recipe in a blog 'Look Who's Cooking Too' and the image of that particular cake had stayed with me. It was the recipe for a Caramel Pear Upside Down Cake and it looked absolutely divine. I bookmarked the recipe and decided that this was what I would make for my baking debut. Although the recipe calls for canned pears, I couldn't find any in the grocery store so being a peach-lover I picked up a can of peaches. I found the recipe simple and straightforward and the baking progressed uneventfully. I should have gone a step further with caramelizing the brown sugar but what the heck....the cake turned out pretty great that I was grinning from ear to ear by the end of it! Now that I'm pumped with the success of this cake, I know that my baking journey will take off without any hiccups. If you are a baking enthusiast who didn't really get the opportunity to get started, you just HAVE to try this recipe. It is a decadent pleasure that is simple, easy to make and really good!

Here is the picture from a subsequent attempt where you can clearly see that I've gotten much better! hahaha I was able to find canned pears and learning from past mistakes, I caramelized the sugar to the extent that it is supposed to be caramelized! So, please keep this one in mind as a visual reference

Here is the recipe with a few very minor changes from the original.....enjoy!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Glimpses of a big fat Indian wedding

I spent a glorious three weeks in India last month. The main purpose of my visit was to attend a wedding. I love weddings! A wedding not only celebrates the life-long commitment between two people but it also culminates the coming together of two families. If you are looking for an elaborate, vibrant, colorful and traditional affair, in my opinion, there is nothing that quite beats an Indian wedding.  There usually is a series of pre-wedding, wedding and post-wedding rituals that can last for a few days to maybe even a month! The coming together of families and friends, the color and vibrancy of the fabrics, ornaments and flowers, the adorning of hands and feet with mehendi (henna), festive music, dancing, the delicious aroma of food and sweets wafting in the air, laughter and chatter ringing through the home and the non-stop celebration would make anyone feel upbeat and cheerful.

Although Indian weddings differ based on religion, caste, ethnicity, language and region, there are certain traditions, the basis of which are common to most of them. In my family (I hail from a South-Indian Brahmin community), weddings are very traditional and are full of rituals some of which can be quite elaborate. Prayers to God are incorporated at every stage. I don't know about the others but I enjoy every minute of it :) Each and every ritual and tradition no matter how insignificant or frivolous it might feel, has some depth and value to it. It pains me when I see the younger generation scoffing at traditions or mocking them without even knowing what they signify! After all, our ancestors had much more wisdom than we give them credit for. 

The wedding I attended was performed in the Shivalli Madhva Brahmin style. Most such weddings are a four day affair. The ritualistic ceremonies are held as per horoscopes of bride and groom at a particular time called 'muhurtha'. The process of marriage starts with 'Naandi' (literally meaning start). The naandi takes place in the groom's and bride's homes separately to ensure that the marriage takes place despite any circumstances. A ceremony is performed where the bride and groom have coconut oil and turmeric applied to them and are bathed in hot water followed by other rituals. A very old ritual called 'Kashi Yatre' is conducted either in the groom's house on the day of the naandi or the morning of the wedding where the groom pretends to be angry as nobody is searching for a bride for him. He announces 'brahmacharya' (celibacy) after which his maternal uncle stops him by convincing him that a nice girl has been chosen to be his life partner. This ritual is in fact quite fun! The main event of the marriage follows next after which lunch is served to the guests. In most cases, a reception is conducted in the evening the same day for family and friends with a dinner buffet. The wedding ritual of entry of the bride into her new home is called 'Gruha Pravesh'. The bride kicks a 'kalash' full of rice with her right foot kept at the threshold of the house. Generally the day after marriage, a ceremony called as the 'Bigara Authana' is held at the groom's place and consists of the Satyanarayana puja and other rituals followed by lunch. Fourth day is small function at bride's house called 'Aarthakshathe' where the 'shamiana' (house decorative) will be removed signifying the end of the ceremony. The bride and groom's 'basinga' (a decorative head piece specially worn on wedding day) is tied to a pole or a tree in the bride's house and the newly married couple will start their new life with the elders blessings. A visit to the temple by the newly weds is a common occurance.