Wednesday 24 September 2008

Lavender Teacake

While flipping through the stack of cookbooks that I have borrowed from the library, I chanced upon this quick & easy-to-make cinnamon teacake recipe from this book. I love to browse through cookbooks from The Australian Women's Weekly series. The recipes are simple to follow and most of the time they are accompanied with beautiful illustrations...every single photo is shouting for my attention! After looking through the list of ingredients and the nutrition information, I was pretty set to give the recipe a go. The total amount of fat for each serving is 9g, which is even lower than that of a single cookie featured in the same book. It makes me feel less guilty to bake it , as I usually won't stop at just one slice of cake.

As with coffee cakes, in the past, I used to think that tea cakes are cakes made with tea as one of the key ingredients. Silly me! Now I know, they are just cakes or even breads served for afternoon tea. Although coffee cakes are either cakes that are made with coffee or referred to as any cakes that are served with coffee, a teacake could mean different thing to people living in different regions. In Australia, a teacake is typically referred to as a sweet cake made with flour, eggs, fat and sugar. They are sometimes sprinkled with a mixture of cinnamon and caster sugar, and are often served warm from the oven, with tea. Since my kids have yet to acquire the taste of cinnamon, I tweaked the recipe a little...I left out the cinnamon and only sprinkled the cake with caster sugar. To add flavour, I added in a teaspoons of dried lavender. So, here's my version of a Lavender Teacake:

It proves to be a very easy cake to prepare. I made it with just a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon. Of course you can use a manual whisk, or leave it to your electric mixer to do the job. If you are going 'manual', do make sure the butter is very soft before you start working on it...unless you don't mind working on your biceps at the same time. I got the cake into the oven within 20mins, which was 5 mins longer than the preparation time stated in the recipe. I will have to learn to be more efficient.

Although the cake was not as moist compared to cakes made with 'moisturising-agents" such as yogurt, buttermilk, etc, I thought the taste was very delectable. The cake was rather light and I like the nice fragrant of the lavender. It's just a little on the sweet side for me...which is mainly due to the generous sprinkling of caster sugar on the cake surface. On hind sight, I should have added some lemon zest to kick up the flavour a little.

Here's a slice of cake for all of you who have taken the time to leave me your heart-warming comments and encouraging words after I published my earlier post. I'm truly touched by the kind words of certainly boost up my morale, and made me see the light at the far end of the tunnel. Even if you didn't leave a comment, I thank you for taking time to read and come over to my humble blog :)

From your comments, I got to know that a couple of you have actually picked up the hobby of baking after reading my blog :D It also brings me great joy to learn that some of you had started making homemade breads following the recipes I have posted here. The one and only concern that I have is that, I hope I am not the blind leading the blind. Till now, I do not know whether I am doing the kneading of the dough correctly :')

So, what are you waiting for? Go grab your spoon and enjoy!

I mean, go grab your wooden spoon and start baking!

(makes one 20cm cake, serves 8)

60g butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (150g) self-raising flour
1/3 cup (80ml) milk
1 teaspoon dried lavender*

15g butter, melted
some caster sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degC. Grease and flour side of a 20cm (8") round pan, line base with parchment paper. Sift self-raising flour, set aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl, with a wooden spoon or a manual whisk, beat butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add in the egg gradually, beat well each time egg is added. Add in vanilla extract, mix well.
  3. Add in shifted flour and milk, stir with a spatula until smooth. Stir in dried lavender.
  4. Spread batter into prepared pan, bake for 25mins till the cake turns golden or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  5. Stand cake in pan for 5 mins. Turn onto cooling rack, brush top with melted butter and sprinkle with caster sugar. (*Note: If desired, omit dried lavender, instead, mix 1 tablespoon of caster sugar with 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture on top of cake after brushing the surface with the melted butter.)
Recipe source: The Australian Women's Weekly,Food We Love

Sunday 21 September 2008

Feeling Blue...

I make it a point to make a loaf of bread every week.

For this past week, I made a loaf of bread using this mashed purple sweet potatoes. There are two types of purple sweet potatoes available at the market...although both have got purple skins, but for one of them, the inside is orange and not purple. I searched around the internet and followed a suitable bread machine recipe here.

It was the first time I have tried boiling these purple sweet potatoes in water as I prefer to eat steamed ones. After leaving the sweet potatoes to boil for about 10mins, I returned to the kitchen and was shock to be greeted with a pot of water which had turned 'blue-black'. I was hesitating whether to use plain water instead of the dark purplish cooking liquid to make the dough. I wouldn't want to churn out another 'black beauty' (I have tried using oreo crumbs to make bread, and the loaf turned out charcoal black!). In the end, I still stick to the recipe, and used the cooking liquid as I believed the amount used was too little to cause any serious 'damage' to the finished loaf.

Indeed, the dough didn't turned dark was in a nice pastel purple hue. Although this bread can be made fully by the bread machine, I only used the kneading function(I let the dough knead for about 30mins) has long been a habit of mine to shape the dough and bake it with my oven. This way I get to play around with the shape of the loaf and control the browning of the crust.

When freshly baked, the crumbs was pinkish purple in colour. However, when left over night, the colour turned into a deeper tone. The texture was very soft and light on the day it was baked. The bread tasted sweet, just like a sweet bread and was good eaten plain. Unfortunately, this bread didn't seem to keep well. Left over night, the bread turned moist and was dense and heavy. On the second day, it tasted quite 'doughy'...the crumbs tend to stick to the roof of my mouth :(

I guess I won't be going back to this recipe again, as such I won't be translating the recipe and post it here.

On a side note, I have been quite bothered lately, with the downside of blogging. To me, the whole idea of blogging is about sharing and learning with one another who share the same common interest and passion. As much as I can, I will post the recipe for each single blog posting. For me, it does take up a fair bit of my time and some effort is required to put up each post...from baking, taking photos, typing out the recipes, writing up the post and providing relevant links as appropriate. I find it very disturbing whenever I encounter cases where my recipes were copied word for word and posted by others without any acknowledgement. This is especially so when the original recipe is in Chinese as I have taken the time to translate and type out the instructions. Even for recipes which are written in English, I do make it a point to type out the recipes from cookbooks and re-phrase the instructions to make the steps much clearer (or more long-winded, lolz!), which I thot would be good for beginners.

I thot it's time I put a stop to this. I looked up the internet and was happy to be able to find a 'solution' to prevent others from copying my text without my knowledge. I installed some codes into my blogger template to disable the 'right-click, copy & paste' function. It was quite easily done, but, it was not a happy ending after all.

It bothers me when readers commented that they find it troublesome to hand-copy or type out my recipes, especially when the instructions are pretty long (lesson learned...don't be so long-winded ;p). I don't mean to create the inconvenience since it defeats the whole purpose of sharing if I make it difficult for others to access the recipes. I tried to look up for ways to install codes so that with a click, one is able to convert the recipes to printer-friendly documents. However, I almost 'see stars' just reading through the instructions! I am simply too lazy and won't want to mess around with the html codes.

I have now removed the script that disabled the right-click function. I guess I have to come to terms that there is not much I can do to prevent others from lifting my text, and accept the fact that it's part and parcel of the blogging world. I would probably blog less in the future, as I think I should be spending more time coaching my kids with their studies! Maybe I should just stick to flickr....which requires less writing (something which I am really very weak at) and focus more on photography. All my photos posted here are simply 'point & shoot', without any techniques or skills. I would love to spend some time to acquire knowledge in this least for once, I must get down to figure out how to use the various functions in my camera ;)

Wednesday 17 September 2008

For the Love of Matcha

Ever since I started my baking journey, I have developed the love for matcha. Recipes with matcha would always catch my attention. Even my elder boy has been influenced by me...he has been telling me for a long time that he would like to have a taste of Green Tea Mcflurry. He finally got to try it a week was a rare occasion that we dropped by the McDonald's after dinner on a weekday night...we were there just so that we could collect the latest Darth Vader figurine that came with the Happy meal! The cup of green tea ice cream didn't look appetizing at was just vanilla ice cream served haphazardly with a generous heap of green tea powder. I told my kid, from now on, I can make him a homemade-version anytime ;)

Back to my baking...I made this batch of Matcha Buns following the dough recipe for these garlic buns. I added a teaspoon of matcha powder to the recipe and relied on my bread machine to do the kneading. I like the way the dough turned out...very smooth, elastic and non-sticky...which made shaping the doughs a breeze.

To add flavour, I wrapped some mini-chocolate chips in each bun. I would love to use adzuki beans, but I didn't have ready-made ones with me and I won't want to go through the hassle to make my own red bean paste, lazy me! I baked the buns in paper liners, unfortunately, they were one size too big!

Thanks to the wonders of icing sugar, with just a light dusting, the finished buns looked so much more appealing, don't you think so?

It is indeed a wonderful and yet simple bread recipe, the buns stayed soft even after 2 days. I could taste just a hint of matcha but the chocolate chips went well with it. Without doubt, this recipe is gonna be a keeper!

Sunday 14 September 2008

Mini Snowskin Mooncakes

Our first homemade snowskin mooncakes...

I always have the impression that mooncake-making is something that involves very complicated steps, very time consuming, and any effort to try it would unlikely pay off very well. It was only after reading a recent article featured in the papers that I learned that snowskin mooncakes are actually quite simple to make, especially when baking supply stores here are well-stock with all the necessary ingredients, including ready-made fillings. The recipe which was published alongside the article almost made me wanted to drop everything and rush to the nearest store to get all the items. Well, I got all the items a few days later...except one important tool, that is, a mooncake mold! I didn't quite like the designs of the molds available at the store, and I didn't want to buy one since I wasn't sure how the mooncakes would turn out. So I used a set of cookie cutters instead. This is nothing new, as I have seen several very creative bloggers use their Disney cookie cutters to shape their mooncakes.

When I told my kids that I was going to try making mooncakes for them, they too got very excited, and were very eager to help me out. Both had fun shaping the dough and the fillings into small rounds. I finds it very satisfying to release the finished mooncake from the cutter. It was also a surprise that they tasted really delicious, I certain didn't have any high expectations when I was making them! Everyone commented that the sweetness was just right. The snow skin was soft and a little 'QQ' which means chewy. The ready-made white lotus paste was smooth and not overly sweet. Those who have tried them were all thumbs up. Our first attempt at making mooncakes was a great success.

Before I went on to make the second batch of mooncakes with my remaining ingredients, I searched around the internet for other recipes to try. It was only then that I discovered that fruit juices can be used to replace the water in the recipe. So, for the second batch, I tried with this recipe here. I divided the ingredients into two equal portions...I used mango juice for one portion, and the other I experimented with pomegranate juice...both were what I had in the fridge. The pomegranate gave a pleasant purple tint to the dough. However, without the use of any artificial essence, the flavour was not prominent. I tried moulding the mooncakes with my Pooh cutters, but it was not as easy as I thought. I couldn't achieve a smooth surface, Pooh's face looked all cracked and wrinkled ;') In the end, I had to fall back on the piggy cutter.

This is the last batch I made yesterday. The yellow snow skins were made with mango juice and I used strawberry milk to made the pink ones. Again, I didn't use a proper moon cake mould, instead, I used a set of improvised moulds...which happens to be my old plastic koniyaku jelly trays.

I have pretty much convinced myself that I should get a mooncake mould next year. It's very obvious that the surface of the finished mooncakes were filled with awful cracks. I wondered whether it was the way I mixed and kneaded the dough? Do I have to knead it longer in order to get a very smooth skin?? Furthermore, I read that the proportion of the dough to filling ratio should be roughly 40% : 60%. As such, I used about 20g of dough to 30g of fillings. However, I find that the dough was a little too thin for easy wrapping the fillings.

We made this assortment of mooncakes and the kids were very proud to give them to their Granny. It was a good learning experience and I hope I can do a better job next year!

With this set of calligraphy done by my younger boy (yes, he stil has got a long long way to go before he could reach his brother's standard), I wish all of you who will be celebrating the mooncake festive today, 中秋节快乐!

Wednesday 10 September 2008

I see Red

I bought this small pack of cherry tomatoes at the local supermarket the other day. The full cart load of them looked so fresh and plum, as though they were just picked from the farm. Having eaten a punnet of good honey tomatoes the day before, I wasted no time and grabbed one pack of these pretty little fruits. I really hoped they tasted as good as they looked. They are slightly more expensive then the usual honey or grape tomatoes as they are bigger and come with the vines. Nevertheless, the price is still relatively affordable as compared to those vine-riped Italian tomatoes or those imported from Japan. These are grown in Malaysia. Pardon me for the grainy photos here, I didn't get to have plenty of natural lighting for the past couple of weeks :(

None of the members of my family of four are tomato-lovers...we don't blame ourselves at all. The only (yes, one and only!) variety of tomatoes which is available at the wet markets is too sour for our liking. After reading about the goodness of tomatoes, I have been trying to encourage both my kids, and including myself, to acquire the taste of cherry tomatoes. I used them as 'garnish' for our bento lunches, at least they are pretty enough to entice the kids to eat one or two of them. Sometimes we were lucky when I got juicy and less astringent ones. On occasions when we had real sour ones, my younger boy would first share the number of fruits equally and fairly amongst us...then we would each pop a fruit into our mouth, and start marvelling at each other's funny facial expressions. The moment the juice hit our palate, we would start complaining to each other about the awful and unpleasant tomatoey taste ;)

We had luck this time with these lovely, luscious cherry tomatoes. They tasted as good as they looked. Not only were they so juicy that they bursted in your mouth (or for that matter, on the floor, table, shirt, and almost everywhere! when my younger son was eating them!), they were really sweet. Judging from the fact that my boys didn't have to divide the fruits equally, I didn't have to ask them whether they like their tomatoes. I was even a little surprised when my younger boy kept coming back for more.

We had seafood marinara with angel hair pasta for dinner last night, and I took the chance to add my share of the cherry tomatoes in my plate. Incidentally, it was the first time I cooked mussels. I couldn't get the usual clams (or better known as la-la, over this part of the world) so I bought some fresh mussels instead. Since I have no prior cooking experience with these mussels (aka 'big heads'), I had to check the internet to find out how to clean and cook them! It was a quick 30mins meal that I tried my best to put together. As usual, I used ready-made pasta sauce, but to pack in more flavours, I added in some chopped tomatoes and a pinch of dried mixed herbs. Some freshly picked sweet basil (yeah! I finally had my own pot of sweet basil plant), a light sprinkle of dried parsley and freshly grounded black peppers completed the dish. It was still a far cry from those pasta meals we get to eat in restaurants, but it did served its purpose to fill up our hungry stomachs on a weekday night :)

Saturday 6 September 2008

Nutella Swiss Roll

It was a rare occasion that I was blessed with so much free time that I felt asleep on a weekday afternoon. I guess I was not feeling well (yes, I'm trying to make myself feel less guilty) or it was just pure laziness that I didn't wake up until 2 hours later! As a result, I had to abandon my earlier plan to bake a loaf of bread as there wasn't much time left before I had to start preparing dinner.

After flipping through my stack of recipes, I thought I should make a Swiss roll. In the past, I always relied on a sponge cake recipe to make a Swiss roll. It was the first time I was going to follow a proper Swiss roll recipe. I didn't bother to use any whipping cream for the filling, as first of all, I was running out of time and secondly I am doubtful whether I'll be able to roll the cake without cracking it . Hence, to make things easy, I decided to use nutella spread to fill the roll.

The making of the sponge cake layer was rather straight forward, as there were only 5 ingredients used. There was little washing up as well, since everything was done with a mixing bowl. I was able to get the cake out from the oven in no time. While the cake was cooling on the rack, I got on with the tedious chore of cooking dinner :(

As with all my past attempts with Swiss rolls, I felt a little nervous when it was time to fill and roll the cake. I almost let off a whistle when the cake didn't crack upon rolling!

I am not sure it was just pure luck, or was it the technique outline in this recipe that made the rolling so easy. I guess I would have to try this again to verify. Some Swiss roll recipes that I have come across would recommend that the cake be rolled up while it is still warm. The cake would then be unrolled upon cooling, filled and re-rolled again. Whereas for this recipe, the cake is left to cool off before filling and rolling. According to the recipe, once the cake is out of the oven, it has to be removed from the tray and placed in a big plastic bag to cool off. This way, the cake will stay soft and moist for easy rolling. Since I do not have a large enough plastic bag, I left the cake in the baking tray and placed the tray on a cooling rack. To retain the moisture, I covered the top with another Swiss roll tray. Upon cooling, I was surprised that the sponge layer was not soggy or damp. I moved on to remove the parchment paper and turned the sponge layer onto a clean sheet of parchment paper. It was a little tricky trying to spread the nutella as it was rather thick, I had to be extra gentle to avoid scraping the crumbs as I worked along.

Besides retaining moisture when the sponge layer is cooling off, I think it is also important not to over bake the cake, otherwise it would be too dry and would crack easily. As usual, my unreliable oven took a little longer than the recommended time to get the sponge layer baked, and I had to turn the tray closer to the end of the baking time to ensure even browning.

In order to make a nice clean roll, another seemingly minor point to watch out for, would be the kind of paper used for rolling. I remembered using those greaseproof papers (or tracing papers which I used to call them when I was young!) when I first attempted to make a Swiss roll. The cake got stuck to the paper, as a result, the 'skin' got peeled off upon rolling/unrolling. I also used to wonder why my cookies would stick to this type of greaseproof paper upon baking. Until much later, I discovered those are not the right type of paper for baking. I have since switched to using proper parchment paper or baking paper which has got a layer of wax making them greaseproof and non-stick as well.

I was very satisfied with how well the sponge layer turned out, it was soft and moist, and what can I say about nutella? You will never go wrong with it ;)

3 eggs, bring to room temperature
65g sugar (updated: use caster sugar)
80g cake flour
20g unsalted butter, melted
2~3 drops vanilla extract

  1. Sift cake flour, set aside. Line a 9" x 12" (23 x 30cm) Swiss roll tray with parchment paper, set aside. Pre-heat oven to 180 degC.
  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 in 3 separate addition. 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 and vanilla extract, fold with spatula until well blended.
  5. Pour the batter into the tray. Spread and smooth out the batter evenly. Bake for 10~15 mins*, until the surface turns golden browned or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  6. Remove tray from oven. Remove sponge layer from tray (with parchment paper still in tack), place it in a plastic bag**. Tie the plastic bag and leave it to cool. (Instead of using a plastic bag, I cover the sponge layer with another Swiss roll tray.)
  7. Upon cooling, remove the parchment paper, and turn the sponge layer with the 'skin' side down on a sheet of clean parchment paper. Spread with nutella (or any filling as desired) and roll up the sponge layer by lifting it up with the parchment paper. Place the rolled cake seam side down.
*Do not over bake the sponge layer, otherwise it will turn dry and may crack upon rolling.
** The reason for doing so is to keep the sponge layer moist for easy rolling.

Recipe source: 点心达人, 轻松学 / 小川智美著