Thursday, 18 December 2014

Baked Filled Courgettes in Tomato Sauce

As much as I enjoy going out or staying in with friends, especially at this time of year - there's so much socializing - every now and then I do like to spend time alone and have my quiet moment. I've been out and about every night this week and it's so good to finally have an evening all to myself.

Not that I am over with all the Christmas spirit... Not at all. I absolutely love Christmas and I look forward to having some friends over for Christmas lunch. I just finished planning my menu the other day and I cannot wait for some more festive fun!

Today after work I cooked this baked filled courgettes in tomato sauce. The courgette is filled with sausage meat and I use Italian sausage which I prefer because it comes pre-flavoured with fragrant fennel seeds. If you're using plain sausage meat, just sprinkle a teaspoon or so of fennel seeds. The filling also includes the courgette pulp that's been cooked with garlic, egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and some flat leaf Italian parsley.

The spicy tomato sauce that surrounds the baked courgettes is easy to make and speedy too. You'll see...
As much as I am enjoying this dish on my own, actually this will make a great side dish when you're having people around... But I am being completely selfish right now and all I need with this, is a hunk of bread to dip the tomato sauce and a glass or two of fermented grape juice. Have a great one my friends.


Baked Filled Courgettes in Tomato Sauce

6 large courgettes
2 tbsp olive oil, regular kind
1 clove of garlic, finely minced or grated
300 gr Italian sausage, casings removed
50 gr breadcrumbs
1 egg
30 gr grated Parmesan, plus more
Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the tomato sauce
2 tbsp olive oil, the regular kind
1 small onion, finely chopped
Red pepper flakes, to taste
400 gr tinned chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onion and red pepper flakes over medium heat until softened. Add the tomatoes, and swirl the can with a little bit of water and add the water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil and then simmer for fifteen minutes or so, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 200 C. Cut the courgettes in half lengthways and scoop out the pulp and keep in to one side. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic and fry over medium heat for a couple of minutes just to infuse the oil with the garlic without letting the garlic burn. Then add the courgette pulp and cook for few minutes until cooked. Leave to cool.

In a big bowl, add the sausage meat with the breadcrumbs, egg, Parmesan, parsley and cooled courgette pulp. Mix to combine. I find this easier to do with hands. Clean, of course. Don't forget to season with salt and pepper. Fill the courgette shells with the mixture. 

Pour the tomato sauce into an ovenproof baking dish. Place the filled courgettes on top and sprinkle with a bit more Parmesan. Cover the whole dish with foil and bake for half an hour. Then remove the foil and bake for further 10 minutes to brown and the courgettes are cooked through.
Leave to stand for a few minutes before serving and drizzle with a bit more olive oil, this time the good kind (extra-virgin) and sprinkle with more finely chopped parsley... And you know what to do next... :)

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Chocolate Fruit Cake

Greetings friends!

How is everyone doing? I hope all is well and are in great festive spirit.
I apologise for the lack of posts and I have missed all of you. It's been a busy past few weeks and not that I haven't been cooking or eating - if you are a follower of my Instagram account (@Michael_Toa), you know that it's not the case. After spending hours in the kitchen during the day, I come home and still cook for myself most days, but nothing too elaborate... I mean something simple (and utterly delicious) like spaghetti with marmite.

I can't believe it's been over four months now since my move to the Cayman Islands to start my new job as a pastry cook. I have very much enjoyed this new role and I am constantly learning new recipes, techniques - and pushing myself and giving the best of my ability.

I work in the bakery section of the pastry department, baking many different types of fresh breads, rolls and loaves everyday. Funny thing that I once terrified of baking bread at home, and now it becomes a job that I love so very much. 

There had been days when it's extremely busy and things didn't go as planned, but I learn from the experience. And even when it's crazy busy I try to make it fun... I mean baking is fun and stress is just an unnecessary ingredient.

The island life is getting better I suppose. The weather is a bit cooler right now which I like. I made many new friends and found a group of people who are lovely to feed, so I'm always happy to have them around. 

I am spending my day off from baking, doing some home baking. I am finally getting into the Christmas spirit and as I'm typing this, I have Christmas carols playing and in the oven, my fruit cake is doing its thing and the house is smelling incredible. I use the same recipe every year from Nigella. I'll be sure to put the link to the recipe later. The fruit cake is unbelievably moist and I absolutely love it. In it you'll find raisins, currants, prunes, coffee liquor, orange peel, brown sugar, mixed spice and cocoa... All the good stuff.  The only alteration I made to the recipe is, instead of using honey, I used marmalade with ginger which gives another layer of sweetness, but also warmth to the fruit cake. 

The method to making the cake is also very easy, another reason to love. You don't need to steep the dried fruits days in advance - just put everything in a big pan and the heat along with the liquids will rehydrate the dried fruits for you.

It's still quite early in the morning, but I feel like after my coffee, I need some mulled wine too... :) I mean it is the season after all, right? 

Happy holidays my friends!

Chocolate Fruit Cake
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
Find the list of ingredients and instructions, here.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


I love travelling and I often use food as reminders of the good times I had at certain destinations. For example, when I make coconut ice cream, I immediately think of the fun times I had in Barcelona. It's been years since I was last in Barcelona but I will always remember that hot day after touring the Picasso Museum, then going to an ice cream parlour nearby and treating myself to some amazing coconut ice cream. So good!

But as often I cook food from places I've never been, but very much inspired with, and wishing one day I'll be able to visit them. A couple of weeks ago, I was looking through a travel magazine and came across an article about bar scenes in the Netherlands. Though I have actually been to the Netherlands, at the time I was really young and not age appropriate to check out the bar scene. 

In the Netherlands, one of the most popular bar snacks to accompany a glass (or a round) of beer(s) or wine is bitterballen. So, in the spirit of recreating that bar experience at home, that's what I make for dinner tonight.

If you don't know, bitterballen are deep-fried breadcrumb-covered meatballs with creamy ragout fillings. It's crunchy on the outside and soft, meaty gooey in the inside. Bitterballen are traditionally made with beef but use whatever you want, chicken, turkey, veal or even mushrooms if you want to make it vegetarian friendly. This time I opted for minced pork.

These little mouthfuls are so easy to make and if you're making a big batch for larger group, you can make make them in advance and fry for a couple of minutes before serving. Now, this is what you have to do: heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and fry 200 gr of minced pork with half very finely chopped onion, until the mince is brown all over and the onion is soft. Season with salt and black pepper.

Ok, whenever I am cooking with pork, I have this irresistible impulse to add fennel seeds... Perhaps it's the Italian in me. And this time, however untraditional, is no exception. So, if you wish you can add that too. 

Put the fried pork and onion (and fennel) in a bowl and it's time to add more seasoning. First on the list, nutmeg which adds a warm, sweet spicy flavour but use it sparingly. A little bit goes a long way. Then add finely chopped fresh parsley; and the zest and juice of half a lemon. Give everything a stir, taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Set aside.

Melt 25 gr of butter in a saucepan and add a heaped tablespoon of plain flour. Stir the flour around and cook for 2-3 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Gradually stir in milk, just enough to form a thick sauce. This sauce is going to be the glue to bind the pork.

Add the sauce to the meat mixture and mix until well combined. Set aside to cool. I find it is easier to shape the meatballs when the mixture is fridge cold.

One cool, using a measuring spoon, divide and shape the mixture into small balls. About a tablespoon for each ball is perfect. I got 16 meatballs from this mixture. 

Beat one egg in a bowl and some breadcrumbs, I use panko for the extra crunch onto a plate. 

Heat some vegetable oil in a pan. You'll know the oil is hot enough when a breadcrumb sizzles and turns brown when dropped into it. 

Dip the balls into the egg and then coat in the panko. Fry the balls for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the balls on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Fry in batches and don't crowd the pan.

Serve with pickled onions and mustard. English is my preference but whatever you have on hand. Also because this boy loves him some bread, few slices of delicious dark pumpernickel bread. An of course, red wine. 

Have a great one my friends... :)

My question of the day, what is your favourite snack to have with a drink?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Orzo Salad with Roasted Pumpkin and Rocket Pesto

The autumn season brings favourites like root vegetables, dark green vegetables and delicious fruits to make crumbles with such as apples and pears. But let's be honest, pumpkins really hog the limelight in this season, especially in October. Though saying that, technically it is not autumn here on the island, but I am celebrating in spirit :)

A couple of weeks ago, I went to an Oktoberfest party and although I had a great time sampling the delicious beers (had my first pumpkin ale and I loved it), I was so excited that they served food too (much needed I think especially when drinking a fair amount). One of the highlights was a pasta salad with roasted pumpkins which was just so good that it inspired me to make it at home... And this is what I came up with.

The pasta I use here is called orzo. It is a bit like rice shaped pasta, although orzo actually means barley in Italian. Because of the little size, they don't take long to cook and actually the rest of the components for the salad is also very quick to make.

I cut the pumpkin into little cubes for quick roasting and also to kinda match the orzo. The pumpkin is seasoned with dried thyme, salt, black pepper and olive oil. 

Dressing the salad is rocket/arugula pesto which I just adore. The peppery-ness from the rocket leaves with the salty and nutty Parmesan cheese, and also the sharpness of lemon work beautifully with the sweetness from the pumpkin. Making the pesto itself is hardly any work... Everything is done in a food processor. Easy-peasy!

For a little crunch and texture, I sprinkled some sunflower seeds. This is a very easy and comforting autumnal salad and I hope you'll give this a go. 

Last but not least, I want to say thank you to everyone for the birthday messages, emails and tweets. They're very much appreciated. I was working on the actual birthday but I did have a nice time with friends afterwards. I made a new friend not a long time ago (who is also new to the island) and coincidentally we share the same birthday, so we went out for dinner with few more friends and the evening ended at a salsa bar where I discovered that perhaps a robot could salsa dance better that I did. 

The following day I hosted a small dinner with more friends and I served this orzo pasta salad among other things, and my friends loved it. I made a bigger amount than the recipe below and if you're fortunate enough to have leftovers, I suggest you have this for breakfast with fried egg and a good dollop of Nigella's spicy and addictive jumbo chilli sauce which help absorb last night's excesses.

Have a great one my friends!

Orzo Salad with Roasted Pumpkin and Rocket Pesto

500 gr orzo pasta
350 gr pumpkin, cut into little cubes
2 tsp dried thyme
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sunflower seeds
Fresh rocket leaves

For the pesto:
100 gr fresh rocket leaves
50 gr pine nuts
1 clove of garlic, peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
100 gr freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

On a sheet pan, spread the diced pumpkin on a single layer and sprinkle with dried thyme, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Give them a toss and bake in a preheated 180 C oven for 15 minutes or until they're fully cooked but still holding their shape.

In the meantime, cook the orzo in a big pot of salted boiling water according to the packet's instruction. Once cooked, drain and give the orzo a quick rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and also to get rid some of the extra starch which may cause the orzo to become sticky.  Transfer to a large bowl. 

To make the pesto sauce, in a food processor, add all the ingredients except for the EVOO. Blitz to mix for a few seconds and with the machine running, gradually stream the olive oil to the desired consistency. Season the pesto with salt and black pepper.

Toss the cooked orzo pasta with the pesto until each grain is well-coated. Taste to check if you need to add a bit more lemon juice, or perhaps a little more grated Parmesan or salt and pepper.  

Add the roasted pumpkin, sprinkle the sunflower seeds and mix again. If you're making this in advance, I would suggest adding the fresh rocket leaves just before serving to keep them fresh.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Lemon and Crystallised Ginger Brioche

There are many ways to greet people, obviously... There's the handshake; a hug; a hug and a kiss (or two or three) on the cheek; the Japanese bowing; the Thai wai, etc... Which are all fine by me. But then there's also the fist bump which makes things awkward.

I am not the kind of person who'd initiate a fist bump just so you know; and whenever someone offers the salutation, it always takes me a second to think what to do with it, how to reciprocate the hand gesture.

The appropriate way is of course to return the favour and you 'pound' it. I think that's the right terminology... To pound... I don't know. As you can tell, I am cool like that... Not! 

Anyway, recently at the end of a work-shift, a colleague offered a fist bump and after a couple of seconds of what feels like a very slow thought process, I decided to wrap my hand around his fist and I shook it. Yes, I shook it.

.....*insert favourite swearword! 

Just thinking about that moment gives me the creep. Oh Michael, WHY?!

My question of the day, what's your opinion on fist bump? Have you experienced similar awkward situation? No? Just me? Ok then...

Anyway...moving on... Let's focus on these delicious and fragrant lemon and crystallised ginger brioche buns. Brioche is one of my favourite breads. It's soft and buttery, with a rich flavour and a light texture. Thanks to the high content of butter and also the eggs which make this bread utterly sublime. 

There are several methods to making brioche dough which sometimes take a day or two. Because of the high butter content, often when the dough is made, you have to refrigerate it for several hours or overnight so that it's easier to handle and shape. My version here, I suppose is an express brioche and great for us with little patience. It is still buttery, and the dough will be soft but not impossible to handle straightaway. 

As with any enriched dough, brioche has a lot going that yeast does not like, so making a sponge starter helps achieve a light brioche. And it's nothing complicated at all. Believe me. 

The flavour idea comes from an evening of sipping lemon and ginger tea... And I just thought wouldn't it be great to be able to chew on this, and so... yeah, greed also plays a big part in the making of these brioche buns. 

I hope you give this a go... Have a great weekend! x
Lemon and Crystallised Ginger Brioche
Makes 20 brioche buns

For the sponge
40 gr strong white flour
5 gr instant yeast
65 ml lukewarm milk

300 gr strong white flour
50 gr caster sugar
5 gr salt
1 lemon, zest and juice
3 eggs + 1 for egg wash
90 gr soft butter, unsalted
50 gr crystallised ginger

Rock salt, for topping

Make the sponge by combining all the sponge ingredients in a bowl and giving them a good mix with your hand. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for few minutes to allow the yeast to grow and the mixture will become foamy and bubbly.

In a mixing bowl, add all the sponge and the rest of the ingredients, except the butter and the crystallised ginger. If you have a freestanding mixer that comes with a dough hook, do use it. At first the mixture will look runny and sticking to the sides of the bowl, but not to worry, just keep the mixer going at medium-high speed for few minutes and it will come together eventually. 

Once the dough comes together nicely, take a little piece of the dough and check if it has passed the windowpane test.  This is to tell if you've sufficiently kneaded your dough.  To do this, hold the little piece of dough and gently stretch the dough into thin translucent membrane; and if you hold it against the light, you should be able to see the light coming through (the windowpane). If you can do this without tearing the dough, that means the gluten is well-developed and you can proceed to the next step. 

Add the butter in three additions and once the butter is fully incorporated into the dough, throw in the chopped crystallised ginger and mix again for a couple of minutes. Take the dough out and shape it into a ball. Place on a lightly greased sheet pan or a big bowl and cover with cling film. Let the dough rest and proof until it doubles in size. This may take from 45 minutes to an hour depending on the temperature of the room.

Divide the dough into 20 equal size... You can eyeball it, or if you want to be precise, each ball is about 36 grams. Shape the dough into little balls and place into a lightly greased moulds. But you can shape it anyway you want... in a loaf pan, or you can circle them around in a baking tin and make a 'tear-and-share' kind of shape. Let the dough proof again for the second time for about hour or so. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 170 C. 

Before baking, brush or spray generously with egg wash which will make the brioche glisten later, and top with a little sprinkling of rock sea salt.  Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until the top is golden. Let cool a little and you know what to do next...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Earl Grey Panna Cotta - Video

It's amazing what you can do with so little ingredients.... Milk, cream, sugar, gelatin and a flavouring of your choice and you get yourself a scrumptious, classic Italian nursery dessert... Panna Cotta. 

This has to be one of the easiest desserts to make... In a sentence: heat the milk and cream, add sugar, the soften gelatin, pour into moulds and let it set in the fridge. That's really it. Also best thing is, you can make this in advance for a dinner party or for a sole-indulgence moment after a long day. But you should make this in advance anyway, at least for few hours for the panna cotta to set and become fridge cold. 

However, what I find really important in making "the perfect panna cotta" is the consistency. It should be soft-set but firm enough to be unmoulded without collapsing. To achieve this, you do need to follow the exact requirement for the setting agent. 

Instead of using gelatin, I use agar-agar here because it was easier to find back in Indonesia and also it's vegetarian friendly (agar-agar is extracted from seaweed after all). But whichever one you're using, make sure to follow the instructions. Gelatin sheets need to be soften first in cold water before adding it to the warm cream and milk mixture; whereas agar-agar powder reacts to heat in order for the setting to occur. 

Flavour-wise, you can do anything you want really... Vanilla is traditional but you can be as creative as you want... This time round I'm giving my panna cotta an Anglo-twist and infusing mine with Earl Grey tea which I absolutely love. It's light and fragrant with a distinctive bergamot flavour. 

I could happily have the panna cotta by itself, but the same principle that it's always good to have some greens (or some reds in this case) with your meal, I feel a scatter of berries around the panna cotta is appropriate. The strawberries are macerated in sugar and a touch of balsamic vinegar which may sound odd, but believe me and give this a go. The balsamic vinegar brings out the beautiful colour of the berries, making it glisten and truly enhances their strawberry-ness.
And guess what... This is another video recipe! Yay... Please enjoy...
Special thanks to my friend Vincent for filming and editing the video. Vincent is also a brilliant photographer and you can check out his work on Instagram @vincentwilfred.

 Have a delicious day!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic & Almonds

Hello friends, how's everyone doing?! 

It's been two weeks since I moved to the Cayman Islands to start my new job as a pastry cook and it's been... Hmmm... I don't know... interesting, I guess...

I am still adjusting to my new life here on the island. To be honest, I have not seen much of it yet... The tourist attractions and all, but I have plenty of time for that later. The day after I got to the island, I went straight to orientation which lasted for three days. Then I've been working since (I'll get to more details about my new job in a bit). I did have a day off last week but it was moving day for me. After staying in a hotel for a week, I finally found a new home. I also have a housemate/workmate who is also new to the island and it's nice that we're on the same boat and discovering new places together.

It's so hot and humid here, and you know how I feel about hot and humid places... But I'm gonna keep my whining short... So, moving on...

Now, the new job as a pastry cook... I thoroughly enjoyed my first couple of weeks and what can I say, it's brilliant! I work in the bakery section and we bake so many wonderful breads everyday... From focaccia to sourdough, wheat bread, fruit and nut bread, and my current favourite is the fennel and raisin rolls. Ah, it's so good! I thought it was a strange combination at first but wait until you taste it. I posted a picture of it on my Instagram (@michael_toa). 

I have a great mentor and she is so good! She is fast with dough, highly organised, knowledgeable and most importantly she keeps me in line! It takes a different attitude and organisational skill to bake in a professional kitchen compare to baking at home... And it's something I'm still getting used to. 

The transition has not been an easy one if I'm being honest. I get nervous at times surrounded by these professional chefs with years of experience and I'm just a home baker, previously working in an office dealing with immigration issues. I got weird looks every time I'm asked about my working experience. 

Of course I want to do a great job and I try my best to not make a fool of myself but it's all too late... I am not clumsy, but the other day, I was just doing a simple task of rolling a pastry sheet and I wanted to, you know, do it quickly and efficiently like all the other chefs, and somehow my pastry sheet ended up on the floor in front of everyone. *insert swear word here* !!! I was mortified. What an amateur! 

*sigh... It's my day off today and I'm taking it easy. Relaxing at home and looking forward to catch up with my blog reading list. And for lunch I made Nigella's Sicilian pasta with tomatoes, garlic and almonds which is incredibly easy to make. You only need to boil the pasta to al dente and the sauce is done in a food processor. 

The sauce is really fresh with the cherry tomatoes, nice bite from the garlic, salty and tangy from the anchovies and capers, but also a little sweet, courtesy of the sultanas. Though I actually use golden raisins in mine. Whichever you have in your pantry. And the almonds and the olive oil bind the sauce together in the same way when you make a pesto. Toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a little pasta cooking water if it needs it. The only thing that's missing is a little strew of fresh basil on top of the pasta, but it's not the end of the world.  And should you have some in your fridge, pour yourself a nice well-chilled wine and enjoy...

Sicilian Pasta with Tomatoes, Garlic and Almonds
Recipe by Nigella Lawson

For complete list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

Monday, 21 July 2014

I am moving...

Hello friends! How's everyone doing? I hope you are all well and eating deliciously...

I am taking a quick break from packing and this time it's the big suitcase that I need to pack because I am moving... 

A couple of months ago I applied for a job which I thought suits my passion and it also sounds like a great opportunity for me to continue growing and learning.  After waiting for few days, I was thrilled when I received a feedback regarding my application so quickly. They wanted to know more about my working experience which I happily explained; and a couple of correspondence later, I was invited for an interview... 

The interview was done over the phone... I was so nervous that day, waiting for that phone call. Finally it's 9PM my time. For the interviewer it was the morning because of the time difference. The interview itself went really well but still I didn't want to get too sure that I was gonna get it.  I mean, I've been to a job interview before where I thought it went extremely well and ended up not getting the job. 

After the interview, I waited for few days... don't you just hate that feeling of waiting... Just tell me already please... I checked my email constantly, refreshing the inbox on my phone like every fifteen minutes... until that email came. I went into my room, I took a deep breath and I opened that email which says "...I would like to go ahead and offer you the pastry cook position...". I was over the moon happy. 

For the past few weeks I've been doing all the paperwork for the working permit and travel documents and it's finally all done last week and I am ready to go and I can tell you where I'm heading to. Next week, I'll be boarding the longest flights in my life... a total of five flights and an approximately 38 hours journey. From Medan to Singapore and up north to Taipei, then cross the Pacific ocean to LA then to Houston where I'm going to take my last connecting flight to my destination at Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. 

To say that I am excited is an understatement. Not only I am excited to see parts of the world I have not been before, but also of course, for the job and the new adventure. And I look forward to sharing my experiences with you all :) 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Parmesan Shortbread with Smoked Paprika and Black Sesame Seeds

Happy Sunday friends! How is everyone doing?

I am currently taking a break from packing and I want to share with you a little something tasty for your next dinner party. These Parmesan shortbread are so good to pass around for nibbling with pre-dinner drinks/cocktails. And I do love to nibble before dinner, you know, little bites to whet the appetite.

I often make this 'plain' with just the Parmesan, but the addition of smoked paprika gives the shortbread a bacon-like flavour... and as Ina Garten would say, how bad can that be?! If you want some heat, you can also add a little cayenne pepper. And I chose black sesame seeds really just for aesthetic purpose. You can omit that if you don't want to risk having black sesame seeds stuck between your teeth, especially when having a party.

The shortbread dough is incredibly easy to make and the great thing is, once the dough is made, you can roll it straightaway without having to chill it in the fridge first. You can also make this a couple of days in advance and they keep well in an airtight container. Just be sure to keep them away from sight because they won't last long :)

Have a great day everyone!   

Parmesan Shortbread with Smoked Paprika and Black Sesame Seeds

150 gr butter
1 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/s tsp ground white pepper
1-2 tsp smoked paprika, depending taste
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
175 gr freshly grated Parmesan cheese + extra for sprinkling
250 gr plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten for brushing
2 tbsp black sesame seeds

In a bowl, using a free-standing or a hand-mixer, cream the butter, sugar, salt, pepper and smoked paprika until light and fluffy.  Add the one egg and one egg yolk and mix again to combine, followed by the Parmesan cheese.

In another bowl, sift the flour and baking powder. Now, using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients into the buttery cheese mixture until it becomes a dough. 

You can roll the dough on a well floured surface, but I find it easier to roll it in between two non-stick parchment paper.  Roll the dough to the thickness of half a centimeter. Cut it with a knife into bite-size rectangles or use a cookie cutter. Arrange the shortbread on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Brush the shortbread with the lightly beaten egg and sprinkle with extra Parmesan and the black sesame seeds. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let the shortbread completely cool before storing in an airtight container.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Banana and Almond Ice Cream

Back when I was living in Sunderland, whenever I went to the cinema I like treating myself to a scoop or two of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. My favourite has got to be the Chunky Monkey which is banana ice cream with fudge chunks and walnuts. Hmmm... doesn't that sound delicious?! I just love its nursery sweetness.  

And for some inexplicable reason, I would only have this ice cream exclusively at the cinema; even though the ice cream is widely available in supermarkets.

The other day I went to see the new X-Men movie (such a great movie and I love Jennifer Lawrence) at my local cinema here in Medan. I went to the concession stands to check out what snacks they have... you know, the usual popcorn, nachos, sweets, etc... and sadly, no ice cream :( So I thought, why not try making it at home... and this banana and almond ice cream is what I came up with. 

I was going to use walnuts in this ice cream, sticking to its original inspiration; but when I went to the shop, surprise surprise, walnuts were not available (story of my life...). So, I opted for almonds instead. Use any nuts you like... I suspect cashews or pecans will be nice as well.  Or if you're not a fan of nuts, simply omit them.

I must say I am very happy with this ice cream.  It's creamy, rich and comforting.  And most importantly, it's easy to make. Though you do need to make a custard, but it's not at all difficult.

Question of the day, what's your favourite snack to have at the cinema?

This banana and almond ice cream is also my second entry for this month's BSFIC Challenge hosted by the brilliant Kavey.  The theme this month is fruity ice cream, so if you plan to make a fruit base ice-cream in the next few days, be sure to join in.  My first entry was strawberry and rosewater ice cream.

Banana and Almond Ice Cream

500 ml full fat milk
500 ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
6 egg yolks
170 gr caster sugar
300 gr bananas, from 3 or 4 bananas depending on size
50 ml milk
75 gr whole almonds or walnuts

Start by making the custard base.  Pour the milk and double cream into a saucepan along with a vanilla pod that's been split down in the middle lengthwise to expose the seeds.  Bring this mixture almost to a boil, then take it off the heat and leave to infuse for 15 to 20 minutes.  Then take out the vanilla pod.  You can let it dry and add it to your sugar pot to make vanilla sugar.

Bring the milk and cream again to a simmer. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the sugar until the mixture turns thick and pale yellow.  Slowly and gradually pour and whisk in the warm vanilla cream to the yolks. Return this mixture to the saucepan and continue cooking over low heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon until it thickens. When it's done, take it off the heat and pour into a bowl to cool slightly. Give it a stir every now and then so that no skin will form on top of the custard.

Make the banana puree by simply blending the bananas with 50 ml of milk so that the mixture isn't too thick. Fold this peanut butter like puree into the slightly cooled custard. If using an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer's instruction. If you don't have one, just put the ice cream base into a covered container and stick it in the freezer. Take it out after an hour and give it a good beating with a whisk. This will prevent ice crystals from forming and you'll end up with smooth and silky ice cream.   

Lightly toast the nuts of your choice in the oven or I just do it on the stove.  Heat a frying pan on the stove and add a single layer of nuts. Do not add any oil. The nuts contain enough oils of their own to cook. Stir frequently until the nuts turn golden brown and you can really smell their aroma.  Remove from heat and let the cool before giving them a rough chop.

After the second hour in the freezer, take the ice cream out for another 'beating' and fold in the nuts. Making sure they're dispersed throughout. Put the ice cream back in the freezer and do this again in an hour for the last time before putting it back in the freezer to chill completely. After a few hours, I think you know what to do next... :)

Monday, 16 June 2014

Tarte Bourdaloue aux poires

It's not a surprise that I love visiting bakeries and pastry shops. Being surrounded by the aroma of freshly baked breads is my idea of heaven (and eating loads of them too); and I love looking (again, also eating) at the beautiful assortment of delicate and often intricate French pastries in their display case... it's my idea of window shopping.  

Not only I admire the craftsmanship but also it gives me an inspiration to try baking them at home. An example is this Tarte Bourdaloue aux poires, a classic French pear and almond tart.  I saw this tart on a display window at a patisserie one day, and after reading the description, I thought what a delicious combination of poached pears in vanilla, with almond cream and sweet pastry.  And I want to try making it at home, so this is what I came up with.

It's a pretty simple tart to make... It takes a bit of time but it'll be worth it.  Think of all the compliments you're gonna get later :)  There are three part to this tart, the first one is poires pochées or the poached pears.  This can be done a day ahead, and actually it's best to do this ahead of time to allow the flavours to intensify.  In addition to the vanilla, I added the juice of one lime (or use lemon) because however strange, I feel adding a little acidity actually brings out more of the sweetness from the pears.  And to that, a star anise which perfumes the pears with sweet licorice aroma.  If you want to go all out, you can also add a cinnamon stick and a couple of cloves.  Do not throw away the syrupy poaching liquid.  Keep it in the fridge and it's so delicious to add to your ice tea, just saying...

Find me on Instagram @michael_toa
The second part to the recipe is the pastry.  You can make (or even buy) the usual sweet shortcrust pastry, but since this is a classic recipe, I opted for pate sucrée or French sweet pastry. It has a higher sugar content and also uses egg(s) for richness. This should be a straightforward task but... *sigh... it's so hot the past couple of days here and if you've made your own pastry before, you know that working with pastry in hot, humid weather is not very nice to say the very least. Note to self: when I have my dream home one day, I wanna make sure that I have air-conditioner in the kitchen no matter where I live. Anyway, if you have the same problem like myself, make my pastry late in the evening when the temperature is relatively cooler and letting it chill overnight in the fridge. Then early the next day, roll the pastry per usual, working quickly, and if it gets too soft too quickly, just put it back in the fridge for ten minutes or so. 

The last part of the tart is the crème d'amandes or the almond cream.  This is very easy to make... mix all the ingredients and voila!

Tarte Bourdaloue aux poires

For the poached pears:
3 pears
250 gr sugar
500 ml water
Juice of 1 lime (or lemon), save the zest for the pastry
Half a vanilla pod
1 star anise

For the pate sucrée:
100 gr soft butter
75 gr caster sugar
Zest of 1 lime (or lemon)
Half a vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
2 egg yolks
225 gr plain flour

For the frangipane:
80 gr icing sugar
80 gr butter
1 egg
80 gr ground almonds
10 gr plain flour
1 tsp almond extract

To sprinkle:
20 gr ground almonds

If possible poach the pears the day before. This will give them time to cool down and allow the flavours to intensify.  To do this, in a saucepan bring all the ingredients except the pears to a boil, until the sugar dissolve. Peel and cut the pears in half and add to the boiling liquid.  Let them simmer and poach until fork tender. Depending on the ripeness of your pear, this might take from 25 to 40 minutes. I would suggest you don't use over-ripe pears, as they'll be too soft and mushy.  Let the pears cool in the syrup and put in the fridge until when  you're ready for them.

To make the pate sucrée, cream the butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla seeds in a bowl until well combined. Then beat in the egg yolks, one at a time until it's fully incorporated into the mixture.  Add in the flour and mix until it comes together as a ball of dough.  Tip the pastry onto a floured work surface and very lightly and gently knead until smooth.  Wrap with cling film and put it in the fridge for an hour or two or even overnight.

The next day, take the pastry out from the fridge and roll to about 5 mm thickness.  In my, hot and humid case, I find it easier to do this between a couple of non stick parchment and place into a greased loose bottom tart tin.  Take a little piece of the dough and using this instead of your fingers, press the pastry into the sides. Prick the base with a fork and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  This will ensure the pastry won't shrink during baking.

Preheat your oven to 180 C.  After 30 minutes, take the pastry out from the fridge and cut off the overhanging dough.  You can use a knife, but I prefer a gentle press with a rolling pin.  Cover the tart with non-stick baking parchment and top with ceramic beans or dried beans or rice.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.  Then remove the parchment and the beans and put the pastry back in the oven for 5-10 minutes until the sides begin to colour.  Remove from the oven and let it cool to room temperature.

Whilst waiting, make the frangipane by simply mixing the soft butter with sugar.  Then add the flour and a tablespoon of the ground almonds before mixing in the egg.  I find this will prevent the mixture from splitting. Mix to combine and add the rest of the ground almonds.

You can spread the almond cream to the cooled pastry case and leveling it with a spoon; or you can pipe it.  The choice is yours.  

Strain the pears and remove the seeds (I use a melon-baller) and the hard bits.  Slice each pear halves thinly across its width. Arrange over the almond cream and you can fan out the pears a bit, for aesthetic purpose. I then sprinkle the almond cream that's not covered with the pears with ground almonds... but that's optional. Place back in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

Sprinkle the sides with icing sugar and it's especially useful if you've got burnt bits :) and to make the pears shiny, brush them with warmed apricot jam.  When I made this, I ran out of apricot jam, so I use the pear poaching liquid instead.  

Now, go get the kettle on, cut the tart into slices and you know what to do next... 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Strawberry and Rosewater Ice Cream

I know, I know... Strawberry ice cream does sound ordinary, but the addition of rosewater here makes it really special... The inspiration for this comes from a cheesecake recipe I made few years ago.  It's a lemon and poppyseed cheesecake and it is served with raspberry and rosewater syrup.  The cheesecake itself is delicious, but the syrup... oh, the syrup... I could drink it from the jug (perhaps with a touch of vodka and soda water). Anyway, I thought this berry and rosewater combination would be delicious in an ice cream and it is!

Rosewater, with its perfumey pungent floral taste and aroma, I think is a bit like Marmite... people either love it or hate it.  I happen to love it and it's a must-have ingredient in my pantry.  A little drop of it goes a long way; too much and it will overpower and ruin the dish... I mean it'll be like eating a bowl of potpourri.

For the ice cream I suggest you start with a couple of teaspoons and taste from there.  I did use a tad more because the rosewater brand that I use (The English Provender Co.) isn't too strong.  But just a note, you do want the rosewater flavour to be stronger when it's still in custard form.  As the ice cream base chills in the freezer, the flavour will mellow.  So, if it's weak from the start, you might lose the flavour later.

The grenadine syrup, a popular ingredient in cocktail making with its deep red colour is entirely optional.  No need to rush to get it if you haven't got some at home.  I just want to intensify the colour in both the strawberries and the ice cream.

Anyway, this is a very easy ice cream to make and really refreshing and you don't need an ice cream maker to make it.  Simply follow the method below.

This ice-cream is also my entry for this months' BSFIC challenge.  The theme for the month of June is delicious fruit, so if you're planning to make a fruit based ice-cream, be sure to join in!

Strawberry and Rosewater Ice Cream

250 gr strawberries
1 to 2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp rosewater, or to taste
2 tsp grenadine syrup
250 ml double cream
250 ml full fat milk
1/2 vanilla pod
5 egg yolks
100 gr caster sugar

Hull and chop the strawberries into little pieces... don't worry about chopping them too neatly, most of them is going to the blender anyway.  Put the strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle over the caster sugar.  If your strawberries are already sweet, a tablespoon will do.  Then add the rosewater and the grenadine syrup. Give them a good mix and leave to steep whilst you make the custard base.

Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and add the vanilla pod, split down the middle lengthwise to expose the seeds.  Bring the mixture almost to a boil, then take it off the heat and leave to infuse for 15 to 20 minutes.  When the time is up, take out the vanilla pod, but don't throw it away... Let it dry and add it to your sugar pot and you'll end up with beautiful vanilla sugar.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar until thick and pale yellow.  Slowly and gradually whisk in the warm vanilla cream to the yolks.  Then return the mixture to the saucepan and cook again over low heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon until it thickens.  This might take 10 minutes or so. Then take it off the heat and pour in a bowl to cool slightly.

Puree most of the strawberries, leaving about 2 tablespoons worth, in a blender.  Fold in the strawberry puree and the reserved chopped strawberries to the custard.  Now... if you're lucky and have an ice cream maker, use it according to the manufacturer's instruction.  I don't have one, and if you're like me, what you need to do is put the ice cream base into a covered container and stick it in the freezer.  Take it out after an hour and give it a good beating with a whisk.  This will prevent the ice-crystals from forming, so that you'll end up with smooth and silky ice-cream.  Do this at least three times then let it freeze completely and you know what to do when it's done... :) 

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Earl Grey Ice Cream

I love gifting homemade goodies and I also love receiving food gifts, be it homemade or store-bought... (also I don't mind getting cash or gift cards, fyi).  Sometime ago, my best friend, Natasha got me a box of delicious breakfast Earl Grey tea and I've been wanting to do something special with them... and this Earl Grey ice cream is especially delicious.  It's very easy to make and you don't even need an ice-cream maker. I don't have one (hey, another gift idea...). Normally, I like my tea black with no sugar; but this is an exception. The ice cream is rich, creamy and not too sweet, with just the right strength of that distinctive Earl Grey flavour.  Go ahead, make it and enjoy!

Earl Grey Ice Cream

250 ml full-fat milk
500 ml double cream
150 gr caster sugar
6 Earl Grey tea bags
1 tsp vanilla paste, or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
5 egg yolks

In a saucepan, warm the milk, cream and sugar.  Give it a stir occasionally.  Once the milk is steaming, take it off the heat and place the tea bags and vanilla paste into the saucepan and let them steep for 20 minutes or more.  I might have left mine a bit longer.  Give it a stir every now and then. Remove the tea bags, and return the saucepan to medium-heat.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks until light and frothy.  Slowly pour the tea and vanilla infused milk and cream onto the yolks, whisking as you go. Return then milk/egg mixture into the saucepan and continue cooking over low heat.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon and make sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan, until the mixture is steaming and thickens to a custard.  When the mixture coats the back of your wooden spoon, it's done.

Using a fine sieve, strain into a container and refrigerate until completely cooled.  If you have an ice-cream maker, go ahead and use it according to the manufacturer's instruction.  I haven't got one, so if you're like me, what you need to do is put the ice cream base into a covered container.  Stick it in the fridge and give it a good whip every hour for three hours, either with a hand-mixer or by hand with a whisk.  This will prevent the ice-crystals from forming and in the end you'll get a nice, smooth and silky ice-cream.  After the three hours, just keep in the freezer for another few hours and you know what to do next...

This Earl Grey ice cream is also my entry for this month's BSFIC.  The theme this month is ice creams that are inspired by hot drinks... So, get your creative cap on and join the fun!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Apple Pie-Crumble-Cake

On my last day at Gili island during my travel, I had lunch at a cafe.  And just before leaving to catch my boat back to Bali, I saw an apple cake on display.  I didn't have time to go back in the queue and I was annoyed that I didn't get to try it.  I am a sucker for apple cake.  So, when I got back I decided to bake myself an apple cake.

But to be honest, it's not just apple cakes that I love... anything with apples really, pie, crumbles, tarte tatin, strudel, ice-cream, etc...   So, in the making I decided to combine some of my favourite apple treats.  It is very much a cake, but it has enough apples in it to call it a pie too.  If you want, you can bake this cake in a pie dish rather than a baking tin.  

This is a tender, moist cake with a sweet scent of vanilla and a hint of cinnamon with loads of sweet apples and have I mentioned the whisky steeped raisins?! Yes, there are those too.

Crowning the cake is a simple crumble topping with an addition of flaked almonds for texture and also Demerara sugar for crunch and aesthetic purposes. So, there you have it... It's an apple pie-crumble-cake!  

The apples I use are Granny Smith apples. Not only because they're my favourite... I adore their crisp texture and sharpness; but also they hold their shape really well.  They'll be soft after baking but won't fall apart or become mushy.

This is the kind of cake you can serve anytime of day, for brunch, in the afternoon with a cup of coffee/tea, even as a dessert with a scoop or two of ice-cream or custard.... but I'm really looking forward to have another serving of this cake for tomorrow's breakfast... cold, straight from the fridge. Yum. I'm a grown man and if I want cake for breakfast, so be it.

Apple Pie-Crumble-Cake

For the cake and apple filling
2 Granny Smith apples
Half a lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp Demerara or brown sugar
50 gr raisins
1 tbsp rum or whisky
125 gr soft butter
125 gr caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
2 eggs
125 gr plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

For the crumble topping
50 gr plain flour
1/2 tssp baking powder
35 gr cold butter, diced
30 gr flaked almonds
3 tbsp Demerara sugar
Double cream or lightly whipped cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180 C and butter the base of a 22 cm round cake tin or a pie dish.

Put the raisins in a small bowl and pour the rum or whisky, and let them steep for few minutes.  Peel and cut the apples into small chunks and place them in a bowl.  Coat them with the lemon juice, ground cinnamon and brown sugar.  Set aside.

Now, make the cake batter.  In a bowl, sift the flour and baking powder and a pinch of salt. Set aside.  In another bowl, cream the soft butter, caster sugar and vanilla paste until light and pale.  You can use a hand-mixer or simply with a wooden spoon and a little elbow grease.  Beat in one egg, followed by half of the dry ingredients. Mixing well.  Then add in another egg and the rest of the flour. Pour the batter into the cake tin.  Add the apples and raisins and bake for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, make the crumble topping.  Put the flour and baking powder in a bowl and rub in the cold, diced butter between thumb and fingers until it resembles rough oatmeal.  Stir in the flaked almonds and sugar and mix using a fork.

After 20 minutes, take the cake out from the oven and sprinkle over the crumble topping covering all the surface.  Return it to the oven and bake for a further 20-25 minutes.

Leave to stand for 10-15 minutes before serving and serve with chilled double cream, or lightly whipped cream or ice cream... you get the idea and know what to do next.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Chocolate Ginger Brownies

I love chocolate, but I love it even more when it is paired with another ingredient.  Chocolate itself is no stranger to this custom of food-pairings. It has been paired with countless flavours, all with unique and surprising results.  My favourite combination is often fruit based, such as orange, lime, passion fruit and cherry.

Today I opted for something a bit different by adding chopped up crystallised stem ginger to my brownie mix.  The result is utterly delicious. I love the sweet heat that comes from the ginger which works so beautifully with the chocolate, and a hint of brandy (now, we're talking) which I believe needs no further explanation.   

Great news if you are gluten intolerant, this brownie is gluten-free! Not that I am allergic to gluten, but I especially love gluten-free cakes that are made using ground almonds.  The ground almonds keeps the cake moist even after a day or two with squidgy crumb.  

Making the brownies takes very little effort, so I hope you'll give this a go... But, one last thing, I always add a little bit of instant espresso when baking with chocolate.  Not to worry if you don't like coffee, the little amount I use won't make the brownies taste like coffee, but it will actually enhance the chocolate flavour. 

Have a great day!

Chocolate Ginger Brownies

100 gr soft butter
200 gr dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa)
1 tsp instant espresso
5 eggs
100 gr caster sugar
50 gr brown sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste, or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
A splash or two of brandy
200 gr ground almond
60 gr crystallized ginger, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Grease a brownie tin with butter, and line with baking parchment with the paper overlapping the sides a little.  This will make it easier to remove the brownies later.   

Place the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water.  After a few minutes the chocolate and butter will start to melt.  Give it a stir occasionally.  Remove the bowl from the pan.  The residual heat from the pan will finish off the melting process.  Add the instant espresso, give it a stir and set aside

Using a free standing or a hand mixer, whip the eggs, vanilla, sugar and salt together.  Slowly add the chocolate and butter mixture.  Pour it around the side of the egg mix so as not to knock out the air that has been whisked in.  Also add the brandy.

With a large spatula, fold in the ground almonds and little pieces of crystallized ginger.  Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Be careful not to over-bake.

Let the brownies cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing, dust with icing sugar if you want to and you know what to do next.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Roast Chicken with Kaffir Lime Leaves

Hello friends! I'm baaack!
I had a great time travelling with my friend Cian... over the past couple of weeks, we went to Jakarta, Bandung, Singapore, Bali and ended up at the island of Gili Trawangan, near Lombok.  Cian is still on holiday and hopefully still enjoying his time in Indonesia.  And I, being boring, had to cut the holiday short due to work.  I won't bore you with the details, but I'm not complaining... This work will pay for my next trip.

Anyway, I haven't been feeling well for the past few days.  Nothing serious, but please let me moan.  During the last part of our holiday at the Gili island, we stayed at a hostel... and you know what, we're (at least I am) too old for hostels. There are times when I was a teenager or in my early twenties when it's absolutely fine to travel, backpacker style... sharing rooms (and germs) with strangers, bunk beds, communal shower, etc... And I must have caught something.  Cian, if you are reading this, no more hostel please. 

I'll share more interesting stories from our travel in the next few posts.  Right now, I want to share with you guys this delicious roast chicken with kaffir lime leaves.  Kaffir lime leaves is my latest obsession. I absolutely love it. It has a very refreshing citrus scent and most importantly, tastes delicious too.  You might need to go to a specialty store to get it, and do check out the freezer section because the leaves freeze well too. I always buy it in bulk and store them in a ziploc bag in the freezer.

And as per usual, I only use the thighs and drumsticks here... and you know why, but I'll tell you again, because they have more flavour, more tender compare to breast meat and they are also cheaper.  But do use any parts of the chicken that you like.  Chicken wings will be delicious too.

This is a very easy and tasty chicken traybake.  And even though I feel giving measurements for the marinade aren't necessary because it's entirely up to your liking; but to the eight chicken portions, I add a clove of garlic that's been finely grated, 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons of honey, same of regular olive oil, the zest and juice of 1 lime, a tablespoon of finely chopped kaffir lime leaves and salt and pepper to taste.

The chickens only need to marinate for 2 to 4 hours in the fridge.  Certainly not overnight I think because the acid from the lime juice will start cooking the chicken.  And because they only need a short time, it's not a bad idea to make few slashes on the chicken using a sharp knife to ensure the flavour really gets into the meat, as pictured below.

Take the chickens out from the fridge for half an hour or so before baking them in a preheated 190 C oven for 35 to 40 minutes. I would also suggest that you line your baking tin with foil, because the honey in the marinade might burn and who needs the extra scrubbing when doing the dishes?! You're welcome.  

Serve the chickens with rice or potatoes, but even better, towards the end of the roasting time, make this holy guacamole spaghetti! You will not be disappointed. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Banana Upside-Down Cake

I am so excited for my holiday. Next week, I'll be leaving for Jakarta and there I'll be reunited with my friend Cian who is flying all the way from the UK. Cian and I used to work together and though we never traveled together, we both really look forward to our little adventure.  

From Jakarta, we'll make our way to Bandung in West Java, Singapore, Bali and end up at the Gili Islands. Being obsessed with food, my itinerary consists very little of cultural sights... hardly any, to be honest. It's mostly food places I want to visit.  But I will try my best to visit some interesting places in between meals. And if you've been to any of those cities, I welcome more recommendations... 

I'll be sure to share my experiences with all of you when I am back, so watch this space!  But until then, first I want to share with you this banana upside-down cake.  I suppose it's nothing really new and ground-breaking here, but it's comforting with the sticky brown sugar topping, the sweet cinnamon and warmth from ginger... and that's what I want today, on this gloomy day (my favourite kind of day). This cake is very easy to make and serve with ice-cream (vanilla is great, but I had it with chocolate and salted caramel ice cream which is sublime) while the cake is still warm... oh you know it just makes sense...

Banana Upside-Down Cake

For the topping:
50 gr butter
50 gr soft light brown sugar
a pinch of salt
2-3 bananas, depending on size

For the sponge:
3 eggs
60 gr caster sugar
40 gr soft light brown sugar
50 gr plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
40 gr butter, melted

Grease and line a 18 cm square tin and pre-heat the oven to 180 C.

To make the sticky topping, place the butter and brown sugar in a small pan over medium heat.  Once the butter is melted, turn up the heat and let this bubble away for a few minutes until the mixture begins to thicken slightly.  Do keep an eye on it, because it may burn quickly. When it's done, take it off the heat and stir in a pinch of salt.

Carefully pour the mixture into the bottom of the lined tin and swirl the tin around to spread it out evenly. This needs to be done straightaway otherwise the mixture will solidify.  Slice the bananas, neither thick nor thin and arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of the tin. You can do any patterns as you please.

Now make the sponge... Using a free-standing or a hand mixer, whisk the eggs and sugars until pale, thick and light.  This will take a few minutes.  Then slowly add the flour, ground cinnamon and ginger.  Using a spatula, fold in the melted butter.

Pour the sponge mix over the bananas and gently spread it out with a spatula or the back of a spoon to level the top.  Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

Once the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin for five minutes or so.  Then put a large platter on top of the tin, and holding the tin and the platter with a tea towel, flip the cake over.  Gently remove the tin and carefully peel off the baking parchment. 

Cut into squares, serve with softly whipped cream or ice-cream and you know what to do next...

Monday, 17 March 2014

Orange and Chocolate Pudding Layer Cake

The strangest thing happened yesterday.  My mother always has an opinion about everything, including food. I mean, she is a great cook and an excellent baker, so most likely she will have something to say on the subject.  She doesn't compliment often, not directly anyway, but when she's quiet, you can consider it a good sign. Meaning: she likes it... she's thinking about it, what's in it, how to make it, etc.

So, yesterday I was cooking cauliflower macaroni and cheese (utterly delicious recipe by Not Quite Nigella. Lorraine, if you're reading this, my mother absolutely love this dish), and I could see my mother having a slice of the orange and chocolate pudding cake.  Whilst stirring the pasta, I was anxiously waiting for the verdict. Would she has something to say or would it be a silent?!

Turned out, my mother had something something to say.  She said, "This is really nice. You can really taste the orange and the chocolate pudding is not overwhelmingly sweet."  And she had another slice and she packed few slices for some friends she's meeting later.  Hours later when she got home, she ate another slice, complimented the pudding again and passed on all the lovely comments from her friends.

I was stunned and confused by the explicit reaction but nonetheless over the moon.  This pudding layer cake has my mom's stamp of approval.

You can be all creative with the flavour combo for the sponge and pudding, but I do love orange and chocolate.  And if you ever wonder what Terry's chocolate orange might taste like in cake/pudding form, this is it.  The orange sponge is light and fragrant; and with the rich and velvety mousse like chocolate pudding, it's sublime.

To achieve the beautiful texture of the chocolate pudding, I use agar-agar.  If you've never heard of it, it's a vegetarian gelatin substitute made from seaweed.  You can get it from a specialty food store or online. Unlike regular gelatin sheet that usually needs to be soaked in cold water to soften before use; agar-agar needs to be brought to a boil in order for the setting to occur.

One might think that making the pudding layer cake is a bit time consuming, since you have to wait for the pudding to half-set before you add the layer of sponge, and so on... but it's actually not the case.  The pudding sets within minutes; and the actual process of baking the sponge and making the chocolate pudding is very easy.  Come on, I'm sure you're tempted :) 

Orange and Chocolate Pudding Layer Cake

For the orange sponge:
6 eggs
120 gr caster sugar
1 tbsp water
125 gr plain flour
120 gr butter, melted
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp vanilla paste, or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod

For the chocolate pudding:
1200 ml milk
75 gr best quality cocoa powder
2 tsp instant espresso
300 gr caster sugar
14 gr agar-agar powder
8 egg whites (save the yolks, read notes below)
a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 190 C and line and grease a 20 cm square baking tin.

To make the orange sponge, using a free-standing or a hand mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla paste and water until it's thick, pale and airy.  This will take a few minutes.  With the mixer running on low/medium, slowly add in the flour.  Then carefully fold in the orange zest and melted butter.  Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 25-30 minutes. When a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, it's done. Set it aside to cool completely and slice the cake in two, horizontally.  

Now, the chocolate pudding...  in a big pot, heat up the milk, cocoa powder, instant espresso, 150 gr of the sugar and the agar-agar.  Keep stirring until the cocoa and sugar dissolved.  When the mixture comes to a boiling point, turn off the heat and set aside.

In another bowl, again, either using a free-standing or hand mixer, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Then add the rest of the sugar, a tablespoon at a time whilst continue whisking until it's thick and glossy.  Fold in the chocolate mixture a little at a time until everything is incorporated.  The meringue here will give the pudding a mousse like consistency. 

Using a clean 20 cm square tin, place 1/3 of the chocolate pudding mixture into the tin.  Let this half-set  (it is important that the pudding is half-set, and not completely firm, otherwise the layers may separate). Then place 1 half of the sponge followed by another 1/3 of the chocolate mixture.  Let this half-set again and place another layer of sponge and top with the rest of the chocolate pudding.  Put this in the fridge to firm up for at least a couple of hours... and you know what to do next...

Note: I hate wasting food and there's no way I'm gonna throw away 8 egg yolks. You can make loads of spaghetti carbonara if you have an army to feed, or custard/ice-cream is another good idea; but if you're like me and you live in a household where there's no such thing as too much cakes, you bake a Swiss roll :). So, my question of the day, what would you make with the extra yolks?