Saturday, 29 May 2010

Can you bake me some cookies?

It is rather unusual that blogging and baking were excluded from my daily activities for the past few weeks.

Besides all the tasks that a stay-at-home-mum got to do, I was preoccupied with a home-based job assignment (nothing to do with baking). After the assignment was completed, I spent the following week chasing after a Korean drama, 'Beethoven Virus' with my two boys. It was an instant hook for the three of us. We let ourselves being led into the world of classical music by the lead character Kang mae(maestro in short). For the whole week, we were so obsessed with the drama that we spent all our free time glued to the tv set. After watching the entire drama, we found ourselves spending time watching live orchestral performances on youtube! It also sent my elder child searching the internet for music scores, so that he could attempt to play to the melody of Beethoven Symphony no 5, Morricone's Nella Fantasia (better known as Gabriel's Oboe), and their favourite William Tell Overture by Rossini (thanks to this 'The Mom Song', a must see for all mothers!). Even my younger child is able to hum to the tune of Piazzola's Libertango, and he kept singing to the catchy melody of Radetzky March by Strauss; while I had Gabriel's Oboe ringing in my head for days! In case you are wondering, no, you don't need to have any music background to enjoy this drama! I know nothing about music and yet I was able to enjoy the music pieces as much as the brilliant plot, and of course the flawless performance by the male lead...who has won 6 awards for playing this role.

Well, that pretty much sums up my absence from the blogging world :) Just like the Chinese saying "山中方一日,人间已千年" (literally translated as: after spending one day in the mountain, one discovers that a thousand years has already gone past in the real world), things happen so fast in the cyberspace that being away for just one day is as though I'm a thousand years behind! I sure have lots of blog hopping to catch up!

I believe I would not have returned to blogging much earlier if not for this little request from my younger boy.

While we were sharing a quiet moment together, reading on our bed, he turned to me, at the same time, executing his puppydog eyes (one of his best weapons to get his way) and asked, "Mama, can you bake some cookies for me? There are no more cookies left." His request became my obligation right away. I promised I would make him those oatmeal cookies again.

If you happen to be a frequent visitor to my blog, I wonder whether you have noticed that I seldom strongly recommends a particular recipe that I have attempted. Taste is something so subjective that one man's meat is another man's poison, as such, unless it is something truly awesome, most of the time, I would rather leave it to readers to try out the recipe themselves. However, for these cookies, they are so so good that I can't help but to shout out loud that this is a must-try or at least put it down in your to-do list.

Just take a look at the ingredients list, I am sure you will be sold. These cookies are made with not-too-much butter, low sugar amount, half portion flour, half portion oatmeal (also known as rolled oats, I used baby oats, which are slighter smaller), walnuts, chocolate and chocolate chips. What a good balance of healthy and not-so-healthy ingredients ;) It certainly makes me feel that it is not a sinful thing to pop one cookie after another into my mouth. These cookies belong to the category of crisp on the outside and soft inside texture. Not only are they full of flavour, they have got stupendously good texture, thanks to the various ingredients. Plus, much to my delight, these cookies only have a slight chew to it as I have yet to acquire the taste of chewy, oatmeal cookies. I didn't get to find time to take photos when the cookies were made...two days later, I was left with only 4 to 'work on'. Even if I have failed to inspire you to rush to the kitchen to bake a batch right away, I hope you would be able to enjoy them from your screen right now :)

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

(makes about 25~28 cookies)

90g butter, softened at room temperature
25g caster sugar
25g brown sugar
1 egg (weights about 60g with shell), lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
100g plain flour
100g oatmeal or roll oats (I used organic instant baby oat)
20g dark (semi-sweet) chocolate, finely chopped
50g walnuts, chopped
60g mini chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 190degC. Line baking trays with parchment paper.
  2. With a manual whisk, cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until the mixture turns pale and fluffy.
  3. Dribble in the egg gradually. Mix well after each addition. Add in salt and vanilla extract, mix to incorporate into the batter.
  4. Sift the flour over the batter, fold in with a spatula.
  5. Add oatmeal, chopped chocolate, walnuts and mini chocolate chips. Mix well with the spatula.
  6. Drop tablespoonfuls of the cookie dough onto the prepared baking tray. Leave some space between the cookies to allow for spreading. Flatten each cookie dough slightly with the back of a fork, keeping the shape as even as possible.
  7. Bake for 8~10 mins or until golden. If necessary, rotate the baking tray halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning.Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in air-tight containers.

    Recipe source: adapted from 好想为你亲手做出美味的甜点! 检见崎聡美

Thursday, 13 May 2010

of jam & toast, and a sad story

Warning...This is going to be a super long post!

Before I move on to talk about my jam and toast, I would like to share with you a little story, within a story...

It was a Saturday evening, we were resting on the couch to unwind from a long afternoon...we just completed a 'marathon session'...revising for the upcoming mid-year exams! I picked up the newspapers and half way through my browsing, a one-quarter page advertorial caught my attention. It was a sad and touching story about a son and his mother. I passed the papers to my younger child who was sitting right beside me. After reading, I could see from his expressions that he felt sad. Before I could say anything, he commented, "妈妈,因为他没有学弟子规!". (translated as: Ma Ma, It is because, he didn't learn "Di Zi Gui/Student's Rules. ) I was really amused by his comments. We passed the story to his brother who was half buried in his story book. He read and agreed with his brother and continued to bury himself in his book. It was a surprise when I saw my younger child re-read the story again. I studied him with great interest...I could see his pupils moving from left to right...stopping briefly at certain paragraphs or texts. I then realised that he was reading some of the lines just to confirm what he interpreted was correct. He put down the papers and said "他真的很bad!(He is really bad!) How can he said that to his mother?"; "He didn't even cry when his mother passed away!". He was very upset with the son.

By now, I am sure you are interested to read about the story. It goes like this:

A son hated her him, she was such an embarrassment. When he was in elementary school, his mother went to say hello to him in school. He was so embarrassed that he ignored her and threw her a hateful look and ran away. The next day, one of his classmates said, "EEEE, your mom only has one eye!". He confronted her that day and said, "If you're only gonna make me a laughing stock, why don't you just die?!!!"

His mom did not respond. He didn't even stop to think for a second about what he had said, because he was full of anger. He was oblivious to her feelings. He wanted out of that house, and have nothing to do with her. So he studied real hard, got a chance to go to Singapore to study. Then, he got married, bought a house and had kids. He was happy with his life, his kids and the comforts.

Then one day, his mother came to visit him. She hadn't seen him in years and she didn't even meet her grandchildren. When she stood by the door, his children laughed at her, and he yelled at her for coming over uninvited. He screamed at her, "How dare you come to my house and scare my children! Get out of here now!!!" And to this, his mother quietly answered, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I may have gotten the wrong address," and she disappeared out of sight.

One day, he receivied a letter regarding a school reunion. He decided to attend the reunion back at his home town. After the reunion, he went to the old shack where he was raised, just out of curiosity. His neighbours told him she died. He did not shed a single tear. They handed him a letter which she had left for him. This is what she wrote:

"My dearest son,
I think of you all the time. I'm sorry that I came to Singapore and scared your children. I was so glad when I heard you were coming for the reunion. But I may not be able to even get out of bed to see you.

I'm sorry that I was a constant embarrassment to you when you were growing up. You see........when you were very little, you got into an accident, and lost your eye. As a mother, I couldn't stand watching you having to grow up with one eye. So I gave you mine. I was so proud of my son who was seeing a whole new world for me, in my place, with that eye.

With my love to you,
Your mother."

I am glad that 弟子规 Di Zi Gui is included in their school's curriculum. 弟子规 Di Zi Gui, or "Students' Rules" documents the standards for being a good student and child. The full set of rules comprises 1080 characters. The verses are very profound, teaching and imparting morals and good virtues to children. In summary, this set of rules teaches a child to show filial piety at home, respect the elders, behave prudently and trustfully, love all universally, and draw close to sages; when one has energy to spare, he should study edification by the sage. My favourite rules (since they are really to my great advantage) are:

父母呼 应勿缓...when parents call, don't be slow to respond;
父母命 行勿懒...when parents give an order, act, don't be lazy;
父母教 须敬听...when parents teach, one must listen with respect; 
父母责 须顺承...when parents reprimand, one must accept.

The following day, it was Mother's Day. It was a usual weekend, just like any other Sundays. We didn't celebrate the occasion, although I did asked my kids where were my presents! One pretended he didn't hear anything...the other one declared that he had already given it to me (my birthday gift)!

Even though there were no cakes, flowers or cards, it still warms my heart to know that my children are able to understand some of morals and teachings behind the 弟子规 Di Zi Gui. Although it is too early to judge whether they are going to be a good person later in in their lives, for the time being, I choose to think that they would not go down the wrong path, at least not too soon.

Now, back to my jam and toast...

About the toast:

I have not been making bread as frequently as I like. As a result, my recent bread-making attempts did not turn out as expected. I made a loaf of focaccia which was like a piece of cardboard...I added too much wholemeal flour, so, instead of bread I had bricks.

Then I made this loaf bread. I divided the dough into two portions and kneaded one tablespoon of instant coffee powder to one of them. The two doughs rose nicely during the first proofing. I shaped the loaf and left it to proof the second time. It took way too long to rise up to the brim of the baking I was running out of time, I sent it into the oven...hoping the 'oven spring' would cause the bread to expand a little bit more. The bread didn't balloon much, and in the end I had a rather short bread. The texture was not as soft and light as my previous attempt. I suspect I could have killed the yeast with the warm water I used to mix the dough :'(

About the jam:

I made this papaya and banana jam a couple of weeks ago. I must say it tasted better than its look. I should have mashed up the fruits before cooking to get a smoother jam, it looked more like salsa than jam to me. I kept the bottle of jam in the fridge...trying to deny its existence.

As for the loaf bread, it looked better than its taste. Other than the colour, I couldn't taste any coffee flavour in the bread! The bread was tasteless on its own. I tried it with peanut butter, the taste was so so. Then, I remembered my salsa-lookalike jam. I paired the two together and it was an instant hit! Almost like a match from heaven...the two were meant for each other, just waiting for the opportunity to cross each others paths...the pretty but plain toast became delicious when slapped generously with the ugly but yummy jam ;)

I won't be posting any recipes here as I am sure no one will be interested to make either one of these two!

Friday, 7 May 2010


I was 41 just a week ago...but now I am not.

I guess most people would think that it is odd to make your own birthday cake. I felt that way too when I first made my own birthday cake. I got used to it after a few times (see here, and here). Since there is absolutely zero chance that anyone will buy me a cake, so I must as well make use of my own 'talents' and create one for myself ;')

The best thing about making a cake for myself is that I can do whatever I like. I get to decide what goes into the cake without having to worry about someone else's preference and taste. Even if the cake turns out to be a disaster, no one will blame me. So I am free to come up with whatever I fancy...and most importantly, I get to make a very 'girly' cake for myself, and no one will complain!

To accommodate to our busy weekend, I made the sponge cake in the morning...and only got to prepare the fillings late in the night. The mousse filling was a mixture of mascarpone cheese (yes, I am not ashamed to splurge on myself once a year, anyway, this cake is way cheaper then any store bought ones!), freshly blended strawberries puree, and whipping cream. It was just like making the filling for a tiramisu...the only difference is, I added in some gelatin to help the mousse to set better. Just like the previous mango and yogurt pudding cake, I didn't get the ingredients amount right! I had used too much strawberries puree, the mascarpone cheese was a little separated, making the filling appeared grainy. The mousse like filling was still a little wobbly even after staying up whole night in the fridge. I have wanted to decorate the cake with strawberries and some blueberries...but alias I couldn't get any blueberries when I visited the supermarket, twice! Since I had a box of grapes in the fridge, I used them to double up. No, it was not a good choice, I won't use them if the cake was meant for someone else. Since it is a ME cake, so who cares? I won't worry myself too much about it...I have enough things to make my hair grey at every single tick of the second hand.

My younger boy gave me this handmade fridge magnet for 'my birthday'...he made it with jumping clay...I was quite impressed with his fine motor skills as this is no bigger than a 50cent coin. So you think it was very sweet of him to make this for me?...but the true fact is, he had wanted to give it to me as a mother's day gift...he can remember Mother's Day every year, but not his mother's birthday :'(

and my elder child gave me his master piece...I think he got this idea after I taught him how to cut out a paper snow flake for his Science project some time back!

The irony is, after spending time making this cake, I didn't even had the chance to go through the motion of ~ 'sing birthday song, blow the candles (many many), take pictures and cut the cake' on my birthday! On second thoughts, since I have loaded the cake with so many berries there wasn't space left for any candles, unless we stick them on the sides, hahaha!

The most heart warming thing to me was not the 'birthday rituals'. Whatever sense of 'resentment' was redeemed right away when I heard my family oohs and aahs over the delicious cake. The cake tasted just like a strawberry flavoured tiramisu...and we were all instantly picked up on that lovely morning...

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Mango & Passion Fruit Chiffon

I woke up slightly early on a weekend morning (it was quite late as compared to a weekday though) to take photos of this mango and passion fruit chiffon cake which I baked the night before.

It was a good decision to scarify 15 minutes of my sleep. Although it was only 7.30am in the morning, the sun was shinning so brightly that it cast beautify rays all over the chiffon cake...making it looked just like a golden ring. The passion fruit seeds on the cake were actually dazzling under the sun ;) My 6-year-old point-and-shoot camera works great when there is plenty of natural light. It is only 4 mega pixels (even my not-so-high-end mobile phone is equipped with a 5 mega pixel camera), but it has been my companion for the past 4 years. All the food photos I posted here are taken with this humble idiot proof camera :')

I made this chiffon cake with my homemade mango and passion fruit jam (recipe here). Don't be fooled by the above images...those nice, clean edges and the golden crust certainly give the impression that the cake was dry and hard. No, it was not dry at all, in fact, the crumb was soft and tender, so moist that I could hear the 'squish' sound when I sink the knife into it. Try squeezing a damp sponge and you would know what I mean.

I added about 1 teaspoon of passion fruit seeds in the cake batter. The seeds give a very interesting crunch to the texture. You could hear the seeds 'popping' away in your ears when you bite into them...and it was like biting into some crispy shells!

As usual, my oven was not in the mood to corporate with me whenever I used it to bake a chiffon cake. The cake climbed almost to the top of the 'chimney', yet, before the baking time was up, it sank like Titanic. I knew it would happen, as the oven temperature dropped by 20degC, 10 mins after I popped in the pan. No, I did not open the oven door when the cake was baking. I should have preheat it 20degC higher, but I was many months ago since I last baked a chiffon. When it was completely cooled, the cake was just hovering over the rim. My small 20 litres oven (it can't even fit in a 12" pizza pan!) works fine for other cakes and could even churn out gorgeous breads, but it was only a couple of times I managed to get a nice domed chiffon cake :'(

I was lucky that the cake was nicely baked though...there wasn't any huge holes, or a slightly dense layer at the bottom. This time, instead of beating the egg whites to stiff peak, I stopped when it reached the 'soft peak' stage.

I have always thought that to make a chiffon cake, the egg whites have to be beaten to 'stiff peaks', which I have interpreted as beating the whites all the way to stiffness...that is, the peaks will have to hold up straight, at a 90 degree angle when I lift up the paddle. However, according to some other cookbooks, the egg whites should only be beaten to the 'soft peaks' that it would be easier to blend with the yolk mixture. It is a tricky business to identify the 'right' soft peak stage. It takes only seconds to cross from soft peaks to stiff peaks. As a guide, the soft peak stage is reached when the peaks of the whites curl over and droop slightly. If the whites appear too liquid/runny or soft, you are not there yet, it should also stick to the sides of the bowl and appear glossy and silky. The best way to avoid over beating, is to check every few seconds and turn to low speed when you feel that it almost reaches the soft peak stage.

Although a little on the sweet side, I like how fresh and fruity this cake tasted. The fragrant from the passion fruit was very distinct. I would have baked another right away, but my younger child was strongly against the idea...he would rather save the jam for his breakfast toast. (*^^*)

Mango and Passion Fruit Chiffon Cake

(makes one 18cm cake)

100g cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 egg yolks
40g caster sugar
50ml vegetable oil
40ml passion fruit juice (from about 1 ~ 2 passion fruits)
3 tablespoons mango and passion fruit jam* (recipe here)

3 egg whites
40g caster sugar

  1. Cut and remove pulps from passion fruits, drain and retain the juice. Reserve 1 teaspoon of the seeds.
  2. Sieve flour and baking powder together, set aside.
  3. Separate egg yolks/whites and bring to room temperature. (It is easier to separate eggs when they are cold.)
  4. Place egg yolks in a mixing bowl, add sugar (in 3 separate additions) and with a manual whisk, whisk till the mixture becomes sticky and turns pale. Drizzle in the oil, whisking at the same time till the mixture is well combined. Repeat the same with passion fruit juice. Add in mango and passion fruit jam, and the passion fruit seeds, mix to combine. Sieve over the flour mixture and whisk until flour mixture is fully incorporated into the batter. (Note, this recipe yields a rather thick yolk mixture.)
  5. In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until mixture becomes frothy and foamy. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat on high speed until soft peaks form. (The soft peak stage is reached when the peaks of the whites curl over and droop slightly.)
  6. Add the beaten egg white into the egg yolk batter in 3 separate additions, each time folding gently with a spatula until just blended.
  7. Pour batter into a 17cm tube pan (do not grease the pan). Tap the pan lightly on a table top to get rid of any trapped air bubbles in the batter.
  8. Bake in pre-heated oven at 170 degC for 45 ~ 50mins or until the cake surface turns golden brown, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  9. Remove from the oven and invert the pan immediately. Let cool completely before unmould. To remove the cake from the pan, run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the pan and the center core. Release the cake and run the knife along the base of the pan to remove the cake.
*Note: you may use any of your favourite  jam, just replace the passion fruit juice with any fruit juice of your choice.