Once in a while, I find myself fixated on an ingredient. Not necessarily because “I’m in love” with it. Or maybe because I am. But more often, the reason is that I made a huge batch of it and I need to and want to use it in many, many ways. Like Tahini, for example. I’ve been going nuts making hummus, putting it in this raita with a dash of garlic and lemon juice (instead of red chilli + cumin) and of course this sweet-ish rendition of breakfast. Or like dhaniya-pudina chutney, which doesn’t have a very long life, and must be used quickly by spreading it in sandwiches, in chicken-parantha rolls and served with kababs.

My current fixation is jaggery syrup. I’ve been making ginger-lemon-jaggery tea, using it as a sweetener in home-made iced tea, lemonade and aam panna, drizzling it on my toast for breakfast and putting it in cakes! It has also become a wonderful alternative to maple syrup and honey as French Toast / Pancake/ Waffle toppings. There’s something warm and earthy about the flavour of jaggery — so much more character than plain ol’ white sugar.

I wanted to try out the syrup for a quick and easy cake recipe on the very day that I made the syrup. Rummaging through the contents of the fridge and store cupboard, I found half a jar of orange marmalade. The decision was instantaneous! Orange Marmalade Tea Cake it was.

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This past Sunday was a bit of a maddening day in our home — from a re-arrangement of furniture and cleaning overhead storage closets point of view. It was one of those days where, by the end of it, all good sense and restraint about “sensible eating” was tossed out the window. You know the kind I’m talking about? I’m sure have them, too, sometimes. Mine are usually very few and far apart. But Sunday was definitely one of them.

There were indulgent cookies, a whole cake and take out Chinese. Oh, and beer. And this is just the post 7 pm consumption. I don’t even want to get into the rest.

You see, I have this odd condition where I actually like stuff that has low sugar, less oil, more fibre, more veggies/ salad/ fruit. I’m not exaggerating. I’ll pick a soup over a crispy fried dish, any day. A stir fried chinese greens with soy or a steamed fish over a chicken or lamb in thick gravy.  Dimsum or sushi over spring rolls and crispy honey potatoes. Phulka over parantha. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I don’t like pakoras and samosas and paranthas etc. But I rarely crave them. I’m not sure how “healthy” or nutritious my food choices really are, but that’s the way that they have evolved over the years.

My Achilles Heel is rice, though. Give me a bowl of hot dal chawal or even khichdi and I lose all sense of quantity control! And Maggi noodles are a must on road trips — copious amounts of it. And I WILL gobble a whole bowl of chips or nachos if you place them before me with tea or a drink. I’m not a saint, you know! But you get my drift.

It’s come to a point where I have a reputation and AK and my MIL don’t even bother to offer me a square from their respective bars of chocolate anymore. Recently, one of them announced after dinner that “Praeru doesn’t like chocolate anyway” and counted me out automatically. I found it very hard to explain that I actually LOVE chocolate – just that I choose to not waste my time on milky and super sweet chocolate. I choose dark chocolate — more chocolate, less milk and sugar.

As you probably know by now, AK is the opposite. If it has sugar and/ or is fried, he’s in! He has been bugging me to bake White Chocolate Chunk Cookies for weeks. I just kept putting it off. Not because I don’t like cookies or chocolate. But because my oven & cookie trays are relatively small and I have to make them in many batches. I hate that and how. I wish I had a giant oven into which I could stack various trays of cookies, or 2-3 tins for a layer cake. So I just make excuses for as long as I can!

But this past Sunday, after much cajoling and bribes from the unrelenting husband, I gave in. I decided I’d go for a double whammy — chewy chocolate cookies with white chocolate chunks. How much more chocolate could a boy ask for? Actually, I take that question back. I don’t think I want to know the answer. I didn’t have white chocolate at home so AK willingly went with a nice long grocery list to get me everything I needed. That boy will walk barefoot across the desert for chocolate. I think. Maybe it’s better that we don’t test that theory. What do you think?

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For as long as I can remember, French Toast has been a savoury dish in our home, the way my mother made it. The fact that it is universally served with maple syrup or powdered sugar and fruit is a concept that I only learned as an adult.

There’s an Indian version called Bombay Toast, but the term seems to have been more popular in the West and South of India because I never heard about that either. Or maybe I just wasn’t as aware of food as I like to think I was. Or maybe my mom’s version was so satisfying that it never occurred to me to look beyond it. Anyhow, my version of this globally popular egg-and-bread dish known by many names — French Toast, Bombay Toast, eggy bread, gypsy bread, pain perdu and many others – is spicy and crunchy. Hence, the name Masala French Toast.

It can be served with ketchup or green dhaniya-pudina chutney, or a combination of both. The permutations and combinations for the toast itself, as well as the accompaniments are endless.

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Pineapple Upside Down Cake has always fascinated me, despite the fact that I usually don’t like overly sweet dessert. I’m sure that most of you will think that’s an oxymoron but some of you may understand! So predictably, the typical recipe using canned pineapple rings with the maraschino cherry in the centre of each ring is not the idea I’m in love with. To be fair, I loved it in my teens but I like to think that my taste has evolved a teeny bit since then.

Now, I like a little spice and kick in the cake. It should be rich in flavour but not proportionately sweeter. The mellow adult version, if you may, but not necessarily boozy. Although, that is a possibility as well. Before I go nuts with all the options, let me get back on track.

I first made this cake last year for my cousins’ wedding anniversary party. It worked quite well but, for me, it isn’t a hit until my primarily-chocolate-favouring husband passed it. He did more than pass it. (Almost) shamefully, we finished half the cake by ourselves in under an hour when I made it this past Sunday! The reason I didn’t make it before was that I was procrastinating about peeling and de-eyeing the fresh pineapple. It’s such a drama but well worth using fresh pineapple over the canned.

Trolling various recipes, I finally arrived at my favourite combination of this, this and this recipe to make my version. With a hint of spice and touch of coconut, this cake is transformed into an explosion of warm tropical flavours. If you add a bit of Malibu, you may just have yourself a cocktail cake.

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Or finding my lost baking mojo!

It’s been almost a month since my last post  and I was truly beginning to think that I had lost my way. Drama aside, it’s been a hectic few weeks involving a fair amount of traveling for wedding shoots. It’s the season, after all. And I never thought I would say this, but the few days spent at home trying to re-group, putting the house back in order, day-to-day work between shoots and much more left me no time to regain my momentum or enthusiasm.

I actually began each of the past 3 days by thinking “Today is the day. I’m going to bake something blog-able.” But by the time I caught up with pending work, most of the day was lost. By last night, I knew what I was going to bake next, so that was a step closer, if not more!

I remembered a request from a friend a few weeks ago for an Atta Biscuit recipe. I would think that all those born in India in the 80s or earlier would have fond memories of these biscuits – bought in unbranded packets from the local bakery or grocer, or from a tea stall, as an accompaniment to hot milky tea. To my mind, no other (branded) biscuit, except maybe the Parle G/ Tiger variety, could ever epitomise the chai-and-biscuit combination. These humble, rustic, crumbly, wholesome biscuits have a unique but simple flavour, more about the texture than the look. Often baked on street carts in a portable wood-fired oven, they’re an absolute pleasure to bite into.

The friend who requested the recipe, though, had a different reason than a tea accompaniment. She has an (almost) 1 year old daughter who has recently progressed to solid food. She makes a great effort to make wholesome and interesting food at home for her, specially when she wants to introduce her to a new food type. Her pediatrician suggested Atta Biscuits as a snack for her daughter and she wanted to bake them for her at home. So she reached out to me and asked me to help her with a recipe. I did a fair amount of research online and kept a few options ready to mix-and-match for the final recipe, which we were to bake together! Sadly, we never got around to that baking date, but it was a good recipe to start this blogging spurt with. Adapted from here, here and here.

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