Category Archives: Cakes & desserts

Making ginger loaf for the first time

img_0367

img_0374

Advertisements

French Lemon Yogurt Cake

img_0194

img_0197

img_0201

Beatty’s chocolate cake

Chemically speaking, chocolate really is the world’s perfect food.
~ Michael Levine

It’s been one of those weeks where things go a little crazy and your body brings something akin to OOS to the party. And all there is to do is say NO to eating toast one night, and instead roast a free range chook with lemon, herbs and potatoes till golden, crisp and juicy.

And bake a cake, even if your hands cry and tingle while you whisk on… and on… and even if you tip the cake out of the tin before it’s completely cooled and ruin its otherwise flawless bottom.

Luckily, frosting provides excellent coverage for facial imperfections of the cakey sort.

Happily, the cake has been reasonably well-received by visitors and flatmates :-) If you make it, expect a moist, easy-to-eat cake and frosting which provides an immediate sense of luxury… and don’t expect the cake to last long if you have people in your house!

    Ingredients:
    Butter for greasing the pans
    1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
    2 cups sugar
    ¾ cups good cocoa powder
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 cup buttermilk, shaken
    ½ cup vegetable oil
    2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
    Chocolate frosting:
    6 ounces good semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
    ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1¼ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
    1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180°C). Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
    Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
    Place one layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
    Chocolate frosting:
    Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
    In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
    Modifications: I used a mixture of demerara sugar and caster sugar – and just over a cup of sugar all up (and it was sweet enough for me). Skipped the parchment paper. Substituted vanilla essence with kahlua. Made it without an electric mixer – possible, but I’d go with an electric whisk if I had one!

I’m also taking the chance to enter this for this month’s Sweet New Zealand, hosted by the lovely Sue of Couscous & Consciousness.

Chocolate for change

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.
~ Andy Warhol

I don’t like white chocolate. I have never ordered anything with it in a restaurant, and I have only ever bought it as gifts for others.

I have not previously understood how white chocolate could be described as “delicious” (quelle horreur!).

I didn’t buy this block, though reading this story and seeing that there were raspberries in it made me put my hand up for a sample (thank you, Whittaker’s!)

NZ readers may have heard about it, or seen the by-product on supermarket shelves: thanks to five passionate young students and the help of a favourite confectionery manufacturer, New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation will benefit from chocolate bar sales… :-)

Around 2,600 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in NZ, which doesn’t look like a big number but is astounding if you stop to think that each of these women is someone’s mom / sister / daughter / friend / cousin / neighbour / grandma / aunt. And while there are a million causes out there begging for support, and you can’t help all of them, you can make a few different choices – like what candy you buy – and help out a little bit at a time. Buy this chocolate instead of another white chocolate bar, for instance, and you will help NZBCF with needed advocacy, research and rehab (a part of what I understand NZBCF does).

So… on to my chocolatey moment of truth. I paused for a second after tearing open the foil. I silently broke off a bit of the chocolate, and popped it into my mouth.

And, you know, I wanted to eat a few more bits. I had to shove it back into the pantry whilst I cooked so I wouldn’t give in to temptation and have too little left to cook with later.

I’ll never like it the way I like dark chocolate, but I’ll concede that this white chocolate raspberry bar smells amazing (especially while you’re chopping it up) and tastes very nice indeed all on its own. (Perhaps I’ll even buy a few more…)

I decided to make something with this though, especially after my eye fell on David Lebovitz’s recipe for white chocolate and fresh ginger ice cream. Right now, I am waiting impatiently for the ice cream to set. Every 45 minutes it emerges for a whisk, and every 45 minutes I resist the urge to eat a bowl of half-set ice cream (I tried a teaspoon of the mixture… the flavour is sooo good!).

So, reading about these five students inspired me to think, once again, about the power of one – and the power of people getting together to make a difference.

It’s easy to focus on the painful things in life – I stopped reading / watching the news regularly a few years ago, because so much of it grieved / disgusted / paralysed me. The feeling of exasperation grew after I graduated, and in the first two years after that I got a small glimpse of the staggering scale of the world’s problems. Natural disasters, life-threatening diseases, would it end? Worse, it seemed that for every person working for good in the world, there were a hundred creating all sorts of stupid messes. I questioned my own choices and decisions – it was easy to think about people not pulling their weight, but what was I doing about it? I didn’t like my own answers…

And in more prosperous parts of the world, I saw a less physically challenging but still undeniable side of darkness: soul poverty that no amount of money can even begin to touch.

Yet, I have come to accept that yes, the world’s problems are not easily solved by man (the human race seems to be better at creating messes). But there are other people who are behind a lot of good. So often, positive things have started with one person, one decision, one voice… and as long as there is just one person who will not balk at the tangle that is life and just do one right thing at a time, there is hope.

And, as you probably already know, hope makes so much difference.

On that note, happy Blog Action Day (this year’s theme: “The Power of We”).

P.S. Get your friends together and buy some chocolate, won’t you.

P.P.S. Brandy snaps pictured above were made with this recipe. Not perfected yet, but perhaps that will come with practice ;-)

[Edit]

[/Edit]

Mini apple crumble

With an apple I will astonish Paris.
~ Paul Cezanne

It was pretty in the early cooking stages; less so as it neared completion. No creative turn of my camera could make it look good; I gave up after a few tries. Certainly it did not look promising by the time I removed it, cooked, from the oven. It also clung a little heavily to the pan, meaning it did not look cohesive or inviting on the plate. Only its very delicious smell gave me the courage to serve it (gulp) to my flatmate…

So why am I posting this? Keep it real, right? There are days on which everything goes swimmingly in the kitchen, and days on which everything is ugly and your hands feel cursed. But I’m not just posting this to show I’m human…

See, once we bit into it, I decided this deserves a second try sometime in the near future (perhaps with a lightly greased pan and a higher baking temperature – incorporated below). I like having a recipe for a small dessert around (most dessert recipes always feed more!). And, more importantly, we were both surprised by its golden crunchy crumble crust (dare I say, perfect!) and tender caramelised apple filling… mmm.

    Mini apple crumble
    Recipe adapted, with a few modifications, from Sew Happy Geek
    Ingredients:
    2 apples (I used Granny Smith)
    1 tbsp caster sugar
    1/2 cup plain flour
    45g butter, cubed
    1/3 cup sugar (I used a mixture of 2 parts caster sugar, 1 part muscovado sugar – just under 1/3 cup)
    1/2 cup rolled oats
    1 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 tsp ground ginger
    2 tbsp kahlua
    Cream or ice cream, to serve (optional)
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 190°C*. Lightly grease an oven-proof baking dish.
    Peel and cube the apples, and place them in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water and a tablespoon of sugar. Cook on low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, till they soften and are partially cooked.
    Meanwhile, rub the butter cubes into the flour with your fingers till it takes on the texture and look of breadcrumbs. Add in the cinnamon, ground ginger, sugar and oats, and mix well with a whisk or fork.
    Add the apples, any liquid in the saucepan and the kahlua to the bottom of the baking dish. Stir gently before spreading the apples out in an even layer.
    Sprinkle the oat mixture evenly over the apples, then place the dish in the oven to bake for approximately 40 minutes*, or until the top is cooked/golden and it all smells delicious! Let it cool for a few minutes, then serve with cream or ice cream, if desired.
    Yields 2-3 servings.

* The original recipe says to cook it at 180°C for 20 minutes. It emerged with a way undercooked crust for me after 20 minutes, so I increased the temperature to 190°C for a further 15 minutes, then 200°C for yet a further 10 minutes. I suspect 190°C is optimum crumble-baking temperature (based on a few quick Google comparisons too), and that a crumble takes more than 20 minutes to cook. Obviously you should also factor in your oven’s size and personality!

Home

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.
~ Maya Angelou

I’m home. Or am I?

I’ve experienced the feeling of being ‘at home’ in a few places over the last month, far from my bed, bathroom, kitchen, etc… and now that I am back in my flat, I feel like a stranger. Like I’m in someone else’s home, living someone else’s life.

Know what I mean? It is great, but painful, to be home. Where everything is ‘different different but same’ (a slight twist on this).

This trip is one of the craziest and best trips I’ve ever gone on, and not just because my sweet friend Steven convinced me that it was a good idea to go with him to Universal Studios in Singapore and go on ALL the roller coasters (save the Cylon because I refuse to be flipped upside down five times in rapid succession), or because I got to spend a few days and share a donkey burger and other wonderful fare with Jane in Beijing. Enjoying perfect summery weather the whole time.

I also got to experience family on a whole new level. My aunt managed to locate Granddad’s relatives and ancestral home in a province in China last year and my uncles, aunts and grandparents arranged to visit them this year. I joined the party at the last minute, and am I glad I got the opportunity to go along! I knew it would be a special trip for Granddad since he hadn’t been back in about 80 years – and it was, but I was surprised to be so personally affected by it too.

We arrived at the airport in Jieyang to a welcome party worthy of celebrities. An entourage of people holding a giant red banner surged towards us, simultaneously talking excitedly to my granddad who was caught by surprise and slightly teary (I just gaped stupidly – it’s all I could do). His tears then began to cause my own eyes to glisten… anyway, thus began six days of getting acquainted with family I had never known about…

There were many moments when I looked around me, at all these good-looking faces I was seeing for the first time in my life, speaking a dialect I term as my third language, in a place I had never thought I would visit… feeling strangely comfortable. Thinking, “wow. This is what family is.” Everyone together, no one texting/surfing the internet/glued to some technological device… just being human, laughing, talking, sharing, being. Distinct personalities emerged, my newfound distant cousins and I found ourselves doing an informal language exchange and being silly at a window-shattering karaoke session, and I was overwhelmed (there is no other word) by it all. We drank a lot of tea (they make fabulous tea of different varieties – I got quite addicted to it); ate too much; went sightseeing; practised speaking dialect and mandarin (I’m still trying to get back into this speaking English thing). In between, I got to catch up with my uncles and aunts, and listen to Granddad tell me stories of his youth which he had never told before.

There were so many conversations, unfamiliar sights, cultural differences, etc to take in that each night I fell into bed full of wonder and unprocessed thoughts…

And now, here I am. Wondering how life will ever be the same again… and yet thoroughly thankful that life is not dull, that life continues to teach and surprise, and show me love and grace.

P.S. On the note of home… banana cake is a good remedy for homesickness. Something to do with the smell, I think. I used this recipe as a base, substituting sour cream with yoghurt, cake flour with normal, and omitting the chocolate ganache to suit what I had on hand. Oh, and I threw in a handful of chocolate buttons into the mix and baked the cake in a bundt pan, just ‘cos.

Tiny teddies and the magical words of Dr. Seuss

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
~ Dr. Seuss, Oh, the places you’ll go!

Here are members of Fran’s teddy army mounted on yummy cupcakes. They gave me a case of the giggles!

Right now, the house is drenched in the cosy scent of vanilla, chocolate and a happy oven. It’s the sort of smell which makes you think… you don’t care about the darked windows, the unmarked streets. The sort of smell which gives you courage to say to yourself, go on – how much can you win?

Oh, the places you’ll go!