Patishapta pitha was the rare pitha I would eat growing up. Maybe it’s a regional thing, but I just did not enjoy most pithas I had. [Pitha: Bengali dumplings. Usually made out of rice flour. Sometimes a combo of rice flour and wheat flour. And in my experience, dry af most of the time. Sometimes sweet with a coconut or jaggery filling. And, as I found out after marriage, sometimes plain, eaten with curry.]
My husband and I were so different when we met. He like TV, I liked the arts. He liked iHOP, I liked (and still like) bougie NYC brunch places. He enjoyed test driving cars and playing video games. I liked boutique window shopping and baking.
Pitha – a Bengali style sweet dumpling. Narkeler pitha – dumpling filled with coconut and date sap. Usually the dough is made with rice flour and water(?), filled with the coconut mixture, then deep fried. I never learned how to make pitha, but I did teach myself how to make hand pies.
In my journey of blending the flavors of my ancestral home in the Indian Subcontinent with the desserts I know and love here in America, I pull a lot from you and those around me. In brainstorming dessert ideas, a dear family friend (and ad hoc babysitter – love you Tasfia and Tanifa!) suggested gajer halwa. It’s carrots that’s been cooked down with milk and sugar so that it’s almost a pudding.
Most of you are familiar with chai – a spiced tea drink, made with some kind of milk. Most Bengalis I know and grew up with, didn’t spice their tea, but steeped some strong black tea and cooked it down with milk, or evaporated milk, and sweetened to taste. This is called dood cha (translation: milk tea). My favorite childhood treat was dunking a piece of Wonder bread in my mother’s milk tea. This dessert, an adaptation of tres leches, rekindles that memory. A sponge cake that is soaked in a steeped black tea milk mixture, and topped with whipped cream, recreates that childhood favorite in dessert form. I made it on a whim at my in law’s place over the weekend so I don’t have many pictures. I tried recreating it with PG Tips pyramid tea bags – and although tasty, did not have a strong enough flavor. Will share more pictures when I recreate it – in the meantime I need to buy up some loose tea of my own, since the tea bags just won’t do in this recipe.
I had a lemon ricotta cheese in Sorrento that was a game changer. Compared to dense, tangy, NY style cheesecake (which is delicious in its own rite), this was so light, so brightly flavored with regional citrus, it was the most heavenly thing I had tasted during my 4 months in Italy (in addition to cinnamon gelato, rosemary potato pizza, and fresh ricotta calzone).
Just when you thought she couldn’t produce another great recipe, she pulls one out just to prove you wrong. I’m referring to the OG Deb Perelman and a recipe from her new book, Smitten Kitchen Every Day. She calls them strawberry cloud cookies – they are essentially meringues flavored with a unique ingredient – strawberry powder, rather than the traditional vanilla extract. She dollops the meringue onto cookie sheets before baking for 30-35 min. I piped mine with an open star tip into heart shapes (it is February after all) and baked them for a shorter time, since they are flatter meringues.
I had a revelation this week: pastry cream is basically pudding, with perhaps an egg yolk or two more. Both start off with a milk/sugar base, thickened over the stove top using some combination of cornstarch/flour/egg yolks then flavored with vanilla, chocolate or any other flavor of choice. This recipe, in my opinion, can pass for both.
If it looks like a green tea crepe cake, it smells like a green tea crepe cake, and tastes like a green tea cake, it still may not be a green tea crepe cake.
Truth is, I’ve never had a green tea crepe cake. And even though this looks like the famous Lady M green tea crepe cake, there are no crepes here. Just crisp wafers made with my trusty krumkake maker, matcha pastry cream and whipped cream.
I didn’t use any one recipe for this – I kind of threw things together that I thought might work. And while this worked out beautifully (though I did have a near disaster when the whole thing almost slid off as I was transferring it to the fridge! Pastry cream is slick, yo), I’m already dreaming up alternate versions of this: nutella swiss meringue buttercream filling? Salted caramel mousse?
Matcha used to be difficult to find – now you can find it at costco! I don’t use it that frequently so I’m still working off of the batch I bought a while ago.
Hope you enjoy! And if you don’t have a krumkake maker and don’t feel like buying one and make it with crepes instead, please let me know!
Pastry cream recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.
- 12-14 6in round wafers
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cup sugar plus 3 tbsp
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tsps vanilla extract, divided
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 tbsp all purpose flour
- 4 egg yolks
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tbsp matcha plus extra for garnish
1. Make the pastry cream: heat 2 1/2 cups milk, 3/4 cup sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar’s dissolved. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, corn starch and flour. When the milk is hot and sugar is dissolved, slowly add about a cup of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add the tempered egg mixture back to the saucepan. Whisk constantly over medium heat until it starts to thicken. Remove from heat, continue stirring, and add the butter one tablespoon at a time. Add the vanilla and one tablespoon of matcha, sifted. Pour into a heat proof bowl, place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface, touching the cream so it doesn’t form a skin. Refrigerate until cool and set, several hours or overnight.
2. Make the wafers but instead of rolling into a cone shape, leave flat.
3. On an 8in cake board, place a small amount of cream and spread it thin. Place one wafer on the board, then one tablespoon of the pastry cream and spread it across. Repeat until all the pastry cream is used up. Carefully transfer to refrigerator and chill until set – at least 2 hours.
4. In a large bowl whip cream with 3 tbsp sugar until soft peaks form. Add vanilla and whip until combined. Take out cake from refrigerator and dollop generously on cake, spread to the edges, adding more onto the sides until it’s all covered. Garnish with the extra matcha. Cut out concentric circles out of parchment and place atop cake to get the pattern pictured above.
I find myself craving less and less the city’s top dessert spots. I used to LIVE for post dinner dessertscapades. But these days I wonder, why spend $11 on a dessert that you can whip up at home, exactly to your liking, and share a pretty picture of it on IG? Ok, maybe we’re not all in the same boat here. But lately, when I go out, chocolates desserts aren’t chocolately enough, flavor combinations that were fun for a while started feeling like a bit of a reach (black lava salt? spicy chocolate?).
I want to y’all to be in the boat with me. Make fabulous desserts, tailored to your tastes. Make your dinner guests oooh and ahhhhh. We’re on our way there. Today, I’m sharing strawberry swiss meringue buttercream. A naturally strawberry flavored, sophisticated topping for cakes, mousses, trifles and the like. It’s as delicious on chocolate cake as it is on vanilla.
I have so many other desserts in the pipeline I want to share with you. I want your suggestions! What do you want to see? A milk tea tres leches? A green tea mousse cake? A star anise/cinnamon citrus pound cake?
If you’re never made swiss meringue buttercream, it is a game changer for frosting cakes. It’s in the same class as Italian meringue where there is some combination of egg whites, sugar and butter, for a lighter, smoother buttercream than one that’s made out of butter and powdered sugar. When you start spreading it on the cake, it’s like silk. No other way to describe it. It’s traditionally less sweet than American buttercream, so I like to up the flavor and sweetness with extra extracts and even some corn syrup (astaghfirullah I know!).
This makes enough to fill and frost a 6in cake generously, so you’ll have some extra leftover for piping decorations. I used a #10 Wilton tip to pipe little hearts for Valentine’s day. Then, because I had some red frosting leftover, outlined some of the hearts sporadically for a fun look. Topped with some silver dragees, it was ready to serve.
^How all my cakes end up.^
- 2 cups strawberries, fresh or frozen
- 4 egg whites
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 sticks plus 2 tbsp (26 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature (not too soft or greasy!)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1-2tbsp corn syrup (optional
- In a small to medium saucepan, combine 2 cups strawberries with 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to reduce for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Heat about 1in water to a simmer (over low heat) in a small saucepan. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine egg whites and 1 cup sugar. Whisk to combine. Set over the saucepan of simmering water. Whisk occasionally, until sugar dissolves and mixture is hot to the touch. Remove from heat and attach to stand mixer using the whisk attachment.
- Beat on medium speed until mixture cools down (when you touch the back of your hand to it, it should be the same temperature as your hand) and medium peaks form. Start adding butter 1-2 tbsp at a time. The mixture might turn into a sloppy mess, but keep beating. Once it comes together (it will look like a homogenous glob instead of the previous curdled mess), add extracts, 1/2 cup strawberry puree (or more to taste) and corn syrup, if using. Stop to scrape down the bowl. Continue beating until fully combined. Use right away, or refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 1 month. Allow to come to room temperature and beat before using.