Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Featherlight cheesecake


The first sight you'd see if you walked into a primary school classroom would be the interesting artworks, mounted onto brightly coloured cardboard strung up in neat rows above your head and stuck onto onto every bit of wall. There'd always be the beautiful artworks which immediately draw your attention and there'd be the simple and ordinary artworks surrounding it, quickly forgotten unless it was created by yourself or your own child. My artworks always fell into the latter category- I was never the artistic type. My drawings only ever barely resembled what I'd attempt to draw. My paintings were even worse. And I could never get my colour combinations right.

In the first two years of high school, when I did visual arts, I always got average marks. I remember the first, and only, time I ever got a full marks for a cartoon, in which I'd drawn fruits simply because they were colourful and easy to draw. I was completely perplexed as to why I'd done so well, when so many others which I'd found very impressive scored lower whilst mine consisterd of simple line drawings with circles for eyes and a line for a mouth, like this :)

As much as I found other people's artworks impressive, nothing quite compared to my amazement the day we chanced upon my friend, Steph's, artbook. She'd been in a different class and so I'd never seen any of her artwork, but when we accidently pulled her book out of the cupboard, we only needed to turn to her title page to be completely mesmerised by her artwork. We spent the remainder of the lesson slowly marvelling through her beautiful drawings and paintings. I'd never seen anything quite as amazing in real life and to this day, I'm still amazed by all her artwork- so much so that I was inspired to do something I hadn't done for ages- pick up a pencil and draw something.

Never one to learn to walk before running, I decided that while I was at it, I might as well fulfill my mother's wish of having a portrait of her drawn (a wish she's had even before I was born) so I grabbed a nice photo of her, a blank piece of paper and set about sketching her face. I picked up my pencil, slowly tracing out the shape before slowly sketching each and every little detail and actually found myself enjoying it! Before I knew it, hours had passed, the side of my hand had been coloured dark grey and I'd created my first portrait.

It was a rather amateur and childish attempt, probably describable as cute more than anything and definitely miles and miles and miles away from Steph's artwork. But still, the face was immediately recognisable, if a little dispropotioned and unlike anything I'd ever done before. And I was proud of it.

It's amazing how far a little effort can really get you!

But putting a little effort sometimes isn't quite as easy as it seems. With my cakes I always think that if I just put that teenie weenie bit more effort into decorating the cakes, they'd look a lot more presentable. But despite planning to do so, I always find I put so much too much time and effort into making sure that the cake itself tastes great, that by the time I get around to icing and 'decorating', I'll just slather the frosting on and hope for the best.

Decorating a cake prettily for me is an especially difficult task because I'm not a creative person. I can't just think of a nice way to arrange decorations on a cake and even when I'm copying a design, it never turns out quite right. But not being creative is not an excuse for anything- it means working harder to make up for it. My usual solution to any situation which requires creativity, whether it be designing something, decorating a cake or writing a creative writing piece, is to get inspiration from others. This is the reason I have a whole pile of cake shop brochures from Hong Kong which I look at whenever I'm baking a sponge cake.

I was determined to make this cake look good, so I chose a simple design- one which really could go wrong. One which requires close to no skill but still looks amazing. This cake design is completely copied from the bakery Patisserie-C'est Mieux. Admittedly, I don't actually remember taking the brochure in the first place, but their cake designs were all simple yet beautiful.

For the cake, I decided to use a cheesecake simply because that was what was used in the brochure- and it gave me an excuse to try this featherlight cheesecake from Wendy's blog. True to it's name, it was very light- perhaps one of the lightest cakes I've ever made. I made the mistake of taking it out of the oven too early (because I think my electric oven is a little on the cool side) and had to put it back in the oven again after it had cooled considerably and then accidently left it in the oven after turning it off. This left the bottom half of the cake really weird but the top half of the cake was still perfect- light (but in a different way to most sponges) and delicious but surprisingly not cheesy!!

As for the cake decorating, it didn't come out as beautifully as in the brochure- I should have used a bigger spoon and fork and my fruit arrangement is rather messy but it still looked pretty good and I was proud of it =) It'll probably be a while until I start thinking of my own designs but I think I'll take it one step at a time!


Featherlight Cheesecake from Wendy

250gm milk
20gm butter
125gm cream cheese(room temperature)

50gm flour
3 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
80gm sugar

Pinch of salt
½ Tbsp cocoa powder (I omitted this)
1 Tbsp boiling water (I omitted this)

1. Line the base of a 8 inch square pan and preheat the oven at 150/160C.
2. In a medium sized bowl, cream cream cheese until smooth.
3. Bring milk and butter to a boil and pour ¼ of it into cream cheese and gently stir until incorporated. Pour in another ¼ the milk and stir again. Lastly pour in all the milk and stir until smooth. (At this point, prepare some boiling water)
4. Let the cheese mixture cool down and put in flour. Mix until smooth. Then put in egg yolks and vanilla. Mix until smooth.
5. In another clean bowl, beat egg whites until frothy. Put in salt and cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks. Put in sugar gradually and beat until stiff.
6. Put 1/3 of egg whites into cheese mixture and fold gently but quickly.
7. Pour the cheese mixture into the egg whites and fold until well incorporated.
8. Mix cocoa powder with boiling water until smooth. Put in a few tablespoons of the cheese batter and mix until a smooth chocolatey batter is formed.Pour main cheese batter into prepared pan. Drizzle chocolate batter over main cheese batter. Use a knife and cut through the batter to create a marbling effect.(I skipped this step)
9. Put pan into slightly bigger but shallower pan. Fill the bigger pan with boiling water until halfway up and bake for 50-60 minutes.
10. When cake is baked, remove from oven and release the sides of the cake from the pan immediately by running a knife between the sides of the cake and the pan. Leave it to cool down totally and chill until cold before cutting.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pad Thai


I love watching my mother cook.

There's something mesmerising about the way she moves swiftly through the kichen that keeps me standing there, watching her for hours. I love the unique way she cooks, the way she manoeuvres the spatula and her clever tricks -for instance, the way she loads up the wok with raw veggies and scoops them with the wok lid before they start to wilt, to cook them all without them falling out. I love how effortless she makes cooking seem, simply tossing all the ingredients in our tiny wok, so that each an every piece is cooked equally.

It isn't as easy as it seems- I would know. Everytime I try cooking in a wok, I feel more like I'm folding the ingredients roughly rather than cooking, and I can't seem to cook everything evenly, no matter how hard I try to mimic my mother's movements. The first time I tried to cook vegetables, my mum told me to add oyster sauce, and copying the way she adds wine, I poured it around the vegetables, straight onto the flaming hot wok. Of course, it immediately sizzled fiercely and burnt, creating a mess, much to my mother's annoyance. I stayed away from cooking for a while.

I think one of the reasons why I have more of an interest in baking than cooking is because no one else in this household already does it well. There isn't anyone to constantly tell me what I'm doing wrong- I can do whatever I want, learn from my mistakes and figure things out myself. And importantly, there's a slightly greater sense of satisfaction in succeeeding where no one else you know has succeeded before.

So it'll come to no surprise that my cooking hardly ever features on this blog- I rarely 'cook'. And when I do, you'll most likely find my cooking up something new and different to what my mother would usually cook, like this pad thai- one of the few dishes I regularly cook. At first I was a little scared of stir frying, especially as the noodles could possibly stick to the work and cause a mess. Luckily they didn't and the recipe really couldn't be any simpler- it's just a matter of mixing up a sauce which consists of 4 ingredients, and then stir frying it with rice noodles and whatever else you feel like throwing in =)

We were also quite skeptical of the recipe at first because of the one strange ingredient we'd never even heard of before- tamarind. It is extremely pungent as other blogger had me warned, infact so stinky, the first time we made it, we were almost sure that it wouldn't work out. But we were pleasantly surprised when it did and it was so good, that I could immediately think of plenty of pad thai dishes I'd had at restaurants that were inferior to this.

This pad thai has since become our go to dish whenever we're looking for something different for dinner. We usually make a huge pot of sauce and keep the remainder in the freezer (which led to a really cool discovery- it doesn't actually become solid in the freeer!) and then stir fry it with the noodles whenever we feel like a pad thai.

And thanks very much to this recipe, I've had plenty of practice with stir frying- I think I'll soon be able to cook like my mum!! (or...maybe not.......)

Pad Thai
from Chez Pim via Use Real Butter

vegetable oil (for frying)
12 oz. chicken (2 oz. per serving)
4 cloves (10g) minced garlic (about 1/2+ clove per serving) sauce (see below) (about 1/4 cup per serving)
1 lb. (500g) rice noodles, soaked in warm water to soften (but not too soft)
6 eggs (1 egg per serving)
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (4-6 shrimp per serving)
1 cup (155g) ground peanuts (1-2 tbsps per serving)
3-4 cups bean sprouts (1/2 cup per serving)
1/2 cup (75g) pickled turnips, chopped (1+ tbsp per serving)
1 cup garlic chives or green onions, chopped (2 tbsps per serving)
moresprouts (garnish)
fresh limes (garnish)

1/2 cup (130g) tamarind paste
1/2 cup (120g) fish sauce
1/3 cup (75g) brown sugar
1 tbsp (9g) chili powder (to taste- I omit this)

Make the sauce: Over a low flame, heat the tamarind, fish sauce, and brown sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the chili powder a teaspoon at a time to desired spiciness. (I sometimes add a teaspoon or two of dark soy sauce to deepen the colour- the colour of the sauce will depend on the colour of your ingredients) Bring the sauce to a simmer. Turn off the heat (keep sauce warm).

Make the pad thai: [The key is to cook up 1-2 servings at a time!] Heat 2-3 tablespoons ofoil in wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add 2 ounces of chicken andstir-fry until it is half cooked. Add 1-2 tablespoons of sauce, and a pinch of
garlic. Stir around and add about 2 cups of loosely packed (for me, a big handful)of rice noodles plus 1/4 cup of sauce to the pan and stir vigorously until the noodles soften. If it dries out, you can add some water. Push the noodles to the side and crack an egg into the pan. Let the egg cook for 10 seconds and then toss the noodles and egg together in the pan. Drop 4-6 shrimp, a couple of tablespoons of ground peanuts, a heaping tablespoon of turnip, and 1/2 cup of sprouts into the pan. Stir fry until the shrimp are just cooked (very fast – about a minute). Toss in the green onions or garlic chives and remove from heat. Serve hot with more sprouts, ground peanuts, and lime wedges for garnish.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Freedom.....tastes even better than this tart!


I'm free I'm free I'm free I'm free!!!!

As some of you have already figured out, I've finished my HSC (on Thursday, to be exact)! Unfortunately, I've only been able to write up this post becasue I've been:

1. busy celebrating :) Although in my world, celebrating involves lots of sleep, baking and relaxing...
2. busy de-cluttering my life of study related things- which involves throwing out lots and lots of paper and trying to somehow organise the leftovers for my sister incase she ever needs it.
3. too lazy to type out the recipe below :)

Unfortunately, the exams didn't quite end as spectacularly as I'd hoped.....I don't remember much about the exam itself, as I was too busy looking forward to after the exam. But I did finish the exam busting to go to the toilet, so much so that I couldn't hold it in any longer and had to rush out whilst the exam supervisors were collecting the papers :S If I ever do a three hour long exam again, I'll remember not to bring in my drink bottle, or drink much water beforehand.....

But it is still the end, and I couldn't really be happier that the exams are finally over! Waking up and realising that I don't need to study today is really one of the best feeling. Ever.

I don't think I've completely gotten out of study mode yet- it feels a little weird to not have to cram some useless information into my head everyday. Even my parents think I'm going to study, whenever I make my way to my table, only to realise that don't need to anymore!

The first thing I did when I got home after the exam (after pigging out during lunch), was to grab the mixing bowl and electric mixer and start making my favourite pound cake. It was great to once again hear the familiar sound of the electric beater whirring and scraping the plastic bowl and smell the delicious scents of butter and egg wafting out of the oven! I do really really love baking =)

Which is why I couldn't resist making this decadent chocolate tart during the exam period- the perfect way to make countless hours of boring studying slightly better =) I've wanted to make a chocolate tart for a while now, but this recipe really caught my attention because of the layer of light sponge cake, underneath the rich chocolate truffle filling. Don't you just love it how Asians find a way to put a piece of sponge cake in almost any dessert??

The tart comprises of four main components- the pastry, the sponge, the truffle filling and the chocolate glaze. I thought it was weird how the glaze had less glucose than the filling (since glucose is supposed to make it shiny?) and found that the filling and the glaze were pretty much the same thing and so they sort of became one layer. My filling also wasn't as soft and shiny as that in the book, which I suspect may have something to with the fact that I used thickened cream???

But the taste of the tart exceeded all expectations, and we instantly fell in love the with smooth chocolate filling, coupled with the light, chocolate sponge and delicious chocolate tart pastry. This recipe's definitely a keeper- it's not too hard to guess what I'll be making in these next few weeks!!

Chocolate Truffle Tart
From Dessert for You by Rachel Yau

Cocoa Sponge Base
75g eggs (around 1 and a hlaf eggs)
35g sugar
50g cake flour
45g butter
30g milk
10g cocoa

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Sieve flour and cocoa together.
2. Healt the milk and add butter. Stir until it melts
3. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer until foamy. Add sugar and beat until pale and thick.
4. Sieve in flour and cocoa. Fold in without disturbing the bubbles too much. Add the butter and milk mixture from step 2 and stir gently until well mixed
5. Pour in the batter into a baking tray. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Turn the cake out while still hot. Leave it to cool.

Cocoa Pie crust (pastry)
100g flour
20g cocoa
60g butter
1/2 egg (beaten)
30g sugar

1. In a bowl, rub flour, cocoa, butter and sugar with your fingertips until crumbly.
2. Add beaten egg and knead well (I had to add a few drops of milk so that the dough would come together. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
3. line the counter with cling wrap. Place the chilled dough over the cling wrap. Place anothing cling wrap on the dough. Roll it out until 1cm thick.
4. Place the rolled dough into the 8 inch round mould. Make sure the crusts go all the way up the vertical sides of the mould. Trim off the excess above the rim. Pierce all over with a fork. Line the crust with baking paper and fill with baking beans.
5. Blind bake the crust at 180C for 10 minutes. Remove the baking paper and baking beans. Bake for 10 minute more. Leave to cool to room temperature.

Chocolate Truffle Filling
100g dark chocolate
115ml whipping cream
40g butter
11g liquid glucose
15ml rum (I omitted this)

1. Chop the chocolate up.
2. Heat the whipping cream until tit bubbles gently then add chopped chocolate, rum and glucose. Stir until they melt. Leave to cool.

Chocolate Glaze
100g dark chocolate
40ml milk
3.5g liquid glucose
3.5g butter

Boil the milk gently and stir in the chocolate until it melts. Add glucose and butter. Stir well and turn off the heat.

To Assemble
1. Brush the inside of the pastry with melted chocolate. Put in the chocolate sponge base. Spread the chocolate truffle filling over the sponge. Refrigerate until set.
2. Pour the chocolate glaze on top and spread evenly. Sprinkle cocoa powder and garnish.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thai chicken pizza

'You give what you want not what you don't want'

These were the words of my best friend in year 4, when I gave her a little gift. It was a bag of bright pink 'magic' sand with which we'd been playing with a couple days before- I could tell she really liked it. I casually remarked 'Oh, I didn't want it anymore' not because I actually didn't want it, but I don't know about you, but I feel bad when someone gives me something they really like. I didn't really think about how it would make it feel like accepting someone else's rubbish =S

These same words ran through my head, as my mother rummaged through our pantry to find packets of lollies and chocolate to hand out to the little trick-or-treating kids. We found many packets of opened chocolates and lollies, even more packets of unopened chocolates, easter eggs (hehe..at least they were from this year's easter?) and loads and loads of expired confectionary which filled our bins pretty quickly. (only the perfect, unopened, unexpired ones went to the little kiddies, I assure you) I don't think our pantry has had quite a clean out since last halloween!

We ended up getting two knocks on our door- the most we've ever had :) I guess halloween is getting more popular now- I was delighted when I saw one of our neighbours decorated their house, if only for one night, with fake spiderwebs and pumpkins!

Unfortunately, I was stuck at home, bored, studying cramming for legal studies exam today. On a brighter note, I only have one more exam to go! Yay!

I'm rather proud of myself for not blogging for *gasp* two weeks (okayokay....so maybe I've done so before, but not during an exam period!). But of course, I couldn't resist staying away from the kitchen. So on the one day my parents were out, I snuck into the kitchen to make pizza!

I've never had a non tomato sauce based pizza before, so I did find this slightly weird at first. I only used the recipe for the base and the sauce and then I topped it with some left overs and whatever else I could find in the fridge which didn't take too long to chop up ;P I absolutely loved the sauce- it was so addictive that I had only intended to eat half the pizza but then accidently gulped the whole thing down.....hehe =)

Anyways, shall go back to studying now :) I finish exams on Thursday (yay!) so (maybe) watch out for even yummier things here in the near future!!

Thai Chicken Pizza
Adapted from allrecipes

1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

3 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter
3 tablespoons rice vinegar (I'd probably decrease to 1-2 tablesoons as I found it too sour for my tastes)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons chili oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons honey

1 boneless chicken breast half, cooked and sliced into thin strips
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon paprika
1 small fresh red chile pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
4 green onions, sliced
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1.Pour warm water into a small bowl; stir in honey until dissolved. Add the yeast, stirring until dissolved. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
2.In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add yeast mixture and olive oil; stir well to combine. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead in more flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
3.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
4.Punch down the risen dough on a floured surface. Divide into two equal portions. Allow the dough to relax for a minute, then roll each portion out into a thin circle. Place on lightly oiled pizza pans.
5.To make the peanut sauce, place peanut butter, rice vinegar, and soy sauce in a blender. Add chili oil, ginger, and honey; process until smooth.
6.In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, sesame seeds, paprika, chile peppers, salt, and 3 tablespoons of the peanut sauce. Mix until the chicken is evenly coated. Spread the remaining peanut sauce evenly over pizza dough. Top with chicken, green onions, and cheese.
7.Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned. Garnish with carrots and cilantro.
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