Friday, 31 August 2007

Animal Fun


Yesterday after school, I helped my two boys made a batch of these horlicks cookies to be given away as Teachers' Day gifts. How time flies, I could still remembered the same time last year, we made M & M chocolate chips cookies for their teachers, and we made it with a pack of ready-mix!! I'm glad to say that after accumulating a year of baking experience, the three of us can now churn out something more presentable and tasty from scratch ;)

Instead of using Koko Krunch, this time round, we used some Cookie Crisp cereals (the same range of kid's cereals as koko krunch) for the ears. By the way, my younger boy will always check up the cereals shelf whenever we visit the supermarkets. He's not interested in eating the cereals, rather, he just want the little toys that come with the packages. So, I always ended up having different boxes of unopened cereals in my kitchen!

My elder boy made this little piggy. The chocolate chips on the cookie crisps cereals are just perfect for the piggy's nose.


and I made this...it looks more like a bear with the cookie crisps ears.


My younger boy's favourite...he likes to make the doggy/bear(or whatever it is) that comes with a pair of flying ears! He calls this his aeroplane doggy.


another of his creation...and he declared that it's his little mouse...

I had a good time making these cute little morsels, and we were able to get it all done (exclude baking time) all under an hour :)

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Mixed Berries Jam-filled Muffins


I have not been in the mood to make any bread for breakfast for this week. The weather has been quite gloomy for the past few days, and it's definitely no good for proofing bread at room temperature. I settled on making a batch of quick and easy muffins. I love baking muffins, it takes up much less time and effort, and yet, always yield very satisfactory results.

It only took me less than an hour to get these muffins onto the cooling rack. I followed a simple recipe that is meant for jam-filled muffins. Instead of using plain yogurt and plain milk, I substituted with whatever I have in my fridge...Marigold's mixed-berries non-fat yogurt, and Meiji's strawberry-flavoured milk. For the filling, I used my favourite Smucker's blueberry jam.

When the muffins were almost done, the jam fillings erupted from the muffins and flowed over like larva.



These muffins are very soft and moist. The crumbs are not sweet, but balance off very well with the sweetness from the blueberry jam. They tasted especially delicious when served warm :)

Ingredients:
(makes about 9 muffins)

210g plain flour
50g granulated sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
60g butter, melted
1 cup non-fat plain yogurt (I used mixed berries flavour)
1/4 cup milk (I used strawberry-flavoured Meiji milk)
some Jam (I used Smucker's blueberries jam)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 220 deg C.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In another bowl, beat together egg and vanilla extract. Add melted butter, yogurt and milk, mix well. Add to flour mixture, stir just until blended.
  4. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling half full. Add 1 teaspoon of your favourite jam to each; top with remaining batter.
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 mins.

Recipe source: The 250 Best Muffin Recipes by Esther Brody

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Almond Biscotti


My first encounter with biscotti was dated several years back. It has been a while since I last had biscotti. To quell my cravings for these Italian cookies, I tried making a batch based on Audrey Tan's book, LUST - for love of chocolate.

Since it was my first attempt in making biscotti, I didn't expect the dough to be so sticky and wet. After mixing the ingredients to form a super sticky mess, I left it in the fridge to chill for 1 to 2 hrs, according to the recipe. While waiting for the dough to chill, I started searching on the internet to see whether I was on the right track. It eased my mind a little, after reading a few blog postings that the biscotti doughs are usually quite sticky.

I followed one of the tips from a flogger, ie, to use a pair of damp hands to shape the dough into a log as opposite to 'floured hands' as recommended in the recipe. Apparently, the dough didn't stick as much if your hands are slightly wet and damp. Yet, I still wasted some cling wraps, a plastic sheet and two sheets of parchment papers during the entire process. Yes, the dough stuck onto parchment papers like super glue! I had to use a spatula to scrape off as much dough as possible from the parchment sheets.

Fortunately, the energy that went into wrestling with the sticky dough was not wasted as the biscotti tasted great...very crisp and crunchy. The kids, especially the younger one, love the cookies to bits...and I mean literally...he salvaged whatever crumbly bits that he left on the table ;)

I didn't coat the biscotti with melted chocolate as I realised that I've cut them way too thin (the recipe says to slice into 0.3cm slices). These are definitely not the kind of biscotti that I was craving for. If I were to make this again, I am gonna slice them into thick, fat fingers. On the other hand, the thin slices meant that the kids could enjoy the cookies without dipping them into any beverages. I'll certainly try make another batch using another recipe real soon!


Thursday, 23 August 2007

Walnut & Raisins Bread

I like my close-up photos when they turn out clear and sharp. However, it is not easy for me to get nice close-up shots as I do not have a tripod. Even if I have one, I would probably be too lazy to use it! I also find it troublesome to rest my camera on tables or what nots just to take a photo. You see, I am the sort who likes to 'Do More with Less'...an extremely nice phrase to describe a simply lazy person ;) So, I rely a lot on my pair of steady hands plus the luck of having sufficient sunlight at the time when I am taking photos...naturally good close-ups are hard to come by! It was rather gloomy most of the time yesterday...but I had luck when the sun decided to peek out from the clouds while I was taking photos of my morning bake...


...a wholemeal, walnut and raisins boule. This rustic-looking bread was made based on a bread machine recipe. I used the bread machine to do the kneading, but let the dough rise in room temperature and then shaped and proof in a colander before baking it in my oven.


Yes, I used a colander as I do not have a banetton or a bread basket (see, I am trying to Do More with Less again!). I've came across a Chinese cookbook that recommends using a colander to achieve the same effect as a banetton. Too bad, I didn't dust the colander with enough flour (see, Doing More with Less doesn't apply here!) and the imprints were not really visible. This also got to do with the somewhat sticky dough. The top part of the dough got stuck to the colander when I tried to invert it onto the baking tray :'(


Nevertheless, it's a truly wholesome and healthy bread, it has got no eggs or milk...and use oil instead of butter. The bread has got a nice crispy crust, and the crumb is rather soft...not the chewy sort that you would aspect from this rustic-looking loaf. The bread is rather plain on it's own..it tasted much better when paired with some jam or butter. This definitely goes into my kids' "healthy but doesn't taste great" list ;)

Ingredients:

300g bread flour
150g wholemeal flour
300ml water
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon instant or fast-acting dry yeast
100g walnut pieces
some raisins, optional

Method:

  1. Thoroughly mix together the two flours.
  2. Pour water into the bread machine bucket. Add oil and half the mixed flour.
  3. Sprinkle with salt and sugar. Cover with the remaining flour mix and place the yeast in the centre of the flour mixture.
  4. Fit the bucket into the bread machine and set to Basic function. Add walnuts/raisins when the machine bleeps. When ready, remove the loaf from the bucket and let cool completely before cutting.
  5. Alternatively, you can use the Dough function to knead and rise the dough. When the Dough cycle completes, shape dough into a round ball and let it proof for the second time until double in bulk. Bake in pre-heated oven at 180deg C for 30~35 mins until the surface turns golden brown.

Recipe source: adapted from The Complete Bread Machine Cookbook by Sonia Allison

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Lunch Box

My elder boy didn't have to attend school for the last 2 days as the Primary 6 students are taking their school leaving exams. In fact it was considered school holidays for most primary schools here. The boys were pleased when their cousin decided to come over to stay. The three of them grown up together...went to the same pre-school, and were with each other almost everyday, before the two elder kids went to primary school. Although they still get to see each other 2 to 3 times a week, they still missed playing with each other.

When I told my niece to bring along a lunch box when she came over to stay, she came with this:


I am not a fan of Hello Kitty (my niece and I prefer the other Sanrio characters), but I still find this super cute!


The three of us had fun putting this together. The kids took turn to make the rice balls and arrange the food items on their lunch boxes.



The triangular-shaped rice ball was wrapped with otah as fillings. The other two were wrapped with a mixture of pork floss and mayonnaise. I like the one with otah fillings as it is very fragrant and tasted very good with rice!

Those chicken wings were marinated with terriyaki sauce and baked with my toaster. My niece was very fascinated with the egg moulds. She was surprised to discover that the egg yolk actually took up the same shape as the mould.

We also used cookie cutters to cut out the carrots...and it was a good idea as my younger boy, who doesn't really like carrots, finished up his portion without trying to 'give away' his share ;)

We completed the set with some konnyaku jelly and Reese's peanut butter cups!


I made a peach tart to give away as gift. It was for Uncle Tan, a school assistant at the kids' pre-school. He's very fond of my elder boy even though he has already left the pre-school for almost 3 years. When I met him a few weeks back, he told me he has not seen my boy for months. I promised I will bring my boy to visit him when he doesn't need to attend school. So the three of us went to the kindergarten to pick up my younger boy...and the two elder kids met their former teachers.


I was quite pleased with this tart as it was much better than my first attempt. Practise really makes perfect, isn't it?

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Japanese Melon Pan

I was lucky enough to get hold of this book during our weekly visits to the library. I like to borrow all books related to bread making...even though I may not even try any of the recipes from the books I borrowed. However, this is one book that I will try not just one, but several recipes. Sometimes I do borrow books just to look at the illustrations and try to learn, or more exactly, 'copycat' the style, composition and angle of the beautiful shots :') Well, if you were as keen as me, you may have already clicked on the above link, and would have realised that I have did just that :)



These are Japanese Melon Pans or Melon Buns. Pans mean bread in Japanese. They are actually bread buns covered with a layer of pastry, or cookie-like dough. Each dough is left for second proofing after the pastry layer is wrapped around it. The inner bread dough will rise and cause the outer pastry layer to crack all over the surface. The name came about as the appearance of the cracked surface resembles a rock melon. In addition, for a basic or standard Japanese melon pan, melon extract is commonly used to add fragrance. Ever since I came across this recipe, Japanese melon pan has been on my to-do list, I even managed to get hold of the exact cookie cutter recently, and yet I didn't get to work on it still this morning.


I remembered the afternoon when we came home with this library book...everyone of us were busy with our own things...except my younger child. He must be quite bored to have actually browse through this baking book. He came to me with the book, showed me the page of the chocolate chips melon pans and told me specifically he would like to have one of those.


Since the recipe will yield a dozen buns, I decided that I would make a few with chocolate chips and the rest plain, just to keep my promise ;) Even though it was not a very easy task for me to make these buns, I enjoyed the entire process. I was glad that I made the bread dough by hand. It was a nice dough to work with....not so sticky and wet, and I was actually having fun kneading and banging the dough on the tabletop :)

The pastry dough was very soft, fortunately, after chilling them in the fridge for at least half-an-hour, it was more manageable to work with.


I used the small cookie cutters which I bought recently to stamp out various patterns on the pastry layer. This one is made with the bear-shape cutter.


I tried out different patterns just to see how each version will turn out. The one on the bottom left is a typical Japanese Melon Pan.


Finally, after much 'hard' work, the finished product. Even I tried turning the baking tray around a few times, the buns were not evenly browned, thanks to my not-so-reliable oven.


After wrapping the bread dough with the pastry layer, the buns were coated with a layer of caster sugar. The sugar appeared to be dissolved into the pastry while the buns were left for second proofing. I was surprised to see the sugar crystals on the surface after the buns were baked.


Hmmm, a broken heart! After comparing the various cutters used, I found out that the surface will not be nice if the cutter is too big...I think the smaller cutters will give better appearance.


There's no filling added to this standard melon pan. The buns tasted good to me. The bread layer was soft while the crispy pastry layer was not very oily, unlike those Hong Kong style bo lo buns or pineapple buns. Since I have not tried any Japanese melon pans before, I really wouldn't know how the taste should be. Anyway, I have already lined up a few other interesting melon pan variations which I'm gonna try, hopefully, very soon!

Thursday, 9 August 2007

A Breakthrough

Baked this Classic Chocolate Cake or Chocolate Torte, upon my elder boy's request. I owned him this for a long time already, he has since requested for a chocolate cake ever since he watched Spiderman 2. There was a scene in the movie where Spidy's girl-next-door baked him a chocolate cake and he told me right after the show that he would love to eat that kind of cake. The only problem is, I didn't watch the movie with them when it was shown on TV. So, I have no idea what kind of cake it was...it didn't help when my boy just told me it's a plain chocolate cake. Somehow, back in my mind, I formed the impression that it wouldn't be a simple chocolate sponge cake, must be some fudgy decant chocolate cake. To me, a chocolate torte seems close enough.


I learned that chocolate torte requires very little amount of flour, or no flour at all. It also requires that the egg whites be beaten separately from the yolks. It was a major breakthrough for me to try this out! Ever since I started my baking journey almost a year ago, I have Not tried beating egg whites before. Somehow, the process of beating egg whites seems so intimidating to me. I wasn't sure when the stiff peaks were formed, and I had to stop the mixer several times to check. After baking the cake, I still wasn't sure whether I got it right?! Anyway, I have finally overcome my fear, and I certainly have the courage now to try other recipes such as a chiffon cake!

The cake cracked while in the oven and sank a little after it was cooled. I like how the cake turned out...with the crusty, flaky surface. I left the cake at room temperature over night as I wanted to see how the texture would be like if it was not refrigerated. The very fine, smooth and soft texture of the cake was really pleasing to my taste buds. It was not sweet at all, and I love the slight bitter sweetness from the dark chocolate. Not to mention the chocolaty aroma filling my entire kitchen, spilling over to my living room when the cake was baking. I was very sure that my next-door neighbour could also smell it!

Well, the males in my family didn't really like the cake. They complained that the cake was not sweet enough, too soft, not like brownies, and they prefer MORE chocolates to be added! I wasn't bothered by their comments at all, as I truly enjoyed the taste and texture of this cake. Next time, I will make this again just for my OWN indulgence ;)

Ingredients:
(make one 18cm cake)

150g dark chocolate
100g butter
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
70g caster sugar
30g cake flour
15g cocoa powder
icing sugar for dusting


Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 170 degC. Line the bottom of an 18cm round pan (with removable base) with parchment paper. Grease and flour the sides. Separate egg whites from egg yolks when the eggs are still cold from the fridge. (It's easier to separate eggs while they are cold). Sift together flour and cocoa powder, twice, set aside.
  2. Melt dark chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (make sure the bowl is able to sit above the water and it should cover the pot so that steam will not get inside the bowl). Remove from heat. Let cool.
  3. With a manual whisk, whisk egg yolks with 20g of the caster sugar, till the mixture turns pale, becomes thick and creamy. Add in the melted chocolate/butter mixture. Whisk till well mixed. Add in flour mixture and fold gently with a spatula. Set aside.
  4. In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat egg whites with a handheld electric mixer on low speed until mixture becomes frothy and foamy.  Add half of the sugar amount and turn to high speed and beat the mixture. Continue to add in the remaining sugar and beat until the egg whites reaches the soft peak stage.The soft peak stage is reached when the peaks of the whites curl over and droop slightly. The egg whites should appear smooth and glossy. (Do not over beat the whites still stiff, it is better to beat the whites still soft peaks for easy folding with the yolk batter.)
  5. Add the egg white to the egg yolk mixture in three addition. Each time, fold in gently with a spatula, making sure all the egg whites are incorporated into the batter. Note that any unmixed egg white lumps may cause holes in the final product.
  6. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan. Tap the cake pan slightly on tabletop a few times to release any trapped bubbles in the batter. Bake at 170 degC for 30 ~ 35 mins, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with a few moist crumb. The cake surface will start to crack while still in the oven.
  7. Remove cake from oven, leave it in the pan for about 5mins. Unmould and let cool, right side up (do not invert) on wire rack. The cake is best eaten at room temperature. If stored in fridge, bring the cake to room temperature before serving.
Recipe source: adapted from Delicious!! Baked Cakes 

** This cake is best baked in a springform pan or one that has got a removeable base. If these are not available, besides lining the base of a normal pan with parchment paper, line the sides with parchment paper as well. Make sure the paper comes up about 1/2 inches higher than the rim of the pan. When ready to unmold, simply lift the cake by the parchment paper. Remove the paper and let cool right side up.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Strawberry Swiss Roll

Made this strawberry swiss roll for our breakfast today. This is my third attempt at making a swiss roll. The first roll I did was just a simple roll with nutella as filling. The second one was for a xmas log cake. Despite this being my third try, I still couldn't really roll it up nicely :')



See, the bottom was slightly cracked...and I should have cut a slit at the edge before rolling it up, I read that cutting slits along the length of the sponge layer will help to prevent cracks when rolling. I left the sponge layer to cool off completely before rolling, as opposite to recommendations from most cookbooks to do the rolling once the cake layer is removed from the oven.



For the sponge layer, I used back the same sponge cake recipe which I am familiar with. I was quite satisfied with how the cake layer turned out...the baked surface was very smooth and evenly browned.


For the filling, I used non-dairy whipping cream and whole strawberries instead of cutting them into chunks...but since I didn't do a good job in rolling, the strawberries were not right in the centre and thus the desired effect was not achieved. Nevertheless, the roll tasted good with the strawberries...and it would be perfect, if I had put in a little extra effort of brushing the sponge layer with syrup to make it extra moist ;p

Sunday, 5 August 2007

TV Dinners

We had TV dinners for the past whole week as there're only the three of us.

It's kind of difficult to cook a proper meal...the usual 2 dish, 1 soup and rice kind of dinners, as I will probably end up with leftover food. Yet, it was quite a task for me to come up with several simple one-pot dishes at a go, which all three of us would enjoy.

We had this Salmon Baked Rice for dinner last night. It's quite an easy dish to prepare...just need to stir fry some onions, fresh button mushrooms and salmon fillets. Place them over cooked rice and pour a can of ready-mixed tomato soup pre-mixed with a raw egg. Top with grated cheese and bake at 200 degC till the cheese turn golden.

This is truly a lazy mom's pasta dish! Angel hair pasta with creamy mushrooms and chicken chunks...cooked with sauce from a can of mushroom soup ;)


These are supposed to be Omu Rice...fried rice wrapped with egg omelet. This was my very first attempt at wrapping fried rice with an omelet. It was a really tricky affair...once the omelet starts to set, you will need to add the rice on top and quickly wrap it up. Thereafter, place a plate over the frying pan and flip the Omu rice over to the plate. I couldn't achieve the signature crescent-moon shape...so they all turned out flat and rectangular.

I added a little too much water to the rice...and the fried rice was a little too sticky :(


Another kid's meal for dinner....rice mixed with fresh salmon flakes, tomato omelet, blanched broccoli and carrots. Extremely healthy for the kids, but it was way too plain for me!

Well, these were not fantastic meals to rave about, and certainly not 'yummylicious'...but we did enjoyed our dinners right in front of the TV, watching my fave Korean drama ;)

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Almost a Square

Made this Milk Loaf using a Pullman's tin (loaf pan that comes with a cover). I bought the tin for almost three weeks already, and I only got the chance to try it yesterday. Well, from the photo you would have guess that the loaf didn't turn out as expected...yes, it didn't fill up the entire tin :(

I guess the portion of flour used (only 250g) is almost quite impossible to fill up a 11cm x 11cm x 19cm loaf pan. The poor dough took almost 2 hours to rise up to about half the height of the tin! This is the longest time I have waited for a dough to proof for the second time. As it was getting rather late, I went ahead to bake it, knowing very well that I won't be able to get a square sandwich loaf :'(


Nevertheless, despite the shape, the texture of the bread was exactly what I have been looking for. It was really super soft (not sure whether it was due to the looong proofing time??), airy and cottony. The bread tasted as good the next day, still very soft and surprisingly very flavourful (could be the butter I used). I didn't have to toast the bread and it tasted delicious even eaten on it's own without any spread. There's no cream or bread improver added in the recipe...just egg, flour, milk, butter, sugar, salt and yeast. This is the kind of recipe that I have been looking for! using only the very basic ingredients and yet yield the best result.


I always have problem taking pictures of bread texture...this is by far, the best shot that I could manage...see how soft the bread is?

Besides the good combination of the ingredients in the recipe, I believe the shaping and rolling out of the dough also contributes to the soft texture. I used this shaping method for this loaf. I have also adopted the method of adding the butter only after the rest of the ingredients have been mixed for 8 ~10 mins. This method has been widely adopted in cookbooks from Taiwan and Japan. The reason behind this is that during the initially mixing, temperature will rise a bit...adding the cold butter later will help to reduce the temperature...well, this probably ensures the yeast to activate and maximise it's "potential" at "the right" temperature?? I used my bread machine to knead the dough...using the Dough function which has a standard kneading time of 20 mins. Once the kneading cycle completed, I stopped the machine and re-start it to give it another 10mins of kneading. I then let the dough proof in room temperature. As the bread machine will increase the heating temperature once the cycle starts, I left the lid opened throughout the kneading cycle. This helps to prevent the temperature from getting too high.


This picture was taken while I was trying to take photos of the bread slices under the morning sun ;)



and the shadow belongs to this cute little"friend" of mine =)

Ingredient
(original recipe from here)

143g fresh milk (I used HL low-fat fresh milk)
35g egg
25g caster sugar
5g salt
250g bread flour
4g Instant yeast
38g butter (unsalted)

How I did it:
  1. Place milk, egg, followed by caster sugar, salt, bread flour and yeast into the pan of the bread machine. Set to Dough function. Add in the butter after 8 ~ 10 mins into the kneading cycle. Continue to let the bread machine do the kneading. Stop the machine after the kneading cycle. Re-start the machine and let the dough knead for another 10mins before stopping the machine.
  2. Remove dough from the bread pan, let it proof in room temperature in a mixing bowl, covered with cling wrap. Let proof for 60mins.
  3. Remove dough and punch out the gas. Divide dough into 3 equal portion. Roll and shape into balls. Let the doughs rest and relax for 15 mins. (this 'relaxing' time is needed so that the dough will be easier to roll out and shaped).
  4. On a lightly floured surface, flatten one dough and roll out into a longish shape. Roll up the dough swiss-roll style. Do the same for the two remaining doughs.
  5. Flatten the rolled-up dough and roll out again into a long rectangular shape. Roll up tightly, and make as many rolls you can, swiss-roll style for the second time. Do the same for the two remaining doughs.
  6. Place doughs in lightly greased bread tin/pan. Let the doughs proof for the second time, until it fills up 80% of the tin/pan. Cover with cling wrap.
  7. Bake at pre-heated oven at 180 ~ 190 deg C for 30 to 35mins. (I set mine to 200 deg C as my oven temperature is always on the low side.)
  8. Unmould the bread immediately when removed from the oven. Let cool completely before slicing.