Monday, March 9, 2015

The elusive benne biscuit


Growing up in Trivandrum, we would really get excited when our neighbor Prema Aunty asked to borrow the oven. You know those little round ones that got really hot and had no temperature setting? That oven was a relic from Sudha Aunty who left it behind when she moved out. And it continued to be shared between the two houses for as long as we lived in Trivandrum. There was a low wall that separated the 2 houses and scaling that wall was the mode of commuting between the 2 houses for the four kids. And when Prema Aunty borrowed the oven; it meant that she was going to make benne biscuits(butter biscuits or should I say cookies) and we would get some. Her benne biscuits were to die for.. melt in the mouth and crumbly and yummy. I have tried and tried to achieve that consistency - tried shortening; all butter but nothing has come close until this one.
This came about from the hurried reading of a cook book. Alice's Kitchen; a book I have checked out multiple times from the library(note to self: buy said book) Her recipe was for Lebanese Crescent cookies. It is one of those books without the pretty pictures but writing that takes you back to her mother's kitchen and allows you to experience the food. There is a small section on desserts that were cooked in her home. The one for Crescent cookies caught my eye.  She instructs you to chop the almonds fine in a nut grinder and not turn it into a meal..All that popped out at me was almond meal.  So I halved her recipe; and I think I have come a little more closer to the dream benne biscuit.  And it is ironical that this recipe contains not a trace of 'benne' or butter.

This is a total no fuss recipe; it takes one bowl and no chilling required. So go ahead and make this.

1 cups all purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 cup almond meal
3/8c sugar
1/2 c oil
elaichi powdered
Heat oven to 350 degF. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Add oil and mix with a fork. Test if it holds together when formed into a ball. If it doesn't add some soy or almond milk a teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together. Knead lightly.  Form into walnut sized balls and place on prepared cookie sheet. These don't expand much. Bake for about 15 minutes until the bottoms are golden brown. Cool on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a wire rack.
The cookies are crumbly - you will need a plate or a napkin or to eat it over the sink.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fresh cranberry scones

I have the wonderful luxury of having the house to myself on a Saturday. It is peaceful and quiet- Nicole is in her corner, the turntable is playing Ray Charles; there is no one to question how much time I am spending in the kitchen, I have a pile of cookbooks to read and all should be right with the world. Not quite- I have cook's block. The last 2 ambitious dinner experiments were disasters. There was the pulao I tried to make. I lovingly blended spices in the behemoth blender, chopped up carrots and green beans, dumped everything in the rice cooker- it smelt good but the rice was utterly uncooked. So I threw it in the pressure cooker with some more water where it turned into a tasteless mush. I made the family eat it anyway and tried to compensate with a cabbage salad. And there was the dosa I tried to make - I don't think I measured stuff correctly- the dosas were heavy as a brick on day one. A rest on the counter for 3 days and the bacteria and yeast in the air worked some magic and it was ok on day 5. That is not all - there was the tough as nails beetroot palya.
After all these disasters, the husband browses through the Lebanese cookbook in my pile and asks me why I don't make him stuffed cabbage rolls. According to him it is easy. The steps include
boiling a whole cabbage to soften the leaves, making a stuffing with soaked rice, chick peas and herbs, stuffing the cabbage leaves and braising the rolls in a tomato broth for a full 90 minutes. In my estimate, a full afternoon's worth of work. And given my recent disasters, I am not ready to approach anything that involves cooking rice without some fear. Well apparently I am making a mountain out of a mole hill- this recipe is ;at the most as complicated as, making aloo parathas.

So this weekend the husband is going to make Lebanese cabbage rolls and I am going to sit back watch and knit my time away.

To feel a little better I baked these scones. I am proud to say that I have converted the 2 holdouts in our family to love fresh cranberries. This scone is perfect - not too sweet, flecked with a beautiful red and guaranteed to make you feel cheerful in spite of all your (cooking) woes. These scones taste really good at room temperature.

Fresh cranberry scones (barely adapted from the Kitchn
Makes about 16 small scones
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 lemon zested
2 1/4 cups flour ( I used a mix of whole wheat flour 1 1/4 cups and all purpose flour 1 c)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 c vegetable oil
2 to 4 tablespoons of cold  soy milk

Heat the oven to 350 deg. Line a couple of cookie sheets with parchment. Put the flour(s), baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the oil and mix with a fork until you have tiny clumps. Pulse the cranberries, sugar and lemon zest in a food processor or chop together on a cutting board. Add this to the flour mixture and mix with a fork. If the dough doesn't come together, add cold soy milk a tablespoon at a time. It is ok if  the dough looks craggy. Dump  half the dough on to a floured cutting board and pat into a circle to the thickness of a pancake. Cut into wedges. Transfer to prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
Bake for  about 20 minutes. Cool a little and dig in.

Stays fresh for 2 days in an airtight container- didn't last more than that




Thursday, February 5, 2015

Apricot and peanut butter muffins

Full disclosure:I am pretty sure I can't recreate this recipe. The stars  have to align just so: I must manage to procure a 20lb box of apricots then roast and freeze them. I must also visit Champoeg state park next year and procure those tiny apples; then maybe, just maybe I might just be able to recreate this again.
So I have to start at the beginning. Muffins have become favorite breakfast food in the house - because it is quick and easy. Last week it was banana chocolate chip muffins. This week the guilt came in and the muffins had to be health-ier. So out came the bag of whole wheat flour and oats. And what I had at home was apple butter made from those tiny apples I picked and frozen roasted apricot puree.

These muffins not overly sweet and a lovely tang from the apricots.

1/3 c peanut butter
1/2 c apple butter (made from Preserving by the pint)
1/2 c roasted apricot puree (halve apricots and roast in a 275 deg oven until soft)
2/3 c sugar
1 c soy milk (or other milk)

1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 c old fashioned oats
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder.


Whisk the peanut butter with the apple butter, apricot puree, sugar and milk in a large bowl. Sift the dry indgredients into the bowl. Mix until just moistened. Scoop into a standard muffin tin and bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

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