Saturday, August 31, 2013

Nigella's Apple Almond Cake (Cook Like a Star)

This was the Apple and Almond Cake that I just baked this morning, it was a very moist and "buttery" cake although there wasn't a single gram of butter or flour, only apples, ground almonds, eggs and sugar. The recipe was adapted from Nigella's Apple and Almond Cake for Passover. I did very few adaptations to this recipe, I used 2 very big Jonagold apples instead of 3 tart apples, 8 medium instead of large eggs and I reduced the sugar from 275g to 250g which I still found it a teeny weeny too sweet, but then again I am a very sugar-conscious person. Last but not least, I omitted the dusting of icing sugar on top. :)

I like this cake very very much, coincidentally I had a few pieces of an apple cake bought from a bakery by a family friend who visited us 2 days ago and I was still musing about how I could achieve such a commercial standard apple cake. That apple cake came with slices of apple on top and the cake itself was heavenly, it tasted very much like frangipane. I suspect that there was no butter in it too. I think with this recipe, thanks to Nigella Lawson, I may have achieved the commercial standard apple cake, just need to tweak the sugar and apple content a little, maybe add some thin apple slices on top instead of almond flakes as that is what my husband prefers. But I really like the crunchy almond flakes on top as they gave this apple almond cake a whole new different dimension in terms of taste.

This cake may be a little heavy on the waistline in terms of sugar and egg content, but then again this is a fairly large cake. Luckily there was no butter in it (if that provides any comfort to you) and the ground almonds really worked like magic, as it gave such a "buttery" taste to this cake, my hubby found it hard to believe there was no butter inside. :)

I like this apple almond cake very very much (yes, this is the 2nd time I am saying this), so I am sharing this with the Cook Like a Star event organised by Zoe of Bake for Happy Kids, Joyce of Kitchen Flavour and Anuja of Simple Baking.

Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson

(requires a 10-inch or 25-cm round cake tin, preferably springform)

Ingredients for apple puree
3 tart apples (I used 2 big Jonagold apples)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp caster sugar

Ingredients for cake
a splash of oil to grease the tin
8 large eggs (I used medium sized eggs at room temp)
325g ground almonds
275g caster sugar (I reduced it to 250g)
1 tbsp lemon juice
50g almond flakes

To decorate
1 tsp icing sugar (I omitted this)

1. Peel, core and chop the apples roughly. Put them in a saucepan with lemon juice and sugar and bring them to a bubble over medium heat. Cover the pan and cook over low heat until you can mash the apple to a rough puree with a wooden spoon or fork. Leave to cool. (I cooked the apple puree the previous night, transferred it to a bowl covered with clingwrap and chilled it in the fridge overnight. Then I took it out of the fridge 1 hour before baking to bring it to room temperature.)

2. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/ 180 degrees celsius/ 350 fahrenheit. Grease a 25-cm or 10-inch springform pan with flavourless cooking oil and line the bottom with parchment paper. (I lined the bottom with parchment paper and greased the bottom as well as the sides with baking spray.)

3. Put the cooled puree in the processor with eggs, ground almonds, caster sugar and a tablespoon or general squeeze of lemon juice and blitze to a puree. Pour and scrape with a rubber spatula into the prepared tin, sprinkle the flaked almonds on top and bake for 45 min, but you can check at 35 min interval as ovens do vary. (I didn't have a big enough food processor so I dumped everything into my biggest mixing bowl and mixed it with my hand-held mixer for a while until it became a smooth batter. I let the cake bake for exactly 45 min. My almond flakes were a little bit too roasted, something to take note in future.)

4. Put on a wire rack to cool slightly then spring open. The cake is best served slightly warm, though still good cold. (Verdict: The cake was indeed very nice when slightly warm!)

5. Sieve a teaspoon of icing sugar to give it a light dusting before serving. (This was omitted, the flaked almonds were good enough for me.)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cream Puffs For The First Time

Cream Puff has been on my to-do-list for a very long time, so long that I nearly forgot about it, until I went through my list of baking challenges item by item last week. Since I have not participated in Aspiring Bakers for the past 3 months (my apologies, ladies!) due to vacation and unavailability of durians, I decided to make a last minute dash for this month's Aspiring Bakers #34 - Choux Pastry.

I was lucky to come across this good recipe which I followed exactly and it yielded pretty good results. Well for a first timer, I consider the baking process of my "virgin" batch of cream puffs to be quite smooth-sailing with no hiccups, and the result was quite a pleasant surprise! Though I wasn't quite sure whether the pastry crust was supposed to turn out this way, well my pastry crust became crispy and crunchy after the 30 min cooling in the oven. And it remained that way even hours after baking, only on the 2nd day then the crust became slightly soft. Did I over-bake it? Hmm, don't think so. From what I read, other readers had the same experience too, so this recipe is supposed to give you crispy and crunchy crust. By the way, I stored the uncut and unfilled cream puff pastry in a tupperware box at room temperature and the patisserie cream cling-wrapped and chilled in the fridge. Only when I am just about to eat the cream puffs, then I will slice open the puffs and smear a layer of cold patisserie cream in between. I know I should pipe the cream since it looks better on photo, but no time lah!

By the way, when I first put the cream puffs into the oven, I was kind of nervous since the piping was quite flat and there was no baking powder or any other raising agent in the recipe, hence I was afraid that the cream puff pastry will not rise at all. But luckily, my hopes proved to be unfounded and they all rose and held their shape pretty well. Thank God, otherwise my 2 chickens will have a tea-party again! 

Recipe adapted from Florence (Do What I like)

(Makes 9 cream puffs)

Choux Pastry
85ml water
50g butter 
a pinch of salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
50g bread flour
20g cake flour
2 eggs (lightly beaten)

1. Cook water, butter, sugar, salt and vanilla essence in non-stick saucepan until bubbling hot, then reduce heat to low.

2. Add flour mixture all in one go and mix with wooden spoon until a dough is formed. 

3. Still on low heat, cook dough for 1 to 2 min on low heat until thin white film is formed at the bottom of the saucepan. (Well, I didn't see any thin white film forming but I stuck to the timing of 2 min on low heat.)

4. Transfer dough to mixing bowl and beat till lukewarm. (You don't have to use an electric whisk at this stage yet, just mix well with a wooden spoon first.)

5. Add the 2 eggs (in 3 additions) and mix till well-blended and smooth. (I used electric whisk here to whisk till well-blended and smooth, it didn't take very long by the way.)

6. Place batter into a piping bag and pipe into a lined pan in rounds of 5 cm diameter. Spray some water on it. 

(I used a Wilton 1M decorating tip suitable for creating the swirls on the cream puff pastry but you can use any other decorating tip that is big enough. I cut an opening in the corner of a ziploc bag or a piping bag, squeezed in the plastic coupler base down into the bag through the opening, then I placed the decorating tip over the part of the coupler base protruding from the bag and screwed it tight with the coupler ring. This way, you can easily change the tip on the outside without having to change the coupler base within the bag. Then I placed the piping bag into a cup and filled it with the batter. You can refer to this wilton page for illustration on how to use a tip and a coupler. )

7. Bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees celsius for 25 min, then at 180 degrees celsius for 8 to 10 min or till dry and golden brown. 

8. Immediately turn off the oven, but do not open the door, not even to check on the puffs during the baking process! Let them cool in the oven for another 30 min. (This will ensure that the puffs do not deflate and will produce a crispy and crunch crust! )

Patisserie Cream (Custard)
240 ml skimmed milk
5 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 full egg and 2 egg yolks
2 tbsp cornstarch

1. Mix 60ml milk with cornstarch and mix well till smooth. (I am using full cream milk.)

2. Add beaten egg and egg yolks into the cornstarch mixture and mix well.

3. Boil the remaining 180ml milk with sugar and mix well in a non-stick saucepan until bubbling hot. Pour 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg-cornstarch mixture from step 2, stirring all the time.

4. Pour the egg-cornstarch mixture through a strainer back into the rest of the boiling milk. Stir constantly till the mixture thickens over medium-high heat. Watch out that you do not burn the custard.  

5. Wrap the custard with a layer of clingwrap touching the surface of the custard. This is to prevent a hard film from forming on the custard, then chill the custard in the fridge till ready to use. 

I am submitting this post to Aspiring Bakers #34 - Choux Pastry (August 2013) organized by Foodie Baker.

I am also submitting this post to the Little Thumbs Up (Eggs) event hosted by Baby Sumo of Eat Your Heart Out, and organized by Zoe of Bake for Happy Kids and Doreen of my little favourite DIY.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Really Good Sandwich Bread again - Die Die Must Try!

If you like making your own breads, and have time to spare (I am talking of at least 5 hours from start to end not including the dough starters), here is a good recipe for really soft white sandwich loaf. For this Alex Goh recipe, you have to prepare 1 gelatinized dough starter and 1 overnight dough starter. I first baked this bread nearly 3 years ago in Sep 2010, wow how time flies! The thought of preparing the 2 dough starters the previous night and having to spend at least 5 hours kneading, proofing and moulding the dough probably made me procrastinate or put me off the thought of re-attempting this recipe, besides there are so many bread recipes waiting to be tested. :)

But since yesterday was a warm and pleasant day suitable for proofing bread, I decided to brush the dust off my bread-machine and re-start my "motor" and re-kindle my interest in bread-making. I haven't used much of my ALDI bread machine this year, apart from making chinese steamed buns and 1 pandan kaya bread.

This recipe would yield a very big dough, the total weight was about 1350 grams so I divided it into 6 pieces of dough of about 220g each, squeezing 3 pieces of dough each in a loaf tin. Actually it was enough to fill two 450g pullman loaf tins, but I have only 1 pullman loaf tin so I had to bake the other in another loaf tin which was exposed on top, hence this resulted in a nice brown crunchy crust as seen on the left.

You can refer to this Alex Goh recipe from my first attempt in Sep 2010. We only sliced the first loaf for breakfast today, and the 2nd loaf is still untouched, but I will post more pictures and give a verdict of the 2nd loaf when we have it for breakfast tomorrow. Stay tuned! :)

[Update on the next day 25 Aug 2013]

This is the 2nd loaf baked in a pullman loaf tin, which I sliced using an electronic meat/bread slicing machine this morning. I have wrapped up the loaf bread on Friday in 2 layers of plastic clingwrap and then in a bread bag, to keep it fresh and soft.

The bread remains incredibly soft and fluffy even after 48 hours. In fact, my hubby who helped me operate the bread slicing machine, complained that the bread was too soft and hence difficult to slice even using a machine, haha! We calibrated the thickness of the bread to about 9mm, and I finished 6 pieces of the loaf bread in one go, each slice was generously layered with my homemade kaya jam, yummy yummy! :)

(I still have some pictures showing the entire bread-making process, including proofing and moulding, yet to be uploaded, stay tuned...) 

Sometimes I have readers asking me why the breads they baked did not remain as soft on the 2nd or 3rd day. Actually it all depends on how you keep your breads. Freshly-baked bread once cooled down, must be wrapped and sealed as tightly and in as many layers as possible, to prevent any contact with air and moisture. For instance, I wrapped mine in 2 layers of plastic clingwrap and then in a bread bag. That being said, homemade breads can never rival commercial breads in terms of how long the breads can remain soft. I am talking specifically about those breads sold in Singapore and Malaysia supermarts, which are loaded with additives/conservatives that keep them soft for days and weeks. If you expose those commercial breads in the open, you will be surprised how long it takes for moulds to appear! Even freshly-baked breads from the best belgian bakery (there is one in my neighbourhood) turn hard and don't taste as good the next day since no additives are added, that's why in Belgium almost everybody goes early in the morning to the bakery to get freshly-baked bread. :)

PS: I recently saw this on facebook (a friend's friend's friend's status), and I thought of sharing this with everybody. I hope that particular bread manufacturer won't sue me for putting up this link

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lor Ark / Braised Duck in Dark Soya Sauce

I realise I have a penchant for chinese braised dishes, especially those that use a lot of dark soya sauce. I used to like (I still do) eating rice covered in thick gravy from braised duck or braised belly pork during my childhood days. You know, I dun need a lot of meat, just a lot of gravy on my rice, and throw in 1 or 2 braised eggs and I will be content. Haha I dunno why, but the older I get, it seems the more I reminisce about the foods that I used to eat when I was a child, haha.

Again this is one of my backlogs. 3 weeks ago on 3 August, I had to get rid of the frozen duck that has been sitting and occupying "rent" and precious "office prime space" in my freezer for the past 2 months. I thought of doing Lucky Duck ala Peking Crispy Duck again, but alas I started too late, it was already 2.30pm and I still need to thaw the frozen ducky in my microwave, which will take 45 min for a Miss/Mr Lucky who weighed 1.9 kilo. I did a quick check on my peking duck recipe, oh no, it would take 1 hour of marinating and 3 hours of roasting before it can be served on the dining table, not forgetting I still need 45 min of thawing in the microwave. By then, the clock would have struck 7, and my hubby would be yelling at me if my 2 kids are not already washed and tucked in bed.

Then I happened to see this fried duck recipe from my humongous pile of recipes (which I keep in various formats all over my house : books, magazines, cut out hard copies, soft copies on thumbdrives, browser bookmarks, pinterest, FB links etc).

Fried Duck to the rescue!

Actually calling it Fried Duck or "Char Ark" in Hokkien is misleading, it should really be called Braised / Stewed Duck or "Lor Ark" instead. "Lor Ark" is a typical Hokkien dish (I am talking about Singaporean Hokkiens, not sure about Malaysian Hokkiens) that I remember my paternal grandma and later my mama used to whip up. But they used duck wings or duck drumsticks, in my case I used a whole duck which when fully cut up didn't render much meat. Wish I had a 2.5 kg fresh duck instead of a 1.9 kg frozen duck!

I am not gonna rave about how delicious this dish was, one (wo)man's favorite may turn out to be another (wo)man's poison! But if you are a Singaporean Chinese (or Malaysian Chinese for that matter), especially one who is living overseas and yearning for home-cooked food all the time, I am quite sure you will like this dish! :)

Here is the recipe link from Straits Times So Shiok website, too lazy to type it out now in my blog, but I followed it to the T and only added dried shitake mushrooms and a few hard-boiled eggs. Gimme some time and I will do it when time permits...

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Homemade Strawberry Rhubarb Jam Again!

This post is another one of my backlogs. I actually made this strawberry-rhubarb jam on 18 June. I posted it on my FB page in June (here and here), but I only get around to blog about it till today! 

It was the same story as last year, I got a whole bag of freshly plucked rhubarb (called rabarber in Dutch) during a prayer weekend get-together in the belgian countryside. During the weekend, we were tasked to help the sisters pluck the rhubarb from the garden, wash and cut them, and process them into rhubarb jam. After our hard work in processing and canning the jams, there were still quite a lot of excess rhubarbs which were then distributed to those interested. Well, I didn't bring home all of the rhubarbs which you see in the above picture, just a fraction of it, haha! 

Rhubarb is very sour so you have to add lots of sugar in order to make rhubarb jam. According to the recipe from the sisters, one should add 1 kg of sugar to every 1 kg of rhubarb to make rhubarb jam. I am not particularly fond of rhubarb jam, I prefer to add strawberries which are naturally sweet, and in so doing, I can reduce the sugar level accordingly. 

I bought some strawberries from a local fruit store and they were incredibly cheap, 2 euro for every 500g, hence 6 euro for 1.5 kg, what a steal! So this year, I have got in total 1.5 kg of rhubarbs, 1.5 kg of strawberries, 3 packets of pectin, 1.5 kg of sugar and 3 bananas (not shown in picture). 

I processed the jams in 3 batches, each batch contained 0.5 kg of rhubarbs, 0.5 kg of strawberries, 0.5 kg (instead of 1 kg) of sugar, 1 packet of "pectin plus" and 1 banana.  The "pectin plus" actually allowed me to reduce the sugar level by half.

After some serious jamming, I am proud to present to you the "fruits" of my labour - 9 small and big jars of freshly made strawberry-rhubarb jam. :)

Recipe for making this homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam can be found here in my previous post.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Garden Updates - July 2013

Summer has finally arrived, a very late summer this year, but I welcome it with open arms nonetheless. I have just returned the previous weekend from a 2 week family vacation in Provence, France where the weather was sweltering hot. It felt like, no it was 34 to 36 degrees on certain days and it only rained 2 days in the entire 2 weeks! On the 2nd day after we arrived, there was a big thunderstorm and there were hailstones as big as ice cubes falling from the sky, just like what happened in Singapore a few weeks ago during the haze!

Though it was fun, I really felt tired after a while because hubby and I had to entertain our 2 energizer rabbits the whole day even during our vacation, and after a while, you felt like you were not on vacation anymore, more like on an extended overseas baby-sitting mission, haha! I wonder where they got all their boundless energy from, did they take Red Bull or what? They would fall asleep at 10 or 11pm and yet be able to get up every morning without fail at 7.30am! 

Anyway, the minute when I arrived home, the first thing I did was to check on my precious plants. These pictures were taken on 28 July (the day I returned), about 2 weeks after my last check on my 12 pumpkin plants. Did I tell you I mistakenly mixed up the giant pumpkin plants from the mini ones? The only way I can tell the difference now is by observing their leaves, the larger leaves seem to be from the giant pumpkins. There are 4 plants squeezed into each small plot, so the first picture shows all 4 giant pumpkin plants, judging from the size of the leaves.

This is a close-up view of the 2nd plot so it gives the false impression that the leaves are bigger and hence belong to giant pumpkin plants, but in actual fact, all 4 of them are mini pumpkin plants, if I am not mistaken.

This is the 3rd plot, of which 3 are mini pumpkin plants, and the one on the right is a giant pumpkin plant.

This picture below will give you a better idea of the size of the pumpkin plants of one plot relative to the other. With 12 pumpkin plants and god knows how many big and small pumpkins to come, I think I am gonna suffer from orangey-yellow skin later this autumn, as if I am not yellow enough. :)

This is the "fat plant" which I nicknamed in my previous post. Now you can see for yourself and judge what kind of plant this is. Actually the fruit is not supposed to be green, as this is supposedly a yellow paprika (capsicum) plant, at least that was what was stated on the label.

The white flowers have wilted and now the fruits are forming. For some reasons or another, quite a few of the fruits or their stalks have rotted or wilted away before they can even form as big a fruit as the 2 big ones you see in the picture. Apparently the stalk has to be pretty thick and sturdy to hold the weight of each fruit. If not, they will just "plop" and fall off the plant, Darwin's theory at work. :)

Ok, this is the "skinny plant" which I also mentioned in my previous post. No prizes for guessing what it is now. It is a spanish green pepper (chilli) plant.

The fat one vs the skinny one, side by side. The fat one used to be taller when I first bought both plants in the 1st week of May, but now the skinny one has overtaken the fat one in terms of height.

Oh, I finally managed to find a picture of the fat one versus the skinny one, dated 5 June 2013, here it is. :)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Garden Updates - June 2013

I have neglected my humble little blog for nearly a month! There is a backlog of pictures from my garden, which I am sharing here, just for the record. I always like to refer to pictures from my blog to view the progress of the various plants which I plant in my garden every year.

So, before I forget, here are some pictures of my plants taken long before I went on holiday.

Finally after 1 month of waiting, and realising that my earlier batch of pumpkin seeds was probably not going to sprout due to the cold and wet weather in May, I buried a new batch of seeds and after 1 week of waiting, thanks to the warmer weather, finally they sprouted on 14 June 2013! It was a bit late for the pumpkins to grow now (if you refer to the batch of pumpkins way back in 2010), but better later than never, isn't it?

These 3 pots contain seedlings of mini-pumpkins, each pot has 2 seedlings, can you see the little shoots that sprouted, one in each pot? I buried those on 7 June (Friday). And the other 3 seedlings which are growing roots, were added on 10 June.

These 3 pots contain 6 seedlings of giant pumpkins, 3 of which have already sprouted new shoots, one in each pot. By the way, they were supposed to be buried 1 inch below the soil surface, but I uncovered the soil to check on the progress.

I bought the 2 plants below, I call them the skinny one and the fat one, in the 1st week of May, so they were about 5 weeks old when these pictures were taken on 14 June 2013. 

This is the skinny one.
Close-up of the skinny one.
This is the fat one.
Close-up of the fat one.

2 weeks later, on 18 June 2013, my pumpkin plants finally grew leaves! I was over the moon! There were supposed to be 2 seedlings in each small pot, a total of 12 plants.

So I finally transferred them from their pots to the ground on 26 June 2013.

And my skinny and fat plants were also showing good progress. These pictures below were taken on 12 July 2013, just before I left for vacation. The fat one has grown some flowers and the flowers have wilted to form fruits. So you can roughly guess what type of plant this is.

For the skinny one below, can you see the tiny white flowers? I dun think you can see the fruits yet.

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