I have hopes for getting a few things done this year. There are aspirations to be travelling more, cooking more, writing more, learning more. I aim to get my architectural license before the year is through. I aspire to meet up with my friends more and call my mom more often. Well, I’ll have to watch that last one carefully. She might begin to suspect I’m terminally ill if I don’t ease her into it. Don’t want to ping her sonar for no reason. Nothing good has ever come of that.
Time has soared by quickly. We are already at the end of January. The cold winter means no long walks on the beach, my primary place for random thought. Without them, thoughts have no focus or room. They crowd into my head and push everything else out. Amey has caught me staring into space more often than usual this month. Only two things have really kept my attention. Architecture and cooking.
Taken together, they aren’t quite all that diverse. Here’s how the charge sheet would look if you tried to compare.
☕ Both respond to basic human needs, cooking is to food what architecture is to shelter.
☕ Both aspire to do so much more than just fulfilling a need.
☕ Architecture is both an art and a science. So is cooking.
☕ Either one of them revels in experimentation, often with fantastic results.
☕ Both have a long history and have evolved in response to period and place (Up to a point in time. Both have felt the effects of globalization.)
☕ Never were there two art forms that, as a whole, focus on the person who creates them as much as on those for whom they are created.
☕ A good example of either will satisfy you to your very soul. You may not recognize it immediately but your day will be so much the better for it.
My friend once mentioned that he has never seen a more contented lot than architects. Before all the unhappy ones out there rush to argue this, allow me to explain what he meant. Architecture pales in comparison to the initial monetary compensation of investment bankers, or those in technological fields (the aforementioned friend’s profession). This results in tons of frustration for some, and those who are conflicted about this, leave. This is not a profession you stay in lightly. It is your life.
Given a choice, I wouldn’t be able to leave. I wasn’t before. To me, it’s not a profession. It’s what I love to do. Like cooking. Like writing. It is unbeatable, that feeling of toiling over something and then seeing it manifest in brick & mortaresque materials. Of agonizing over details and seeing them become concrete. Of nurturing and imagining something on paper and then seeing it surpass your wildest dreams in its physical manifestation. The biggest joy comes from watching faces light up as they walk into this space your team and you created for them, and seeing them smile and relax just a little, giving you unspoken clues into the success of your venture. It is a magnificent culmination of doing what makes you happy.
I believe passionate chefs and cooks would understand this feeling. They can produce such similar results. That soup that turned out just like you imagined. That meringue that looked just perfect. The best part is that tingle that runs down your spine when someone sighs in appreciation over a dish you cooked up for them. While cooking can most certainly be satisfying for just you, it affords peerless pleasure when when it’s for you and another.
I always enjoy cooking for mutitudes. It gives me the opportunity to pore over my books and agonize over creating a menu. Many cookbook writers suggest you have a trial run before you cook through a recipe for company. I, on the other hand, love cooking things for the first time when I’m having friends over. There is a make-or-break situation about it that charges the atmosphere. I always keep the pizza delivery guys’ number handy. Just in case.
One such new thing that I tried out recently when friends visited was this mousse. By that in itself, it was nothing unusual. It had all the normal trappings of a mousse (cream, milk), but the flavouring of it was another story. This was a mousse that packed a serene, yet concentrated wallop of fragrant green cardamom, infused in smooth, unctuous white chocolate. You serve it in twee little amounts as it is quite sweet, so a little goes a long way. Shades of the Orient waft out from it. To me, it immediately brought India to mind because the flavour is so distinctly that of kheer, our traditional rice pudding made from milk, rice and cardamom in its most basic form. Amey immediately christened it kh-ousse and pronounced it a huge favourite while my friends blissfully ate their way through their portions. So much all around happiness created by a dish that is very simple to make!
You apply strategic percussive maintenance to a few pods of green cardamom to persuade the plump, green shells to relinquish their perfumed black seeds, then grind them fine with a mortar and pestle. You then warm up some milk and introduce the green cardamom and a couple of bay leaves to it. Allow them to get acquainted for a few minutes while you melt some good quality white chocolate in a double boiler. Then you strain the milk into the melted chocolate. Beat some cream into soft peaks and beat a few egg whites into stiff peaks. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites, followed by the cream, then pour into bowls which you then move to the chill chest to set. And that is how you get fluffy sweet goodness in a bowl. The kind that stays with you long after you’re done with it.
White Chocolate Cardamom Mousse
Adapted for measurements from Nigel Slater’s Real Food
Green Cardamom – 8 pods
Bay Leaves – 3
Milk – 1/2 cup
White Chocolate – 9 oz
Heavy cream – 1 1/4 cup
Egg whites – 3
Cocoa powder for dusting
– Warm the milk in a small saucepan.
– Extract the cardamom pods seeds from the pods and crush them to break them up. Add them to the warming milk along with the bay leaves.
– Bring the milk to a boil, then move off the heat.
– Separately, break the chocolate into small pieces and melt them in a bowl that is sitting over a bowl of boiling water.
– When the chocolate is melted, strain the spiced milk into it through a sieve
– Whip the cream just until it starts to form soft mounds.
– Beat the egg whites to until they form stiff peaks.
– Gently scoop in the chocolate mixture into the beaten eggs and slowly fold it in with a spatula.
– Then fold in the whipped cream as lightly as possible
– Pour into serving bowls and refrigerate until set, about 3 to 4 hours
Dust over some cocoa powder before serving.
The dessert is served cold but the spice renders it intensely warming. It is enchanting, the combination of white chocolate and cardamom. The spice sings through the chocolate accompanied by subtle base notes of bay to create a fabulous dessert. Nigel Slater hit it out of the park with this one.
Note that the egg whites here are essentially raw. There are advisories and words of caution that accompany the use of raw eggs. If you worry about that kind of thing, make sure you use pasteurized eggs.
I toss the green cardamom shells into my sugar jar, as my mom always did. It gently scents the sugar, pretty much akin to the way vanilla pods do for vanilla sugar. Cardamom-scented sugar makes great tea.
This extraordinary dessert has definitely moved into my list of make-in-a-jiffy desserts. The prep work is minimal and it yields great results. Your guests will love it. Chances are good that they have tasted nothing quite like it. That they will not forget it it is a given.