Fruit Of Knowledge: Fig (Part 2)

Figs are also considered a fruit of knowledge (continuing last week’s theme) that trace their origins to ancient cultures and mythology. Figs are a popular summer fruit, characterized by their smooth outer skins and textural fleshy insides filled with soft seeds. Fresh figs have a short shelf life, but because the fruits can be easily sun dried, they are available year-round. Good quality dried figs preserve all of the concentrated sweetness while also retaining the fruit’s moist chewy consistency. Fresh figs, like many other fruits, are not good for baking. Dried figs add sweetness, moisture, and fudgy density to cakes and Christmas pudding.

At a recent party, I was reminded of holiday traditions while singing the carol about “figgy pudding.” My mother used to make a steamed Christmas cake, heavy with chopped dried fruits and nuts. She would assemble the cake in November, and then dutifully tend to the cake over the next few weeks. The cake’s airtight container would be pulled out from the back of a cupboard every other day, and the many layers of foil surrounding the cake would be unwrapped. Brandy was drizzled over the golden brown cake, before it was re-wrapped and put back into the tin. The final rich dark cake was worth the wait!

Distracted by Thanksgiving, I never remember to start the cake’s process in November and neither do I have the patience to chop up so much dried fruit. Steamed fig pudding maintains many of the elements of the traditional Christmas pudding or cake, but requires much less effort. The dense cake keeps well for a week.

Steamed Fig Pudding

Milk – ½ cup

Dried Figs – 16oz, chopped into small pieces

Butter – ½ cup, melted

Eggs – 2

Molasses – ½ cup

Brown sugar – ¼ cup

Flour – 2 ½ cups, sifted well

Baking powder (double acting) – 2 tsp

Baking soda – ½ tsp

Preserved ginger – 3 tbsp, chopped

Nutmeg – 1 tsp, freshly grated

Cinnamon – ½ tsp

Brandy – 4 tbsp

Bundt pan

  • Heat the milk in a small pan.
  • Add the chopped up figs to the milk and poach gently for about 5 minutes. Strain the softened figs and keep aside.
  • Beat the butter and eggs together.
  • Add the sugar and molasses to the egg mixture and mix well.
  • Add the sifted flour and baking powder and soda to the mixture. Mix until all the flour has been folded into the mixture.
  • Fold the remaining ingredients to the flour mixture.
  • Spoon the mixture into a greased, non-stick Bundt pan.
  • Place the Bundt pan over a large pan with boiling water. (The base of the Bundt pan should just skim the boiling water.) Cover with aluminum foil, sealing the sides tightly. Put the lid over the foil, to prevent any steam from escaping. Cook for four hours, topping the water in the large pan as necessary. Remove pudding from pan and serve immediately. Otherwise, store in an airtight container.

Serve with ice cream or brandy sauce with orange zest and preserved ginger.

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Happy Holidays!



Tapioca, Arrowroot, and Cornstarch – More Food Thickeners

I grew up using three starch thickeners that I haven’t worked with in a while. Arrowroot was used primarily in coconut pudding, cookies, and healthy porridge. Cornstarch bulked up Indian-Chinese dishes, and tapioca helped to set both sweet and savory food. As I tried to perfect roux with white flour and butter last week, I decided to revisit the three starches of my childhood.

Tapioca, arrowroot, and cornstarch have distinct properties. All three starches are neutral in taste and have a lighter, more powdery texture than flour. They can replace flour to thicken a stew or gravy and glaze a fruit pie. Tapioca and arrowroot are being rediscovered because of their gluten-free properties and are now commonly available; choosing between them depends on the type of ingredients needed for a dish. If the ingredients are acidic, then tapioca and arrowroot starch are preferable. If the dish is dairy-based, use cornstarch. Unlike flour that makes sauce opaque, tapioca, arrowroot, and cornstarch offer glazes that range from clear to glossy. Depending on whether a chocolate pudding benefits from shimmering glaze (use arrowroot), a fruit pie from a clear glaze (use tapioca starch), or creamy soup from a translucent glaze (use cornstarch), these starches offer a variety of ways to present the final dish.


What all three starches do have in common is that none of them can be added directly to a hot stock or liquid. They should first be mixed with equal parts water to form a watery mixture called slurry. The slurry is then added to the simmering stock and whisked continuously so that the starch gelatinizes and thickens. The slurry prevents the starch from clumping together. As with all starch thickeners, the key to achieving a smooth rich stock is to continuously whisk the starch so that the mix does not taste floury, until you reach the right consistency. Be mindful of overcooking.



Arrowroot Starch Cassava/Tapioca Starch Cornstarch
Source From a ginger-like rhizome From a root tuber From endosperm of corn
Slurry Mix in cold liquid Mix in cold liquid Mix in cold liquid
Substitution for 1 tbsp. all purpose flour 1 ½ tsp 1 ½ tsp 1 tbsp
Best for Fruits or similar highly acidic medium Fruits and similar acidic medium Dairy-based medium
Cooking times  Cannot be cooked for long periods, best below boiling point. Does not do as well as tapioca with dishes that have to be frozen. Does not do well reheated, so add just before needed. Cannot be cooked for long periods. Good for dishes that are going to be frozen, like a fruit pie Can be cooked for longer periods than the other two. Does not do well when the dish has to be frozen
Appearance of Final Dish Shiny glossy glaze Clear glaze  Translucent glaze



Coconut-Chocolate Pudding with Arrowroot

Organic unsweetened coconut milk – 1 ¾ cup

Cocoa powder – 4 tbsp

Semi-sweet chocolate morsels – 5 tbsp

Arrowroot powder – ¼ tsp

Salt – ½ tsp

Sugar – 2 tbsp

Cinnamon and nutmeg (freshly powdered) – ½ tsp

Crushed arrowroot biscuits or sugar cookies – topping

  • To a ¼ cup of coconut milk, add cocoa powder and cinnamon, nutmeg powder and arrowroot. Mix well to form the slurry.
  • Bring the remaining coconut milk to a simmer.
  • Add salt and sugar to the warm coconut milk. Stir to dissolve.
  • Take ½ cup of simmering liquid and mix well with the slurry. Add this mixture back to the simmering coconut milk. Whisk for a minute. Add the chocolate and continue whisking until it starts becoming thick, about 30 seconds or so. Remove immediately from heat.
  • Pour into ramekins and chill for 8 hours or more.
  • Before serving, sprinkle the crushed cookies on top.


Semolina Gnocchi (Part 2)

I had previously written about the semolina grain and how it appears and tastes differently in North African and Middle Eastern couscous and Indian uppamav contexts. The semolina granules used in couscous and uppamav have a distinctive texture. Adding vegetables or meat to the dish make them both substantial meals. Semolina flour, on the other hand, is smooth much like regular flour. It is used to make both bread and pasta.

Semolina flour is made from the inner endosperm of durum wheat which is  yellow in color, and the resulting flour has a pale yellow hue. The flour is commonly used to make gnocchi. As N. is a big fan of gnocchi, I waited for her to come home to make potato gnocchi with semolina flour. The recipe uses rich ingredients resulting in a decadent and creamy gnocchi. Baked gnocchi can  be eaten on its own, warm from the oven! Alternately, serve with fresh tomato sauce.


Baked Potato Gnocchi

Potato – 1 large, boiled

Semolina flour – 1 cup, plus ¼ cup for dusting

Milk – 4 cups

Nutmeg powder – ½ tsp

Egg yolks – 2, whisked

Egg – 1, whisked

Butter – ¾ cup, room temperature

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – ¾ cup + ¼ cup, finely grated

Sage – 10 leaves, finely chopped

Parchment paper

Metal grater

  • Using a metal grater, grate the boiled potato into a large bowl. Keep aside.
  • Bring the milk to a simmer in a large pan.
  • Add the semolina flour and nutmeg to the milk. Mix well, removing lumps with a wooden spoon. The mixture should be smooth. Cook for about 7-8 minutes, stirring continuously so the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Remove from heat. Add the butter, egg yolks, egg, and ¾ cup grated cheese and combine.
  • Add chopped sage and grated potato. Mix with a light touch to form a dough ball. Roll out the dough on parchment paper, about 1 1/2-inch thickness. Refrigerate for an hour.
  • Dust a clean surface with a little flour.
  • Take a small amount of dough and start to roll between your palm and then on the clean surface to make a 4-5-inch-long log. Use a light touch.
  • Cut into small pieces (about 1-inch). Make a small dent (collects the sauce later) in each piece with your pointer finger. Place the small pieces on a parchment paper. Or, use a cookie cutter or a tea strainer to cut out different shapes.
  • If you are not cooking right away, freeze the gnocchi. It can be baked from frozen.
  • Otherwise, sprinkle the remaining grated cheese and bake it at 425°F for 25-30 minutes. The gnocchi should have a light brown crust.
  • Serve immediately.




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