Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Oatmeal, Scones, and a little Giveaway

Ever since I started baking scones, I have formed the habit of collecting scones recipes whenever I chance upon them.

This particular recipe caught my eye right away as the scones are made with some oatmeal. I like the idea of baking with oatmeal, somehow it makes the baked goods appear more healthy. It is only recently that I began introducing oatmeal into our daily diet...especially for myself and my better half. I think we really need the help from this nutritious food at our age!

So, what's so great about oatmeal?
1. Oatmeal 'soaks up' the Bad cholesterol and gets rid of it from your body, without affecting the good cholesterol.
2. All the nutrients in oatmeal are good for you heart.
3. Oatmeal also helps you lose weight! It is high in fiber but low in fat, and it stays in you stomach longer and hence reduces any cravings for snacks or junk food.
Besides all these, it is also a good source of nutrition to help children grow strong and healthy.

Oatmeal is a perfect morning meal for me as I usually have my breakfast at 6am, and by mid-morning I am tortured with constant cravings for food to keep me going before lunch! By having just a small bowl of oatmeal, it will keep me full for the rest of the morning. This helps to cut down on unwanted calories from snacks or junk food. However, I have not really acquired the taste for this miracle food. The truth is, I find the texture too sticky, chewy and slimy! Even though I started with instant baby roll oats (with no added sugar ), which is smaller and thus less chewy, I still finds it hard to have it for breakfast every other day. While my elder child has no problem finishing up one bowl, my younger one turned his nose up and has since named the bowl of gooey stuff...'the yucky porridge'. I guess it will take a long while before I could advance to regular, old fashioned, roll oats (^_^")

Contrary to the undesirable taste of eating oatmeal on its own, using it for baking creates a nice texture to the bakes. I have since been using oatmeal to bake cookies, scones and even muffins. Sprinkling some rolled oats on a bread dough just before it goes into the oven will not only magically transform it to a rustic looking loaf of bread, but also provide that little extra fiber in your diet.

As usual, I baked these scones with my younger child. Like me, he enjoys playing with flour and sink his hands into a pile of soft dough. He loves to help me with the activity which usually lands up with more flour on the table and kitchen floor than the mixing bowl!

These scones are a perfect breakfast treat, of course they also taste delicious any time with tea or coffee. However, do not expect a very soft and fluffy texture compared to scones that are made with buttermilk (an ingredient which really helps in making lighter and tender baked goods). While scones are usually served with jam or clotted cream, however, if we do run out of homemade jam, we are fine eating them plain.

The tricky part about baking scones is how to serve them warm, freshly baked, early in the morning. Unlike muffins, scones only taste best on the day they are baked. Even if you were to warm any 'left over-night' scones in the oven before serving, they just don't taste as good. My way of getting around the problem is to make the dough the night before, usually on a Friday night, and keep the dough, cling wrapped, in the fridge. The next morning, while the oven is preheating, I'll finish up with the remaining steps of cutting the dough into wedges and brushing the top with milk and they are ready to get into the oven. In less than half an hour, my family gets to wake up to a nice aroma of scones baking in the oven, and the 'gurgling' sound of coffee brewing in my coffee maker. What a great way to welcome the weekend, and this also happens to be one of the many precious moments in my life :)

Here's one good news!

To thank frequent visitors to my blog, I am doing a little giveaway! I used to do little giveaways 'privately', especially during my blog anniversaries, by giving away cookie cutters, bottles of vanilla extracts to a handful of blogger pals. This time I would like to make it a public event and extend it to the rest of you.

I got my better half to get me one extra bottle (4 oz) of Nielsen-Massey's Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla extract on his recent trip to the States. So this is the little gift that will be given to one lucky reader. The only restrictions is, you need to have a  local (Singapore) mailing address, or an address in Malaysia, because it really doesn't make sense if the postage comes up to be more expensive than the gift itself.

If you are interested to participate in this giveaway, just leave your comment with this tag: 'I'll love to have it!' before 5 July and I will use an online randomizer, to pick the lucky reader. (Note: You need not leave your email address in your comments, I am worried your email address may get spammed.)

All that I ask from the winner is...bake something with the vanilla extract and share it with your families and friends :)

Cranberry Oatmeal Scones

(makes 6 ~ 8 scones)

200g cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons caster sugar
one pinch of salt
65g unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
30g instant oatmeal (I used instant baby rolled oats)
100ml milk (I used low-fat fresh milk)
50g dried cranberries (or raisins)
some orange juice or water for soaking

  1. Cover dried cranberries (or raisins) with some orange juice (or water) and soak for 10mins. Drain well and set it aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together cake flour and baking powder. Mix in sugar and salt. With finger tips rub the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (It is important that the butter be cold so when it is cut into the flour mixture it becomes small, flour-coated crumbs. I use a fork to work the butter into the dry ingredients. If the butter starts to melt away during this process, stop and place the mixture in the freezer for 10-15 mins to prevent the butter from melting further. Continue the process when the mixture is well chilled.
  3. Mix in the oatmeal and dried cranberries.
  4. Make a well in the centre and add in milk. Stir with a spatula until just combined. The mixture will be sticky, moist and lumpy. Gather up the mixture and place it on a lightly floured surface and give it a few light kneading (not more than 10 seconds) so that it comes together to form a dough. Do Not over work the dough. (Only mix the dough until it comes together. Too much kneading will cause gluten to develop, and the resulting scones will turn hard and chewy. Knead only until the ingredients come together into a combined mass.)
  5. Pat the dough into a round disc about 3/4 inch thickness. With a sharp knife cut the dough into 6 wedges (cur into 8 wedges for smaller scones).
  6. Place scones on baking sheet (lined with parchment paper), space them apart. Brush the tops with some milk.
  7. Bake in preheated oven at 200 degC for about 12- 15 minutes or until they are well risen and the tops are a light golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm.
Recipe source:adapted from Smile! 幸福小点心, 山王丸由利绘

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Icy Cold Birthday Treat

I must be out of my mind when I decided that I should make a Baked Alaska just 3 days before my son's birthday. He had asked for fried ice cream as a birthday treat...right after reading one of those 'Horrible Science' series. He explained the 'science' behind why ice cream won't melt when it is deep fried...something to do with baking soda, which is added to the batter that is used to coat the ice cream before it is deep fried. As I don't do any deep frying at all, I told him I would make him a baked alaska. Instead of deep frying ice cream, I thought it would be easier for me to 'bake' it!

After spending the whole night searching the internet for tips and how-tos, I managed to make him this baked alaska just in time on his birthday!

It is not the most impressive cake I have made, with my lack of skills and experience, it was the best I could come up with, plus, it was the first ever baked alaska I have ever baked! After hearing how this delicious dessert is served at restaurants (btw, I have only tried it at the Shashlik restaurant), my boy was more than willing to set his cake on fire. However, I was against the idea, as some photos of flaming baked alaska I have seen on the internet got me really worried!

After hearing my concerns, my good-natured son was equally happy to simply light it with a candle.

If you were as clueless as me when it comes to making a baked alaska, this series of video clips over here will set you on the right track.

To make a baked alaska, you would need to prepare at least one day ahead. The ice cream and the cake base would have to be prepared in advance. In order to create two layers of ice cream, and to create a nice dome, the ice cream has to be molded into a bowl and left to freeze, best over night. After checking with the birthday boy, it was decided that the ice cream would sit on a layer of brownies instead of a sponge cake.

Making the ice cream and brownies layers was no sweat! The only thing I had no confidence was making the meringue. I tend to over-whip egg whites...and without exception, the same thing happened to me. I though I had beaten the egg whites to soft peaks, but no, that extra few seconds of whisking got it almost to the stiff peak stage. The next challenge was to cover the ice cream and cake base with the egg whites...this has to be done quickly before the ice cream starts to melt in the heat. I have to thank the heavy downpour that morning, as it was a cool late afternoon when I was ready to make the meringue. All went well except that my slightly over-whipped egg whites started to separate('weeping') when I tried to make decorative swirls and peaks with the back of a spoon. I had no luck in getting any nice tall peaks except for a few swirls and small 'hills'. It could also likely due to the method I have chosen to prepare the meringue. I opted for the easier way...beating egg whites with just sugar and some vanilla extract. I should have taken the trouble to make an Italian meringue (egg whites beaten with sugar syrup) just like the lemon meringue pie I made sometime back.

After I had given up hope with the swirling, I popped the entire cake back into the freezer again so that it would be ready for the grand finale that night.

The final step calls for baking the cake in a very very hot oven for 3 minutes or so. I cranked up my oven to 250degC and let it preheat for about 20mins. Just before sending this 'space-ball' into the hot oven, I dusted it with some icing sugar as suggested by some recipes I came across. Actually after baking, I realised this is quite redundant!

My earlier fear of ending up with a tray of melted ice cream was unfounded. My ice cream bombe was still intact, fresh out of the oven! The meringue was not evenly browned as my small oven burnt the top before the lower part had time to turn brown. I was left with no choice but to remove the cake from the oven as I didn't want to end up with a black bomb. I am sure a bigger oven or a blow touch will do a much better job.

Despite the burnt top, the ice cream inside remained frozen (this picture was taken more than 10mins after the cake was taken out of the oven)...

even the cake slicer got stuck when my child tried to cut it...I had to use my bread knife to cut into the cake ;)

Even though it sounds like a lot of work involved, breaking up the preparation into different stages make the whole process easier. As for the taste, if you like ice cream, brownies and marshmallowy meringue, I am sure you will enjoy this icy cold dessert. If the bombe were to be drenched with rum or brandy, and flambé, I bet the show and the extra alcohol will bring your taste palette to greater heights!

I can't believe the tremendous speed at which my child has grown...from a 3.6kg (almost 8 pounds) new-born baby to a 36kg, 12 year old boy! On this special day, I want to thank him for being our child.

Happy Birthday, my son, what a precious gift you are to us!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

What's for dinner tonight?

That's what my elder child would usually ask me over lunch. He will ask about lunch when he's having breakfast and about dinner during lunch. How I wish he shows the same amount of enthusiasm when it comes to his studies (^^')

I had planned to cook some angel hair with meat sauce, but only realised that there was less than 1 serving of noodles left. Luckily, there was still half a pack of elbow macaroni. I told him dinner would just be macaroni with bolognese sauce.

"Oh, ok, that will be great! But can you bake it with cheese please?"

"Hmmm...yes, I do have a pack of cheese, but I have not done it before. Let me google and see whether I can get some idea, but I can't promise it will turn out well."

So, that was how our pasta with tomato sauce got evolved into a baked version.

I was surprised at how easy to transform the dish...and was even more delighted when the baked version turned out to be so delicious!

I cooked the macaroni and the bolognese sauce as usual, and as usual, I rely on ready-made pasta sauce. I guess it will be several years before I would venture into making homemade pasta sauce, to me, store-bought sauces are really time savers.

Instead of serving the macaroni right away, to make the baked version, I had to layer the macaroni and bolognese sauce in a baking, one layer of cooked macaroni followed by half of the bolognese sauce, then the remaining macaroni,  and top it off with the remaining sauce...

followed by a layer of shredded cheese...

before baking it at 190 degC for 15~20 minutes, or until the top turns brown and bubbly.

I wish you were in my kitchen when this pipping hot dish was taken out of the oven. The fantastic aroma from the mozzrella cheese and the bolognese was unbelievable. My oven has got hot spots, this photo happens to show the 'fairer' side of the dish (^_^''')

That was our dinner last night. Both my kids love this tasty, simple and quick to prepare everyday meal. If one dish meals are a mother's best friends, I am glad I have stumbled upon this new found friend. I am sure it will become a regular family friend very soon :)

Baked Macaroni with Bolognese Sauce

(serves 3)

2 tablespoons oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (optional)
200g minced beef
1 tomato, chopped into small chunks
1 1/2 cups ready-made pasta sauce (I used Leggo's)
1/2 teaspoon salt (adjust according to taste)
1 teaspoon freshly grounded black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried parsley (optional)
150g macaroni
100g shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Lightly grease (I used olive oil) an ovenproof dish. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the garlic. Let it cook on low heat for 1 minute. Add the dried mixed herbs (if using). Cook for another 1 minute.
  2. Add the minced beef and cook for 5 minutes, breaking up lumps as it cooks, until well browned. Add in the tomatoes, stir and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the pasta sauce. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, sugar and dried parsley (if using).
  4. In the meantime, cook the macaroni in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain well.
  5. Spread half of the cooked macaroni evenly into the prepared dish. Top with half of the bolognese sauce, then the remaining macaroni, followed by the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the top with some extra dried parsley, if desired. Top with shredded cheese and bake for 15~20 minutes, until the top turns brown and bubbly. Serve warm.
(Note: this recipe serves as a rough guide only. Adjust the ingredient amounts according to individual preference.)

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Hearty Buns

I knew it would be a busy month when the mid-year school holidays began three weeks ago. The first week of the 4-weeks school break was spent sending my elder child to and fro school everyday for extra lessons. The second week was gone in a blink of an eye...with me taking up another home-based job assignment, and my kids catching up with their holiday homework and extra homework I assigned them (to keep them busy!). We were so glad when my better half finally came home last week and we even managed to squeeze in a short trip over the weekend :)

To welcome my husband home, I made some tuna buns specially for him. I first saw these lovely heart buns over at Quinn's blog here. I was so inspired that I told myself I should give it a try when an opportunity presents itself. So, despite a busy day, I spent the evening before his 20-hours flight home wrestling with a wet and sticky mess of dough.

I happened to borrow several cookbooks from a closed one recently. I found one particular book, 'Smile!幸福小点心', written by a Japanese pastry chef, to be one of the best among the lot. I have bookmarked several recipes from this book and I couldn't wait to try them all, and top on the list is a bread bun recipe. This recipe uses the straight dough method which I am so comfortable with. The recipe yields a slightly wet helps to work with a dough scraper, as you really need this piece of tool to scrape up the sticky mess as you knead. Except for a light sprinkle of flour on my table before I began to work on the dough, I didn't use any extra flour during the entire kneading session. After kneading continuously for 30mins or so, my fingers, which were initially covered with dough miraculously came clean. The dough was really smooth and elastic, and I could even stretch it fairly thinly!

Shaping the buns was really easy as Quinn has given a very clear step-by-step illustrations on her blog post. I really appreciate bloggers like her for spending time and effort to share their baking experience through such detailed tutorials. Thanks Quinn!! It was fun playing with the dough, but, I wasn't a good 'student' heart buns were a far cry from those made by Quinn (^_^''')

I trusted my intuition that the recipe from the cookbook would produce tasty and soft buns. I was right! The fluffy texture was the result of a well-kneaded dough :) As with any homemade bread, these buns tasted best when freshly baked. When left over night, I like to heat up the bread in the oven (100degC for about 5-10mins) before serving, and they would taste as good as fresh from the oven. My loved ones were all thumbs up when they had these buns for breakfast. This recipe is a keeper for sure.

Tuna Heart Buns

(makes 8 buns)

bread dough:
200g bread flour
20g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3g (about 1 teaspoon) instant yeast
110ml milk (room temperature, I used low-fat fresh milk)
30g egg, light beaten (this amount is less than one egg, use the leftover as egg wash)
25g unsalted butter, room temperature

150g tuna (I used tuna chunks in mineral water)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
some ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

  1. Stir bread flour, caster sugar, salt, and instant yeast in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add in milk and egg. Mix the ingredients with hand and slowly form into a rough dough.
  3. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough till smooth. This should take about 10mins.
  4. Knead in the butter. Continue to knead the dough until it no longer sticks to your hand, becomes smooth and elastic. This should take about another 15 to 20 mins. Do the window pane test: pinch a piece of the dough, pull and stretch it. It should be elastic, and can be pulled away into a thin membrane without tearing/breaking apart easily.
  5. Place dough in a lightly greased (use vegetable oil or butter) mixing bowl, cover with cling wrap and let proof in room temperature (around 28 to 30 degC) for about one hour, or until double in bulk.
  6. Remove the dough from the bowl and give a few light kneading to press out the gas in the dough. Divide into 8 equal portions, about 50g each. Roll into rounds. Cover with a damp cloth or cling wrap and let the doughs rest for 10mins.
  7. Roll and shape each dough into a longish shape, slightly tapered at the end. Make a slit, 3/4 lengthwise, along the dough. Open the two ends to form a 'Y' shape. Fold each end down towards the centre to form a heart shape dough.(Visit Quinn's blog here for the shaping method). Brush surface with egg wash.
  8. For the fillings, mix all ingredients to combine. Spread fillings on the dough surface, sprinkle with extra parsley flakes/ground pepper. Transfer dough onto baking tray lined with parchment paper. Space out the doughs to allow room for the doughs to expand. Cover with damp cloth or cling wrap and leave doughs to proof for the second time for about 30 ~ 40mins, or until double in size.
  9. Bake in pre-heated oven at 180 deg C for 12 mins or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Recipe source: adapted from Smile!幸福小点心, 山王丸由利绘

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Wholemeal Goodness

I like to bake with wholemeal flour, be it muffins, cakes, cookies or bread. Besides being a healthier option, wholemeal flour gives my baked goods a nice, nutty texture. So when I first saw Grace's Whole Wheat Pizza crust, I told myself I have to try it right away.

Homemade pizza is becoming a regular lunch treat for my kids. Making pizza at home is not that difficult, in fact, I find making the pizza crust a breeze. There is minimal ingredients used and the dough is pretty easy to knead. One of the best thing about making your own pizza is that you can create whatever you want...which for me would usually depends on what I have in my fridge ;)

I followed Grace's pizza crust closely, except that I added in 1 teaspoon of dried mixed herbs. I liked how the crust turned out...deliciously crispy!

Although I kept reminding myself not to overload the crust, I couldn't help but pile it up with lots of fresh brown button mushrooms, olives, and some leftover sausages. While I don't mind the boring 'pineapple and ham' toppings (a must for my kids though), this mushroom combo remains my all-time favourite. As for the taste, I shall leave it to the photos to speak for itself ;)

Wholemeal Pizza Dough

(make two 8-10" pizza)

100g bread flour
100g wholemeal flour
10g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs (optional)
110g (110ml) water
10g olive oil

  1. Place bread flour, wholemeal flour, sugar, salt, yeast and dried mixed herbs in a mixing bowl. Mix well with hand. Make a well in the centre and add the water and olive oil. Using your hand, gradually work the ingredients together to form a soft dough.
  2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10mins until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Shape dough into a round ball and place in a lightly oiled mixing bowl. Cover with cling wrap and leave to rise for 1 hr or until double in size.
  3. Turn out the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knock it down to release the air. Give it a few gentle kneading. Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Shape into two balls, cover loosely with cling wrap and let the dough rest for about 10mins.
  4. Roll or press out each portion to a round, about 8~10" in size. Place dough on baking tray lined with parchment paper or on a greased baking pan.
  5. Spread some pizza sauce (I used store bought spaghetti sauce) over the dough to within 1 cm (0.5 inch) of the edge. Arrange a layer of grated cheese (I used grated mozzarella), followed by preferred toppings. Sprinkle the top all over with grated cheese.
  6. Bake in a preheat oven at 220 degC for 12~15mins or until the crust has turned golden and the cheese has melted. Serve warm.
Recipe source: adapted from here.