Monday, October 15, 2007

Quick Bread Week: American Classics Meet the Spices of India

A few weeks ago I received an email asking if I would be interested in taking a look at Survir Saran's latest book, American Masala: 125 New Classics from My Home Kitchen.

Having admired his book Indian Home Cooking: A Fresh Introduction to Indian Food, with More Than 150 Recipes, I was excited at the opportunity to cook from this book and I wasn't disappointed.

First, this cookbook is nicely laid out and the photos are gorgeous. The book organized in a progressive form very similar to the way the lunch buffet at your local Indian restaurant is laid out; starting with the necessary chutneys, pickles, and spices that are traditional accompaniments to the food found in the subcontinent of India and ending at desserts with lots of main dishes for both the carnivore and the vegetarian in between.

I was super excited to find a fabulous recipe for Tamarind Chutney. Saran mentions that it is his partner Charlie's favourite condiment and I agree completely! When I'm at an Indian restaurant, I dip my naan, samosas, rice and just about anything else I can think to dip into this deliciously sweet but sour at the same time condiment. The recipe in "American Masala" calls for tamarind concentrate which along as being tamarind on steroids forced me to go the Asian Market on Route 1 in Norwalk and wander in the most fragrant grocery store in which I think I've ever shopped.

Other recipes from the book that I really enjoyed cooking were the Mushroom and Rice Biriyani Casserole, a hearty and spicy take on a pilaf. It was chock full of spices like cardamom pods, cloves, coriander, and curry. I made this to serve with the lamb korma I made for dinner with friends and the next day I made a rice frittata with the leftovers for breakfast. I also made Tamarind Rice (it has tamarind in it, need I say more??!!), Jumbo Shrimp Masala (a little over the top in spices but good none the less), Sweet Potato Chaat (going to spring this on my family at Thanksgiving) as well as a great take on meatloaf, Tamarind Glazed Meatloaf (definitely not your grandmother's meatloaf and there is that tamarind again). This last dish was good hot, cold and as a late night snack standing in my stocking feet with the fridge door open while I ate it with my fingers from the plate!!

But, by far and away, the absolutely best recipe I made from "American Masala" and maybe one of the best recipes I've ever made was the Pistachio and Cardamom Pound Cake with Lemon Icing. From the moment I opened the book I was drawn to this recipe. The name invokes a sense of exotic and I could see myself sitting on a porch overlooking the lush forests of Assam nibbling on the pound cake during afternoon tea.

While this is technically a pound cake, the recipe and instructions follow the composition of a classic quick bread and the Pistachio and Cardamom Pound Cake has a texture that puts most banana nut breads to shame. It is lighter than most pound cakes and the combination of the pistachios and cardamom along with the citric counter of the lemon icing make this a perfect way to start your morning. I so loved this pound cake that I made it twice, once for my neighbors upstairs and the other time to bring into work for a morning meeting. The last time I made the recipe, I ended up licking the bowl, the beaters from the mixer and the spoon! Not only was the pound cake light, but your kitchen will smell incredible all the time you are baking and for several hours after the cake comes out of the oven.

Even writing about Pistachio and Cardamom Pound Cake makes my mouth water and starts me planning when I can make it again...

Note: This recipe will be the first of a week long series I'm calling "Quick Bread Week", where every day I will post about a different quick bread. Quick breads are breads that come together as a batter and use baking soda or baking powder versus yeast as a leavening agent. So, even though technically this a pound cake, I think you will agree with me that once you taste this you could call it a quick bread and serve it with tea, coffee or milk as a breakfast treat!

Pistachio and Cardamom Pound Cake with Lemon Icing
from Suvir Saran's American Masala, published by Clarkson Potter Publishers

For the Cake:

1 cup raw, shelled unsalted pistachios
1 stick plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole milk

For the Icing:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
1 Tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon heavy cream or milk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. To prepare the cake, place the pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant and browned, about 5 minutes. Cool and then pulse in a food processor until they become very fine (be careful not to over process; otherwise you'll have pistachio butter) and set aside. Reduce your oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan with 1/2 Tbsp butter. Place a long strip of parchment paper in the pan bottom. Grease the top of the parchment with 1/2 Tbsp butter and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Crack the eggs into a liquid measuring cup, whisk in the vanilla, and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream the remaining stick and a half of butter and sugar until they are light and airy. Drizzle in the eggs, a little at a time, beating between additions to incorporate and scraping the bowl as necessary. Alternate adding the flour and the milk, starting and ending with the flour and mixing until the batter is just nearly combined between additions, scrapping the bowl as necessary. Fold the pistachios into the batter by hand, then transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. Bake the cake until a cake tester inserted into the cake's center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a cooling rack and turn it so its top faces up. Let the cake cool completely.

While the cake cools, make the icing: Sift the confectioners' sugar and cardamom into a medium bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice and cream or milk. Spread the icing over the cooled cake, letting it drip over the sides. Once the icing has set, slice and serve.