Thursday, December 29, 2011

Travel Turkey

Start from Istanbul, counter-clockwise to Canakkale, down to Antalya, up to Cappadocia and back to Istanbul

Singaporeans love to travel and December is the travel peak period.  After our free and easy trips for the last two Decembers, this year, we booked a packaged tour to Turkey during the NATAS fair.  

My strategy for booking at NATAS:  Do homework, stay focus and be early.

It is important to make a decision for the holiday destination.  Prior to the fair, flip through the papers for travel advertisements and do a quick read up on the travel destination.  This will gives a rough idea of the price and the itinerary.  If you go to NATAS with a "any-place-will-do" thinking, you are likely to waste time "ding-donging" from one booth to another.

Stay focus!  If you have been to a NATAS fair, you  know just how crowded it can be and so many brochures to look at .... Headache!  I usually focus on three travel agents, get their quotes/airlines/travel dates before making a decision. While we will try to get the best travel deal, price is not the deciding factor, since too low a price will either means sub-standard accommodation/food or lots of pushy sales at the destination.

Be early.  Oh yes, even parking at the Expo is tricky if you are late.  We waited at the queue for about 30 minutes before opening (not too bad ^_^) and for about another 15 minutes to get the tickets to the fair.  Travel agents usually throw in freebies for early birds - discounts, free optional tours etc, to attract enough people to form travel group(s) in the shortest time.  These freebies can be substantial.   For my trip to Turkey, it translated to a savings of US$220 per pax!  

1) Division of labour:  Where possible, queue at different counters to collect your free bags, luggage, lucky draws to cut down on queuing time.

2) Check the best credit card(s) deal for payment.  By the way, you can call your credit card company to extend your credit limit on a one-time basis.  

Here are some beautiful pictures taken during our trip:

Topkapi Palace Museum

Ruins at ancient Pergamon (current Bergama)

Trojan Horse

Ancient marble city - Ephesus

Spectacular cascading terraces of limestone deposits at Pamukkale

Aspendos Theatre -  the best preserved Roman theatre in Turkey

Beautiful sights at Cappadocia

One of the highlights of the trip - hot air balloon ride

Beautiful sunset in Istanbul

Except for the map of Turkey, these beautiful pictures were all taken by my hubby during our trip, and without any photo editing or touch up.  I think he is really good.  Thanks dear, for capturing all these beautiful and memorable moments ....^_^

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's a Butterfly!

A colourful butterfly for you

Cake Decorating Lesson 4: Cut-Out Cakes

What is a cut-out cake? Bake a cake using basic pan shapes like round or square, then you cut the cake to shape it into any alphabets, numbers, animals, insects or designs that you like.  For example, you can have a letter "A" for Amy, "B" for Betty or "C" for Carol.  Or if your little princess is celebrating her 5th birthday, you can cut and design a number "5" cake for her.  Such customised cakes are usually quite expensive, but if you prepare it at home, it only costs a tiny fraction of the price!  And, cut-out cakes are not that difficult to make once you know the trick!

The things to consider when preparing a cut-out cake are:
1) Keep cut-out to a minimum to avoid cake wastage (well of course, you can always munch on the cut-out pieces or even combine the small pieces for making cake pops).
2) Do not trim the cake surface area too small, or it will be difficult to add designs on it.

Planning and Preparation at home ...

I have no special birthday celebrations at the moment, so I thought of making a butterfly cake.  I saw a simple method at Betty Crocker by using a round cake pan.  I modified the method slightly as shown below:

How to cut and assemble the butterfly cake

After the cake pieces are assembled, trim the edges to make them look curved.  For ease of trimming, place a piece of cut-out baking paper (i.e. the pattern paper) on the cake to help in getting the right shape.  You can also draft your design on the baking paper.  

Next, how to transfer the draft design onto the cake?  One way is to use chocolate transfer method (as in Lesson 3).  But you need to freeze the cake to harden the surface cream, so that the chocolate will stick nicely onto the cake.  Another possible way is to use a toothpick or skewer to mark the outline of the design before piping in the cream.  This is a more difficult method than chocolate transfer, but you do not have wait to freeze the cake.  I thought of using tinted piping gel to trace the outline onto the cake, but was advised that it is not workable.  I thought I saw this method in the Wilton Decorating book???  Never mind, will try this piping gel method at home.

I do not have the time to freeze the cake during lesson time.  No choice, but to free hand draw the design onto the creamed cake using toothpick, then pipe in the cream using a star nozzle. 

A strawberry yogurt cake

This time, I did not prepare any special filling for spreading between layers of sponge.  I guess you can do so, before cutting and assembling the cake.  Instead of baking a basic plain sponge, I added some strawberry yogurt drink to replace part of the melted butter and also added 1/2 tsp strawberry flavour.  The cake turns out soft and flavourful, even without any filling.

As I was writing this post, I saw this site with lots of creative ways to make cut-out cakes.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Congrats ... You've Survived Preschool!

Congratulations Class 2011

During my times, kindergarten means one to two years of preschool education at PAP foundation.  Life is simple and straight-forward.  Most of us are born at Kandang Kerbau Hospital (more commonly known as KK hospital), fed with S26 infant milk powder and attended PAP kindergarten.  I still remember my sky-blue uniform with a little mock red tie.  The proudest moment of my kindergarten must be when I graduated at the top of my cohort.  Oops... sorry mum, I was never first thereafter and so lucky not to be at the bottom last ^_^   Anyway, I survived my years of school education, never failed any examinations (so-called "no red marks" in my report book) and my mum did not have to meet my teachers or the Principal (last time, there was no "parent-teacher conference", meet teacher means you have done something wrong in school!).  

Now, my little gal has graduated from her preschool.  Compared to my time, hers would be considered a premium kindergarten.  Teachers are all well-trained, good facilities, all-rounded education with enrichment activities like phonics, han-yu-pin-yin, drama,  music, ballet classes etc.  As expected, my little gal loves her school and looks forward to school everyday.  Hopefully, she will be equally enthusiastic and motivated when she starts her primary school next year.  

Making of owl cupcakes and graduation cake

For her preschool farewell party, I prepared an owl graduation cake with little owl cupcakes for her teachers and friends.  I tried these little owl cupcakes previously over here.  This time, I used walnut butter cake as the cake base, covered the top with fondant and decorated with Oreo cookies, royal icing and M&M.  

While there are extra steps for making this walnut butter cake, it gives very soft and fragrant cake.  I will certainly bake this again, as a whole cake, for the coming Chinese New Year.

Recipe for Walnut Butter Cake
(makes 10" square cake)

8 egg yolks
100g demarara sugar*
50g molasses sugar*
* or replaced with 100g fine sugar

450g butter
200g demarara sugar (or use 150g fine sugar)
170g Nestle cream (I used 100g evaporated milk)
2 tsp rum flavour (or use vanilla or coffee flavour)
400g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
200g walnut, toasted at 160C for 10 minutes & chopped
200g chocolate chips

8 egg whites
100g fine sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

1) Whisk ingredients (A) for about 3 minutes till creamy with flowy consistency.  Set aside.

2) Cream butter and sugar at (B) till pale and fluffy (butter and sugar must be well-creamed at this stage, takes about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on mixer).   

3) Add in the egg yolk mixture from step 1, Nestle cream and rum flavour.  Cream for another 2 to 3 minutes to combine.

4) Add in the remaining ingredients at (B) and mix well to combine.  Set aside.

5) Whisk ingredients (C) till stiff.  Fold meringue into butter mixture from step 4 in a few batches till well-combined.  Pour batter into greased and lined baking pan.

6) Bake in preheated oven at 160C for about 50 to 55 minutes.  Test with skewer (reduced time for cupcakes, about 35 to 40 minutes).

[Recipe source: Richard Goh's baking class]

A triple-chocolate graduation cake

The main cake is a 10" triple-chocolate cake:  Chocolate-layered sponge, sandwiched with Nutella butter cream, frosted with plain butter cream and surrounded with Kit-Kat chocolate bars.  The owl and congrats message are made from marshmallow fondant.  

Congrats again to all my little friends.  Wishing each of you a smooth transition to Primary One and an enriching school life ahead!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A little birdie says ... "Love is in the Air"

My #3 cake for cake decorating class - Blueberry Fresh Cream Cake

Cake Decorating Lesson 3: Cartoon Drawing by Chocolate Transfer

Lesson 3 is a test of our artistic flair.  Choose your favorite drawing or cartoon design, pipe the design using melted chocolate and transfer the design onto the cake.  Sounds easy?  Ho.... I soon realised that it was not so easy to pipe melted chocolate without your hands shaking away....  And yes, do make sure that the cream on the cake has indeed hardened before transferring your chocolate design onto the cake......... else, there will be "pot-holes" on your cake!

Planning and Preparation at home ...

I wanted a design that is unique, simple enough to execute and presentable.  Finding a simple and unique design is tricky.... I avoided all popular cartoon characters as I foresee there will be many such designs in class.  Since lesson 3 is about arts and drawing, I "borrowed" an idea from scrap-booking design.  Instead of playing with design layouts and embellishments on scrapbook papers, I will have them on a cake!  As for presentation, I decided to use a combination of pastel colours - blue, pink and green.  For a touch of romance, I added a wavy border (i.e. using finger sponge), a few jumbo hearts sprinkles and a soft pink ribbon to tie around the finger sponge.

Making blueberry jam for the cake filling

I love to buy fresh blueberries whenever they are on sale and use any leftover for making blueberry jam.  You can spread the blueberry jam on toast, scones, pancakes or use the jam as filling for cakes, muffins, or even add to your favorite milk shake.  100% blueberries with no preservatives or food colouring.  For this 10" square cake, I needed two punnets of fresh blueberries (about 250g) for making the jam filling.

Ingredients for 10" square cake

To make the sponge cake:
1.5 times of basic sponge cake recipe (i.e. 6 eggs, 125g flour, 125g sugar, 125g butter/oil*)
*I used a combination of 50g melted butter, 50g oil and 25g milk for the liquid portion

To make blueberry jam:
250g fresh blueberries, juice from 1/2 lemon, 1 to 2 tbsp water, sugar to taste

1) Place the blueberries and lemon juice in a pot and cook over medium heat.  Stir frequently to prevent burning.
2) Once the blueberries turn soft and start breaking down, add in sugar and continue to stir.  Add 1 to 2 tbsp water (if too dry).  
3) The jam filling is done when the mixture thickens (Note: The jam will further thicken when cools completely).  Cooking takes about 8 to 10 minutes.  
4) Let the jam cools completely before spreading on the cake.

Adding a "border" to my little birdie drawing with home-made finger sponge!

To make finger sponge 
A: 3 egg yolks + 40g fine sugar
B: 3 egg whites + 40g fine sugar + 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
C: 90g plain flour, sifted

1) Whisk (A) till thick and creamy.
2) Whisk (B) till stiff.
3) Fold (A) and (B) together, then fold in (C) to combine all.
4) Pour batter into piping bag and pipe strips of batter on baking paper.
5) Bake in preheated oven at 175C for about 10 minutes or till golden brown.

To assemble the cake:

1) Cut the sponge cake into 3 even layers.
2) Place the first layer sponge, spread a thin layer of fresh whipped cream, pipe or spread blueberry jam on the cream, and follow with another thin layer of fresh cream.  Repeat steps with another layer of sponge, cream, jam, cream and finally place the last layer of sponge on top.
3) Cover the whole cake with fresh whipped cream.  Chill the cake in freezer till cream hardens (about an hour).
4) Place a piece of baking paper over chosen design.  Pipe melted coating chocolate to trace the design on the baking paper.  Place the design in fridge for about 2 minutes (so that the design is not runny when you flip it onto the cake).
5) Flip the chocolate design onto the cake surface.  Gently rub the design to transfer the drawing onto the cake.
6) Pipe tinted piping gel or cream to fill in the drawing.
7) Place finger sponge around the cake and secure with a ribbon.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chicken Soup with Stuffed Glutinous Rice & Ginseng

An-yong-ha-se-yo! (Korean's greeting for hello).  Does this chicken soup reminds you of the Korean Ginseng Chicken Soup?  This is Fong's version, as I did not use Korean ginseng to prepare this.  Instead, I used the mild American ginseng (花旗参).  And unlike the Koreans who love to consume this soup in the hot summer period, I prefer to pamper myself to this hot piping soup during the year end chilling months.  

Stuffed chicken

To prepare this soup, you will need:
  • 1 young chicken (slightly below 1 kg)
  • 1/2 cup glutinous rice, soaked for about 2 hours
  • 7 to 8 red dates, remove the core
  • 5 to 6 cloves garlic, keep it whole (or use as little or many as you like)
  • A big handful of dried lotus seeds
  • Few slices American ginseng
  • Spring onion for garnish

1) Wash the chicken and trim away any visible fats.  I prefer to keep the chicken skin on (better flavour to the soup and keeps the meat moist) and skim the fats time to time during cooking.

2) Drain the glutinous rice and season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Add the red dates, garlic, ginseng and some of the lotus seeds (see note below) with the rice.

3) Stuff the chicken with the glutinous rice filling.  Stuff a few lotus seeds or red dates at the opening to keep the glutinous rice in the chicken.  Use 2 to 3 toothpicks to seal the opening.  Place the chicken and the remaining lotus seeds/ginseng/red dates in a deep pot or casserole dish (see picture above).

4) Prepare some boiling hot water.  Pour the hot water into the casserole to cover the chicken.  Bring it to a boil and reduce to medium heat.  Let it cook for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Turn to low heat and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Season with salt to taste.

5) Garnish with spring onion and serve hot.

Notes on lotus seeds:
We soak the glutinous rice to speed up cooking.  However, the same does not seem to work for lotus seeds.  Remember to rinse the lotus seeds with HOT WATER, briefly soak in hot water for a few minutes to slightly soften, so that you can split open the seeds to remove the inner bitter germ - 莲子心。  You can keep it if you like as the germ is believe to relieve body heatiness. 

Do not wash or soak the lotus seeds in cold water, as the lotus seeds will harden up and do not soften easily during cooking.  This is not an old wives' tale, as I made this mistake in the chicken soup.  I happily soaked the lotus seeds in hot water and leave them for a few hours (totally forgotten about it).  The lotus seeds remain hard after cooking. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Or-Nee You ... Yam Mousse Cake

Yam Mousse Cake with pink rosettes

I'm quite into roses recently.  After my recent rose basket, now I have these pink roses "Or-Nee for You" (read: Only for You).  Or-Nee is a Teochew yam paste dessert.  While I never really like Or Nee (I find it too sweet and thick to swallow), I was surprised how delicious the yam mousse tastes when I first tried the yam mousse cake at my baking class. The yam mousse filling in the cake is not too sweet, it tastes much lighter than yam paste (with the addition of whipped cream ^_^) and has a nice coconut milk fragrance. 

For the cake sponge, I used my usual "4-1-1-1" combination for an 8 inch round pan.  After baking, let the cake cool completely and slice into three or four even layers.  Divide and spread yam mousse filling (see below) equally between layers of sponge.  Spread a thin layer of fresh whipped cream all over the whole cake (crumb coat) and place the cake in fridge to set for about 30 minutes.  Decorate the cake as desired and put it back into the fridge for another 30 minutes to an hour before serving (for our hot weather).

Making yam mousse filling

This cake is a birthday present for a lady friend, so I filled the top with pink rosettes (pipe with Wilton 1M tip).  Compared to the royal icing roses that I made for the rose basket cake, these rosettes are definitely much easier to pipe.  I practised piping a few rosettes on paper before piping them on the cake.  Try to pipe the rosettes as close as possible to minimise the gaps in between.  After piping the rosettes, fill the small gaps with swirls using the same 1M tip.  Arrange for odd number of roses in the centre, like 1 or 3.  Somehow, odd numbers is more visually pleasing than even numbers.

To complete the "rose" look, I covered the plain cake box with a rose-designed wrapping paper (if only cake box comes in a variety of colours and patterns ....) and finished with a purple ribbon and tag (same colour as the yam mousse filling).  By the way, I did not specially buy the wrapping paper, ribbon or tag.  They are ready-stock in my room.  I love to shop around for scrap-booking papers and accessories.  Beside cooking and baking, this is the area where I "waste" (败家) my $$$ on.

A birthday surprise for somebody .....

Ingredients for Yam Mousse Filling
300g yam (weigh after peeling) + few pieces of pandan leaves
50g sugar
2 egg yolks
150g coconut milk
Few drops of violet food colouring (optional)
100g fresh cream, whipped till stiff (I whipped 250g and use the remaining for decoration)
200g dairy cream (cold) + 20g fine sugar
1 tsp gelatin powder + 2 tbsp water (melt and set aside)

1) Cut the yam into thin slices and steam till soft with a few pieces of pandan leaves.
2) Discard the pandan leaves and mash the yam while it is hot.  Stir in sugar, egg yolks and coconut milk. 
3) Cook the yam mixture in a non-stick pan over low heat till thick.  Set the yam paste aside to cool.  
4) Place a mixing bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes.  Get ready some ice cubes or ice water.  Pour the dairy cream and sugar in the cold mixing bowl (placed the bowl over a bigger bowl filled with ice cubes/water) and whisk the cream till soft peak.  Pour in the cool gelatin mixture and continue to whisk till stiff.  Do not over-whisk or the cream will curdle.  Keep the diary whipped cream in fridge.    
5) Mix 100g of fresh whipped cream and food colouring into the cooled yam paste.  Mix well.
6) Gently fold in the dairy whipped cream.  
7) Assemble the cake with the yam mousse filling

1) If use all fresh whipped cream for the mousse filling, use about 150g fresh cream.
2) If use all diary whipped cream for the mousse filling, you may want to try 350g dairy cream with 40g sugar and increase to 2 tsp gelatin powder with about 3 to 4 tbsp water.  Increase the sugar used in the yam paste to about 70g (fresh cream has sugar in it while dairy cream is plain without sugar).

[Recipe: Mainly adapted from Richard Goh]

Friday, November 18, 2011

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Curd

I was looking around my kitchen to see what to prepare for next day's breakfast.  I had some fresh blueberries.  Shall it be blueberries muffins, blueberries cupcakes or blueberries pancakes?  Finally, I decided it will be blueberry scones, for I have not baked scones since March this year.   And since I still have some lemon curd in the fridge, it will be nice to have it with the scones.

(makes 8 scones)

250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
70g butter (for unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt), cut into small pieces
2 tbsp fine sugar
60g fresh blueberries 
100ml milk + 1 tbsp (if the dough is too dry)

1) Combine flour and baking powder.  Rub butter into flour till it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2) Add in the sugar and fresh blueberries.
3) Pour in the milk to combine all the ingredients together to form a dough.
4) Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.  Use your hand to shape the dough to a flat round circle, with about 1" thick.
5) Cut into 8 triangular portions and place the scones on baking tray lined with baking paper.
6) Brush the top with milk and bake in preheated oven of 220C for about 15 minutes or till light golden brown on top.
7) Serve warm with your favorite spread.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chicken Wine Soup

With the year end Northeast Monsoon season, the weather is getting very nice and cooling.  This is the time of the year where I think my electricity bill is at its lowest.  The wind is so strong that I need to shut most of my windows (else my house will be in a horrible mess), so there's no need to switch on fans or air-con.  

With the cool weather, this dish came to my mind.  Chicken wine soup is actually a confinement dish, but I have cut down on the amount of ginger, sesame oil and wine in this soup.


2 chicken thighs, drums and wings (or any chicken parts that you prefer)
Small piece of wood fungus (木耳), soaked and shredded (I used cloud fungus - 云耳 instead)
3 slices ginger, shredded
1/4 cup rice wine (I used cognac)

1) Chop up the chicken to bite-sized pieces and briefly marinate with a pinch of salt and pepper.

2) Heat up a little oil and about 1/2 tbsp sesame oil in wok over moderate-high heat.  Stir fry the shredded ginger till fragrant, then add in the chicken.  Stir fry till fragrant, add in the wood fungus (or cloud fungus) and sufficient water (depends on how much soup you prefer and how thick you like the soup to be).

3) Bring the soup to boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Add salt to taste.

4) Pour in the rice wine and remove from heat immediately.  Serve with plain rice.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rose Basket Lemon Cake

I love the vibrant colours of these roses!

Cake Decorating Lesson 2: Basket Weaving
As in lesson 1, we need to bake basic sponge cake at home and bring to class for decoration.  This time, we need two cakes, so that when the cakes are stacked together, it makes a nice tall basket.  In addition, we need to prepare either fruits, flowers or anything that we want to arrange on our "basket".  

The planning stage at home ...
Since I had used strawberries in my first lesson - a Green Tea Strawberry Cake, I like to have something different.  I thought of using some other fruits like kiwi fruit, star fruit, mango, grapes, blueberries (use a stick to thread 3 to 5 together ... should be pretty) or perhaps pineapple rings cut into flower shape by using a flower cookie cutter, or maybe add some chocolate-dipped marshmallows in a stick.  Lots of ideas were running in my mind, as I think through, surf online for inspirations, and keep thinking ....

Eventually, I decided on roses ...
A few days before my class, I saw this beautiful rose basket... I know this is exactly what I want.  It does not matter that I have never done any rose piping before.  I will just learn.  It's a good opportunity to push myself to learn and do something.  Of course, it helps that I had this Wilton Lesson Plan:  Flowers and Cake Design sitting in my study (for a year).  So, I carefully read through the steps and started practising .... 

A bouquet of roses!

My hard work and my aching hands ...
These roses can be piped using stiff butter cream, fresh cream or royal icing.  Since I will not have enough time to pipe the roses during lesson time, after the basket weaving, I prepared the roses in advance.  Royal icing roses seems to be a better choice since they keep well and stay in shape.  

To pipe these roses, you will need a flower nail and piping bag with tip 104 (I used 103).  Hold the flower nail in one hand and the piping bag in the other hand.  As you squeeze the piping bag to release the icing, you need to turn the flower nail.  

My first few roses were flat and ugly (aiyah... I should have taken a photo of them ...).  I thought I have read every single words on the step by step..... never mind, read again.  Ok, icing is still not stiff enough.  More importantly, I did not move my tip "up and down".  It is not as simple as to just squeeze the bag.  You need to control your strength, the angle of the piping bag & tip, PLUS move the tip "Up and Down" while you turn the flower nail.  After hours of piping and many roses .... my hands were aching badly.... really painful.

By the way, you need to prepare these roses a few days in advance (better still, make them one week in advance) as you need to wait for them to dry completely.  Detailed step-by-step over here.

Roses... Roses... I love you

Preparation of sponge cake and lemon curd
I used my current favorite "4-1-1-1" formula for sponge (4 eggs, 100g flour, 100g sugar, 100g melted butter), but adjusted to 3 eggs recipe, plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest per cake (8" cake).  This formula gives consistent soft and light sponge.  

Lemon curd filling:
2 egg yolks
100g sugar
Juice and zest from 1 lemon (about 60g lemon juice)
1 tbsp butter

1) Combine egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice in a bowl and set over a pot of simmering water.  Stir frequently and cook till thicken (about 5 to 8 minutes).

2) Remove from heat, whisk in butter.  Place the bowl in a bigger bowl filled with tap water.  Continue to whisk till the lemon curd cools completely.

3) Cover with cling wrap (touching the surface of lemon curd) and keep in fridge.  Alternatively, I pour the lemon curd into a piping bag and store in fridge.  During lesson, I just need to pipe the filling between layers of sponge and cream (no mess!).

A basket of red and pink roses

I'm very glad that I took up the challenge to attempt this rose basket cake.  This marks my first rose piping and first basket weaving.  It's the same feeling all over again when I did my first princess barbie doll cake.  Very tedious, lots of hard work n preparation and reading up to do, except that it was not so stressful this time round.  In fact, I enjoy piping these roses.  The more I pipe, the more motivated I was to continue piping them, even though my hands were really aching.  Ha.. the power of our mind, determination, and .....

The tangy lemon curd blends in perfectly with the soft sponge and cream

And the POWER OF LOVE, for I make this cake with a person in my mind.  Happy Birthday, Mum!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Osmanthus and Honey Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Mummy... there are bees on my cupcakes!

BuZZ ...... BuZZ .....  have you joined in the fun for this month's Aspiring Bakers #13: "Enjoy Cupcakes"?  Still thinking of what cupcakes to bake?  No worries... you have up till end of November to bake, post your cupcakes and submit your entry to Min.  More details over here.  

Honey bees joining in the fun of this month's Aspiring Bakers #13: Enjoy Cupcakes (November 2011)

These bees cupcakes were inspired by the creations at Kraze Kitch Bakeshop.  I have thought of using Hershey's kisses or fondant to replicate these honey bees.  In the end, I used another method - similar to making cake pops, or in this case.... BEES POP (cos I wanted to make use of the leftover biscuits crumbs).

Similarly, there are several ways to make the honeycomb.  I suggest to use fondant as it is the easiest and gives the best results in terms of presentation.  Alternatively, you can bake some cookies in honeycomb shape and dust them with yellow crystal sugar.  I thought of a third method - waffle biscuits cut into trapezium shapes, glue them together using candy melts and sprinkle over with yellow crystal sugar.  This method is rather tedious, so if I were to make these again..... I think I will go for the fondant, though taste-wise, the waffle or the biscuit method should yield better results.

Steps in making honey bees and combs

Make honey combs from waffle biscuits

You will need: 
Waffles biscuits
Melted yellow candy melts or melted chocolate
Yellow crystal sugar

1) Split each waffle biscuit into half (to get thinner waffles) and cut the waffles into equal-length trapeziums (with angle of 60 degree at the wider length)
2) Glue six trapeziums together with melted candy melts/chocolate to form a honeycomb shape.
3) Spread some melted candy over the waffles and dust over with yellow crystal sugar.
4) Leave to dry completely.

Notes:  Check out Anncoo Journal on how to make coloured sugar at home ...... really cool!

Make honey bees from biscuits & cake crumbs

You will need: 
Cake crumbs and/or biscuit crumbs (I used a little cake crumbs and leftover waffles from above)
Melted chocolate (sufficient to mix with crumbs to form a dough)
Melted yellow candy melts
A little coating chocolate (melted)
Some almond flakes (for the bees wings)

1) Crush cake/biscuits into fine crumbs.
2) Add in sufficient melted chocolate to form a dough.  Place in fridge for about 30 minutes to slightly harden the dough for easy handling.
3) Take about 1 tsp dough and roll into a teardrop shape.  Put back into the fridge for 30 minutes.
4) Dip the shaped dough into melted candy and place on lined baking tray to set.
5) Pipe the eyes, a smiley face and lines on body with melted coating chocolates.
6) Stick two almond flakes on the bees.
7) Place in fridge to set till ready to use.

1) I find that the candy melts is not really user-friendly.  It does not melt to a thin consistency for easy dipping, so you will find that the bees do not have a smooth surface.  I checked online and found that some added a little paraffin to the candy melts to achieve a nice smooth consistency.  I added about 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of Criso shortening to the melted candy, else dipping is basically impossible.  

2) Alternatively, melting and dipping in coating chocolate is much easier to handle.  So, at step 4 above, dip the bee dough into melted coating chocolate, set and then pipe yellow candy melts or butter cream on the body.

3) Sigh... after all these trial and errors, I think I should have just buy a packet of Hershey's kisses or use some fondant to make the bees!  But I must say these bees taste really good and fondant will not achieve the same good taste.  

Spongy cupcakes with honey cream cheese frosting

Make Osmanthus Sponge Cupcakes
(makes about 9 cupcakes)

2 eggs
50g fine sugar
50g plain flour, sifted
50g melted butter
Pinch of dried osmanthus flowers

1) Whisk eggs and sugar (add a tiny pinch of salt) at high speed for 5 to 6 minutes till stiff.
2) Fold in sifted flour and the dried osmanthus flowers.  Fold in melted butter till batter is shiny.
3) Pour into lined cupcake trays or cupcake liners and bake in preheated oven of 160C for about 15 to 20 minutes (test with skewer).
4) Remove from oven and leave to cool completely.

Make honey cream cheese frosting

30g butter, thaw at room temperature
60g cream cheese
1 tbsp honey
A small pinch of dried osmanthus flowers

Method: Cream all the ingredients together till smooth.

I am submitting this to Aspiring Bakers #13: Enjoy Cupcakes (November 2011), hosted by Min of Min's Blog.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Green Tea Strawberry Cake

I started my cake decorating class recently and this is my first piece of "homework".  The first lesson requires us to bake a basic sponge cake at home and bring the cake to class for creaming and decoration.  In the class, we need to slice our sponge cake into two or three layers and fill the layers with whipped cream.  We also learnt how to crumb coat the cake and thereafter apply cream on cake and smooth the surface.  

I consider myself a beginner to cake decoration, as I have not attended any other cake decorating classes before, other than the 2-tier fondant cake workshop early this year.  In any case, the skills and technique required for fondant cake is rather different from cake creaming.   For instance, when we apply cream on the cake, the way we hold the spatula, the angle and our movement will affect how the cream is applied on the cake.  I used to spend an hour just to smooth out the cream... but to find that the more my spatula touches the cake and cream, the messier and uglier my cake has become.  In fact, trying to slice the whole cake into three equal slices is not an easy task to begin with!  

After my successful attempt with the Green Tea Strawberry Swiss Roll, I decided to use this green tea + strawberry combi for my first lesson.  I love the colour contrast of the green-layered sponge against the bright red strawberries.  For the sponge, I used this wonderful and easy to remember "4-1-1-1" formula, plus 5g of baking green tea powder, added to the sifted flour:

Basic sponge cake:
(makes one 8" round cake or two 6" round cakes)

4 eggs
100g fine or caster sugar
100g plain flour or top flour, sifted
100g melted butter or corn oil*
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla essence (or other flavor) - optional

* I used a combination of 50ml melted butter with 25ml corn oil and 25ml milk.

1) Whisk eggs, sugar and a pinch of salt at maximum speed till stiff (mixture does not drop easily when mixer is held up).
2) Fold in sifted flour and melted butter/oil till batter is shiny.
3) Pour batter into greased and lined baking pan.
4) Bake in preheated oven at 160C for about 45 minutes (test with a skewer).
5) Remove cake from baking pan, peel off baking paper and leave the cake to cool completely.

[Recipe:  Richard Goh's baking classes]

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who wants Ice Cream?

Lemon Meringue Cupcake in a cone

These ice cream melts in your mouth, but not in your hands.  You can place them outside the fridge for hours and they will stay in shape.  Simply cos'... these are not real ice cream.

Last month, I bought some ice cream waffle cones, with the intention of making a castle cake for children's day.  But, that did not happen as I ended up making some chocolate cake pops and desserts instead.  With these ice cream cones in my kitchen cabinet, an idea came to my mind - ice cream cupcakes!  

Cut off the bottom tip with a serrated knife

One obvious problem of using these pointed-end waffle cone is they cannot be placed upright without some form of support at the base.  So if you intend to make ice cream cupcakes at home, buy those flat-based waffle cones instead.  Anyway, I just wanted to clear these waffles cones from my pantry (rather than to buy another packet of waffle cones), so I just cut off the bottom with a serrated knife to create a flat base and insert a small piece of Oreo cookie into the cone to prevent the cake batter from leaking,

(makes about 12 ice-cream cupcakes)

Ice cream cones (use the flat-based cones)

Sponge cake
2 eggs
50g sugar
Tiny pinch of salt
50g plain flour, sifted
50g melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla essence or lemon essence

1) Whisk eggs, sugar and salt at high speed for about 5 to 6 minutes till stiff.
2) Fold in sifted flour and add in melted butter.  Fold well till batter is shiny.
3) Pour into ice cream cones, almost touching the top.
4) Bake in preheated oven of 160C for about 15 to 20 minutes (test with a skewer).
5) Remove ice cream cones and poke a hole at the bottom with a knife to release moisture.  Set aside to cool.
6) Use a small knife and cut a small hole in the sponge cake.  Fill in with the lemon curd filling.  Pipe meringue frosting on top.  Grill in preheated oven of 200C (top-heat only) to lightly brown the meringue for about 30 seconds (or use a kitchen torch for better results).

Keep the ice cream cone steady with aluminium foil and a small cupcake liner

Lemon curd filling
2 egg yolks
100g sugar
Juice and zest from 1 lemon (about 60ml lemon juice)
1 tbsp butter

1) Mix all ingredients except butter in a bowl and cook over a pot of simmering water till filling thickens (takes about 5 to 8 minutes.  Need to stir frequently).
2) Remove from heat and stir in butter.  Set aside to cool.

Meringue topping
100g sugar + 1 tbsp sugar
45g water
2 egg whites

1) Combine 100g sugar and water in a pot and bring to boil on medium heat (do not stir the sugar at all).
2) When the syrup starts to boil, start to whisk the egg whites till foamy.  Add in 1 tbsp sugar and continue to whisk (meanwhile, continue to boil the syrup till thick).
3) When the syrup becomes thick (test with the back of a metal spoon, it should coat the spoon and only drips a little), pour the syrup into the meringue and continue to whisk till cool.
4) Fill the meringue into a piping bag for easy piping on the cone.

Cross-section of the lemon meringue cupcake

These are basically fun or novelty cupcakes to make with kids or for kids' parties.  My girl was very thrilled when she saw these "ice cream" and said they were very yummy. But for adults, baking these cupcakes in normal cupcake liners still works better, as the waffle will turn soggy after a short while.

I will be submitting this post to Aspiring Bakers #13: Enjoy cupcakes! (November 2011), hosted by Min of Min's blog.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Oxtail Stew

Preparation is similar to my earlier post over here, except that I have added more vegetables in this stew and about 3/4 cup canned tomato puree in the sauce (hence the orange colour in the stew).  As oxtail takes a long while to simmer, I stir-fry the ingredients in the wok, bring to boil, simmer for half an hour and then transfer the contents to an electric slow-cooker and leave it to cook till tender.  So, I started to prepare this dish before noon, transfer to slow-cooker and come home in the evening with a piping hot dish.

I have prepared more gravy for this dish as I'm having it with bread (french loaf).  I also intend to use the leftover gravy for another dish(es) (my way of stretching dollar, since oxtail is quite expensive and it takes so long to cook).  So, depending on how much gravy you like in your stew, you will need to adjust the amount of seasoning sauce accordingly.

2 to 3 stalks celery
2 stalks leek
2 to 3 carrots
1 onion
1 potato
5 to 6 slices ginger
[All vegetables cut into big chunks]

Seasoning sauce
1 to 2 pieces fermented red bean curd 
1 tbsp bean paste
3/4 cup canned tomato puree
Dash of cooking wine
Sugar to taste
Soy sauce (to add later if you find the sauce is not salty enough)

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