When I landed home late this afternoon after finishing with my Zesty Salads workshop at a Crafts studio in IndiraNagar, I was in a happy-tired mental space. I'd made up my mind to completely vegetate for the rest of the day, to compensate for the 4.30 am alarm I had set for myself. But invariably, the days I'm too tired after a workshop, I'm so buzzed from the thrill of a session gone well that I'm completely unable to unwind and do-nothing. I end up throwing myself into more and more activities, only to collapse like a rag doll at night.
While I was pottering around in the kitchen this evening, waiting for the oven timer to buzz, a sudden clap of thunder, followed by many more, interrupted the regular evening sounds. As a predictable epilogue to the thunder, the rains lashed against the windows, drenching the laundry mercilessly. The narrow parapet was no protection against this kind of crazy rain. I ran out to rescue the laundry, hit by a shower of huge cold raindrops and popped back in to the warmth of the kitchen, where the comforting aromas of spices enveloped me.
The idea of baking a pumpkin cake came about result of over-ordering pumpkin over the last weekend and it needed to be used up today at any cost. Pumpkin being a soft and bland vegetable, it always pairs well with strong and bold flavours - like nutmeg, cinnamon and also, chai masala which is a mix of these two and a lot many other spices. A chai lover like me needs no excuse to sit hugging a large mug of tea, while watching the rains lash on the other side of the window. But the Chai Masala in the ASA Spices kit that our IFBM sponsor Foodhall gifted us, is in another league altogether. Each little bottle ensconces the magic of organic, hand-pounded spices and one can feel good about the fact that these are fair-trade too.
It's amazing how warm fragrances and flavours instill a sense of comfort on a cold day or at the end of a tiring day. This easy pumpkin and chocolate tea cake is one such way to infuse some warmth into a cold day. You can even cut down a step and omit the chocolate and allow the whole cake be a lovely golden colour, but the slight marbling adds to the appeal of this simple homemade cake. Use good quality fresh spices / spice powders for best results. Walnuts add to the flavour of their cake, and also provide an enjoyable crunch.
1.5 cups all purpose flour (maida)*
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg (use the finest grater you have)
1 tsp cinnamon powder (I use Keya brand)
1 tsp chai masala (I used ASA brand asaspice.com)
3 tbsp soft butter
3/4 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup butter milk (add 1 tsp vinegar to 1/2 cup cold milk-let it stand for 2 mins)
3/4 cup packed pumpkin puree (instructions at the end)
2 tbsp cocoa powder or drinking chocolate or Nesquick
3-4 tbsp milk
Handful of chopped walnuts
One loaf tin, greased with butter and floured
Preheat oven at 180°C.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, chai masala. Using a fine grater, grate roughly 1/2 tsp of nutmeg into this. You can use readymade nutmeg powder, but freshly grated nutmeg will provide a far more intense aroma.
Cream together the butter and sugar. Whisk in butter milk. If buttermilk is cold, the butter will solidify somewhat, but this is okay.
In a blender/mixer, blend together the pumpkin puree, creamed sugar, and buttermilk mix.
Add this to the dry ingredients. Bring together gently with a spatula. Don't overmix.
Pour 2/3rd of this mix into the prepared loaf tin.
To the remaining batter, add the cocoa or Nesquick, thin it with 3 tbsp of milk until it is of cake batter consistency.
Add this over the top of the pumpkin batter layer. With a toothpick or chopstick inserted right into the cake batter, swirl the batter, poking it into the bottom layer in multiple places. This is what gives the marbling effect.
Sprinkle walnuts and gently press them down.
Place in the middle rack of a preheated oven to bake for 35-40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
After 2-3 minutes, carefully loosen the edges and invert over a wire rack, where you can let it cool for 30 minutes or so, before slicing.
Serve warm with coffee or tea.
*you can use 1.5 cups self raising flour instead of flour+baking powder+ baking soda +salt in the recipe
How to make pumpkin puree at home
Take 500 grams pumpkin, with the seeds scraped out. Peel and dice. In a small pressure cooker, place the diced pumpkin, add 1/2 cup water. After one whistle, keep on sim for 10 minute. Once cooker is cool enough to open, remove the pieces and mash with a wooden spoon or a potato masher. If you don't have / use a pressure cooker, boil on stove top with 1/2 cup water on a low heat, keeping it covered, until it yields to a mush when pressed with the back of a spoon.
You can make this in advance and keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
I'm sure the pumpkin puree can be easily replaced by a carrot or beetroot puree for a similar, beautiful coloured tea cake. Vegans can use soy milk instead of regular milk.