When mithai goes mod
In chef-restaurateur Rachel Goenka's first book, she decides to turn the humble ghevar into a crumbly apple pie and tiramisu into aamras-malibu. It's Diwali, so, we don't mind
My mother stares down at the stash I have brought back from the market: bread slices, unsalted butter, cinnamon powder, castor sugar, ghee and rabri from Tiwari's. She gives me the look. It's the kitchen tigress marking her territory. I tell her I am test driving a recipe; will she help me? "Come on, be my sous chef," I egg her on. She takes the lead, and cuts the edges of the white bread and runs a rolling pin to flatten the slices.
In a bowl, I mix butter, cinnamon and castor sugar and slather it on the slices, rolling them into Swiss rolls and setting them in the refrigerator to cool for two hours. The book I am referring to is Sassy Spoon owner Rachel Goenka's first, and the title lives up to our kitchen experience so far: Adventures with Mithai.
At the book's launch, Goenka had readied a line up of the prettiest Western desserts made using Indian sweets. Think bitter chocolate nap naang, red velvet swiss roll with shrikhand frosting, and besan ladoo towers. There's also a DIY book where guests can make their own jar dessert. This writer tries a base of laddoo crumble, followed by a generous squirt of kesar cream, and chocolate chips and sprinkles.
What seems weird as a combination comes together well on the palate. In the motichoor laddoo and cardamom mousse, the elaichi is overpowering, but with the bitter chocolate nap naang, the gentle sting of black rice makes us dig it to the last bite. Goenka is clearly living her best month. She has walked her first ramp show for Neeta Lulla; been inducted into the National Restaurant Association of India's managing committee, and last week saw her release Adventures with Mithai — Indian Sweets get a Modern Makeover (Harper Collins).
Goenka studied pastry making at Le Cordon Bleu London and followed it with a stint with Rachel Alan in Ireland. She mastered the classics "only to have some fun with them now." Her Diwali plated desserts at her restaurant got her to bring the experiments to 50 desserts. "Journalism taught me how to work with deadlines and be organised. It is also what makes my conversation with food more romantic," she says of the course she studied before turning chef. The book had a bullet train turnover of two months, "but the work has been going for seven, when I started doing plated Diwali desserts at Sassy."
While kitchen fiascos include getting the perfect filter coffee concoction to trying to use kaju katli instead of marzipan to roll over Battenberg cake, the experiments had her excited enough to wake up in the middle of the night to jot down an idea.
With Diwali round the corner, the book is ideal to gift; refer to create a goody bag; and to put to use all the Indian sweets that come home and no one wants to eat. "Instead of giving them away, now, mithai can be repurposed and served at the desserts table. I know Indian desserts are sacrosanct. The book, is my sweet, sassy way of promoting Indian mithai. I want the world to enjoy them in this new format."
I watch my mother gently drop the sliced bread roll into ghee for frying, like she would make a sakkar para or gujiya. Piping hot, I help her roll them in a mix of cinnamon and sugar. The crust is like that on churros, but served with rabdi, it's shahi tukda. It doesn't look as full-bodied as the picture, and a few pieces come apart in the pan. We sit on the swing and don't argue on what we've made. We savour it in its new form.
Pista barfi, cranberry and oatmeal bars
Pista barfi, cranberry and oatmeal bars
Makes 10 bars
500g pista barfi
100g white oats
100g toasted sunflower seeds
75 ml golden syrup
75 ml maple syrup
50g white chocolate
50g dried cranberries
- Line an 8x8 inch sheet tray with butter paper. Make a layer of pista barfi and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes
- Combine the maple syrup and golden syrup in a saucepan and heat over medium flame until it comes to simmer, stirring occasionally. Set it aside.
- Melt the white chocolate in a microwave. Remove, then stir in the maple and golden syrup mixture combine well.
- Add all the dry ingredient to the syrup mixture. Once the granola is well combined, layer the mixture on top of the pista barfi. Spread it evenly and press the granola down on top of the barfi.
- Cover the tray with cling film refrigerate for two hours.
- Unmould the slab and cut into even rectangular bars. Store in an airtight container in the fridge (stays for up to a week). Bring the bars to room temperature before eating.
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