[caption id="attachment_857" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="Preena Chauhan"]
The event was a Canadian cookie exchange - with the flavours of India. All thanks to Arvinda Chauhan, pioneer promoter of South Asian flavours in the Toronto area, and her daughter Preena who led the class of 24 aspiring bakers. The location was Nella Cucina, cookware store and culinary school located on the Bloor Subway Line at Bathurst Street. Chef Joanne Lusted, a veritable bundle of creative energy, runs the school that brings in top chefs from around the country.
[caption id="attachment_858" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="Chef Joanne Lusted does some of the finishing work - slicing the biscotti logs for the second baking."]
The welcome to Merry Masala was platters of naan bread, popadams, Indian huumus, bowls of red lentil and pumpkin soup topped with yogurt and coriander, cups of fragrant chai and crunchy samosas to nibble on as we arrived from work and got ready to learn and bake.
Preena Chauhan led the class, with help from the school's staff. The program was ambitious - in groups, we were to make 5 different Indian-accented cookies with the reward of a box of cookies to take home. Aromatic cookie loot boxes!
[caption id="attachment_874" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="Packing up the cookie loot boxes."]
And as in any cookie-making event, plenty of cookies to nibble as we worked. A selection of the spices Preena Chauhan and her brother Paresh produces using her mother Arvinda's blends were used in the recipes -they are available on line at www.hgic.ca, click on Shop. But if you don't have these blends, get the highest quality replacement you can find in your community.
Here's what Merry Masala cookies were in production: Mango Curry Snow Crescents (recipe below), Holiday Chai Coconut Ladoos (Snowballs), (recipe below), Festive Garam Masala Gingerbread Squares, Crunchy Pistachio Cranberry Chocolate Chai Biscotti and Citrus Chai Spice Sugar Cookies. For all, the starting point was a familiar recipe with lovely and inviting twists via spice blends and as this is Christmas week, I've chosen the easiest two recipes to make. The Ladoos don't need baking, and while the Crescents do take some time, they are such a winning cookie that I think you will want to make them - any time of the year. They are particularly delicious with fruit sorbets and ice creams.
Holiday Chai Coconut Ladoos (Snowballs)
In her introduction to these no-bake treats, Preena Chauhan describes a ladoo as a popular Indian sweet rolled into balls and served at Indian festivals. Preena's version uses mixed peel, coconut, raisins and the sweet spices of masala chai (the spice mix for the delicious milk-rich tea).
1/4 cup (50 mL) golden raisins
2 tbsp (30 mL) sherry or rum
3/4 cup (175 mL) crunchy natural peanut butter, organic recommended
3/4 cup (175 mL) unsweetened desiccated coconut
1/2 cup (125 mL) dried cranberries
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped blanched almonds
1/4 cup (50 mL) candied mixed peel or red candied cherries, diced
1/4 cup (50 mL) icing sugar
1/4 cup (50 mL) liquid honey
2 tbsp (30 mL) ground ginger (halve for less spicy ladoo)
2 tsp (10 mL) Arvinda's Chai Masala or chai spices
1/2 cup (125 mL) unsweetened desiccated coconut, approximate
. Line a tray with waxed paper; set aside.
. In a small bowl, toss the raisins with the sherry; set aside while measuring out remaining ingredients.
. In a large bowl, stir together the peanut butter, coconut, cranberries, almonds and candied peel. Add the icing sugar, honey, ginger, Chai Masala and the raisins with sherry; stir to combine the ingredients evenly.
. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes or up to 1 day.
. Scoop up a round teaspoon for each ball; roll in your palms and set on prepared tray.
. Snowball Coating: Place the coconut in a shallow bowl. One at a time, roll the balls in the coconut, pressing to make the coconut stick to the ball. Refrigerate until firm.
. Layer the balls with waxed paper in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
. Makes about 48 balls.
Tip: Chai masala can include spices such as ground cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper.
Mango Curry Snow Crescents
Preena's recipe calls for 1 tsp (5 mL) curry powder, but 1/4 tsp (1 ml) was sufficient when I made the crescents in my kitchen. The curry flavour was pronounced enough, but didn't dominate the other two appealing ingredients, almond and dried mango.
[caption id="attachment_866" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="To dice the mango, start by cutting the supple slices lengthwise as thinly as possible. Stack them up and cut crosswise into a fine dice."]
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, softened
1/2 cup (125 mL) icing sugar
1/4 tsp. (1 mL) Arvinda's Curry Powder (or premium quality curry powder)
1 tsp (5 mL) almond extract
1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) ground almonds
1/3 cup (75 mL) very finely diced dried mango
2/3 cup (150 mL) icing sugar, approximate
. Line a rimless baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat; set aside.
. In a large bowl, beat butter with icing sugar until light. Beat in the curry powder and almond extract. Stir in the flour, then the ground almonds and mango. The mixture should be ragged.
. With your hands, firmly press the dough together. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
. To form the crescents so they are all the same size, scoop out 2 tsp (10 mL) of the dough. You will need to do this 1 tsp (5 mL) at a time.
. Squeeze the dough together, then press into a smooth log about 2-inches (5 mL) long. Bend the ends in to form a crescent shape.
. Arrange the crescents about 1-inch (2.5 cm) apart on prepared baking sheet. Cover and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
. Bake in the centre of preheated 325°F (160°C) oven until light golden on the bottom and firm to the touch on top, about 15 minutes.
. Let firm up on the baking sheet for 3 or 4 minutes.
. Garnish: In the meantime, sift half of the icing sugar into a small pie plate or plate. Arrange as many crescents as will hold in the icing sugar; press gently. Sift some of the remaining icing sugar over the cookies; transfer to rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining cookies and icing sugar, increasing the sugar as needed to cover the cookies with a delicious "snow job". You can also roll the crescents one at a time in the icing sugar. For the icing sugar to stick, the crescents need to be very warm.
. To store the crescents, layer with waxed paper in an airtight container and tuck them into a cool dry spot for up to 5 days, or freeze for longer storage, up to 3 weeks.
Tip: Dried mango is available in sealed bags in my local supermarket under the 7D label. The texture of these slices of mango from the Philippines is softer and the flavour fresher than in brightly dyed sugary dried mango available in clear plastic boxes.