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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Besan Ladoo

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Besan Ladoo (gram flour fudge) is the quintessential Indian sweet, and very popular in Maharashtra where I come from. While it is typically made all year round in India, it is one of the signature Diwali Faraal (feast) items (one of the others being the Pohyacha Chivda) that is practically mandatory in Marathi households. I attempted it a few times over the years but failed and ended up converting it to Besan Kheer (porridge) or Halva just to salvage it. This year though, I think I finally understood it.

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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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Puran Poli

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When my husband suggested that I attempt Puran Poli for Gudi Padwa (Indian New Year) this year, I really thought he was kidding. It is one of those recipes tucked into the “Advanced Cookery” category that only moms or grandmas attempt. I was obviously not prepared to take this on, and this became even clearer when my mother, kind and encouraging as always, started suggesting alternative recipes that I can make with the Puran Poli prep!

I remained cautiously optimistic and I’m happy to report that it turned out really well for a first time! My 3 yo niece recognized it to be Puran Poli and said that she loved it, so I’m going to place this experiment in the “success” category.

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“Holi Hai!”

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Think “Color Run 5K”. Now multiply by 50,000 and replace “run” with dancing, giggling and frolic. And that’s Holi in India for you! “Holi Hai!” translates to “It’s Holi!” and is the warcry of one of the funnest Indian festivals, usually around the beginning of March, to celebrate the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil. Part 1 of Holi is celebrated late in the evening with huge bonfires, where people burn statues of a demon princess. The only “ritual” on the following day (Part 2) is to have fun and lots of it: friends and family visit each other and throw colors on each other, hose each other down with colored water, and other such activities.

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A few of the many colors that will cover the streets of India (and also some in the United States)

Music, dancing and good food is involved, as with most Indian festivals.

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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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