Friday, July 31, 2009

Moist Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache, and my first attempt at White Icing

I have been on a roll making cakes for the birthdays of friends' children. Jodi asked me to make little chocolate cupcakes last week for Renee's birthday, which I was glad to do. They were 'bare' as she frosted and decorated them herself. Topped with chocolate frosting and M&M's on the top, they were a chocolate sensation!

This week it's Keane and Zern's birthday. They're friends with Etienne, and their mom YP is a good friend of mine. They're chocolate lovers and so Chocolate Cake it was. This time I simply poured a chocolate ganache over and let it drip down the sides. The combination of the two was chocolate heaven.

I knew I wanted to dress the cake up with more than just sprinkles. So I decided to attempt white icing. I had always felt intimidated by white icing, thinking it would be hard to do, and had to be very careful when handling it. Temperatures had to be right or it would be too soft, too dry or too hard. So with cornstarch in hand, I tackled a pack of ready made white icing, and simply cut the shapes out. Not knowing how they'd feel, I thought I'd keep it simple this time. It was surprisingly easy. Felt like the paper clay projects I used to make way back when. I feel brave enough now to attempt other shapes and figurines. For Keane and Zern, I had just stamped their initials out with a cookie cutter and set them on a circle. KZ looked like it was short for 'Kazam!' and that prompted me to add lighting bolts for that 'superhero' feel.

I am very pleased with the way the entire cake turned out. The cake was just the right chocolatey sweetness, and the ganache simply highlighted that flavour. Dark and delicious. The colours of the white icing stood out against the chocolate. The white icing was merely for show and we peeled it off before eating.

Prior to this I wanted to (and still do) learn more about white icing. I tried to look for information but could not find the answer to my question. What's the difference between fondant, sugarpaste and white icing? Is it the same thing by a different name? If not, what's the difference and how should it be treated? When modelling figurines, must I use only sugar glue or will water do? What's the best type of food colour to use? Answers very much appreciated. Thanks.

Chocolate Cake (adapted from Betty Yew's Kitchen Secrets)

Makes 1X8” square cake

Butter 180g
Sugar 360g
Eggs 3 large
Instant coffee 1 tsp
Hot water 1 tbsp
Vanilla 1 tsp
Water 1 cup
Plain flour 240g
Cocoa powder 75g
Baking powder 1 tsp
Baking soda 1 tsp
Salt ½ tsp

Grease and line an 8” square cake pan. Sift the dry ingredients and set aside. Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Dissolve coffee in 1 tbsp water. Stir in vanilla and add the remaining cup of water. Fold in the coffee mixture alternately with the dry ingredients in 3 batches, starting with the flour. Blend well and pour into the tin. Bake in preheated 175C oven for 55 minutes. Test with a skewer. Leave to cool in pan for 20 minutes and then turn onto rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate 200g, broken into pieces
Whipping cream 150ml

Place both ingredients into a bowl and set it over a pot of simmering water (double boiler style) do not allow the water to touch the bowl. Allow the chocolate to melt. Stir till the mixture is smooth and shiny. Remove from heat and allow to cool a little. When slightly thickened, pour over the cake allowing the ganache to drip over the sides.

Cranberry Bread Pudding

Easy to make bread pudding

Dried cranberries were on sale. Imported foodstuff is very expensive here and so things that we took for granted at home becomes a luxury in these parts. I was coveting Craisins, but at RMB33 for a small bag, I could only admire from afar. But this past weekend, they were doing a 'buy one get one free' at Freshmart, and so I grabbed a pair. (We're in a recession – I do what I can) They could go down cheaper if the supermarket finds there are no takers, but I was willing to take the risk!

Dinner was a simple affair last night so I decided to make up for it with a baked dessert. I had not made one in a while. Looking into the pantry I found I had all the ingredients for bread pudding. Throw in a handful of cranberries and we've bumped it up a notch. This is a recipe I concocted a while back – another one of those “use up what's in the pantry” days. Measurements are approximate.

Bread 4-5 slices
Eggs 2, lightly beaten
Milk 1 ½ cups
Sugar 1/3 cup
Cinnamon 1 tsp
Dried cranberries a handful
Walnuts a small handful

Cut the bread slices into cubes or tear them up roughly. If you wish, you can also butter them, put them together sandwich style and cut them into cubes. Place in an ovenproof bowl. Add the dried cranberries and walnuts. In a separate bowl, mix the beaten eggs with milk, sugar and cinnamon. Pour over the bread slices. Allow the egg/milk to absorb into the bread for a few minutes. You can also toss lightly to evenly coat the bread slices. Bake in preheated 180C oven for 30-35 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or evaporated milk.

You can substitute the cranberries with raisins and chopped apple. Instead of walnuts, you can also use almonds or pecans. I don't like my bread pudding too wet. This recipe yields a firm textured pudding.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Ginger Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate Cupcake with Ginger Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting for my 40th birthday

Tea-time spread

It's my birthday!! The big 4-0. Yup, I'm a grown up. Grown up as in the people who were my parents' friends when I was 7 years old. The 'Uncles' and 'Aunties' who were the parents of my friends. The grown ups who seemed worldly. I'm one of them now. A grown up. Can't believe it though – I still feel like I'm 20-something. I don't feel any wiser. I feel more stressed, but not wiser. Strange feeling....

The posse of friends – and I dare say the best gals I'll ever encounter, helped me celebrate with a lunch at Dream Herb, a Taiwanese style restaurant. It was a joint birthday celebration with YP, whose birthday falls in early July. Since we'll all be away for the summer holidays then, we decided to do this together.

Dream Herb grows their own herbs and uses them in their dishes. My favourite is the Chilli Chicken with Lavender. Annie, the Manager always serves us their wonderful pot of herbal tea. A tad bit minty today but still very good. We then, as usual, adjurned to someone's house for what we call tea break laughs. You can identify the house from the shrieks, squeals and outright booming laughter.

Jodi prepared a wonderful spread of brownies, fruit salad and ice cream and Blian made Konnyaku jelly. And it being my birthday, I made Chocolate Cupcakes with Ginger Lemon Cream Cheese frosting, the recipes I got from Cupcake Bakeshop. If you haven't been to her site, you should! It's a gorgeous menu of tried and tested cupcakes with every frosting imaginable to suit every occasion. I've been baking 'kid' cakes and cookies for a few weeks and was so ready for an 'adult' dessert. Cupcake – adult, and very stylish. Ever since Carrie Bradshaw and Miranda Hobbs bit into one, it's been the iconic dessert for women. So, very suitable for a gathering of my best lady friends.

I used Cupcake Bakeshop's Devil's Food cupcake with Ginger Lime Cream Cheese Frosting. I didn't have lime and so substituted with lemon. I didn't use as much icing sugar either as I was afraid it might be too sweet. The icing was very soft, and I used for swirling. Sadly, the hot and humid weather was unforgiving, and even though I refrigerated them when I got to my destination, it melted. Fortunately everything was contained within the cup. Next time I shall add the full amount of sugar and only, ONLY try this when I don't have to transport the cupcakes, or during low temperatures. Still, I'm so glad I tried it out. The cupcake was moist and dark. On its own, I have to say I've tasted better chocolate cake. But the combination with the Ginger Lemon frosting was divine. I am happy with this combination, just have to work on the consistency of the frosting.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lemon Curd Cupcakes

Lemon Curd Cupcake

Cookies and Cupcakes on Michelle's booth

The international school in our area hosts an annual International Day – a fun-fair sort of event where all the different nationalities host food tables, local vendors set up shop for the day selling anything from food, toys, carpets, books, tea or clothes, and the school conducts raffles, tombola and a myriad of games and performances. My friend Michelle opened up a coffee booth for that day, and I got to sample one of the best iced coffees I've had in a while. I could've gone for another cup, but one can only have so much of Joe in a short space of time, and with two children to look out for, 'twas not the day for leisurely sipping coffee. But never fear, I shall be back for more, now that I know there's more than Starbucks and Coffee Bean where I can seek my caffeine refuge.

On this day I supplied Michelle with cookies to go with the coffee, and as a summertime special, Lemon Curd Cupcakes. I wanted to indulge in cupcakes with sinfully creamy frosting, but alas, the hot and humid weather would only ensure disaster. I had to bake something with a better temperament.

My previous attempt at making Lemon Curd was less than perfect. Now armed with what NOT to do, I knew I'd get it right this time. I used Sophistimom's recipe and it was a charm. Perfect tasting lemon curd, with the right curdy consistency.(Which, by the way, is great on toast). I used Kitchen Wench's Lemon Cupcakes recipe and the combination of both worked out great for me. I filled the cupcakes with lemon curd, and after they were baked, I spooned some curd on top of the cupcakes and sprinkled on some granulated sugar.

I had one problem with the cupcakes though. It shrank from the sides of the paper, and the bottom of the liner had almost come loose from the cake. Kitchen Wench had advised not to overbake the cupcake as this would result in it being dry. I watched it closely and used the skewer to make sure it was not underbaked. I did use a new batch of paper liners and perhaps this was the issue. I will bake with them again and see if the problem persists. In the meantime, if anyone has any other idea, I would appreciate the feedback. Thanks.

Maria's Basil

The bottom left corner of the box is bare because I gave a couple of plants to YP, who is an avid gardener.

Last autumn, my friend Maria Reyes conducted an Italian cooking class in her home. While she had planned for 3-4 people, only 1 (me) turned up in the end. I felt quite bad, as she still carried on with the class knowing I was her only 'student'. I'm really glad she did, though, because that gave me the opportunity to meet one really great lady. Maria makes her own food – and by that I mean she makes her own jams, yoghurts, cheeses and what have you's. She buys organic and uses only the healthiest ingredients for her family. She has a respect for her planet, and those who live in it. She is a calm soul, speaking softly and gently to her two gorgeous daughters. It's through her that I decided it wouldn't be that hard to provide healthier options for my family, and have fun doing it too.

At the end of the lesson, Maria gave me a packet of basil seeds and told me to plant it in April. And I did. I have an absolutely gorgeous, and I mean GOR-JEST crop on my balcony. It smells great (the bugs will attest to that!). It has wonderful peppery flavour, and just tearing them up into Maria's Pasta Primavera elevates the dish to a new level.

Maria will soon leave for a new posting in another part of the world. I have been fortunate to have met Maria, even if ever so briefly. Good luck and God Bless, Maria. The basil will always remind me of our friendship.

Sea of Stars

Sea of Stars - over 100 star shaped sugar cookies for classmates and teachers

To celebrate Children's Day (June 1) and Etienne's 9th birthday (May 30), and from the many requests by his friends, I decided to bake a huge batch of cookies for Etienne's classmates. Some of his classmates got wind of my baking abilities, and often when I pick him from school, they hint (OK, downright ask) for cookies. Etienne gets lots of candy on his classmates' birthdays,and he requested the same. I'm not a fan of children eating candy. Aside from the sugar, there are other additives and colouring to be concerned about. A few is fine, as you really cannot separate candy from kids. But I find the consumption by some kids truly frightening. So, for 47 kids X 2 cookies per kid plus a few teachers, Sugar Cookies was the way to go.

I used the sugar cookie recipe by my friend Terri, which is really a pate sucre, and frosted them with a simple glace icing. For a co-ed class, stars was the obvious choice. I got this really pretty picture of the stars cooling on the wire rack. This is a sweet cookie, as the name suggests, but not overly sweet that you taste nothing else. I used lemon juice in the glace icing to offset the sweetness, and that worked out great.

Butter 1 cup

Sugar 1 cup

Egg 1 large

Vanilla essence 1 tsp

Baking powder 2 tsp

Flour 3-4 cups (I started with 3 cups but found the dough still too sticky and just added on till I got the right consistency).

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Sift flour and baking powder and add to batter till a stiff dough is achieved. Roll out between sheets of plastic (I recycle the waxed bags from boxes of cereal), dusted with a little flour. Cut out using cookie cutters. Bake 4-8 minutes in a pre-heated 200C oven. Cool on a wire rack and decorate with glace icing.

Glace icing

I use the 'eyeball' method when making glace icing. Just add lemon or orange juice, milk or even plain water to icing sugar till you get a drizzling consistency. Be aware that very little liquid is required to melt down the icing sugar. Add food colouring of your choice. I use a small resealable bag to pipe. Cut a small tip off one corner and pipe away. The resealable bag prevents any back-flow and keeps any icing from drying out. Small bits of dried icing getting in the way while you work is quite irritating. If you have any leftover, just seal the clipped corner, and it keeps neatly in the fridge.

Wizard Cake - Etienne's 9th Birthday

It's Etienne's 9th birthday. I can't believe it. My baby's all grown up. I still remember his birth and the cute things he used to do. Now he's 9 and tormenting me with his 'tween' behaviour. I remember that behaviour (when I was a struggling tween) and the things that used to go through my mind. Oh, how I must've tormented my mother. And now I understand why my mom put up with all my growing pains – just as I am trying to guide Etienne on the path of life. It's not an easy thing – being a guardian.

While going through a Harry Potter spell (get it? Harry Potter. Spell.) Etienne wants a Wizard Cake. Errr.. wizard as in wave my wand and a cake appears, or a wizard theme cake? OK, wizard theme cake. I tried my best and spent many sleepless nights and poring though books to see what I could achieve with the tools at hand. I came up with this cake, which is a basic vanilla butter cake and vanilla buttercream frosting taken from my Vanilla Cupcake recipe. I spread on the uncoloured buttercream and used a toothpick to draw the outline of the wizard. (Figured I could 'erase' any mistakes easily). Then coloured the buttercream and filled in the picture. Then coloured the remainder of the buttercream with cocoa, and piped in the outline. A few sprinkles and we were set.

When he's 19, will he appreciate a homemade cake by mom. Or will he think that's juvenile and rather spend the day partying with his friends?

Happy Birthday darling. Mom loves you very much!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hello, Hello!

I have blog access!! I am trying not to get too excited because access could be only temporary. I am back in Penang for the summer holidays for a few weeks and will update as much as I can. I may continue to be blog-less when I return to Suzhou, and then have access again when I come back to Penang for the next holiday. (I feel like it's a long distance love affair!) Still, I will update this blog for all those who would like to visit, and for me as a personal journal of my cooking experiences. Although I was unable to post, I still to wrote about my projects in a separate document in the hope that I wwould be able to upload at some point.

More tomorrow. I am still whacked from the flight back.