Thursday 21 July 2011

piling on the pound

I used to like Sara Lee's pound cake...simply love it especially served chilled right out from the fridge. I was even guilty of eating slices of it topped generously with whipped cream. It was never a rare sight to catch me enjoying a slice with a big scoop of ice cream. Thank goodness, those were the days when my body was young enough that I did not accumulate all those fat on my waist!

My eating habits changed since I started cooking and baking. I no longer crave for sara lee after I realised how much fat and sugar goes into the making of a pound cake. The traditional way of making a pound cake will use 1 pound each of the four basic ingredients - butter, sugar, eggs and flour. You will need almost 2 blocks of butter, more than 2 cups of sugar, 8 large eggs and at least 3 cups of flour just to make a pound cake. While there are healthier versions around, most pound cake recipes till use these same ingredients ratios of 1:1:1:1.

I will usually choose to bake a chiffon cake over a pound cake. However, I got interested in making pound cakes after reading through this book '欧陆点心&磅蛋糕' of the many new books I borrowed from the library recently. A few months ago, I attempted to make a matcha pound cake for my cake friend. But, the cake tasted dry and sandy. I didn't know what went wrong and could only point my finger at the 'drying-effect' of the matcha powder. Whenever I am bothered with a baking issue that I can't seem to be able to find an answer, the only thing I could do is to try and try again. That led me to another unsuccessful attempt at making a walnut streusel loaf cake. The cake tasted dry and gritty in  the mouth ;'(

It was only after reading the book that I discovered my mistakes. First, on both attempts, the batter started to curdle when I added too much eggs at one go. No problem, I thought, by adding one tablespoon of flour, the problem was solved. This happened at least twice while I was preparing the batter. Little did I know that this will actually cause the texture of the cake to be hard and dry!

Besides the dry texture, I also had problem with pound cakes not rising well above the rim. The problem lies at the folding of the flour into the batter. I have long since developed the habit of stopping when the flour has just incorporated into the batter. This book, however, recommends to continue to fold the mixture until the batter appears smooth and glossy. This method will increase the gluten formation in the flour, and as a result, the cake will rise and expand beautifully upon baking, and yet produce a cake that is soft, tender and moist.

With the newly acquired knowledge, I set off to bake another pound cake. I have wanted to try the walnut streusel cake again, but since I have some bananas on hand, I combined it with another banana pound cake recipe and out from my oven is this Banana Walnut Streusel pound cake :)

Just like to share with you this interesting method of topping the streusel on the cake. Instead of making the streusel into crumbs, the ingredients are mixed to form a dough and left to chill in the fridge. When ready, the streusel dough is then grated over the top of the batter. The dough works well in the beginning, but with my warm hand and the heat, it started to soften halfway before I was done...making it more and more difficult to grate. The next time I were to make this, I will divide the dough into two, using one at a time while the one remains chilled in the fridge.

The finished cake proves to be soft and moist. Not sure whether it is due to the method or simply because of the bananas??

Nevertheless, the cake is indeed very delicious, not forgetting the banana-y fragrance and the nutty, buttery streusel toppings. I am glad that I have finally produced a decent pound cake, and will love to try a few more recipes, and also to experiment with two other different the separate eggs method, and the one bowl method which calls for adding the butter into the flour mixture instead of the common creaming method.

As the saying goes...there is no end to learning! The only problem is, I need to look for people to share the pounds with me ;)

Banana Walnut Streusel Pound Cake

(makes a 18cmx8cmx6cm pound cake)

100g unsalted butter, room temperature
65g icing sugar, sieve
2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g banana, mashed
125g cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

50g walnuts

25g unsalted butter, room temperature
25g icing sugar, sieve
25g cake flour

  1. To make streusel, place butter, icing sugar and cake flour in a bowl. With a fork, mix together the ingredients to form a soft dough. Leave in the fridge to chill.
  2. Break walnuts into pieces, place in a baking tray and toast it in a preheated oven at 100degC for 10mins. Set aside to cool.
  3. Line pound cake pan (18cm x 8cm x 6cm) with baking paper, set aside. Sieve flour and baking powder together, set aside.
  4. Place butter in a mixing bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter for a few seconds on medium speed. Add half of the icing sugar and continue to beat till the sugar is incorporated into the butter mixture. Add the remaining half of the icing sugar and continue to beat till the mixture turns pale, light and fluffy.
  5. Dribble in the eggs gradually, about 1 tablespoon at a time, each time beat at low speed till incorporated into the mixture before adding. This step is important to prevent the batter from curdling. Even though some flour can be added to the batter to stop it from curdling, the texture of the cake will be affected. (Note: always use room temperature eggs to prevent curdling.)
  6. Add in the vanilla extract and the mashed banana. Fold with a spatula till just incorporated. Do not over mix as it may cause the batter to curdle.
  7. Sieve over the flour and baking powder mixture. Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula. Once the flour is incorporated into the batter, continue to fold for 1 to 2 mins until the batter appears smooth and glossy. This step is important so that gluten in the flour will be formed which will help the cake to rise and expand during baking.
  8. Pour finished batter into prepared pan. Spread batter and smooth top. Sprinkle the walnut pieces on top. Lightly press into the batter with spatula.
  9. Remove chilled streusel dough from fridge. Grate the dough over the top of the batter. Work quickly as the dough will soften very fast (especially on hot days).
  10. Bake in pre-heated oven at 170degC for 25 mins. Remove pan from oven and make a slit with a wet knife (dipped in water) across the middle. Return to oven and continue to bake for 35 - 40mins until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, and the top is golden. Unmold and leave to cool completely. Store in air-tight container or wrap in cling wrap. Pound cakes are best eaten the next day.
Recipe source: 贝太厨房 and 欧陆点心&磅蛋糕

Thursday 14 July 2011

Clearing the cobwebs

It's almost a month since I last updated this blog. I am feeling terribly guilty of neglecting 'this part of my life' that I fear my blog has already collected a thick layer of dust. I apologise for my tardiness, especially to all of you who have remained my loyal readers. I think it is time now for me to wipe off the dust and clear away all the cobwebs.

I wasn't really busy with anything over the past month. In fact I was rather 'inactive' if not for the usual household chores that kept me 'moving'. I could only blame it on the weather. Thanks to the poor design and layout of my house, I feel like I am living in a sauna :'( The heat and high humidity makes me feel so sluggish that I have no mood to do any baking. All I want is to go somewhere cold to hibernate than to sweat it out in the kitchen.

I can stop all baking activities but cooking is something I cannot avoid. I have never liked cooking since my cooking skills remains the same, that is, I am forever a novice. I am so tempted to eat out or opt for takeaways everyday, but, my conscience has prevented me from doing so. Nothing beats home cooked meals, even if it is something as simple as roast chicken.

I have been following this recipe whenever my boys craved for a roast chicken. Lately I got lazy, and relied on a new recipe which is so much easier and simple to prepare. Most importantly, the recipe always yields a crispy skinned roast chicken.

The key to the crunchy crisp skin is this secret ingredients...corn starch. What a valuable lesson I have learned from the Living Magazine! This is such a simple roast chicken that anyone can prepare. All you need to do is to wash and clean the whole chicken (believe it or not, this is a task that I took a while to pick up the courage to do!), pat it real dry, inside out, and rub some butter all over the skin, including under the skin. Butter will help the chicken to brown evenly. The next thing is to rub a combination of salt, pepper and corn starch all over the chicken, including the cavity and of course under the skin to add flavour to the meat. I like to add in some dried mixed herbs as I love the smell of the herbs when the chicken is roasting. It is perfectly all right to leave it out or you could do with some fresh rosemary (finely chopped). I don't truss the chicken as I don't know how to do it, plus, I think it is not an absolute must. The last step is to place it in a roasting pan (preferably one that comes with a rack, to encourage even browning) and leave it to the oven to the finish the job as it is not necessary to baste the chicken. In about an hour's time, you will be rewarded with a golden crispy chicken, not forgetting the inviting aroma of the roast chicken...I feel so proud for myself as I am very certain my neighbours could smell it and would probably think their neighbour must be a good cook!

I would usually baked some potatoes together with the chicken, but this time, I left them out, and served the chicken with some salad instead. I have also served the chicken with tortilla wraps, making it an interesting meal for my kids.

Besides the crispy skin, the meat is tender and juicy, even the chicken breast tastes good, soft and moist. This is mainly due to the ingredients used. The salt and corn starch will lock in the moisture as the chicken roasts. It is certainly a no-frills, no-fail and yet delicious meal that I would go back again and again. I am not so concerned about the fat, as most of the fat from the chicken melts and drips away during roasting. I am always amazed by the amount of oil that is collected in the roasting pan. It makes me think that a roast chicken is a much healthier choice than deep fried ones. Of course, the pan juice is best used to make a flavourful sauce out of it, but I have given up on it as I was too zealous trying to spoon off every single drop of fat that I was left with not much of juice to work with, lolz. 

I hope this post has help wiped off some dust, and I believe I will be back soon, and hopefully it will be something to do with baking.

Crisp-skinned Roast Chicken

1 medium-size chicken
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly grounded black pepper
1 teaspoon corn starch (also known as corn flour)
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs (optional)
1 knob (about 1 tbs) unsalted butter, soften at room temperature


Combine salt, pepper, corn flour, mixed herbs (if using), set aside.

Wash, clean and pat the chicken dry (very dry) with paper towels all over, including the cavity. Rub the butter all over the chicken.  With fingertips, gently separate the skin from the meat of the chicken breast and rub some butter under the skin. Rub the seasoning mixture over the chicken and inside the cavity, and push some seasoning mixture under the skin.

Tuck the wings underneath the chicken and place it breast side up, on a roasting pan (preferably with a rack). Cook in preheated oven at 230 degC for around 10-15 mins then turn down to 200degC for around 40-45 minutes or until the skin is nicely browned. To test whether the chicken is done, pierce the tip of a knife near the joint between the drumstick and the thigh. The juices should run clear (not pink), if it is still pink, cook the chicken a little longer. Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before serving. This allows the juices to settle and redistribute and the chicken will be much more succulent.

Recipe source: adapted from Living Magazine