Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Tale of Avocado---or a Nanaimo Bar with a Twist


Grumpy and (sometimes) wrinkled on the outside, the green of spring within. There are several types available during the warmer months in Melbourne, but my favourite is the round, smooth-skinned Reed. Eating a Reed avocado is as close as you can get to total indulgence. Firmer in texture than the ubiquitous Hass, yet smooth and buttery at the same time, it is a luxury when you can find it.

Most people are surprised when they find out that I eat my avocados sweet. I think it's a South East Asian thing---avocado smoothie was one of the treats I had growing up. I would always order it whenever we sit down to lunch during our weekend expedition to the mall. My mom still makes it for me whenever they are in season when she comes over. 'Australian avocados are so much nicer to eat than the stringy ones we get back home', she said. I have to agree.

Avocado smoothie is essentially composed of condensed milk, avocado, and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. Before you judge me, let me say that I still find the idea of eating avocado in a savoury dish very strange, the exception being a particular recipe for chicken, celery, avocado and mayo sandwich that I love.
Even J, who was skeptical at first when I ordered an avocado smoothie at a local Thai restaurant, fell in love with it at the first sip.

But have you eaten an avocado on its own, without any distracting adornment? Tell me what it tastes like. For me, theres that distinctive nutty taste, followed by the smooth, buttery and creamy texture. But is it salty, or sweet, or sour, or bitter? Maybe I don't have a very refined palate, but it doesn't taste like any of those to me. But therein lies the true value of the avocado. It adds a very desirable texture and a subtle nutty taste without compromising on the harmony of flavours. It is an enhancer; you know that the avocado won't upstage the real star of the show, whatever he/she may be.

Besides, in a world where beets, pumpkin, zuchinni and carrots are made into cakes, and where mangoes, apples and even plums are incorporated into salads and sauces, who's there to judge how I use my avocados?

This preamble was meant as an introduction to my January DB Challenge. This month's challenge was a Canadian treat called the Nanaimo Bar, which is quite similar to the Australian confection called Caramel Slice. I decided to combine the two---creating the traditional Nanaimo Bar base using GF graham crackers (yum!), cocoa powder, and dessicated coconut. I had ran out of Golden Syrup so opted instead for honey. I also reduced the amount of brown sugar used in the recipe by a quarter, having been tipped off by Y about the sweetness of the biscuit.

The middle layer is a result of my love for avocados. I used a traditional caramel slice recipe, where you cook condensed milk to a golden brown, but with my own twist with the addition of avocado puree. I first made this filling about 4 months ago when avocados started coming into season, and even contemplated its inclusion into my summer range. It was good, and I knew that the flavours would work even before I made it because caramel slice contains the exact ingredients it took to make an avocado smoothie: condensed milk and chocolate. The verdict from my co-workers: Yum! Most of them didn't even know there was avocado in it. The green made them think 'pistachio', they said.

But in the end I decided against it because 1. it will most likely be a hard-sell, as people are used to eating avocados in a savoury dish; and 2. I'm very new to the baking business scene, and therefore want to avoid being remembered as 'the strange one who puts avocado in her caramel slice'.

But I think I'll hang on to the recipe, because it is too good to give up on it just yet. And one summer day, it may even make it to my product range.

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Summer Range is here...

This post is about shameless self-promotion. As much as this was meant as a personal food blog, my website's still being built, so I don't exactly have a destination for these just yet.

January's been quite busy for me---if you're new to the blog, I decided back in 2009 that I was tired of sitting around waiting for opportunities to come, and went on to start my own baking business, albeit on a part-time basis. One of my new year's resolutions was to take this venture as far as I could, and to seize every opportunity that presents itself to me. That would explain how I chose to begin this post.

I'm turning these Crumble Bars into Crumble Pies range --so you can eat
them straight out of your hand.

Sampler Box I created for the cafe people

Part of building the website required me to write a section that describes who we are, and what we stand for. I've written a number of press releases, essays, and papers in the past, but this has to be the most difficult piece I've had to write. First of all it made me look into the set of values that I personally want for the business, plucking them up from the chaotic abyss of my thoughts and then stringing them into pretty little sentences to make my ideas comprehensible. Second of all, it's a deeply personal thing, putting my heart and soul out for judgment. I mean, should I even be writing this way for this business-related post? Am I digging a deeper hole when I mix business with personal, emotions with ambition? My position as the owner of a tiny business trying to make a dent in the big world makes me vulnerable enough to scrutiny. Do I really need this?

But then I think back to all the blogs that I love, and I thought about why I, and thousands others, keep going back to those same ones. And I realise that it is because the writers of those blogs don't just post about things----they post about emotions. The ups, the downs, the good, the not-so-good, and sometimes the truly awful. They give their readers a chance to know who they are. So to hell with it.

On another note, I'd like to make mention of the process I undergo to create each product that you see in the photos. I know that I'm not the only person who's jumped on the 'fresh, seasonal and local produce' bandwagon, but there's a difference between working with seasonal produce for the sake of working with it, to actually taking the time to study and develop suitable ways to best showcase their extraordinary quality.

I never simply place a piece of poached fruit on top of a pound cake and call it a new product. If I ever do that, you can be rest assured that it is the best way to enjoy that cake, and because we would have explored and tested other ways, only to find that to be the most ideal. Even though I am young and still have so many things to learn---about produce as well as the pastry arts---I take the word 'artisan' in Treehouse Artisan Sweets very seriously. I can only hope others will too.