Say Cheese! … Goan Pao Bread goes Cheddar

039It’s good to be back where it all began, here at ‘The Cook, The Baker and The Clay Boy Maker’.

I’m the laid back sort. I think I’ve said it before. Frankly, I tend to say it every now and then just in case someone out there hasn’t heard it yet and mistakes me for one of those hyperactive, eager-beaver sorts. But then, it’s what I received as part of my heritage, being a good Goan that is (read: person from the beautiful, sunny, beach-kissed land of swaying palm trees known as Goa or “amche Goi” as we like to refer to the motherland, or simply, “our Goa”). The only difference between me and the local ‘poder’ (pronounced po-dere) or baker from Goa is that I would most definitely swap the ubiquitous bottle of fiery Feni that they swig down without batting an eye or twitching a muscle, for dainty sips of a good Merlot or Reisling.

But then, I did pick up a bottle of Feni the last time I visited Goa, only because the bottle was ceramic and had that lovely old-fashioned look to it, and because it would make a nice addition to the pots and bottles sitting in my little balcony garden, probably with a nice money plant growing out of it. The only problem is I haven’t got down to drinking the Feni yet. Perhaps I shouldn’t talk about drinking, given that it’s Lent and the very least I can do is not talk about alcohol even though I did have a glass of wine recently. But then so did my priest at mass.  

So back to the good old pao which we Goans so love and cannot do without, that Goan Christians in particular have come to be named after it. So we’re referred to as ‘Macs’ by all and sundry, which comes from the Konkani “maka pao di re” or “give me bread”.

Pao is nothing more that a pillowy soft and fluffy, pull apart bread. In the old days when I was very young and Goa was on the family annual holiday list., toddy (sap which is tapped from palm trees) was used to ferment the dough and give it that lovely aroma and flavour which is missing from the pao you get in the market today. I haven’t used it in my recipe either but I decided to elevate the humble pao in my own way and used a lavish sprinkling of Sharp Cheddar both in the dough and on top of the bread just before baking.

Flavour??? Yup!!! There was loads of it.

017So here’s the list of ingredients –

3 cups AP Flour (+ extra for dusting etc)

2 tsps active dry yeast

1/2 cup tepid water (+ extra if required to form a smooth and elastic dough)

1/2 cup milk

1tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1/4 cup Evoo (+ extra to line your bowl etc)

1 cup grated sharp Cheddar (+ extra for grating on top after brushing the loaves with milk)

2 tbsps full cream milk for brushing the loaves

Make sure you prove the yeast for 10 mins in the water along with the teaspoon of sugar. Add the frothy yeast mix to the flour to which you’ve added in the salt. Add in the milk and knead the dough well for at least 12 – 15 minutes. Leave it to prove in a dry place for at least 2 hours. Once the dough has more than doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and knead it lightly. Roll it out and sprinkle on the grated cheese, bringing the dough over in the folding motion. Sprinkle over the balance cheese, ensuring that the dough has been evenly dotted with cheese throughout. Shape into even sized balls and either place on a prepared baking tray or in a baking dish. about an inch to an inch and a half apart. Cover and leave the loaves of pao to prove again for at;least another hour to an hour and a half.

Preheat your oven for at least 20 – 30 minutes at 220º C. Once the dough has doubled or trebled in size, brush the tops with milk and grate on some more cheese, as liberally or sparingly as you like. You could also do an egg-wash instead on the milk, but then the cheese gives the top of the pao such a lovely golden hue when baked, that the egg-wash seems quite unnecessary.

Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes… allow them to cool in the pan for a couple of minutes…

020021… before turning the loaves out onto a cooling rack for an additional 5 to 7 minutes…

024… and go pao crazy.

Cut into it and slather on some butter. Or just tear it apart and dunk glorious fragrant, warm chunks of luscious cheddar pao bread into your favourite gravy or curry. Believe me, it does go with everything.

037Enjoy!

If Life is a Roller-Coaster I’m taking the Slow Train

Life’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride the last couple of months and I hate roller coasters. I can’t even ride a Ferris wheel (giant wheel) without being bound and gagged and pinned into it… And then I’ve wanted a dog for ages, but I’m way too much of a nomad to keep one unless he or she has been house-trained and is as much of a nomad as I am… or as my friend Deepa very generously called me today, ‘a free spirit’.

So Yeah! I’m looking for a free-spirited pooch who’ll tag along on my journeying through life. Four legged please!

But then I realise that there are no constants in life… Anicca, the Pali word for impermanence being the foundation of all things. Everything arises to pass… But fortunately there are a few things that are more regular than others, and that serve to enrich life, mine at any rate. Among them… Food and Art. They’re essentials, things I can’t live without, sustenance of the body and of the senses. They are soul things, even if you don’t believe in the soul… And here I am, raised Catholic, and a Vipassana meditator, following the teachings of the Buddha, juggling the two with what has now turned into practised ease, but wasn’t always that way. So you’ll forgive the contradictions of word and thought that creep up, if any, and not debate or argue with them… for they are mine, and I don’t see them as such. I choose and hope to take the good out of everything, of the things that fulfil, enrich and make the Heart go YAY!

I started cooking at the age of eleven, not because I had to, but because the kitchen fascinated me, with its aromas, and everything that went on there to bring before you that beautifully steaming or cold plate of food. And then you tucked in… Elbows off the table!

My fondest food memories come from my grandmother’s kitchen in Goa. From the maids drawing water from the well outside the house, laughing and giggling as they went about their work, to that mile-long kitchen with huge earthen pots simmering on gigantic wood fires. And we ate from the time we woke up until we slept. Breakfast, the juice and fruit break, the mid-morning snack of rice conjee with water pickles or the spicier miscut, followed a couple of hours later by lunch, then tea, followed by soup at seven, then dinner at eight-thirty or nine, and finally to wrap things up, dessert… Everything else merely worked around those meal times like fillers. Life was good… and you didn’t get fat or fall ill. There had to be something in the air or was it the water?

And then there was the store room, dark and mysterious, the walls caked with mud to keep everything at an optimum temperature. There was no electricity in Goa in those days, at least not in the villages, which meant no refrigerators, no air-conditioning and obviously no fans, except for those hand-fans that helped you work up a sweat… and obviously no electric lights. So you either carried a candle, a Petromax lamp or a flash-light to see your way around in the dark. We were way too tiny for the first two, so the flash-light it was for us, and we were Blyton’s Famous Five or rather two at first, my brother and I, and then three, when my sister came along, exploring the cavernous maze of Nana’s epicurean treasures that lay within that space.

The real treat were the sweet makers who came in to make the famous dosh or gram sweet, and the coconut sweet called katle-gaus (oops!) made of strands of tender coconut cooked till translucent, coated in powdered sugar and placed in a clump on squares of pastel coloured paper..green, pink and yellow and allowed to dry. They sat in the store room, those huge sweaty women, their sarees hitched up to their thighs, in the glow on the Petromax lamps that burned as bright as they could, creating monstrous shadows of them on the walls as they stirred away at those huge pots of simmering molten liquid sweetness, singing or swearing in Konkanni I didn’t know which, and swigging from the tiny shot glasses of Feni that kept getting refilled as soon as they were downed. It’s little wonder those sweets tasted so good.

Life will always be a roller-coaster… But on the back of all those delightful food memories, I’m taking the slow train.