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?

Friday, 7 March 2014

Kue Lapis Surabaya - Surabaya Layer Cake

Warning: this wonderfully light and airy chocolate and vanilla layer sponge cake is extremely moreish.  Kue lapis Surabaya is a classic Indonesian cake and even though it is old-fashioned, its simplicity makes this cake... timeless.  The name Surabaya refers to the capital city of East Java.  Funny thing, the name "lapis Surabaya" is only known by the people from outside of the city.  In Surabaya itself, the cake is known by the name of  "spiku".

Classic lapis Surabaya consists of three layers of sponge cakes.  A chocolate sponge sandwiched between two layers of vanilla or plain yellow sponge; or the other way round, a vanilla sponge sandwiched between two layers of chocolate sponge as I have done here.  The layers of cake are glued using strawberry jam. Chopped nuts may be added to the layers for texture for variations, but I'm keeping it simple this time.

Looking at the list of ingredients, yes, there are a lot of egg yolks used here (you can save the whites for meringues or pavlovas, etc) and that what makes the cake so rich.  This makes quite a big cake, perfect for sharing... I managed to get around 40 generous slices.

The addition of instant espresso to the chocolate sponge batter is my own take.  However un-traditional, I think it brings out more of the chocolate flavour.  So, purists out there, please don't sue me.

Kue Lapis Surabaya

For the chocolate sponge:
15 egg yolks
180 gr caster sugar
pinch of salt
50 gr plain flour
25 gr cocoa powder
1 tsp instant espresso
2 tbsp milk powder
180 gr butter

For the vanilla sponge:
8 egg yolks
100 gr caster sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla paste, or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
30 gr plain flour
10 gr corn flour
1 tbsp milk powder
100 gr butter

150 gr strawberry jam

Preheat the oven to 180 C and grease and line a 25 cm square tin.

Using a freestanding or a hand-mixer, whisk 280 gr of butter until pale and fluffy, then divide the butter for the sponges and set aside.

To make the chocolate sponge, whisk the egg yolks with caster sugar and a pinch of salt until thick, light and forms a ribbon.  In a bowl, sieve the flour, cocoa powder, instant espresso and milk powder.  Then slowly add the dry ingredients to the yolks.  Fold in the whipped butter.  Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  Remove the cake from the oven, let it cool slightly before removing from the tin to cool completely. Repeat the process to make the vanilla sponge. 

When the chocolate sponge has cooled, cut it in half horizontally using a serrated knife.  Try your best to make sure the layers are even. Spread one half of the cake with half of the strawberry jam. Then top with the vanilla sponge.  Spread the rest of the jam and top with the chocolate sponge.  Cut into slices and you know what to do next...