Ammi has a great knack for modern kitchenettes and gadgets but she prefers her grains stored old fashioned way in large aluminium containers. She has two identical containers, one for durum wheat and other for basmati rice. A smaller version of the same container has broken basmati rice, which is sold cheaper because of the breakage. Contemplating which rice she meant, I would dig my hand into the pool of thousands of slender, long, delicate but whole basmati rice, dusty with starch but an undeniable fragrance that lures from only long grain basmati rice. If you tried hard enough, you could also smell the tej patta and cloves that Ammi adds to the rice to keep the bugs away. I would fill my hands and drop the grains back from a distance just to watch those strands in play. Hesitantly, I measured with my fist and filled up the pot. Swirling the grains around delicately in the pot with running water from the tap, until the cloudy froth from the starch was no longer hiding the grains. Then they would get soaked in fresh water, to swell up and be ready for cooking when Ammi arrives.
I still use one handful per person system to cook rice. There is something unexplainably satisfying about cooking in this manner. Not just touching your ingredients but also to not worrying about the exact precision of its outcome. It is what lends food slightly different character every single time. And this is perhaps the only baking recipe I bake without measurements too. Eye balling or andaza as we call it makes this recipe dearly Indian in my heart as that's how I cook all Indian food.
It does require measurement. But I find it so much more satisfying scooping the flour with whatever mug I have handy, just about half of the sugar from the same mug, a little of milk and oil, 2 eggs and bake. Not to forget cardamom - the oblong pod that contain in them small black seeds with intriguingly distinct aroma. Sometimes, I'll use 5 pods and add one to the tea that's boiling away. Other times, when Tasnim has decided to not have her saffron milk (she gets saffron milk, cocoa and almond milk alternatively every day), I use that in place of plain milk. The fact that it is butter less, just adds to the ease - no butter softening time.
Not measuring precisely comes with risk of course. Sometimes the cake will turn out a little drier than usual, making room for dunking it in tea. A little too moist and we grill it lightly and slather with dark chocolate. When I first started baking 7 years ago, I was obsessed with chocolate cakes. Since a few years, I have been consumed by a new flavour in my cakes, cardamom. Think of it like vanilla for Indians. Cardamom is not 'sweet' and in that respect it cuts the sweetness and gives a savoury note to desserts instead of intensifying the sweetness. And while it is also generously used in savoury, it is in desserts its true aromatic fragrance, bitter lemony mint like fresh flavour shines through.
For this post, I obviously did a precise version for once.
Easy Tea time Cardamom Cake
Makes: 16 mini - 3 inch bundt cakes
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk or saffron milk (1/2 cup milk infused with generous pinch of saffron)
3/4 cup sugar*
1/2 cup oil
6-7 pods of cardamom**
Super fine granulated sugar to dip, optional
* I tend to remove a tbsp of sugar from 3/4 cup for we prefer it less sweet.
** Remove the seeds and using a mortar pestle grind it into a powder. Use the pod in boiling tea, coffee or simply add it to your sugar container for fragrant cardamom sugar.
Preheat the oven at 180 C
In a bowl whisk together flour and baking powder. Keep aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until pale for minutes. This perhaps is the most important and difficult part of the recipe. You want to get them pale and frothy.
Whisk in the sugar, cardamom, oil and milk. Add the flour and whisk until smooth.
I use mini silicon bundt moulds for these but you could easily use a loaf pan instead.
Bake for 15-17 minutes until lightly golden.
Let it cool. Dip in super fine granulated sugar.
Serve with tea or coffee.