Category Archives: Baking

To Learn Something New

201406 Dark chocolate and sea salt caramel tart

I know, I know. I have gone way off the baking and cooking radar for the longest time, since late 2011, I reckon. You know my excuses. I’ve moved across three countries. I got pregnant. And before I know it, my hands were full with a newborn, then a baby, and now a toddler. These days, I write less about my culinary adventures (or rather, lack thereof) and more about the ups and downs in motherhood. Some of you have left, some of you have stuck around to see what I’m up to, some of you have joined me in this new and permanent part of my journey. But I am still here, and I suspect that I might always be.

You see, this blog is not just another website. Not to me, at least. It chronicles my everything, and everything about me (well, almost). It documents challenges I have faced in life, be it  graduate school a few couple of years ago, my new then-life in a foreign land, and yes, food too. I remember the first time I bought my very own set of baking equipment. We had just moved to London in 2007, and I was keen to pick up baking again since the kitchen was all ours. I bagged the cheapest of the basics I could find, including a very noisy handheld mixer from Tesco which cost me only £3.99. It served me well, taking me from basic cupcakes, to layered cakes, chiffon and even macarons.

Each time I learnt something new, I was absolutely delighted, but not without feeling utterly deflated at my failed first attempts. I was amazed at how basic ingredients could yield all sorts of tasty morsels, and how every quantity, step and trick made the world of a difference. It was particularly rewarding, when I stumbled upon random tricks on my own; baking is almost magical to me, save for the fact that its roots actually lie in the heart of science.

201406 Lemon curd tartAfter leaving London, I barely had the opportunity to learn new recipes. My repertoire was old and tired, and it was mostly executed to feed my husband and daughter, or for special occasions. I have very, very loyal fans though. Most people are always happy to have a slice of my signature chiffon cake or that soft cookie or the grand old dame of a red velvet cake, and I am truly thankful that they still appreciate what I do. But that isn’t enough for me. Soon, I got bored of my own creations. Sad, but true.

I have been pushing myself to try out new recipes, to conquer new pastries and master new dishes. It’s not working out too well, as all this takes far too much time, something that I am in desperate need of. But I’ve stolen pockets of it, when F sleeps (thank goodness we insisted on early bedtime), when M is finally free from crazy shifts to help me with her. A month or two ago, I was really happy to have nailed the tart (the pastry, not a person), and filled them with lemon curd (also a first in my culinary adventure, I know…I’m real slow), or dark chocolate ganache and sea salted caramel. They were, IMHO, absolutely spot-on! I was on cloud nine when I learnt that the tarts were well-received…that buzzzzz, that joy I get when I know my bakes have made someone very happy…

I wish I have more opportunities at some point to challenge myself. I could use with feeling a little more accomplished than just doing what I have been doing thus far. I miss dreaming up exciting flavours in my sleep, and jumping out of bed to get cracking in the kitchen. I miss scribbling ideas on random scraps of paper, and hopping into the pantry in the middle of the night to whip something up. Those days were absolutely glorious, utterly inspired and undeniably pleasurable…and those days couldn’t come sooner.

The Way I Say I Love You

201404 Toasted Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Italian Meringue Buttercream 1

I am not one who tends to be all loving and gregarious and warm in person, mostly because I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. Often, I fumble for words and end up not telling someone how I feel because I spend too much time thinking about whether I would overwhelm people, or hurt someone, or generally freak people out with my weirdness. So if you have met me in person, you would know that I hardly initiate conversations and I mostly respond to people only when asked to, well, respond. I prefer to sit back and listen, than to fire away and be the life of the party. Yes, I am usually that quiet, aloof oddball, especially in a group of people. (But I have improved substantially since I got to know M, because his confidence in speaking up has rubbed off a little on me, which explains why I am a little less awkward these days, especially when I meet people one-on-one.)

201404 Toasted Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Italian Meringue Buttercream 2

I do, however, love to write. Feelings can take the form of handwritten letters, emails, post-its, messages, even blog posts, and I word and offer them more freely and unabashedly, than if I were to communicate them in person. I love that I can write my thoughts down without having people scrutinise my facial expressions or my tightly wrung hands. The time alone with my pen and paper, or even the phone, is void of distraction, and that allows me to be…free.

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There are, however, certain things that can, and should only be said to someone when you look at him or her in the eye. A heartfelt letter, or a simple note by the lunch bag works, but shouldn’t we all try to tell that special people in our lives that we love them, in person? I know that I don’t tell people that I love them as often as I should. I don’t say it to my parents, or my siblings, whom I love with all my life. I sneak it in, when my husband and I are all tucked into bed, after we turn out the lights, because I’m too shy to look at him in the eye. I sneak it in, when I gaze at his profile as he watches the telly, because I know in the split second of words tumbling out of my mouth, he would be too distracted to glance at me before I hastily look away in embarrassment. The only person whom I consistently say it to has got to be Faith, who is far too young to be all weirded out by her Mama’s profuse declaration of love for her.

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But I can say it with cake. And I love to say it with cake. It starts with what I know about the likes and dislikes of that special someone, and branches out into ideas on flavours and textures that he or she would love. It then grows with days of labouring over the stove and the oven, hunching over the cake as I try my best to make it look nice, battling with the humidity and often, my daughter who pleads for my attention every two seconds. And then the moment comes, when the birthday song is sung, the candles are blown out and the cake is cut. My special someone tucks in and exclaims, ‘This is amazing!’ and I pretend to be busy with brushing non-existent crumbs from the table. That moment is perfect because I have said I love you in the biggest and smallest way possible, and no one gets weirded out. I get to retreat to my little oddball corner and feel like I have gone all out to say I love you with a slice of homemade cake.

And this was the case for my husband’s birthday this year. I don’t earn a salary, and I don’t do much other than take care of my family’s needs. I didn’t and couldn’t get him a present (it would really come out of his pocket, rather than my own…), and the only thing that I could do was to really think about what he loves, come up with flavours to surprise him, and get down to making him a cake that I hope he would adore. I don’t know if he was just trying to make me happy by saying that he loved the cake, but I was glad that he appreciated my efforts. I was glad that I made it, a Toasted Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd and Lemon Italian Meringue Buttercream. I was glad that he knows that I love him…and that’s all that matters.

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I love you, darling.

 

Oh, All That Glitters! On Her First

I didn’t know what to gift Faith with on her first birthday. She is a very blessed child who has plenty to eat, wear and play with, thanks to family and friends who love her so. It didn’t make sense for me to get her more toys, clothes and what-not, and so I decided to create some memories for her instead, starting with the below.

We hosted a lunch to thank family and friends who have been so generous, kind, helpful and loving to us. We couldn’t have survived the first year without them (you know who you are!) and we are deeply thankful to have them in our lives.

Faith wouldn’t remember any of how we went through the first year and we wanted her to grow up, looking at the photos and listening to our first-hand accounts of how our family and friends helped us. That is why M and I splurged on a photographer, J (the talent behind Freeze The Moments); we hoped for someone to capture precious moments and relationships that would otherwise be lost on the unobservant eye. I don’t think I can do J’s work justice with words alone; I reckon I should leave it to you to have a look at the photos and all I can say is, we are absolutely pleased with what he has done for us and we highly recommend him.

I was dying to dive back into some creative work as well, and was delighted to be able to put a dessert table together for Faith. It was wonderful to finally sketch my ideas and breathe life into them. I’d dare say this was a pretty good attempt, seeing as to how it is my second dessert table *annoyinglysmugface*. It was tough though, to DIY and take care of Faith full-time; I took quite a while to design and craft the different elements, often working into the wee hours after Faith had gone to sleep. I don’t know how stylists do this for a living and I have nothing but respect for them! I had help of course, from the vendors who supplied the two-tier lemon buttercake with vanilla buttercream, chocolate pecan cookies, strawberry tarts, cheesecake, cream puffs, iced gems, and rose and mint macarons. I did entertain the crazy idea of making the desserts and pastries on my own like I did with my first dessert table, but I knew I would crumble under all that pressure. I always wanted to make Faith her first cake though, and settled on baking her a 4-inch smash cake (a refined-sugar-free buttercake with cream cheese frosting topped with her favourite blueberries) instead. Faith was also very blessed to have received two tissue pom-poms (one cream and one pastel pink, both attached to the chalkboard easel in some of the photos below) that I have chosen from Most Wonderfully Made, an online store that stocks the prettiest party supplies! The sponsored pom-poms were so well-made, as compared to the ones I DIY-ed (those on the backdrop of dessert table), that I wished I had gotten all of them (which are very affordable, by the way) from the store; I would have spared myself from all the agony of tidying the pleats up! I’m putting in a mental note to stock up on party supplies for the next party I plan!

Alright, I think I have yakked enough about the party. I leave you…with our memories.

P/S: Photos of our guests are not posted here as I would like to protect their privacy.

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Macarons: Just Because

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201307 Macarons 2

I miss making macarons, watching feet form, photographing them, and kicking back with a cup of tea. But only in London…for that’s where my love affair with them first started. Nothing comes quite as close where I am right now. But the memories of the sights, smells, and tastes will do. For now.

 

Happily Ever After

Forty years of marriage, three kids and two grandchildren. Ladies and gentlemen, there IS a Happily Ever After.

What better way to celebrate than with some homemade cake?

201306 Strawberry & Lychee shortcake 1

201306 Strawberry & Lychee shortcake 2

201306 Strawberry & Lychee shortcake 3

Strawberry & Lychee Shortcake with a cake topper that I made (both of which need to be worked on for better results)

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Thank you, Papa and Mama, for teaching us how to love. Happy Ruby Wedding Anniversary to you two lovebirds!

Check out what I have been baking in my kitchen.

Thou Shalt Love Pie

201305 Beef Pie 2

I am not a fantastic cook. I would say I am a decent one but I lack the intuition, guts and creativity that my husband has. That is the reason why he looks way more convincing with the chef’s hat on while I look sexier brandishing…an egg whisk.

But there are a few dishes that M would trust me to cook. One of these is the beef pie, which is a full-bodied, savoury beef stew topped with a flaky, buttery puff pastry beret in our household.

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Don’t get me wrong. M breathes life into beef stews! But he now snubs frozen ready-to-roll puff pastry for the one I make ever since I fed him with homemade no-fry chicken curry puffs and beautifully flaky Portuguese egg tarts. So naturally, the task of making beef pies has fallen into my hands.

There was much to be excited about as I hadn’t made puff pastry in a looooong time (my last attempt was made in London); I was hoping to nail it in the tropical heat but of course, I had to cheat with air-conditioning. I was also particularly keen on breaking in some of our very cute Le Creuset mini cocottes. I mean, puff pastry berets on colourful mini cocottes?! Wouldn’t YOU hyperventilate at the thought of that, too?

I spent all day in the kitchen to make these pies. It was back-breaking work but I was delighted to see my husband happily tuck into the pies. You see, he always does it with dramatic flair, by hitting the puff pastry beret ever so gently with a spoon to reveals most satisfying ‘crack!’ that hints at its flakiness, before letting a wide grin of approval spread across his face and digging deep into the pot for liquid gold. It is strangely satisfying to watch. Now, your turn.


201305 Beef Pie 3

Beef stew

Makes one 8-inch and two 4-inch (diameter) pots of stew

1kg stewing beef tenderised and cut into 2cm by 2cm by 2cm cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1.5cm by 1.5cm by 1.5cm cubes
7 sticks celery stalks, leaves removed and cut into 1.5cm by 1.5cm by 1.5cm cubes
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1.5cm by 1.5cm by 1.5cm cubes
450g portobello mushrooms, sliced thickly
Few sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
600ml beef stock
2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Hot water on standby to add to stew

1. Preheat oven to 170 Celsius.

2. Add olive oil to Dutch oven over medium high heat and sear beef cubes. Once golden brown, remove beef from Dutch oven and set aside.

3. Lower to medium heat and add onions and garlic to Dutch oven. Fry for 10min until onions are soft and very lightly browned.

4. Add carrots, celery, potatoes and cook for 5min. Add mushrooms and rosemary, give it a quick stir and then add the beef. Pour in the hot beef stock and add balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in plain flour to thicken gravy.

5. Place Dutch oven into preheated oven, with lid on and leave the stew in there for 1.5 hours. Give it a stir every half hour and top up with some hot water if gravy dries up too much. Always add the water such that the liquid barely covers the ingredients in the stew. Cook for a further 1.5 hours or until beef is tender and bring Dutch oven out onto the stove to further simmer (with lid off) if you would like a thicker gravy. For pies, I would suggest a very thick gravy so that the pies don’t turn out too wet.

6. Spoon out some stew into ovenproof pots or baking dish, and cover the top with the uncooked puff pastry. Make sure that puff pastry isn’t directly in contact with the stew as the pastry will be wet and soggy. Bake at 210 Celsius for 20-25 minutes till pastry is puffed up and golden. Serve with salad or your favourite sides.

Puff pastry

Makes one 8-inch and two 4-inch (diameter) pie berets

250g unsalted butter, very cold, sliced to 2cm by 2cm by 2cm cubes
250g strong white bread flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of salt
125ml ice-cold water
1 egg, beaten for egg wash

1. Freeze butter cubes for half an hour.

2. Pulse butter, flour and salt in food processor for one second. Mix things up in the processor and pulse again. Do this for a few times till mixture is combined and resembles rough cornmeal.

3. Add water and pulse briefly till water is just incorporated. This will not form a ball of dough just yet and will still resemble rough cornmeal.

4. Turn out mixture onto lightly floured work surface, bring mixture together with lightly-floured hands to form a cylinder.

5. Roll cylinder out to form a rectangle with the shorter end facing you. It should look like a letter to you. Fold the dough as you would a business letter (into thirds). Rotate 90 degrees anti-clockwise such that the shorter end is facing you again and flip the dough such that the folded seams are facing downwards. Roll dough out again to a rectangle. Freeze between layers of baking parchment for 15-30min. Repeat such that you roll and fold for a total of four times each. Only very lightly dust work surface and rolling pin when the dough is sticky, although I would avoid this as much as possible.

6. The final rolled-out dough should be fairly elastic, smooth and about 4mm thick. Cut out desired shapes, apply a light layer of egg wash with a pastry brush, place pastry on top of cocottes/baking dish that are already filled with cooked stew and bake at 210 degree Celsius for 20-25 minutes till pastry berets are puffed up and golden brown.

Check out what’s cooking in my kitchen!

Also check out my other food adventures.