Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Festival of Lights: Diwali

Today is the second day of Diwali (three more to go!), the largest festival in India celebrated by all religions. Pesident Obama has chosen an auspicious time to be visiting India and should see the fireworks at night that explode in fizzy sparks and swirls to ward off evil spirits.  Diwali means "cluster of lights" and the return of light is what the festival is all about. Diwali, also called Deepavali, celebrates the triumph over darkness. On the eve of the festival rows of small clay oil lamps called diya are lit and placed at the entrance to homes to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. The holiday also celebrates a Hindu legend. Rama's beautiful wife had been aducted by the demon King Ravana and held captive in Sri Lanks for 14 years. With the help of Hanuman, the monkey king and his troops of sibians Sita is freed and brought back to Ayodhya, Rama's kingdom in North India. The people rejoiced at their homecoming by lighting oil lamps to illuminate a path for them to follow. Today during the fve day festival homes, temples, churches and other building are lit with electric lights and flickering oil lamps and people exchange gifts and boxes of sweets. Elaborate meals are served to guests with lots of rich creamy kormas thickened with ground amonds, paneer cheese curries, puffy deep-fried poori breads and fragrant pilafs all reflecting the hosts hope for abundance in the coming year. The festival is all about feasting and fun and feels like Christmas and New Years Eve rolled into one. Let there be light in the world.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tea For Two Cookies with Cumin Shortbread Recipe

Note: The pic above is Tea For Two Shortbread Cookies

Cumin Shortbread Wedges

In this spin on traditional Scottish shortbread, renowned Miami pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith found the butter-rich tender, crumbly cookie is the perfect vehicle for the slight bittersweet, warm, peppery bite of toasted cumin seeds. Honey adds a special sweetness and the cornstarch in the confectioners’ sugar insures a very tender cookie. In Scotland shortbread was traditionally only made for Christmas as they were supposed to represent golden pastry suns for the winter solstice. They were cut into wedges called petticoats, as they resembled the bell-hoop petticoats worn by 12th century ladies. In India a type of shortbread called para is made from a mixture of chickpea flour and wheat flour, butter, melted palm sugar and spices with a spicy caramel flavor and firm, yet soft crumbling texture. They are not bad, but hard to find fresh as they are usually sold in packets. When Hedy’s shortbread comes out of the oven, it is hard to resist waiting for the big round to cool long enough to cut along the scores and devour a warm, cumin-laced petticoat. Serve these large wedge-shaped treats with chai (milky spiced tea) for an afternoon snack or as a sweet ending to a spicy meal.


 6 ounces unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), slightly softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)
4 tablespoons honey
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt crystals
1 1/4 tablespoons cumin seeds, plus extra for sprinkling
Granulated sugar for dusting

MIXING THE DOUGH. Place the butter in a large mixing bowl and add the confectioners’ sugar, honey and salt. Using a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or hand held mixer), beat on medium speed until pale yellow and light, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sift the flour and baking powder together into another mixing bowl. Add the flour mixture with the cumin seeds to the creamed butter and sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until just combined and transfer to a flour-dusted work surface. Knead the dough lightly until it holds together, about 2 to 3 minutes. Divide into two balls about 3 inches wide.

ROLLING OUT THE DOUGH AND BAKING THE SHORTBREAD. Position oven racks on the rungs in the lower third and middle of the oven and preheat to 275 degrees. Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper into 15 x 12-inch pieces. Press a ball of dough between your palms to slightly flatten and place it on a sheet of parchment paper on a hard work surface. Place another sheet of parchment on top. Roll the dough out into an 8 to 9 inch circle about 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch thick (the edges will be a little thicker than the center). Trim the scraggly edges with a knife, cutting away about half an inch (discard scraps or use to make small cookies). With a knife, cut the circle into 8 wedges like cutting a pie. Using a fork, press the outer edges, leaving small tine marks. Dust with granulated sugar and sprinkle with extra cumin seeds. Slide the parchment paper with the cut cookie dough on a baking sheet. Use the other two sheets of parchment to roll out, trim, and cut the other ball of dough. Slide the baking sheets onto the oven and bake until lightly browned, about 35-40 minutes. Carefully cut over the marks again while still soft and warm and cool completely. Slide the wedges apart. Store in an airtight container up to a week in a dry cool place (but not the fridge).

Tea For Two Cookies

Yesterday I met Kim Neale, a woman in Sunrise Florida who makes shortbread cookies in interesting flavors the buttery cookies also are made an infusion of teas and there are flavors like lavender and rose topped with real dried flowers, orange blossom and some with spices. Kim loves Indian food and her spicy cookies are turmeric and ginger (my favorite) tinted yellow with a touch of ground turmeric and bits of candied ginger and chai with a touch of chai tea spices and tea. Other flavors include rich Mexican chocolate with spices and banana toffee with bits of toffee. The cookies are 90 percent organic and hand made with care. Kim suggests dunking the cookies in port for a real tree. I paired the chocolate with a Chilean red for dessert last night and it was wonderful. What's next cookie and wine tastings? Hmmm. Next up is my cumin shortbread recipe.

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