Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Another Year of Baking

Somehow the clock seems to tick at a faster pace in the cyberworld than real life. It has already been two years since I started this blog. In fact, I'm two days behind my 2nd Blog Anniversary ;')

Looking through the photos of my homemade bread, cakes, cookies and tarts, I realised that I have made lots of stuff over the past 12 months. Without this blog, I would never ever be able to document the joy and pleasure that I have experienced over the year.

I have never known that home baking can bring so much nice feelings throughout the entire process. I treasure the peaceful and serene moments when I go about the preparation...be it whisking a bowl of egg whites...or working hard on a lump of wet and sticky dough. I enjoy each 'aroma therapy' session when the cake is baking in the oven while I went about doing my other daunting chores. What a bliss to be wrapped around with the sweet scent emitting from the oven...be it coming from the chocolate, banana, vanilla or lavender...but of course, there's always the occasional burning smell which would send me dashing into the kitchen ;'p

It brings me immense satisfaction whenever the cake came out nice and fluffy...or that loaf of bread turn out a perfect square when I slide open the lid of the pullman tin. Not forgetting the excitement when I unmold a chiffon cake; and the overwhelming stress of having to swipe the palette knife over and over and over again to make the frosting appear as smooth as possible on a birthday cake. I guess the most rewarding part of the whole process is the great pleasure it brings when I see my loved ones wolfing down my 'labour of love'.

Even failures or kitchen disasters of any kind, have taught me several good lessons...although I have to confess, it takes more than a day for me to get over the great sense of disappointment from any failed attempts.


video


To mark the occasion, I have compiled my baking repertoire into a little slide show. I find this the best way to condense a selection of some of the better cakes & bakes that I have done over the past year...into a one minute video clip.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has dropped by this blog, especially to all those who have taken the time to leave behind their encouraging words and lovely comments. I also appreciate readers who have asked me questions...I try my best knowledge to answer them...and it is through the process of finding out the right answers, it has widen my knowledge and insights into the world of baking. Since it is the season of giving, I have decided to send a little gift to a fellow blogger pal. It is a small way to show my appreciation, and I hope I will be able to do the same thing next year.

And here's to another wonderful year of baking and blogging!

Happy New Year!!!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

My White Christmas!

I spent a quiet morning on Christmas eve hopping from one blog to another, reading how others are celebrating this festive seasons; and admiring gorgeous cakes and cookies created by my favourite food bloggers. This is so different from how I had spent the many past Christmas eve mornings. In the past, a typical Christmas eve morning would be spent attending Christmas parties in the office, sending e-cards and well wishes to friends and colleagues while listening to the never-ending Christmas songs over the small radio on my desk. The afternoons would then be spent grabbing last minute food items at the supermarket. Our Christmas eve dinners were mainly off-the-shelve food such as frozen pizzas, ready-cooked roast chicken and canned soup. Even though I have been cooking for my family for the past few years, last night's dinner didn't go beyond the usual meatball pasta, oven roast chicken, Waldorf salad and I still depended on Campbell's clam chowder to complete the meal ;')

This is the third year that I have spent the Christmas eve afternoon making a cake for Christmas day. Ever since the first time we spent a wonderful white Christmas several years ago, I have always been dreaming of spending the next Christmas in snow. Since there is zero chance of a white Christmas here, I created my own winter wonderland!


Unlike the first log cake I made two years ago, this cake was made by rolling up layers of chocolate sponge cake to create a 'stump'. I should have cut the sheet of sponge cake into 4 strips instead of 3; as I ended up with a rather tall cake :( I whisked a cup of non-dairy whipping cream and divided it into two portions. For the filling, instead of using melted chocolate, I experimented by folding in two tablespoons of nutella spread to one portion of the whipped cream. It was a good choice as I could smell the sweet aroma from the nutella while I was mixing it into the cream. Rolling the strips of sponge layer was not easy...there were cracks here and there. However, I wasn't too concerned about it since the entire cake would be covered with more whipped cream. Even the frosting was easily accomplished, there's no need to worry about making the surface very smooth...that's how forgiving a log cake is! I piped the 'rings' of the tree with a tiny teaspoon of nutella, some sprinklings of chocolate shavings (by grating a chocolate coated espresso bean) and a few 're-cycled' ornaments completed the picture. With the artificial snow (thanks to Flickr), my white Christmas really came true!

The sponge layer was soft and not dry. The nutella cream filling was really amazing!! This cake is so delicious that my husband kept asking for more.


Here's a slice of cake that I would love to share with all my readers and fellow blogger pals. Thanks for all the well wishes and lovely comments you have left in this blog. May you have a wonderful Christmas with your love ones...be it snowy, sunny or rainy! Merry Christmas!


Christmas Log Cake

Ingredients:

70g cake flour
15g cocoa powder
3 eggs, room temperature
90g caster sugar
2 tablespoons fresh milk

filling:
300ml non-dairy whipping cream
3 tablespoons nutella spread


Method:
  1. Sift cake flour and cocoa powder, set aside. Line a 9" x 12" (23 x 30cm) Swiss roll tray with parchment paper, set aside. Pre-heat oven to 180 degC.
  2. With an electric mixer, whisk eggs and sugar on HIGH speed for about 5 to 7 mins, until the batter double in volume and is ribbon-like (the batter should leave a ribbon-like texture when the beater is lifted up). Turn to LOW speed and whisk for another 1 to 2 mins. Whisking at low speed helps to stabilise the air bubbles in the batter.
  3. Add sifted flour mixture into the batter in 3 separate addition. With each addition, use a spatula, gently fold in the flour until well blended. Take care not to deflate the batter.
  4. Add the milk, fold with spatula until well blended.
  5. Pour the batter into the tray. Spread and smooth out the batter evenly. Bake for 10~15 mins*, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  6. Remove tray from oven. Remove sponge layer from tray (with parchment paper still in tack), place it in a plastic bag**. Tie the plastic bag and leave it to cool. (Instead of using a plastic bag, I cover the sponge layer with another Swiss roll tray.)
  7. Prepare filling: whisk non-dairy whipping cream in a mixing bowl till stiff peak. Remove half of the whipped cream and set aside (for decorating the cake surface). For the remaining half, add in nutella spread, mix with a spatula and blend well.
  8. When the sponge layer is cooled, remove the parchment paper and turn the sponge layer with the 'skin' side up. Slice the sponge layer into 3 equal long strips (cut along the long side).
  9. Spread some nutella filling on the first piece and roll up. Place the roll vertically on a serving plate or cake board. Spread some filling on the second piece, use it to join the first piece and continue to roll it. Do the same for the third piece.
  10. Spread the cake surface with the whipped cream. Use the tines of a fork to draw lines on the surface to create a tree bark effect. Pipe some nutella spread on the top of the log cake and sprinkle with some chocolate shavings. Decorate with ornaments as desired.
NOTE:
*Do not over bake the sponge layer, otherwise it will turn dry and may crack upon rolling.
** The reason for doing so is to keep the sponge layer moist for easy rolling.

Recipe source: 点心达人, 轻松学 / 小川智美著

Monday, 22 December 2008

Happy Birthday

I knitted this pair of booties for my younger child while he was still save inside my tummy. Earlier this year, I found them hidden in a huge pile of baby clothing while I was sorting through the various items to give to my newborn nephew. I guess I hardly let my child worn these booties as seven years have passed and yet they look as good as new! I was a little sad when I wasn't able to find the other pair that I made for my elder child :'(

While we went through a rather dramatic emergency cesarean section when the elder one was born, the birth of my younger son was rather 'uneventful', although his was also a cesarean birth. I remembered when he was 3 days overdue I was still hoping for a natural birth. I had this thought that I would be a 'lesser mother' if my child is not able to arrive to this world via the 'proper channel'. My doctor had advised me not to wait any longer than the next 3 days, and he hinted that I would probably have to face a double whammy if I insisted to wait for a natural birth.Those words have finally convinced me that I should go for another cesarean section. We decided to wait till the ultimatum date for the operation plus it was considered a 'good' date, since it is so easy to remember 21-12-2001! It was also such good timing as the three of us were able to bring home on Christmas day what turns out to be our fountain of joy. Since that day, he has given us so much joy and laughter.


It was a couple of weeks ago when we were at their cousins' place, my boy pointed to a Domo Kun flush toy and told me he would like me to bake him a Domo Kun cake. You may not be familiar with this hilarious-looking creature, even for me (I do keep myself very up to date with the latest cartoon characters and toys!) I have only seen it on tv once. It was a short animation and was aired to fill the gaps between programmes. If you are interested, you can read more about this weired looking creature here.

Fortunately, Domo has got very simple features...two popping eyes and a humongous mouth with sharp pointed teeth. Since it would be my very first attempt to make a 3-D cake, I told my boy I would give it a try, although he better be prepared that if things don't work out, we would have to go for plan B...ie to get those ready-made cake from the nearby bakery shop.


Since I do not have a large pan, I made the cake by baking two separate sheets of sponge layer. I drew a template on a baking paper and used it as a guide to cut out the sponge cake. The sponge layers were then filled with whipping cream and peach slices (according to the boy's request!). The surface was coated with a thin layer of chocolate ganache and I took two chocolate-coated coffee beans to make the eyes. I melted some white chocolate and added a drop of food colouring to form the mouth. The teeth were simply cut out from a bar of white chocolates.

This must be the ugliest and yet most adorable cake I have ever made!


It is no surprise that my boy received a Domo Kun flush toy on his birthday. I compared it with the cake I made, and I realised that I have made the teeth too huge and the entire mouth should have been sunken. Anyway, my boy was very happy with the result, to him it looked perfect...and the cake grabbed the most paparazzi attention during the party!


The boy had such a wonderful time...he was so tired and felt asleep in my arms while giving me his goodnite hug ;)

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Cake of the week

I wonder whether it is because of the holiday seasons, I have been making cakes after cakes instead of the usual bread and buns which I much prefer. It could also due to the fact that we are not at home most of the time. Even if we were to spend the entire day at home, I would be caught up doing thousand and one thing...except bread making! I guess I have to wait till the new school term before I can spend some quiet moments sinking my fingers into a lump of pillowy soft bread dough.


Here's my bake for the past week...a Walnut Crumble Cake. This is something which I have made once, and have since been wanting to bake again and again, and yet, every time, I would put the thought aside. According to my standard, this cake uses way too much butter! Yet, it was such a delicious cake that I have to fight off my constant craving for it! Lady luck came, when a close one came visiting. I jumped on the opportunity and baked the cake right away and merrily gave away half of it!


The only difference from the earlier version is that I managed to use walnuts for the crumbles. Besides the chopped and toasted walnuts, the crumbles was made by mixing some melted butter, instant coffee power and crushed digestive biscuits. The crumbles looks so promising just by looking at the list of ingredients, don't you think so?


I didn't regret making this simple and yet very delicious cake again. The cake looks dense but it is surprisingly very light and moist. It has got very fine crumbs and I simply adore its soft, smooth and velvety texture. The layers of nutty and crunchy crumbles sandwiched between the cake batter created a lovely contrast...making one slice of it such an enjoyable treat :)

Incidentally, I was very delighted to know that the photo of this cake was voted 3rd place on this flickr group for the best pictures of the week :D


While I was checking my inbox two days ago, I was very happy to hear that my blog posting of the Santa Clause cake I made last year, has been featured in the photo gallery of decorative Christmas food under Channel 4's food website. Channel 4 is a UK tv channel which transmits across the whole of UK. It is a great honour to be featured in their website!!


Another good news I received on the same day, was an email from the Savannah Children's Choir. I have earlier agreed to let this organisation use my photo on their website and poster for one of their fund raising events: "Let Them Eat Cake!" I am so pleased to hear that the event has helped the choir raised over a thousand dollars. Although I did not contribute in anyway to the success of the event, still I feel so honoured to be able to be 'involved' in one way or another.

I hope I don't sound like I am bragging too much here!! It has never ever occurred to me that this humble little blog of mine could reach so far beyond our little sunny island. It's really amazing how blogging has bring a world much much closer! All those wonderful food blogs and professional food websites out there have certainly widen my horizon, especially for a culinary idiot like me ;')

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A Chocolate Lover's Cake

This is a very much delayed post...it should be up since last week, and yet I could only squeeze in some time this morning to sit down to work on it. It's so ironical that I seems to be more busy during the school holidays. Before the start of the holidays, I even put together a 'master plan' on the list of things I need to get done during these 6 weeks. There is this long list of things to-bake; a schedule of outings for the kids; and an ultimate ambitious one: a long list of spring-cleaning chores! So far I could only manage to complete the top 3 tasks on each list...and we are now left with 3 more weeks before the beginning of the new year!

Anyway, back to what I am suppose to blog about...


a chocolate birthday cake I made for my two friends. Their birthdays are only 3 days apart...and it has already became a yearly affair for the past 8 years or so that we have a get-together during this time of the year. This time we gathered at my place for dinner, and one of the birthday gals had requested for a chocolate cake. I must thank her for having such faith in me that I could come up with something decent for their birthdays.


To play save, I went back to the same chocolate gateau recipe, since I had already attempted that cake twice. As usual, I frosted the cake with chocolate ganache and covered the sides with lots of chocolate chips. It was a fool-proof and very easy cover-up job.


With some left over ganache, I piped...what else?! but the usual 'stars' for the border. I wonder when I would be able to pipe those beautiful 'shells' instead!


Since I know that my friends are chocolate lovers, I topped the cake with some Ferrero Rocher. I tell you, these rocher worked like magic...they turned an otherwise rather boring and plain cake into a much elegant piece. The outcome was a bittersweet, rich, dense and fudgy cake.

It was a great evening catching up with on another. Judging from the responses, the cake was well received by my guests. This is the kind of cake which I think any chocolate lover wouldn't be able to resist a slice ;)

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Matcha & Adzuki, Again

After making a few exchanges on making a Swiss roll with one of my blog visitors, You Fei, she got me interested to make a roll cake myself. Thanks You Fei!

With some left over adzuki red bean paste from my last bake, I decided to make a matcha and red bean roll.


It was many months ago when a blog visitor requested that I provide step-by-step photos to illustrate how to go about making a Swiss Roll. As much as I love to take photos along the way while I am making the cake, sometimes it is really not feasibly. First of all, I do not have a tripod to fix my camera, so I could only rely on my two extra pairs of of hands...which are somewhat not very reliable when it comes to taking clear photos! Since my boys were at home, I took the opportunity to get them to take video clips instead of photos while I go about making the sponge layer.

The following short video clip was taken by three different persons at different stages. The first part on whisking the egg mixture was done by me! Yes, I was holding the electric mixer on my right hand and taking the video with the camera on my right. Luckily, this movie maker software allows me to clip away unwanted frames! When I was folding the flour and butter, I got my younger boy to take the video. I can't use most of the video footage as half the time he was pointing the camera to the side of the mixing bowl! Fortunately, I did sense that he could be too short to get the full view of what was going on inside the mixing bowl, I tilted the bowl several times towards the camera lens. The last part on rolling up the sponge layer was taken by my elder boy. Although he took a pretty good video, I had to turned it into several photo frames instead. The reason was, my pair of hands look super super Ugly from the video!!! It was a horrendous sight! They looked worst than a pair of hands of an old granny...they were all wrinkled, rough, thick & fat, and overly tanned :'(

It took me great pain and hours just to crop away all the unwanted 'scenes' and frames...and I'm glad I am finally able to put together quite a decent looking video clip ;)


video


The other good thing about the software is that it allows me to 'Mute' the audio sound, otherwise you will be hearing lots of giggling, some nonsensical exchange of languages among the boys, and the constant "Is it done, is it done yet? When can I stop (taking the video)?!" and things like "Yummy! yummy!...mummy, mummy, I know what you are making! You are making muffins, right?! I can smell muffins!" ????!!!


I guess the greatest fear of making a Swiss roll is having it cracked all over when you are at the very last stage...that is, the rolling of the filled sponge layer. So far, I have attempted to make a roll cake for 5 to 6 times. I really have to count myself very lucky that most of the time, I managed to roll it up nicely, except for once or twice when there were some slight cracks here and there. I do not have any secrets to it, but I think it helps if one were to follow the recipe very closely. In fact I find that this applies to all kinds of cakes and breads. Since baking is a Science, it is thus very important to follow the instructions carefully and pay great attention to the little details. I do hope the attached video is able to give some 'insights' for those of you who are interested to make a roll cake. Happy baking and rolling!



Matcha & Adzuki Red Bean Roll

Ingredients:
3 eggs, bring to room temperature
65g sugar
80g cake flour
2 teaspoons matcha powder
20g unsalted butter, melted

Method:
  1. Sift cake flour, set aside. Line a 9" x 12" (23 x 30cm) Swiss roll tray with parchment paper, set aside. Pre-heat oven to 180 degC.
  2. With an electric mixer, whisk eggs and sugar on HIGH speed for about 5 to 7 mins, until the batter double in volume and is ribbon-like (the batter should leave a ribbon-like texture when the beater is lifted up). Turn to LOW speed and whisk for another 1 to 2 mins. Whisking at low speed helps to stabilise the air bubbles in the batter.
  3. Add sifted cake flour and matcha powder into the batter in 3 separate addition. With each addition, use a spatula, gently fold in the flour until well blended. Take care not to deflate the batter.
  4. Add the melted butter and fold with spatula until well blended.
  5. Pour the batter into the tray. Spread and smooth out the batter evenly. Bake for 10~15 mins*, until the surface turns golden browned or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  6. Remove tray from oven. Remove sponge layer from tray (with parchment paper still in tack), place it in a plastic bag**. Tie the plastic bag and leave it to cool. (Instead of using a plastic bag, I cover the sponge layer with another Swiss roll tray.)
  7. Upon cooling, remove the parchment paper, and turn the sponge layer with the 'skin' side down on a sheet of clean parchment paper. Spread with adzuki red bean paste(or any filling as desired) and roll up the sponge layer by lifting it up with the parchment paper. Place the rolled cake seam side down.
NOTE: *Do not over bake the sponge layer, otherwise it will turn dry and may crack upon rolling. ** The reason for doing so is to keep the sponge layer moist for easy rolling.

Recipe source: 点心达人, 轻松学 / 小川智美著

Friday, 28 November 2008

Matcha & Adzuki

I have a can of adzuki red bean paste sitting in my cupboard for quite sometime, I couldn't even remember when I have bought it. It was hidden underneath a pile of baking ingredients that I have accumulated over the past few months or even close to a year! Fortunately, it has not gone past the expiry date, and I took it out to make a Matcha & Red Bean Butter Cake almost right away.


The cake was made by 'customising' this same recipe for a low fat orange yogurt cake, simply by replacing the orange flavours with matcha powder and some red bean paste. Instead of using a loaf pan, I baked the cake in an 8" round pan. Although it had a big crack across the surface, it was a nicely domed cake. I took the sweet aroma of this matcha cake baking in the oven as a sign of guarantee that it would turn out lovely ;)


Just like bananas & chocolates or hazelnuts & chocolates...I would also consider matcha & adzuki red beans: a match from haven. The cake was wonderfully moist and the crumbs was soft and peppered with red beans...which moved it slightly to the sweeter side of my scale. The only thing that I wasn't quite happy with, was the colour of the crumb...the dark colour of the red bean paste had turned the cake to an awful green. I have to console myself with the saying 'we taste with our mouths and not with our eyes'.


To end this post, I will leave you with the recipe plus a sunshine smile that came with the cake...I hope like me, you'll have a great time baking at home :D






Matcha & Red Bean Butter Cake
Ingredients:
(makes one 20cm cake)

250g cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon matcha powder
70g butter, soften at room temperature
150g sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup (250ml) plain, non-fat yogurt
3 tablespoons red bean paste


Method:
  1. Preheat oven at 180 degC. Lightly grease the side of an 8" (20cm) pan with butter and dust it evenly with flour. Tap away any excess flour and line the base with parchment paper.
  2. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, green tea powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. With an electric mixer, beat butter for about 1 min. Gradually add in sugar and beat until light and creamy.
  4. Dribble in eggs gradually, about 1 tablespoon at a time, beat constantly for about 2 mins.
  5. With a spatula, fold in 1/3 of the flour mixture. Then, fold in 1/2 of the yogurt, followed by half of the remaining flour mixture. Fold in the remaining yogurt and then the rest of the flour mixture. Stir well after each addition.
  6. Stir in the red bean paste, mix well.
  7. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 35~45 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  8. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 5 mins. Unmold and cool completely.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Otah Buns

I love otah and I love bread.



I wonder why it took me so long to get down to make some otah buns. For those of you who are not familiar with this local savoury snack, otah is made by blending fish paste with a mixture of spices such as chillies, garlic, shallots, turmeric, lemon grass and coconut milk. Morsels of fish paste are then wrapped in coconut leaves and grilled over an open charcoal fire. (Here's a great photo of otahs on a grill and a typical 'mobile' otah stall.) The wonderful aroma of otah sizzling over the grill is unbelievable.


I made the dough by adapting the sweet buns recipe and out of convenience, I used off-the-shelf pre-cooked otah as fillings ;)


I steamed the pre-cooked otah and cut them into slices before wrapping it with the dough. On hind sight, I should have mashed the otah before using it as fillings. The bread turned out great, except that the otah was a tad too dry. It was the first time I tried this brand of pre-cooked otah, it was quite dense and it tasted almost like a chunk of fish cake :( I should have gone back to the usual brand which has got much softer texture and taste much better.


I had fun doodling on one of the photos...I thought the buns looked like little tortoises with their heads sticking out of their shells, ready for a race ;)



Otah Buns

Ingredients:
(make 9 buns)

150g bread flour
150g cake flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
125g water
1 egg
2 tablespoons caster sugar
50g butter, cut into small cubes

Method:
  1. Place all ingredients except the butter in the pan of the bread machine (according to the sequence as stated in the instruction manual of your bread machine). Select the Dough function of the bread machine and press start. After about 8mins of kneading add in the 50g of butter. Let the machine continue to knead the dough. After the kneading cycle has stopped (20mins), Stop and Restart the machine. Continue to let the machine knead for another 10mins. Leave the lid open while the machine is kneading.
  2. Stop the machine and remove dough from the bread pan. Shape the dough into a smooth round and place in a lightly greased mixing bowl. Cover bowl with cling wrap and let it rise till double in volume for about 60 ~ 90 mins.
  3. Remove dough and give a few light kneading on a lightly floured work surface. Press out the trapped air as your knead. Divide into 9 equal portions (about 60g each) and shape them into rounds. Cover with cling wrap, let the doughs rest for 10mins.
  4. Flatten each dough into a round disc and press out the trapped air. Wrap dough with otah fillings or any fillings as desired.
  5. Place doughs seams side down on a baking tray (lightly greased with oil or butter or lined with parchment paper). Space the dough well apart. Loosely cover with a damp cloth or cling wrap and let doughs proof for 45 ~ 60 mins or until double in size.
  6. Bake at preheated oven at 190 degC for about 15 mins or until the bread is golden brown all over. Remove from pan. Brush with melted butter if desired. Let cool on wire rack.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Banana & Chocolate Muffins

It was a weekday evening. While I was washing the dishes right after dinner, it occurred to me that I have not prepared anything for breakfast for the next day. There were no homemade cakes or bread and I would rather stay at home than to step out of the house to get a loaf of bread from the neighbourhood bakery shop, which is just a stone's throw away. The only way out was to bake something quick and easy. I guess nothing beats a batch of muffins when you are running short of time.


I checked the ingredients I have on hand and managed to match the list with those found in this recipe for a batch of Banana & Chocolate Muffins. The recipe calls for chopped plain chocolates, I replaced them with chocolate chips as I rather save the chocolates for baking a cake or to use it to make chocolate ganache. The recipe calls for self-raising flour, and since I didn't have that, I substituted it with a mixture of plain flour, baking powder and salt.

When I was all set to begin my baking session, my younger child came to the kitchen. When he saw me getting busy with the preparation of the ingredients, as usual, he offered to help me. Unlike his elder brother, he always doesn't seem to mind dropping whatever he was doing, just so he could have some fun playing with flour, butter and eggs. I got him to mash up the bananas while I measured the other ingredients. He found immense pleasure in adding, pouring ingredients into the mixing bowl and eventually stirring them, even if he was only allowed to give a few strokes. Without fail, he asked whether he could do the final mixing of the wet ingredients to the dry ones. Since he was so enthusiastic, I told him he could do all the stirring this time. While he was half way into the mixing, I thought I should capture the moment on video. I got him to pause for a second, while I dashed off to grab my camera.


video


Here's a very short video clip of him mixing the muffin batter...as the batter got more and more heavy for him to stir, I took over to finish up the job. In case you ask, it was my elder boy who taught me how to use Window's Movie Maker to do the editing of the video clip. Otherwise I wouldn't even know the existence of such a software.

As you can see from the video, I stopped mixing once the flour mixture disappeared into the batter. The batter was very thick and lumpy. To get very soft and fluffy muffins, it is very important not to over stir the mixture...this is especially so for recipes when the instruction calls for mixing the wet ingredients to the dry ones.


Very soon, we were rewarded with ten sweet-smelling, beautifully domed muffins. While the muffins were cooling off, my little one kept asking when he could eat the muffin. He had earlier devoured a banana and a bar of Kit Kat while the muffins were in the oven, and yet he couldn't wait to lay his hands on the muffins. Once I gave the go ahead, he sat down alone at the dinner table and enjoyed the freshly baked muffin he made.

The muffins tasted really delicious when they were fresh out of the oven. The texture was all moist and fluffy. I cut down on the amount of sugar and the sweetness was just right. The photos of the muffins were taken a day after, I think it didn't capture the soft and fluffy crumbs that well. Nevertheless, they tasted as good when served warm. This recipe is going to be a keeper.


Banana & Chocolate Muffins

Ingredients:
(makes 10 ~ 12 muffins)

275g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large bananas, about 450g
100g brown sugar (original recipe calls for 125g brown caster sugar)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
50ml semi-skimmed milk (I used low fat fresh milk)
75g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
50g chocolate chips

Method:
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180degC (350 degF). Line muffin pans with paper muffin cases.
  2. Sieve together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl. Mix in the chocolate chips. Set aside.
  3. Peel the bananas and mash with a fork in a bowl. Add in brown sugar, egg, milk and melted butter. Mix until well combined.
  4. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients. With a wooden spoon or a spatula, gently fold all the ingredients to form a wet batter. Stir gently, using only a few strokes and mix until the flour are incorporate into the batter. DO NOT Over mix. The batter should appear lumpy.
  5. Spoon batter into paper muffin cases. Bake for 20mins until muffins turn golden brown or a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  6. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or cold.
Recipe source: adapted from Good Housekeeping - Easy to Make! Cakes & Bakes.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Lemon Lavender Chiffon Cake

I am trying my best to use up the pack of dried lavender given to me by my cyberfriend vb, before it expires in a couple of months' time. I tried baking a lavender pound cake two weeks ago, but it didn't turn out well. The pound cake was a little dry...I suspect I have over baked it, so I won't be posting that recipe until I give it another attempt.

Here's another lavender cake I baked a few days ago, this time it's a lemon lavender chiffon cake.


I love taking pictures of a plain, whole chiffon cake...to me, it is the most photogenic 'model' I have 'worked with'. It looks good even without any frosting or decoration. Somehow, which ever angle I take, the images mostly turn out great. I like how gorgeous the golden crust looks from my view finder...and the hole in the centre, it creates a lot of 'depth' to it...a plain cake without the hole won't look as interesting.


Now, back to the making of this cake. I used a basic chiffon cake recipe and added in 1 teaspoon of dried lavender and some lemon zest. I didn't use too much lavender as I was concerned that the cake would smell like soap ;) Nevertheless, I would probably use up to two teaspoons the next time, as the scent from the lavender was too subtle, or it could be that I have already acquired the taste of lavender in my food :)


Once again, my oven was not performing well whenever I use it to bake a chiffon cake. Despite turning the knob to 190 degC to pre-heat the oven, it gradually dropped to 170 degC during the first 5~10mins, and then went down to 160 degC, refusing to budge even when i turned the knob up to 200 degC! The recommended temperature is 170 degC and so my cake was baked at 10 deg lower. Although it rose up quite high initially, it started to sink all the way down to the rim of the pan when the baking time was up :(


The cake was very very tender and soft. It was so delicate that I sub-consciously handled it with extra gentleness when slicing it. The texture is not as firm or 'springy' compared with the Earl Grey Chiffon cake I made previously. I much prefer that one, although this lavender version was pretty moist. I hope to try another flavour...green tea with red beans soon.


I have been tagged by CY over at Eat First, Diet Later. It's the '7 random facts about myself' meme. I am not sure whether you will find them interesting, but here's my list:

1. I have a driving license but I don't drive, or rather I CAN'T drive!
2. I write better in English but speak better Mandarin. Sometimes I will think in English but verbalise my thoughts in Mandarin, at other times I will think in Mandarin and write in English...isn't that confusing?!
3. I baked my first batch of brownies 8 years ago with a box of Pillsbury premix.
4. I have over 80 fridge magnets and my fridge is not that big ;')
5. I love to visit the Ikea store, I never leave the place without buying something.
6. The first time I stepped into an aircraft, I was on a flight to KL, Malaysia. I was fresh out from school and it was my first business trip, just a month into my first job. It was a Singapore Airlines flight...I guess I was rather excited during the entire 1 hr flight and yet I pretended to look cool ;)
7. Besides baking, I like to grow plants, although most of the time I ended up killing them. Currently, I have one young chili plant which I have grown from seeds, one sprig of rosemary grown from cuttings I brought all the way from the states, two lime seedlings, three pots of money plants, one aloe vera and two new pots of african violets.

I'm tagging the following 7 bloggers, I hope they have fun with this meme :D

1. Elinluv at Elinluv's Tibits Corner
2. Grace at Kitchen Corner
3. Jane at Passionate About Baking
4. MH at My Home Kitchen
5. Missy at Food Haven for the Obasans
6. Ovenhaven at Epicurean Escapism
7. Yuri at Yuri's Bake Journal

Here are the rules for tagging:
Link to my blog (tagger) on your blog.
Give seven facts about yourself.
Tag another seven bloggers by leaving a comment on their blogs and letting them know they were tagged and listing them (and their blogs) on your blog.



Lemon Lavender Chiffon Cake

Ingredients
(makes one 18cm cake)

Ingredients A:
3 egg yolks
20g caster sugar
60ml water
50ml vegetable oil
70g cake flour
3g baking powder
zest of 1 lemon (not included in the original recipe)
1 teaspoon of dried lavender (not included in the original recipe)

Ingredients B:
3 egg whites
40g caster sugar


Method:
  1. Sieve flour, baking powder together, set aside.
  2. Separate egg yolks/whites and bring to room temperature. (It is easier to separate eggs when they are cold.)
  3. Place egg yolks in a mixing bowl, add in sugar, in 3 separate additions and with a manual whisk, whisk till the mixture becomes very sticky and turn pale. (Test by lifting the whisk, once the batter is able to leave a ribbon-like trail behind, you are done. Another way to gauge: your arm should be very tired by now.)
  4. Drizzle in the water, whisking at the same time till the mixture is well combined. Repeat the same with the oil. Add in the lemon zest, mix well. Sieve over the flour mixture and whisk until flour mixture is fully incorporated into the batter.
  5. In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until mixture becomes frothy and foamy. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat on high speed until just before stiff peaks form* (after note: after several attempts at baking chiffon cakes, I learned that the whites should be beaten until just before stiff peaks form).
  6. Add the beaten egg white into the egg yolk batter in 3 separate additions, each time folding gently with a spatula until just blended. Fold in the dried lavender.
  7. Pour batter into a 18cm (7 inch) tube pan (do not grease the pan). Tap the pan lightly on a table top to get rid of any trapped air bubbles in the batter.
  8. Bake in pre-heated oven at 170 degC for 35 ~ 40mins or until the cake surface turns golden brown, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  9. Remove from the oven and invert the pan immediately. Let cool completely before unmould. To remove the cake from the pan, run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the pan and the center core. Release the cake and run the knife along the base of the pan to remove the cake. Dust with icing sugar if desired.
Recipe adapted from: 超爱精巧小甜点

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Multi-grain Loaf

While doing my grocery shopping at the supermarket, I chance upon a shelf packed with different types of premix flour for baking cakes and bread. Out of curiosity, I picked up a pack of mult-grain bread premix and studied the instructions on the back of the package. I was immediately sold by how easy and convenient this bread can be made with a bread machine. All you need to do is to add water, honey, yeast and the pre-mix flour into the bread machine, in 3 hours you can get a fresh loaf of nutritious bread packed with wheat germ and grains such as rye seeds, sunflower seeds, linseed and sesame seeds.

I wasted no time in trying out this premix flour. Instead of using the bread machine to do the work, I decided to make the bread by hand. First of all, it was a great morning, I felt energetic enough to work on my muscles and I always enjoy the therapeutic activity of sinking my fingers into a nice soft dough. I expected the weather to be sunny for the rest of the day, so it would be good to proof the dough under room temperature. Furthermore, without using the bread machine to bake the loaf, I have control over the final shape of the finished loaf.


I used only half the portion as we would have a problem finishing a bigger loaf before the bread turns stale. Contrary to what I have expected, the dough was not as dry as those European breads, such as a pizza dough. It took me longer to knead the dough. For the first 10 minutes or so, the dough was rather sticky, I refrained from adding any extra flour, fearing that it would affect the texture of the finished loaf. A dough scraper is a very handy tool when it comes to scrapping up the sticky mess from the table top. I worked hard on the dough for another 10 more minutes...stretching, folding, make a quarter turn, stretch again, fold again, turn again... repeating the same actions over and over again.

To my relief the dough became smoother and my hands slowly came clean from all those sticky mess. At that stage, the dough was still not fully developed, it was not elastic enough as it tore off easily when I try to pull it apart. I continued to knead the dough, working hard to develop the gluten in the flour, repeating the same actions as above. Once it no longer stuck to my table top, occasionally, I would lift up the dough, give it a flip and slab it hard on the table. It gives me sheer pleasure just to do that...maybe that's the most therapeutic part of kneading a dough, this exercise would certainly help to release any stress and strains in your mind.

After 30 minutes of kneading (the maximum time limit I set for myself for kneading Any bread dough), I was finally satisfied with the result. I left the dough to rise, and walk-through the same bread making rituals of knocking down the dough, shape and let it rest for 10 minutes before shaping it again and left if for the final proof before baking* it in my oven.


I shaped the dough into a longish loaf, and just before baking, I sprinkled some extra wholemeal flour (not included in the premix) on the crust, to give it a rustic appearance.


The bread crumbs were soft and not dense or chewy. I find that it tasted best, lightly toasted, before spreading generously with butter and kaya. Even my kids who hardly eat any whole grain breads didn't whine about it.


Although I am guilty of cooking off-the-shelf, I don't advocate to using any ready mix cake flour (the only exception is Betty Crocky's brownies premix), it is always better to bake from scratch. However, I think it does make sense to me, to use one of these multi-grain bread premix as I don't have to buy different types of grains and seeds separately, and saved the trouble of using them before they turn rancid. The downside of this premix is that there are other undesirable ingredients such as vegetable shortening, emulsifier (wonder what on earth that is?) included. In any case, I do belief as long as we cultivate the habit of eating everything in moderation, once in a while, out of convenience, I would rely on ready mix and off-the shelf food.

(*Note: I baked the loaf at 180 ~ 190 degC for about 25~30mins.)

Afternote: It was only after posting this up that I remembered I have posted a video clip of my younger boy kneading away about a year ago. It brings a smile to my face to watch the clip again...the way he tried to stretch and push the dough, and I love those ten little fingers. I am posting the clip here again if you have not seen it before. Do note that this is NOT a demo on how to go about kneading a dough ;)


video

Friday, 31 October 2008

Honey Buns

I am so glad I am now back to my baking routine.

The first recipe I picked up was none other than a bread recipe from a cookbook I bought recently.


It has been quite a long while since I last made any plain, soft buns. While the cookbook provides very clear instructions, with step-by-step photos on how to make the bread by hand, I relied on my bread machine to do the kneading. I am not sure whether I have made any mistake when measuring the ingredients, the dough was rather sticky when I removed it from the bread machine. It took me a few seconds to decide whether I should give it a few extra kneading by hand. I decided against it as I was in no mood to workout my biceps ;')

I left the dough to proof in the mixing bowl and hope that it would be easier to work with after the first rise. The dough was still a little sticky after 1.5hrs of proofing. Knowing that it would be difficult to handle a sticky dough, I dusted my table and my hands generously with flour before shaping them into buns. My younger boy came over and we had fun rolling the rounds on the table. Like me, he likes to play with the dough ;)


I usually prefer not to brush the finished dough with egg wash before baking, as I really don't like the final glossy look. Since this recipe calls for brushing with milk, I though I should give it a try. According to the recipe, the buns have to be baked at 220 degC. However, my oven temperature stabilised at only 200 degC. As a result, the baking time was about 15mins-20mins, slightly longer than the stated time of 13-15mins. I left the bread to bake in the oven and went off to do my chores. I have almost forgotten about it, fortunately, the sweet scent of honey and the heavenly aroma from freshly baked bread prompted me to check on it. By then, it was a little too late, the top surface was overly browned. I tried to rescue the bread by tenting it with a foil and left it to bake for another 5mins.


Other than the almost burnt top, the bread is a winner. The crumb was very soft and fluffy. These buns have got texture that almost resembles those super soft kaya buns we had a week ago at this YY Kafei Dian (YY Coffee Shop).


My kids couldn't wait to taste it and I had to keep telling them to wait for it too cool off, on top of that, they need to give me another 10mins to take a photo of it ;) The buns tasted really good, I will certainly make these again and again.


Ingredients
(makes 9 buns)

300g bread flour
4g (about 2/3 tsp) salt
4g (1 tsp) instant yeast
1 egg lightly beaten plus enough milk to make 200g
50g honey
30g unsalted butter


Method:
  1. Place all ingredients except the butter in the pan of the bread machine (according to the sequence as stated in the instruction manual of your bread machine). Select the Dough function of the bread machine and press start. After about 8mins of kneading (the ingredients should form a smooth dough by now, otherwise add in 1 tablespoon of bread flour if the mixture seems very wet), add in the 30g of butter. Let the machine continue to knead the dough. After the kneading cycle has stopped (20mins), Stop and Restart the machine. Continue to let the machine knead for another 10mins.
  2. Stop the machine and remove dough from the bread pan. Shape the dough into a smooth round and place in a lightly greased mixing bowl , cover bowl with cling wrap and let it rise till double in volume for about 60 ~ 90 mins.
  3. Remove dough and give a few light kneading on a lightly floured work surface. Press out the trapped air as your knead. Divide into 9 equal portions and shape them into rounds. Cover with cling wrap, let the doughs rest for 10mins.
  4. Flatten each dough into a round disc and press out the trapped air. Shape and roll into a smooth round ball.
  5. Place doughs seams side down on a 20cm by 20cm square baking tray (lightly greased with oil or butter or line it with parchment paper). Loosely cover with a damp cloth or cling wrap and let doughs proof for 45 ~ 60 mins or until double in size.
  6. When ready to bake, brush the surface of the dough with milk. Bake at preheated oven at 200 degC for about 15 ~ 20 mins until the bread is golden brown all over. Cover the surface with a sheet of aluminum foil if the surface browns too quickly. Remove from oven, unmold immediately and let cool on wire rack.
Recipe adapted from 简单又好做,小烤箱面包

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

from Waves to Forest to Floral

It was a public holiday yesterday, and since the school's exams were over, we couldn't wait to start the ball rolling for our list of outings scheduled for the coming school vacation. Top on our list is the Southern Ridges...a 9-kilometre trail spanning from the Mount Faber, Telok Blangah Hill, Kent Ridge Park before ending at the West Coast Park. I knew I wouldn't have the stamina to complete the entire length of the trail so we only took part of it which links the Henderson Waves to the HortPark.


This photo was taken at the Henderson Waves...a pedestrian bridge that connects the Mount Faber and the Telok Blangah Hill. This unique structure got its name from a series of undulating 'waves' which are made of curved steel “ribs” that rise over and under its wooden deck.


The bridge is 36 metres above Henderson Road and close to 70 metres above sea level, making it the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore.


The seven 'waves' along the bridge are meant to be shelters...but many kids, including mine, turned it into a slide instead. They had fun climbing up and sliding down the waves. I was expecting to spend a quite morning getting close to the nature, but to my greatest surprise, the place was flooded with throngs of enthusiastic crowds like us. It was as if we were walking along busy Orchard Road!

After the Henderson Waves, we continued our journey to the Forest Walk...which was indeed a very easy walk (if not for the crowd) along an elevated walkway through the forest of Telok Blangah Hill which was not accessable in the past.

Due to the never-ending stream of crowd and the narrow walkways, we hurried along the major part of this trail...stopping only occasionally to admire some creepy crawlies along the way.


In no time, we arrived at the next landmark, the Alexandra Arch...yet another bridge...in the form of an open leaf that spans across Alexandra Road and connects to HortPark.


I would consider the HortPark as the 'jewel-on-the-crown' of our trip yesterday. We were greeted with vast open spaces and many lovely flowers and plants in this huge gardening hub. I was delighted to spot this planter box of portulaca...a stunning flowering plant which I have tried keeping as a container plant several years ago. I love the bright fuchsia flowers, and the white ones looked so pretty too.


There are many types of flowering plants in the garden, I have only posted those that are less commonly seen on the roadsides...a climber plant with huge heart-shaped leaves (the same one we saw at the Children's Garden), bright yellow daisies, more portulaca with ruffled double petals...just to name a few. There were several greenhouses in the park, too bad they are not opened to the public, so, I could only admire the beautiful flowers through the glass panels:(


Besides a few playgrounds catering to the forever energetic kids, there are also many outdoor display plots showcasing gardening concepts and designs...a great place for gardening enthusiasts.


Look at the clever use of old and unwanted kitchen utensils...I never know that a steamboat can be transformed into a flower pot...and look at that rice cooker, wok and frying pan!


It certainly gives me a fresh perspective to container gardening :)


It was a wonderful morning, we had a great time, and that was despite the heat and humidity. Even though I spent the rest of the afternoon resting my sore limbs (in bed!) I have already made plans for us to cover the rest of the trail soon.