Indulge in these American and European treats in India
It was 2014. And this was my first taste of the much-talked Italian cousin of ice cream. I got four big tubs that is the Rich Scoop Fiesta–Belgian Chocolate, Tiramisu, Black Forest, Fruit ‘n’ Nuts–for review, courtesy Mumbai-based Pan India Food Solutions. These are no longer available in India, but gelato is around.
What I liked about this yummy frozen dessert is that with fresh fruit and nut purees, it is lower in calories, fat and sugar than ice cream. Also, gelato doesn’t melt easily. I kept the tubs for three days in the freezer and there was no loss of taste or flavour and it did not become free-flowing milk. The reason is gelato uses less cream, has less air and there is more natural sweetener with fruits and nuts rather than processed sugars.
And did you know that ice creams or frozen snow desserts can be traced to the Persian Empire, when the people would pour grape-juice concentrate over snow? The royals would eat it with nuts, saffron, fruits, vermicelli, and rose water. In China too, in 200 BC, milk and rice mix was eaten. The Roman Emperor Nero (37–68 AD) liked to eat fruit toppings with mountain ice. The Arabs loved it, the Mughals loved chilled desserts and eventually the first recorded ice cream recipe came out in the 18th century in England.
Little balls of sweet delights–Marzipan was introduced to India via the Europeans. And the Euopeans got a taste of these via the Turks, but the origins are not clear. This delish traditional Christmas and New Year treat is made of nutritious almonds and honey. Some people add some almond oil too. Little fairies, fruits, stars, animals delight families and friends on celebratory occasions. Marzipan paste is also used in cakes, stollen, cookies, yule logs, even chocolate balls and other desserts. The dessert is so loved that in Tallinn, Estonia, there is a small museum dedicated to the history and manufacture of marzipan at Maiasmokk café.
The Portugese brought the marzipan to Goa and Mumbai. And these Goan versions of Easter eggs and festive treats are made with cashewnut powder. In Portugal, it is traditionally made by nuns and used to make fruit-shaped sweets. There is a variant in ingredients over time as in some countries, they are made with oatmeal, farina or semolina. In Latin American, marzipan as it is named in Spanish is made with peanuts. In the Philippines, it is made from pili nuts.
The first written record of marzipan dates to 1512 in Toledo, Spain. But I was surprised to discover a mention in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights as an almond paste eaten during Ramadan and as an aphrodisiac.
In Italy, particularly in Palermo, it is often shaped and painted with food colorings to resemble fruit—Frutta martorana. In the Aegean islands, white marzipan is served to guests at wedding feasts. In Malta, marzipan is a filling in Maltese Easter treats called Figolla. In the United Kingdom, fruitcakes are decorated with a layer of marzipan. In fact, at Easter, Simnel cake has a layer of marzipan, and then another layer at the top with 12 spheres symbolizing the apostles of Christ. In Geneva, during L’Escalade celebration, there is the ritual smashing of a chocolate cauldron filled with marzipan vegetables, symbolic of the Savoyard siege of the city which was foiled by a housewife with a cauldron of boiling soup.
In the Netherlands and Belgium, marzipan figures are given as Saint Nicholas’s presents. In Germany, marzipan is found in the shape of a loaf of bread called “Marzipanbrot”. In Denmark, Sweden and Norway, marzipan pigs are eaten for Christmas.
From Europe to Middle East and Asia, marzipan changes shapes. In Lebanon, it is flavoured with orange-flower water and shaped into roses and delicate flowers. The Jews in Iran eat the marzipan fruit as Passover treat.
Silky, smooth, cookie or cake, this is a joyful tea time bite. Some say, the making goes far back to the 8th-9th centuries to an Italian monastery. In 1533, the monks came to France and were joined by the pastry chefs of Catherine de’ Medici, wife of King Henry II. Then during the French Revolution, two Benedictine nuns, Sister Marguerite and Sister Marie-Elisabeth, sought asylum in Nancy. The two baked and sold macaroon cookies, and came to be known as the ‘Macaroon Sisters’.
Macaroons are made from ground almonds, coconut or other nuts (even potato). They have sugar, flavorings (honey, vanilla, spices), coloring, glacé cherries, jam or a chocolate coating. There are variants over time. The Italian Jews liked the cookie because it has no flour or leavening (macaroons are leavened by egg whites) and can be eaten during the eight-day observation of Passover.
Tracing the roots, the recipes for this delicious dessert are found in books dating to 1725 (Robert Smith’s Court Cookery, or the Complete English Cook). Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) includes a recipe too.
- Doughnuts or Donuts
So, this round ring sprinkled with cinnamon is my favourite mood lifter. These are deep fried from flour dough, mostly ring-shaped. Sometimes they are like buns or ball-shaped and they have fillings too. They are not expensive and one finds them in supermarkets easily. Key ingredients include water, leavening, eggs, milk, sugar, oil, shortening, and natural or artificial flavors.
Did you know the National Doughnut Day is celebrated on the first Friday of June in the US? It succeeds the Doughnut Day event created by The Salvation Army in 1938 to honor members who served doughnuts to soldiers during World War I.
The first mention of doughnut is found in Washington Irving’s 1809 book A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. The Dutch settlers had brought a cake called olykoek (cake deep fried in fat) to early New York (or New Amsterdam). As per anthropologist Paul R. Mullins, doughnuts were first referred to in an1803 English cookbook which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. He also traces the origins to the oliekoek that arrived in America with the Dutch settlers in the early 18th century. By the mid-19th century, the doughnut looked and tasted like the way we know it today and was thoroughly American.
The ring shape is credited to American Hanson Gregory. He invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was 16 years old. Dissatisfied with the greasiness of shapes and raw center, he punched a hole with the ship’s tin pepper box.
In 2013, a recipe for ‘dow nuts’ was found in a book of recipes and domestic tips written by the wife of Baron Thomas Dimsdale in 1800. This was given to the dowager Baroness by an acquaintance.
The British also call it a fairy cupcake. I like it because it fulfills your sweet cravings in one serving. Cooked in a tin cup or moulds or mugs, it is an apt tea time snack. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be eaten at other times of the day or easily carried in your bag. The English fairy cakes vary in size and the American cupcake is smaller and rarely topped with elaborate frosting.
The earliest description of this cupcake was found 1796. Amelia Simmons wrote a recipe for ‘a light cake to bake in small cups’ in her book American Cookery. In 1828, Eliza Leslie’s cookbook ‘Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats’ also had detailed recipes.
Before the 19th century, cakes were baked in individual pottery cups, ramekins or moulds. But now cupcake is any small, round cake about the size of a teacup.
Some Places To Eat & Buy Desserts In India
It is among the most authentic European patisseries and offers a wide range of pastries, cakes, cookies, macaroons, jams, teas and more. There are outlets all over Delhi-NCR and Dehradun. With almost a 100 offerings on the menu, it has some of the best eclairs, baguettes, tarts in town. And there are special savouries for festivities.
L’Opéra has a classic selection encompassing Bûches (Yule log), Chocolates, Panettone, Christmas Pudding, Biscuits, Plum Cake, Alpine Nut Cake, Galette des Rois as well as a signature Toffee Sauce to relish with the Christmas Pudding and other festive specialities. Bring back some of the famous macaroons, fresh jams, cinnamon rolls and French hearts.
CBTL, as I have named it, is your comfy café where you get good beverages and good cakes and snacks. The menu has three sections–Breakfast, Gourmet and Bakery. There’s a dedicated team at work the year through. The coffee at CBTL is not from Indian coffee beans. It is from Latin America.
So after drinking large cups of cinnamon and hazelnut flavoured ones here, I am addicted to both. Hazelnuts are not found in India and that makes it more attractive. The accompaniments were Pista Nankhatai and Sticky Chocolate Cookie. Fresh nankhatai on the streets of Old Delhi is a delight and this is pure nostalgia.
Then there are pop cakes, which are cake lollipops. Other desserts worth trying are Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse and twist-Baked Mascarpone Cheese Cake.
The luxury Japanese chocolates have some amazing dark chocolates. Among the signature products is Nama which comes in three variations–Mild Cacao, Ecuador Sweet and Ghana Bitter. Nama means fresh and pure in Japanese. Ghana Bitter is must-try cocoa-dusted truffle-like chocolate with velvety flavour.
Other interesting flavours include Criollo Chocolate, which is dark and aromatic. This is made from Criollo beans, the world’s rarest and most expensive cacao beans, found only near Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. Not many chocolate-makers offer this as this is a low-yield crop, thereby rare.
Another USP is the Potatochip Chocolate. The common salty potato chip is coated with a layer of milk chocolate on one side. Prafeuille Chocolat is a 3mm-thin strawberry-scented chocolate inspired by the delicate French desert “millefeuille” and is filled with a medley of sweet-tart raspberry and blueberry reduction.
Price: Rs 1,050 onwards for 125gm
It has pastries from France, calzones from Italy, cakes and breads from Germany and more–it’s a mix from different places. I tried the sour dough chicken sandwich which had lower amount of calories. Other interesting snacks were Monte Cristo and Paris Brest. I dug into the chocolaty Paris and the quiche like Count of Monte Cristo.