Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider, who sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
Perhaps you have heard of this little childhood rhyme, and perhaps, like me at the ripe old age of three, you had no idea what sort of food “curds and whey” was. I recall asking one of my grammar-school teachers. Her reply? Cottage cheese… And ever since then I’ve felt compelled to check the air around me for dangling arachnids as I devour a bowlful. But, there is evidence that the dish referred to in the rhyme is the English sweet known as junket. Either way, milk is curdled. Curds, and whey…
Perhaps, like me, you are well-aware that there are many other curdled things made by adding a souring agent to milk or cream. Yoghurt, sour cream, kefir (the production of all three of these demand that edible bacterial cultures be introduced which devour lactose, producing an acid which forms curds) and all cheeses (made by compressing these curds or those formed by introducing an acid directly) would be impossible without this initial phase of “curds and whey”.
Perhaps, like me, you have decided to be a bit more self-reliant by producing some of these food-stuffs at home and wonder, when all is said and done, what to do with all of the leftover whey. Well, for one, it can be added to the sauce or gravy of many dishes. In the Punju dish mattar panir, for instance, it is often added to the tomato-laden gravy where it adds a subtle, sweet-sour sparkle. It can be used to thin saucy legume dishes during the final simmering (adding any acidic substance at an earlier stage of cooking inhibits the softening of legumes); certainly it can be added in small amounts to many soups. It is, after all, protein-rich, and often used as a nutrition-boosting additive in many pre-packaged foods.
But perhaps, like me, after a session of panir-making or yoghurt-straining, you have no immediate way of using all of this whey that sits there so pale, so golden, so lovely in a container on your counter-top. You hate to discard it, so you freeze it, thinking that you will find ways of using it in the near future. And then, over time, you realize that you have so many containers that are taking up so much room… but it’s too much of a shame to just let them all thaw to pour down the drain. Sacrilege, you think. You arrive at a cerebral sticking-point.
And then, maybe, a thought strikes you. You could save space, save energy and dehydrate it…
And, truly, it isn’t very difficult to turn all of that whey into a concentrated powder. Whey powder, to use at whim without thawing, to keep in a handy place in the kitchen, to add to gravies, soups, stews, sweet drinks, almost anything. And here is how to do that:
1)Take your saved quantity of whey and bring it to a boil, lower the heat a bit to maintain a gentle boil, and stir it occasionally as it reduces.
2)It will eventually become a thick, caramel-coloured goop, so be sure to stir more frequently as it nears this stage. I threw in a quick handful of salt while it was reducing; perhaps this is unnecessary, but by doing this I felt reassured that the resultant powder would be spoil-proof. When it is rather thick and deep-golden in colour, remove it from the heat and pour this onto a waxed-paper or parchment-paper-lined baking tray. Allow to cool and set.
3)I then broke this candy-like slab roughly into pieces about 1″-2″ wide, and allowed it to dry thoroughly for a few weeks. I forgot about these pieces for some time actually. The edges and surface of these pieces will become pale as it dries.
4)I then took these hard pieces, gently smashed them in a mortar-and-pestle, and then sifted the powder from this. The larger “pebbles” that remained in the sieve I then placed in an electric grinder and pulverised, then poured through the sieve. You could, instead, continue the pulverising in the mortar-and-pestle if you wish. The resultant near-fine powder I poured into a jar and screwed on the cap. Whey powder dissolves in water, so a good soaking makes the cleaning of any utensils used simple enough, and what was once many quarts now fits within my hands. Much easier to use now, perhaps…
[Miss Muffet illustration at introduction by William Wallace Denslow. Public domain, and used freely with that knowledge here]
Shilpa of Aayi’s Recipes is continually making me envious by her beautiful parade of cakes, and no wonder: she has a keen interest in cakes and cake-decorating, and has greatly expanded her talents by studying the subject hands-on with local masters. Despite her self-criticism of the final outcomes, she manages to astound me- and the rest of her readers- with her exquisite attention to detail and gorgeous design. Each time I view the latest one, I find myself wide-eyed in disbelief that she has just begun this hobby!
Let me be honest with all of you: I have never attempted to develop any skills with complicated frosting/icing work; instead, I seem to prefer finding myself in awe at weddings, birthdays, and other occasions when one of these beauties stands before me- silent and breath-taking to behold- and for now, that’s fine with me! I’m far more interested in churning out edible ladoos and burfis to tell you the truth… So, you’ll have to excuse this little attempt with its rather messy frosting, and slightly-off-center arrangement of nuts…
This is a beet cake. Apparantly, any recipe for carrot cake can be made with beets instead (is it just me or are there other people contemplating gajar halvah at the moment?), and I do find myself wondering if turnips, rutabagas and radishes would work as well- maybe not. What I do know is that for several years I have been searching for the perfect carrot cake recipe: one that would recall the good old days before the low-fat revolution of the 1980’s took place, one that is like the many slices that I’ve purchased and didn’t regret spending $3-4 dollars on, one that is sinfully-rich, moist, and flavourful, one that screams out: “chilly nights are upon us in Wisconsin”, “mulled cider or wine is in order”, and “tonight would be a great night to sit near the burning hearth”… But really, despite these very subjective images that I tend to connect to a fork-ful, this cake is enjoyable at at any time of the year, and in any weather. And thus far, this particular recipe is the best I’ve found, and yes…I would pay $3.50 for a slice!
I have changed a few things with the original recipe. Mostly the spicing. (I also reserve the nuts for the filling and exterior and I greatly-disliked the icing recipe that accompanied the original cake recipe and thus found a much better one elsewhere to use). There are some of you that dislike cinnamon-flavoured sweets, but I assure you: if I am able to acquire a taste for cinnamon-infused savories, then it stands to reason that… well….what can I say? I played with the original author/creator’s spicing, so you can too! (But Pel is still thinking that his formula beats all others!)
Beet or Carrot Cake
(inspired by this one from Burt Wolf’s Menu Cookbook)
3 1/2-4 C shreds of peeled beets or carrots
1 C brown sugar, firmly-packed
1 C ghee (hee-hee… ghee makes this cake most decadent with a rich, browned-butter flavour, but vegetable oil (soybean, corn, canola, peanut) is the more usual choice. Don’t reduce it: this is divided by at least 20 slices of cake- so splurge a little!)
1 t vanilla extract
3 1/2 t ground cinnamon (I use a mix of true/Ceylon and cassia/Chinese cinnamon)
2 T chopped crystallized/candied”stem” ginger
1/4 t ground cardamom
1/8 t ground cloves
1/16 t ground nutmeg or mace
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1 C raisins, soaked in hot water for awhile and then chopped*
1 1/2 C all-purpose flour/maida (I suppose half-ata would be just fine)
1 1/2 C raw walnuts, pecans or hickory-nuts halves (I used pecans this time, but walnuts are most traditional)
ghee/oil for roasting nuts and greasing pan(s)
Icing-frosting (recipe below)
0)Pre-heat oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease and line the bottoms of 2 8″-9″ round cake-pans, or one 9″ spring-form pan with parchment-paper (use the bottom of the pan as a guide and cut to fit). Grease the top of the paper as well. I’ve tried it without the use of the paper: the cake tends to stick!
1)Roast the nuts in ghee/oil over med-low flame, stirring constantly until nicely-roasted and fragrant. Remove and drain. Reserve intact halves for decorating. Coarsely-chop the remainder for filling.
2)Mix the beet or carrot shreds with the sugar in a large mixing bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
3)Add the ghee and mix well.
4)Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.
5)Add the vanilla, spices, baking soda and powder and mix thoroughly. Add the raisins.
6)Add the flour in four parts, mixing just well-enough between each to blend. I try not to exceed 100 strokes of the spoon total.
7)Pour the batter into the pan or pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (about 30 minutes for two 9″ pans, or 40-45 minutes for one 9″). Place on a rack and allow to cool completely.
8)Meanwhile, prepare the cream-cheese frosting/icing:
1/2 C butter, at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 pound of confectioner’s/powdered sugar (plus more if needed)
A)Cream (beat well until fluffy and pale) the butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla; add sugar little-by-little until stiff enough to hold a peak. (If you add too much, a sprinkle of milk will cure it)
9)Remove the cake(s) from the pan(s) and paper. If you baked a single, thick cake: carefully remove it from the pan and paper; slice it horozontally in half to form two layers/rounds.
10)Place one layer on a cake plate. Spread about 1/3 of the icing over the top. Sprinkle the chopped nuts over this and gently press them into the icing.
11)Place the second layer over the first. Press this layer gently, but firmly atop the other. Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate the surface with the remaining nut-halves.
12)Chill for a few hours if you wish (I prefer it chilled), slice and serve with hot tea or coffee.
*I’ve also seen and eaten cakes that contain fresh/canned pineapple and/or coconut- very good. Other dried fruits might be nice too- instead of raisins- like apricots, prunes, etc.)
**P.S. Today is my birthday. I’m really quite old now… I would like to extend warm gratitude to my dear friend, June, for not only allowing me to photograph parts of her kitchen, but for the wonderful time I had at a dinner recently had there.)