Petit fours- a workshop


Petit fours are bite sized cakes or other confectionery that is served at the end of a meal. Or even at tea time.

At this workshop, learn to make the basic sponge cake and from that, mochas and iced treats. Also dainty walnut delights and everyone's favourite- chocolate eclairs.

At Kottivakkam on Saturday, October 5th, from 10.30 am-2.30 pm.

New York and a New York cheesecake


"I want to wake up in the city that doesn't sleep" sang Liza Minelli in the 1977 movie "New York, New York". Finally we were there.

I have more than 50 first cousins from Dad's side of the family scattered around the world, 2 of them live in New York. The older one lives on Long Island, the younger one in Manhattan.

Arriving at JFK Airport after an 1 1/2 hour flight from Toronto (or Te-ron-no, as my sister in law says it), we were met by the Long Island cousin and chaos. Chaos as a movie shoot was going on and our path to the baggage carousel was blocked by men and equipment.

After living in hotels, it was good to stay with family.

My cousin lived in a lovely area, typical American surburbia- garage by the side of the house, a patch of grass, a couple of trees and a pathway leading to the house. He had lived most of his life in the US but you cannot take Kerala out of a Malayalee. As my younger cousin put it, he had not just a green thumb but a whole green arm! At the back of the house was a vegetable garden. Here's a sample:

Most of the vegetables they cooked with came from that garden.

We had been warned that New York was in the middle of a heatwave but for me, it was typical Chennai weather. Without the humidity.

We had a bucket list of things to see and do in NY. Mine involved food.

The younger cousin drove us into the city.

Grand Central Station, Manhattan skyline, Liberty, TDK at Times Square

It was just as the movies portray- iconic buildings, high end fashion retail outlets, food carts, people disappearing down subway stairs, people climbing up, the cabs, malls, billboards, tourists, street vendors, parks, bicycle stands... the hustle and bustle of life in maximum city.

The next morning, we took a train into town and got off near the Lower East Side. The Manhattan cousin met us and the term "pounding the streets of New York" became reality. We walked everywhere.

Our first stop was Dominique Ansel's bakery, he's the creator of the famous cronut- a cross between a croissant and a doughnut.

Eclairs, entremets, madeleines and canelles at Dominique Ansel's bakery

Nope, no cronuts. Apparently, they bring it in every morning and it gets sold out almost at once. And the next delivery is only the next day!

But we tried the DKA, aka Dominique's Kouign Amann aka queen amann- layers of flaky buttery pastry with a caramel shell and crunchy with sugar. Incredibly light and flaky, it was almost a sin to eat it. Hazelnut roll, macarons and steaming cappuccinos later, we were ready to walk some more.

Oh, there was something funny going on. I know lots of thefts take place in New York but this is being proactive:

Or is there someone walking around NY with 4 cycle wheels?...Lol!!

Sure, getting parking space in NY is a pain, but do the best you can:

A dosa street stall! The guy operating it was from Sri Lanka, had been running it for about 7 years and had been winning awards for most of those years. We watched as he spread the batter into a thin disc, spread the chutney powder on, put on a scoop of the potato masala along with oil. When it was cooked and crisp, he folded it neatly and placed it in the takeaway box along with 2 chutneys. And handed it over to a very satisfied customer who told me that was his lunch most days of the week.

A bit of shopping and sightseeing later, it was time for lunch. I've heard so much about pulled pork so we went into an aptly named BBQ restaurant.

Pulled pork is pork that has been marinated and cooked slowly at a low temperature. The meat becomes so tender that it literally falls off the bone. It is then cooked with a barbecue sauce. Cornbread and coleslaw were served as sides. It was very tasty, a bit too heavy on the tomato though. The portion was enormous, thank goodness we were sharing a plate.

Fran├žois Payard is a French pastry chef and his bakery was on my must visit list. The glass display cases were filled with breads, macarons, rolls, tarts, flans, eclairs and other delightful sweet treats.

A couple of doors away was Jacques Torres' chocolate store.

Assorted chocolates 

We were asked to try their chocolate milk shots. Rich, creamy and chocolate-y. Oh yummy!

The next morning we walked around Lower Manhattan. This was the financial district, and where the twin towers used to be. Towering buildings on either side of the road, construction activity everywhere. We went into the Essex World Cafe, obviously very popular with the office crowd and construction crews working in the neighbourhood. On the walls of the cafe were plaques, put up to honour those who had lost their lives that dreadful day.  

On the street, more reminders of 9/11-

We walked into Ground Zero, where the twin towers once stood. It is now a park and two pools where the 2 towers once stood. The names of those who perished are inscribed along the edges of the pools.

We may not have known any of the people who died that day 12 years ago, but to be at the place where an enormous, senseless tragedy happened made us reflect on the fragility of human life. Not just the 3 of us but all the other visitors who were there must have had the same thoughts running through their minds. People talked in whispers, took photographs or just looked at the pools or read the names etched on the side...

We walked out of Ground Zero and my cousin pointed out to something on the ground- a manhole cover made in India!


And then, more patisseries to visit-

Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery, more pastries, more macarons

We just had to go into macaron heaven Laduree and salivate at trays of macarons of all colours and flavours. Our favorites were the ginger and the rose petal macarons. The selection we bought didn't last very long.

We walked all the way to the ferry terminal and hopped onto a ferry for a ride to Staten Island. On the way, we passed Lady Liberty. It was sunset and the view was dramatic. When we reached the island, we had to disembark, rush round to the departure gate and catch another ferry back to the mainland.

This was our last night in New York and we just could not go back without having dinner at Katz's Deli, famous for pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs.

Several movies have been shot in this deli- perhaps this is a familiar one.

Salami, the famous pastrami sandwich, green salad, pickles and cheesecake

Where else but in New York can you have the best New York cheesecake? Typically, sour cream and cream cheese are important ingredients in a New York cheesecake. The cheesecake is baked and either served plain or with a topping.We opted to have our cheesecake without any topping. It was delicious- dense, smooth, creamy and tangy, a delectable end to a dream holiday.

Here's my recipe for a New York style cheesecake. And a raspberry glaze, if you prefer yours with one. Lucky ducks who can lay hands on Philadelphia cream cheese, go for it. It makes a world of difference.

New York cheesecake with raspberry glaze

Ingredients for crust
90 gm biscuit crumbs, I recommend graham crackers, but used Marie
50 gm melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
A pinch of lime rind

400 gm cream cheese, at room temperature (I used Britannia)
150 gm sugar
160 ml sour cream (make your own with Amul cream and lime juice)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice and rind of a lime

100 gm frozen raspberries
40 gm sugar

If you are making your own sour cream, mix 2 teaspoons lime juice into the cream, stir well and keep aside.
Combine ingredients for the crust, turn into a 6" pan with a removable base and pack tightly and evenly.
Bake at 140°C for about 10 minutes or till lightly browned. Remove and cool.
In another bowl, lightly beat the cream cheese and sugar till smooth. Blend in sour cream, eggs and vanilla extract, add a little lime juice if necessary.
Add in the rind of half a lime.
Place the pan on a large sheet of foil, bring the foil up the sides of the pan. Ensure that no water will seep in. 
Carefully pour the cheesecake mix over the crust, place in a larger pan of hot water and put it into the oven.
Bake in a preheated 180°C oven for about 50 minutes or till the cheesecake has a slight wobble only in the centre.
Remove from the oven, take the pan out of the larger pan, remove the foil.
Allow it to cool to room temperature then put it in the fridge for at least 6 hours.
Run a thin blade around the cheesecake and remove it from the pan.
Set it on a serving plate, spread the glaze over or serve it separately. 

Thaw the berries in a small pan, sprinkle the sugar over and leave for about 15 minutes. 
Warm the berries over a gentle heat, allow it to just reach a boil. Remove from heat.
Cool and mash with the back of a spoon, pass through a sieve to get a thick puree.
Serve over slices of cheesecake. 

Toronto and a recipe for madeleines


Apparently, the second "t" is silent. That's how you pronounce Toronto. Or so we were told!!

We flew into Toronto and the city was spectacular. Wide roads, acres of open countryside, single storey buildings, at least around the periphery of the airport.

Niagara Falls beckoned, they were truly spectacular. A trip on the boat, Maid of the Mist took us for a closer look and in spite of wearing raincoats, of course we got drenched trying to take pictures. On a clear day, you can see for miles. And we did - all the way to New York!! Figuratively, of course.

We walked through the town of Niagara, popped into stores selling souvenirs and did other touristy things. On the way back home, we took a detour and drove into the prettiest little town I have ever seen - Niagara on the Lake. A broad road running through the town, homes and businesses on either side and a beautiful lake completed the picture perfect postcard scene.

Craft shops, liquour stores, restaurants, a bank, flowers growing along the sidewalks- and it looked like a movie set.

Most interesting of all...

...enough to make Willy Wonka green with envy.

We stayed at Marriott's Residence Inn Toronto Vaughan. This was the business district, plenty of hotels and a walk around the area revealed very few shops. The hotel was comfortable and served good breakfasts.

No less than National Geographic has rated St.Lawrence Market, 200 years old and counting, as the best food market in the world. Everything from ready to eat food, fresh fruit and veg and meat products are sold here. The Farmer's market is in the North Market.

Bakes, samosas and brownies

Fresh fruit and veg
Breads and more bakes

The South Market was a different story altogether. Stores selling kitchen ware, hats, souvenirs, chocolates, dried fruits, more fruit and veg stores, delis, stalls selling hummus, pita, nachos, dips and a plethora of ready to eat food stalls. Every stall had a tasting counter. One could taste ones way through lunch!!

Make your own pasta stall

My sister in law had to drag me away from the pasta stall. Just imagine- choose your pasta, choose from 3 kinds of sauces or choose all 3, choose your cheese and lunch /dinner is ready. We were given a sample. Unbelievably tasty.

Macarons, shellfish, olives

And a word of warning to the wise:

While waiting for the car to take us back to the hotel, we entered one of the shops in front of the market selling second hand stuff. Browsing through some of the things they had on sale, I spotted 2 madeleine trays. 2 trays at the cost of a new one- and that too almost brand new? Too good to resist!

The first thing I did when we came back to the hotel was to give those pans a good scrub.

Back home, I put those pans to good use and made a batch of madeleines. Orange scented ones with an orange icing. Ideally, madeleines should bake with a hump on the top, i.e., the back of the shell pattern  or scallop. I find that freezing the pans, chilling the batter for half an hour and adding a tiny pinch of baking powder contribute towards this.

No madeleine pan? I guess you could bake in shallow muffin pans. Of course, it won't look like a madeleine but will taste like one.

Iced orange madeleines

180 gm flour
A pinch of salt
A pinch of baking powder
3 eggs
140 gm sugar
Grated zest of 1/2 orange
130 gm butter, melted over a gentle heat and cooled
1 teaspoon orange flower water (optional)

150 gm icing sugar, sifted
Juice of 1 orange, strained

*If your madeleine pans are not made of nonstick material, melt extra butter and brush the moulds with it.
Sprinkle flour over the indentations till well coated, knock out the extra flour.
Place the trays in the freezer for about half an hour.

Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Keep aside.
Place the eggs, sugar and orange zest into a mixing bowl, use an electric beater and whip till light and fluffy.
Lightly fold in the sifted flour, then pour half the melted butter and the orange flower water around the batter and fold in gently.
Repeat with the remaining butter.
Clean the side of the bowl, cover it and keep in the fridge for about half an hour.
Fill the indentations with the batter, bake at 210°C in a preheated oven for about 10 minutes or till the edges begin to darken.
Remove from the oven and turn out onto a wire rack after about 5 minutes. 
While the madeleines are cooling, mix icing sugar and orange juice in a bowl. 
Add a tiny bit of water if necessary to make it runny.
Put about 5-6 madeleines into the icing and roll them around with a spatula.
Take each one out, scrape off the excess icing and leave to set back on the rack, scalloped side facing up.
Repeat with the remaining madeleines. 

Or you could leave them plain.

Makes 24.

Enjoy your madeleines with a cup of hot tea.

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