Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year, A New Start

Happy 2011!!

I've been thinking about this for quite some time now. I felt that in the past year, with the launch of Treehouse Artisan Sweets, I've moved away from blogging for personal reasons, to blogging more and more about the business. I know that you've noticed how seldom I post anything here in the past year; I have so many things to say, but I just felt that this wasn't the right space to convey them anymore.

I started 5 Types of Sugar as a journal to document my adventures in the sweet kitchen. Along the way, I've learnt a great deal. I'm still doing a great deal of recipe development and testing, but they are all for the business now. The thing about owning a seasonal cake/pastry business is that you're constantly challenged by the abundance of fruits and ingredients out there. This is what I do it for--the constant evolution of my products from season to season; each new season better than the last, as I also learn, gradually, more and more things about the incredible produce that I work with.

In the new blog, I hope I'll be able to share more with you---photos from the farmers market, gorgeous produce, links that I want to share with you, things that may not be a full post but will at least let you know what I'm up to.

So thank you for your support so far, and I'll see you on the other side!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Last of Winter's Offerings before the Bounty of Spring

Citrus Jasmine Cake

I had a month off from the market, owing to the Royal Melbourne Show. In that time, I told myself that I would use the free weekends and nights to test out new recipes, update the blog, and do a thousand other productive things. As things normally are around here, however, I have chosen to do all of them during the last week of the month.

Very Apple Tart

Lemon Yoghurt Cake

Ah, well, it's back to backbreaking work next week.

I thought I'd take this chance to show you the rest of the current range, while it is still as it is. Soon we're going to (hopefully) have the first of spring's bounty, and then everything will change. I can't wait to get out of woollen socks, tights and layers of knits and coats!!

Carrot Cake

Meyer Lemon Squares

I'll be back at the Showgrounds next Sunday with my treats. See you then??

Monday, August 9, 2010

Some new products and updates...

Honey, Almond and Rosewater Cake
Honey, Almond and Rosewater Cake

It has been so long since I made an appearance here that it felt a little strange.

As I got better at expressing myself through the flavours that I created, it seemed that I have less and less to write about. Sure, I have thoughts that linger for a while, and sometimes I think that they deserve to be written down, but they never stay as thoughts long enough for me to write about them. My medium of choice these days is baking.

There is less time for reflection when you are constantly on the move; I'm always thinking about how to improve the business, and I have so many ideas that I can't wait to express and realise , that I don't have a lot of time for self contemplation that is the backbone of good writing.

Lime and Yoghurt Cake
Lime and Yoghurt Cake

But I want to tell you that I am very happy. Sure, I want to move forward (excuse me, Ms. Gillard), but I like where I am at now. Those of you who have been following my tweets would know that I've started trading fortnightly at the Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers Market, and let me tell you, I don't think I can be happier or prouder about it.

There, I am part of an amazing community of farmers and producers who put their heart and soul into what they do. And if you haven't been there, or tasted their food yet, trust me when I say that you will be hard pressed to find anything better. I love being at the Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers Market so much that when I'm not there, all I could think of is how much I'm missing it. Mind you, I go to the Melbourne Community Farmers Market every Saturday, both to shop and just to be there, but somehow it just feels different when I am on the other side.

Rhubarb Velvet Cake
Rhubarb Velvet Cake

I relish seeing regulars coming back to get their favourites, and I beam like a proud mama when new faces light up after tasting my cakes. And yes, we have regulars already, despite only having been at the market 3 times so far. I am very touched and pleasantly surprised by how supportive the customers that frequent that market are! And in they come, rain, hail or shine, as proven on the first Sunday of August when the weather was so vile I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

I don't know how many people who are involved at the market actually linked Treehouse back to this blog. (The name is very different, plus as this is a mostly personal blog, I don't actually advertise it as much as I should. Although these days it's getting harder and harder to determine where work ends and life begins.) But I just thought that I should say a BIG thank you to all the customers, fellow stallholders, and market management team that makes the Melbourne Showgrounds Farmers Market what it is: a great market that's only going to get better.

PS. I promise that I'll try to take some photos of the market this Sunday.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

This is where I've been....

This past month has been a blur for me. The start of a new day job, which I'm really enjoying, for one, took up a substantial amount of physical and mental energy. Any down time that I have has been spent testing numerous recipes, doing research, taking and editing photos, and following up on paperwork and applications.

Finally I am able to unveil what has been taking up the majority of my time as of late. The fruits of my labour, the silver lining in my cloud when things are rough, my pride and my joy.

Those of you familiar to this blog knows that I take a lot of care in testing and developing my recipes. Sometimes all it took was an visual image in my mind to turn it into reality. Such was the espresso, fig and pomegranate cake. Other times, it took a lot of tries and a lot of frustration to reach a point where I am satisfied.

Late Summer Products
(I actually brought them out a month ago, so pardon the slightly out-of-seasonality)

Espresso, Fig and Pomegranate Cake with Butterscotch Sauce

Plum and Quark Cake
(Schulz Organic quark gave this cake a delectable tender and creamy crumb)

Is developing a cake recipe really that challenging? After all, there's a multitude of recipes anywhere you care to look which will readily give up its secrets at the flip of a page or the click of a button.

My cakes are an expression and an extension of myself. I know what I want them to taste like before the batter was made, before the ingredients were weighed. Some were just right the first try. Others required more tweaking, and a stubborn few ended up being axed from my repertoire.

I'm currently working on getting myself a spot at one of the Melbourne Farmers Markets, but I'm at that stage where all I can do is really cross my fingers. Amidst all, I find it imperative for my sanity that I take the time to read. I am attempting to re-educate myself, to strengthen my knowledge about eating and buying sustainably produced food, and the reason for it.

I may have mentioned that Barbara Kingsolver's 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle' is one of my favourite books. Ever. Kingsolver's genius lies in her ability to deliver information in engaging and often humorous ways that is always easy to understand. From there, I have branched out to Pollan's 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', a book which many, including both Barbara Kingsolver and Matthew Evans (see next paragraph), have made references to.

My most recent (and favourite) purchase was Matthew Evans' 'The Real Food Companion'. This book is truly a joy to read; something that I wish I had written myself, because, before the publication of said book, I had wished on numerous occasions that someone would write a book that focuses on produce and ingredients as well as the ways to prepare them. Preferably someone who understands Australian produce, and who champions seasonality. And in this book, I got exactly what I had been longing for: a book that explains produce with more than just a passing interest.

Fall/Winter Products
(or part of it, as I'm still testing recipes)

Brown Sugar and Apple CrumblePie

Pear and Milk Chocolate CrumblePie

Vanilla Bean and Maple Persimmon Cake

Honey and Almond Cake
(reminiscent of honey bears/graham crackers, but gluten-free!)

Quince and Rosewater CrumblePie

All that is the reason why I am doing this. Why I am adamant about changing my range with the change of seasons, and why I have to keep testing recipes using new season produce that I find on my weekly jaunts to the farmers' markets. It is not out of pretense that I categorise my produce into ' S/S' and 'F/W', but out of respect for the seasons and what they literally bring to the plate. What started as an interest has bloomed into a full blown love affair with baking and eating seasonally; at present I look forward to each week as new varieties of heirloom apples, pears, quinces, and fresh nuts and citrus go on their way to mark the start of colder weather.

With any luck at all, I may soon be on my way to sharing them with you.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

On White Peaches

I love white peaches. They are one of the things that I am going to miss about summer.

In Melbourne, white peaches typically start appearing in late Spring. However beware of those early pickings---they are either petrol guzzlers or early bloomers that could not get enough sun to turn their flesh into nectar. As a result, most of them will turn you off peaches for a long, long time. I pity the person whose first taste of peaches fall at that inopportune of times.

Peaches need the sun, and a bit of heat, to ripen. When I buy my tree ripened (yet still firm) peaches from the farmers' market, I normally leave the whole punnet out by the window for a couple of days. When I see their fuzzy skin start to wrinkle around the top, I know that they are ready for me.

My favourite, as I said, is the white freestone variety. This is the peach, with its white flesh and red pit, that created so much envy among other peaches. More subtle than the flavourful, and sometimes tart yellow variety, the white peach is like the that elegant cousin you see once a year at reunions, whose refined manners you secretly and desperately tried to mimic.

There are many ways to eat a peach. I for one will not be so bold as to instruct you on how to eat yours. However, I hope that you will allow me the indulgence of sharing mine. Dispensing with all cutlery or graceful manners, I eat mine right over the sink. There are few greater pleasures than eating a luscious, ripe peach, and letting its saccharine juices run down your arm to your elbow, catching the droplet with the tip of your finger, and then bringing it to your lips to savour every last bit of summer sunshine.

You can, of course, eat a peach in a more civilised manner, say, sliced and arranged on a plate, or with the skin off, but to me, there just can be no other way. And besides, if you don't tell and I say nothing, this can just stay between us, no?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Valentine's Day Cake

Today I'm here to talk about a cake.

Not just any cake, a cake that is intended for Valentine's Day. A flourless Belgian white chocolate cake, swathed in white chocolate and rosewater buttercream, and topped with pistachios and house-made sugared roses.

In case you are interested, the roses are fully organic; grown, tended and picked from a friend's garden. With love.

What better way to name a cake? White chocolate, Roses, and Love. I could see it even before I made it. And it was all I imagined it to be.

I'm still on a break from the market, so if you are interested in one, please send me an email. The size is 8-cm round (as pictured) ---perfect for a couple to share, or, if you are like me, just enough to eat on my own. I'm still looking into mail order service, so for the moment I can only take Melbourne orders for pick-up from the CBD. Please allow 48 hours minimum for all orders, and last orders must be received by 12 noon on Friday 12 Feb.

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