Friday, April 11, 2014
Lately it seems like everything has been going wrong. I emerge from a struggle, mostly not victorious, only to plunge headfirst into yet another one. It's almost as if I'm swimming an inelegant butterfly stroke in a rowdy sea of problems. I dive into the water and emerge moments later only to be dragged by the ankles underwater again by invisible hands. My arms ache so much from trying to resist; it's tremendously tiring. I can hear the cries of encouragement from the direction of dry land but you know, when you sink too deep you can't hear them anymore.
Instead all I can hear is sea of dark silence, waters surrounding and pressing urgently against my ears. But it's calming, strangely. I find solace in this newfound environment, in fact I don't want to leave it. The thought of being rescued only to risk the possibility of drowning yet again is so repelling I give up moving so as to sink even deeper into the throes of this welcoming blackness. I would even swim further towards the bottom, if I wasn't already there.
But as much as I want to integrate into this nothingness, I know it's not my place. At some point I would need to go up for oxygen and face the light of reality. As it is right now though, it's a long journey up. I will break the water surface eventually, but for now, where I am now is where I need to be.
If you were wondering how the above is in any way related to this cake, it's because this cake here didn't quite turn out the way I envisaged it. The glaze turned out drippier than I expected and the chocolate chips couldn't obediently stick to the sides, instead sliding down and piling into an unglamorous heap at the bottom. To make matters worse I was short of one chocolate "brick" so it detracted from the overall appearance of the cake as well. I believe my brother has something to do with it.
No it's not a tragedy, I agree. Compared to some of my creations in the past this problem isn't grave enough to warrant wallowing in depression. It's just that after the series of failures recently I hoped to seek comfort something in the one thing I do best. But I guess this plan didn't work out.
If I were to do it all over again I would choose to use a ganache instead of a glaze. But I don't plan on editing the following recipe, if you could call it one. I made the mistake of using a glaze, so I shall reflect it as such. Sometimes I feel that I need to learn how to just accept mistakes squarely in the eye, recognize them and move on.
Chocolate Brick Cake
This "recipe" is more of an idea than a recipe per se so the quantities of the components reflected are arbitrary. I advise you to exercise your own judgement to determine how much glaze you need. (Although I recommend that you use a ganache recipe.)
chocolate cake recipe (my favorite) here
For the chocolate glaze:
9 ounces milk or dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
mini Nestle crunch bars
Bake the cake in a loaf pan and let it cool completely before frosting and decorating.
Make the chocolate glaze: Bring the cream to a simmer in a saucepan and pour over the chopped chocolate. Let the mixture stand for 3 minutes before stirring to combine. Cool completely before using. Refrigerate to thicken if needed.
Decorate the cake: Glaze the outside of the cake. Line the sides of the cake with the chocolate bars regularly to resemble a brick wall. Drizzle more glaze on top of the cake if desired.
Refrigerate cake for at least 3 hours for the glaze to firm up.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
It took me a while to decide on what to bake yesterday. I needed something portable, something that could withstand the ghastly heat of the sun these days, as well as something that is elegant and presentable. I immediately thought of brownies or cookies, but I didn't have any interesting brownie recipes to try out so I went with the latter. Granted these don't fulfill the criterion of keeping well under hot weather because of the chocolate coating but at least they were suitable enough to give away as a present. I'm just hoping that they would be consumed before the chocolate melts.
Out of all the cookie recipes I had bookmarked I went with this one because I was up for a challenge. It's extremely rare that I have the will or energy to make something that has many components lately so I took advantage of the mood I was in yesterday. I was reminded again that as laborious as multi-component recipes are, the end results are always worth it, taste as well as presentation-wise. Well, usually.
My pistachio paste turned out unexpectedly brown, so much so that the finished cookies resembled chocolate ones. But of course, they tasted distinctively of fragrant roasted pistachios. Perhaps I'd overbaked them a little bit but I found that they were a tad too crunchy. Maybe it's better that you don't let them brown too much.
Assembling these cookies was particularly fun. You can check out the behind-the-scenes video here. I'm definitely up for another of such a project soon.
Chocolate Cranberry Pistachio Cookies
cookie portion adapted from here
For the cookies:
4 ounces shelled toasted pistachios (about 1 cup), ground to a paste in a food processor
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg white
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
melted dark or milk chocolate
Make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheets.
Beat the pistachio paste and sugar together until smooth. Mix in the egg white, vanilla and salt.
Transfer dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4 inch plain round tip and pipe 1 inch rounds onto the baking sheet, spacing the cookies about 1 inch apart.
Bake for about 8 minutes, until the cookies are firm and golden around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Assemble the cookies: Sandwich a dollop of chocolate in between two cookies then cover with chocolate entirely. Stud the top with a cranberry. Repeat for the rest of the cookies.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour for the chocolate to firm up before consuming.
Friday, March 28, 2014
My to-bake list is never ending. If I were to write them out on a piece of paper one after the other, each item taking up one line, the list would be as long as the exact value of pi. Yet, as when a situation called for cookies this morning, I was stumped. I had absolutely no idea what to bake. Upon closer inspection of my list, I realised that it consisted mostly of cake. To be exact, it went something like cake, cake, cake, cake, cake, brownie, cake, cake, muffin, pie, cake.
Okay maybe I exaggerate. There were a handful of cookie recipes in that mountain of cake ones but they hardly appealed to me. It was then that I wondered why I even bookmarked them in the first place. Time was ticking by and I had to churn something out soon, so I eventually settled on a cookie that I remotely felt like eating - biscotti, because I like the crunch of it.
And as usual when I bake in the morning before I'm fully awake I make a few mistakes here and there. Today I mixed up the quantities of baking powder and baking soda but the results weren't that disastrous so I'm hoping that my friends won't notice anything wrong shhh.
These biscotti are quite crumbly and the ends may fall off as you saw into the logs with your serrated knife. But that's okay because just pick up the crumbs and pop them into your mouth - baker's perks. Other than the shabby appearance, these are sufficiently chocolaty and if I happen to be wrong on this count, feel free to dial up the amount of chocolate chips the next time.
P.S. Instagram video on the making of the biscotti here.
Double Chocolate Biscotti
adapted from here
makes about 40
2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbsp instant espresso powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheets.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, instant espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt together.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture just until a dough forms. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Divide the dough into two and shape each portion into a 12 x 2 inch log. Place the logs on the baking sheets and bake for 25 minutes.
Remove the sheets from the oven and let them cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Slice 3/4-inch thick slices and leave the slices standing up on the baking sheets. Bake for another 10 minutes, or longer if you like them crisper.
Cool completely before storing.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Hello dear readers, it's been a while, if 10 days constitutes as a while. I'm sorry for the absence - life has been really busy of late and baking has become a luxury, a rare precious activity when I have the time and energy to potter about the kitchen, as well as muster up the courage to face the towering pile of dirty baking utensils to be cleaned afterwards.
So after the longest of time, I finally found a pocket of time to pick up that wooden spoon and wipe the dust of my mixing bowl. Pockets of time actually - more baking to follow in the next few days hurrah! For today, I decided to make pancakes and leave the heavy duty baking to tomorrow, a bit of adjusting back to the lifestyle of a baker if you will.
Perhaps it's the influence of all those mouth watering but surprisingly healthy pancake stacks on Instagram I've been checking out lately that I felt compelled to try out the much talked about two ingredient banana pancake recipe, which basically just has eggs and bananas. As usual, I never just jump into a recipe headfirst; I always make sure to read reviews of the recipe before making it myself so that I can tweak it to suit my taste better. What I gathered about the basic banana pancake recipe were that the pancakes taste rather eggy and also turn out rather thin and flat. I also saw variations of the original recipe, some in addition to the primary two ingredients, cinnamon and vanilla to counteract the egginess, and some with baking powder to make them thicker.
I took the advice of the bloggers who added leavening but I didn't use any flavorings because I had another plan in mind to mute the potentially eggy taste as well as increase the height of the pancakes - beaten egg whites. Out of the two eggs that are called for per banana, I separated one of them and whipped the whites to stiff peaks before folding it back into the batter.
The results were extremely soft and fluffy pancakes that were also moist and squishy within. The banana dominates these pancakes, with hardly any egginess whatsoever. However, they were frustratingly fragile. I think only half of my pancakes managed to stay intact as I attempted to flip them over, all the while cursing my lack of a better spatula. I think this is the trade off for fluffier pancakes, but I shall try again with an additional unbeaten egg white.
I took this opportunity to make a pancake stack of my own, as you can see. The order from bottom up is as follows: pancake x2, homemade maple brown sugar almond butter and banana slices, pancake, reese's peanut butter and banana slices, pancake, chocolate peanut butter, pancake, almond butter, mangled pancakes and finally, more chocolate peanut butter, almond butter and a decorative banana round. Utter decadence.
It probably looks like a lot but it's actually quite easy to polish off. The biggest problem is figuring out how to eat the pancakes without the entire tower toppling; a problem that I couldn't solve, and will attempt to conquer soon. Here's to more pancake stacks.
Fluffy Healthy Banana Pancakes
1 banana, mashed (you should get about 1/3 cup's worth)
1 large egg
1 large egg white, beaten to stiff peaks
1/4 tsp baking powder
Whisk the banana and egg together, making sure you get the batter as smooth as possible. Stir in the baking powder. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Cook the pancakes as you usually do - be careful when you flip them.
Monday, March 17, 2014
In recent months I've started developing an appreciation for the spontaneous creativity of baking, choosing to create something out of little recipes here and there rather than following prescribed ones from cookbooks. I could attribute part of this to the lack of time for leisurely cookbook browsing lately, but really, I think it is because of the thrill of seeing something that you've envisioned come to life, successfully or not.
Of course, I can't lay claim to this cupcake idea - cookie monster cupcakes have been around for the longest time already - but I enjoyed creating them all the same. There were many hiccups as usual - the frosting not being blue enough, the cookies not flat enough, the eyes being too big. I don't think they could even be relatives of cookie monster truth be told but hey, we live and learn. The next time I make an elmo cupcake or something, at least I have a rough idea of possible pitfalls and make sure that I look out for them.
For these cupcakes, I used one of my favorite chocolate cake recipes and just a regular vanilla buttercream tinted with blue. The eyes are pretty simple to make, just melt white chocolate, dollop small circles of them on a sheet of parchment and top with a chocolate chip (tip facing down). Chill until firm. And you can just use your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. I used the leftover dough from making this granola.
And just my personal opinion: the "fur" of cookie monster is much harder to execute than I thought it would be. You would think that squiggling buttercream over the entire surface of the cupcake would be a piece of cake, but to squiggle it in a deliberately messy yet artful way is something I have to seriously work on. And I thought that I my piping skills could get no worse.
P.S. There's a video on my instagram featuring a (nearly) step-by-step process of the decorating of the cupcakes. Go check it out!
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Lately I've taken to daydreaming. In school. About cake. I love how math lessons unleash my creativity by being so boring I just drift so far away from reality. It was in yet another math class that I got inspiration for this cake.
I get a lot of ideas for cakes from leftover edibles in my fridge, be it a handful of M&Ms, a few squares of white chocolate or the remaining 1/4 cup of peanut butter. This time, I had kueh lapis to desperately use up, since it has been over a month since I got it for Chinese New Year. I have absolutely no idea how I arrived at this final creation - coffee cake layers alternating with slices of kueh lapis, glued together with condensed milk and frosted with a salted condensed milk buttercream, but I'm really glad I thought of this.
The best part hands down was the buttercream. The amount of condensed milk seems small and insignificant but it actually shows up quite a bit in flavour. And the salt makes a world of difference. Creamy, milky, buttery, sweet and salty. This is a winning buttercream for sure. My only regret is not making more to fill the layers instead of relying on condensed milk.
The cake has a strong fragrance of coffee but it's still a bit sweet in my opinion. To me, anything coffee has to be slightly bitter. The recipe below reflects the measurements of sugar in the original recipe but I've added in my proposed adjustments in parentheses.
There's something about the spiciness of the kueh lapis (like cinnamon-spice not fiery-spice) and the coffee that gelled together perfectly with the milky buttercream. I guess my math lesson that day was a very productive one.
Coffee Kueh Lapis Cake
cake portion adapted from here
For the coffee cake:
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup boiling water + 1 tbsp instant espresso powder
2 tbsp milk
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup sugar (I recommend 3 tbsp)
1/4 cup brown sugar (I recommend 3 tbsp)
1 large egg
For the salted condensed milk buttercream:
1 stick butter
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp condensed milk
1/4 tsp salt
kueh lapis, cut to fit
Bake the cake: Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare two mini (2-cup capacity) loaf pans.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.
Combine the water and instant espresso and stir until the powder has dissolved. Let it cool for a while before stirring in the milk.
Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add in the flour mixture (in 3 additions) and milk mixture (in 2 additions) alternately, beginning and ending with the flour.
Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake for about 15 minutes or until and inserted skewer comes out mostly clean, with only a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely before assembling.
Make the buttercream: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and cream until light and fluffy. Use immediately.
For assembly: Trim the tops of the cooled cakes such that they are level. Split the cakes into half lengthwise. You should get four layers but due to my clumsiness, I only got three.
Take one layer, drizzle some condensed milk on top and use a knife to spread it evenly and thinly across the entire surface area. Layer the slices of kueh lapis on top, packing them as close together as possible. Drizzle more condensed milk on top and spread it out evenly again. Repeat until all the cake layers have been used up.
Frost the outsides of the cake with the buttercream. You can decorate the top of the cake with scrap pieces of cake. Chill cake in the fridge for at least 2 hours for the buttercream to firm up. I recommend that you let the cake sit longer than this duration though, to let the condensed milk moisten the layers of cake and allow the flavours to develop. A day ahead would be great.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
So following the success of my previous batch of granola, I embarked on a new idea - cookie dough granola, essentially brown sugar granola with chocolate chip cookie drops.
The first time I made it, I ended up with no clusters at all. I mean, what's the point of granola without the clusters really. So I tried again, this time adding egg whites to help bind the mixture together more cohesively, and it worked!
I know that granola isn't the most visually-enticing thing but I urge you to try this recipe (and especially the previous one - that one is even better in my opinion!). But as delicious as it is, I am unfortunately granola-ed out.
Cake coming soon.
Cookie Dough Granola
Note: The cookie dough makes more cookies than needed.
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup walnuts
6 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 cup chocolate chip cookies (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 160C. Prepare baking sheets.
Combine the oats and walnuts together in a bowl.
Combine the brown sugar, oil and butter together in a saucepan and place over medium heat until the butter has melted. Cook for about a minute more, stirring constantly. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Pour the butter mixture and egg whites over the oats mixture and stir until evenly coated. Turn mixture out onto the baking sheets.
Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes.
After the granola has cooled, toss in the chocolate chip cookies until evenly distributed. Cool completely before storing.
For the cookies:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup flour
3/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
about 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a baking sheet.
Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together.
Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract and egg until just combined. Stir in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed. Refrigerate dough until firm.
Take tiny pinches of the dough and roll them into balls. You should only need to use half the amount of dough in this recipe but feel free to add more cookies to the mix.
Bake for about 3 minutes.