A chocolate affair!

I always come across people who have a keen interest in making chocolate and chocolate recipes at home, but, are somehow always afraid to try their hand at it. Chocolate as a commodity has always been a mystery, as it is not an easy ingredient to handle when we want to make something out of it. It has always been considered to be an alien ingredient, but not anymore. You won’t need to admire these delectable creations from a distance at bakeries and chocolate shops anymore. They can now be made by you, in your home kitchen.

Here are a few tips and pointers that you should keep in mind while handling chocolate.

How chocolate should be melted and handled

•Chop large chocolate blocks into smaller pieces and put in a plastic bowl. Avoid using glass or stainless steel bowls as they cause uneven heating.

•If using a Microwave oven, place the bowl in it and start the melting process from 40 seconds at 50% intensity of the Microwave. Then, take the bowl out, stir and continue this process till the complete chocolate is melted. Please do not ever keep for longer time at higher temperatures as chocolate needs delicate treatment.

•If using a double boiler, take a medium height pan filled one-fourth with water and heat it. When the water is at a simmer, reduce heat to minimum, place a bowl that fits on the mouth of the pan and start putting the chocolate in it to be melted, little at a time. One important point to remember here is that you should not boil the water as it will affect the viscosity of the chocolate and steam from boiling water may play havoc. Keep stirring the chocolate pieces till completely melted.

•Remember, water is the biggest enemy of chocolate! Especially, when the chocolate is being melted for use in confectionary, candy making, tempering, etc., you should be very careful that not even a single drop of water gets into it. But if this happens by mistake, keep it aside to use in recipes where it is only an ingredient, and start afresh.

•Check for blooming and any odours in the chocolate bars. When chocolate is exposed to warm temperatures, the fat softens and chocolate is then untempered, causing light grey or white areas on the surface of the chocolate. Also, sometimes you might find small white dots on the chocolate, which is due to condensation.

•Avoid overheating of chocolate as it results in making the chocolate thick after melting.

•If there is a loss of colour in the chocolate bars, this may be due to changes in the light, temperature and humidity.

•The preferred working temperatures in the Indian scenario is around 20°C with humidity not more than 50% and preferably on marble work tops. Marble helps keep the chocolate cool.

•It is always good to work with clean kitchenware and work tops when handling chocolate and also advisable to keep some kitchenware separate (especially in Indian kitchens where interaction with masalas will give unwarranted flavours to your chocolate) that can be used when working with chocolate.

•And this one is for all chocolate lovers – always remember to look at the ingredients printed on the packet. Chocolate with natural cocoa butter rather than vegetable fats is always more healthy. Not to forget, chocolate is good source of energy at any given time.

How to store chocolate
Now that we have travelled through the processes of making of chocolate and handling it, there is one more aspect that is left which is really important when working with this sinful ingredient, and, that is the storage. The following pointers will help you tackle the issues of storing chocolate perfectly:

•In the Indian climate, ideally chocolates should be stored at temperatures ranging from 15°C to 20°C at humidity not more than 50%.

•The best way to store chocolate is to put the original packing in plastic wrap, cling film or zip lock bags, place them in airtight containers and put in the refrigerator. One important point to remember is that you should never keep the chocolate in a deep freezer, as this may spoil the chocolate because of condensation that may occur.

•It is also advisable to store chocolate away from strong odours as it may absorb the strong smells from other items, thus spoiling its own aroma.

•Then for application of refrigerated chocolate, the best way to use it is to keep the chocolate at room temperature for about ten-fifteen minutes (to avoid temperature and humidity shock that may cause condensation and thickening) and then open the packets.

By now, I am sure that your interest in this wonderful ingredient has risen further than what it was before and you are now confident of trying your hand and cooking skills to dish out some amazing chocolate recipes in your kitchen. Once you keep in mind these basic tips, making chocolate concoctions in your home will be a breeze. For more chocolaty recipes you can refer to my book aah! Chocolate. It is a collection of chocolate recipes ranging from beverages to cakes to mithais all involving chocolate. As of now here are a few recipes to get you started…

Choco Coconut Ladoos
Choco Cups
Chocolate Almond Bar
Happy cooking!
Sanjeev Kapoor

Everything’s fair in love, war and…chocolate!

 Yes, everything is fair when it comes to this sinful, yet so lovable thing called “chocolate.” As far as I know, I haven’t seen or met anyone who does not like chocolate, in one or the other form! To be true, I can have dozens of chocolates, but just don’t have them so often for health sake and even if I end up gorging, I make sure to run that extra mile to burn it. This is the reason, why I had to come up with a book which was all dedicated to this incredible ingredient – aah! Chocolate is out on stands now, and I’m sure if you get it, you will definitely not regret!

From being one of the most popular flavours in the world to an aphrodisiac, chocolate surely is sinful in the truest sense! Rightly termed as the wonder ingredient, who knew that the discovery of an ordinary bean from the tree Theobroma cacao found in the jungles of South and Central America would become a hot favourite of all ages around the world.

Existing since ages
The cacao plant, from which the cocoa powder is made, is said to have originated in the Amazon area of South America in 2000 BC. The earliest record of chocolate being consumed as a beverage, dates from over 15000 years ago in the rainforests of Central America, where conditions for the growth of the cacao tree were perfect. The Olmec, one of the first civilizations in America, are believed to have been the first to grow cocoa beans as a domestic crop.

The Mayan word for the cacao tree was cacahuaguchtl and the word cacao means ‘God Food.’ We get the word chocolate from the Mayan word xocoatl, meaning ‘bitter water.’

The cacao tree was held in high esteem by the Mayan civilization and by AD 300 cacao was used in ceremonies to celebrate life and fertility. Evidences of cacao pods have been found in the carvings remaining on temples and palaces. Later, archeological finds have included whole cacao beans and wood fragments from the cacao trees in Guatemala. Vessels found to come from around 600-400 BC in Belize and 1100 BC in Honduras have been found, on scientific examination, to contain residue of theobromine and caffeine, which are both contained in cacao beans. Cacao is named in text on one of the vessels, which had a stirrup handle and a complicated locking lid.

There are several mixtures of cacao described in ancient texts, for ceremonial and medicinal uses, as well as culinary purposes. It was used as a remedy and a way of delivering other herbal medicines. The cacao beans were roasted and pounded with chilli and maize for added flavour and then mixed with water. The bitter, unsweetened mixture was left to ferment and was originally reserved for ceremonies and for drinking by the rich, influential and religious elite. Women prepared the brew but, usually, only men drank it, as it was considered too strong or possibly even toxic for women and children. Some mixtures included maize, chilli, vanilla, peanut butter and honey. Chocolate was also mixed with a variety of flowers, and sometimes it was thickened with corn gruel to make a kind of porridge.

Chocolate origin
This fantastic ingredient hails from the cocoa beans of the cacao tree, majorly native to the tropical and subtropical countries, at about 15º-20° N-S of the equator on the world map. The source of the cocoa bean plays an essential role in deciding the quality of the chocolate, relating to which, regions such as South America, West Africa, Ecuador, Madagascar, etc. are some of the places where you would find the most superior quality cocoa beans. The four major varieties of cacao beans are Criollo, Forastero, Trinitario and Arriba/Nacional.

Cooking with chocolate
The two broad categories, into which chocolate is divided into, in terms of cooking, are ‘Couverture’ and ‘Coating’ chocolate. The latter is also known as Glazing and Pate Glace. When comparing, which among the two is best suited for cooking, the ‘Couverture’ scores over the ‘Coating’ type, inspite of the ‘Coating’ type being cheaper and easy to handle. Some obvious reasons for the ‘Couverture’ type to be better are: it provides a better flavour to the recipe, it provides a better mouth-feel, it makes the recipe the most appealing and it is healthier.

Easy to store and handle, the ‘Coating’ type is usually darker and bitter and also seen more in the market. On the other hand, you must look for a fruity taste, acidic nature, cocoa content and cocoa butter content in a piece of chocolate to get the best quality of ‘Couverture’ chocolate.

Components of the cocoa bean
The two main components of the cocoa bean are basically the ‘fats’ or the ‘cocoa butter’ and constitutes about 50-55% of the whole bean. The rest of the bean is composed of ‘non-fat solids’ and together, both these components make the ‘cocoa mass’ or ‘cocoa solids.’

Cocoa butter (fats) is colourless, the flavour carrier and is responsible for giving the texture and mouth-feel to the chocolate. On the other hand, non-fat solids are the flavouring component and gives taste in the chocolate.

The more preferred category of chocolate, i.e., the ‘Couverture’ chocolate, is made by combining the ‘cocoa mass’ with sugar, vanilla and the emulsifier lecithin (usually extracted from soya) where as the inexpensive category of chocolate, i.e., the ‘Coating/Glaze’ chocolate is derived by combining the ‘non-fat solids’ with vegetable fat, sugar, vanilla and emulsifier lecithin.

The separation of the ‘non-fat solids’ from the cocoa bean results in what is commonly known as ‘cocoa powder’ with some variable fat content. The higher the percentage of fat content in the ‘cocoa powder’, the superior is the quality. Also, this powder is acidic in nature, so it is treated with an alkali, in a process called Dutch Process, to make it richer, darker, less acidic and has less tendency to settle out when combined with liquids. This way it is also made suitable for dishes that call for baking powder.

The white partner
There’s a white counterpart of the rich, dark brown chocolate called ‘white chocolate’ that is nothing but cocoa butter along with sugar, milk powder, vanilla and the emulsifier lecithin. One thing to keep in mind while buying a good white chocolate is to make sure that it contains cocoa butter as some inferior brands contain vegetable fats.

This rich, creamy, sweet and subtle-flavoured chocolate makes it best suited for baking purposes as it complements other ingredients. This chocolate is very delicate and thus, should be always melted on very low heat in order to avoid burning. Also while setting, it happens to be softer than the dark chocolate as it contains milk solids.

Melt thy chocolate – right!
Have you ever experienced that while melting chocolate in a double boiler, the steam from the pot under the bowl gets into the chocolate and solidifies it? The chocolate is ruined isn’t it? Let us see what causes this and how can we repair the damage.

Chocolate has many moods! Sometimes it melts to a satiny pool of liquid chocolate and sometimes it becomes a grainy mess. Chocolate while being melted simply cannot tolerate small drops of water. In this case, the steam escaping from the bottom of the double boiler is sufficient to put the chocolate in trouble. The same thing will happen if you cover the pan in which chocolate is melting. Then moisture condenses on the inside of the lid and drips down on the melting chocolate with the same result. Once chocolate has solidified it is not easy to coax it back to liquid form. When melting chocolate, make sure the water in the bottom of a double boiler is hot, but not boiling. Or consider melting chocolate in a very heavy saucepan with a metal ring placed on the element to insulate it from direct heat. Or better still melt it in a microwave oven.

Store thy chocolate – right!
Improper storage causes ‘bloom’ (discolouration) in the chocolate, which could be one of the two substances: it could be cocoa fat that rises to the surface of a solid chocolate mixture that is stored for too long at room temperature, or it could be sugar that is drawn to the surface by the condensation of a loosely wrapped, refrigerated chocolate mixture. The moisture extracts sugar from the mixture’s interior. Although it might look a little less appetizing than a lustrous, rich chocolaty-brown piece of sweet, chocolate that has suffered bloom is still okay to eat! You may find the texture of sugar-bloomed chocolate to be a bit grainy on the outside, but it should still taste good. To prevent this from happening to your chocolate, simply use proper storage methods.

Since chocolate can easily absorb flavours from food or other products stored alongside, chocolate should be tightly wrapped and stored away from pungent odours. The ideal temperature for storage is somewhere between 18°C-20°C. If stored properly, you can expect milk chocolate and white chocolate to be good for up to six months. Other types of chocolate can have an even longer shelf life.

Chocolaty tips
•When melting chocolate, make sure all the equipments are completely dry. Any moisture in the utensils/container may cause the chocolate to stiffen. To rectify the error, stir in half to one teaspoon of melted shortening for every ounce of chocolate.

•In order to minimize the cooking time, chop chocolate bars into squares or smaller pieces before melting them.

•Chocolate melts easily in a microwave and there is less danger of scorching.

•Store grated chocolate in the freezer. It is easier to work with frozen chocolate, since you can scoop out as much as you need.

•White or milk chocolate make better chocolate shavings because they are a softer chocolates and will curl better.

•While melting chocolate add a spoonful of butter to the chocolate for a smoother consistency and richer flavour.

•To prevent your chocolate cake from having white streaks on the brown crusts, dust greased cake pans with cocoa instead of flour.

•For bananas that are ripe and ready to eat but you have too many, peel the bananas and freeze them then dip in melted chocolate and freeze again, this makes a nice treat!

•Have a bag of chocolate chips in hand? Just sit with the whole bag in a bowl of very hot water, and mush the bag up every couple of minutes until all the chocolate has melted and there are no lumps. Snip the corner of the bag and squeeze out the melted chocolate directly onto the cake.

•When you are looking for dark cooking chocolate remember that it can be available as pure unsweetened chocolate under the name of bitter chocolate or baking chocolate.

•When making chocolate cake, add dried and powdered orange peels for yummy taste.

•Never use a wooden spoon to stir chocolate because it adds unwanted moisture.

And in the end, I have made pizzas with chocolate and fruit topping and many times I have also stuffed the favourite samosas with chocolate. Pair it up with almost anything and everything, and still you will have a surprise to yourself! Such is the marvel of this super ingredient. As for now, try some dishes like Chocolate Kheer, German Chocolate Cake, Peach and White Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Rice Pudding, choco-coconut Laddoo’s from my website www.sanjeevkapoor.com and enjoy those chocolaty moments!


 Choco-coconut Laddoo       German Chocolate Cake     Chocolate Kheer

Karanjis and gujiyas – recipes for this Diwali

Karanjis are half moon shaped mithais with fluted ends: unmistakable pieces of art that bring joy every Diwali. Interestingly, these were made exactly the same way in ancient times as today but then they were called ‘samyavas’. There is mention in ‘Kalpastham’ of Shri Sarth Charak Samhita about ‘Karanjis’ and ‘Anarsas’ and their ingredients like cardamoms, aniseeds, dry coriander and cinnamon having medicinal values.
Call the Maharashtrian karanji, gujiya in Hindi and ghughra in Gujarati, the name might change but the basic structure and content remains similar. Made with superfine flour covering, it is the stuffing that adds variety. In Maharashtra, stuffing is prepared with lightly roasted fine semolina, grated dry or fresh coconut, sugar and lots of sliced dry fruits. In North India, a stuffing of khoya (mawa) is preferred. What with an eye-catching shape, karanjis are consumed almost as soon as they are ready. Mawa Gujiya does not have shelf life whereas karanjis with a well roasted nutty filling will keep well in airtight containers for a week or so.
Here is old fashioned Coconut Karanji also called Ole Naralachi Karanji.
Sieve 1 cup refined flour (maida) into a bowl. Add 1½ tablespoons semolina (rava) and 4 tablespoons ghee and mix with fingertips till mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Knead into semi-soft dough with ¼ cup milk and sufficient water. Once the dough is ready, cover it with a damp cloth and keep it aside for half an hour. For stuffing, roast 1 cup scraped coconut in a non stick pan till lightly browned. Add 15-20 chopped raisins, 1 cup powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon green cardamom powder and mix well. Let it cool. Knead the dough once again and divide into twelve small balls. Roll out each ball into a circle, place it in a greased karanji mould. Place a small portion of the prepared filling in the hollow. Apply a little water on edges, close the mould and press firmly. Heat sufficient ghee in a kadai and fry the karanjis till crisp and golden brown on medium heat. Drain on absorbent paper and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.
For adding variety to your karanji collection do try Date And Anjeer Baked Karanji and Chocolate and Nuts Karanji too.

Ever ready for guests – paneer comes in handy

Guests are of two types, expected and unexpected! If sufficient notice has been given, a lot of ideas can be worked upon and the goodies can be prepared in advance. If someone unexpected drops in then the main task of the host would be to supply eats that are filling and also keep in mind the hospitality factor. We have found that paneer is one ingredient that can make a simple meal look grand!

One quick recipe of the ever popular Matar Paneer follows: Boil 4 cups milk twice on high heat and add juice of one lemon. The whey will separate from paneer. Drain the whey, tie up paneer in a muslin cloth and hang it up to allow excess water to drain away. Place the muslin with the paneer under a heavy weight to ensure that all the moisture is squeezed out. This will flatten the paneer into a flat round cake when removed from the muslin. Cut the paneer into strips or cubes. Heat sufficient ghee in a kadai and deep-fry till light brown. Drain onto an absorbent paper. Chop 2 large onions and 1 inch ginger finely. Heat 2 tablespoons ghee in a pan and add chopped onions and ginger. Sauté till lightly browned. Add ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon red chilli powder, 1 teaspoon coriander powder, salt and 400 grams peas and cook, adding a little water, till the peas are tender and a little gravy remains. Add the fried paneer, 1 teaspoon garam masala powder and boil for 5 minutes. Serve hot with chappatis.

You can use readymade paneer and have a stock of frozen peas that always comes in handy. Here are some other suggestions that can help you feel in control when guests drop in!

Munchies in a jiffy

· Mix finely chopped potatoes, onions and green chillies. Add gram flour and mix with water to get a batter of dropping consistency. Deep fry as small bhajiyas and serve with ketchup.

· To a cup of finely chopped onions and tomatoes, add two to three finely chopped green chillies. Add a tablespoon or two of cream (malai) and salt to taste. Place between slices of bread and toast in sandwich toaster. Serve hot with ketchup or chutney.

· Deep fry small squares of bread. Top with baked beans, chopped onions and capsicums. One version is Baked Beans on Toast.

· Something like puri and Sukhe Aloo can be prepared within thirty to forty minutes. For an instant dessert, whip cream into some shrikhand and add some chopped fruits. You can even serve Small Rasgulla with Fresh Fruit Rabdi.

· One favourite is chocolate samosa. Samosa patties wrapped up around a piece of chocolate and deep fried to a crisp. Serve decked up on a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s quite different than serving ice cream with hot gulab jamuns that most of us do.

When guests are expected it’s a different story. You have the time to plan the menu or shop for food as you wish or according to the guests’ preferences. But a cook’s creativity and prowess comes to the fore, when a time of testing comes.

To my readers, with love!

To begin with, here’s wishing everybody a very Happy Valentine’s Day. Do spread the joy and peace along with the love amongst all!
Now back to my routine, I am shooting at Madh Island today with Ms. Madhuri Dixit Nene for the FOODFOOD channel promo(s). And by the time I wrap up, it will be time for me to catch tonight’s flight to Malaysia for a meeting lined up with the Astro people.
The weekend was fun with a family marriage in New Delhi and back to Mumbai on Sunday for presenting an award at the Times Foodie Awards at the ITC Grand Maratha in Andheri. It is always great to meet up with the industry folks, and Alyona and I, did enjoy every bit of it!
While in the office, the shoots of Sirf Tees Minute are going on in full swing, keeping everybody including the chefs on their toes. The shoots for the channel will now become a regular schedule in which I am equally going to be tied up with.
Let’s celebrate the Valentine fever this week with some of my favourite dishes like

Till I write again.

Sanjeev Kapoor

Christmas cake recipes – Art of baking without sugar

Sugar is the most common sweetening agent in food items. Sadly, it can have many adverse effects on the health which can be both long and short term. Sugar, in extreme quantities can be harmful as it can cause cavities, turn quickly into fat, is dangerous to diabetics and it also adds to the growing problem of obesity. This is the major reason as to why many people today are turning to sugar-free and low-sugar diets for maintaining a healthier lifestyle.
A general notion with people is if baking is done without sugar, it is bound to be tasteless. For instance, a cake is supposed to be sweet, and when one replaces the sugar with a substitute, it will become bland. To be true, sugar free cakes can be as good as the ones with sugar. One just has to keep in mind that while baking a sugar free cake, the ingredients have to be carefully picked up. People might just choose a lot of ingredients which might be loaded with sugar. Even the natural sugars can be as damaging as the artificial ones. Thus, using a sugar substitute is the best choice. Also, using sugar in moderation always does the trick. The basic funda should be to use it wisely.
While baking, one can also use half sugar substitute and half granulated sugar. To bring out the fruitiness in a dish and intensify the flavours of the ingredients used, one can use flavor enhancers such as orange or lemon. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg also help in intensifying flavours even in Christmas cake recipes. Using vanilla, butter flavouring and nut flavourings also produce the aroma of sweetness without the use of butter or excessive use of nuts. Cutting into very small pieces dried fruits such as plums, raisins, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, and cranberries, which provide tremendous sweetness, helps distribute the flavours and sweetness more evenly. Also, avoid using overripe fruits which are generally very sweet.
Incase one does not want to use a sugar substitute, following tips can be used for making a sugar free or less sugar meal:
To replace the sugar and fat in soft, chewy cookies, one can add dried fruit puree.
Bar cookies can be sliced into bite-sized portions.
Adding natural sweetness of dried chopped fruit to the baked goods is always advantageous instead of the candied variety.
For decorating, drizzling a bit of chocolate icing made from melted bittersweet chocolate and nonfat is always a good option.
Before baking, one can always press the tops of reduced-sugar cookies into fine-grain coloured sugar crystals or crushed sugar-free hard candies.
Baking without sugar is not only healthy, but can be fun and as palatable as baking with it. And for Christmas, when one is sure of having that sweet tooth to celebrate the happiness and joy around, dishes with sugar substitutes, like Prune tart, Chocolate butter cake, Apple pie, Bread and butter pudding, Strawberry cheesecake and the likes just do the trick by fulfilling the desires as well as keeping everyone healthy!

Recipes for Christmas – Bake that perfect cookie

Christmas and cookies are just inseparable from each other. Some of the most common cookie shapes that can be found during this time are stars, angels, bells, trees, etc. Cookies are also the most conventional snack which the children leave for Santa on Christmas Eve.
Usually, the mixing of cookie dough is quick and easy.
three important tips:
Let the butter, eggs, nuts and any other ingredients warm almost to the room temperature unless it is specified.
Keep in mind, not to overbeat the dough once the flour is added to the wet ingredients in a recipe, as this can result in tough cookies.
While combining different flours, one has to keep in mind that too much flour makes cookies tough and dry and too little makes them spread and lose their shape. One can experiment by substituting dried fruit for nuts, vice-versa or a combination of both to have variations. The same goes for extracts, chocolate chips or coconut. Try Chocolate Chip Cookies and the peanut Butter and oatmeal Cookies.
Cookie recipes are the most swapped recipes for Christmas! When baking cookies, it is always advisable to preheat the oven 20 minutes before baking and incase of a convection oven, it has to be set to 25° lower than the recipe requirements.
Six important tips:
While choosing a baking sheet, keep in mind to choose a medium-to-heavy-gauge baking sheet. Aluminum sheets having a shiny baking surface and dulled bottoms should be used as they produce even browning.
Cookie sheets must be greased with butter. Cookies having a high amount of fat can be baked on ungreased sheets.
When the baking sheet is to be filled, keep in mind that it has to be done by placing cookies of equal size and thickness atleast one inch apart.
Cool and wipe the cookie sheets with a dry paper towel between batches.
While baking, make sure to bake only one sheet of cookies at a time, on the centre oven rack. For even baking, rotate the sheet halfway through for even baking.
Place the cookies on the racks to cool, within 2-3 minutes after cookies have finished baking. And if cookies cool and stick to the sheet, return them to the oven for a few minutes to heat and soften again.
Decorations can be used smartly:
sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar to indicate spices (click on christmas Cookies)
few coconut shreds to indicate a coconut filling.