Thursday, September 10, 2015

Birthday Cake

Whenever there is a birthday in the family, I try to bake the cake myself if I can.

I had mine last week and I really wanted to use the vanilla beans I brought back from a recent trip to Sri Lanka in some way.

So I decided on a classic chocolate cake and a luscious vanilla bean frosting, with a cheeky Nutella cheesecake filling to sandwich the cake layers together.

I might add that it disappeared very quickly.

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting

Chocolate Cake
6 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¼ cups + 2 tablespoons caster sugar
3 eggs
plain flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
2½ teaspoons baking powder
a pinch of salt
¾ cup milk
1½ teaspoons instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water

Vanilla Bean Frosting
4 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean

Nutella Cheesecake Filling
150g cream cheese
⅓ cup Nutella

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  2. Grease and line three 7-inch round baking tins, and set aside.
  3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, add butter and sugar and beat with an electric beater for about 3 minutes, until the mixture light and creamy.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Add a third of the flour mixture, and mix with the electric beater on low speed. Add half the milk and the coffee, and mix well. Add another third of the flour mixture, and the remaining milk, and mix well. Add the remaining flour.
  7. Use a spatula to stir the batter and make sure you get right to the bottom of the bowl.
  8. Divide the batter equally between the three prepared baking tins, and bake for 15 to 20 mins.
  9. Remove the cakes from the tins and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. To make the frosting: Add the butter to a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high for 1 to 2 minutes, until it is light and creamy. Add the icing sugar slowly, a tablespoon at a time, and mix with the beater on low. When all the icing sugar has been added, spilt the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the frosting mixture and beat on high for 3 to 5 minutes, until you have a light smooth frosting. (If it is too thick, add milk half a teaspoon at a time, until you have the desired consistency.)
  11. To make the filling: Add the cream cheese to a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the Nutella and beat until well combined. Refrigerate until needed.
  12. To assemble: Trim the tops of the cakes so that they are level. Place the first layer on a cake stand or serving plate and spread half the Nutella cheesecake mixture on it. Place the second layer on top of that, and spread the remaining filling mixture on it. Place the third cake layer on top, and cover the cake with the vanilla bean frosting.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Peach Lemonade

In my 3+ years of blogging, I've only posted two drink recipes.

This one is my fourth this month!

A refreshing drink is an essential part of the Iftar spread and it was fun this year to try some new drink recipes. Peaches are my favourite fruit so a peach lemonade experiment was bound to happen and I'm happy to report it was a huge success. This lemonade is packed with fresh fruity flavour and though it might a bit of extra work, it beats any packaged drink mix out there.

This post might just be my favourite because not only was the lemonade delicious, but just look at those sunflowers!

Peach Lemonade
Serves 4 to 6


2 large peaches (approx. 450g)
4 cups water
⅓ to ½ cup lemon juice
½ to ¾ cup simple syrup

To serve:
½ peach, cut into four wedges or thinly sliced

  1. Peel the peaches, remove the stones, and roughly chop them up.
  2. Add the peaches to a blender with 1 cup water and blend until smooth.
  3. Add the peach puree, 3 cups water, ⅓ cup lemon juice and ½ cup simple syrup to a large jug and stir.
  4. Taste and add more lemon juice and/or simple syrup if you want.
  5. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
  6. Serve with ice and peach wedges/slices.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Watermelon Breeze

When this drink popped up on my Pinterest feed a few days ago, I wanted to make it immediately. It sounded like the quintessential summer drink and it turned out to to be the perfect way to rehydrate after a particularly trying day of fasting.

I scooped out some melon balls the night before and put them in the freezer to use along with regular ice.

Watermelon Breeze


3 cups chopped/cubed watermelon
1 cup coconut water
juice of 1 large lemon (2 to 3 tablespoons)
a pinch of salt

To serve:
Frozen melon balls (optional)
Mint leaves
  1. Add the watermelon to a blender and blend until smooth. Strain to remove any seeds.
  2. Add the watermelon juice to a jug. Add coconut water, lemon juice, and salt. Stir to mix.
  3. Serve with (frozen) melon balls, ice, and mint leaves.
Serves 4 to 6.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Chamus (apricot juice)

(This recipe was first published in

I recently wrote a review for on a really great dhaba here in Islamabad, called Maantu Gul Kitchen. I had heard about it from a few friends and thought it might be interesting to write about. Then I actually went, and after sampling their amazing parathas, I have become a huge fan.

During the course of writing up the review I met and spoke with the owner and head chef, Aslam Pervez, multiple times. Aslam has included quite a few items from Hunza (where he is from) on the Maantu Gul Kitchen menu, and he was kind enough to share one of those recipes with me.

Chamus is a drink made with dried apricots and, although they're in season right now, this is the perfect way to enjoy apricot juice all year round!

Click here to read the full article.

Chamus (Apricot Juice)


500g dried apricots
1 litre boiling water
  1. In a large glass or ceramic bowl, add the apricots and pour the boiling water over them. Cover the bowl and leave the apricots to soak for 1 hour.
  2. After an hour has passed, squash and mash the apricots with your hands to blend them into the water. (You may use a potato masher for this step but, according to Aslam, the juice is tastier when this is done by hand.) You should end up with a thick pulpy orange-coloured mixture.
  3. Strain the apricot mixture. Store the strained liquid in the refrigerator until the juice is thoroughly chilled.
The juice is quite thick, so you can thin it out a bit by adding water, if you prefer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mango Lemonade

When life give you mangoes...

... make mango lemonade!

When Ramzaan and mango season coincide, what better way to put those mangoes to use than by brightening up your Iftaar lemonade with a dose of fresh mango puree. This refreshing drink is bursting with flavour and is the perfect thing to rehydrate yourself with after a long day of fasting.

Mango Lemonade
Serves 8 to 10


For simple syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
(Makes approx. 1¼ to 1½ cups syrup. You will need  ½ to ¾ cup for this recipe.)

For mango puree:
2 large mangoes
1 cup water

½ to ¾ cup lemon juice
6 cups water
½ teaspoon salt

Ice, to serve

  1. Make the simple syrup: In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for about 3 minutes, remove from heat and cool.
  2. Peel and chop the mangoes. Add them to a blender with 1 cup water and puree.
  3. In a large jug, add ½ cup lemon juice, 6 cups water, mango puree and about ½ cup simple syrup.
  4. Taste and add more syrup if necessary. If you prefer a more tart lemonade, add more lemon juice.
  5. Add ice and serve.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pear and Chocolate Loaf

When I spotted some beautiful pears at the fruit shop a few days ago, this loaf was the first thing that popped into my head.

This is one of my favourite recipes and comes from one of my favourite blogs, Poires au Chocolat (French for 'pears and chocolate'). The blog is actually named after this recipe as it was the first one Emma (the woman behind Poires) created from scratch. Emma no longer actively blogs but the website still functions as a recipe book of sorts.

What I love about Emma's recipes is that it is evident in every step of baking (and eating) that she put in time, effort, and care into making sure the recipe is just right. Pears and chocolate are a classic made-for-each-other combination and they come together perfectly here.

I baked this loaf twice within the past five days and both cakes are finished, so that should tell you something about how good it is.

Click here for the recipe.

Note: The only thing I did differently was to bake the loaf at 350⁰F (180⁰C) for 45 to 50 minutes.

Friday, June 12, 2015

No-bake Cheesecake

I recently started writing for and, while it has been a lot of extra work, I'm enjoying the process. 

don't keep a regular schedule for this blog. I've tried to in the past but struggled to keep up with it. So I like that this project has forced me to make time to cook and bake, and to write on a regular basis.

This is the very first piece I wrote and was published a couple of weeks ago. I am posting the recipe here but to view the original article in full, click here.

The recipe was born from a desire to create a simple dessert recipe that didn't require the use of an oven. It's a basic cheesecake but requires only four ingredients. I topped mine with lemon curd but you could use whatever topping you like.

No-bake Cheesecake.


150g Digestive biscuits (about 10 biscuits)
75 g butter, softened or melted

400g cream cheese (see note below)
½ cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence (optional)

  1. Prepare the cake tin (or Pyrex/ceramic serving dish) by greasing it with butter or oil.
  2. Add the biscuits to a food processor and process until you have fine crumbs.
  3. Add the butter and process again until the butter is evenly mixed into the biscuit crumbs and the mixture begins to clump. (You can do this without a food processor as well; add the biscuits to a plastic/Ziploc bag and crush them with a rolling pin, then mix in the butter with a spoon.)
  4. Tip the biscuit mixture into your prepared tin/dish and press evenly into the base, using your fingertips or the back of a spoon.
  5. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and icing sugar. Beat with an electric mixer, or by hand, just until the mixture is smooth and no lumps remain. This should only take about a minute with an electric mixer; don’t overbeat.
  6. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the biscuit base.
  7. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill overnight, or at least 4 hours.
  8. If you have made the cheesecake in a cake tin, then remove it from the tin, add whatever topping(s) you’d like and return to the refrigerator until it is time to serve.
  9. Twenty to 30 minutes before serving, place the cheesecake in the freezer to firm up. This will make slicing it easier.

Note: I use cream cheese spread for most recipes calling for cream cheese, because the box packages are mostly impossible to get hold of in Pakistan. I use either Philadelphia 200g tubs or Happy Cow 150g tubs