Plum and blueberry yoghurt cake


I  like fresh fruit in cake. I don't mean cakes decorated with fruit as in a black forest gateau but fresh fruit chopped up and mixed in a batter and baked. As in an apple cake, a peach cake or even a pineapple upside down cake.

A few weeks ago, blueberries hit the markets. Now, fresh blueberries in Chennai markets are as common as snow in the Sahara- it's never happened (or maybe just once!). The lot I bought was used to make muffins but while the muffins tasted nice, I thought it would have been better to eat the berries on their own or as part of a fruit salad.

I've been hoarding some dried wild blueberries from a recent trip abroad and have been wanting to bake them along with some purple plums sitting in my fruit tray. So the hunt for a cake recipe started. Since the plums were tart, I wanted a batter which would be sweet enough to counteract the acidity of the fruit. Finally I settled on a recipe from

Juicy purple plums

Plums and dried wild blueberries

I halved the plums and chopped them in 1/2 " dices,

Tart overdose with  the addition of limes

used only the grated rind of the limes.

Plum and blueberry yoghurt loaf

After baking, the original recipe asks for 1/3 cup of lemon juice to be boiled with a tablespoon of sugar. I made a syrup with 50 gm sugar and 60 ml rum which was then spooned over the loaf.

Moist plum and blueberry yoghurt cake

There were a few changes I made to the original recipe, among them using melted and cooled butter instead of oil, increasing the vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon. Also, adding 1/4 cup dried blueberries and 1 1/2 cups of chopped plums instead of blueberries as in the original recipe.

Plum and blueberry yoghurt cake

200 gm flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 cup yoghurt
220 gm sugar
Grated zest of 2 limes
1 tsp vanilla extract
110 gm melted and cooled butter
1/4 cup dried blueberries (can substitute with currants)
1 1/2 cups diced plums

2 tbsp water
50 gm sugar
60 ml rum

Grease and base line an 8 1/2"x 4 1/2" loaf pan.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl, keep aside.
Break the eggs into another bowl, beat them well then beat in the yoghurt, sugar, zest, vanilla extract and the butter.
Keep aside 2 tbsp of the flour mix and then fold in the rest into the egg and yoghurt mixture.
Sprinkle the remaining flour over the plums and blueberries, stir gently to coat.
Fold them lightly through the batter.
Transfer the batter into the prepared pan, bake in a preheated 170°C oven for about 45 minutes.

For the syrup, place water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to boil.
When all the sugar has dissolved, turn off the flame and add the rum.

When the cake is baked, turn it out carefully onto a wire rack.
Place a plate underneath the rack and spoon the syrup all over the top.

It was a delicious, moist cake. The rum gave it a bit of a kick. It was even better the next day, warmed up a little and served with ice cream. Next time, I would like to make it a plain cake without even the syrup.

And bake the plums in a tart.

AAHAR- International Food and Hospitality Fair


The International Food and Hospitality Fair, AAHAR, at the Chennai Trade Centre is worth a visit. Lots of stalls showcasing equipment for the hotel and catering industry, a cooking competition for chefs and many stalls with ready made food and processed food on display and for retail sale. The exhibition is on till 25th August.

Here are some things specially of interest to home bakers.

Artisan series Kitchen Aid from Mittal International
Only the red Kitchenaid is available, with a discount if booked at the Trade Centre by tomorrow.
Pasta maker with cutter, pasta drier and the biscuit press at the Currimbhoys stall

Chocolate transfer sheets, 3D edible cake tops, decorative chocolate moulds, dragees,
 Colourmist  food colour sprays from Bakersville

Hopefully, Vivo whipping cream will hit Chennai shelves next month.

Vivo whipped cream on cakes:
And then some more!

Appetizers at the competition:

And desserts:

And for the finale, a vegetable carving that deserves a place in the spotlight:

A close up of this work of art:

Home made hand kneaded bread


Years ago, on a cold, rainy day in Hyderabad, I made my first loaf of bread. Those were the pre-internet days- I had nothing to guide me except a recipe from a book. I followed all the instructions but had no idea if the dough had been sufficiently kneaded. And being a cold day, the dough wasn't rising. I warmed up my bowl, put the dough in it, wrapped it in a sheet of plastic and covered the whole thing in a quilt.

After some 4 hours, I found my dough had indeed risen and so proceeded with the recipe. The aroma of baking bread filled my tiny flat and when the loaf finally came out of the oven, it looked so gorgeous. However when sliced, it was dry and crumbly. It took me quite a few years to have the guts to bake bread again.

Bread is the one thing every baker aspires to make. And make it well. Most people regard breadmaking a challenge but once they get the hang of it, the joy of being able to bake a loaf of  home made bread cannot be measured.

If you are new at baking bread, the easiest thing to do would be to bake a loaf of white bread. I prefer to knead on a worktop.

Gather your ingredients:

Butter, salt, gluten, instant yeast, sugar, bread improver, plain flour, warm water (approximate). If using bread flour, do not add gluten and bread improver.

Mix the dry ingredients, make a well in the centre and pour in the water and add the butter.

Place your fingers into the well and slowly start mixing. Keep incorporating the flour, use a scraper to push the flour into the well till the whole thing comes together into a dough. Ideally, the dough should be a tiny bit sticky. Resist the temptation to add more flour.

Kneading activates yeast and develops gluten. Stretch the dough by putting the heel of your palm on top of the dough and pushing it away from you, the other hand holds the rest of the dough in place. Roll or fold the stretched dough back, give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the process. In the picture above, you can see the gluten beginning to develop. You will also find the dough becoming less sticky. If it needs more water, wet your hand and keep kneading. How do you know if your dough has enough water? Pinch it. If your fingers can touch through the dough, there is probably enough water. How do you know if the dough has been kneaded sufficiently? Form the dough into a ball and tap it lightly with your finger. It should leave a little depression that springs back quickly.

At the end of kneading, round the dough into a smooth ball, place in a greased bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave undisturbed till it doubles in size. This is the first proofing and should take about an hour.

My dough took about an hour to rise. As the dough rises, this is what it looks like. Underproofed dough will not have these bubbles.

At the end of the first proofing, remove the clingfilm and push your hand into the dough to expel all the air. By doing this, you are preparing the dough for the second proofing.

Take the dough out of the bowl and place it on the worktop, knead briefly then form it into a ball. Sprinkle the worktop with flour and place the dough on it.

Grease a loaf tin. Mine was 19 cm x 9 cm. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into an oblong, the same length as the tin but three times as wide. Fold the dough into 3 and place it in the tin with the fold underneath and leave for the second proofing in a kitchen drawer of shelf. I prefer not to cover the top of the tin as sometimes, while removing the covering, the dough sticks to it.

When the dough rises to come up to the top of the tin, bake it in a  200°C oven for about 20 minutes. The top should have a nice brown colour and when the side of the tin is tapped it should sound hollow.

Remove the loaf tin from the oven and unmould the bread. Let it cool a little before slicing it.

Enjoy your hand kneaded, home made bread.

Home made bread

250 gm plain flour
3/4 tsp yeast
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp gluten
1/2 tsp bread improver
1 tbsp soft butter
About 150 ml warm water

Grease a loaf tin.
Sift flour onto a worktop, mix in all the dry ingredients.
Make a well in the centre, pour in almost all the water and add the butter.
Using fingertips, slowly incorporate the flour into liquid till all the flour is mixed into a dough.
Knead well and quite vigorously for about 10 minutes so as to get a smooth, springy dough.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise till double in size.
Remove the clingfilm, push down the dough to expel all the air, knead it again briefly then place it on a flour dusted worktop.
Roll it out into an oval three times wider than the loaf tin.
Fold the dough into 3, place it seam side down into the prepared tin.
Leave it to proof a second time in a kitchen cupboard till the dough rises to the top of the tin.
Bake in a preheated 200°C oven for about 20-25 minutes or till the loaf has a nice brown colour.
Rap the side of the tin sharply, if it sounds hollow, the bread is baked.
Remove from the oven and after a couple of minutes, unmould onto a wire rack.

Update: This bread will bake beautifully even if the improver is omitted.

Lunch at New Town


Sunday last, we drove down the ECR for lunch at New Town. In case you're wondering where this is, it's just after VGP. This was the second time we were going there. There is adequate space for parking and the restaurant itself is set back from the road, so one doesn't hear the sound of traffic.

The food at New Town is Fusion and Malaysian. The restaurant is clean and neat. There is a large display counter with 3 desserts in it. Wish there were more choices!

3 desserts

The wait staff was very attentive, menus were produced as soon as we were seated.

Love the clean and shiny cutlery, ice cold water and plenty of napkins provided without having to ask for them.

Usually, we skip starters, preferring to order the main course directly, but then since it was a lazy Sunday afternoon, decided to order a plate of French fries.

French fries 

Lovely, golden, crisp fries. Not oily at all, but what was tacky was that it came with tomato sauce in sachets.

We ordered our main courses. It was Malaysian food that we had come for so I ordered curry mee, the son wanted nasi goreng (fried rice) and the husband, mee goreng (fried noodles).

My curry mee was served within 10 minutes of ordering. Looks yummy, doesn't it?

Curry mee

But nothing Malaysian about it. There was no lemongrass or galangal in the curry- two of the most basic ingredients in a Malaysian curry. And it had been garnished with an omelette and curry leaves! It tasted like an Indian curry. The noodles were good, obviously freshly made.

Nasi goreng

Ten minutes later, the nasi goreng made an appearance. The rice was ok, topped with a fried egg with a piece of chicken and cucumbers on the side.

There was no sign of the mee goreng.

After 25 minutes, it finally arrived. There had been a mix up in the kitchen and the wrong dish had been prepared.

Three people, 3 different dishes and 45 minutes to serve them in instalments

Mee goreng

We were terribly disappointed with the mee goreng. It tasted like noodles cooked in a lot of chilli powder.

Two weeks earlier, we had ordered the same dish, it had tasted fantastic then. How could there be such a change in taste in just a matter of 14 days?

Cold coffee

Not in a mood for dessert, we ordered cold coffee. New Town is known for some fancy coffee machine but the one the served us that day was terrible. It was as if they had run out of coffee and had made the beverage with a lot of water.

We were asked what we had thought of the food, when we told them that we were very disappointed, our waiter told us that the next time we visited, he would ensure that we wouldn't be disappointed.

My question is-why can't restaurants in Chennai maintain standards? Why are we told that things will be better next time? Shouldn't care be taken every single time?

New Town's pricing is reasonable but they should ensure that food and service is improved vastly if they want to be known as a quality restaurant that serves Malaysian food.

This restaurant is now shut down. 

Prawn and potato thokku


I've been living in Chennai for the last 17 years. Off and on, I've had maids who claim that they know how to cook. So, naturally, I ask them to cook something to see if it is really worth taking things forward. After all, a little extra help in the kitchen on a busy day is always welcome.

Invariably, the conversation goes like this:

Me: What dishes can you cook?
Maid: Oh I can cook everything!! Mutton, chicken, fish, vegetable...
Me: Can you cook something for me now?
Maid: Oh yes, what do you want me to cook?
Me: We'll try some chicken. What do you need to cook it?
Maid: Chicken, onion, ginger, garlic, tomato, chilli powder, turmeric powder...

What is uncanny is that all these maid-cum-cooks make this basic dish called thokku. So whether they are cooking chicken, prawn, potato or egg curry, the most of the ingredients are the same and the method of cooking is always the same.

I was intrigued by thokku. My mother in law had given me a recipe for tomato thokku which needs onions, tomatoes and green chillies. After cooking, it turns into a thick chutney and is very nice as a topping for bread. Then there is a mango pickle made into a thokku where grated mango is cooked into a thick pulp with tamarind, chilli powder and salt. Spicy and tangy.

But chicken thokku.  And prawn thokku?
Ah well, I had so much to learn. And I did!!

After 17 years of learning from these ladies, I figure a thokku is one of the easiest of dishes to prepare. Also one of the fastest.
I add potatoes in my thokku because it makes the gravy thick. This thokku goes well with rice and all kinds of flatbreads.

So we start with the ingredients:

From top left: chopped tomatoes, diced potatoes, chopped onions, garlic paste, ginger paste, shelled prawns, chilli powder, turmeric powder, fennel  seed powder, salt, oil and coriander leaves to garnish

Saute chopped onions in a little oil till slightly golden around the edges.

Add the grated ginger and garlic, stir till the raw smell goes then add the chilli, turmeric and fennel seed powders. 

Add the chopped tomatoes, saute till they turn mushy and oil starts separating.

Add diced potatoes, a little water, cover and cook till almost done. 

Add in the prawns, cover and cook till done and very thick gravy remains.

Garnish the prawn and potato thokku with coriander leaves.

Prawn and potato thokku

500 gm shelled and deveined prawns
2 onions, diced
1 tsp each grated ginger and garlic
1 teaspoon chilli powder (more if you like it hotter)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/3 tsp fennel seed powder
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 potatoes, diced
Salt to taste
4 tbsp oil
1/2 cup water

Heat oil in a pan, saute onions till they turn slightly golden around the edges.
Add in the grated ginger and garlic, saute till it no longer smells raw.
Add in the chilli, turmeric and fennel seed powders, saute till cooked but take care not to burn them.
Add the chopped tomatoes, stir them around till they turn mushy.
Add the diced potatoes along with the water and salt, mix well then cover and cook till the potatoes are almost cooked and very little water remains in the pan.
Add the prawns. Stir well, then cover and cook on a high flame for 5 minutes.
Lower the heat and cook till prawns and potatoes are done. Check seasoning and dish out onto a serving plate.
Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

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