Monday 26 January 2009

Cookie Galore

I went into a cookie-baking for the last two weeks...the cookie baking bug only went away yesterday...after I made the last batch just before getting ready for the Chinese New Year reunion dinner ;)

The very first on the list are these delicious peanut cookies. These must be the easiest cookies to make, there is no creaming or whisking...and I don't even use any tool, I simply combine the ingredients together to form a dough. I like the crisp exterior, and yet, once you bite into it, the crumbs will start to fall apart in your mouth, leaving you a mouthful of peanut fragrance.

I have to confess...I have absolutely fallen in love with baking these pineapple tarts. This is the 3rd batch I have done...and I am really getting better at it. I have even managed to cut down the time spent making them by 50%...from 3hrs down to 1.5hrs. (btw, I have to give credit to my elder son who wrote the word "chun" which I've conveniently used as background for my bakes.)

I have also learned the right way of wrapping the close-up type of tarts, ie turning the dough as you wrap with your fingers. The first time I made them, I had a hard time trying to cover up the jam with the dough. For the latest batch, I manage to reduce the dough amount from 10ml to 7.5ml.

I have already included these cute little horlicks doggies biscuits in my regular to do list. I have a weak spot for all things that look I thoroughly enjoy the entire process of making them.

It helps that I come from a big family, I am able to give away all my cookies...I am sure many of you are like me...preferring to bake than to eat.

Besides the pineapple tarts, I have also tried making Kueh Bangkit using our old recipes. Sad to say, I didn't get the measurement right...they were hard as stones! My sister commented that they reminded her of those baby teething biscuits, lolz! I hope to give it a try again soon.

These were the latest cookies I made. I use the same recipe for making the Pooh cut-out cookies. I melted some white milk chocolates and added some red food colouring to pipe the lettering. It was not easy as the mixture was quite stiff.

In the end, I used nutella spread...I know they don't look pretty, but I enjoyed 'writing' the Chinese characters...I felt I was writing a calligraphy piece...especially with the soft nutella spread, I could even apply the basic strokes which is "起笔" and "收笔" which I have learned from my kids ;)

Here's wishing all my Chinese readers a Happy Lunar New Year!!!

Thursday 22 January 2009

A Taste of Yesteryear

Just like the past couple of years, weeks before the Chinese lunar new year, I started looking up recipes to bake for the occasion. I have in mind to make some peanut cookies, kueh bangkits and my kids' favourite horlicks doogies cookies.

Pineapple tarts are never on my to-do list. Every year, I let it pass, as the thought of making the pineapple jam from scratch really, really puts me off. I am never good at anything that has got to do with the stove...and the homemade jam will easily take 2 hours of non-stop stirring and cooking, not forgetting the effort and time spent on cutting up fresh pineapples and grating them. Phew!

Things started to change after reading Small Small Baker's post on 'Looking for Pineapple Tart Recipes'. Then, after some exchange of emails with fellow blogger pals, Elyn and Yuri, I was convinced that ready-made jams are actually not too bad. At least I could try my hands with making the pastry and if it didn't turn out well, the effort spent on making the jam would not be gone to waste. After reading up reviews on the various store-bought jams, I narrowed down my choice to this brand "Bake King". Next, it was another daunting task to look for the 'right' recipe to make the pastry. There are so many types of recipes available...they look rather similar, and yet there are little it the amount of ingredients, or the little extras such as custard powder, milk powder, etc. To make things even more confusing to me, there is this Rub-in method vs Creaming method; and whether the recipes would yield crispy tarts or melt-in-the-mouth pastry! Finally (actually this is still not the final decision), I almost settled on this stack of recipes which I have photocopied long time ago...they were taken from the Female magazine, the January 1998 issue.

Well, The story didn't just end here. Somehow, by chance, while discussing with my siblings, what are the dishes to prepare for our CNY dinner, I got hold of our very old pile of recipes. You know, those old recipes that were handwritten in old exercise books? I got hold of two of them...and one of those booklets was my personal copy. I have copied down some recipes in an old note book (the first few pages were my school 3rd year subjects on 'Dynamics of Machines'!), and the recipes were dated January 1994, I bet that was the last time I wrote anything on that note book.

These old recipes have brought back so much fond memories of those yesteryear when we would help mum with all the Chinese New Year it kueh bangkit, pineapple tarts, butter cookies, kok-chai...spending hours painstakingly making them from scratch. During that few nostalgic moments, I decided that I should make it a challenge to recreate the taste of those goodies we made in the past. The top on the list is our pineapple tart recipe.

This is my first attempt at making pineapple tarts after a very long break, it was almost two decades ago since I last made them. I have only a very vague memory what was involved. After spending three hours on these cookies, they didn't taste as good as they look. I could have over baked them, causing the jam to turn hard and dry. The pastry was also too crispy...well, they were nothing close to those we had.

Fortunately, I also made these closed type of pineapple tarts. I have never made them before, as in the past, all pineapple tarts were the open-type. Since the jam was wrapped inside the dough, it was kept moist and I have also shorten the baking time.

After consulting my baking pal, Elyn, I made the second batch yesterday. Thanks to her tips, I omitted the egg white that was called for in the original recipe. This results in a much softer dough, no wonder, it was more difficult to cut out the dough with the mould as compared to the first trial. The resulting pastry was very soft, crumbly, very fragile and really melts-in-your-mouth. Half way packing the finished cookies into a container, I accidentally knocked if off! I ended up with tarts on the floor, piles of crumbles and the tarts were beyond recognition...if you have also spent hours making these, you will know why I was almost in tears :'(

To tackle the issue of dried jam, I rolled the jam into small balls with a pair of wet hands. I then placed them on a tray which was filled with a small amount of water. The purpose was to let the jam soak up some extra moisture to prevent it from drying during baking. I also experimented with baking the tarts for 10 mins before adding the jam. After which I let them bake for another 10mins. This time, the jam remains soft after baking!

With proper planning, I could even make those signature criss-cross patterns. I am very happy with this batch of pineapple tarts. They are much much better than those from the first trial. Even for those closed type, I was able to wrap the same amount of jam with less dough. Although the taste of the ready-made jam is acceptable, I really hope I will be able to make my own homemade jam next year. Until then, this is the closest I could recreate the delightful taste from our nostalgic recipes. Thank you for spending your time to read this very much long winded post :)

Pineapple Tarts (refer here for updated recipe)

(portion is enough to make 55 open and 20 closed tarts)

8oz (227g) butter, soften at room temperature
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
14oz (396g) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. With an electric mixer, on medium speed, cream butter till the mixture turns pale. Add in the vanilla essence and whisk to combine.
  2. Dribble in the egg yolks and continue to whisk the mixture till fully incorporated.
  3. Sift in the flour and salt into the mixture. Mix the mixture with your hand and gather to form a rough dough. Transfer to a work surface and lightly knead the dough for about 5 minutes until the dough becomes smooth.
  4. Wrap the dough with cling wrap and chill in the fridge for about 30mins. (This will prevent the dough from spreading, and makes it easier to handle.)
  5. Mean while, roll ready-made pineapple jam into small balls, about 1 teaspoon each. To measure the amount of pineapple jam, place a small sheet of cling wrap/plastic sheet over a measuring spoon (1 teaspoon), pack it with the jam to the brim and release with the cling wrap. (To prevent the ready-made jam from drying out during baking, roll the jam with wet hands. Wet your hands when they become dry after some rolling. Place the pineapple balls on a plate/tray filled with some water, just enough for the base of the balls to touch the water. This will allow the jam to soften and soak up some moisture.)
  6. Remove dough from fridge. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to about 5~7mm thick. (To prevent dough from sticking to the rolling pin, place a plastic sheet or a sheet of parchment paper over the dough before rolling.)
  7. Cut out the dough with the tart mould and transfer to baking tray, lined with parchment paper. (To get very clear imprints, place both the outer ring and the inner piece of the mould on the roll out dough. Press the outer ring into the dough then push down the inner piece with some force. Lift up the mould and carefully remove the cut out dough which is stuck to the mould. Dust the mould with flour regularly for easy release.)
  8. Bake in the middle rack position, at 180 degC for 10 mins. Remove from oven and place pineapple paste on each tart base. To decorate, you can either top it with a tiny ball of dough or cut out thin strips of dough and lay over the top of the pineapple paste.
  9. Return to oven and continue to bake for another 5 ~ 10mins. Leave to cool on baking tray for a few minutes before transferring to wire rack. Let cool before storing in air-tight containers.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Breakfast or Brunch

I have been keeping several pancake recipes hoping that I can get myself to try making them one day...especially for my younger child who is a big fan of hotcakes. My elder child has never liked them...he would rather have roti prata or fried carrot cake for his weekend breakfast. It was no surprise when he gave me a very disappointed look when he found out that I was busy frying pancakes on a Sunday morning.

It was easy for me to decide which recipe to use. It was none other than this recipe from my favourite reference website...the I have all the ingredients on hand unlike some other recipes that requires buttermilk or self-raising flour. The serving size is also just right. I like the clear and concise instructions and I certainly find the description on the cooking part very useful.

Making of the batter was real easy, it took me less than 10mins to get everything done. It was the cooking part that took longer than expected. Since I have only a small frying pan, I could only cook one pancake at a time. My family members took turn to have their and when the pancake was ready. By the time I sat down to have my breakfast (including spending another 5 mins taking a few photos), it was already 9.30am! My breakfast became brunch!

Even though the pancake had cooled off, I thought they tasted really good! This is the best pancakes I have ever tasted. The closest match were those McGriddles (minus the bacon and sausage!) we once had in Ueno, Tokyo. No wonder the one who doesn't care for pancakes had 3 in a row! My younger boy told me they were as good as those hotcakes that he adores and has requested that I made them again soon.

After my breakfast/brunch, I went pottering around the house. I was in such a good mood that I even spent some time taking photos of my plants. Here's sharing with you my pot of African violet which is now in full bloom. What a great way to start my day.

I hope you have a beautiful Sunday morning too :)

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Wholesome Goodness

It was a yellow sunny afternoon when I baked this loaf of wholemeal banana cake. I almost gave the recipe a miss when I was flipping through a cookbook the other day. There are so many banana cake recipes around that I couldn't help but skip the pages whenever I stumble upon yet another banana cake recipe in a book :')

I was glad that I gave this recipe a second look. I was immediately sold after I went through the ingredient list. What goes into this banana cake seems to promise a loaf loaded with wholesome goodness for our breakfast the next morning.

The amount of butter used for this loaf is relatively little compared to some other recipes which although guarantee deliciously moist and gorgeous looking banana cakes, but, they never failed to put me off with the large amount of fat and sugar that went in there. For this cake, the amount of sugar used is so little that I actually doubt that my kids would even what to take a bite. However, just one slice of this freshly baked cake cleared my doubts right away. The cake got its sweetness mainly from the bananas and the wholemeal flour added a very interesting nutty texture to it. The downside of also made the cake rather crumbly. I wouldn't say the crumbs were extra moist as I suspect the wholemeal flour tends to dry things up a little. Fortunately the bananas worked wonders by providing just the right amount of moisture. Having said that, the cake still tasted delicious when left over night. It certainly was a fuss free way to add some whole grains to my kids' diet. I warmed the last slice in my oven before I enjoyed it over a cup of afternoon tea. It tasted as good as fresh out of oven. This is the kind of cake that you would never feel guilty if you couldn't help but reach out for another slice again and again!

Wholemeal Banana Cake


70g unsalted butter
30g brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
200g mashed banana (2 large bananas)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
90g wholemeal flour
90g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

some sliced banana
some granulated sugar
some cinnamon powder (I omitted this)

  1. Grease the sides of a 3" x 7" loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Sift together plain flour, baking powder and baking soda, set aside.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 180 degC.
  3. With an electric mixer, whisk butter and sugar at low speed till the mixture turns pale and fluffy.
  4. Dribble in beaten egg while whisking at low speed. (Add a little flour to the mixture if it appears to curdle.)
  5. Stir in mashed banana and vanilla extract with a spatula.
  6. Fold in wholemeal flour and the flour mixture and mix with spatula.
  7. Spoon mixture into prepared pan, smooth surface with spatula.
  8. Arrange banana slices on top and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon powder.
  9. Bake for 45 mins until skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. (Cover the top with foil if it start to get overly brown before the baking time is up.) Stand cake in pan for 5 minutes, unmold and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
    Recipe adapted from: Everyday Treats, 日尝甜品

Thursday 8 January 2009

Raisin Sandwich Bread

It's the start of the new year, and unlike last year, we are able to settle down to our routine life fairly quickly. This also means that I'm able to start my regular baking sessions right away. My first bake of the new year is none other than a sandwich loaf.

The original recipe is meant for a plain bread but I added in some raisins to give it more taste. In the past I would knead in the raisins and leave the dough to rise. I have since learned that it is necessary to soak the raisins in water until they plump up, this way, they would not absorb moisture from the dough, affecting the end result of the finished bread.

Other than the overly browned crust, the bread was deliciously soft. Even though it was made with just a few basic ingredients, and only a very small amount of sugar and butter was used, the taste of the bread was not compromised. It is the kind of everyday bread that we will never get tired of. It is going to be a regular on our breakfast table.

Raisin Sandwich Bread


350g bread flour
5g (about 1 & 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
10g caster sugar
6g (1 tsp) salt
150g milk (I use low-fat fresh milk)
100g water
10g unsalted butter
100g raisins (soak in water for 10-15mins, drain and pat dry)

  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), add in the 10g 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 dough 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 3 equal portions and shape them into rounds. Cover with cling wrap, let the doughs rest for 15mins.
  4. Flatten and roll out each dough into an oval shape (20cm by 10cm). Place raisins on the dough and roll up swiss roll style and pinch the seams in place. Place doughs in a loaf pan (size, 7.5"x4"x4", well greased), seams side down. Cover with cling wrap and let dough proof for 60mins or until double in size.
  5. Bake at preheated oven at 200 degC for about 25mins until the bread is golden brown all over. Cover the surface with a sheet of aluminum foil if the surface browns too quickly.
  6. Remove from oven and unmold immediately. Let cool completely before slicing.
  7. Recipe adapted from 简单又好做,小烤箱面包