Tag Archives: baking

A Rainbow Birthday Cake for Ms Yangie!

9 Apr

AngelKitten has been a regular helper, co-cook, co-conspirator and dreamer in my kitchen. It started out as an expression of interest on AngelKitten’s part to learn how to cook … but it has evolved into a friendship forged by food, and a sisterhood defined by how we balance each other. She is a perfectionist – specific and exacting, designing the most delicate and beautiful visual elements for my food. I am a little more … Aries in my approach. I cook with great passion, and my food is usually delicious – but I have been known to be a tad disorganised and messy. AngelKitten records everything I do (many of the recipes on this blog come from her handwritten notes), and when we brainstorm, she is the one who designs, sketches and keeps notes.

One of the cakes that AngelKitten has always wanted to make was a rainbow cake – thin layers of vanilla cake, coloured in the seven shades of the rainbow. We were considering it for our Princess Doll Cake, but ended up deciding it would be just too complex. For that cake, we stayed with the pink (!) theme, and divided the vanilla cake in half and flavoured it with fresh raspberry puree. But the idea for a rainbow cake always stayed with AngelKitten, and when her Mum’s birthday came around, she asked if we could make it.

 

Ms Yangie's Birthday Rainbow Cake ... but where is the rainbow?!

 

We adapted the recipe for the vanilla cake for this rainbow cake. You need a little more batter, so instead of doubling it, I made one and a half times as much (with a touch less baking powder). You also require loads of bowls because you will need to divide the batter into seven. We followed the colours of the rainbow as exactly as possible – purple, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. We used Wilton gel colours because we wanted to achieve a very bright rainbow, though I think, with a little care, you could easily create a more pastel, but just as beautiful rainbow with IndiaTree colours.

You also need a lot of time. This cake takes seven bakings of 10 minutes each, and we only used two cake pans – so there was quite a bit of washing, cleaning, and cooling in between. We iced the cake with a vanilla bean cream cheese icing and AngelKitten made a chocolate ganache to pipe the decoration and birthday wishes. Yangie (AngelKitten’s Mum) had been wanting a rainbow on her cake, and when she received a pure white iced cake, kept asking, where is my rainbow? When she cut into the cake, and found this gorgeous rainbow, she was thrilled. And I was delighted with being able to help AngelKitten create such a wonderful gift for her beloved Mum.

Ahhh there it is! Rainbow Cake reveals itself!

Rainbow Cake

Makes 1 9-inch rainbow cake (7 layers)

  • 4 1/2 cups superfine or cake flour
  • 3 1/4 tsp baking powder1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tbsp (or more) vanilla (I used 3 large vanilla beans and 2 tbsp vanilla essence)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat your oven to 165C (325F) and line two 9 inch cake pans with parchment paper. Spray the cake tins with non stick spray or use some softened butter. Set aside. Have seven bowls at the ready, along with gel or liquid food colour, and toothpicks.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

In an electric stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and then add the vanilla. You should have a creamy batter, but dont worry if it looks a bit curdled – it does that sometimes!

Fold in (dont beat in) the flour mixture, alternating with the milk.

Divide the batter evenly into the seven bowls. Begin dying the batter, starting with the violet/purple hue. As soon as it is dyed to your liking (and remember it does get a little darker in the oven), pour the batter into a prepared baking tin, and smooth with a spatula. The layer will be very thin. Bake for ten minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, and it springs back lightly when pressed. Remove the layer from the oven, cool on a cake rack for about ten minutes, and then remove from cake tin by turning onto cake rack. Keep the parchment paper on the bottom of the cake as it cools. Repeat with the remaining six layers, prepping your pans as you go.

When the first layers have cooled sufficiently, begin to ice the cake (you will be icing and baking all at the same time! Multitasking is fun!). Centre the first layer of cake on a cake plate. Use the parchment paper to help you move the cake layer around – lift the layer into your hands by turning the cake rack over, and shift the layer over to the cake plate by carrying it on the paper. Use the first of your seven bowls of frosting, and frost the top of the cake, and the sides lightly. Repeat with the remaining layers, using the parchment paper to help you centre the cake layers on top of each other.

Once you have iced all the layers, frost a thin layer of icing along the top and sides. Place in the fridge for ten minutes (this is called the crumb icing – and helps you achieve a smooth final layer of icing), and then finally ice a thicker layer of vanilla cream cheese frosting over everything.

Serve to the delight of your family and friends!

Gorgeous and Dramatic

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting / Icing

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp vanilla essence or 1 – 2 vanilla beans

In an electric stand mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Make sure the two are completely combined and no lumps or bumps remain – this may take up to five minutes.

Remove the bowl, and sift the icing sugar over the butter-cream cheese mixture. Beat again until fully incorporated, adding the vanilla to taste as you go.

Divide the frosting into seven bowls (we reused the batter bowls) and ice the rainbow cake as above.

Ms Tina’s Gluten-Free Granola

4 Apr

Since I decided to take a pause in my life – and yes, thank you, I managed to turn 40 very successfully with the help and love of some dear friends – I havent been cooking a lot. Other life issues demanded precedent. I needed something to get me moving again, and of course, I do love a challenge. My dear friend, Ms Tina gave me a challenge that was intriguing and exciting. She asked me to create a truly tasty and delicious gluten-free granola for her.

Gluten-free is basically a diet that is completely free of any gluten containing cereals, specifically wheat, spelt, barley, and rye – and ensuring that no ingredients used have any gluten based cereals as an additive or filler, and even that non gluten flours / ingredients have not been processed on machines which also are used for wheat. This is a moment which calls for vigilance in shopping! I am lucky in that I have O’Gourmet Food Hall as a wonderful resource for hard to find ingredients that are also natural, not overly processed, and organic.

While the recipe is very open to interpretation, you must make sure that all ingredients are gluten-free – and the best way to do that is by reading the small print. I found some rice flour for this recipe, but I did not read the small print. When I got home, I found that the rice flour had been processed on machines that were also used for wheat flour – so I ended up using gluten-free buckwheat flour instead. I had to search quite hard to find gluten-free ingredients, but the effort was worth it!

This makes about 10 cups of granola. Its not labour intensive, but it does take quite a bit of time in the oven, with checking and turning every 20 minutes or so. Bake it in the still of the night, or on a lazy Sunday. Please also do feel free to chop and change ingredients. You may not like nuts in your granola as much as I do – add raisins, cranberries, apricots, etc. I could not find gluten-free oats (and remember, not every oat is gluten free!) so I used gluten-free muesli instead – it already had raisins and apricots, so I decided not to add any more. You need about 11 cups of mixed granola ingredients. I also tried to add as little oil as possible to the granola – but the result was a granola which did not clump together as much as I would have wished it to. Add up to 1/2 cup more oil to really bind the mixture together.

With a bit of care and creativity, you will find that this granola is well worth the effort – delicious, gluten-free and vegan to boot!

Makes 10 cups

  • 4 cups gluten-free oats (or gluten-free muesli if you cannot find pure oats)
  • 2 cups quinoa flakes
  • 1 cup sunflower / sesame seeds
  • 1 cup raw whole macadamias, roughly smashed
  • 1 cup raw hazelnuts, roughly smashed
  • 1 cup raw pistachios
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 3 tbsp rice flour
  • 3/4 cup best quality honey (I used a mix of leatherwood and manuka)
  • 3/4 – 1 1/2 cups canola or sunflower oil
  • 1/2 cup organic juice (I used an organic raspberry and pear juice)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 – 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • Large pinch of sea salt

Preheat the oven to 115 C (250F). Line your largest baking tin with parchment paper and set aside.

Mix the oats/muesli, quinoa flakes, sunflower/sesame seeds, macadamia, hazelnuts, pistachios, and cashews together in a very large bowl. Use your hands, and really ensure everything is mixed well. Sprinkle over the rice flour, and combine again.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, oil, juice, vanilla extract, cinnamon and ginger. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients, and using your hands, mix well to combine. The granola should be quite soggy. Sprinkle sea salt over, and combine again with your hands. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Turn the granola out onto your prepared baking sheet, and pat it into a very large, well packed rectangle. Place in the oven and bake for up to three hours, removing it every 20 minutes or so, and turning the granola over  in sections to make sure it crisps every where.

After about 3 hours, remove the granola from the oven, and pat and pack the granola down quite well, and switch the oven off, but return the granola back to the cooling oven. Leave, undisturbed for at least another 2 hours, or even overnight.

Break the granola into large chunks, and store in air tight containers, for up to 2 weeks.

Enjoy!

Pink Princess Barbie Cake!

19 Feb

Yes, really. A pink princess barbie cake. I never thought I would ever type that, but there you go … My friend Tins asked her daughter what kind of cake she wanted for her third birthday, and MizZ came up with a pink princess barbie cake. I have an issue with the unrealistic body image associated with most dolls of this kind … but I also understand that at 3 years old, sometimes fantasy is pink and glitter and conventionally pretty. 😉

AngelKitten and I had a conversation, and decided we were up to the task. I would make the cake (this pink raspberry and vanilla swirl cake), and she would be responsible for the exterior decoration, with assistance from me. We went shopping, and found a lovely brown haired doll with a princess crown already in place, and we also picked up a skirt cake mold from Wilton. I practiced my cake, and AngelKitten drew designs and planned a mixture of fondant, royal icing, buttercream and glitter!

We realised pretty early on that the cake skirt mold would not fit the doll – she was too tall for it. So I knew I had to bake three cakes – a base cake (which we buttercreamed and covered in pink fondant), and then a second smaller round cake, upon which the skirt cake would be stacked. We buttercreamed the small cake and skirt cake, and stuck them together, and then added a top layer of vanilla buttercream. We then covered the skirt cake in white fondant for contrast, and then put a second layer of cut out pink fondant over the top to build up a design. We cut out flowers from the pink fondant so that some of the white would show through, and the design worked really well. We used a lovely white and pink flower ribbon I had originally bought for Chinese New Year cakes – this became the border for the pink fondant on the skirt, as well as a belt, a ribbon tie at the back of the doll, and a shawl.

AngelKitten made beautiful roses from royal icing, which we then added to little mini cupcakes, and she also cut out the lettering from white and light purple fondant. We allowed the lettering to dry overnight, and then we attached it to the cake with royal icing (which dries hard and is like edible superglue!) AngelKitten also made four beautiful purple flower cutouts and attached the letters of MizZ’s name to four organic lollypops. She stuck the lollies through the purple flowers, which she had positioned on mini cupcakes. Finally, AngelKitten spent quite a while delicately going over the cake and highlighting it with edible glitter so our pink princess shimmered and shined.

It was quite a massive undertaking, but the end results were lovely, even if I do say so myself. I like the fact that the ribbon we used was quite Asian … and so the princess had an identity which made sense to us. We christened her Princess Theresa-san … and I am not sure who was happier with her, MizZ or her mama 🙂

Here are some photos of the cake. Please do contact me if you want help in assembling your own princess cake for a birthday or baby shower. I think our cake proves that even those of us without much experience can pull it off!

Princess Theresa-san the night before her debut

 

Princess Theresa-san at MizZ's Birthday

Princess Theresa-san awaiting the arrival of the children

The back view - we belted Princess T with ribbon (in part to cover up any fondant mistakes!) and AngelKitten tied a beautiful almost kimono like bow at the back. Very pretty!

Happy 3rd Birthday! Our fondant words, cupcakes, and MizZ's name, not in lights, but in lollypops!

A beautiful purple flower cupcake

Raspberry Vanilla Cake

15 Feb

I have to admit… I love cake. Any kind of cake, really, is a friend of mine. Chocolate, vanilla, carrot, yellow, white, ginger… Damp cake, fluffy cake, spicy cake or pound cake. I am an equal opportunity (cake) lover … and I really enjoy tasting and baking new cakes.

Recently, my dear friend Tins, asked me to bake a cake for her daughter’s 3rd birthday. There were a few pre-requisites. It had to be pink (obviously), have a princess doll theme, and have no nuts. AngelKitten and I decided on that old standard from our childhoods (though they might be decades apart) – a doll cake – the skirt a cake, and a doll sticking straight out of it! We also decided to bake a larger round cake as the base, and fondant the whole thing (in pink) with pretty roses and and decorations.

Hopefully, we will get this right, but I decided to see if I could create a cake that had elements of pink in it too! I decided to see if I could make a raspberry vanilla cake – light yet firm, buttery, scented with vanilla, with a swirl of pink cake in the centre – a beautiful looking cake that tastes good too.

This cake is very pretty – and its perfect for decorating or fondanting because it also has a certain heft and structure. Do bake it the day before decorating to let it set up a bit. It will keep, fondanted, for at least 3 – 5 days. The great thing about this cake, though, is that it is perfect as a tea cake, unadorned, or as a layered celebration cake. Its just lovely, and has now joined my list of favourite cakes to make!

This recipe will yield 2 9 inch layers

  • 3 cups flour (I used 1/2 all purpose 1/2 cake)
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (8 oz) butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp (or more) vanilla
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup raspberry puree (approximately – depends on quality of puree)

Preheat your oven to 165C (325F) and line two 9 inch cake pans with parchment paper. Set aside

In a small bowl, soft together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

In an electric stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and then add the vanilla. You should have a creamy batter, but dont worry if it looks a bit curdled – it does that sometimes!

Fold in (dont beat in) the flour mixture, alternating with the milk.

Divide the batter into half (though if you like more pink, you could go up to 2/3rds  vs 1/3). Divide half the batter between the two prepared cake tins, smoothing up the sides.

Fold the raspberry puree into the second half of batter. You want quite a pink cake, so make sure that the puree gets integrated fully. Add more if you think it is needed. Pour the raspberry batter evenly between the two cake pans, and smooth the tops of the cakes.

Bake for approximately 25 – 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with scant crumbs attached. Cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes, before turning out and cooling to room temperature.

You can ice, frost, glaze, fondant or even serve this lush cake naked! Its delicious and beautiful.

Enjoy!

Zucchini Chocolate Spice Bread

12 Feb

I love zucchini bread – bold in its simplicity and perfectly comforting. Its a good bread, one that is easily frozen and surprisingly easy and quick to make. I thought of this bread when I saw some luscious zucchini at O’Gourmet last week, and thought that it might be a nice idea to try a new twist. I found Bentong ginger powder at PastryPro – organic, sun-dried and so deep and complex in scent its almost overwhelming. I wanted to use it in a bread, and with my beautiful zucchini to hand, I set about inventing a new, enticing version of my beloved old standard.

I have to admit, this new zucchini bread is pretty spectacular. It is damp, lush, complex and dark. I really decided to go all out in this bread … I used dark and light brown sugar, freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon and the amazing Bentong ginger, a touch of ground hazelnuts, beautiful Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, and both white and bittersweet chocolate. I realise, its full on! I thought to myself, when I put the loaves in the oven … either this is going to be delicious, or its going to taste like a muddled mess!

Luckily, its a wonderful, complicated, intriguing bread. Its very moist and it will get better over a few days – the flavours compounding and playing off one another. It freezes well, and its wonderful lightly toasted, as a snack, breakfast or tea time treat. Plus, what a wonderful way to get people to eat their zucchini and love it too!

I know that this seems a load of ingredients to bring together. If you cant find ground hazelnuts, or dont want to make them, substitute ground almonds, or even just plain flour. Chop and change as you wish, its a very forgiving recipe. Try though to include the honey and the spices … they really deepen and improve the bread immensely. And who doesnt like chocolate? Hehe … though if you want to be more healthy, try a few seeds or dried fruit instead. And do try and wait at least 10 minutes after you remove the bread from the hot oven – its very delicate at first, and needs a moment to firm up! Says she, who never waits 😉

Makes 2 loaves

  • 2 medium-large zucchini (approximately 2 – 3 cups grated)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup canola or other vegetable oil
  • 1 scant cup sugar – half dark brown, half light brown
  • 1 heaping tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla pod, beans scraped
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried ginger (I used Bentong ginger, which is very flavourful – you may want to up the amount of ginger – may be 1 – 2 tsp –  depending on the quality of your source)
  • 1/2 whole nutmeg, grated
  • 2 cups chocolate chips, drops or chopped (I used half bittersweet, half white, best quality chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 175 C (350 F). Line two loaf pans with baking paper. I usually cut out a large piece of baking paper, centre the loaf pan, and cut in at a 90 degree angle on all four corners. I can then fold in the paper, and have a bit of nice overhang. Set aside the pans.

Set a sieve over a small bowl, and grate the zucchini into the sieve. I use the very fine grater, but depending on the texture youre going for, you might want to grate it slightly more coarsely. Press the zucchini into the sieve to encourage as much water out as possible (you will probably get about 1 cup worth). Set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients (and reserve both the zucchini and its liquid!).

In a large bowl, place the eggs, vegetable oil, sugars, honey and vanilla. Whisk together well until everything is well combined and integrated. Set aside.

In a small bowl (or large measuring jug, which is what I use) combine the flour, ground hazelnuts, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Stir to combine completely. Set aside for a moment.

Measure out about 1/2 cup of zucchini water.

Stir the flour and zucchini water into the sugar/oil mixture, in thirds, mixing gently but thoroughly. You might not use all of the zucchini water – just add a splash each time to really help the flour to integrate into the sugar/oil.

Add all the zucchini and mix well, and finally add the chocolate and mix well.

Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf tins.

of Zucchini Bread!Bake, switching the tins in the oven half way through if youre concerned about hot spots, for about 45 minutes – 1 hour. A cake tester inserted into the loaf will either come up covered in chocolate (in which case, wipe down and try again!) or with scant crumbs attached.

Allow the bread to cool for 10 minutes or so before devouring. This freezes exceedingly well, and will stay good in the fridge for a week or more (though its always finished up by the first day or so in my house!).

Enjoy!

 

Baby Shower!

20 Jan

This coming Sunday, I am hosting a baby shower for one of my dearest friends. It was going to be a rather casual affair, but we suddenly realised we have more than 60 people coming! Luckily, we live in the tropics, and the party can spill out into the pool area.

Cooking for those you love is a form of service and joy. I have cooked for birthdays and weddings, for those who are ill and for those who want to celebrate. I dont think I have ever cooked for a baby shower though. This crowd is going to be a lovely mix of women, some who are new friends, and others who I have known for decades.

Making food for a celebration is always special – but to celebrate a new life, well, now, thats just a beautiful moment. My friend is gathering around her all those who mean much, and it is such an honour to be able to provide the food for such a group.

I love cooking for parties, but I have to admit, 60 people is a bit daunting. At least we invited them for tea, and not for a major meal! AngelKitten and I have been working quite hard to come up with a balanced and delicious high tea, that has luxurious and exotic elements to it.

Here is what we are going to serve:

  • Baked spinach and artichoke dip – this one is a standby that is delicious every time we make it. We have adapted it somewhat to suit the Asian palette – we add a lot of very hot chili powder to the mix. It transforms the dip into something very special.
  • Mini cheddar cheese scones – stuffed with herbed cream cheese / chili jam / cranberry cheese – I love these, and they are easy to make and delicious to eat. Stuffing them with a variety of fillings gives variety from a single bake.
  • Avocado and feta dip – salty, creamy, fresh and bright. Avocados always feel luxurious, and feta is the perfect complement to the cool green flesh. A little lemon juice and some herbs make this dip complex, and yet it is so easy to make.
  • Sliced carrots and chips on the side – so that those who want a little indulgence can have chips, and those who want a lighter option can munch on the carrots!
  • Truffled potato salad – because sometimes a new, decadent twist on an old favourite is called for! I like having at least one dish that is different, and that will spark people’s interest and appetites. I will probably use mascarpone with the truffles … simple and deeply flavourful.
  • Starry starry night cookies – these baked truffle cookies, made with bittersweet chocolate, honey, almond flour, eggs and sugar, are my friend’s favourite. They are so good.
  • Ginger cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting – a request from my friend. I have some gorgeous ginger curd from O’Gourmet Food Hall which I am considering using in the cake batter to make it deeper, damper and more delicious. Luckily, we also found some Bentong ginger at O’Gourmet, so I know that the cake will be bright and beautifully gingery.
  • Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting – because you cant have too much chocolate, and because AngelKitten and I were worried that with 60 people, one cake wouldnt be enough!
  • Fruit salad with iced raspberry puree – a fresh alternative to all the rich desserts. We have a watermelon, kiwi and dragon fruits… and we are freezing raspberry puree into ice molds. These will be dotted amongst the salad, and will keep it cool and fresh, as well as add flavour and taste.
  • Iced fruit tea with starfruit

And for thank you gifts for all our guests, I am making blondies – ten per person … Ive just filled about 45 little gift bags, and will do the rest tomorrow.

What do you think? Any other suggestions? 🙂

O’Gourmet Food Hall Yee Sang Cake

18 Jan

One of the things I love about working with O’Gourmet Food Hall is that I am constantly challenged to think differently. Creating new recipes is intense, focused and fulfilling work, but the pleasure is multiplied when one has inspiring ingredients, and people, to work with.

I have enjoyed getting to know the various characters who work at O’Gourmet, and I am always interested in the new products which come in. Its wonderful to be the first to know about the sublime chili brought by hand from Kashmir, or to be introduced to an intriguing cheese.

About a month or so ago, LingCat came to me and told me that O’Gourmet was working on a Chinese New Year booklet, highlighting some of the unique food and drink of the season. She asked me to think outside the box, and come up with an special New Year dish. I love this kind of challenge, and it reflects, for me, the philosophy of O’Gourmet – unique, interesting and tasty, with a twist!

AngelKitten and I had lunch and threw around lots of different ideas, but we kept coming back to the traditional Yee Sang salad. Usually served as an appetiser, the Yee Sang is a very symbolic savoury dish, with each ingredient representing a wish for the new year. Tossed together at the table, the Yee Sang is a communal wishing for good luck and abundance.

However, Yee Sang is almost always served with raw fish – not very vegetarian! So AngelKitten and I decided to up-end this salad, and turn it from savoury to sweet. What would a Yee Sang dessert look like? We wandered through O’Gourmet Food Hall and were inspired by the dried fruits and nuts, and the gorgeous miniature apples and oranges. We decided that we would create a cake that looked like a plate, upon which a “salad” of symbolic fruit and nuts would be tossed. Each element of the dish needed to represent a different hope for the new year, and after some research (and much tasting), we had our ingredients.

We were lucky enough to have the wisdom and generosity of Mama Min (an amazing baker), who introduced us to PastryPro. This professional baker’s paradise was able to print a graphic image of a blue and white china plate on a sheet of icing for us. As we are entering the Year of the Rabbit, we found a beautiful image of an old china plate, with a rabbit front and centre. And of course, since rabbits love carrots, we decided that the base for the cake “plate” would be carrot cake, with a twist. We added a scant amount of 5 spice powder (a common element in the traditional Yee Sang), and came up with a unique and delicious cake which embodied the Chinese New Year.

We chose our “salad” ingredients with care. Dried pomelo, mango, lychee and strawberries, as well as caramelised cashews, chocolate almonds, winter melon, pumpkin and sesame seeds. I also candied some tiny Japanese apples, and caramelised some beautiful little oranges. AngelKitten spent ages painstakingly painting the dried fruits and nuts with gold powder, and I baked, candied and caramelised. We rolled fondant, applied our beautiful printed icing sheet, and sat back and sighed with happiness.

We brought our Yee Sang Cake to the brilliant Ping and Partner whose photographs grace this page. And when we finally saw the recipe in print, it was a feeling that cant be described … pride, happiness, satisfaction. In the end, we created a stunningly beautiful (and very delicious) version of the traditional Yee Sang.

Both AngelKitten and I would like to wish everyone a prosperous and happy Year of the Rabbit!

If you would like the recipe, please pick up a copy of O’Gourmet Food Hall’s “Traditions and Reunions” booklet at Bangsar Shopping Centre, or download the pdf by clicking on this link.

Please note that all images on this post are copyright O’Gourmet Food Hall, and may not be reproduced without written permission.

O’Gourmet Food Hall Asparagus & Mushroom Tart

19 Dec

The other day, I bumped into my friend, MsTina, as I was wandering the halls of O’Gourmet. She took one look at my face, and just laughed. I was wandering in a haze of sensual delight, in one hand a spoon, from tasting the oils and vinegars at Vom Fass, and the other hand rubbing together together a bit of Betong ginger – fresh, organic and local and with a scent that has to be experienced to be believed.

I am truly enjoying my weekly sojourns to O’Gourmet because of the quality and variety of ingredients. Inspiration seems to be everywhere. I love all the gorgeous glass bottles of sauce and spice and everything nice. I could just stand and look at all the enticing spices and nuts, tasting this and that, for ages. And dont even get me started on the vegetables! They are so beautiful! Displayed as if in a museum, with the choicest and most perfectly chosen pieces offered up for your pleasure. The woman in charge of the fruits and vegetables, Miss Heng, is a master at knifework, and so she prepares all the produce with an eye to pleasing the visual palate. When I am there, I can be inspired in an instant!

This week, my eye was caught by the most beautiful trio of asparagus – white, green and purple. Asparagus is an fascinating vegetable. Grown above ground, in full sunshine, it turns green, but cover it a little, so that only heads peek above, and the limited amount of chlorophyll it consumes means that the asparagus turns out purple. And grown completely underground, and harvested in the early dawn, so that very little light affects its growing, asparagus is clean pure white. Each tastes different – the white can be very sweet, the purple a kind of calm middle ground, and the green has that traditional nutty lemony flavour.

I decided I wanted to make an asparagus tart – but then I was captured by the gorgeous leeks and the creamy and fresh mushrooms – both white button and portobello. So I decided that I was going to make a tart which incorporated everything. I thought I would use phyllo pastry dough so it would be a rough, freeform tart, and I would place the asparagus and the mushrooms in alternating blocks of intensity on the pastry. From Vom Fass, I sourced gorgeous scented truffle oil for the mushrooms, and a bright, brilliant lemon oil to finish off the asparagus.

Now the only decision was what would form the cushion upon which the veggies would sit in splendour. I wanted the process to be simple – as complex as these tastes are, putting together this tart only takes a few minutes. So, of course, a consultation with M. Sebastien at the cheese room was in order (along with a few heavenly tastings of cheese!). He decided on a Crottin de Chavignol to pair with the asparagus. It was a master step. Crottin de Chavignol is perhaps the most famous of the goat cheeses. Its created, to strict standards, in a tiny village in the Loire valley. Its creamy, nutty, slightly tart – and perfectly balances the delicacy of the asparagus. For the mushrooms, we decided on a Pecorino al Tartufo – a young pecorino, stuffed to the gills with truffles. The scent was overwhelmingly blowsily lush, and I could have purred with happiness right then and there. To bind them together, I decided on using a little cream cheese (and in a bold move), some Delice de Bourgogne – a gorgeous cow’s milk cheese which tastes like organic cream imbued with sunshine and hay. Its like a brie, but less strong – its centre was crumbly and yet yeilding, and the edges were thickly creamy. What a cheese!

I would suggest, if you have a good cheese shop, to go, taste, and consult. There are few experiences quite so lovely as the careful contemplation of beautiful cheese. And a cheese master can help you pair cheese – particularly if you tell them exactly how you will use it – with various vegetables and foods. If you are making this tart from what you can find in the market, I would look for a good parmesan or pecorino, some goat’s cheese and a great cream cheese. This recipe is definitely adaptable – use your own cooking intelligence, your sense of taste and balance, and it will be gorgeous!

While this recipe is simple, there are a few steps to be followed. Because of the phyllo pastry, you want to make sure that the ingredients are not wet, otherwise the pastry will be soggy. Most, if not all, of the work can be done before hand. Prebake the pastry for ten minutes – it can be kept in the fridge up to 2 days. Mix and mash the cheeses, and keep covered in the fridge until ready to use. And blanch the asparagus (they live longer in the fridge if slightly blanched) and prep the mushrooms up to three days in advance. Assembly of the tart takes minutes (particularly if youve already baked the shell), and once baked, the tart can be kept in the fridge, for up to two days, reheated in a low oven, covered, just before serving.

Serves 8 – 10 people as a starter, 4 – 6 people as a main course

Balsamic mushrooms

  • 1/2 cup dried mushrooms – I used black trumpet
  • 1 – 2 tbsp truffle oil or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 leek, finely diced
  • 2 cups mixed mushrooms – about 4 – 6 portobello and 4 – 6 button – peeled and finely sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup red wine (or Fre red alcohol removed wine)
  • 2 – 4 tbsp best quality, aged balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl, and cover completely with boiling water. Let stand for ten minutes while you prep all the vegetables. Once the mushrooms have softened, remove from the water with a sieve in a scooping motion. I dont drain the mushrooms because the silt from the mushrooms tends to come with them, so I simply scoop them out of the water they have been softening in.

Place the softened mushrooms in a saucepan, cover with water, and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Drain and chop roughly. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, over medium heat, melt the butter into the oil. Add the leek, and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the leek has softened, and turned glossy.

Add the fresh mushrooms, half a cup at a time. You want them to saute, and quickly lose their water without becoming soggy. Stir well after every addition, and season with salt and pepper.

About half way through your mushrooms, add the red wine, increase the heat to high, and let the mushrooms absorb the wine and bubble away. It shouldnt take too long for the wine to almost completely evaporate.

Add the rest of the fresh mushrooms, adjusting seasoning, and stirring well. Allow them to saute till almost dry, and then add the balsamic. This will caramelise the mushrooms and bring out their dark sweet quality.

Add the reserved chopped dried mushrooms, adjust seasoning, and allow to cook for about 5 minutes on medium high heat. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed, and set aside until at room temperature.

These mushrooms can be used in pasta, salad, sandwiches – whatever strikes your fancy! They will keep for 3 – 5 days in the fridge, well covered.

Asparagus

  • 1 bunch of asparagus – 6 – 9 stalks if large – if you can get a mixed colour variety, do so – it looks dramatically gorgeous!
  • 1 tbsp lemon oil or olive oil to finish

Prepare the asparagus. Wash clean in running water, and then take each stalk, and snap near the base. It will snap naturally – the base bits can be frozen and used for soup or a pasta sauce base at another time.

Place the asparagus in a large bowl, and cover completely with boiling water. Allow to sit for a few minutes, until the asparagus has turned bright green. This really depends on the thickness of your asparagus – if you are using the thin delicate type, this may only be a few seconds, thicker varieties will need 3 minutes or so.

Remove the asparagus from the boiling water with tongs, and place in an ice water bath immediately. Or place in another bowl, and run very cold water over.

Asparagus blanched in this manner can be dried well, and then frozen until ready to use (up to 3 months), or refrigerated up to 3 days

Cheese Base

  • 100 g + 100 g cream cheese
  • 75 g + 75 g Delice de Bourgogne or other soft white delicate cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 2 x 6 g rounds Crottin de Chavignol (or other good goat’s cheese crottin)
  • 100 g Pecorino al Tartufo (truffled pecorino – or other good pecorino or parmesan)
  • 1 tsp lemon oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 tsp truffle oil (or olive oil)

For the asparagus cheese: Place 100 g cream cheese in a small bowl. Cut the rind off the Delice de Bourgogne (if using), and mash into the cream cheese using a fork. Cut the rinds off the Crottin de Chavignol, and mash the cheese in as well. Add 1 tsp lemon oil or olive oil, and taste. Cover and reserve in the fridge for up to two days.

For the mushroom cheese: Place 100 g cream cheese in a small bowl. Cut the rind off the Delice de Bourgogne (if using), and mash into the cream cheese using a fork. Grate or crumble the Pecorino al Tartufo into the bowl, and mash to combine. Add the truffle oil and taste. Cover and reserve in the fridge for up to two days.

Phyllo Tart Case

  • 1 package phyllo pastry
  • 3 – 5 tbsp butter, browned and melted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Phyllo pastry is very difficult to make by hand because its so thin and delicate. Purchase a good quality phyllo from the store, and treat it well, and you will be fine. Defrost in the fridge for a day before use, or for 2 hours at room temperature. When you unroll the phyllo, place on a board or in a jelly roll pan, and cover with a damp cloth.

Preheat the oven to 170C (350F), and line a baking sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and allow it to just brown a bit. This will add immeasurably to the flavour of the finished product. Add the olive oil and mix well. Let come to room temperature.

Place one or two sheets of phyllo pastry on the parchment lined sheet, and brush gently with the butter/oil mixture. Gently place another layer of phyllo over and brush with the butter/oil mixture. Continue until the entire package of phyllo pastry has been finished – usually about 15 – 20 layers. Sometimes I double the layers of pastry between brushes of butter and oil.

Create edges along the sides of the tart by folding inward about an inch, along all four sides. Prick the internal pastry with a fork, gently – otherwise the phyllo will puff up.

Bake in the oven for about 10 – 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool to room temperature, and reserve, for up to 2 days, tightly wrapped in the fridge.

Assembly

  • Pre-baked Phyllo Pastry Tart case
  • Asparagus Cheese Mix
  • Mushroom Cheese Mix
  • Asparagus
  • Balsamic Mushrooms
  • Olive oil to finish – or lemon oil (for asparagus) and truffle oil (for mushrooms)

Preheat oven to 170C (350F). Make sure everything is at room temperature.

Look at the tart case. It should be a large rectangle. In your mind’s eye, divide the rectangle up into four quarters. Working from the bottom up, spoon asparagus cheese in the left lower quarter, mushroom cheese in the right lower quarter, asparagus cheese in the upper right quarter, and finish off with mushroom cheese in the upper left quarter.

Layer the asparagus over the quarters which hold the asparagus cheese, and spoon the mushrooms over the mushroom cheese. Finish off with just a little dribble of oil.

Bake for 35 – 45 minutes in the oven, until the cheese is bubbling and burnished, and the pastry is a dark golden brown.

Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature.

Will keep in the fridge, fully baked, tightly covered, for up to 2 days. Reheat in a gentle oven, covered in tin foil to avoid burning, for about 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Pushing Boundaries

16 Dec

This week has been a week for the pushing of boundaries in all sorts of ways. Its quite an experience to put oneself out there, and try new things. To expose oneself as one is, to be seen and acknowledged. While I am confident and at ease with my cooking, so far, I have only chosen to share my food with my nearest and dearest – my family and friends. And while people have said to me for ages that I should branch out, and begin to cook on a professional level, the idea, frankly, scared me.

When you cook for those you love, you think about them. You imagine what would interest and titillate their senses. You are aware of their likes and dislikes, the food they adore, and what they avoid. And while I have found cooking to be an extraordinarily personal and powerful expression of my creativity, and my soul joy, I also recognise that when I cook for those who I know and hold dear, I am cooking in a safe way. If it all goes bottoms up, we can always order Indian vegetarian food! 😉

Why am I telling you all this? This past Friday, I had dinner at Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio with some very close friends. One of them, GoddessSpouse, started talking to me about baking and providing catering from the recipes I have developed. I nodded in agreement, and told him that I was working my way towards that, albeit slowly. He said, why not start now? He needed a tea break for 12 – 15 people on Tuesday, and he wanted me to do it. Could I? I couldnt think of an excuse, and so I said yes…. well, may be… let me get back to you.

But GoddessSpouse is a smart and clever man. He didnt accept waffling, and just said, OK then, I will see you on Tuesday at 3pm.

I have to say, it scared the bejesus out of me. But in a gooood way. It made me consider my life, look at the choices I have made, and why I made them.

It made me realise that for me, to truly embrace this gift and passion I have, I had to put it out there. My beloved ones, bless them, have always given me such intensely positive feedback. But to share my cooking with those who were not my beloved ones, well that would be a new experience. And as I said, this week seems to be a week of opening myself up to possibility. I had to test myself in the unknown. I had to see how people would react when I shared my passion with them.

It was a tea break, for goodness sake. If I could cook 11 dishes for Thanksgiving in 2 days, for 15 – 18 people, surely I could handle a tea break!

I made a batch of Starry Starry Night cookies, and two small pots of baked artichoke, spinach and parmesan dip (adding a lot more garlic, and some chili to spice it up a bit), served with tortilla chips and sliced carrots and cucumbers. AngelKitten came along to help set up – but also to provide much needed love and support (thank you Kitten). I was nervous, but I found that once it began, once I really settled and took a breath, I found myself.

How was the reaction? Wonderful! The participants ate, and ate, and ate. They loved the food, and they were interested, open and supportive. It was a beautiful experience.

GoddessSpouse turned the process into a learning experience, not only for the participants but for me. It was a small step, but I realised that this was something I could do, with confidence and calmness (eventually), with diplomacy (thanks Ayah!) and with great joy and pride.

Another step towards the life I want for myself. Another experience lived. A further layer of happiness added to the joy of knowing my true self.

Thank you to all of you who pushed my boundaries this week. I appreciate having been able to take that first step in such a safe and supportive space.

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

4 Dec

Deep Dark DelectableSome days, you just need chocolate. For happy, for sad, for good and for bad, chocolate has a remarkable complexity and depth to it which just eases you on your way. I have a real deep affinity for chocolate, and I always try and have some in the house at all times. There is something so essentially sexy about chocolate. Its the stuff of lovely naughty imaginings, and it is unabashedly decadent and delightful.

And I am a serious chocolate snob. Cheapo chocolate made with vegetable fats (like those overly sweet sugary candy bars) is not something I crave regularly. Admittedly, sometimes it just hits the spot, but its obvious junk food. Deep, dark bittersweet chocolate though, preferably Valhrona or Callebut … now there, my dears, is something to get excited about.

Bittersweet chocolate is real chocolate in my book (though you will never see me turning down milk or white Valhrona or Callebut) … it has such deep notes, so much going on in each bite. It resonates with the sunshine and the earth where it was grown, it has notes of coffee, caramel, plum, tobacco, dusk. A small mouthful of bittersweet chocolate brings me straight into the now. I cannot think of anything but that melting bass pounding taste. Its amazing.

And I am a chocolate snob in other ways as well. Chocolate and fruits, meh. Well, chocolate and bananas and chocolate and some berries are okay, but Im not a huge fan of astringent orange or lemon and chocolate. It just doesnt do it for me. Though I do love a good mint and chocolate combo. And chocolate and nuts is a combination which I have generally stayed away from… Again, some nuts, for me, are okay with chocolate (almonds, hazelnuts and peanut butter), but the dairy nut tins were never my first choice.

However, I have been gradually re-evaluating this stance. Gesine Bullock-Prado’s Starry Starry Night cookies introduced me to the wonders of baked almonds and chocolate, and I have recently been fiddling with a combination of hazelnuts and chocolate. The most famous hazelnut and chocolate combo is that sweet treat from all our childhoods – Nutella spread. But there is a lovely grace to the pairing, the round, rich, caramel notes of the nuts gentling the intensity of bittersweet chocolate.

After several tries, and several versions, I have decided this is the chocolate hazelnut cake that I love. Its not so much a cake as a fallen souffle, a thick gooey almost brownie like pudding, with a crackling crust. It must be served with a generous blowsy dollop of whipped cream, and can be made completely gluten free by removing all the flour and using only ground hazelnuts instead. Though if you can, keep the flour in – it gives it some structure, and helps to pull everything together in a beautiful whole.

Bake this cake in a springform tin, and do make it the day before you will serve it. It really benefits from sitting, well wrapped, in the fridge overnight. Something about that pause between baking and eating allows all its flavours to blossom. And, if you can source it, use hazelnut oil. I find that it really adds to this cake, both in texture and flavour. Its unctuous smokey caramel tone embraces the chocolate beautifully.

Serves 8 – 10 (even 12 if you serve really thin slices). Best baked the day before, though you could refrigerate for up to 3 days, easily.

  • 1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup flour (you can substitute additional hazelnuts here if you need a gluten free version)
  • 3 heaping tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 10 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp hazelnut oil
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 + 1/4 cup light brown sugar + additional for whipped cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tsp agar agar
  • Vanilla paste or essence (I used a remarkable vanilla, cacao nib and chili paste) – to taste

Preheat your oven to 325F (165 F). Line a spring form cake pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Combine the ground hazelnuts, flour, cocoa powder and salt in a large bowl, tossing well to make sure the mixture is smooth and integrated. Set aside.

Place the chocolate and butter in a small bowl that fits over the rim of a small to medium sized pot or saucepan. Boil a kettle of water, and pour into the pot. Place the bowl containing the chocolate and butter over the pot, and allow to sit, stirring occaisionally until the butter and chocolate have melted completely. Once the chocolate and butter are liquid, add the hazelnut oil and stir well. Set aside.

While the chocolate is melting, combine the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar, and beat well with an electric stand mixer or hand held beaters. You want the egg yolk mixture to be fluffy, thick and golden in colour. When you lift the beaters from the yolk, a thick ribbon will fall back into the bowl. This should take you 3 – 5 minutes or so. Beat in the vanilla once you have the consistency you like.

Pur the melted chocolate/butter/hazelnut oil into the ground hazelnut mixture, and stir exceedingly well. Make sure any lumps or clumps are smoothed out.

Pour in the beaten egg yolks and sugar, and using a spatula, stir well to combine. Set aside.

Clean the beaters and bowl (or use new ones!), and beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until the whites hold soft peaks. Continue beating, adding the remaining 1/4 cup sugar gradually, until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. The egg whites should look like foamy marshmallow.

Fold about 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter, stirring quickly and strongly to lighten the batter. Add the rest of the egg whites in two batches, stirring firmly, yet gently. Stir in a folding motion, making sure to completely integrate the egg whites with the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared spring form pan, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top has risen and cracked, and a tester inserted into the cake comes out with crumbs attached.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan.

Prepare the whipped cream. Measure out the cream, and take 2 tbsp and pour into a small bowl or container. Sprinkle the agar agar into this set aside cream, and allow to melt into the cream. You could assist by whisking gently with a fork. You want the agar agar to be completely absorbed by the cream, and to melt away into the cream.

Whisk the remaining cream until it holds soft peaks. Add the reserved cream and agar agar, along with the sugar and vanilla paste. Whisk until the cream holds stiff peaks. Reserve, covered until you are ready to serve, up to three days.

When serving, remove the cold cake from the fridge, and ice the top with the whipped cream. Serve in gentle slices, and enjoy!