Friday 27 April 2007

"browniebabe of the month": Matcha Cream Cheese Brownies

I remember the first thing I ever baked as a child was a chocolate cake following a recipe out of my mother's food economics journal. It was simply the best-tasting cake because it was a chocolate cake and I baked it on my own. In fact, it was THE chocolate cake and I held the recipe for this cake on a pedestal so high you cannot begin to imagine my despair when I revisited it only to find the resulting cake almost unpalatable! To date, I am still grappling with the possible realities of the situation: has my skills as a baker slipped over the years or is this prized chocolate cake recipe not as flawless as I remembered it to be? I refuse to believe in either!

Consequently, I rarely make or share the recipes I loved so much as a child because I feel this need to preserve and guard these precious remaining food memories of my childhood. Sadly, this includes my favourite brownie recipe but I have improvised and created a brownie especially for "browniebabe of the month", the first blog event ever hosted by Myriam of once upon a tart.

These brownies are best eaten the day after to allow the cream cheese to firm up and the chocolate to set to a fudgey finish. This will also allow you to slice the brownie into neat and tidy squares. The combination of sweet and salty with smokey, grassy notes is just teasingly delicious...

matcha cream cheese brownies
100g dark chocolate (min. 70%)
100g dark chocolate (min. 55%)
3 tbs cocoa powder
120g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
200g brown sugar
75g flour
250g cream cheese
100g sugar
1 egg
1 tbs flour
1 1/2 tsp matcha
(makes a 18x18cm pan, 12 generous squares)
preheat oven to 170C and line the base of a pan with baking paper.
melt dark chocolate and butter in a bowl over simmering water.
whisk cocoa powder into melted chocolate and set aside mixture to cool.
beat sugar and eggs in a bowl until thick and light.
combine melted chocolate and egg mixture and gently fold in flour.
beat cream cheese in a separate bowl until smooth and fluffy.
gradually beat in the sugar until dissolved.
add egg and mix to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl.
stir in the flour and matcha
pour the chocolate batter and cream cheese mixture alternatively into the prepared pan.
bake for 35-40 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out with a few sticky crumbs.
cool before attempting to slice.

Thursday 26 April 2007


Jaffa is the tiger that doesn't roar. It can't because let's face it, Jaffa isn't a tiger, it is a cake with the cool orange and chocolate brown stripes of a tiger. Surely it deserves a name like any other cake. Besides, wouldn't you agree there is something gratifying when you take a moment to name the cake you have baked, get acquainted with it before greedily gobbling it up?

3 eggs, separated
150g sugar
190g flour
60ml oil
60ml milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
2tsp cocoa powder
grated zest of 1 orange
(makes 1 22 cm round cake)
pre-heat oven to 180C and place rack in the center of the oven.
line the base of a 22cm diameter cake tin with paper, grease and flour the sides.
beat egg yolks and 75g of sugar until pale and fluffy.
add vanilla, milk and oil to the yolk mixture and beat to incorporate well.
fold the flour into this mixture carefully, knocking out as little air as possible.
beat egg whites in a spearate bowl and gradually add the remaining 75g of sugar.
fold egg whites into the batter above.
divide mixture into equally into 2, adding the cocoa powder to one and grated orange zest to the other.
pour mixture alternatively into the prepared tin.
bake for 45 minutes or until skewer comes out clean when inserted.

Tuesday 24 April 2007

Waiter There's Something In My... BREAD

A couple of months ago I decided the time has come for me to cleanse my body of last year’s dietary indiscretions so I subjected myself to a detox diet which (thankfully) allowed bread – but it had to be high in fibre, made with unbleached flour, low in salt and sugar, no fat, and preferably yeast-free. With such criteria to meet (and living in a city that is not so big on dietetic breads), I knew I would have better luck finding the necessary ingredients and making my own. Admittedly, I have never been too motivated to make bread but to give it up completely for a fortnight while I am being denied other foods I enjoy eating so much was simply a challenge I chose to avoid.

After a fruitless attempt (one attempt is quite enough, wouldn’t you agree?), I came to two conclusions: 1) The detox diet was silly and unnecessary and 2) I should get THE book on bread.

The diet lasted a whole 6 days (I plan on completing the remaining 9 days soon) and for the weeks following, I experimented with different pre-ferments, types of flour and hydration percentages and I must say, bread-making soon became a favourite past time for me. The appeal, I think, is partly the science behind it all, seeing a latent ball of dough transform into something so irresistibly, so gorgeously, unique and delicious is nothing short of anticipating and witnessing the miracle of birth (well, not quite, but I have come closer to understanding the “bun in the oven” metaphor).

I was so excited to discover that the theme for this month's Waiter There's Something In My... hosted by SpittoonExtra is: BREAD. After much deliberation, my entry includes 2 different types of bread: a rustic no-knead bread (adapted from a recipe by Jim Lahey written by Mark Bittman in the New York Times dated November 8, 2006... yes, I am slow to catch on) and two types of brioche; one basic and another studded with nuggets of dark chocolate and finely chopped orange rind.

no-knead bread featured here follows the same method described by Jim Lahey from New York's Sullivan Street Bakery. The recipe received mixed reviews ranging from soupy dough resulting in baked gummy pancakes to grand unveilings of the perfect golden-crusted loaf which really piqued my interest so I just had to try baking one myself!

I suppose I should have followed the original recipe before making modifications but look, I am pleased to say, despite the changes I have made, I still managed to contribute to the growing number of successful no-knead bread stories you can now find on the web.

So here is what I used:

150g bread flour
50g semolina
270g unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
10g grey salt
350g water at room temperature

The making of this bread is a true sensory experience and understanding the science helps with (though not completely necessary for) its success, but in all honesty, the method here is a real no-brainer, it does however require a little bit of planning ahead (12-24 hours) if you want to serve it at Sunday lunch or a dinner party. In my opinion, the most difficult part about making this bread is the long excruciating wait before you can actually tuck into it.

brioche I cannot explain why I love this bread so much. I know it is bad for me because I enjoy it in excess (it is partly responsible for my need to detox) but need I mention how often we are drawn to things that are damaging to us because of the pleasure(s) they promise?

I was told before, once I have mastered the brioche dough every other bread I attempt will be a walk in the park. It couldn't be more true. Making successful brioche dough is all about getting the temperature and consistency of the butter right. I have been concerned that adding cold eggs and butter to the dough would kill the yeast and thus jeopardise the textural outcome of the bread but after several successful attempts at making this dough, I have found that it is alright to use eggs straight from the fridge and butter that is still cool to touch (and soft to handle) because the dough does rise in temperature as these ingredients are kneaded through. Besides, the pre-ferment for brioche contains such a high percentage of yeast making it not only difficult to kill but also one of the most vigourous and lively doughs you will ever work with.

The recipe I followed actually yields 2 generous 9-inch loaves so after dividing the dough into equal parts, I added finely chopped rind from 1 large orange and 100g of roughly chopped dark chocolate (min. 70%) to one. In hindsight, a min. 55% dark chocolate would suffice as the brioche had a bitter aftertaste from the excessive cocoa mass in the chocolate I used. All the same, it tasted good to me and I am glad I tried this flavour variation and I am positive it could quite easily be used in a bread and butter pudding as the sweetness of custard would soften the bitter edge of the chocolate nicely. And although this may sound strange, I think this version of brioche could be enjoyed just as much lightly toasted and thickly smeared with sticky condensed milk.

As for the remaining "plain" dough, I opted to bake it in a loaf instead of a fluted brioche tin. The lighter and more feathery texture of this loaf is the result of a longer 2nd rise in the fridge and the absence of weighty chocolate nuggets retarding its upward progress. How else would you eat your brioche apart from savouring it in all it's naked glory - with Nutella and a bowl of warm malted milk of course!

Thursday 19 April 2007

Week in Review

beginning with bread...Since diagnosed with diabetes, dad has made quite an effort to change his diet opting for brown bread instead of his favourite supermarket soft n fluffy white. We were at the shops the other day and I almost blurted out a string of profanities when I saw the price for a 350g (so-called) sourdough loaf. But seeing how samples were generously offered, I thought I should try some before jumping to conclusions.

I was so enraged how something like that could be claimed as sourdough seeing how it lacked all the necessary characteristics: the distinct complex, sour flavour from slow fermentation, the crust thin, yet crisp and the crumb, springy moist with uneven holes.

I shook my head with disappointment and in distaste, took dad aside and promised I would make him some good low GI bread... not sourdough in particular (for the starter would take at least a week to establish) but something packed with more character and plenty of love... of course.

I produced a couple of 4-seed (flaxseed, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed and poppy seed) loaves which tasted slightly wheaty (from the wholemeal flour) and mildly sour (from the extended fermentation and slow proofing). The crumb was moist and heavy but soft with the subtle crunch of seeds and when toasted, it tasted so flavourful on its own. It was the perfect wholesome sandwich bread my dad needed and he loved it too!

the almost forgotten dessert... ok, this is a bit of a spill-over from the previous week when I attempted to make guinness chocolate cupcakes (which didn't taste extraordinarily stouty to me). I never got around to frosting them because I had run out of the necessary ingredients so as soon as they had cooled on the rack, I packed them away, wrapping the container with several layers of plastic (chocolate cakes seem to take on fridge odours quite readily) and somehow they made their way to the back of the fridge.

One afternoon after lunch, S wearing her sweetest smile asked me very politely if we could have some cake with ice-cream for dessert. I had almost completely forgotten about these cupcakes but I promise you, I am not usually this neglectful towards food!

Anyway, I gently heated 2 cupcakes and served them with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice-cream. The malty taste and slight tang of stout was slightly more pronounced this time but again, it didn't really leap out at you. Still, the both of us scarfed it down quite happily. S stopped mid-way to complain, "The ice-cream to cake ratio is wrong", but that was promptly solved with her returning to the kitchen for more ice-cream.

utter disappointment... all week I have been finding some excuse to use my new silicone moulds and when the opportunity presented itself in the form of yoghurt cake(lets), I couldn't let it past. After all, I am in complete favour of recipes that require the minimum of effort for gainly returns.

Now don't get me wrong, it had nothing to do with the recipe nor the moulds (the cakes turned out beautifully shaped with fluted edges). It has been passed down one generation to the next in France, it's the first cake most children learn how to make there, you can make it with an eye shut and I have tried it in the past with great success but for some reason, this batch turned out downright n-a-s-t-y.

Completely taken by the golden tops that were just bursting with the promise of the light and moist crumb beneath, I had to help myself to a cake when it was just cool enough to eat. How deceived I was and to describe the taste is to liken it to eating cakey soured milk curds with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Sounds disgusting, doesn't it? Well, I can assure you - it was. (I have to add, despite the flavour, the texture was great!).

The reasons behind this bitter disappointment, as I have just uncovered, are (a) the flour I used - an unbleached wheaten variety I normally reserve for bread and (b) the yoghurt used had already gone bad contrary to what the expiry date had stated. Oh well, at least we now know it was completely my fault and it had nothing to do with the recipe... and we are moving right along!

layer upon layer... this Indonesian layer cake, a planar version of the German baumkuchen will have to be my pride and joy for the week! Although time consuming, the batter is so simple to whip up and I found it quite a pleasure to make. I suppose I decided to make this because I reasoned its success would help me get over my yoghurt cakelet fiasco. It did.

Monday 16 April 2007

Shortbread with Chocolate Bits

There was no hesitation when I launched into this mini baking session around midnight. I had a craving and it was keeping me awake so I knew exactly what I had to make - a very tender and flaky shortbread with a melt-in-your-mouth quality.

A good shortbread recipe is indispensable as it works as an excellent base for additions like candied fruit, nuts, toffee bits or whatever that may take your fancy. I decided on little bits of dark chocolate in the end. I was tempted to add some grated orange rind to the dough simply because I adore the orange-chocolate combination but then I thought it could also work to have the dough rolled and cut out into shapes (I had 5-pointed stars in mind), drizzled lightly with an orange glaze and adorned with silver dragee.

However, I discovered much shortly after this vision of grandeur, my enthusiasm wanes as quickly as it peaks after midnight so I ended up with rustic looking shortbread fingers which I thought had their very own appeal and quite frankly, don't taste the least bit shabby at all.

250g unsalted butter, soft
80g icing sugar, sifted
300g flour
75g cornflour
pinch of salt
75g almond meal (optional)
100g dark chocolate (min 55%), chopped

(makes one 6X10 inch pan)
preheat oven to 160C and place a rack in the center of the oven.
sift flour and cornflour into a bowl and icing sugar into a separate bowl.
cream butter until soft and creamy then add icing sugar and salt and beat for another minute or so until combined.
add flour mixture and chocolate bits (and almond meal, if using), mix until a smooth dough forms.
pat the dough evenly into the pan.
bake until the top and bottom are lightly browned, about 40-45 minutes.
cut shortbread with a very thin, sharp knife into fingers while warm. (Note: cookies will not slice well when cold)

Saturday 7 April 2007

What the Basboosa??

Alright, it's true, the thought of basboosa being a word you shouldn't say in front of children did cross my mind when I stumbled upon it whilst researching a recipe for sugee cake which incidentally happened to be what my mum had a longing for. Interestingly, the Middle-Eastern sweet basboosa and the traditional Kristang sugee cake both bear striking similarities in the ingredients used, method of preparation and flavour but vary in the way they are presented and served.

The primary ingredient in both cakes is semolina, which is coarsely ground durum wheat also used in the production of pasta, couscous and certain breads. The unique quality of semolina makes it a prime ingredient in cakes because it not only results in a moist, sandy crumb but it also lends an interesting mealy texture with a nutty taste, not unlike that of ground almonds.

I am a big fan of flourless cakes but I sometimes find them too heavy and cloying. Take for example, the flourless orange-almond cake made by pulverizing boiled oranges (peel, pith and all) and then blending this with ground almonds, sugar and eggs - it's great but I sometimes find it difficult to enjoy any more than a thin slice at a time. It seems such a shame for a cake with all the right ingredients to not appeal to a greater audience apart from those who are gluten-intolerant and/or those who enjoy heavier-textured cakes. Similarly, the Middle-Eastern version of the semolina cake is flat and dense, soaked to dripping with a rose-scented syrup and is served in small portions as an after-meal sweet but I wanted a cake that is lighter in its texture but still substantial enough to serve with a cup of tea as a mid-morning or - afternoon snack so I set forth to gather recipes for several different cakes using semolina and worked out one which called for less sugar, and eggs, a touch of flour and a lemon-scented syrup to finish (so bearing closer semblance to its Greek cousin revani but a far cry from the traditional sugee cake recipe which requires an alarmingly large number of egg yolks and amount of sugar).

The cake ended up so simple to make (that it was laughable!) and it baked up so beautifully I could not help but beam with great pride and joy. I have to add, the scatter of toasted sliced almonds on top of the cake was a last minute decision as I thought it looked slightly bare left unadorned, though in retrospect, it looked just as stunningly delicious spotting a gleaming tan with flecks of candied zest after the lemony syrup* was applied. And believe me, when this cake is made right, you will be rewarded with a superbly textured cake, heady with the fresh scent of citrus making it the perfect tea-time treat or a splendid dessert accompanied with a thick cream or yogurt with some freshly-cut summer fruit and berries. Scrumptious!

*the lemon syrup provides just the right touch of sweetness to the finished cake in my opinion but my parents who seem to have lost their sweet tooth with old age found the cake too sweet. I suppose there is no harm in doing without the syrup and increasing the amount of sugar in the cake batter ever so slightly.

4 eggs separated
75g sugar
zest of 1 large orange
1tsp vanilla extract
160g semolina
130ml orange juice
50ml milk
75g self-raising flour, sifted
50g ground almonds
125g butter, melted and cooled
(makes a 20cm round cake)
pre-heat oven to 180C and line the base and sides of a 20cm springform pan with baking paper.
mix the semolina with orange juice and milk in a medium mixing bowl and set aside. Combine the flour and ground almonds in a separate bowl.
whisk the egg yolks, vanilla, zest and 50g of sugar using a stand-up mixer or a hand mixer until light and fluffy.
mix the semolina mixture to the yolk mixture gently so as not to deflate the mixture.
fold the melted butter through this mixture - it is not necessary for it to be completely incorporated at this stage.
whisk the egg whites with the remaining sugar in a clean bowl until firm shiny peaks are formed.
fold 1/3 of the whisked egg whites into the above mixture to lighten it before folding in the remaining egg whites.
pour batter into the prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
160g sugar
50ml water
simmer the sugar, water, zest and juice for 3-5 minutes or until a slightly viscous consistency (like maple syrup) is observed.
brush syrup all over the warm cake and allow it to rest for at least 3 hours before serving.

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Matcha Marble Cake

Late last week I spent hours in bed feverishly battling with what I think was a 24-hour bug possibly afflicted upon me when I was (briefly) caring for my baby nephew. I hate to think someone as adorable as him could be harbouring such nasties in his cute little body but his mum assured me it was possible for she too has fallen ill from whatever the poor little guy is still suffering from.

Of course feeling under the weather affords you time in bed, spent by either sleeping the illness off or hungrily (and I do mean it in all literal sense) leafing through volumes of your favourite books looking for a prospective baking project. So after indulging in the latter and tagging a few exciting recipes I would likely try, I decided on making something completely ordinary instead. A marble cake. Simple, tried, tested and often delicious.

You understand that there are very few things in life that brings us comfort when we are ill, feeling a little half empty or sorry for ourselves. For me, a warm beverage (preferably made by somebody else) like a cup of tea (strong and with a splash of milk, no sugar) or coffee (1 part coffee, 2 parts soy, no sugar) accompanied by something like a slice of cake (something chocolatey but nothing fancy please) or a biscuit usually helps but it depends largely on how lousy I feel to begin with but I digress...

There is little anyone can or will object to when it comes to how perfectly swirls of bittersweet chocolate and aromatic vanilla blend into a moist buttery cake so the thought of adding another flavour was almost too wrong - afterall, why fix something that isn't broken, right? I succumbed to the great temptation nevertheless and decided to use some matcha (which is now officially amongst one of my favourite flavouring agents) recently procured at quite a dear price.

I think this "bold" step I decided to take was well worth it even if just for the aesthetics of the cake alone. I mean, wouldn't you agree the jade green, intense chocolate and creamy yellow colours really look good together? Of course, the smokey, grassy flavour of matcha pairs so well with chocolate too so although this cake lacked the perfect texture (I found it slightly crumbly), it did provide me the perfect comforting I was after.

340g flour
1tbs + 1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
120g butter
250g sugar
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
200g sour cream
80ml full cream milk
60g dark chocolate (at least 55%)
1tsp matcha powder
(makes a 20cm loaf)
pre-heat oven to 180C and adjust the rack to the center of the oven. Spray and line tin with baking paper.
sift dry ingredients onto a sheet of paper and set aside.
melt dark chocolate in double boiler or in a microwave oven, stirring occassionally until the chocolate melts taking care not to burn it.
cream butter and sugar using a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer until soft and creamy. Add eggs one at a time making sure each egg is well incorporated and scrape down the sides of the bowl before adding the next. Add sour cream and vanilla.
fold the sifted dry ingredients and milk in thirds, alternating dry and wet ingredients taking care not to overmix.
divide batter equally between 3 bowls. Add cooled melted chocolate to one and stir to combine. Add matcha powder to another bowl.
fill the prepared tin with alternating spoonfuls of each batter. Using the tip of a knife, make 3 figure eights to create the marbling effect.
bake for 60-90 minutes or until tester inserted comes out clean. Let cake cool in the tin on a rack for 10 minutes before removing the tin. Wrap the cake with cling film while it's still slightly warm.