Thursday, November 6, 2008

A little bit of Java

School mornings always began early. Seldom was the day that started without a whiff of Gurumoorthy Aunty's filter coffee. It was heady, that aroma. And at 5 am, it seemed especially enticing. While, miserable and sleepy me had to contend with plain ol' Bournvita, an egg-sandwich and a couple of almonds, Rajesh had his mother's coffee with piping idlis, no less. On other days, he had dosai and filter coffee. All that urad dal and delicious coffee concoction was responsible for his math genius. Or so I believed. Mum of course refused to buy into this brilliant theory and continued my staple of cocoa, badams and eggs.

Several years later, I had my first cup of cappuccino at a new bookstore in Pune. It wasn't great by any means. Certainly wasn't Gurumoorthy Aunty's heavenly filter coffee. But, I had acquired a deep love for the fragrance of roasted coffee beans. That, mingled with the crisp smell of new books was like having my grandmother's fish curry for a month straight -- Simply divine. It's another thing that later I was bouncing off walls and couldn't sleep the entire night.

Funny as it is, 10 years later, every time I have a cuppa, I am pretty much the same. Hyperactive and sleepless. A decade is a long time to come to terms with the fact that mine is a system built for hot chocolates. I am supposed to only gulp in the fragrance of coffee by the nostril-fulls, but never ingest it. Every time I come across a scientific clipping citing the ill-effects of caffeine, I feel a little happy. As only someone who is denied one of life's most simple pleasures would feel.

But, but, but. This was the situation until a year ago. One afternoon, as I was browsing through one of my treasured finds from a local thrift-store, I chanced upon a recipe for cappuccino muffins. Ordinarily, I would have skipped right by, but that day I was in the mood for some experimentation. Besides, I thought to myself, it would make a nice little treat for AM's colleagues the following day. As it turned out, it has now become one of our house-favorites. So far, we've made these at least half-a-dozen times. My husband is yet to reach office with those muffins.

Given my body's resistance to all things caffeine, you would think I would be wise not to have any. For a whiff of these what's breaking a few chairs and a sleepless night or two?

♣ "Pick me up, as you go, go"

This recipe for cappuccino muffins takes espresso and bittersweet chocolate to a whole new level. When you don't have time for either breakfast or a hot cup of Joe, these muffins give you a shot of both. Filling, delicious and oh so heady -- can there be a better way to begin that rushed morning? Since I love these little ones so very much, I am marching them off to play and mingle -- hope you like these Meeta!

"For a deeper, more intense chocolate flavor," the authors, James Barrett and Wendy Smith, "cut their own chocolate chips from a bar of good quality bittersweet chocolate."

From the Metropolitan Bakery Cookbook

You need:

1/8 C instant espresso powder
1 1/8 C's milk, heated until hot
1 1/4 C's all-purpose flour
1/2 +1/8 C's granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp of baking powder
1/2 + 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 + 1/4 C's bittersweet chocolate chunks


Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Grease or butter 12 two-and-half-inch muffin-pan cups. Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Then heat the milk until it is just hot and dissolve in the espresso powder. I strain this mixture, but the book doesn't suggest so, skip the straining if you think it unnecessary. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Once the espresso-milk mixture has cooled down, whisk into it the egg and vanilla extract. Then, whisk this espresso-milk mixture into the sifted ingredients just until blended. Stir in the melted butter, and then fold in the chocolate chunks with a rubber spatula.

Spoon the batter evenly (I pour in about 2 tablespoons) into the muffin-pan cups. Bake for 14-16 minutes, rotating the pan between the upper and lower oven racks halfway through baking. Check by inserting a wooden skewer in the center of the muffins, once it comes out clean, remove and cool the muffins in the pan for five minutes. Then, remove from pan and cool completely on wire racks.

Bite into some moist deliciousness coupled with this lovely extract from the novel Devadasi by Kasturi Sreenivasan ...

Chapter I - The Course of True Lovers (1977):

"Outside the temple, the petty vendors along the dusty street were doing a brisk trade by the light of smokey oil lamps..."

"Though Palayam was only a small town, one of its eating places started serving a new drink called coffee. It had been introduced by the British rulers and there were many stories about it. Some argued that, since it was of European origin, it must necessarily be unclean; others said it might be alcoholic. In any case, very few tried it, since a tumbler full cost as much as half an anna, while butter-milk was served free in many places and coconut water including the tender coconut meat was only a paisa. Only the most daring or the wealthy could afford the exotic brew ... "