Saturday, December 25, 2010

And it's Christmas: Checkerboard Cookies

I have never celebrated Christmas. To me, it's a time where I have to buy useless gifts, receive useless gifts and fall victim to exorbitant dinners. Still, many of my friends are excited over Christmas because it's the season for celebrating romance, friendship and kinship.

This year, I had a fantastic Christmas present: a new oven. My mum bought this yesterday because she decided that our old one is too lousy, and after constant urging from me, we finally carried one home on Christmas eve.

Every oven is different. It took me many months to get to know my old oven and now, I have to start from scratch in getting to know this new one. There are many functions and I have no idea which is the best for which. The first thing I baked with it is this Hokkaido Chiffon Cake (again!!). The result is not good: the cake is a little soggy and did not rise very well. Of course, it could be because I don't have good skills, but I partly suspect I have used the wrong function on the oven.

I have bookmarked this checkerboard cookie recipe for a few months but never got around to baking it because I know it will be extremely tedious. And sure enough, it took me a whole afternoon to make these. The dough is too soft and sticky, it is extremely difficult and time-consuming to shape them.

As a result, the patterns are not very even. In the end, I gave up on wrapping the strips with a thin layer of dough, which explains those bare ones. I will seriously think twice about baking these again.

I plan to give some of these away as they are really way too much for me to consume. Even though Christmas is almost over, this can still be considered as Christmas goodies. Merry Christmas everyone!

P.S. Since the deadline for the "Aspiring Bakers #2: Christmas! (Dec 2010)" event hosted by Passionate About Baking has been extended, I will be participating with this entry!


Vanilla dough:
150 g cake flour
80 g butter, softened at room temperature
60 g icing sugar
25 g egg (about 1/2 an egg)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate dough:
130 g cake flour
20 g cocoa powder
80 g butter, softened at room temperature
60 g icing sugar
25 g egg (about 1/2 an egg)

  1. Slowly whisk butter and icing sugar till even. Do not beat the mixture.
  2. Add egg in 2 additions and mix well after each addition.
  3. Mix in vanilla extract.
  4. Sift in flour and mix with spatula until even. The dough will be soft and sticky. Place dough in fridge for at least 30 minutes. to firm up.
  5. Repeat above steps for chocolate dough, replacing flour in step 4 with flour and cocoa powder.
  6. When the dough is sufficiently firm, remove around 1/4 of vanilla dough and 1/4 chocolate dough for wrapping. Place in fridge to prevent softening.
  7. Roll the remaining 3/4 vanilla dough and 3/4 chocolate dough into 1 cm thick rectangles. Place vanilla dough on top of chocolate dough. You may brush some egg on the chocolate dough before stacking so that the dough will stick together.
  8. Place the stacked dough in the freezer for at least 30 minutes to harden.
  9. Remove the hardened stacked dough and slice into 1 cm thickness strips. Stack 2 strips together so that they form checkerboard pattern. You may also brush egg wash on the strips to help them stick better.
  10. Roll the reserved 1/4 dough into 0.2 cm thickness. You may want to do so between plastic sheets if the dough is too soft and sticky. Wrap the checkerboard strips carefully with the dough and remove excess dough. You can omit this step if you are only making the bare cookies.
  11. Freeze checkerboard dough strips for at least 30 minutes.
  12. Slice the hardened dough strips into 0.5 cm thickness cookie dough.
  13. Bake at 190 deg C for 12 minutes.
  14. Let cool completely before storing.
Adapted from Junzhi's 双色小棋格饼干.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Black and White: Sesame Cookies

I had a hard time deciding on what to bake this week. Usually, I will have a long list of ideas and couldn't make up my mind. But this week, I have no ideas at all. I was craving for chocolate muffins, but I decided not to bake anything heaty as my whole family is down with the "heaty syndrome". Then perhaps a batch of corn muffins then. But you know I won't be satisfied with just baking muffins, so I added in a batch of sesame cookies from a new book I bought during my recent trip to Taipei.

Using the same recipe as before, I reduced the honey this time round to half of the original. Somehow I don't like the smell of the honey when used in baking. By reducing it, the smell is reduced, but at the same time, it became rather tasteless.

I bought 2 baking books from Taipei, both in Chinese. I'm ok with reading the ingredients and instructions in Chinese. In fact, I like Chinese recipes because they usually use less sugar, which is suited to my asian tastebud. Both books have very elaborate recipes, to the point that I feel intimidated by the long list. For a start, I chose the easiest recipe: cookies.

I'm a fan of sesame, either black or white, either sweet or savoury. I had fun baking these and I love piping the dough into small discs. I have to admit they look pretty good! But taste-wise, it's not really fantastic. Well,'s sesame!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fairy Back from Leave?: Hokkaido Chiffon Cupcakes

After last week's not-so-successful attempt, in addition to my sister's encouragement (surprise surprise), I decided to give the Hokkaido chiffon cupcakes another go.

This time round, I used my hands to separate the egg yolks and whites instead of using the shells. I managed to do it sucessfully for 2 out of 3 eggs. The egg whites were more "normal" this time round. It managed to beat to a soft peak stage and is easy to fold into the egg yolk mixture.

I bought the square baking cups specially for these cakes. Firstly, I think the square cups are really cute. Secondly, I was hoping that using these will increase my chances of success since bakeries use these to bake their chiffon cupcakes as well. And true enough, the cakes didn't collapse! Though I'm not sure if it's due to the cups or because I got the egg whites right.

The custard was better this time round because I made a one-egg batch instead of half an egg. With a larger amount, it's easier to control the cooking although there are still some lumps. Need to improve on it. Since the cakes did not collapse, that means there is plenty of room for the custard, and I definitely did not stinge on it. I piped each cake with so much custard, I actually ran out of it even though I made a one-egg batch. Apparently, my sister loves this cake. She ate 2 at a go. Wow.

Ingredients (makes 6):
Chiffon cupcakes:
2 eggs, separated
17 g cake flour
15 g caster sugar (for yolk mixture)
25 g caster sugar (for egg white mixture)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp milk

  1. Separate egg yolks and whites.
  2. Add 15 g caster sugar to egg yolks and beat. Add in oil and milk and mix. Sift in flour and mix till even.
  3. Beat egg whites till frothy. Add in 25 g caster sugar in thirds until soft peak stage.
  4. Fold in egg whites into egg yolk mixture in thirds until even.
  5. Pour into baking cups until 60% full.
  6. Bake in preheated oven at 180 deg for 12-15 mins until golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool before piping in custard.
Adapted from Junzhi's 北海道戚风蛋糕

250 ml milk
1 egg
30 g sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp corn flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Add sugar to egg and beat until sugar dissolves.
  2. Sift in plain flour and corn flour and mix until smooth.
  3. Heat milk in a pot until bubbles appear at the edge of the pot.
  4. Pour in hot milk to egg mixture slowly, whisking vigorously.
  5. Strain mixture back into pot.
  6. Cook the mixture over medium flame while whisking vigourously to prevent lumps from forming.
  7. Cook until the mixture becomes thick and the mixture is bubbling.
  8. Stir in vanilla extract.
  9. Strain into a bowl and use cling wrap to cover the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming.
  10. Let cool before chilling in the refrigerator.

Lastly, my huat kueh finally decided to smile. My mum requested for me to make these to that we can use it for prayers...but I'm not sure if this is really up-to-standard. I suggest she get store-bought ones.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fairy on Leave

My baking fairy (if I actually had one) apparently went on leave this week. I thought chiffon cupcakes should be no issue for me since I had done chiffon cakes a few times before. But this week's attempt was full of boo-boos.

The first sign of trouble came while I was separating the eggs. I took out 3 eggs to defrost although I intended to use only 2. But the first egg yolk got smashed while I broke the egg shell. No choice, that will go into cooking the custard. The second and third eggs were no better. Both yolks broke during separation. Although I managed to salvage most of the whites, there was traces of yolk in the whites. Of course, I still went ahead with the project. I did manage to beat the whites to soft peaks, but I seriously doubt the outcome of the cakes.

The batter was less than I expected, but it looks reasonably light and fluffy. The smell of the cakes baking was actually very nice, even though no flavouring was added. Then my worst fear came through: the cakes shrank significantly when they were out of the oven. One of them shrank so much, the texture of the cake is almost like kueh. I suspect it's due to the egg whites.

Then cake disaster number 2: cooking custard. I never had much luck with using milk for custard. It's always lumpy and too milky for my liking. After straining, it still looks decent, but I would rather use orange juice for custard.

Since the cake collapsed, there was not much room for the custard. I had to try my best to "force' the custard into the cakes. Tastewise, it isn't too bad, but I had expected it to be lighter and fluffier. Surprisingly, my sister quite like the cakes!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The First Roll: Orange Custard Swiss Roll

A swiss roll has always been one of the items on my to-do list, but usually I chickened out at the thought of rolling the sponge cake. After missing out on a few baking sessions for the past month due to my holiday trips, I decided to make something "exciting" this week: my first swiss roll!

I bought a digital weighing scale some weeks back after seeing Meiyi's picture on FB. She got it for $23 at the Isetan atrium scale. Of course, I wouldn't miss this chance to get one for myself too. Yes, a digital scale is always worth it because it makes weighing of ingredients such a breeze, and less washing as well, because I can just weight everything into the same bowl.

Since my oven is so tiny, the original recipe which calls for a 23 x 30 cm tray will not be able to fit in. As usual, I halved the recipe and used a makeshift "baking tray" to hold the batter. I first saw a self-made tray on Junzhi's blog, where he showed the procedures to make a tray from aluminium based on any dimensions you want. I thought it's a brillant idea since I wouldn't want to buy trays of different sizes everytime I bake something new. But this tray is so flimsy that it is only suitable for holding light batter, eg. batter for sponge cakes or chiffon cakes. In addition to the aluminium foiil layer, I lined the "tray" with parchment paper, which makes the "tray" more rigid.

Once again, I suspect I have over-beaten the eggs. The batter was a little too thick and stiff, and there were many large bubbles. I poured the batter into a 18 x 23cm tray and it seems a little too shallow. After 10 minutes of baking, the surface was not browned, but the cake seems cooked. To prevent overbaking, which can cause the cake to crack when rolled, I decided to remove it from the oven, remove the cake layer and placed on a clean sheet of parchment paper and roll it up to cool.

In the meantime, I supremed an orange and checked on my custard, which was cooked prior to preparing the cake batter.

And here comes the most daunting task: rolling the cake with the filling. When I unrolled the cake, I realized the cake was pretty sticky and wet, and I had some problem getting it out from the parchment. While I was struggling with it, I realized part of it has some slight cracks. I should have mixed the oranges in the custard before spreading, instead of putting the oranges onto the custard layer, because this resulted in many holes in the filling layer. Anyway, rolling the cake was the most difficult part because the custard was too soft, the cake layer was too soft, and the filling was uneven due to the orange bits. The final outcome shows some cracks on the surface, but at least, it still stayed in the shape of the swiss roll. Perhaps I should be less adventurous and use the conventional cream or jam as the filling.

Ingredients (makes one 15 x 23 cm sponge layer):

Sponge layer:
75 g egg (1 1/2 eggs)
30 g caster sugar
40 g cake flour
10 g butter, melted
Dash of vanilla

Custard Filling:
125 ml orange juice
25 g egg (1/2 an egg)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cake flour
Some orange cubes

  1. Cook the custard prior to preparing cake batter so that the custard has time to cool: Heat up orange juice until small bubbles appear
  2. Whisk 1/2 egg with 1 tbsp sugar. Sift in cake flour and whish until smooth.
  3. Pour in hot orange juice slowly, while whisking vigourously.
  4. Strain mixture back into the pot and cook on medium heat, stirring continously.
  5. Continue to cook and stir until mixture becomes thick and bubbles appear.
  6. Transfer custard to a bowl and cover with cling wrap, with the wrap touching the surface of the custard. Chill in fridge. Prepare the cake while the custard is chilling in the fridge,
  7. Sift flour and set aside.
  8. With an electric mixer, beat eggs with sugar until ribbon stage (about 5 mins on high speed). Beat at low speed for 1-2 mins to stabilize the bubbles.
  9. Sift in flour in thirds and fold gently.
  10. Pour 1/3 of batter to the melted butter and vanilla and fold. Pour butter mixture back into the remaining batter and fold gently.
  11. Pour into baking tray and level out surface with spatula.
  12. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 deg C for about 10 mins or until fully cooked. Do not overbake the cake or it will crack during rolling.
  13. Remove the tray and peel off parchment paper. Place cake on a clean sheet of parchment paper and roll up. Leave to cool.
  14. Unroll the sponge layer, add in fillings and roll up carefully. Slice off the ends of the swiss roll.
Sponge cake recipe adapted from HHB's Nutella Swiss Roll.
Custard recipe adapted from 低热量点心DIY, by 大越鄉子

Before ending off this post, I would like to pay tribute to a friend of mine who left us this week, on the 23rd Nov. Even though I wasn't particularly close to her, I have known her personally as classmates and we have attended many gatherings together. I've noticed her during my first 3 years of undergraduate studies even though I have never spoken to her then, because she was always cheerful and bubbly and speaking excitedly to her friends. The first time I spoke to her was during our honours year's sports day, where a big group of us went to Munchie Monkey to have dinner. She was sitting opposite me and XP. The comments she made were always so hilarious, XP and I kept telling her she's cute. And her reply was: "Nooo, I don't wanna be cute! I wanna be sexy!" That really cracked us up.
Subsequently, we occasionally met at the red tables, where they are always having "bridge gatherings". Another memorable occasion was a KTV session where she came to join us even though she was not feeling too well. It was then that I know she's actually quite a good singer! Another occasion was a pre-CNY gathering at Chinatown. I remembered vividly that she was so excited when she saw the HK-styled Yu Dan being sold at one of the stalls, she scurried across to get it and shared her buy with us. It was then that I know that such a snack is very popular in HK. So much so that during my recent trip to Taipei, I saw the Yu Dan at a stall in Ximending, and I was reminded of her telling us it's popular in HK.
But just 3 days after I came back from Taipei, I received news that she passed away in her sleep. Nobody can accept this sudden loss. At a young age of 26, with no known health problems, she went to bed and never woke up again. It was after I went to her wake, and sending her off on her last journey that I accepted that she has gone.
So to our dearest Fifi, rest in peace. May you be happy in the other world and watching over your loved ones. You will be greatly missed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Going Green: Matcha Sablé Cookies

And I'm back, after 12 days in South Korea, followed by a weekend fishing at a kelong in Batam. After a 3-week hiatus from the kitchen, I realized I have lost touch with baking and cooking, so I decided to start from something simple: cookies.

It's scary how time flies. It's been almost one year since I went to Japan with my friends, which means that my matcha powder will be expiring soon! There is no better time than this to bake a batch of matcha sablé cookies.

The procedure is relatively simple, almost foolproof, except that I was too impatient with chilling the dough. The cookie dough went out of shape while slicing, so I had to pop it back into the fridge again. Other than that, everything went smoothly, considering that I was multi-tasking, trying to steam a batch of chai tow kuay at the same time.

This recipe is a sure-keep. The cookies are refreshing and fragrant. I simply love these! But can't have too much as the fat content is rather high.

Ingredients (makes 20)
120 g plain flour
2 tsp green tea powder
75 g butter, softened at room temperature
50 g icing sugar
Small pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
Granulated sugar (I used raw sugar)
A little egg white (optional)
A little green tea leaves (optional)

  1. Sift flour and green tea powder together. Set aside.
  2. Cream butter, icing sugar and salt together until creamy.
  3. Add in egg yolk and mix well.
  4. Sift in flour and green tea powder and fold with spatula.
  5. Over dough with cling wrap and chill in fridge for 15 mins.
  6. Place dough on parchment paper and shape in to 3.5 cm log. Wrap log with parchment paper and chill in fridge until firm.
  7. Preheat oven to 150 deg C. Slice log into 7 mm thickness. Dip edges in granulated sugar.
  8. Place dough on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
  9. If desired, brush a little egg white over the cookies and sprinkle with green tea leaves.
  10. Bake for about 25 mins. Remove and leave to cool on wire rack.
  11. Store in air-tight container for up to 10 days.
Recipe adapted from e's joie's Matcha Sablé Cookies.

Towards the Horizon

Samyang Ranch, South Korea, 2010

I'm especially fond of places like this: big areas of greenery, few people, no high-rise buildings. It's practically impossible to find such places in Singapore, so whenever I go overseas, I would try to visit places like this, even if it means long hours of travelling.

What is so special about such places? To me, it's the horizon. The place where the sky and the green grassland meets, without the obstruction of buildings. Whenever I see such a scenery, I feel a urge to keep running towards the horizon, even though I know I will never reach the point where the sky and the ground meets. I guess that's the way I feel about life too. Running towards somewhere, but knowing that no matter how far you run, you will never see what you expect to see.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Repeat Telecast

I had not intended to make yam cake this week. But my grandma requested for it, and we had leftover yam in the freezer as well. So here we go: repeat telecast of yam cake.

This time round, I know what to expect while preparing the batter. After frying the ingredients, I off the flame and poured the flour mixture. Since the wok and the ingredients are hot, the heat will be able to cook the batter till thick, without drying out the batter. The cake is softer this time round,, only complaint is that I'm too generous with the salt!

My lunch: red bean soup with leftover 芋圓. Now I know the importance of dumping the cooked balls into iced water after cooking. The balls were much chewier! Even though it's quite troublesome to prepare a bowl of iced water.

I was craving for this fruit pastry cake and decided to bake them into cupcakes before I take a 3-week break from the kitchen. The texture is soft and moist and the lemon zest made the cake refreshing.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Of Yam and Corn: Yam Cake + Corn Muffins

After last week's radish cake, this week is a sequel to steamed cakes: yam cake. Yam cake is almost similar to radish cake or carrot, as both uses rice flour to get the sticky, springy texture. After last week's too-sticky cake, I tried out the cook-batter way, which looks like a more common way to make such cakes.

Once again, the best thing about homemade food is that you can add as much of your favourite ingredients as you wish. I certainly did not stinge on the amount of dried shrimps and mushrooms!

As usual, I am horrible with the stove. Frying the ingredients was not too diffcult, but I did not know when to stop frying. Next comes the problematic part: adding the flour mixture to the fried ingredients. I did not anticipate the batter to be *this* gooey. It was so thick to the point of becoming too dry, I had to add more water. I wonder if the wok was too hot because even though I switched off the flame, the batter dried up almost immediately after the flour mixture was poured in.

After 45 mins of steaming, the cake was fully cooked. Unlike last week, a chopstick inserted into the centre came out almost clean. However, I find the cake too dry, which I had sort of predicted, after seeing the dry, gooey batter.

Ingredients (makes 1 7-inch cake):
1 1/2 bowl yam, diced
1 bowl rice flour
2 tbsp corn flour
2 bowls water ( I added another 1/2 bowl while frying the batter)
1/2 bowl dried shrimps, chopped
5 Chinese mushrooms, diced
5 shallots, chopped
1/2 tsp five-spice powder
1 tsp salt
Some pepper
1 tsp sugar

  1. Fry dried shrimps and shallots until aromatic.
  2. Add mushrooms and yam and fry. Sprinkle sugar over yam while frying (to get rid of the stinging taste of yam). Fry until yam becomes brown.
  3. In a bowl, mix rice flour and corn flour with water and stir until smooth.
  4. Add in flour mixture slowly and stir until a thick paste forms.
  5. Add salt, pepper and five-spice powder and stir.
  6. Spoon mixture into a heat-proof pan and steam over high for 45 mins or until cooked.
Recipe adapted from Rasa Malaysia's Taro Cake.

Since I had plenty of leftover yam, I jumped at this chance to try out this 芋圓 recipe. After eating the famous 芋圓 at Taipei last year, I've been missing this fantastic dessert. I chanced upon the recipe at 小小米桶's blog and can't wait to try it out. Making the dough is fairly simple, and I think the outcome is pretty good. Soft and chewy, and able to taste the fibre of the yam. Since I did not cook any red bean soup, I made a ginger-black sugar syrup as the base and added leftover corn kernels and some 芋圓 as lunch.

150 g yam
60 g tapioca flour
15 g potato flour + more for dusting
1 tbsp sugar
60 ml water

  1. Steam and mash yam. For better texture, do not mash too fine.
  2. Add in tapioca flour, potato flour and sugar and mix well.
  3. Slowly add in water and knead until a dough forms.
  4. Since the dough will be dry and crumbly, pinch off about 1/3 of the dough and cook in boiling water. Add the cooked dough back to the rest of the dough and knead.
  5. Dust work surface with potato flour. Roll the dough to a thin log. Cut into lengths of 1.5 cm.
  6. To cook, boil the pieces of dough until they float. Cook for one more minute. Serve in cold sugar syrup or ginger or red bean soup.
Recipe adapted and translated from 小小米桶's 芋圓、地瓜圓.

So why is there leftover corn kernels? Because I bought 2 fresh maize corn to make these cornbread. I love Kenny Roger's cornbread since I first tried it 10 years ago. Even though I wasn't a fan of muffins back then, the cornbread was something I will look forward to when I go the Kenny Rogers. But ever since the branch near my place closed down, I seldom have the chance to eat them. My mum is also a fan of their cornbread. She used to buy them for breakfast back then. Upon her request to replicate them, I tried out this recipe online, which claims to yield Kenny Rogers-like cornbread. I wouldn't say they taste similar, in fact it is nowhere close to the real McCoy, but my sister and I do give it a thumbs up.

Ingredients (makes 6-7 muffins)
55g butter
50 g sugar (orginal recipe uses 70 g)
2 tbsp honey
1 egg
Pinch of salt
100 g plain flour
60 g cornmeal
1/2 tsp baking powder (original recipe uses 1/4 tsp)
60 ml milk
2/3 cup corn kernel

  1. Cream butter, sugar and honey together. Add in egg gradually and mix well.
  2. In another bowl, sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture into the creamed mixture. Add 1/2 of the milk. Add 1/2 of the remaining flour mixture. Add in remaining milk, followed by remaining flour. Stir until the dry ingredients is just moistened. Fold in corn kernels.
  4. Spoon into muffin cups. Bake at 200 deg C for 25 mins or until cooked.
Recipe adapted from BigOven's Kenny Rogers Roasters Corn Bread.