Savory Tea Biscuits (shortbread cookies with carom seeds)

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It’s not often that the world changes so dramatically in a span of just a few weeks. When I started this tea pairing challenge a few weeks ago, none of us had any idea what was coming our way. In most parts of the world at this point in time, life as we know it is upended. In some parts of the world, people are fighting for a chance to live in the resources their hospitals can afford them, while elsewhere, others are separated from their families, far far away. Such stories are normally reserved for third world countries, but it is heartening to see it happen in US and Europe. This pandemic has brought the world to its knees, and we don’t know how life will be in its wake.

Whoa, not something you would expect to read if you were browsing for a nice teatime biscuit recipe, huh? Well, it is rather uncomfortable – talking about tea and biscuits like everything is alright in the world. I’ve written myself into a corner here – there are no elegant segues from this topic to tea pairing, so I’m just going to put a pin in it for now (as we are all trying to do by self-isolating…here I go again!), and talk about my favorite thing in these bleak times: tea.

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Vegan Rose and Pistachio Cake

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As much as I love vegan cake recipes, many times they involve strange ingredients (like flax eggs instead of regular eggs, or things like tapioca starch, and so forth). It’s most likely my ignorance on the matter because folks make wonders with these things, but my problem with them is the fact that they are substitutions, and not organically vegan.

I usually draw the line at using an extra banana or two instead of eggs in a banana-based baked good, like a banana bread, or a double chocolate banana bread, or pancakes and waffles, but beyond that I don’t find it appealing at least at this point. Which is why I was so happy to find this inherently vegan cake recipe in a handout I got at a cooking class somewhere in the Caribbean, and then spotted a variation of it on smitten kitchen!

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Vegan Chai-spice Pumpkin Bundt Cake

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I wasn’t the biggest pumpkin purée fan all these years, and the culprit was definitely its association with cinnamon and “pumpkin spice”-everything. I don’t hate cinnamon but in the US, like clockwork, everyone craves cinnamon come September and it just don’t stop until New Years!. Anything made with pumpkin purée (store-bought) is just a cinnamon-scented assault.

But then I made pumpkin purée at home for the first time (thanks Instant Pot!) and ate a small portion of it warm, drizzled with coconut butter and just a dusting of cinnamon+nutmeg, and I was converted. I made pancakes with it, these brownies were wonderful too (vegan and gluten-free!), and then felt ready to graduate to cakes.

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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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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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