My ideal day consists of walking around NYC, eating oysters, going to museums to see great quantities of art and then finishing with an incredible meal. This is precisely what I did with my family during our trip last month. My boys were fine until about hour 3 at the Met, when they just wanted to leave to grab a hot dog and run wild. They were fed up with all the talk of brush strokes, juxtapositions, impressionists and cubists. Yeah, it was a stretch for them, but I figure someday they will appreciate me for it, or not? We grabbed them a snack to take the edge off and then headed to dinner. I was so excited for this meal because devi is the restaurant owned by my dear friend Suvir and his food always brings me joy. I was also thrilled to be sharing the evening with my family, including my mother and my aunt and uncle. My aunt Sally’s mother grew up in India and had introduced me to Indian cuisine when I was a kid, in fact, Sally introduced me to most foods when I was a kid. I knew she would fall quickly in love with devi.
(picture of Suvir by Charlie Burd, picture of devi by Ben Fink)
I met Suvir several years ago at a pastry conference hosted at the CIA. Suvir was one of the presenters. He talked about blending more flavors of the world into the palate of American desserts. He was confident Americans want to experience flavors beyond vanilla and chocolate, and I whole heartedly agree with him. His food at the conference was intense, fresh and clean. You could taste every spice and ingredient. It was unlike any other Indian food I’d ever eaten. I was in awe and have been ever since. He has become a mentor, a brother and a dear friend to me. His skills go way beyond the kitchen. He and his partner Charlie have established a farm where they raise animals and run the American Masala empire. They design kitchen accessories, write cookbooks and Suvir is on a team at Harvard to educate people on how to eat a healthier diet. Now you see why I am in awe. But, the reason I fell in love with this chef was only partly because of his food, it is also his generosity and heart. He and Charlie give back to their community and to society as a whole. They are the epitome of good people!
More about our meal at devi, a Sticky Toffee Cake with Nut Brittle Ice Cream recipe:
(pictures of food at devi by Ben Fink)
Here is a sampling of the meal we ate at devi. By the time we got to the second course my 11 year old son leaned over to me and said “Mom, I’m sorry I was so fussy at the museum, this is really fun!” The power of really good food. We sat and ate for more than 3 hours. The staff was incredible, the wines were thoughtfully matched and the atmosphere is both glamourous and comfortable. When the lamb chops (bottom left) came to the table my 9 year old declared that “they are cooked to perfection!” He ended up with a pile of bones on his plate as he talked everyone at the table into giving him their chops. Clever kid.
(pictures of devi desserts by Ben Fink)
The pastry chef sent out a sampling of every dessert on the menu, a gesture of deep understanding of what would make me happy. When my boys not-so- discretely devoured a couple without me getting a chance to try them, our waiter promptly brought more. I tried to protest, but then was seduced by the mango cheesecake and instantly cleaned the plate. The coconut-lemongrass sorbet was so lovely and fresh that I could have eaten a pint. We were all happy to point of laughter and tears at what a memorable evening it was. An experience everyone should have.
You can find an updated recipe for sticky toffee-date cake in my cookbook Zoë Bakes Cakes.
Sticky Toffee Cake and Nut Brittle Ice Cream
inspired by American Masala by Suvir Saran
This is a cake that I recently have fallen in love with and have tried almost every version from here to Australia. A cake that is most often called a pudding. The cake is made pudding-like by adding sweet sticky dates to it, then a sweet toffee sauce is poured over the top, which seeps in. This version in honor of American Masala has fresh ginger and other spices just as Suvir inspired me to do the first time we met.
8 ounces dates
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup cake flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons rum or brandy
1 teaspoon molasses
Nut Brittle for Ice Cream:
3 cups raw nuts (chopped or whole depending on the size) – peanuts, slivered almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios, or walnuts)
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon cornsyrup
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Vanilla Ice Cream
To make the cake:
Grease an 8 x 8-inch baking pan (or 18 muffin cups) generously with butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In a small pot bring the dates and water to a boil, turn the heat down, add the baking soda and simmer for 5 minutes.
Pour the dates into the bowl of a food processor, add the sugar and blend. Add the eggs and combine. Add the fresh ginger and vanilla and pulse to combine.
While the machine is running slowly add the melted butter.
Dump the date mixture into a large mixing bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients together and then add them to the date mixture, only mix until combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes (muffin cup version should be checked after 20 minutes) or until tester comes out clean.
While the cake is baking make the Toffee Sauce: Heat the butter, sugar, cream, rum and salt in a medium sauce pan and simmer until the sugar is disolved.
Poke holes all over the cake with a skewer and pour half the hot syrup over the hot cake. Return to the oven for about 3 minutes.
To make the Brittle: Heat the sugar, water, and cornsyrup in a large sauce pan over high heat. Allow it to boil untouched until it starts to turn amber in color. At this point watch it carefully. Stir the caramel so it doesn’t burn, it tends to caramelize unevenly. Once it is a nice dark caramel color (it may even start to smoke slightly) add the nuts and baking soda and stir. The mixture will foam when the baking soda is added.
Pour the brittle onto a silpat and quickly spread it out. Cool completely. Can be made days ahead and kept in an air tight container.
Once you are ready to make the ice cream break up some of the brittle in a mortar and pestle. This one was designed by Suvir.
Fold the brittle into your vanilla ice cream.
Top the cake with ice cream and pour on a bit more of the sauce.
Last weeks winners of the Williams-Sonoma gift cards are Natalie and UT! Congratulations and let me know what crazy kitchen equipment you end up getting!