Kesar Pista (Saffron & Pistachio) Cake

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This cake came to be because a friend happened to order Kesar Pista Kulfi (Indian ice cream infused with saffron and ground pistachios, chilled in an earthen pot) without realizing the consequences of her actions. You see, I expressed my interest to bring dessert to a Diwali party and the Kesar Pista (Kesar = Saffron, Pista = Pistachio) ice cream had already been ordered. I figured I would bake something that’ll “go” with the ice cream, but one thing let to another after I saw this loaf, and a Kesar Pista cake was born for all future parties, Diwali and otherwise.

This is a saffron- and cardamom-infused riff on the Pistachio Cake by Smitten Kitchen. I used a saffron syrup that is easily available in India and likely some Indian/Middle-eastern grocery stores in the United States, but don’t fret if you can’t find it – just infuse the milk with regular saffron. You can do so by scalding the milk (warm it in a saucepan and turn off the heat before a simmer sets in), adding 2-3 big pinches of saffron to it, stirring it gently and letting it cool completely before using in the recipe below.

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Got GoT?

Season 8 spoilers ahead! Beware!

There’s nothing I can say about Season 8 of Game of Thrones that a 1000 reviewers haven’t said already. While I didn’t think it was bad enough (as of the penultimate episode) to petition HBO for a “season 8 rewrite”, it does say a lot about the show where the memes are better than the episodes. Before I start grinding my teeth on why they royally messed up Jaime’s arc (turned into a circle) and Brienne’s arc (such a shame especially after the beautiful Knighting ceremony) and so many other arcs (Varys: sidelined then torched! Tyrion: got dumber and dumber! Bran: well, only the weird-wood trees know what he was up to!) let’s talk food! This post is fairly spoiler free.

So many times when I’m watching Game of Thrones, I feel, among other things, hungry! The big feasts, the beautiful tea cakes, the platters of cheeses, all the wine that Cersei drinks, the list goes on! Just as exciting as seeing food from another region, is seeing food from a different time period. You wonder how they measured ingredients, baked bread without any time table or weighing scales, and stuffed and roasted whichever animal they hunted down before being eaten by it.

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A guide to achieving Black Forest Cake bliss

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I feel like I owe this blog a step-by-step guide to bake and assemble a Black Forest Cake, especially since all I’ve shared so far on the subject is a bunch of excuses. I do make this cake every year, sometimes twice or thrice a year, and this time around I decided to do it right i.e. with pictures and detailed notes! Without further ado, here goes.

The 6-inch double layered Black Forest cake is a good size for small parties (like our party of 2). It makes tall, impressive slices, comes together quickly and is easy to decorate too. To make a 9-inch double layered cake, simply double the recipe.

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Vegan Whole Wheat Double Chocolate Banana Bread

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Boy, that’s a mouthful. And so is this cake.

Please don’t click away because you read the words “vegan” and “whole wheat”! This bread isn’t the horrendous, overly healthy kind of bread. It’s a delicious Chocolate Banana Bread that just happens to be vegan and whole grain.

I have a regular go-to breakfast banana bread but sometimes, you need to indulge in chocolate to navigate through piles of winter greens, and there’s just no other way out. The whole wheat pastry flour works wonderfully here cup for cup, and by replacing the butter with coconut oil and egg with an additional large banana, the bread gets the “vegan” title in addition to being “whole wheat”, placing it squarely in the breakfast category (just with obscene amounts of chocolate).

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Breakfast Banana Bread

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Banana Bread, or Banana Nut Bread actually, is the one of the first few cakes I learned how to bake, way back in 2009. It was a simpler time when I had only a couple of baking pans, one tacky whisk, and I didn’t know the difference between cake flour and all purpose flour. And boy did I end up learning the difference! I followed some recipe from the Food Network Test Kitchen and over a period of several months and years, iterated over it to come up with my own variations. Almost always one-bowl, minimal prep work, no fancy ingredients, infinitely adaptable, forgiving, freezer-friendly, reheats like a dream…are just a few ways to describe a good loaf of Banana Nut Bread, and this recipe always hit the mark.

With requests from friends, I started making them eggless (swap each egg with one medium sized banana), with different nuts (pecans are wonderful too), with seeds, with or without chocolate (chips, chunks and cocoa powder versions), in pretty bundt pans instead of loaf, with or without chocolate ganache on top, and so on. The combinations are endless.

But the banana nut breads I was making were an indulgence. I mean they were worlds apart from the high-calorie, compressed sawdust you get in Starbucks but they weren’t something I could have all the time, because of all the sugar and butter and of course the banana itself is pretty high calorie and a sugar bomb when ultra ripe. So I fiddled with the recipe a bit to make it less indulgent, and it completely sucked. Much like the direction this blog post is taking.

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Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)

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Considering the fact that I have promised my husband that I’ll be making the traditional Black Forest Cake for his birthday every year, I guess I’ll get plenty of opportunities to do a long post about this in the years to come. Given the specific parameters of this week, I’m going to have to stick with the short format.

What parameters, you ask? I baked this cake in a very rushed manner, in a cluttered kitchen full of dinner prep and in-progress dish cleaning, and in highly sub-optimal lighting conditions (not one decent picture). I assembled and frosted the cake in various stages spread over several hours, in between late evening meetings and a hundred other things to cross off my “this needs to be done yesterday” list.

Before you start thinking that all I make is excuses, let’s talk about cake! Variations of the traditional German “Black Forest Cake” (or “Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte” in its native German tongue) are available in some format all over the world, really. It’s quite unlikely that you’ve never heard about it, wherever you are! It’s basically a type of German Chocolate Torte: sturdy chocolate sponge cake soaked in Kirsch (Cherry-infused Brandy) and chopped pitted cherries, stacked one over the other with Kirsch-infused whipped cream in between and all around. It is then covered in an avalanche of bittersweet chocolate shards and topped with whole, pitted cherries for garnish (and a “forest” appearance). The cake isn’t named after the German “Black Forest” mountains themselves, but after the Cherry liquor made from the dark, tart cherries found in the region, which lends itself beautifully to the cream and chocolate combination.

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Woof!

Dog lovers unite for this ultra-cuteness fest! It’s a shame dogs can’t eat chocolate, because these guys seem to be having an awesome time playing in a Chocolate Dog Park! My friend requested a “dog park themed cake with maybe a dog that looks like Koby (their pet dog)” for her then-2-year old son. I may have gone a li’l bit crazy after I figured out how to make one dog.

Of course my inner (and outer) engineer first decided to make a “test” dog. It was quite ugly and scary looking. From there on, it was just youtube video after youtube video on making dogs, and cats, and various animals, and the thing that makes dogs look adorable and goofy isn’t their body/face shape or even the eyes – its the tongue and the ears!

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