Sunday, March 29, 2015

Chocolate Olive Oil Cake with Dark Chocolate Pudding Buttercream

Singapore is in mourning, the whole island is shrouded in a heavy curtain of grief and sorrow for the passing of our founding father, H.E. Lee Kuan Yew. Floods of tributes, stories, pictures and videos have been pouring in from the Singaporean public and international media. People are patiently waiting, queuing for up to 9 (!!!) hours to pay their final respects. My heart feels heavy with grief and sadness that the man who built Singapore, whose entire life revolved around our tiny island is gone. Yes, not all of his policies were just and politically correct. But the policies set in motion, were for his vision of a prosperous, successful Singapore. And for that we will always be thankful for, and will always remember.

I see his memory in the thousands of Singaporeans grieving together as a nation, the little acts of kindness – restaurants passing out free drinks and snacks for the queuing public under the scorching heat, and even florists handing out white lilies. I see it in my own students, and their somber appreciation and acknowledgement of our country’s greatest loss. My heart was touched when even my Malaysian students confided that they queued for 4 hours to pay their final respects, stating matter of factly, ‘It’s only the right thing to do, he did a lot for Singapore.’ And I saw in that moment, regardless of nationality, that Singapore is as much their home as it is mine. LKY might be gone, but his legacy will live on in Singaporeans as we carry out and live his vision for a successful island nation, a successful Singapore.

Rest in peace, Mr. Lee.
And thank you, for everything. For my Singapore.

Though I’m fairly certain Mr. Lee would not have been a fan of this dark chocolate olive oil cake, (his breakfasts were steadfastly simple – a bowl of unsweetened tauhway) it still reminds me slightly of him – dark, richly bodied with a meltingly soft centre. Just like the romantic soft side he had for his wife, Kwa Geok Choo.

The recipe is slightly adapted from my cooking heroine, Nigella Lawson. She made the cake look so simple and luscious in her video, that I had to try it out for myself. And easy peasy it is! I did make some minor adjustments though - swapping out hot water for coffee and adding additional spices to pair with the chocolate flavor. The extra virgin oil I used is undetectable in the cake and just makes the cakelets extra moist and melt in your mouth tender.

The frosting is divine , a takeaway from Ovenly’s Brooklyn Blackout buttercream, a slightly tedious undertaking of making homemade salted chocolate pudding and mixing it into a regular buttercream. Tedious, but do it ANYWAY. The buttercream tastes delightfully of a silky chocolate pud and rich butter frosting. Yummy. If it still deters you, just make a regular batch, and you can freeze them well up to a month for future use!

Ingredients (Recipe slightly adapted from Nigellissima)
·       50 grams good-quality cocoa powder (sifted)
·       150 ml regular olive oil (plus more for greasing)
·       125 ml boiling coffee
·       2 teaspoons best vanilla extract
·       150 grams ground peanuts (or 125g plain flour / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour)
·       2 teaspoons baking powder
·       ½ teaspoon of salt
·       1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
·       ½ teaspoon of all spice
·       200 grams caster sugar
·       3 large eggs

Directions (Makes 12 regular cakelets)
  • Preheat your oven to 170°C/gas mark 3/325ºF. Line muffin pan with wrappers.
  • Measure and sift the cocoa powder into a bowl or jug and whisk in the boiling water until you have a smooth, chocolatey, still runny (but only just) paste. Whisk in the vanilla extract, then set aside to cool a little.
  • In another smallish bowl, combine the ground peanuts (or flour) with the baking powder, salt and spices.
  • Put the sugar, olive oil and eggs into the bowl of a freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment (or other bowl and whisk arrangement of your choice) and beat together vigorously for about 3 minutes until you have a pale-primrose, aerated and thickened cream.
  • Turn the speed down a little and pour in the cocoa mixture, beating as you go, and when all is scraped in you can slowly tip in the dry mixture.
  • Scrape down, and stir a little with a spatula, then pour this dark, liquid batter into the prepared tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the sides are set and the very centre, on top, still looks slightly damp. A cake tester should come up mainly clean but with a few sticky chocolate crumbs clinging to it.
  • Let it cool for 10 minutes still in its tin, and then remove from the muffin trays. Leave to cool completely or do like I did and top with a dollop of chocolate pudding buttercream.

Baker’s Notes
1.    I used peanut flour instead of almond, as it gives a more nutty sweetness. However, I would experiment with a mix of regular and peanut flour in future, to tone down the nutty taste.
2.    Using hot coffee instead of water is recommended because the coffee really gives the chocolate flavor an oomph!

3.   I love adding spices to any of my chocolate cake recipes, they really tease the palate.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

All Butter Chocolate Chip Shortbread

Food in Singapore is not cheap. When the café scene started hopping in Singapore a few years back, my friends and I were a bright eyed bunch in University, and would eagerly scour from café to café (The Plain, D’ Good Café) for a zen place to study and a good cuppa.

The baked goods always left much to be desired though, which was fine by me because it gave me excuses to whip up my own in the kitchen. My allowances dipped because of the siren’s call from all the cookies in the Marks & Spencer stores. In England they’re waaaay cheaper, about 2 pounds for a pack of those buttery, crumbly chocolate chip cookies. But here in Singapore, they’re a hefty $8 a pop! DAMN YOU GST @_@

Receiving a tub of homemade butter cookies from a lovely parent finally made me SEE THE LIGHT. Crumbly, buttery shortbreads are POSSIBLE! IN THE HOME KITCHEN! GOD BLESS US ALL! That’s alot of exclamation marks, but the revelation truly made my heart sing.

These cookies aren’t very sweet and have a hint of salt from the custard powder. I try to make them smaller and have seen my students pop 5 cookies in one sitting – that’s how dangerously snacktastic they are! The trick to crumbly, but not fall apart cookies is a dash of corn flour and custard powder. Do try to locate these ingredients because I guarantee people will be asking for these over and over again!

All Butter Chocolate Chip Shortbread
Recipe Slightly Adapted from Christine
Makes 25 pieces
§  150 gm plain flour / all-purpose flour
§  30 gm corn flour / corn starch
§  20 gm custard powder
§  160 gm unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
§  50 gm icing sugar
§  1/2 tsp vanilla extract
§  1 tsp baking powder
§  ½ cup chocolate chips

1.    Combine the plain flour, corn flour, custard powder and baking powder and sift through a sieve. Set aside.

2.    In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and icing sugar until fluffy and pale. Mix in the vanilla extract.

3.   Sift in the flour mixture. Beat at low speed with an electric mixer. Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Stir in chocolate chips. Lightly knead into a dough. Wrap with a plastic film and roll into a tube in 3½cm thickness. Wrap it up and refrigerate for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until it’s workable.

4.   Preheat oven to 180C / 365F. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Remove the dough from refrigerator. Using your hands, scoop and measure about 20g of dough and roll into a ball. Place onto the baking sheet and flatten gently with the palm of your hand, until you get a small round disc. Bake in preheated oven, for about 15 minutes, or until lightly brown. Remove from the oven and let them sit for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack until completely cool.

Baker’s Notes
1.     Because the ingredients are simple and few, try to use the best quality butter, vanilla and chocolate, because your guests will be able to taste the difference.

2.    Christine’s recipe is originally the slice and bake method, but my OCPD tendencies drive me to weighing them out individually, play it by the ear!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Vietnamese Coffee Bread Puddings

I baked this because…

1.     The first time I had bread pudding with at a restaurant in Bath, England. My mind was BLOWN (!!!) by how an everyday staple could be transformed into a rich, custardy pudding that was soft and gooey.

2.    Nutella sauce on anything makes things right, even for a few seconds. And right now, with all the upheaval and parental complaints at work – I TAKE WHAT I CAN (EAT).

3.   Bananas, bread, coffee, condensed milk = everyday pantry staples for a quick, gratifying dessert.

4.   People stress eat. I stress bake. Then stress eat. Not so different from everybody else after all, hahaha.

Vietnamese coffee powder is a favourite in my household because the flavor is strong AND fragrant. Vietnamese coffee is ‘gao’, hence the addition of condensed milk and eggs. The coconut extract, cinnamon and banana make this pudding ‘tropically’ and balance well with the coffee! Usually bread pudding recipes call for stale sweeter breads like challah and brioche, but I like to clear my pantry and used a cinnamon raisin variety instead. 

Bread puddings are usually topped with ice cream or whipped cream, but my love for Nutella prevails with this easy chocolatey drizzle. There’s no recipe, just mix your desired amount of Nutella with some milk, and you can even add some coffee powder for an additional flavour boost!

Vietnamese Coffee Banana Bread Pudding
Makes 6 muffins
·       5 ounces raisin bread, torn into pieces
·       1 cups milk
·       2 tablespoons Vietnamese coffee powder
·       2 large egg yolks
·       1 egg
·       2 tablespoons cup light brown sugar
·       1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
·       ¼  teaspoons ground nutmeg
·       5 ounces sweetened condensed milk
·       1 teaspoons vanilla extract
·       1/2 teaspoons coconut extract
·       1 ripened banana, mashed
Grease muffin tins with cooking spray or butter. Preheat oven to 160C.Meanwhile, place 1/2 cup milk in small microwave-safe bowl or glass liquid measuring cup and microwave 1 minute. Add espresso powder and stir until dissolved.

In large bowl, whisk egg yolks, egg, light brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and until smooth. Whisk in condensed milk, espresso-milk mixture, remaining 1/2 cups milk, vanilla extract, and coconut extract; whisk until thoroughly combined.
Gently stir bread and bananas together in a separate bowl. Add mixture to bread mixture, gently fold until everything has been soaked. Transfer to muffin pans and let the bread soak for a minimum of 20 minutes, or overnight.
Place dish on rimmed baking sheet and bake on middle rack until custard has set and releases no liquid when pressed, about 15 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before turning them out. Drizzle with Nutella sauce or garnish with freshly whipped cream.
Baker’s Notes
1.     Internet sites vary on their advice on how long to soak the bread, but I settle for a medium of 4 hours. 20 minutes makes my pudding too dry and overnight – too soggy!
2.    Bread pudding is done when the tops are puffed and golden brown, no ‘juice’ should seep out when you press the pudding.