Friday, 31 October 2008

Honey Buns

I am so glad I am now back to my baking routine.

The first recipe I picked up was none other than a bread recipe from a cookbook I bought recently.

It has been quite a long while since I last made any plain, soft buns. While the cookbook provides very clear instructions, with step-by-step photos on how to make the bread by hand, I relied on my bread machine to do the kneading. I am not sure whether I have made any mistake when measuring the ingredients, the dough was rather sticky when I removed it from the bread machine. It took me a few seconds to decide whether I should give it a few extra kneading by hand. I decided against it as I was in no mood to workout my biceps ;')

I left the dough to proof in the mixing bowl and hope that it would be easier to work with after the first rise. The dough was still a little sticky after 1.5hrs of proofing. Knowing that it would be difficult to handle a sticky dough, I dusted my table and my hands generously with flour before shaping them into buns. My younger boy came over and we had fun rolling the rounds on the table. Like me, he likes to play with the dough ;)

I usually prefer not to brush the finished dough with egg wash before baking, as I really don't like the final glossy look. Since this recipe calls for brushing with milk, I though I should give it a try. According to the recipe, the buns have to be baked at 220 degC. However, my oven temperature stabilised at only 200 degC. As a result, the baking time was about 15mins-20mins, slightly longer than the stated time of 13-15mins. I left the bread to bake in the oven and went off to do my chores. I have almost forgotten about it, fortunately, the sweet scent of honey and the heavenly aroma from freshly baked bread prompted me to check on it. By then, it was a little too late, the top surface was overly browned. I tried to rescue the bread by tenting it with a foil and left it to bake for another 5mins.

Other than the almost burnt top, the bread is a winner. The crumb was very soft and fluffy. These buns have got texture that almost resembles those super soft kaya buns we had a week ago at this YY Kafei Dian (YY Coffee Shop).

My kids couldn't wait to taste it and I had to keep telling them to wait for it too cool off, on top of that, they need to give me another 10mins to take a photo of it ;) The buns tasted really good, I will certainly make these again and again.

(makes 9 buns)

300g bread flour
4g (about 2/3 tsp) salt
4g (1 tsp) instant yeast
1 egg lightly beaten plus enough milk to make 200g
50g honey
30g unsalted butter

  1. Place all ingredients except the butter in the pan of the bread machine (according to the sequence as stated in the instruction manual of your bread machine). Select the Dough function of the bread machine and press start. After about 8mins of kneading (the ingredients should form a smooth dough by now, otherwise add in 1 tablespoon of bread flour if the mixture seems very wet), add in the 30g of butter. Let the machine continue to knead the dough. After the kneading cycle has stopped (20mins), Stop and Restart the machine. Continue to let the machine knead for another 10mins.
  2. Stop the machine and remove dough from the bread pan. Shape the dough into a smooth round and place in a lightly greased mixing bowl , cover bowl with cling wrap and let it rise till double in volume for about 60 ~ 90 mins.
  3. Remove dough and give a few light kneading on a lightly floured work surface. Press out the trapped air as your knead. Divide into 9 equal portions and shape them into rounds. Cover with cling wrap, let the doughs rest for 10mins.
  4. Flatten each dough into a round disc and press out the trapped air. Shape and roll into a smooth round ball.
  5. Place doughs seams side down on a 20cm by 20cm square baking tray (lightly greased with oil or butter or line it with parchment paper). Loosely cover with a damp cloth or cling wrap and let doughs proof for 45 ~ 60 mins or until double in size.
  6. When ready to bake, brush the surface of the dough with milk. Bake at preheated oven at 200 degC for about 15 ~ 20 mins until the bread is golden brown all over. Cover the surface with a sheet of aluminum foil if the surface browns too quickly. Remove from oven, unmold immediately and let cool on wire rack.
Recipe adapted from 简单又好做,小烤箱面包

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

from Waves to Forest to Floral

It was a public holiday yesterday, and since the school's exams were over, we couldn't wait to start the ball rolling for our list of outings scheduled for the coming school vacation. Top on our list is the Southern Ridges...a 9-kilometre trail spanning from the Mount Faber, Telok Blangah Hill, Kent Ridge Park before ending at the West Coast Park. I knew I wouldn't have the stamina to complete the entire length of the trail so we only took part of it which links the Henderson Waves to the HortPark.

This photo was taken at the Henderson Waves...a pedestrian bridge that connects the Mount Faber and the Telok Blangah Hill. This unique structure got its name from a series of undulating 'waves' which are made of curved steel “ribs” that rise over and under its wooden deck.

The bridge is 36 metres above Henderson Road and close to 70 metres above sea level, making it the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore.

The seven 'waves' along the bridge are meant to be shelters...but many kids, including mine, turned it into a slide instead. They had fun climbing up and sliding down the waves. I was expecting to spend a quite morning getting close to the nature, but to my greatest surprise, the place was flooded with throngs of enthusiastic crowds like us. It was as if we were walking along busy Orchard Road!

After the Henderson Waves, we continued our journey to the Forest Walk...which was indeed a very easy walk (if not for the crowd) along an elevated walkway through the forest of Telok Blangah Hill which was not accessable in the past.

Due to the never-ending stream of crowd and the narrow walkways, we hurried along the major part of this trail...stopping only occasionally to admire some creepy crawlies along the way.

In no time, we arrived at the next landmark, the Alexandra Arch...yet another the form of an open leaf that spans across Alexandra Road and connects to HortPark.

I would consider the HortPark as the 'jewel-on-the-crown' of our trip yesterday. We were greeted with vast open spaces and many lovely flowers and plants in this huge gardening hub. I was delighted to spot this planter box of portulaca...a stunning flowering plant which I have tried keeping as a container plant several years ago. I love the bright fuchsia flowers, and the white ones looked so pretty too.

There are many types of flowering plants in the garden, I have only posted those that are less commonly seen on the roadsides...a climber plant with huge heart-shaped leaves (the same one we saw at the Children's Garden), bright yellow daisies, more portulaca with ruffled double petals...just to name a few. There were several greenhouses in the park, too bad they are not opened to the public, so, I could only admire the beautiful flowers through the glass panels:(

Besides a few playgrounds catering to the forever energetic kids, there are also many outdoor display plots showcasing gardening concepts and designs...a great place for gardening enthusiasts.

Look at the clever use of old and unwanted kitchen utensils...I never know that a steamboat can be transformed into a flower pot...and look at that rice cooker, wok and frying pan!

It certainly gives me a fresh perspective to container gardening :)

It was a wonderful morning, we had a great time, and that was despite the heat and humidity. Even though I spent the rest of the afternoon resting my sore limbs (in bed!) I have already made plans for us to cover the rest of the trail soon.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Tart it Up!

This is a very much delayed post. I have been keeping this in my draft box for almost a month. Whenever I wanted to work on this post, some other new and more 'exciting' stuff got into it's way :(

I remembered getting pretty nervous with the recipe as it was my maiden attempt at making crème patissiere or pastry cream as filling for this fresh berry tart. As usual, I tend to shy away with anything that has got to do with the stove. Before I set off to make the pastry cream, I checked the internet to get some idea how to really go about making it. The recipe makes it sound so simple, but I was certain that chances of me getting it right the first time would be very slim. I felt more confident after looking at the step-by-step photos from here and here. Even though I can't read the language in the second website, the pictures speak for themselves.

I was so glad when I managed to 'cook' the pastry cream without burning it...well almost...I must confess that there was just a tiny bit of brown layer at one corner, right at the bottom of the pan ;) The pastry cream was very smooth and not lumpy, most importantly, it tasted very very good! It was way better than any custard fillings which I have tasted before...and I suspect some of those tart fillings that I have tried were made with custard powder. The original pastry cream recipe calls for vanilla seeds, I didn't want to take the risk to put my precious vanilla pods (a gift from vb) to waste, I flavoured the pastry cream with vanilla extract instead.

I always fall back on this same recipe to make the pastry case...primarily because I think it doesn't use as much butter as compared to other shortcrust pastry recipes. The finished tart was dust generously with icing sugar...but it melted away as I was taking photos of the tart. That was because I have left the tart to chill in the fridge while I was doing the cleaning up. The strawberries were as tangy as usual (**sigh**), fortunately the icing sugar helped to make them less sour. The pastry cream greatly enhanced the overall taste of the tart. It was simply delicious...light and refreshing...especially after it was chilled in the fridge. We had it right after dinner, and the four of us finished up 3/4 of the tart. We could have devoured the entire thing, but I insisted that we kept some 'leftovers' just so to make me feel less greedy ;) My husband was full of praises, which was something not to be expected on a 'regular basis". I didn't even have the chance to take a photo of a slice as whatever that was left was gone first thing the next morning.

(makes one 18cm tart)

Pastry Case:
80g cake flour
20g almond powder
30g caster sugar
40g unsalted butter , soften at room temperature
1 tablespoon (15g) lightly beaten egg

Pastry Cream:
200ml milk
2 egg yolks
40g caster sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon* cornflour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon* plain flour
10g butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

some strawberries, blueberries
icing sugar for dusting


Pastry Case:
  1. Lightly grease an 18cm tart pan, set aside.
  2. Toast almond powder at 100 degC for 10 mins. Stirring in between. Let cool.
  3. Sieve flour and almond powder, set aside.
  4. With a manual whisk, cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy.
  5. Dribble in the egg, whisk and mix well.
  6. Sieve over the flour/almond meal mixture in 2 to 3 additions into the batter. Fold the mixture gently with a spatula.
  7. Form and shape the pastry into a round disc. 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 23cm in diameter.
  8. Remove one side of the cling wrap/baking paper. Flip the pastry over the prepared tart pan. Remove the other cling wrap/baking paper. Mould the pastry into the tart pan, smoothing the edges and the rim carefully. If the pastry is too soft to handle, chill it in the fridge for 10~15 mins.
  9. Chill the moulded pastry in the fridge for 20mins. (This helps to prevent the pastry from shrinking too much after baking.)
  10. Use a fork to poke holes (as many holes as you can) on the pastry surface. Brush the top of the rim with egg wash. Bake in pre-heated oven at 180 degC for 10~12 mins until the edges turned slightly browned. Let cool completely.

  11. Pastry Cream:
  12. In a saucepan, bring milk slowly to the boil and remove from the heat.
  13. In a mixing bowl, with a manual whisk, whisk egg yolks and sugar until the mixture turns pale and thickens. Sieve over the corn flour and plain flour. Whisk until the mixture becomes smooth.
  14. Add in the hot milk gradually to the yolk mixture, whisk constantly to prevent curdling.
  15. Pour the mixture over a sieve and return it to the saucepan. Heat gently, stirring constantly with a whisk or a wooden spoon until the mixture just starts to boil. When it boils, continue to stir constantly for another 1 minute, the mixture will become very thick and very difficult to stir. It is important to stir the mixture constantly as it cooks so that it thickens but doesn't turn lumpy.
  16. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract (or other liqueur such as Grand Marnier, Brandy, Kirsch, Rum as desired).
  17. Pour into a clean bowl and cover the surface of the pastry cream with cling wrap and set aside to cool completely. This is to prevent a skin from forming. After cooling, the pastry cream will be very thick. When ready to use, just whisk it with a spoon and it will become spreadable.

  18. Assemble:
  19. Spread the pastry cream evenly onto the cooled tart case. Arrange strawberries/blueberries on top and dust with icing sugar. Best serve on the day it is made. Keep for one day if refrigerated.
Recipe Source: adapted from (1) Delicious!! Baked Cakes, Ikuko Omori, (2) Fresh Baked by Louise Pickford

Note: for the pastry cream, I only made 2/3 portion as the original recipe is enough to fill a much bigger tart. As a result the amount for the corn flour and plain flour was a little unusal!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Another year, another attempt

How time flies! It is still fresh in my memory how I had a difficult time struggling away to make a Cinnamoroll cake for my niece's birthday last year ;)

This year, instead of the usual sponge-layered cake, I made her a rich and dense chocolate cake, just like the one I did for my own birthday (recipe posted here).

I wasn't quite sure how to go about decorating the cake, since I do not have much creative juices in me. I bought some mini m&ms and thought I could just pour them all over the top after coating the cake with chocolate ganache. The plan didn't work out as I realised that I need a lot more m&ms than what was in the small little plastic container. So, I just studded a few m&ms on the sides of the cake and sat there staring at the cake. With the leftover ganache I decided to pipe little stars (the only thing I can pipe!) around the circumference. I had so much fun piping that I made another round on the cake board ;)

I didn't know what was wrong with me, but after feeling very satisfied with the little stars, I came up with this 'brilliant idea' of arranging the m&ms on top of each little piped stars. That was a wrong decision to make. Oh boy, I didn't know it was such a delicate task to place one tiny candy on each of those closely piped stars! You need very steady and yet gentle fingers to complete the job. To make sure the stars wouldn't sink upon the weight of the m&ms, I chilled the cake in the freezer for a couple of minutes just to firm up the chocolate was yet another wrong move! I believe, the consequence of this silly action of mine had caused the m&ms to absorb moisture from the cold ganache and they started to melt away while I was taking pictures of the finished cake. Lesson learned, next time I will use baking m&ms instead, maybe they won't melt away so easily?

I sprinkled lots of chocolate rice to fill up the empty space in the was the easiest and a fool proof way to jazz up the cake a little.

I wasn't very satisfied with how the decoration was done, but it was the best I could manage. I just hoped that my niece would find it appealing!

It turned out that she loved the cake! In fact, when she came over for dinner at my place, my sis has actually brought along an 'over-the-counter' chocolate cake. Upon seeing the cake I made, both told me immediately that they would prefer to have my cake to celebrate the occasion. All of us like the delicious and chocolaty taste of the cake. Although I have mixed a tablespoon of Baileys Irish Cream in the chocolate ganache, I couldn't taste it at all. Either the amount was too little, or I would have to use other types of liquor in order for the flavour to be noticeable.

Over the weekend, my boys and I made a batch of cookies for their cousin to bring home. I used my newly acquired Cinnamoroll cookie cutters since she's also an avid fan of this cute Sanrio character. I followed the same recipe as the one I made using the Pooh cutters. I divided the dough into two portions and kneaded in some cocoa powder for one of the portions, to make Mocha'. I love how the cookies turned out, aren't they adorable?!

and here's a slice of the cake for you...

I hope this will prompt you to reach out for your whisk to give this recipe a go :)

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Pasta Night

I love to cook pasta.

Not that I am good at it, and, I am certainly not a good cook to begin with...but pasta remains as one of the simplest one-dish meal I can whip up easily under 30mins. Of course, I cheat...I take the short cut of making use of store bought pasta sauce ;') This is especially so if I am cooking tomato-base pasta dishes. For white creamy ones, I will have to make the sauce from scratch, since I have yet to come across any good ready-made cream sauce :(

Pasta has become a regular dish that I put on our table so much so that sometimes we have it almost on a weekly basis. We never seems to get tired of it. Most importantly, my kids love it. They used to only like cream sauce pasta. Fortunately, they have now acquired the taste of tomato-base sauce, which I think is more healthy. And, it is certainly a good way to get them to eat some tomatoes! Even though I use ready-made sauce, I would always added in some fresh tomatoes to make the dish more wholesome. Although this also means having to do some extra work to peel the tomatoes, not very different from this method, but I think it is really worth the effort. I am slowly learning to be more diligent when it comes to cooking ;)

Before the kids came along, Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce was the only pasta meal I could dish up. I have to give myself a pat on the back, as I have since ventured to making my own cream sauce and have experimented with different types of pasta...such as fettucine, angel hair, fusilli and even animal-shaped pasta. Now, any experienced cooks would probably think what's the big deal...but I do think I have 'come this far' as I picked up cooking mainly through cookbooks. I am very thankful that my family members have never ever complained about me giving them lousy food. They always 'seem' to be enjoying their meals ;)

This is the latest variation I have came up with...Meatballs with Vegeroni(spirals). Having learned how to make juicy meat patties from this hanbagu recipe, I have made hamburgers and meatballs using the same recipe again and again. For this dish, I used an equal amount of ground beef and pork to make the meatballs. While the ground beef gives flavour to the meatballs, I believe the fat from the pork will make them tender and juicy. Besides the other ingredients that goes into the making of the meatballs, such as onions, egg and bread crumbs , I have also added in some finely chopped fresh parsley...simply because I happened to have a bunch on hand. I cooked the meatballs just like the hanbagu and added in a bottle of pasta sauce when the meatballs were all browned on the exterior. I didn't bother to make sure they were cooked through as they would be simmering away in the pasta sauce. To kick in extra flavour to the sauce, I dumped in some fresh parsley and a pinch of mixed spices.

I cooked the pasta with just sea salt in boiling water, and I would usually turn off the heat and drain the pasta when it is just a tiny bit pass al dente. Somehow, we find that this is the 'right' texture for cook till just al dente will be a little too chewy and firm for us.

This has got to be one of the best pasta meal I have cooked. It was simply delicious. The meatballs were full of flavour, and the sauce cling on to the spirals really well. Even my husband who hardly gave any comments on the food I cooked, was nodding with approval. The kids cleaned up their meals in no time.

What else can be more satisfying than watching your love ones tucking in with gusto, to to a hearty, hot homecooked dinner?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Happy Children's Day

It's Children's Day today.

Initially I had planned to make a chocolate cake for the kids. However, two days ago, I was so inspired by what I have seen here, that I went on to make an edible 3D chocolate 'card', studded with little gems of colourful candies for them.

I used a bar of Meiji milk chocolate as base, and bought little boxes of Meiji candies from a nearby convenient store. Since the site is written in Japanese, I could only figure out that the candies must be 'glued' on with some melted chocolate. I was too lazy to melt any chocolate as I knew the amount to be used would be very little. So, I made use of the chocolate dip that came with the can of Meiji Yan Yan biscuits. I would love to use all things Meiji ;') but I added in some sour gummy bears and honey star cereals which I have on hand.

I am totally hopeless when it comes to anything that requires creativity and a certain level of design element. My left brain always works better than my right, so I could only assemble the candies in a very 'structured' manner :( Nevertheless, I have saved a bar of chocolate and would get the kids to make one for me, I am sure they will come up with something much better :)

They certain had fun sharing the 'card' was an ultimate indulgence for the two of them.

I am sure you can make this for your love ones for any occasion, and it will be a great 'project' for the kids.

Just like the previous 3 years, we spent the morning at the Esplanade...the kids took part in the yearly drawing competition. The theme this year is "Dares to Dream"...and here are their master pieces:

To all the little ones out there, Happy Children's Day!