Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Ispahans on a budget

It's Independence Day here in Malaysia, otherwise known as Hari Merdeka. Did I feel patriotic today? Not exactly. Today, the first in a long time, I didn't even manage to catch the Merdeka Day parade on television, but that's another story.

Instead, I took a journey to the beautiful city of Isfahan, via some macarons of course.

Fly me away to Isfahan...

Ever since I discovered Pierre Herme and macarons, I've always wondered what the buzz was about his Ispahans. The name itself was suitably exotic and inspiring. Rose-flavoured macaron shells, with lychee buttercream and a raspberry gelee centre. The heady perfume and flavours of the east in a macaron.

All the amateur photography prep made me hungry

I assume here that Pierre got his inspiration for the Ispahan from the grand old city of Isfahan. So, I did a little research on the city itself. I found this source a good and easy read sprinkled with some beautiful photos. I'm  inspired to visit Isfahan some day. In the meantime, I'll just have to settle for a taste... or two. 

There is a recipe for Pierre Herme's Ispahan macarons here. This is the closest recipe I could find on the Internet for what they are reputed to be. I never had a chance to try them while in Paris earlier this year, so I can't vouch for its authenticity. Plus, I'm a home-cook and the recipe looks like it's meant to be made in a professional kitchen and feed an army of macaron-lovers. Scale it down? Can't be bothered. 

So, what did I do? I made rose-flavoured shells in a baby pink. Mixed some lychee-flavoured buttercream and used my favourite raspberry jam in the centre.

How did they turn out? Mmmmmmm... pretty good for Ispahans on a budget!

Lychee buttercream on rose macaron shells

Raspberry surprise

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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Pretty, pretty berries...

This is a very late post. Some time in April, before I left for a holiday in the UK, our office had a party and some of us (the lucky ones, yea) got fresh strawberries in our goodie bags. I turned mine into a strawberry frangipane tart. Please don't ask me what recipe I used, because I simply cannot remember! It was a while ago, and a lot has happened since then.

In retrospect, I'm not sure strawberries work very well in a frangipane tart. It tasted lovely, but I'll probably use them in a fresh fruit tart the next time.

However, I do love the pictures I took of the berries and the tart. So, here it is for your viewing pleasure.

Pretty, pretty berries

Lovely contrast of red and green

Strawberry Frangipane Tart fresh out of the oven

Yummy, yummy slice... mmmmm...

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The woman I needed to call my mother...

The woman 
I needed to call my mother
Was silenced before I was born. 
Adrienne Rich

Ever since my mother's passing, I have wondered about her. Did I really, truly know her? 

Who was she before her name became mother? Who was the young lady who did Form Six but never got to go to university because my grandfather couldn't afford it? Who was this person who applied for teacher's training and never got it? Who was the girl who married my father? What were her dreams, wishes, ambitions, loves, hates and sorrows? Did any of her desires come true? Did they never come true? 

Who is this woman in the picture? What was she thinking on that day of her 21st birthday? Who was she laughing with? What was she laughing at? 

I wonder.

She didn't have it easy. That much I know. She grew up, got married, had her eldest child three years after marriage, helped out with the family's finances, raised three children, supported her husband, opened her house to loved ones needing food and comfort... the list goes on. 

Money was tight. My father didn't earn much as a government servant in those days, but my mother still managed. Education was a song she drummed into us her children... you must have an education to be someone someday. She strongly believed that that was the stepping stone to success and standing on our own two feet. She cajoled, pleaded, pushed, bullied and forced each of us to study hard during the exam years. 

I hated those years. (I can't speak for my brothers, as I don't know what they felt when it was their turn and I expect their experiences of my mother are different from mine.) 

Now, I think back to those years with tears in my heart and eyes. As Sarah Ban Breathnach once said of her mother and I echo here, 'From my mother I first learned how a woman unconsciously performs practical magic, turning lack into abundance with courage and gratitude. She taught me how to spin straw into gold, what to do with a few loaves and fishes, and how rising to any occasion was a feminine art form.'

The mother I knew was amazing. She cooked, baked, sewed, cleaned,  mopped, gardened, took care of all her family's needs and still had time to spare for others. Yet, I'd like to have known my 'Mystery Mother'. She is the one I miss, mourn and long for most of all at this stage in my life. 

In honour of her memory, for my dinner tonight I recreated a simple dish she used to make whenever my father brought home a piece of shark from the market. It's been many many moons since I've eaten this, and I tried to remember how my mother made it. There's no recipe for this. My mother never referred to an accurately measured recipe for this, and I will not here either. 

In our home, mummy would make this to accompany a fish curry or resam meal. Tonight, I just enjoyed it on its own wrapped inside little parcels of baby spinach. 

Feel your way through this. Pretend you are a home-cook who doesn't rely on accurately measured recipes, but rather on taste and 'feel'. Throw in a spoonful or a handful of this and that. Add in chopped fresh chillies if you want more heat, fresh coconut or anything else you 'feel' you like. The sky's the limit. Enjoy!

Sura Meen Puttu

Shark fish fillet
Turmeric powder
Chilli  powder
Fenugreek seeds
Mustard seeds
Onions, finely chopped
Curry leaves, finely chopped
Salt to taste

Boil the shark fillet in a little water with turmeric, chilli powder and salt. Once the fish is cooked through, remove from stove, put the fish on a plate, flake the fish as finely as possible with a fork and check the salt. In a wok, heat a little oil. Add mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, onions and curry leaves. Fry until aromatic, and add in the fish. Fry the fish until all the moisture has evaporated and the fish resembles little coconut flakes. Check for salt once again and add some if you need it.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

I love me some sugee

I'm doing a little song and dance right now. The eggless Sugee Cake turned out beautifully. I'm not going to say anymore. Have a look at the photos.

Eggless Sugee Cake
Adapted from Akka's Kusini

4 oz butter, softened
4 oz sugee
4.5 oz castor sugar
4 oz self-raising flour
1/2  tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 tsp rose essence
1/8 tsp almond essence
6 fluid oz milk, chilled
Grated zest of 1 lemon

  • Preheat oven at 140C.
  • Grease and line a loaf tin.
  • Sieve flour and baking powder. Set aside. 
  1. Roast sugee in a wok over low fire until fragrant. Be careful not to let it burn. Remove from stove.
  2. Mix in the mixed spice and lemon zest while the sugee is still hot. Pour in the milk, mix through and set aside for an hour. (Keep it overnight if you can for the sugee to properly absorb all the moisture.)
  3. Cream butter and sugar until light, fluffy and pale.
  4. Beat in the sugee mixture.
  5. Gently fold in flour mixture. Do not over mix.
  6. Scrape the batter into a loaf tin. Level the surface.
  7. Bake for 45 - 55 minutes at 160C or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  8. Cool in tin for 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

An eggless flop

The photo of the cake on this blog looked SO good! I scrolled down for the recipe, read through it and sat back with a thought... "Icing sugar in a pound cake? Will it work?" I'm used to baking with castor sugar in cakes, not icing sugar. Icing sugar was for other things. (The original recipe actually says powdered sugar which is icing sugar here in Malaysia.) 

I did some research on the Net and found that you can make a pound cake with icing sugar. In fact, there are more than a couple of recipes for it. I found other websites that say you cannot use the two sugars interchangeably, while others say you can but within reason. 

For awhile, I toyed with the idea of substituting the icing sugar with castor sugar. Castor sugar weighs approximately a hundred percent more than icing sugar. The basic rule is 100g icing sugar = 200g castor sugar. Oh my... such complication. So I stuck to the icing sugar in the recipe and cut the recipe into half... just in case.

It's a good thing I did, because it flopped! While the sides had a lovely cake texture and flavour, the middle was worse than the Sweet Orange Cake from yesterday. Boo hoo hoo...

Can you see the moist layer at the bottom?

My mistake I think. it was rising so well and I had to open the oven door half an hour through the baking time to check if it was done. Or did I use the wrong baking tin size? 

Rising so well in the oven

Note: I didn't have curd in the fridge, so I made my own buttermilk with the milk, water and the juice of a lemon. That was the only change I made to the original recipe. You can find the recipe at Swapna's. If you do get around to trying it, let me know. I'd love to know how it turns out. 

Monday, 16 August 2010

The last orange...

Update: 17 August 2010 - This cake actually tasted so much better the next day.

There was one last orange sitting all by its lonesome self in the fruit basket. So I used it up in my latest attempt to find a light, fluffy eggless cake. 

You'll just have to bear awhile with my current obsession with oranges. I promise the next post will be a flavour far from orange as it can get. Oh wait... I was planning to make Orange-Cardamom macarons. Oh well... we'll see what I can sneak in by way of a different flavour between all the orange.

Meanwhile, I found this recipe here. I also found a few others with ingredients that sounded like they would have made a lovely, soft cake, but this is the one I tried first. 

I changed it a little here and there, so I could use up the lonely orange, substituted milk for the water called for in the original recipe and added some double-action baking powder. 

How did it turn out? It was certainly moist as I expected, but I found the texture a little sticky and pudding-like. Perhaps from the milk, oil and baking powder addition? I'm not sure. I'd like to try this again with water, melted butter and no baking powder... but that's another day and post.

The Orange-Cardamom Tea Cake from the weekend gets my vote for being eggless and delicious.

It didn't cut as cleanly as the Orange-Cardamom Tea Cake

Sweet Orange Cake
Adapted from Bored But Busy

1 large orange
180g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp double-action baking powder
200g castor sugar
6 tbsp canola/sunflower oil
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp orange essence
  • Preheat oven at 140C.
  • Grease and line a 19cm diameter round cake tin. 
  • Grate the rind of the orange and set aside.
  • Squeeze the orange juice into a measuring cup. Top-up with milk to make 1 cup of juice/milk mixture.
  1. Sieve flour, baking powder and baking soda thrice into a large bowl.
  2. Stir in the sugar and grated orange rind with a wooden spoon until well-mixed through.
  3. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients.
  4. Pour in the juice/milk mixture, oil, vinegar and essence.
  5. Beat for 5 seconds with an electric mixer until all the ingredients are just combined and there are no lumps.
  6. Pour batter into the prepared tin.
  7. Bake at 160C for 40 - 45 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. 
  8. Cool for about 20 minutes in the tin.
  9. Run a small knife slowly around the cake to loosen the edges before turning out carefully onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A pleasant surprise from the worst spice ever

Cardamoms are not my favourite spice. I have tasted them in kesari, payasam, a myriad of halwas, even Indian chai and have thought they are the worst spice ever. 

Cardamoms - residing with cloves at the centre of my spice universe

I find them musky and strongly-flavoured. Their flavour is so dominant that they seem to overpower all other flavours in whatever dish they are added to. So over the years, I learned to give the usual 'suspect' dishes - like those listed above - a wide berth.

Then I noticed the strangest thing ever. People all over the internet seem to have taken to it like ducks to water. They've even paired it with orange and put it macarons!

I had an eggless plain cake recipe to try out this weekend. I had oranges in the kitchen and cardamom in my spice box, so... I experimented. I subbed out the vanilla and added orange essence, orange juice, orange rind and crushed seeds from plump cardamom pods.

My aunt's 'tumbuk' or mortar and pestle which I used to crush the cardamoms in

The results? Fabulous.

The flavour combination was perfectly mild and balanced. The cardamoms gave the orange-scented cake a lovely warmth and depth. I ate three slices of it before even realising what I'd done!

(Perhaps Indians have become heavy-handed with the spice, like Americans have with cinnamon.)

Hot from the oven... I wasn't too sure about the cake at this point

As for the cake... don't be fooled by its eggless nature. The tight, dense crumb is deceptively  moist. Best of all, you won't even miss the eggs.

Do try spreading some orange marmalade on the slices... delicious! 

Orange & Cardamom Tea Cake with Glaze

Deceptively moist and flavourful crumb

Orange-Cardamom Tea Cake

90g butter
80g castor sugar
100g evaporated milk
1/4 tsp orange essence
2 tsp orange juice
Seeds from 8 plump cardamoms, crushed
Rind from 1 orange, grated
170g plain flour
1/2 tsp double-action baking powder
1/4 baking soda

Juice from half an orange
Seeds from 3 plump cardamoms, crushed
6 tbsp icing sugar

  • Preheat oven at 140C.
  • Grease and line a loaf tin. 
  1. Place butter, sugar, milk and cardamom in a pan. Bring to the boil, over medium heat for about 30 seconds. Remove from stove-top and allow to cool.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a bowl. 
  3. Add orange rind to the flour and mix through. Make a well in the centre of the flour.
  4. Pour in the cooled mixture through a sieve into the well, add essence and juice. 
  5. Beat with electric beaters quickly, until the batter just comes together. Do not over mix. Batter will look thick.
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake at 160C for about 30 - 35 minutes until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. 
  7. Cool in tin for 10 minutes, before turning out to cool completely on a wire rack. 
  8. For the glaze - Mix the orange juice, sugar and crushed cardamom together to form a slightly thick, drippy mixture. Set aside. 
  9. Put the cooled cake on a serving plate. Using a thin skewer, prick the cake all over the top. Pour on as much glaze as you like and let it sit for a few minutes for the glaze to soak through. 
  10. Cut and serve. This cake is best eaten on the same day it is made. 

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Sweet offerings...

My first 'real' macarons finally made an appearance at H's house during our monthly get-together. I fancied Lime Macarons, so that's what I made. What do you think boys? Can pass or not?

Here are some pictures of them and the other sweet I made for the night... Oreo Truffles.

Lime and Chocolate

Dark beauties

Dessert and wine... can it get any better?
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Sunday, 8 August 2010

Aunty Lan's spectacular Toffee Almond Bars

I love anything with toffee or caramel in it. Recently, while surfing for 'toffee/caramel' recipes, I came across this super-easy recipe which uses a cake mix of all things!

Since I am the kind of girl - similar to Mary of Alpineberry - who always makes everything from scratch, I was sceptical about these Toffee Almond Bars. The problem is the picture on Mary's website looked so good that I couldn't stop myself from going to buy a cake mix just to try the recipe out.

How did it go?

Honestly, it took me three times to get this recipe right. I had to modify it here and there because the recipe on Mary's website just refused to work for me. The first couple of attempts came out mushy and soft like pudding. I had to throw both batches out as there was no way anyone could have eaten them.

I poured out my frustration to my dearest Aunty Lan and she told me 'Nevermind. Try again. You'll make spectacular Toffee Almonds Bars the next time.' I don't know if the third time was a charm or if Aunty Lan prayed very hard,  because I did get it right the third time.

I gobbled a few pieces at home and took the rest in to work for fear of overloading on the sugar. Oh my... they were good, and my boss JT agrees too!

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Biccies for a cuppa

Thanks to RH, I've started a terrible habit of tea and biscuits every day after work. Thanks to me, I'm so spoilt by  my own baking that I have trouble buying biscuits off the supermarket shelf. I can't seem to find anything ready-to-eat that fits what I think should be the perfect tea biscuit.

Thanks to all of the above, I embarked on a new project - the Search of the Perfect Tea Biscuit.

By 'tea' biscuits, I do not refer to Tea Biscuits. Rather, I mean biscuits in general that accompany the activity of drinking tea. As I'm not a 'dunker' I had very specific needs of this biscuit. I wanted a delicate snap with every bite and a firm, buttery crumb with full-on flavour.

What immediately came to mind, was a biscuit my uncle used to buy for me as a child many years ago. It was from the famed Australia Bakery in Seapark - the one that sells the rainbow-coloured, multi-layered jelly. The biscuit was a Viennese Finger, or rather two big, fat fingers sandwiched together with a thin layer of strawberry jam and one end dipped in melted chocolate. Mmmmmm... I remember taking huge, satisfying mouthfuls with my cuppa, always leaving the chocolate end for last. This to me was the perfect tea biscuit.

As Australia Bakery doesn't sell these lovely treats anymore, I tried out several Viennese Finger recipes, to see which one most reminded me of those long-gone biscuits. So began my project.

During the course of my experimentation, I made these. All resulted in different flavours and texture.

The chocolate ones were the first I tried. I wasn't entirely sure about these biscuits at first. They were barely sweet, had the perfect texture and a bitter-chocolate flavour. Yet, there was just something about about them that I couldn't resist. Then I got greedy and wanted a vanilla version. Well, I couldn't dip the chocolate version into more chocolate now could I? That would have been too much.

I tried two other recipes before going back to this and adapting it to make a vanilla version. They're sweeter than the chocolate version - no cocoa powder dominance here - and has the taste of milk. Texture-wise it delivers what I want on all counts. I didn't bother to sandwich them or even dip them into melted chocolate, as they were perfect on their own.

  • If you find these a little on the sweet side, you can safely take away up to 20g of the icing sugar. Anything more and the texture might suffer.
  • To make the chocolate version, omit the vanilla extract and seeds from a vanilla pod. Use 260g plain flour and 30g unsweetened dutched cocoa powder. Follow the directions as given below for mixing and baking.
  • I have a 'hot' oven, so 160C is the usual temperature I bake at. Please check your oven before following the temperature given here. Adjust it 10C to 20C up or down accordingly to your oven.

Vanilla Viennese Sables
adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, written by Dorie Greenspan
Makes about 30 largish biscuits

250g salted butter,  very soft
290g plain flour
100g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
3 tbsp lightly beaten egg whites (lightly beat 2 large egg whites,  then measure out 3 tbsp)

  • Preheat the oven to 160C and line two baking sheets with parchment papers.
  • Fit a pastry bag with a medium-sized open star tip and keep it close at hand. (The tip should be crenellated, but its piping hole should be open and somewhat straight, rather than curved and tightly rounded. I used a Wilton 1M tip.)
  1. Sieve flour and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy.
  3. Add vanilla, vaniilla seeds and egg whites. Beat until creamy.
  4. Fold in flour gently until it is just mixed through the other ingredients. Do not overmix the dough.
  5. Spoon half of the dough into the pastry bag. Pipe the dough into 'W' or 'S'-shaped biscuits, 1-inch apart onto the baking sheets.
  6. Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes until they are just set and very slightly browned at the edges.
  7. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature.
  8. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  9. The cookies will keep in a tightly covered tin at room temperature for a week.
After all this, can you guess which biscuit (out of the four I made above) is my favourite?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Macaron 101

I (heart) Macaron! That's actually the title of a book by Hisako Ogita, and that's exactly how I feel about them. Those rainbow-coloured moist almond biscuits sandwiched with assorted flavours always makes my heart beat a little faster. What's not to get excited about them?

I've been paying very dearly for them from Canele in Singapore. Either I get a box myself whenever I'm there or through friends who are kind enough to bring them back across the Causeway for me.

Obviously, Singapore is more advanced where macarons are concerned. I remember making inquiries about about them at home after the first time I ate them in Singapore. Everyone I asked gave me funny looks that said "What the hell is she talking about?". Some said "Oh,  you're talking about macarOOns!" Oh no, I wasn't.

Well, guess what? The macarOn has finally come to our shores - LATE in true Malaysian fashion - in a big, expensive way. 

I had the pleasure of joining a macaron-making class recently to see how it's done by BigBoysOven. There was a demonstration and then all four of us in the class got to try making it ourselves. It was fun, informative, quick and surprisingly easy.

I can't even remember why I was frightened of making them before, despite getting it somewhat right the third time. Still it required me to free-up a whole day to prep the ingredients, mix the batter carefully, pipe it out, dry the shells, sit in front of the oven during the entire baking time and scream "Got feet, got feet." to no one in general when the frilly feet appeared at long last. (I used the recipe and method from Hisako Ogita's book. It's a lovely little book to own if you are into macarons. It even has pictures of every step it takes to make them.)

I'm not spending RM70 in Canele or anywhere else anymore after this class. Okay, okay so I lie. I probably WILL still buy them but at least I'd be able to use the bought ones as a benchmark against my own and make them myself whenever I want to.

I had Sunny hovering while I mixed the batter during the class, so I'll have to first make them on my own without any supervision before I can say I'm truly successful. However, since even the best can get it wrong at times, I'm rather proud of this small classroom achievement.

Here are some pictures from the class. I'll be updating it later to show you how I fared on my own.

Meanwhile, go for a class if you'd like to know how to make these babies. The Boys - Sunny and Sidney - are very good teachers and you can ask them all the questions you want about macarons.

Whipping the whites


This was my favourite colour - like  ang ku

Filling the chocolate macarons 

Class effort

White Sesame - Mine!

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