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Food for the gods

Thursday, July 12, 2018

There is life after chocolate, as Deepika Mital discovers; a simple banana flambé can be a winner!

Dessert has always been a favourite course, with even far away acquaintances knowing that I preferred starting at this end at a buffet table. I have always maintained that one should eat what one loves when hungry, rather than filling up your stomach with basics like daal chawal before getting to the really important stuff! And I am not alone in this method—there is many a friend I have made while cruising the dessert tables or trolley, both of us with the gleam of impending sugar in our eyes…

Of course, as one becomes older, the lure of some things is stronger than others, discrimination and development of definitive taste buds begins to put some boundaries on, or at least some marked preferences, on the things I am attracted to.

Chocolate has interestingly fallen off the list (heresy!) of things that I am keen on, probably out of sheer monotony. In our house, everything sweet has to be chocolate or else it just doesn’t count. So I have stopped eating it out of unmitigated boredom. With a fiercely sweet tooth that ensures cravings, there are some things that one should just be grateful for, I suppose.

‘If not chocolate, then what?’ is often a question I get asked. Or even more pointedly, ‘how can you not eat/like chocolate?’ Well, simply put, there are so many other flavours to savour and enjoy. For instance, banana and coconut, singly or combined, is a huge winner. The simplest, most impromptu  dessert I have been served in Denmark was a banana flambé. Half a banana split lengthwise, doused in some kind of sweet liqueur and then set fire to. The caramelised sugars of the banana and the alcohol are scrumptious without being nauseating. In addition, if you remember to switch off the lights before this little bit of drama is served—sit back and enjoy the oohs and aahs that come your way. And to top it all off, no guilt from added sugars and fats!

Or coconut—nothing can beat some freshly grated coconut mixed with just a hint of sugar (or even jaggery if you want to be healthy) and voila, an unbeatable dessert is born.

And then together—even the most disbelieving of critics have wilted when faced with my signature banana coconut cake, awful though that may sound in theory. It is a delightful combination of roasted coconut and soft bananas. Try it from the recipe below, it will bowl your chocolate-conditioned taste buds into new avenues, hitherto unimagined.

Back to flavours for dessert, the biggest winner of all is coffee; what an intrinsically versatile ingredient this is! It can be paired with walnuts, or oranges, or even chocolate to add some zing to an otherwise staid bowl of happiness. And of all the possible coffee desserts, Tiramisu wins hands down. It is everything to all people. It has flavour, creaminess, just a hint of resistance from the lady finger biscuits and to top it all, literally, is a generous dash of chocolate. Not to forget the version with alcohol, which can then be added to the list above! Light and airy, creamy and delicious this layered dessert is not a stranger in Indian kitchens, even though sometimes getting the ingredients together might be a bit of a challenge.

There are so many recipes out there that it can get a bit daunting to sift and choose. Some of them start with six egg yolks, which just puts all self-respecting housewives’ backs up—what am I going to do with all the leftover egg whites! Make a healthy omelette, but don’t miss out on the tiramisu, is my sound advice.

But even if you make it with just two egg yolks and not six, there are some techniques it doesn’t hurt to follow. Make your sabayon or egg yolk and sugar custard on a double boiler. Whip it well before adding the mascarpone. Don’t add sugar to your whipped cream. Fold the cream gently into the mixture. Do not in any circumstances leave your biscuits to soak in the coffee decoction, they are just to be dropped in and picked up in one fluid motion. Layer intelligently, with a good proportion of biscuit to mix. Here I would go so far as to say more biscuits to less cream/ mascarpone is smarter than the opposite. Get everything together before starting the whole layering process. After this, it is just a matter of following any recipe that takes your fancy on the internet, or the one below.

And just a last word of advice to all chocoholics out there, those doomsday predictions of the world running out of chocolate are probably true—so get out there and experiment a little!

Deepika Mital is an Indian cook in Europe, a writer, no-nonsense martinet at home and avid traveller

Banana coconut cake with coconut honey topping

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup coconut
  • 90 gm butter
  • ½ cup castor sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp soda bicarb
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 cup mashed banana
  • (3 slightly overripe bananas)

Topping

  • 30 gm butter
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • Shredded coconut

Method

Toast the coconut lightly in the oven and cool. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time. Beat well. Add all sifted dry ingredients. Then add the toasted coconut along with the banana and milk mixture. Stir until smooth. Bake in a loaf pan for 30 mins in a moderate oven. Spread evenly with topping and bake for another 30 minutes.

Topping

Melt butter and honey in a pan, add coconut and stir on the heat till lightly browned.

Tiramisu

Ingredients

  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 3/4 cup cream
  • 2 packages Italian Lady fingers (Savoiardi)
  • 1 cup coffee decoction (cold)
  • 1/2 cup coffee flavored Liqueur optional
  • cocoa for dusting

Method

Make your sabayon by heating the yolks and sugar in a double boiler. Whip them well before cooling a bit and then adding the mascarpone. Fold in the whipped cream once the mix has cooled to room temperature. Layer your biscuits and the cream mixture. Refrigerate for at least four hours, if not overnight. Basically, the best tip I can give is to follow all the techniques given in the main article. Do not hesitate to change the ratios and quantities, in order to make less or more. One last note is that I find that fewer egg yolks give a lighter version.

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