For those of you who don’t know, I’m not just a Spice Scribe, but a complete Cocoa Nut to boot. So show me any edible that cleverly combines my loves for Indian food and chocolate, and you’ve found my ‘A-chillies’ heel. And now, I’m using my favourite fare to help others find their feet, rustling up a recipe for my favourite charity.
A few years ago, I found Find Your Feet, and fell head over heels for the tiny team’s determination, drive, and dedication to their cause. Finding that the charity’s annual Curry For Change campaign uses spice to entice supporters didn’t hurt, either.
Using the distinctive ‘curry culture’ that Britain has proudly almost adopted as its official second cuisine is a canny strategy. Purists can argue the inauthenticity of Brindian cuisine until the cows come home; but the unarguable fact is that there’s simply nothing like a ‘curry night’ for uniting the nation.
‘Curry For Change’ means eating well in a host of top Indian restaurants across London; having a merry old time cooking up a spicy supper at home for friends; and ultimately improving the life of each individual in the rural village communities that are partnered with Find Your Feet.
And this year, for the first time, it also involved Find Your Feet fans like yours truly rolling up our sleeves to create a dish both Indian-inspired and truly showstopping. To get the show on the road, we all received a big fat food parcel of Natco ingredients. The sole stipulation? To use three in the recipe. Beyond that, the world was our uttappam.
I suspected that creating ‘Curry’ For Change would be the convention. But I also fancied changing it up with chocolate. At the same time, I was determined to steer well clear of Iceland-ic territory by adding an ill-advised ‘chocolate chicken curry’ to my recipe remit. Chucking a cheap chunk of choc in a chicken curry clearly wouldn’t work.
Intertwining Indian-inspired ingredients with top-notch chocolate, on the other hand, was something worth working on. The notion is not new; Devnaa, Indie Ices, Duke of Delhi and The Chocolatier have all paved the way for the pairing, putting Willy Wonka to shame with their more-wonderful-than-weird confections.
And it was high time for The Cocoa-Nut-ty Spice Scribe to join their offbeat army. Armed with ingredients and thinking cap both, I hit the kitchen. Gram flour says ‘laddoos’ to every one of my sweet teeth, and indeed I’ve dunked a fair few of the home-made besan balls in dark chocolate in my time. But this time, I was aiming higher…
So besan, say ‘hiya’ to a bag of Bombay Mix. Not so unusual, when you consider that gram flour is the base for noodle-like ‘sev’ – a constituent part of many kinds of ‘chevdo’ (the collective term for India’s crispy, crunchy snack mixes). But I wasn’t planning to stand around extruding my own noodles. Nope, I was gonna use my very own noodle to create something more surprising.
I’ve often said how much the biscuit flavour of besan laddoos reminds me of Digestives. As I digested this comparison, the germ of an idea emerged. Why not use roasted besan and ghee as an Indian-inspired ‘buttery biscuit base’ to make even pud-loving MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace weak at the knees? Jaggery would stand in for sugar, and then I’d bring in a little Bombay…
Bombay MIX, that is. Bashed to bits in a bag a la biscuits for a cheesecake base, perhaps…. ooh, CHEESECAKE. A vast number of Indian sweets are based on cheese curd, especially from the East coast; whilst yogurt is strained and sweetened to make shrikhand; or indeed, the steamed Bengali sweet, bhapa doi.
And these days, you’ll even come across chocolate versions of the beloved Bengali ‘cheese fudge’, sandesh. Clearly, I was onto a winner. What else is big in Bengal? My eye alighted on a bottle of mustard oil – an ingredient oft-considered the very elixir of life; or at least, of the Bengali kitchen. Its compelling sweet-spicy flavour is utterly addictive – and now, it was utterly going to be added to my dish.
Fooling around with a bag of phool makhana, a fair few of those popped lotus seeds that I’d crisply roasted ended up drowning in a bowl of melted chocolate. And, after popping a fair few of the chocolate-coated popcorn-like pieces in my mouth, I decided that the accidental invention might make a rather jazzy garnish for my half-conceived cheesecake.
By now I felt a bit like a hapless cookery show contestant having a meltdown over a mystery box. BUT I WAS INFLICTING IT ON MYSELF. Breathe, love – there’s no John Torode breathing down your neck. As I gazed gormlessly at the drip, drip, drip of whey weeping out of the yogurt I scoff by the bathtub-full, I had my Eureka moment. Were I actually in the bathtub, I’d have done a full-on Archimedes.
Instead, and thankfully fully-clothed, I ran not through the streets, but to the cupboard to extract my equipment. I shook a sieveful of besan and a handful of desiccated coconut into a pan of melted ghee, stirring and sampling til the mixture turned toasty. After a quick nut-n-raisin extraction, a bowl of Bombay Mix was blitzed and mixed with a judicious amount of jaggery.
Those two marvellous mixtures were combined and compacted to form a crunchy crust. Whilst it set firm, I set to the task of beating that thick hung yogurt (henceforth called ‘curd’) until silky-smooth as I melted dark chocolate, cocoa powder, mustard oil and jaggery into a hot mess. The twain met; I made a further introduction to a handful of raisins and chopped Balti peanuts, and hoped they’d all get on.
Then I got my bottom out and smeared the lot over it… no sniggering, thank you; I merely and clearly mean the bottom of my cheesecake. You wrong’un. Right. A brief chill, then topping time. This bad boy’s crowning glory? Those choc-coated phool makhana and a birrov Bombay Mix.
I love it. I hope you will too, but if not, I’m happy to have your helping…
If you want to do the same, click here to find out how.
The Spice Scribe’s Bombay Bad Boy
The most oddly-excellent, Indian-inspired chocolate cheesecake you’d (n)ever imagine…
Serves 8 people like me; possibly up to 12 regular non-gluttons.
To gild the lily, using the seeds of India’s national flower – the lotus:
- Handful Natco phool makhana (puffed lotus seeds)
- mustard oil, a drizzle
- 30g dark chocolate
For the base:
- 100g Bombay Mix
- 2 tbsp powdered jaggery
- 2 tbsp Natco shredded coconut
- 100g Natco gram flour (besan), sieved
- 50g ghee, melted
For the filling:
- 300g good-quality dark chocolate
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 30ml mustard oil
- 50g powdered jaggery
- Sea salt
- 1kg full-fat yogurt, strained through cheesecloth overnight to yield 500g hung curd
- 100g Natco coconut milk powder
- 50g Natco Balti peanuts, chopped
- 50g raisins
- Handful of Bombay Mix
- Choc-coated phool makhana (see ‘To gild the lily’)
To gild the lily:
- Over a low flame, heat a little mustard oil in a pan.
- Throw in the phool makhana and toss to coat in the oil.
- Roast, stirring occasionally, ’til the seeds turn crisp and crunchy.
- Dip the roasted phool makhana in the melted dark chocolate.
- Allow the coating to set at room temperature and reserve ’til ready.
For the base:
- First things first, line a 9”-ish tin (Springform for preference) with greaseproof paper.
- If your chosen Bombay Mix includes peanuts and raisins, pick’ em out and add to those you’re using in the filling. (Tedious, I know. Tough.)
- In a spice grinder or with the end of a rolling pin, pulverize the rest of the Bombay Mix to a coarse powder, keeping it nice’n’textured.
- Mix in the jaggery and shredded coconut.
- Put the sieved gram flour in a non-stick vessel set over a low flame.
- Roast for at least 5 minutes, stirring, until the gram flour turns pinkish, loses the raw smell and takes on a toasty aroma (taste to check – trust me, you do NOT want to ruin this pud with raw besan).
- When the gram flour mixture tastes biscuity enough to enjoy, tip in the Bombay Mix-jaggery-coconut powder
- Melt the ghee, add to the mixture, and stir well to combine.
- Press this marvellous mixture into the base of your lined tin.
- Shove it in the fridge to chill out whilst you get hot and bothered with the filling.
For the filling:
- Chop or grate the chocolate and place in a heatproof vessel along with the cocoa powder, mustard oil, jaggery and a pinch of sea salt.
- Melt together over a low heat or in short bursts in the microwave, stirring til you have a silky homogenous mix with a mirror-like shine.
- Stop admiring your reflection in the choc and leave it to cool slightly whilst you beat the hung curd until smooth.
- In a small bowl, mix the coconut milk powder with just enough water to yield a double cream consistency – slowly does it!
- Combine this coconut milk mixture with the curd completely, then blend with that gorgeous glossy melted chocolate mixture.
- Stir in the chopped Balti peanuts (plus any you plucked from the Bombay Mix) and raisins.
- Take a taste…. A TASTE, I said, not a great big dollop.
To assemble & serve:
- Turn the mixture onto the prepared chilled base, smooth the top, and chill until set.
- Artfully strew the surface with a handful of Bombay Mix and some choc-coated phool makhana before serving up in big bad boy-sized slabs.