Baking a chocolate cake never needs a reason. Good weather uplifts your spirits and makes you do something that you love. In our case, a long walk down the mountain happens often to savour the good weather. Walking under the giant Oaks and Rhododendrons with fog rising and falling or just lazily walking across the valley gives immense pleasure and we never have enough of it.


Last time we walked to a nearby village. And it was almost dark while returning. It was a full moon and the forest trails were light up by the silvery light. Back home, we baked a chocolate cake. Baking is therapeutic.  We baked a wholegrain Buttermilk Chocolate Cake with free-range eggs.
We are lucky to have discovered a lady in the foothills who rears country hens for eggs. Visiting her farm was a delightful experience. Healthy, happy, free hens pecking, forging and roaming all around freely was a beautiful sight. One does not feel guilty to use eggs that come from happy and free hens raised humanely and lovingly.


Farm animals hold a special place in society. They support the burgeoning human population. Their health and happiness should be of utmost importance for those rearing and those consuming their products.


The cake was baked at night. We sliced it the next day. The cake came out soft and delicious. You may add a teaspoon of instant coffee to the batter for a hint of coffee in your cake. You may also drizzle some ganache before serving.

 Wholegrain Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup cocoa
  • 100 grams butter ( ½ cup)
  • 1 cup unrefined sugar
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100 ml buttermilk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
  2. Grease and line one 8 inch round cake pan or grease very well and dust one medium-size non-stick or silicone bundt pan.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together first five ingredients. Keep aside.
  4. In another bowl, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  5. Add eggs,  one at a time. Beat well. Add vanilla extract.
  6. Add flour in three shifts, followed by the buttermilk. Mix gently to get a smooth batter.
  7. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 -60 minutes or until the top turns brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Invert onto the rack to cool.
  9. If using a bundt pan, place the pan on the wire rack and let cool for 10-20 minutes. This allows the cake to become firm enough to be removed from the pan without breaking apart. Tap the pan firmly a few times and shake it gently to help loosen the cake. Invert the pan onto the rack. Lift it off and let the cake continue to cool on the rack.


Slightly sweet, fluffy and soft, Poppy Seed Rolls have lovely crunch and nuttiness that comes from the poppy seeds in the dough. 


Buzzing and clicking of cicadas and chirping of crickets make our nights musical. Moon lends a silver glow to the forests. The night is mystical and sometimes eerie and has its own charm.


Yesterday, in the morning, a Scarlet Minivet was raising alarm. Birds raise alarm when they sense danger and generally, the alarm is raised on sighting a cat, a snake, a bird of prey or some animal that preys.


While going to vermicompost pit to empty the waste, I saw some movement in the grass. I froze as I saw a pair of Yellow Throated  Martens. I have often had a fleeting glimpse of this majestic mammal but never saw it so close. Cute, agile and very alert, Martens are omnivores, arboreal members of the weasel family. 


Last month, Pine Marten is believed to have run away with the packet of jaggery from my baking studio. It perhaps entered the room from the exhaust outlet. The packet was found torn and empty in the nearby forest.


This weekend, we baked Poppy seed rolls for dinner.
We had some white poppy seeds at home and we added to the rolls.


Slightly sweet, fluffy and soft, poppy seed rolls have lovely crunch and nuttiness that comes from the poppy seeds in the dough. We loved them with home made apricot jam. They taste delicious with butter.


The rolls have a great oven spring. Bake them in a broad 9 inch cake pan. There is nothing intricate and elaborate about the recipe. And you get amazingly soft, fluffy and sweet rolls.


Poppy Seed Bread Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon butter flavor (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, add ¾ cup water, sugar, and yeast. Stir to dissolve sugar. Cover and keep for 10 minutes. (This is to ensure that the yeast is active.)
  2. When the mixture turns frothy, add oil and vanilla and butter extract if using. Stir.
  3. In another large bowl, whisk together flour, salt and 2 tablespoons poppy seeds.
  4. Make a well in the center and add yeast mixture. Mix to get a shaggy dough. Keep kneading for 8-10 minutes or until you get a very smooth and elastic dough.  While kneading, keep adding the remaining water.
  5. Transfer the dough into a greased bowl. Turn around once so the dough is evenly coated with oil. Cover with a kitchen towel and keep in a warm place for about 1 hour or until double.
  6. Grease one 9 inches round cake pan.
  7. Punch the risen dough and divide into two equal portions. Cut each half into 5 small pieces.
  8. Roll out each piece into a ball. Stretch the top skin and tuck under the seam. This will create surface tension and help rolls to rise up. Press each roll into the remaining 1 tablespoon poppy seeds spread on a plate.
  9. Arrange the rolls in the pan. Cover and keep to rise for 1 hour.
  10. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C for about 15 minutes or until well browned.
  11. Remove from the oven and let sit in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and serve warm.

Linking to #BreadBakers
#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme.
Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.
We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.
This month, the Bread Bakers are baking breads with
seeds. Many thanks to Stacy of Food Lust People Love for such a great theme.



·  Amaranth and Honey Bread from What Smells So Good?
·  Brioche Buns from Simply Inspired Meals
·  Cheddar Poppy Seed Bread Sticks from Food Lust People Love
·  Everything Sourdough Bagels from A Day in the Life on the Farm
·  Kaak from Sara's Tasty Buds
·  Nordic Stone Age Bread from All That's Left Are The Crumbs
·  Poppy Seed Rolls from Ambrosia
·  Seeded Sourdough Boule from Bread Therapy
·  Seeded Turmeric and Leek Levain from A Messy Kitchen
·  Sesame Crackers from Anybody Can Bake
·  Sesame Scallion Bread from Karen's Kitchen Stories

BreadBakers







 Smooth, dark and chocolaty, this is almost a guilt-free chocolate pudding that is a low calorie, gluten-free and vegan 




There comes a day during monsoon when the rain stops and the day is exceptionally bright. The sky looks blue and it feels like autumn. This also turns out to be a busy day as a lot of washing, cleaning and drying happen.  



After winding up the daily chores,  we went to the orchard.




A Dove was sunning itself on an apple tree and sonorous song of a streaked laughing thrush echoed in the air.


Bunches of wild roses adorn the back wall. It smells heavenly as we pass by. A thousand insects and bees throng the pink flowers.

Being a very hot day there was an intense craving for something cold and sweet. Sweet also comes with a pang of guilt.  However, once in a while it is not very unhealthy to have a small portion of dessert to satiate sweet cravings. We decided to make chocolate pudding. Every effort went into making it guilt-free. Dairy milk was substituted with coconut milk and we used raw sugar.


Dressing up the pudding is the most exciting part and the kids love it.

Daughter made chocolate bark for garnish. Some went into garnishing, the greater amount was popped into the mouth. This is the fun of cooking together. 

The pudding turned out delightfully delicious and light. Smooth, dark and chocolaty, this is almost a guilt-free chocolate pudding that has become our favourite family dessert. 

Chocolate Pudding - Vegan and Gluten-Free

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons raw sugar
  • 1 small pinch salt
  • 75 grams dark chocolate
  • 1 ½ tablespoons corn starch.
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract


Instructions

  1. Heat 1 cup milk in a thick bottom saucepan. Add cocoa powder, sugar and salt.
  2. In the meantime whisk corn starch in ½ cup milk in a cup. Add this to the hot milk. Stir well and bring the milk to a boil stirring continuously. Let it simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Turn off the heat.
  4. Break the chocolate into small pieces and add to hot mixture. Stir until it melts. Add vanilla extract.
  5. Transfer pudding to bowls. Let the pudding cool.
  6. Keep the bowls in the refrigerator overnight or for 3-4 hours. The pudding will become thick.
  7. Garnish with chocolate curls/ chocolate bark. Sprinkle some cocoa powder. Serve.





Rains tend to get boring if continuous for days. A recent spell of incessant rains lasted for three days, dowsing the spirits and leaving everything gray and dull. However, rain drunk grass and trees look vibrant and verdant.  A new variety of Lily blossomed in our garden, adding some colour to the monotones of green. We waited really long for the humongous bud to open up and unfold the flower within.


This is Agapanthus, also known as the Lily of the Nile or the African Lily.

Yesterday morning was bright and sunny and the azure sky looked unbelievable and strange.  For, a    cloudless sky and bright Sun during monsoons is a harbinger of heavy downpour later in the day.
Momentary though, it was a magical morning. 


The Himalayas were partially visible and partially covered by the cottony clouds.

After many days, we walked up to our apple orchard. The trees were bare. Apple season is over. Ripe apples were packed and sent to family and friends. However, we discovered some apples still there on the rugged branches of the tree. Perhaps these were out of reach while plucking or were too small in size and left for purposely for the birds. But the apples were intact and it seemed that the birds were enjoying the ripe pears more and were not interested in the apples.


We cannot be wasteful and decided to pluck the remaining apples.  Our little one climbed on to the slender branches dexterously and shook the branches. Apples rained and rolled on the dew-laden grass. We collected them all and decided to make Apple Jelly.


To make Apple jelly, you need not have the best and sweetest variety of apples. In fact, I use all the leftover apples- ripe and unripe, tart and small size.


It is very important to cook jelly until it sets well. Keep stirring continuously  during the last stages of cooking to avoid scorching at the bottom.


A dollop of  jelly on a warm toast slathered with butter is just divine.
We enjoyed Apple jelly with homemade wholegrain bread and homemade Peanut Butter.


Apple Jelly

Ingredients
  • 7-8 medium-size apples
  • water
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Wash and wipe the apples dry.
  2. Cut into small pieces including core and seeds.
  3. Transfer to a pressure cooker. Add water just enough to cover the fruit.
  4. Cook for one whistle, or turn off the heat when the whistle is about to come.
  5. Open the lid and let it cool.
  6. Double line a mesh colander or a soup strainer with a muslin cloth.  Set it over a deep bowl to collect the juice.
  7. Ladle the apples and the juice into the lined colander or strainer. Keep it on the counter undisturbed for about three to four hours. Do not press down on apples with a ladle or squeeze to get more liquid. This will cloud the jelly.  
  8. Measure the liquid. For every one cup of liquid, add ¾ cup of sugar and 1 ½ teaspoon of lemon juice (strained).
  9. Pour it into a thick bottom steel wok or wide-mouthed deep pan and bring to a boil. During cooking, skim off the scum that collects on the surface.
  10. Keep the plate in the freezer.
  11. Cook on medium heat stirring in between till jelly begins to thicken and coats the ladle thickly.  To test if it is done, dab some jelly into the chilled plate. Keep it back in the freezer for a few minutes. Nudge it with your finger, If it wrinkles and collects, it is done. Else, continue to cook and re-test at intervals.
  12. When the jelly sets, remove from the heat and ladle in the clean jars.

 







Rains bring freshness and beauty unique to the season. Brown foliage is revived and wears bright hues of green. Rains lend a richness to the landscape The ground is moss-laden and the grass glossy, green and tall, waving as the breeze passes by. 



Ferns are lush and luxuriant and spreading wildly in the hills and it looks like a forest of ferns so beautiful, so green and so magnificent.



This is also the season of Pears. There are twelve pear trees in our homestead and this has been the year of bumper pear crop. 



Many a time there has been a constant creaking sound followed by a loud thud at night. Pear laden branches have been falling constantly.  Ripe pears are soft, sweet and juicy.


Birds have been feasting on the ripe pears and   there is a continuous  chirrup of Parakeets, Laughing thrushes, Barbets, Himalayan Magpies, Woodpeckers and Bulbuls in the orchard.


It was a bright day yesterday. The sky was clear in the morning and the majestic Himalayas peeked through the clouds. It was a heavenly sight. It being a bright and sunny morning, we plucked some ripe pears from the orchard and packed them into the boxes to send to our family and friends. 


We used some to bake a whole grain Pear cake.

Pear Cinnamon Cake has a delicious aroma that comes from the generous amount of cinnamon that goes into the batter. It has two big pears. One chopped finely that goes into the batter and another sliced into eight pieces that are arranged on top of the batter. 


The crumb is light ( make sure to beat the white of the eggs well) and with studded with pieces of juicy pears. This is a whole grain cake. You may use all-purpose flour for a lighter crumb.
  



Wholegrain Pear Cinnamon Cake

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 large eggs (free range)
  • ¾ cup unrefined raw sugar
  • ½ cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 medium-size ripe pears


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line one 8 inch round cake pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together first four ingredients. Keep aside.
  3. Peel the pears. Chop one pear into small thin pieces. 
  4. Cut the second pear into eight thin slices.
  5. Beat white of the eggs in a bowl until frothy and stiff. Add sugar. Mix well.
  6. Add yolks. Melt butter and add to the mixture. Mix well. Add vanilla extract.
  7. Add flour mixture. Mix gently and do not over mix.
  8. Fold in chopped pears. 
  9. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Level the top. Arrange the slices of pears on top.
  10. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick.
  11. Let it cool in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool in the rack.
  12. Slice when cold or slice the next day.




semolina Gulkand Cake is a light snack cake with robust Indian flavours. Gulkand (rose preserve) adds a beautiful flavor and taste to the cake. Pistachios and almonds in every bite make it a delectable snack cake.




It has almost been three months since we shifted to our homestead. We are loving life in the Himalayan village. There is so much to learn and know. We have been tending to our garden and have planted Dahlias, daisy, hydrangeas, Lilium, lilies, chrysanthemums, sunflowers, and geranium. 



Every flower that blossoms spread so much happiness and positivity. 


The Dahlias are coming up well and the butterflies love them.

We have been getting grass from the forest every day to prepare our lawn. Wild grass is growing in the forest in abundance; we get bunches of them and plant in our lawn. It is picking up well and will spread in monsoons and hopefully by autumn, we shall have a lush lawn. 


While returning from the forest last evening, we saw a group of Himalayan Black Bulbuls on top of a pear tree.

Back home, the kids wanted me to bake a cake for them. Baking is a therapy for tired nerves. Keeping in mind the things we had in stock, we baked a Semolina Gulkand Cake. 



Every home baker at some time or the other has baked a Semolina cake. It is easy to bake, it is healthy and needs basic ingredients that are always there at home. Semolina adds a lovely texture to the cakes. Semolina cake is filling and makes a good snack cake and a great accompaniment to a cup of tea.


We had gulkand (rose preserve) at home and we added generously to the cake batter. We also added cardamoms, almonds, and pistachios.  The cake turned out to be delightful with robust Indian flavours. Gulkand did the magic.




Semolina Gulkand Cake (Eggless)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup+ 2 tablespoons fine semolina
  • 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup raw unrefined sugar
  • ½ cup thick yogurt
  • ¼ cup milk (a little more to get the right consistency later)
  • ½ cup oil (scant)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 5-6 green cardamoms (seeds powdered)
  • 5 tablespoons gulkand (rose preserve)
  • ¼ cup chopped pistachios
  • ¼ cup chopped almonds

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, mix together first six ingredients to get a smooth mixture.
  2. Cover and let rest for 25-30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven at 180 degrees C. Grease and line one 9 inch round cake pan.
  4. Add gulkand and cardamom powder to the semolina mixture. Gulkand should mix well. There should  be no lumps in the batter.
  5. Check the consistency. If it is too thick add 2-3 tablespoons milk.
  6. Add baking powder and baking soda. Mix well.
  7. Fold in chopped pistachios and almonds.
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top turns golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes.  Remove from the pan and cool in the rack.
  10. Slice when cold.

 Note:
  •   Use a 9-inch cake pan. It will not bake well in a smaller cake pan.
  •   You may also add 1/2 cup desiccated coconut to the batter. 









Summer in the hills is enchanting. From early summer to late summer, the orchards are the center of activity. Late spring is the time when Plum, Peach, and Apricot trees are in profuse bloom. The bees and butterflies are buzzing and moving from tree to tree collecting nectar and in the process pollinating the flowers. A lot of wildflowers grow all over the hills that also attract bees. It is nature’s way of accomplishing pollination. Some small birds flitting through the branches also play a role in pollination.


This year we had riotous fruition of Apricots. We have three varieties of apricots that ripen at different time. 


The best fruits are the ones that ripen naturally on the tree. Every morning, it’s a ritual to walk to the orchard, shake the branches to get the ripe fruits off the tree. And,  there is a shower of fruits on the dew-laden grass. 


Since there is an excess of fruit, we send some to our friends, eat to our heart's content and love to preserve some by making Jam.


Apricot jam is delicious. It has a unique taste. It is relished even more when the fruit season is over.
The quantity of sugar according to the general rule is three fourth cup for every cup of fruit puree. This is important because if you use less sugar, it may not jell properly.
Crack open a few apricot kernels and add one to each jar before pouring in the jam. This gives the jam a bitter and subtle almond-like flavor.


Apricot Jam

Ingredients

  • 1 kg fresh apricots
  • Water (just enough to cover the fruit)
  • Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice


Instructions

  1. Wash the apricots.
  2. Cut into two. Remove the pits. Crack open some kernels and put one in each jam jar you plan to fill.
  3. Place apricots in a thick bottom pan. Add water just enough to cover the fruit. Cover the pan with a lid and cook on medium heat stirring frequently until the apricots are tender and cooked. Turn off the heat.
  4. Mash the apricots with a fork.
  5. Measure the puree. For one cup of puree, take three fourth cup of sugar (use the cup of the same volume for measuring sugar).
  6. Keep a plate in the freezer.
  7. Cook on medium flame without the lid. Keep stirring in between.
  8. In the later stages, the jam will thicken and reduce. Stir continuously to avoid burning at the bottom.
  9. When the jam looks thick and falls from the ladle in blobs, turn off the heat.
  10. Put a small amount of jam on the chilled plate. Put it back in the freezer for 5 minutes. Push the jam back with your index finger. If it wrinkles and collects, it is done. Or else, cook for some more time until you get this consistency.
  11. Add lemon juice. Mix well.
  12. While the jam is cooling, sterilize the washed bottles.
  13. Place the washed and dried bottles with the lids in the oven. Set the temperature to 100 degrees and set the timer to 10 minutes. Remove the bottles and their lids from the oven.
  14. Fill the jam in the warm
    sterilized bottles while the jam is hot.
  15. Leave the bottle to cool. Keep in a cool dry place. Refrigerate after opening.






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