Black Forest Cake for Dad's 50th birthday

Black forest cake or gateau is originally a German dessert, which is now popular around the globe. It’s called ‘Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte’ in German, which literally translated, means Black forest cherry torte.
Usually it consists of two or more layers of chocolate cake separated by cherry filling and whipped cream, and decorated with whipped cream and chocolate shavings and finally topped with whole cherries. There are quite a few versions for this cake, but most of them rotate around this basic combination. I did a quite a bit of research before setting out to make my first Black forest cake. The base recipe is derived from my sister’s recipe journal. She learnt it at her ECA class at school. I did a little improvising to the original recipe. It’s an assembled combination of 4 parts – chocolate cake, cherry filling, whipped cream, chocolate ganache and finally the icing. The decoration is up to your imagination, although it usually consists of whipped cream, a good amount of chocolate shavings and whole cherries.

 This is my first Black forest cake. I made it for my Dad’s 50th birthday. We gave him a surprise party too by the way.

The first part, the chocolate cake,

All-purpose flour – 1 ¾ cups
Baking powder – 1 ½ tsp
Baking soda – 1 ½ tsp
Cocoa powder – 1 cup
Castor sugar – 2 cups
Salt – ¾ tsp
Eggs - 2
Milk – 1 cup
Vegetable oil – ½ cup
Vanilla essence – 1 tsp
Vanilla sugar – 1 tsp (If you can’t find this, you can double the essence instead)
Hot water – 1 cup

·        Pre-heat the oven.
·        Sift all the dry ingredients together. Keep aside.
·        Add the eggs, milk, oil, vanilla essence and vanilla sugar to a bowl and mix very slowly with a wire whisk.
·        Add the dry ingredients to the bowl. Mix gently, without forming any bubbles.
·        Add the water and blend it into the batter.
·        Pour the batter equally into two 8” baking dishes.
·        Bake this at 180C for 35-45 minutes or till a skewer inserted comes out clean. I kept it for 45 minutes.
·        Once it’s done, tilt it onto a wire rack and let it cool. I made the cake the previous night so that it cooled completely.

Now for the cherry filling, though the original recipe asks for ‘Kirschwasser’ rum, a clear liquor distilled from tart cherries. Apparently other liquors are also used such as rum, which is common in especially common in Austrian recipes. I used ordinary rum as I couldn’t get my hands on Kirschwasser. In the United States, Black Forest cake is most often prepared without alcohol but German statutory interpretation states Kirschwasser as a mandatory ingredient; otherwise the cake is legally not allowed to be marketed as Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. If you do not prefer to use alcohol, you can skip it. It’ll make a difference to the taste, but I can guarantee that it would still taste great.

For the chocolate cake,
Icing sugar – ¾ cup
Instant coffee powder – 1 tbsp
Salt – 1 pinch
Butter – 2 tbsp
Canned pitted cherries - ¼ cup (drained)
Rum or Kirschwasser, if you have it – 3 tbsp

·        Add all the ingredients except the rum to a bowl. Mix slowly till all the ingredients are well combined.
·        Finally add the rum and combine. Keep aside.

The next part is the Whipped cream. This is used for the filling as well as for the icing.
Whipping cream – 1 ½ cups
Icing sugar – ¼ cup
Vanilla sugar or vanilla essence – ½ tsp
Kirschwasser rum – 1 tbsp

·        Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla sugar (or essence) at high speed, till it thickens and becomes light and fluffy. Keep aside.

For the ganache,
Bitter chocolate (grated) – ½ cup
Sweet chocolate (grated) – ½ cup
Rum – 1 tbsp
Heavy cream – ½ cup

·           Add both the grated chocolates and the rum to a bowl and set it aside.
·        Add the cream to a heavy sauce pan, and heat it over a low flame. Turn off flame as soon as it starts to boil. Do not let it boil completely, as it will spill out of the saucepan.
·        Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and rum and whisk it with a wire whisk, till it turns into a smooth mixture. Set aside and let the mixture cool completely.

When all the parts are ready, you can assemble the cake.
·        Start by placing one of the cakes on a cake plate.
·        First spread half of the ganache on the cake evenly.
·       Then add a layer of whipped cream to cover the top portion of the cake layer, saving the rest for icing the cake.
·        Next add all of the cherry filling and spread it evenly.
·        Now place the second cake on top, aligning it well with the first layer.
·        Pour the remaining ganache over this layer and let the cake soak it up a little.
·        When the ganache hardens, start the icing.
·        Spread the whipped cream all over the cake neatly.
·        Once that’s done, decorate with the chocolate shavings as per your imagination. I patted it up around the cake, leaving the top portion; you need to be careful not to spoil the whipped cream coating.
·        Next you can use an icing cone to make small mounds with the whipping cream on the top and place some cherries around, all this is upto your imagination. You could spread some chocolate shavings too on top.
   Finally, when you’re done with the decoration, refrigerate the cake for a couple of hours before serving. Enjoy your cake!!

Corn flour Halwa

Halvas are amongst some of the most popular of Indian sweets. Saying that, Indians are not the only ones who make halvas, it is popular with the Greeks, and most parts of the Middle East. Each region has their own versions. The word 'halva' has Arabic roots and means 'sweet'. Halvas are sweet, have a thick texture and are mostly translucent with any color depending on the food coloring used. It can be made of maida, wheat flour, corn flour, semolina and so on.  They could be made solely from fruit pulps too. Some of the very popular ones amongst fruit halvas are jackfruit (known as 'chakka varattiyathe') and plantain (banana halva). Both use jaggery instead of sugar. These are especially popular around the Malabar region. A bakery called "Malabar Bakery" in Kannur makes some of the best banana halvas. My Achamma (Grandmom) used to stock these along with cream colored Barley biscuits and 'Tea cakes' (plain sponge cake pieces, cut into about palm 's length, 2 inches in width and 1 inch in thickness, with a thin layer of baby pink colored icing along the length in the middle and wrapped like a toffee, in parchment paper) at home, at all times and they used to be a regular item, amongst others, as tea time snacks and for any guests who appear every now and then, mostly some relative or the other. 
Coming back to halvas, the varieties are endless. They can be flavored artificially or with real fruits. Most halvas are time consuming and a bit of hard work.  The version I have made is not too sweet, has much less oil (ghee) compared to most halvas, and is one of the easiest ever  to make. I have used Raspberry essence to flavor the halva, and pink food color to match the flavor, but you can experiment with different flavors and colors that compliment the flavor,  as you like. For instance, you could use yellow color and mango essence or red color and rose essence. If you don't prefer to use essence, then you could replace it with some fresh or dry  fruits like pineapple, dates, kiwi, figs etc. Or you could use elachi for a very Indian touch.

Corn flour halva has a jelly like texture once it sets. This preparation requires very little ghee, hence making it a healthy halva. I have made it just sweet enough without being sickly and overbearing. I chose to serve it cold, cut it into cubes, but it can also be be served hot, if you prefer it that way. And instead of cutting it into cubes, you could leave it to set in tiny (greased) moulds, in any shape and empty onto plates.

Corn flour - 1/2 cup
Sugar - 1 1/2 cups
Water - 2 cups
Raspberry essence - 1/2 tsp
Pink food color - A pinch
Ghee - 1 tbsp
Cashews - 4-5, broken into pieces
Golden raisins - 6-8
Almonds - 3-4, slivered

1.  Mix corn flour, sugar, water and food color in a microwavable bowl. Mix well to dissolve any lumps.
2.  Microwave this on high power for 3 minutes. Remove from the microwave and stir the mix well with a wire whisk (do not whisk). Microwave again for another 2-3 minutes, remove and stir again with the wire whisk. The mixture will start getting thicker after the second time. Repeat the process, till the mixture becomes a thick (halva) consistency, stirring well after each microwave session.
3. Meanwhile, in a small pan, heat the ghee and slightly brown the cashews. Next add the raisins and when they swell up turn off heat and add the almond slivers.
4. Add this to the halva, mix well. Move into greased moulds.
5. Keep aside for sometime till it sets. Cut into cubes, or if you have set it in moulds, turn it out onto a plate.

As I said earlier, this can be served hot or cold, as per your choice.

Koondal peera - Squid fried with ginger and grated coconut

Squid is a unique kind of seafood. Squid, like cuttlefish, have eight arms arranged in pairs and two, usually longer, tentacles. In English speaking countries, squid as food is often sold using its Italian name calamariIts rubbery texture and opaque color has led a lot of people to misunderstand it to be tasteless. But those who know about squids, will know that, if cooked in the right way, can be one of the tastiest. It can be cooked in various ways - barbecue, curry, fry etc. The arms and tentacles are edible, the parts that are not eaten are the ink, beak and gladius (pen). Cleaning squid is fairly simple, you just need to know the right technique as with crab, prawn etc. 
At home, I prepare squid in various ways, when I feel lazy, I shallow fry it, which is the simplest way. Sometimes when I feel less lazy its squid masala or I fry it with coconut and ginger, which is the recipe I am about to share here. It has a very gingery flavor with a coconut masala. This tastes great with rice. 

Squid - 1/2 kg, cleaned and cut into rings or strips
Kudampuli - 2 pieces
Turmeric - 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
Shallots - 8-10, peeled and crushed
Grated coconut, crushed lightly - 1 cup
Jeera (cumin seeds) - 1/4 tsp (to be crushed with the coconut)
Ginger, grated - 1/4 cup
Garlic - 2 cloves, crushed
Green chillis - 4-5, (or as per your spice tolerance) crushed
Coconut oil - 2 tbsp
Curry leaves - A few

1. Cook the squid with the kudampuli, turmeric, salt and 1/4 cup water for about 10 minutes or till the squid turns whitish from opaque, on medium heat. By this time the squid would have released its juices too. 

2. Add the shallots, and cook till the water has almost completely evaporated. Add the coconut-jeera mixture, ginger, garlic and green chillis. Sauté for about 5 minutes.

3. Add the curry leaves and coconut oil, and sauté for another 5-10 minutes and the squid is ready to be served.

Its quite a simple preparation, having a distinctive flavor of the ginger. 


Tablespoon/Teaspoon - Milliliters:
1 tbsp = 15 ml
1/2 tbsp = 7.5 ml
1 tsp = 5 ml
1/2 tsp = 2.5 ml

Cup - Milliliters:
1 cup = 250 ml
1/2 cup = 125 ml
1/3 cup = 80 ml
1/4 cup = 60 ml

Ounce (Oz) - Pound:
1 = 1/16
2 = 1/8
4 = 1/4
5 = 1/3
8 = 1/2
11 = 2/3
12 = 3/4
16 = 1   
32 = 2

Other conversions:
3 tsp = 1 tbsp
4 tbsp = ¼ cup
16 tbsp = 1 cup
2 cups = 1 pint
2 pints = 1 quart
4 quarts = 1 gallon
8 oz = 1 cup
1 pint = 2 cups = 1/2 quart
1 gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints
1 pound = 16 oz = 453 grams
1 quart = 2 pints = 4 cups = 1/4 gallon
1 gram = .0353 oz
1 pinch = less than 1/8 tsp
1 dash = less than 1/8 tsp
1 oz = 6 tsp = 29.6 ml = 28.3 gram

Water/Liquid measurement conversions:
1 lb = 2 cups
1 oz = 2 tbsp
1tbsp = .5 oz = 15 g
1tsp = .17 oz = 5 g

Measurement terms explained:

Heap pile:  As much ingredient as will stay on measuring device.
Lightly packed:  Lightly press ingredient, only enough to remove air pockets.
Firmly packed:  Tightly press as much of ingredient, as will fit into the measure.

Other measurement conversions:

Bread 1 slice = 1/4 cup (50 ml) dry = 1/2 cup (125 ml) soft crumbs
Butter 1 stick = 1/2 cup = 110 grams
Cheese 2 oz (50 g) grated = 1/2 cup (125 ml)
Cheese 1 lb (500 g) = 4 to 5 cups (1 L to 1.25 L) grated
Chocolate 1 square = 1/4 cup (50 ml) grated
Cocoa 4 cups (1 L) = 1 lb (500 g)
Cottage cheese 1 lb (500 g) = 2 cups (500 ml)
1 = 3 tbsp or 2 oz
1 yolk = 1 tbsp or 1 oz
1 white = 2 tbsp
1 cup = 8-10 eggs
Flour: 1 pound = 3 1/2 cups
Gelatin: 1 envelope (1 tbsp) will gel 2 cups = (500 ml) liquid
Herbs: 1 tbsp fresh = 1 teaspoon dried
   1 lemon = 2 tbsp (25 ml) rind and 3 tbsp (50 ml) juice
   1 tsp (5 ml) grated rind = 1/2 tsp (2 ml) lemon extract
Marshmallows: 8 oz (250 g) = 32 large = 3 1/4 cups (800 ml) mini
Onion: 1 medium 3” diameter = 1 1/4 cups chopped
Orange: 1 orange = 2 tbsp (25 ml) rind and 1/2 cup (125 ml) juice
Pasta: 1 lb dried or fresh pasta serves 4 as a main course
Raisins: 3 cups (750 ml) = 1 lb (500 g)
Rice: 1 cup + 2 cups water = 3 cups cooked rice
Sugar: 1 pound = 2 1/4 cups
Yeast: 1 envelope dry granular yeast = 1 tbsp (15 ml)

Baking pan dimensions and volume:

11x7x2 - 6 cups
13x9x2 - 14 cups
9x9x1.5 - 8 cups
9x9x2 - 10 cups
8x8x1.5 - 6 cups
8x8x2 - 8 cups
8x1.5 - 4 cups
8x2 - 6 cups
9x1.5 - 6 cups
9x2 - 8 cups


Freezer Life:

Bacon and sausage:  1 to 2 months

Egg whites or egg substitutes:  12 months

Gravy, meat or poultry:  2 to 3 months

Ham, hotdogs and lunchmeats:  1 to 2 months

Meat, uncooked roasts:  4 to 12 months

Meat, uncooked steaks or chops: 4 to 12 months

Meat, uncooked ground:  3 to 4 months

Meat, cooked:  2 to 3 months

Poultry, uncooked whole:  12 months

Poultry, uncooked parts:  9 months

Poultry, uncooked giblets:  3 to 4 months

Poultry, cooked:  4 months

Soups and stews:  2 to 3 months

Wild game, uncooked:  8 to 12 months

General Tips:
             At altitudes over 3500 feet:

Bake at 25° higher; 20% more water; 5% more flour; 20% less time.

Safety tips:

Grease fire: 
Do not use water.  Smother with a pan lid or use a fire extinguisher. Baking soda works, but it takes a lot and is usually too slow to get at. If clothing catches stop, drop and roll. Call 911 if necessary.

Deep fat fryers:
Never allow water or any other liquid but cooking oil come in contact with hot oil or else it may instantly turn into steam and splatter hot oil.

Always lift the lid of a boiling pot far side first.

Hot pot/pan:
Always leave a hot pad on a hot lid as a warning to others. Never leave handle hanging over edge, especially if children are around.

Cooking time and guidelines for meats/egg/corn:


Place a finger against the base of your thumb. Compare firmness of steak to firmness of thumb base.  Touch your thumb to your:
Tip of index finger = Rare
Middle finger = Medium rare
Ring finger = Medium
Pinky = Well done

Beef/lamb roast:

Preheat oven to 425°F. Roast for 30 minutes at 425°F. Reduce to 325°F and cook as follows:
Rare 9 min per pound.
Medium 14 minutes per pound. 
Well-done 18 minutes per pound.
Remove from oven and rest for 20-30 min before slicing.  Meat thermometer should read 120°F+ for rare, 130°F+ for medium rare, 145°F+ for medium, 155-165°F for well done.

Pork roast:

Preheat oven to 425°F. Roast for 30 minutes at 425°F. Reduce to 325°F and continue for 23 minutes per pound. Juice is clear when done. Remove and rest 20-30 minutes before slicing. Meat thermometer should read at least 145°F.

Chicken roast:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Roast for 20 minutes at 400°F. Reduce to 350°F and continue for 45 minutes (small chicken) to 70 minutes (large chicken). Juice is clear when done. Remove and rest 20 minutes before slicing.  Meat thermometer should read at least 165°F.

Egg Boiling:

Hard boiled 13 minutes
Creamy yolk 7 minutes
Runny yolk 5 minutes


Corn on cob: Drop in boiling water and boil 6 minutes.

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Recipe Index

English breakfast
Vellayappam (Lace rimmed rice pancakes)
Pancakes with Maple syrup 
Sausage rolls

Meat, Poultry and Fish
Prawn Roast
Koondhal Peera (Squid fried with ginger and grated coconut)
Chicken Piralen
Malabar Chicken Biriyani
Chicken Sausage Rice
Chicken with crushed red chillis
Chicken in green gravy
Naadan kozhi varattiyathe / Country Style Chicken Fry
Malabar Chicken Curry
Vellarikka unakkachemmeen curry
Chemmeen manga muringakai curry / Prawn in raw mango and drumstick curry
Malabar Crab Curry
Fish Molee
Kallu shaap meen curry / Toddy shop fish curry
Grandma's fish curry
Quilon shark curry
Coorgi Pandhi Curry / Coorg Pork curry
Pork Fry
Malabar Mutton Stew
Ayala Varuthathe - Mackerel fry, Malabar style

Baby Corn Manchurian
Mochakottai Sambhar
Tabbouleh (A Lebanese salad)
Koorkka fryKarnataka style greens curry... Soppu saaru
Varutharacha Sambhar (Kerala style sambhar)
Vendakka Pachadi
Kayi curry, raw plantain slices cooked in coconut milk gravy
Brinjal fry / Enna kathri

Black forest cake or Black forest gateau
Corn flour Halva
Chocolate Mud Cake
Apple pie
Caramel Pudding
Raspberry cheesecake
Orange soufflé

Arabian pulpy grape juice
Mango Milkshake
Banana Cream

Pickles, Chutneys 'n JamsTomato Jam
Gongura Pickle
Onion chutney
Biriyani Chutney
Soy chilly vinegar sauce