Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Strawberry Shortcake, Japanese Style

If you pick up any baking books written by Japanese authors, chances are, the first recipe that appears at the basic cake making section will be a Strawberry Shortcake.

This is different from the Strawberry Shortcake recipe that you will see in cookbooks written by American authors. A strawberry shortcake is a scone or biscuit which is cut in half and then filled with whipped cream and sweetened strawberries. To the Japanese, a strawberry shortcake is a layered sponge cake with strawberry filling and whipped cream frosting, and is a favorite Christmas or birthday cake in Japan.

It is a very simple cake to make, at least for someone like me who has not been to any baking class or workshops, I am able to get the sponge cake right, most of the time. It is no surprise that I kept going back to the same recipe, see here and here.

I made the same cake again for Valentine's Day this year. We usually don't celebrate the occasion, but since we didn't celebrate our past two wedding anniversaries, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to bake a layered cake to mark this special day...when the Chinese Lunar New Year falls on the same day as Valentine's Day. I doubt we will still be around to celebrate the next time these two festivals coincide.

I baked the sponge cake first thing in the morning. Since I have made it several times, it was an uneventful and a straight forward task. The challenge came when I started to assemble the cake. I had used up too much whipping cream to fill the layers, after frosting the entire cake surface I was left with no cream to pipe any rosettes.

I spent the next half an hour fiddling with the cake...trying my best to spread the whipping cream as smooth and even as possible so that it will still look presentable without any piped swirls or rosettes. As stated in most cookbooks, the more swipes you make across the frosted surface, the uglier it will get. In the end, I gave up and simply used the back of a spoon to create some swirls, haphazardly. This is the worst frosting I have done, even the sides looked horrible. Fortunately, those Korean strawberries which I bought on sale were very fresh and looked very pretty, they really made up for my lousy skills.

Despite the blunder I made, the cake tasted good, light and refreshing. The sponge layer was soft and airy, and the strawberries were sweet...it was indeed a delightful treat and fitted the occasion to a T :)

Strawberry Shortcake

(makes one 18cm sponge cake)

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

for the filling:
1 pack of strawberries (about 250g)
300ml non-dairy whipping cream
2 tablespoons caster sugar
4 tablespoons hot boiling water


To make the sponge layer:
  1. Sift cake flour for 3 times, 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 turns pale, becomes thick, double/triple in volume and is ribbon-like (the batter should leave a ribbon-like trail 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. Sift over cake flour into the batter in 3 separate additions. With each addition, use a spatula, gently fold in the flour until well blended. Take care not to deflate the batter.
  4. Add the melted butter, fold in gently with spatula until well blended
  5. Add in fresh milk, vanilla extract and fold in gently with spatula until well blended.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared 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.
To Assemble:
  1. Dissolve caster sugar in hot boiling water, set aside to cool.
  2. Reserve 10 strawberries for decorating the cake. Slice remaining strawberries into thin slices (about 4 slices per strawberry).
  3. Slice sponge cake horizontally into 3 layers.
  4. Whisk non-dairy cream with an electric mixer till stiff peak.
  5. Place one sponge layer cut-side up on a cake board or serving plate and brush the surface with the sugar syrup. Spread on some whipped cream and arrange the strawberry slices over the surface. Spread over with some whipped cream.
  6. Brush both sides of the 2nd sponge layer with the sugar syrup and place it over the first layer. Repeat with whipped cream, strawberry slices and whipped cream.
  7. Brush the cut-side of the 3rd layer with the sugar syrup and place it over the 2nd layer. Frost sides and top of cake with whipped cream. Decorate as desired and garnish with reserved strawberries.
Recipe source: adapted from 点心达人, 轻松学 / 小川智美著

Sunday, 14 February 2010

When East Meets West...

This year's Chinese Lunar New Year day falls on the same day as Valentine's Day. This has happened only three times in the past one hundred years. The last meeting of these two festivals happened 57 years ago. The next time the two festivals to coincide will be in 2048.

I wish everyone a
 Happy Lunar New Year and Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, 12 February 2010

A Box of Roses

I have been extra slow in baking cookies for this festive season. Partly because I  didn't have any intention to make any cookies, and partly I guess age is really catching up on me. I had to rest my stiff neck and shoulders for 2 days after spending one whole morning making pineapple tarts.  My eye-sight is also failing, my presbyopia is getting worst...it is getting  difficult and tiring to focus on objects up close. So I stopped baking and did some spring cleaning instead.

Early this morning, after spending 9 minutes on a 1-km jog around the estate (I know, I am extremely slow!), I felt all charged up and I found myself spending the rest of the morning baking two batches of butter cookies...rolled and piped ones.

I worked on the piped cookies first as I was feeling excited at the thought of piping cookies...this is something I have not done before. The recipe is straight forward and down right simple...requires minimum ingredients and the dough was done in no time. The only difficult part was piping them! I thought I could use my Wilton 2D decorating tip as it gives very impressive rosettes just like this one I did. To my dismay, the tip is not suitable for piping the cookies, the dough which pass through the gaps on the tip was just too thin. Fortunately I have another huge star tip, a Wilton 1C, this one worked quite well. Although I was able to pipe decent looking rosettes they are nothing close to what I had in mind. I can only blame my lack of skill. I am quite hopeless at piping...I do not know the  right technique to position the tip and I am totally clueless how to create a nice swirl?! I though it would be easier to pipe pretty swirls with a cookie dough since it is firm, but I was wrong :'(

These piped cookies are also commonly known as Melting Moments. As the name implies, they literally melts in your mouth. The dough is made by the creaming method, that is, creaming butter with icing sugar to give a soft and crumbly texture. Icing sugar is used instead of caster sugar to prevent the cookies from spreading. Although the finer the sugar granules, the more spreading they cause, icing sugar which contains cornstarch will actually help the cookies to hold their shape better. Corn flour is also used alongside plain flour  to create the tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture.

These delicate butter cookies are a great treat! I like the simple flavour...butter and vanilla. I am glad I did the right thing of stocking up blocks of Lurpark unsalted butter when it was on sale ;) The Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon pure vanilla extract lends the cookies a full and rich vanilla flavour. My only regrets, I should have added vanilla paste instead ^_^'

Melting Moments

175g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
40g icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
175g plain flour
40g cornflour (cornstarch)

  1. With an electric mixer, cream butter and icing sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat for a few seconds.
  2. Sift the flour and cornflour together over the butter mixture and mix until smooth.
  3. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large star-shaped piping nozzle. Pipe into the required shapes on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Space the shapes well apart.
  4. Bake the cookies in preheated oven at 180degC for 12 minutes or until they are a pale golden colour. Leave for a few minutes on the baking tray to firm up slightly before transferring to wire rack to cool.
Recipe Source: The Cookie and Biscuit Bible

Note: To prevent the cookies from spreading and hold the shape better, after piping, chill the tray of unbaked cookies in the fridge for about 30mins before baking.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

It's the time of the year...

I thought I would not be baking any cookies for this coming lunar new year. There is just so much work involved. I only enjoy 'making' the cookies but not the cleaning up. Since no one ever expects me to bake anything for them, I thought I would give this annual baking ritual a miss this year. To my surprise, two weeks ago, my niece asked me when I am going to start my Chinese near year baking. She missed those horlicks doggies cookies, and won't mind if I make her some butter cookies too. Then, my younger child reminded me that he is the only person who gets to glaze those those peanut cookies with egg wash. And so, I started baking some horlicks cookies, and a batch of peanut cookies. Very soon I found myself slogging away again...wrapping tiny pieces of dough with pineapple jam in my kitchen!

This is my second year into baking these pineapple tarts, and I am proud to announce that this time I made them with homemade pineapple jam :D

I told myself if I were to make pineapple tarts again I will really have to cook the jam from scratch. The comment I got from my siblings last year was that even though the pastry was very close to what our mother used to make, the store-bought jam just couldn't replace homemade ones, which they feel has got more 'bite'.

I was terrified at the thought of cooking the pineapple jam for hours over the stove, even cutting and slicing the pineapple was a great hurdle that I wasn't quite ready to overcome. So I bought One ready-cut pineapple...with skin and eyes all removed to try ;)

Once I got home with the pineapple, I cut it into slices, grated and drained most of the juice away (it went into my stomach!). According to my family recipe, the pineapples are to be cooked with just some rock sugar and caster sugar. Most recipes I came across would recommend cooking it with cinnamon. I doubt my children would like the flavour so I stick to just sugar. However, in order to give the jam a nice golden hue, I used a mixture of brown and white sugar. If only white sugar is used, the colour would be too light, giving the impression that the jam is sour. To my great surprise, cooking the jam was not that tedious after all! Maybe it was because of the small quantity, I spent only about 45mins to cook the jam before it dried up and became sticky.

These golden gems are truly labour of love!

After my successful attempt at making my first batch of jam, I bought another two pineapples to make another batch. This time I really did it from scratch! No more cheating by using ready-cut fruits. I spent quite sometime trying to slice away the numerous eyes on the pineapples. Then it was another daunting task grating the pineapples. In the process, I grated not just the pineapples but also my fingers too!

I made tangerine-style pineapple tarts (my favourite!) and also tried shaping them into pillows. I wasn't quite sure how to go about it, so I simply rolled them in between my hands. The resulting tarts look more like cocoon than pillows! I then realised it was due to the shape of my palms and fingers. So I tried rolling it on my table and it worked! I went back to the same pineapple tart recipe but this time, I added in 30g of icing sugar. The original recipe has got no sugar in it, and I had a hard time judging whether the tarts were done. The pastry just wouldn't brown and I kept extending the baking time as I thought my unreliable oven was playing tricks on me again. Well, even with this extra sugar, the tarts didn't brown that much either :(

Feeling a bit more adventurous after having gained the confidence of making homemade pineapple jam, I ventured into something even more challenging...

...making Nastar rolls. With a cookie press, the dough is piped into a strip before wrapping it with the pineapple filling. I tried piping the dough on the table but the strip kept breaking. Fortunately I found a way that worked well for me...I piped the strip of dough directly onto my palm, place a pre-rolled pineapple gem on it and roll it over. I don't know whether it is the cookie press or the dough, the resulting nastar rolls look like sotong (squid)!!

The pastry was so fragile that I gave up glazing the rolls with egg wash. Even though these nastar rolls are not quite close to what they should be, it was certainly a good experience shaping them.

Once you sink your teeth into one of these golden morsels, the buttery pastry will crumble away in your mouth before hitting the soft, moist and delicious pineapple filling. They are so delicious that I have to keep a close guard on them otherwise they would be all gone before the new year eve!

* Hop over here for the tart pastry recipe. I added 30g icing sugar for this latest batch.
* Pineapple jam - I cooked 2 pineapples (grated and drained) with 150g brown sugar and 150g caster sugar (adjust sugar amount according to taste and sweetness of the pineapples). Add sugar only when most of the moisture has evaporated. Once sugar is added, keep stiring constantly to prevent burning. It takes about 30-45 mins on medium to low heat before the jam becomes dry and sticky. Leave to cool before storing in fridge. Roll into small balls.
* For closed type of tarts, I use half a tablespoon of pastry dough and 1 teaspoon of pineapple jam. Watch this video to learn the method to wrap the tarts.
* If the jam is too soft (under cooked), it will be difficult to wrap. To overcome this problem, freeze the rolled jam balls in the freezer for about 30mins (or longer) before wrapping.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Fun with Steamed Buns

I did it! I have finally convinced myself that I am able to make these Chinese steamed buns. I have been wanting to make these for ages but I don't seem to be able to find a cookbook that clearly explains how to go about making the doughs and steaming the buns. Most recipes simply state 'steam buns in steamer for XX mins', without giving the specific details. I am no good with anything that has got to do with the stove top, and so I really need clear instructions. Some recipes yield too many buns, I don't have to feed a village, so they have never been shorlisted in my to-do list.

Thanks to a recent trip to the library, I picked up a book by chance...the title "三杯面粉" (3 cups of flour) on the cover first caught my attention. A quick flip through the pages I was delighted to discover it was something that I have been looking for, forever! This book is all about Chinese pastries, snacks and buns, it even comes with a chapter on baking breads and simple cookies!

I check out the book right away and it took me no time to grasp the basic idea of bao-making. I plunged in and ended my procrastination!

I started off with the basic dough recipe to make buns with red bean paste as fillings...or what we call tau sar bao (豆沙包) over here in this part of the world. Making the dough is not very much different from making bread dough. You mix flour, sugar, yeast, baking powder, oil and water to form a dough. Although the dough was quite easy to knead by hand as it was not wet and sticky, I still took around 20mins or so to get it well kneaded. The recipe uses vegetable oil (I used canola oil) instead of the usual shortening which I thought is a healthier choice. The extra ingredient...baking powder, helps to leaven the dough to make the buns fluffy. As it is not stated whether double-acting baking powder is required, I used single-acting ones. Most recipes require the use of double-acting powder, but the usual baking powder I used appeared to work just as fine. The only thing I don't agree with this book is that the dough is to be left to proof for only 15mins. I did it my way and let it proof close to an hour till the dough doubled in size.

I followed the instructions to make a bunny bun by sniping off a pair of ears and a tiny tail with a pair of kitchen shears.When the buns were ready, my younger child came into the kitchen and exclaimed,"Cutie cats!"; then his brother came along and chided him, "What cats?! They are mice lah!" "Ummm...these are rabbits leh." I told them sheepishly ^_^'

With those short pointed ears, these buns do look more like some big fat cats. I found out later that it has got to do with the angle when holding the scissors to snip the ears, the scissors has to be positioned as close to the surface of the dough as possible in order to make a long snip.

I was quite satisfied with the texture of the buns. The inside was very soft and fluffy and I like it that it didn't stick to the roof of you mouth. The store-bought red bean paste is not too sweet, although I feel that the amount is too little :)

On my second attempt a few days later, I made these buns again...specially for my DH who was coming home. I gave up on making bunnies and tried my hands at making piggies instead.

I am not sure whether it was the steaming or the extra flour I dusted while shaping the dough, after steaming these piggies suffered from a major breakout...tiny little bumps developed all over the skin and there were very noticeable crater like dents on their heads ;'(

Anyway it was fun making these buns and they were certainly as delicious as the first batch I made.

I am dedicating this post to MH over at My Home Kitchen. I have to thank her for opening the doors to making Chinese buns. I was very inspired by the mouth-watering char siew baos she made. She has shared with me her recipes and also showed me how to turn my wok into a steamer by using a cheap steam rack. Without her regular prompting and nudging, I double I would ever make this step forward. Thank you MH!

If you happen to be like me, end the procrastination and give this a try. If I can make these, I am sure you can do even better!

Steamed Buns with Red Bean Paste

(makes 12)
300g Hong Kong pau flour
3g baking powder
3g instant yeast
30g caster sugar
160ml water
15g vegetable oil

240g red bean paste

  1. Sieve Hong Kong pau flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add yeast, caster sugar and mix well.
  2. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, add in water and mix to form a dough. Transfer dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough until it becomes smooth (about 5 mins). Knead in the vegetable oil and continue to knead for another 10-15 mins or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.  Take a piece of dough  (about the size of a table tennis ball) and stretch it, you should be able to stretch it  to a fairly thin membrane without tearing off easily, if not continue to knead for another 5 to 10mins.
  3. Roll dough into a smooth round, place in a lightly greased mixing bowl, cover with cling wrap and let it proof for about 1 hr or until it doubles in bulk 15mins. (Updated: it is not necessary to proof for 1 hour or until double in bulk for this stage. Just leave it to rest for 15 mins will do.)
  4. Punch down the dough and give a few light kneading to release the trapped air bubbles. Divide the dough into 12 portions (about 40g each). Roll each portion into a smooth round.
  5. Flatten each dough into a small disc with your palm or a small rolling pin, make the edges thinner and the centre portion thicker. Wrap each dough with 20g of red bean paste. Pinch and seal the seams. Place dough seam side down on a square piece of parchment paper. Cover loosely with cling wrap and leave buns to proof for 20-25 mins.
  6. Place buns in a steamer* and space them apart so that they do not touch one another. Steam at medium to high heat for 12mins (make sure the water is already boiling before steaming). When ready, remove the lid carefully to prevent water from dripping over the buns. Remove immediately and serve warm. Keep any leftovers in fridge (covered with cling wrap or store in airtight containers) and re-steam till hot before serving.
Note: I placed the buns on a steam rack and steam them using my wok.

Recipe source: adapted from 三杯面粉 by 連愛卿