Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Gentleman's Cake, and a Befitting Recipient

This is a long overdue post, but I have been struggling to find time to blog this past week because I had an assignment due today, and a change in my usual work roster. Plus, I have been feeling quite on the down-low recently with the winter blues. So my readers, I apologise.

My younger brother celebrated 18 years of life on June 15. And of course, I made him a celebration cake. I had hoped to make something fancy and complicated for his birthday, but boys seem to have a disinclination towards making life difficult for themselves (a trait I should learn and adapt to sometime soon). When I went to him with this question one week before the due date, he looked up from his pile of homework with eager eyes and said, " Can you make me something with both coffee and dark chocolate in it? Nothing too fancy, I just want a plain cake."

In hindsight, it was probably a good decision on his part. This cake is what I would call a gentleman's cake--elegant, restrained, simple and rich in both texture and flavour. What better for a boy on the cusp of becoming a man?

Happy Belated Birthday, my dearest and only brother. I wish you much luck at university next year, and study hard for the entrance exams! Enjoy all the things that come with the big 1-8, but also remember that you can go to jail now!! *wink, wink*

Coffee and chocolate cake
serves 25


400 g dark chocolate
375g unsalted butter, chopped
330g caster sugar
310ml freshly brewed strong coffee
3 large eggs, lightly whisked
375g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Chocolate Glaze

300 g dark chocolate, chopped
125g unsalted butter, chopped

Preheat oven to 160C. Grease a 20cm round pan, or a 22cm square pan. Combine chocolate, butter, caster sugar and coffee in a saucepan over medium heat until smooth and combined. Remove from heat, add eggs and whisk until combined. Sift together flour and baking powder, add to mixture and stir to mix. Pour mixture into prepared tin and bake for 1 1/2 hour, or until cake crumbs cling to a skewer inserted into the cake. Leave in pan for 10-20 mins before turning out.

Chocolate Glaze

Combine chocolate and butter in a heat-resistant bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, until mixture is smooth and well combined.

To assemble

Trim top of cake to a flat surface if necessary. Turn cake upside down and place on cooling rack. Place cake and cooling rack over a wide, shallow tray and pour glaze over. Smooth with a spatula. Set cake aside until glaze sets, but do not put cake in fridge while setting or the glaze would lose its sheen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I wish I was a Billionaire...

Vera of Baking Obsession, one of my favourite food blogs, tagged me with this questionnaire. Being new to blogging, this is my first time participating. I don't know who came up with the concept at first, but I think it's a good way to get to know other food bloggers a little bit better.
So here goes...

1. What were you doing 10 years ago?

I was 13 years old and at the 6th Grade in Primary School in Singapore. I was sitting for what was called the PSLE, which will basically determine whether or not I would be able to enter a top ranking Secondary School (that's like Junior High).

2.What are 5 non-work things on my to-do list today?

-Upload and edit my photos for the blog
-Read a novel
-Make something using the hybrid lem-orange that my boyfriend gave me, which came from his step-grandmother's backyard
-Check my favourite food blogs for new posts
-Do the laundry and other boring household stuff

3. What snacks do you enjoy?

I enjoy anything sweet and loaded with one or all of the following ingredients: milk, cream, eggs, sugar, butter, flour, fruits, nuts, chocolate, tea, coffee, herbs and spices, maple syrup and honey. I think I covered everything available in a patisserie.

4. What would you do if you became a billionaire?

-Acquire three houses fitted with the best kitchen appliances and ingredients. One in the city, one in the countryside, and one by the beach.
-Build an animal shelter and an animal rescue center.
-Open an old-fashioned little tea and cakes parlour (fine bone china, wallpaper and all the trimmings).
-Travel, travel, travel.

5. Where have you lived?

Firstly, Jakarta, Indonesia. This is where I was born. I was sent away to Singapore to get a better education when I was 9 years old, and it became my home for 9 years. I left it when I turned 18 to come to Melbourne, Australia, and this is where I am now.

6. What jobs have you had?

-My first real job was as a sales assistant at David Jones (one of the largest department store in Australia), where I sold high-end fashion to rich snooty old women who were extremely rude and condescending. I worked there part-time while doing the final year of my bachelor's degree in fashion design.

-I currently work as a part-time Commis Pastry Chef in a restaurant.

Now, if you are still with me, thank you for reading!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Red shoes, chocolates and Vianne Rocher

I own 2 pairs of red shoes, both which I dearly love. In fact, I don't believe that I have worn anything else on my feet for the past 8 months.

The first is a red satin pair with a pointy front, and black grosgrain trimming round the sides which ends in a neat a ribbon in front. I believe that my feet wore nothing else that summer. This pair has finally been put to its final resting place a few months ago, when the holes and stains from rain, mud and wear have been too obvious to hide. It was still my favourite pair.

Its demise was succeeded by a more ostentatious pair--round-toed flats covered in brilliant scarlet sequins with a red velvet ribbon--much in the fashion of Dorothy's ruby slippers in the 1939 take of the children's novel The Wizard of Oz. This pair is in its stages of retirement--the sequins have dulled, and holes have materialised. But still I hold on to them with dear life until I could find another red pair to take their place.

I don't know what reason propels my intense attraction to them. Perhaps I just love red shoes. Perhaps it's because they make excellent conversation starters, or because they are so different, so unique and so dazzling. But also, perhaps, because I tend to fancy myself as a modern-day, real-life Vianne Rocher--the heroine in Joanne Harris' acclaimed novel Chocolat--who wore red shoes while attempting to make chocolate that heal the ills of people's hearts and minds.

Of course, my thoughts are as far-fetched as it could be. At work, I am obliged to wear black safety shoes that are the ugliest things I've ever bought. At home, I usually go bare-footed. It seems that fate does not approve of me wearing my red shoes while I'm making chocolates. Oh well, one day maybe, when I can finally call all the shots....

Lemon and Thyme Truffles
(from the Australian Women's Weekly Chocolate)

makes 25

250 g white chocolate, chopped
60 ml cream
1 tsp finely grated lemon rind, plus extra
1 Tblsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp finely chooped thyme leaves
250g white or dark couverture chocolate, tempered

Stir chopped chocolate, cream, rind and juice in a small heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water until smooth. Remove from heat, stir in thyme and refrigerate overnight. Working with a little of the mix at a time (keep remainder refrigerated), roll rounded teaspoons of the mixture into balls; place on foil-lined tray. Freeze until firm. Repeat with the rest.

Temper couverture chocolate. You can use eating chocolate too, but I always find them unsuitable for enrobed chocolate as they are too thick even in liquid form. Working quickly, using 2 forks (or a fork and an offset palette knife), dip truffles in melted chocolate. Place truffles on a pre-chilled tray and sprinkle with extra rind.

The recipe recommends refrigerating truffles, but I find this unnecessary, as the chocolate sets pretty quickly due to the cold from the frozen truffles. Also, refrigerating tempered chocolate is a big no-no as it creates condensation which leads to blooms forming on the surface of the chocolate. (Happened to me with the dark chocolate---something to do with high humidity and cold temperatures outside and a blasting heater; plus, I stupidly kept them on the dining table overnight...) Oh, and remember to wear gloves when lifting them up; couverture is much more sensitive to heat than eating/compound chocolate. It does sound scary, but for me, the taste, texture and finish of couverture chocolate justifies all of it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Comfort food for the winter chill

I seem to have an inclination towards rustic, simple desserts of late. It must be the uncharacteristically wet weather we are having--I've never experienced such a wet winter in the past 5 years that I've been in Melbourne.

But I digress. The bread and butter pudding, a traditional English fare, is perfect for a chilly winter's night. This treat emanates the most heavenly smell from the oven, which makes waiting for it to set to the perfect wobbly texture an excruciating experience. Fresh out of the oven, with a sprinkling of icing sugar, bread and butter pudding is the perfect comfort food. You don't have to get dressed up or dolled up to enjoy this dessert; it is unpretentious, and no, it will not judge you on the way you look in your pajamas and spectacles, nor will it ostracize you for the shockingly unrefined way in which you are eating it.

This is a dessert you would eat unabashedly with a big spoon straight from the bowl.

Bread and Butter Pudding
(adapted from The Gourmet Traveller)

serves 6, or 4 very hungry adults

85 g sultanas
2 Tbsp brandy
5 eggs
300ml pouring cream
300ml milk
55g caster sugar
Finely grated rind of an orange
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
8 slices day-old white bread (or any of your choice; i used raisin toast)
60g soft butter, plus extra for greasing
1 Tbsp demerara sugar
Icing sugar, to serve

Combine sultanas and brandy in a small bowl and set aside.Combine eggs, cream, milk, caster sugar, orange rind, vanilla seeds and cinnamon in a bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside. Spread both sides of the bread with butter and halve lengthways. Scatter 1/3 of the brandied sultanas into a lightly greased 1 litre capacity oven-proof dish (i used 4 x 250 ml ramekins). Trim bread slices to fit dish and layer, scattering remaining sultanas between each layer. Pour cream mixture evenly over bread slices and stand for about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 180C, and bake until golden and custard is firm (30 min for ramekins, 50 min for large dish). Serve immediately, with a dusting of icing sugar if desired.

Monday, June 2, 2008

So fluffy and light, you'd think it's a cloud!

I was in the mood to make something simple this week. Something that does not require a massive amount of concentration or dexterity. Something I know that I can pull together without any difficulty or dramas. But even then, I am too idealistic to regurgitate items I have made successfully in the past. Where's the fun in that?

I encountered these little darlings among the delicious pages of the Australian Women's Weekly Sweets book, looking so innocently out of their confining prison of glossy paper. I knew I had some rescuing to do, and immediately set to business.

These powder puffs (yes, that's what they call them; I would have preferred to call them 'Little Clouds', but no matter) are idiot-proof and super fast to make. I could've baked off the entire batch of 36 and cleaned up my mess in less than an hour, if not for the fact that I only had one 12-hole patty pan.

On a side note, I have been reading a lot on how to customize my layout and my header, with lots of help from the generous and kind Basma of Bakerette. (Thank you for pointing me towards the right direction!) So I hope you will forgive me if I seem less inclined to post anything new over the next few days. I will be simultaneously trying to work out the blogger system, create a new header, read up food photography techniques on Still Life With (thank you Lara for sparing a great deal of time and effort to share your knowledge with millions others; it is very much appreciated), get my life together while attempting to sneak in precious few baking time.

I decided to put in my little twist on these little treats, by way of adding maple syrup into one batch of cream and balsamic vinegar and black pepper into another. They both work really well, but my preference lies with the maple syrup variety; the maple syrup helps imparts the right amount of sweetness and depth, in my opinion. But the balsamic vinegar-black pepper variety, too, has its unique appeal---the result has none of the pungency of balsamic vinegar nor the obtrusive kick of black pepper---just a lingering subtle taste on your tongue that makes you wonder about its origins.

Strawberry Powder Puffs

makes 36 individual cakes, and 18 sandwiches
(adapted from The Australian Women's Weekly Sweets)

2 eggs
1/3 cup caster sugar
2 Tablespoons corn flour
2 Tablespoons plain flour
2 Tablespoons self-raising flour

Preheat oven to 180C (or 160C fan forced). Grease and flour two 12-hole shallow round-based patty pans. Beat eggs and sugar in a small bowl with electric mixer for about 4 min., or until mixture is thick and pale. Triple-sift flours, and fold into egg mixture. Place mixture in a piping bag and fill holes to about 2/3 full (or you can spoon the mixture into the holes). Bake about 10 min., turn immediately to cool. Wash, grease and flour pans again and repeat with the remaining mixture.

Strawberry Cream

1/2 cup thickened cream (35% fat)
1 Tablespoon icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup finely chopped strawberries, plus extra for garnish

Beat cream and the sifted icing sugar until it forms firm peaks. Fold in strawberries.

For maple syrup variation: Beat cream and sifted icing sugar with 1 Tablespoon of maple syrup until it forms firm peaks. Fold in strawberries.

For balsamic vinegar-black pepper variation: Beat cream and sifted icing sugar with 1 Teaspoon of balsamic vinegar until it forms firm peaks. Combine chopped strawberries with 1/4 Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and fold into cream mixture.

Note: You can increase/decrease the amount of black pepper/balsamic vinegar/maple syrup to suit your liking. Just be careful of not adding too much liquid as the whipped cream will not hold its shape.

To assemble: Sandwich puffs with strawberry cream just prior to serving. Dust with sifted icing sugar.