Friday, 28 December 2007

A Year of Home Baking

One year has already past since I first started this blog.

This was my intention when I first started this blog:
I hope I am able to get ideas and suggestions from fellow home bakers to improve my baking skills. At the same time I hope my creations and little experiments would also inspire others, who are like me, to start baking as a hobby.

Blogging is all about sharing. It is a wonderful platform for people who have got common interests to learn from one and other; to share and exchange ideas and experiences. So, I will like to thank everyone of you who have stopped by, and taken time to read and comment, and not forgetting all those who have linked me up. Thank you for sharing your experiences, and for walking alongside with me on my baking journey. I greatly appreciate your encouraging words, the exchange of ideas and information which has really helped me tremendously in improving my baking skills.

Indeed it was a whole year of home baking, from muffins to cookies and from cakes to bread. Thanks to all the wonderful food bloggers out there, I have tried and attempted many recipes that I wouldn't imagine I would ever be capable to come up with if not for their generous sharing of recipes and experiences. I am always so overwhelmed and inspired by their creativity and talents.

It also didn't occur to me that baking and photography actually come hand in hand in this blogging world. I have not taken a single photo of food before I started my baking journey. So it's a bonus that I am now slowly acquiring the skill of taking food photos. On top of that, my cooking skill has definitely improved by an inch!


I should have baked a cake to mark this special occasion, but instead I made something I have all along been wanting to do ever since I made my first loaf of bread. Yes, it's a focaccia bread. I have waited so long to try this as it took me several months before I got some coarse sea salt, and it was only yesterday that I bought my first pack of fresh rosemary! You may be surprised that fresh western herbs are not as readily available here...only certain supermarket outlets carry them.


Although I have gathered several focaccia recipes over the past months, I still did a search on the internet last night, just to see whether I can find any other suitable recipes. It was with luck that I chanced upon this blog. I was totally taken over by the recipe...besides fresh rosemary it also has got garlic added to the dough! I was very sure that the bread will turn out very flavourful. Hence, I incorporated the recipe I have on hand with this one :)


As with all my first attempts, I didn't know what to expect when I was making this bread. After having kneaded the dough for close to 10mins, it seemed to be quite smooth and less sticky. However, the next minute, the dough started to stick to the work surface again! and it got more sticky the more I knead on it! I was quite sure something must be wrong somewhere, so I stopped, oiled my hands, and slowly gather the dough to form a ball and left it to proof. The dough looked very silky and shinny...very much like a roti prata dough?!

Fortunately, it doubled in size within an hour. It was not easy trying to press and smooth the sticky dough evenly onto the baking tray. I left it to rise for the second time, but after an hour, there was no clear sign of expansion, although it did looked a little puffy. As I was running out of time, I went ahead with the next step...which was the fun part...making small little holes with my fingers all over the surface, then fill the holes randomly with rosemary, and finally drizzle over the olive oil and a light sprinkling of coarse sea salt.

The scent from the rosemary and garlic while the bread was baking in the oven was incredible! When it was finally ready, I had a hard time trying to remove the bread from the tray, as it got all stuck onto the tray. It was a miracle that I didn't break the bread into pieces with my rough handling!

What can I say about the taste of this bread? I like how savoury it is, the taste is just fantastic! My better half has finally got the chance to eat this homemade focaccia bread...this is one of the couple of things that he has asked me to bake for him :)


Rosemary & Garlic Focaccia

Ingredients:

300g bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon instant or fast acting dried yeast
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
190~200ml water
1 tablespoon olive oil


for topping:
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
some coarse sea salt

Method:
  1. Mix flour, salt, sugar, yeast, chopped garlic, rosemary in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and add in the oil, followed by the water. Do not add all the water, leave about 10~20ml and adjust accordingly. Mix to form a soft dough.
  2. On a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough for about 5 ~10mins, until it becomes smooth and silky. Flour both hands and make the dough into a round ball. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave to rise for about 1hr until it double in bulk.
  3. Punch down the dough, and knead it lightly for about a minute. Press dough onto a baking tray (about 12 x 10 inches, greased). Fill in any gaps and push the dough into the corners, and patting out to make an even layer. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until almost double in height, about 45mins to 1 hr.
  4. Flour or oil your fingers and press into the risen dough to make dimples, pushing you fingers deep into the dough. Press rosemary sprigs into the dimples and fill them with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake in a preheated oven at 200 degC for 20 to 25mins or until golden brown.
  5. Remove bread from baking tray and drizzle with a little extra olive oil. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Here Comes Santa Claus!

Santa Claus finally came over to our house last night ;)

My two boys have been waiting for this day ever since the school holidays started. During the past weeks, they kept changing their minds about what to wish for from dear Santa. After much deliberations, both of them finally made their final decisions, and wrote their wishes to Santa, just last week!

In the past, they would constantly pester me with questions on how Santa can come into our house since we don't have a chimney! I always tell them my standard answer..."he will find some ways to get in, so don't worry!" It was only after reading a book about St Nicks, both of them agreed that the old man will shrink into the size of an ant, and crawl into our house by the key hole ;p Last nite, they were still talking about installing a few hidden video cameras, and setting up some infra red security systems at the various corners of the living room so as to catch Santa in action! Just before bedtime, they have wanted to prepare some cookies and a cup of hot coffee for Santa...but mummy was simply too tired to get it ready, and told them Santa would have his fair share of cookies and drinks from all his rounds.

We woke up early this morning. The first thing they did was to look around for presents left by Santa. They couldn't wait till boxing day to unwrap the presents, and I was being a little too kind to grant them their wishes (I had meant to try to stretch their patience a little longer!). Naturally, due to their 'short notice' they didn't get what they have wished for from Santa! My younger boy came to the conclusion that Santa must have made a mistake and placed the wrong gifts meant for other children, lolz! Anyway, they are still very happy with what he has offered ;)


I made this Santa Claus cake as dessert for our xmas eve dinner last nite. Don't ever think that I am creative enough to come up with this on my own!! I have copied the entire idea from this Japanese Meiji website here. It even came with a demo video to show you how to make and decorate the cake. I can't read a single Japanese word, but the video is really self explanatory.


I didn't follow the sponge cake recipe given in the website though. I used one which I copied from a Japanese to Chinese translated cookbook. This recipe is for an 18cm (7") cake, which is just the idea size for our family.


Making the sponge layer was relatively easy. I filled the middle with some non-dairy whipping cream and some strawberries slices. I also thought that frosting the exterior with cream was not too difficult this time. The only problem I faced was making the chocolate curls for the beard. In order to get very nice curls, first, the chocolate must be at the right temperature (room temperature)...soft enough for it to curl when you scrap it. Second, you got to use the right tool. I tried using a normal small spoon, it didn't curl up but broke into tiny bits instead...then I tried using a peeler...the curls was way too long! Then I realised the right tool should be a small ice cream scoop. Since I don't have one, I looked around my drawer to find something suitable. It was a plastic spoon (the 2.5ml end) which is use for dispensing medicine for my kids that did the trick!


The cake tasted very delicious...light and refreshing. The texture of the sponge layer was very soft and moist! I think it has got to do with brushing the sponger layer with sugar syrup. The cake was not dry at all even though I made it one day ahead. There is no doubt that this sponge cake recipe is going to be a keeper!


Ingredients:
(makes one 18cm sponge cake)

100g cake flour
3 eggs, room temperature
90g caster sugar
20g unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons fresh milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Method:
  1. Sift cake flour, set aside. Line bottom and sides of an 18cm (7 inch) round pan with parchment paper, set aside. Pre-heat oven to 170degC. Position rack at the lower bottom of the oven.
  2. With an electric mixer, whisk eggs and sugar on HIGH speed for about 5 to 7 mins, until the batter double in volume and is ribbon-like (the batter should leave a ribbon-like texture when the beater is lifted up). Turn to LOW speed and whisk for another 1 to 2 mins. Whisking at low speed helps to stabilise the air bubbles in the batter.
  3. Add sifted cake flour into the batter. With a spatula, gently fold in the flour until well blended. Take care not to deflate the batter. (To ensure proper folding in of the flour, you can add the flour in three separate additions.)
  4. Add the melted butter, fold with spatula until well blended
  5. Add in fresh milk, vanilla extract and fold in gently with spatula.
  6. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30~35 mins, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Unmold and invert onto cooling rack, cool completely.
Recipe source: 点心达人, 轻松学 / 小川智美著

Monday, 24 December 2007

Let it Snow!

Living almost right on the Equator means that we never get to see snow on Christmas. In fact I didn't get to experience snow until we went for our honeymoon. My first encounter with snow was at Mount Titlis, Switzerland. We were naturally very excited on the first sight of snow, and this funny idea came to my mind...I was quite sure the powdery texture of the snow could make very good ice kacang ;)

Even then, I didn't get to see snow fall until a few years later at Grand Canyon, and we made our first ever snowman at King's Canyon National Park on the Christmas eve in year 2000.



We weren't expecting snow at all when we prepared for this road trip. Hence, both of us didn't bring any gloves along. Fortunately, my elder boy, who was still a toddler then, was warmly dressed!


We didn't have any 'prior' knowledge of making a snowman, and so we made ours by gathering some snow around...very much like building sand castles at the beach!! It was much later that we learnt that we have to roll a small snowball all over the ground in order to form a giant snowball!


Even though we suffered great pain playing snow with our bare hands, we managed to come out with a snow sculpture that we proudly called 'snowman'!


Our second snowman was made at Mount Hamilton at San Jose on the first week of year 2004. My boy was holding this tiny snowman we made with the little 'leftover' snow by the roadside, just outside the Mount Hamilton Observatory. We were quite prepared for the trip...not only did we remember to bring our gloves, we also brought along a few baby carrots for the nose!

This is officially our 3rd 'snowman' ;)

We made snowman rice balls for lunch on this xmas eve. I borrowed the idea from this Japanese mother...the bento lunchboxes she made for her child are simply awesome!!!


I filled the rice balls with the kids favourite fillings...pork floss with mayonnaise. I cut out the eyes and mouth from small sheets of nori (seaweed). I used a knife to craft out the scarf on a slice of picnic ham (I was surprised that it was quite easily done), and a crab meat stick served as the hat. It is only while writing this post that I realised I have totally forgotten about the nose!!!


This one is for my younger boy as his snowman was slightly smaller in size. His snowman had got legs!!! The 'rosy cheeks' were made by dabbing some ketchup with a small spoon ;)

I thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating these bento sets. Most of all, we enjoyed the food...believe me or not, it tasted as good as it looked!
Here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas!!! May all of you enjoyed this festive seasons with your loved ones :D

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Colour My World

This is a slice of a birthday cake I made for my younger son.

As compared to his elder brother, somehow, it seems to take a longer time for this boy to grow! Due to his small built, plus, his behaviour, he seems to be a baby forever! Since his birthday falls at the end of the year, he has waited almost a year for this day. He keeps telling me how he envy his friends whose birthdays are in the earlier part of the year...they don't have to wait very long for their birthdays to arrive ;)


I would really like to make a 'traditional' birthday cake for him...you know, those that comes with lots of fresh cream, beautiful piping and kiddy cartoon characters. Since I am not good with any of these, I have opted to do a simple cake, and decorate them with some fool-proof candies! Hopefully, with more practice, I can make a real birthday cake for them next year!


Instead of the usual sponge layer cake, I made the cake base by adapting a Low-Fat Chocolate Marble Cake recipe from Alice Medrich's Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts. Feeling very adventurous, I added in some nutella and turned this into a Nutella Butter Cake.

Tip 1: The instructions from the recipe calls for using an electric mixer, but I used a wooden spoon and spatula instead. I learned that as long as you cut the butter into small cubes and leave it at room temperature until it is very soft, it is really easy to mix it with a wooden spoon. The batter was very simple to prepare...not very much different from making a muffin or a quickbread. Except for a slight crack on the top, the cake was baked beautifully.

Tip 2: I liked the way the sides was evenly browned...something that I have learned from the numerous baking session...ie, to just line the bottom of the cake pan with parchment paper, as for the sides, grease and flour it instead of lining it with parchment paper. This way, the sides will get to brown very nicely without the insulation from the parchment paper. When ready to unmold the cake, simply slide a thin-bladed knife all around the side to release the cake.


While the cake was cooling on the rack, I made the usual chocolate ganache I am familiar with, melt 100g of chocolate with 1 small tin of nestle's pouring cream. Since I didn't layer the cake, I only used up half of the chocolate frosting.

The birthday boy willingly helped me sprinkled on the mini M&Ms, 'hundreds and thousands' and Hershey's kissables.

I coated the sides with crusted oreo biscuits as I know every well that I won't be able to achieve a nice even frosting. The end results reminded me of a Oreo cheesecake I have seen in some cafe :)

When the cake was all ready, I realised that whatever that went into or on the cake were all my boy's favourite goodies!


I was lucky that the cake turned out rather soft and light...not very different from a sponge cake...in fact it tasted much better. I believe the cake would taste very moist if I had not kept in the fridge, uncovered. I will certainly make this cake again, without all the candies and frosting of course!



Nutella Butter Cake

Ingredients:

225g cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 salt
85g butter, soften at room temperature
3 tablespoons Nutella spread
150g sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup plain, non-fat yogurt


Method:

  1. Preheat oven at 180 degC. Line bottom of a 20cm (8") round pan with parchment paper. Grease and flour the sides of the pan, set aside.
  2. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. Mix together yoghurt and vanilla essence.
  4. With an electric mixer, beat butter and nutella for 1 min. Gradually add in sugar and beat on high speed for about 3 mins. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl periodically.
  5. Dribble in the eggs slowly, about 1 tablespoon at a time, beat constantly for about 2 mins.
  6. On low speed, beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture. On medium-high speed, beat in 1/2 of the yogurt mixture. On low speed, beat in half of the remaining flour mixture. On high speed, beat in the remaining yogurt mixture. On low speed, beat in the rest of the flour mixture.
  7. Pour batter into into prepared pan, smooth the top evenly with a spatula.
  8. Bake for about 45 ~ 50mins or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  9. Let cool in pan for 10 mins before unmold. Invert onto a cooling rack and let cool completely.

    Note: To mix by hand, cream butter with nutella and sugar with a wooden spoon until the mixture turns creamy and fluffy. Add in the eggs gradually, 1 tablespoon at a time, stir until the eggs are fully incorporated into the batter. With a spatula, fold in the flour mixture alternating with the yoghurt mixture in 3 separate additions.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Deeply Dark Devil's Food Cake

I simply adore the combination of bananas and chocolates.

When I was much much younger, whenever these two of my favourite food items were available, I would slice a banana into two, sandwich it with some chocolate bars, wrap it up nicely with foil and toast it in the oven toaster. Within minutes, I was able to indulge in one of the best dessert I could afford at that time.


I made a Deeply Dark Devil's Food Cake from a recipe found in The Cake Book by Tish Boyle. I had initially planned to make a plain, fuss-free cake, but when I spotted the bananas dangling on the hook, I thought I should not miss the chance of creating my favourite combo.

After the cake was cooled off, I made some chocolate ganache and layered it with banana slices.

Since it was a last minute decision, I was totally clueless when I was about to frost the cake. I didn't want to fuss over the cake decoration, so I tried creating swirls with the back of a spoon. As the consistency of ganache was not right, I wasn't able to get the effect I had in mind.


In the end, I simply made small little peaks all over the top of the cake...a rather shoddy job I must say, but it was the best I could managed at that time.


Even the layering of the cake was quite badly done...the layers were completely lop-sided :(

The cake lived up to it's name...it was indeed a very dark and rich cake. One single slice was able to fill up my stomach the entire morning! With the chocolate frosting, I had to chill the cake in the fridge, as a result, it wasn't that moist and the texture became quite dense and fudgy, almost brownie-like.


Ingredients:
(half recipe)

106g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
78g (5 1/2 tablespoon) unsalted butter, softened
150g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
31g (1/3 cup) Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I used unsweetened)
1 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
160ml (2/3 cup) warm water

Method:

  1. Position rack in the centre of the oven. Preheat oven to 325 degF. Line the bottom of an 8 inch cake pan with parchment paper, grease and dust the sides with flour.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well blended, set aside.
  3. With an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and beat on high speed for about 3 minutes until the mixture becomes pale and well blended.
  4. Add the cocoa powder and beat at medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides with a spatula when necessary. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla.
  5. At low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the warm water in two additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix at low speed for 30 seconds.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes. Unmold cake and let cool completely before frosting.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Banana Cake

Baked this banana cake (quickbread actually) early this morning...as it was a great way to use up a bunch of over-riped baby bananas ;)

I adapted a recipe which is meant for a banana-nut quickbread to accommodate the ingredients I have on hand. The preparation was quite straight forward, however, the cake would take about 1 hr to bake, and I had to tent (cover the top with a foil) it, about half-way during the baking time.

Instead of using a loaf pan, I baked mine using a 20cm (8") round pan. It turned out to be quite a big cake as there would be only the 3 of us at home for these few days.


When the cake was unmold, I thought it looked really ugly! After pouring the batter into the pan, I had studded the top with banana slices, trying to copy the way these beautiful banana muffins and this banana cake were made. But this decorating tip didn't work on this cake.


As I have seen how icing sugar has done wonders in spicing up an otherwise not too fantastic-looking cake/pie/tart...so, I tried dusting the top with some of it. Once again, I did more damages than any good. The cake didn't look any better :'(

My kid even told me the cake looked like a spaceship!


We like the slightly crisp crust though. It was baked to a nice golden brown...could it be the brown sugar used? It really reminded me of a chocolate cake if not for the banana slices on top.


Since I prefer to taste the little chunks of bananas in the crumbs, I mashed the bananas quite coarsely. I really love the delicious taste and texture of this cake. It was very moist and the sweetness was just right. Furthermore, the addition of some wholemeal flour not only add a wholesome goodness to this cake, it also lends a nutty texture to the crumbs.

If you happen to have all the necessary ingredients on hand, this cake is really worth a try.


Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups (315g) mashed banana
1 1/2 cups (235g) plain flour
1/2 cup (75g) wholewheat (wholemeal) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (185g) firmly packed golden brown sugar
6 tablespoons (90g) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup (125ml) fresh milk

Method:

  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 180 degC (350 degF). Line bottom of a 20cm (8") round pan with parchment paper, butter and flour the sides. Alternatively, you can use a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan, butter and flour it and set aside.
  2. In a bowl, stir together plain flour, wholemeal flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until blended and stir in the brown sugar, butter and milk.
  4. Add the dry ingredients in 3 batches alternately with the mashed bananas, and stir with a spatula until just blended. Do not over mix.
  5. Pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula. (Optional: Stud the top of the batter with slices of bananas).
  6. Bake for 55~60mins or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. If the surface starts to brown too much, cover with a sheet of aluminum foil around the last 15mins of baking. Depending on your oven, you may have to do this mid-way during the baking time.
  7. Remove from oven, let cool in the pan for 5mins before unmold. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Store in airtight container at room temperatures for 2-3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.
Recipe source: adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Essentials of Baking

Friday, 7 December 2007

Homemade Pizza again!

For the past few days, I have been hosting sleep-overs one after another for my niece and nephew. It happened that all 4 kids were at home yesterday...and we decided to have a made-your-own Hawaiian pizza lunch.

All 4 of them love Hawaiian pizza...they only wanted ham and lots of pineapples, and nothing else on their pizzas. After comparing a few pizza dough recipe, I decided to go back to the same recipe that I tried earlier, as it seems like the recipes don't vary too far from one another. Furthermore, I knew that the recipe will yield a thicker, pan pizza crust which the kids prefer. Although I would prefer a thin crust. Only my younger boy helped me with the kneading of the dough...the rest were too engrossed with whatever games they were engaged in!


I was a little stressed when all 4 crowded around the kitchen to wait for the dough to be punched down and shaped into small dics. Then it was followed by a few minutes of chaos when 40 fingers were scrambling all over for the toppings. Each of them came up with their own way to 'mark' their personalised pizza.


This was my niece's personal pan pizza...she was clever to top hers with lots of cheese :)


and the rest...served in assorted kiddy plates.

Naturally they enjoyed their own food, and there was not a single word of complaints. I guess, even if they didn't like it, they wouldn't make a noise since they made these themselves ;) From the look of of their faces, and the way they ate their food in such hearty manners, they must have thoroughly enjoyed the meal together!


I sauteed some fresh button mushrooms with butter, added some soya sauce and pepper to taste....and with some leftover hams, I made my own mushroom pizza :D


I took note not to make the same mistake as my previous attempt, and grated the mozzarella cheese coarsely this time. I tried rolling the dough as thinly as possible, hoping to achieve a thinner crust, but the edges were still quite thick and puffy.


With the melted cheese layer on top, the pizza looked so much more appetising as compared to my 1st homemade one.


Even though I didn't use that much of cheese, it will be too fattening if I were to follow the amount stated in most pizza recipes, to my delight, I was able to achieve a small amount of the 'cheese pull' effect. Although this was really nothing compared to those pizzas that you get from pizza outlets!

This pizza was so delicious that I ate 3/4 of it all on my own...without a single feeling of guilt ;p

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Mocha Loaf

What happens when you add some cocoa powder, instant coffee and some nutella spread to a basic bread recipe? Well, you simply get a loaf of Mocha Bread!

Here's the description of the loaf taken from the cookbook which I got the recipe:
'An irresistible cross between a loaf and a cake, the coffee and chocolate intertwined in the background, the sweetness light. It makes a kind of French-style breakfast bread, a chocolate croissant substitute, and may be eaten plain or buttered and topped with soft cream cheese.'

I am quite certain, after reading it, any bread lovers like me could hardly wait to lay their hands on these. Although I have to declare that I really couldn't taste any traces of 'mocha' in the loaf I baked ;)

As a result of not greasing my pullman tin properly, the entire loaf got stuck in the tin. I had to use a palette knife to go over the sides a few times before this stubborn loaf agreed to get out. Upon my 'rough handling', the exterior of the loaf was very badly 'bruised" ;)


Don't you think that this bread looks extremely hard and crispy, as though it just jumped off from a bread toaster?? Hmmm...don't be misled by the image you see...believe it or not, the bread was actually very soft when this photo was taken! This recipe is meant to be made using a bread machine. If you have a bread machine, you will only need to spend less than 10mins of your time to measure and put in the ingredients. In 3 hours time, you will able to enjoy this freshly baked loaf. I would love to let my machine to do the entire job, but I thought I should make a smaller loaf instead, as I do not like to keep my homemade bread for more than 2 nights. I used 2/3 the amount of the original recipe, got the machine to do the kneading (for 30mins) followed by the usual bread-making ritual: rise, roll, shape, 2nd proof and finally bake in my oven. I didn't want to use the bread machine to do the baking as I was a little wary that the bread will be overly browned due to the smaller loaf size.

Since the lighting condition was very favourable when I took these photos, I shoved my camera lens as close to the subject as possible...just to see whether it is capable of producing good 'extreme' close-ups . I guess the following few compositions were the closest my camera could manage before the images went blur!

My boy thought these doughs looked like knuckles?! You may think I am crazy, but when I saw these nicely proven doughs, my heart actually skipped a little!! Well, to me, it meant that the loaf would turn out great ;D


I noticed that if I were to slice my bread at different orientations (eg top-down vs side-way), the crumbs looked rather different! You can see the difference by comparing the above image with the one below...or was it got to do with the haphazard way I was slice it??


This slice certainly looks more like a chocolate cake than a bread?



The bread turned out to be a little bitter to my liking...likely due to the instant coffee I used. The texture was superb when freshly baked...very soft and light. However, as there is no egg or butter used in this recipe, the bread 'aged' quite fast overnight. By the next morning, it became a little heavy and dense. After toasting, it became softer and tasted great especially after I slapped on a thick layer of nutella over it! Yum!


Ingredients:

original recipe for a medium loaf:
300ml(1 & 3/8 cups) water
1 tablespoon oil
450g (3 cups) bread flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
1 & 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons light brown soft sugar
1 tablespoon nutella spread
2 tablespoons dried skimmed milk powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoons instant or fast-acting dried yeast

I reduced the portion for a smaller loaf:
200ml water
2 teaspoons oil
300g bread flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons light brown soft sugar
2 teaspoons nutella spread
2 teaspoons dried skimmed milk powder
1 teaspoon instant or fast-acting dried yeast


Method:

By bread machine:

  1. Pour the water into the breadmaker bucket. Add in oil and half the flour. Sprinkle with cocoa powder, coffee, salt and sugar.
  2. Add the nutella spread and dried milk powder. Cover with the remaining flour.
  3. With a finger, make a small indent in the centre of the flour, and place the yeast in the indent.
  4. Fit the bucket into the breadmaker, and set to either Sweet or Basic white programme. Select the desired colour of the crust.
  5. When the cycle completes, carefully shake the loaf out of the bucket and let it stand the right way up. If desired, brush with glaze. Leave the loaf to cool for at least an hour before cutting and remove the blade/paddle if necessary.

How I did it:

  1. Pour the water into the breadmaker bucket. Add in oil and half the flour. Sprinkle with cocoa powder, coffee, salt and sugar.
  2. Add the nutella spread and dried milk powder. Cover with the remaining flour.
  3. With a finger, make a small indent in the centre of the flour, and place the yeast in the indent.
  4. Fit the bucket into the breadmaker, and set to Dough function.
  5. When the Kneading completes, remove dough from the bread pan, let it rise in room temperature in a mixing bowl, covered with cling wrap. Let rise for 1~ 1hr 30mins or until the dough double in bulk.
  6. Remove dough and punch out the gas. Divide dough into 3 equal portion. Roll and shape into balls. Let rest for 10 mins. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Place doughs in a lightly greased bread tin/pan. Let the doughs proof for the second time, until it fills up 80% of the tin/pan, about 1hr. Cover with cling wrap.
  9. If using a pullman tin, cover the lid before baking. Bake at pre-heated oven at 180 ~ 190 deg C for 30 to 35mins.
  10. Unmould the bread immediately after removing from the oven. Let cool completely before slicing.

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

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Mushroom Pie


No, this is not a Quiche Lorraine, but a Mushroom Pie.


Made this pie for lunch yesterday, using a recipe from a Chinese cookbook. It was a breeze making the pie crust as the pastry was not overly soft or sticky. The only problem I had was the fillings! I didn't follow the recipe to use dairy whipping cream and milk to make the sauce as I ran out of cream. So I thought I could replace it with a ready-made pasta cream sauce which I bought recently.


To our great disappoint, the sauce didn't taste very good! Not only there was too much sodium, the taste was a bit off!


Thanks to my "temperamental" oven, the sides of the pie crust was not very browned, it was still quite pale when I unmold the pie. As a result it was not very crisp.



Here's a photo of the innards. Not very appetizing...as the sauce was not white but light brown...it was a "grilled chicken sausage" flavour. I added fresh button mushrooms and some picnic ham to the sauce. I am lucky to be blessed with 2 boys and a cute niece who are not fussy eaters. The four of us gobbled down the entire 8" pie in no time!

For those who are interested to try this out, I have posted the recipe here. I am sure if I were to make the fillings from scratch, this pie will really taste much better!


Ingredients:

pastry base:
70g butter, chilled
140g flour
15g dry grated parmesan cheese
2g salt
50~60 ml ice water

fillings:
500g assorted fresh mushrooms
25g butter
salt and pepper

sauce:
60ml milk
120g dairy whipping cream

1 egg, lightly beaten (for brushing the pie crust)

Method:

fillings:
- Stir fry assorted mushrooms with butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool.

sauce:
- Mix whipping cream with fresh milk.

pastry base:

  1. Lightly grease an 8 inch pie pan, set aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cheese powder and salt, stir to mix. Rub-in the butter into the flour mixture, until the mixture resemble crumbles. Drizzle the ice water over the mixture and mix to form a soft dough. Shape dough to form a round disk and store in a plastic bag or cling wrap. Chill in the fridge for at least 30mins or up to overnight.
  3. Roll out the pastry in between 2 sheets of cling wrap or baking paper (I used two sheets of cut-out plastic bags) to about 2~3mm in thickness.
  4. Remove one side of the cling wrap or baking paper. Place it over the prepared pie pan. Mould the pastry into the pan, smoothing the edges and the rim carefully.
  5. Use a fork to poke holes on the pastry. Line the pie crust with a piece of foil or parchment paper, and fill it with dried beans, uncooked rice or metal pie weights. Bake in a preheated oven at 190 degC for 10mins. Remove the weights and continue to bake for another 10mins. Remove from oven and brush the surface with the lightly beaten egg.
  6. Drain and add in the cooked assorted mushrooms.
  7. Pour over the whipping cream/milk mixture. Top with grated cheese. Bake at preheated oven at 160 degC for 30mins until the cheese turn golden brown.

    Recipe source: adapted from 曾美子的黃金比例蛋糕

Monday, 3 December 2007

Vanilla Almond Biscotti

Last Saturday night, on impulse, I baked a batch of biscotti using Donna Hay's recipe from Modern Classics II, to give away to my friends whom I would be meeting the following day. It was my first late night baking session as it was already past 10 o'clock at night when I started working on these Italian cookies.

I was first introduced to biscotti when I visited the US several years ago. They tasted so good dipping into a hot cup of coffee! Ever since then, whenever I have the chance to visit my sister in the States, I would bring back a huge tub of chocolate-coated almond biscotti from Costco. There was once I even brought home a big cookie jar that was given free with the biscotti! The beautiful cookie jar is still sitting on my kitchen counter :)


This is my second attempt at baking biscotti. From that first attempt, and also after reading a few bloggers' baking experiences with these cookies, I got a better idea how to handle the dough this time round. I didn't make a mess even though the dough was equally wet and sticky as the one I tried on my previous attempt. In fact both recipes are quite similar, there is also no butter used in this one. (I learned that those recipes that have got butter added would yield a more manageable dough.) I didn't follow the instructions as stated in the recipe to knead the dough on a floured surface. I knew it would be a total waste of time to try to wrestle with a giant sticky, gooey mess, which looks more like a muffin batter than a cookie dough!

If you are keen to try baking your first batch of biscotti, do hop over to Cooking For Engineers to get a better idea. It is such a fantastic website, very informative and the recipes are all completed with many step-by-step illustrations.



After I got all the biscotti baked, it was already past mid-night. I only managed to coat them with melted chocolate the next morning. It was a tricky thing to work with chocolate in our weather. The chocolate set quite fast after I left them in the fridge for a short while. However, when I was trying to pack them into cookie bags, the chocolate started to melt away quickly :(


In the end, I had to wrap each biscotto with a strip of parchment paper to prevent the chocolate from smudging all over the place.

Judging from the very basic ingredients used in these biscotti, I must say they tasted quite bland if eaten plain. The taste only got better after they were dunk into a cup of coffee :) My better half likes these very much though. He would pinch one slice every time he pass by the kitchen.


Ingredients:
(makes 30~40)

2 cups (250g) plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
3/4 cup whole almonds
3 eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160 degC (325 degF).
  2. Place flour, baking powder, sugar and almonds in a bowl and mix together.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla. With a spatula, mix and fold to form a soft sticky dough. The mixture will be very sticky and wet, and resembles a batter rather than a dough.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using the spatula, scoop half the amount of the dough and place it on onside of the baking sheet. Spread and shape with spatula to form a log about 10 by 3 inches in size. Spread and shape the other half of the dough into another log, space the two logs well apart.
  5. Bake for 35mins and remove from the oven. Allow to cool completely.
  6. With a sharp serrated knife, slice the logs into 1/2inch (1cm) thick slices.
  7. Place the slices on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 10~15mins or until the biscotti are crisp.
  8. Let cool and store in air-tight container.
  9. Optional: melt 100g of baking chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Dip each biscotto into the melted chocolate and leave on a lined tray to set.