Baking Diaries – Black Currant-Honey Sponge Cake

The pandemic has led us to inure in ways we might not have considered earlier. It was mum’s birthday on Monday. With the lockdown easing out around the world, people are still maintaining caution – venturing out only if absolutely required. Using the limited resources at our disposal, here’s what I made for her. A mishmash of available ingredients to create a Black Currant and Honey Sponge Cake, sprinkled with dark chocolate.

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I used a cup of whole wheat flour, two eggs, a quarter cup of olive oil (we’re out of butter), a quarter cup of honey (in place of sugar), 2 tablespoons of chopped black currants, baking soda, and a little milk to get the right consistency for the batter. The baking tray was “lined” with oil. Once done, honey was poured over the upturned cake, immediately grating a slab of dark chocolate over it (so that the chocolate melts and sticks to the surface before the honey soaks into the cake).

There’s Something About Christmas – Book Review

Title – There’s Something About Christmas

Author – Debbie Macomber

Genre – Fiction, humor, romance, seasonal, festive

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Emma Collins stopped celebrating Christmas the year her mother passed away. Christmas, for her, meant family and tradition and preparing cakes and sweets together, and it has failed to have the same meaning anymore. Emma works as a journalist with  ‘The Examiner’, a local newspaper for which she writes obituaries. The ‘Good Homemaking’ magazine had run a nationwide contest a month ago, for the best fruitcake recipe in the country – the winner of which would be announced on Christmas Day. Emma finds herself with a new job description – to interview the finalists of the fruitcake competition, and present a series of articles as a build-up to the Christmas season.

“Fruitcakes are like in-laws. They show up at the holidays. You have no idea who sent them, how old they are, or how long they’ll be hanging around your kitchen.”

“Fruitcake is about the ritual of a family recipe. The longer the ritual is repeated, the more it becomes part of the holidays.”

The reader is taken through Emma’s life in the weeks leading up to Christmas – her earnestness in making a name for herself as a journalist, a boss who doesn’t take her seriously, a colleague cum best friend and sole support system, her estrangement with her father, her mourning over her mother’s death. The author begins every chapter with quotes by real life chefs and bakers, on what fruitcakes symbolize to them. Emma’s journey as a journalist also comes across beautifully, as someone who documents the lives of others but personally feels she has hardly made a smudge on the page of her own life. Her aversion towards Christmas and the festive season shows us how not everyone celebrates festivals the same way, depending on what memories are attached to specific days/seasons. Her interviews with people from various walks of life reveal the stark differences in each finalist’s life story, along with the common bond they share through their love for baking. From an octogenarian widow to a young mother of four, Emma receives life lessons along with fruitcake lessons from an unassuming bunch of people.

“When I was with my husband, I felt there must be something lacking in me. Now I don’t think so anymore. Time will do that, you know?”

“I never could figure out people, but I know a whole lot about fruitcake.”

The more Emma goes over the notes of her meetings, the more she realizes that the interviews are not so much about fruitcake as much about the people themselves. “Lessons about life, wrapped up in a fruitcake recipe.” From traditional fruitcakes to personalized ingredients like chocolate or apples, and even no-bake recipes, Emma comes across a variety of methods to prepare the same product, which serves as a metaphor for life, in that, each of us lives our own journey. There are contestants who spent several years trying to bake the perfect fruitcake, only to realize that their life was what needed working on instead. Some divert from traditional recipes and use ingredients of their choice, serving the lesson of doing what you love and not following the herd. Others use the no-bake option because they want to “enjoy it now” – a lesson for living in the moment.

There are different fruitcake recipes provided in the book for the reader to try out. All-in-all, a sweet Christmas story that doesn’t succumb to clichés. Macomber writes with the right mix of humor and romance. Those who love baking and animals would enjoy this book. The epilogue was a tad drawn out and could have been done away with, but otherwise a cheery Christmas read that gets you into the festive spirit.

My rating – 3/5

Weekend Kitchen Experiments – Handvo

Weekends are a time for trying out new recipes and experimenting in the kitchen. I love baking and usually tinker with sweet dishes, but had some extra time on hand yesterday and tried out this savory preparation for breakfast.

Handvo is a vegetable cake originating from Western India – a part of the cuisine specific to the state of Gujarat. It is often made with bottle gourd, though other vegetables can also be used as filling. The commonly used ingredients are wheat flour or rice, a mixture of lentils, bottle gourd and/or other vegetables and sesame seeds, making this a wholesome meal to enjoy by itself or with a side of pickle or chutney.

There are four parts to the ingredients – the dough, the vegetables, the tempering, and the garnishing. For the dough, rice and gram were soaked the previous day for a few hours, ground, and then left to ferment overnight with yogurt. Bottle gourd, carrots and ginger were peeled and grated, fenugreek leaves were finely chopped, and green chillies were crushed. A tempering was made by heating oil, adding mustard seeds and turning off the heat once they started spluttering. Sesame seeds and dried red chillies were added, followed by all the remaining ingredients assembled earlier. The medley of food components were mixed well.

With an oven pre-heated and a baking pan greased, baking soda needs to be added just before you are ready to pour the batter into the pan. Sesame seeds were sprinkled on top and the mixture was baked for about half an hour. (The top needs to turn crispy brown – baking could take anywhere between twenty-five to forty-five minutes.) It was left to cool for about twenty minutes before removing from the pan. I sprinkled chopped coriander leaves on top before serving. Additional sesame seeds or flaxseed powder can be added to the garnish, if desired.

Handvo is usually prepared and served as a cake. I baked the mixture in two sets, resulting in two “flattened cakes” instead of one thick one. It does not affect the taste – I just wanted to start eating while the second lot was still in the oven, and the flatter version baked faster. And this is a very nutritious meal – with it’s assortment of grains, seeds and vegetables, and the fact that it is baked. Minimal oil is used for the tempering.

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The “flat cake” since I divided the mixture into two sets for baking.
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Garnished with coriander leaves.
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All set for a healthy breakfast.

Considering the time required for soaking and fermenting the grains, and baking the entire mixture, this is a longish meal preparation. The ingredients, however, are mixed and set aside and the dish otherwise does not take up too much of time. Give this one a go if you like trying cuisines from around the world and are looking for healthy alternatives.