Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Birthday cake adventures

Pretty? Yeah, that's what I thought and that's where I went wrong. 

I chanced upon this beautiful Pink cake with Aqua cream topping (well, the original cake had a Tiffany-blue frosting, which is almost the same) and I fell in love with how pretty it looked. So mesmerised I was with it that I chose to ignore the core ingredient in the cake - Maraschino cherries. 

Really? Maraschino cherries? Cocktail cherries? Even with alcohol they taste medicinal - a cake with Maraschino cherries? What was I thinking?

Well, I obviously hoped the baking process and the combination of the cherries with butter, flour, sugar and almond meal would transform it somehow.

I decided to make this cake for my own birthday earlier this week (there really is nothing wrong with making your own birthday cake, I believe). As expected, the cake looked fabulous. 

But, what of the taste? 

Well, lets just say you have to LOVE Maraschino cherries to like this cake. Love, not like. I don't and so I didn't enjoy the cake at all. The flavour of those cherries are just too strong. But, taste is subjective and I suppose if you've tried and like cherry cola, you might like this cake (for it does taste an awful look like it). 

Owww! Happy Birthday, Me! What, now? What was I to do with a whole cake I didn't like? At all?

More importantly, what cake was I going to eat on my birthday? I had no choice. I had to make another one because what's a birthday with no cake, right?

This time, I decided not to experiment with strange flavours but to stick to the familiar. Raspberries (yum), coconut (yum, yum) and lemon curd (oh, so yum). Couldn't go that wrong with that right?

Thankfully, the second cake was a good one.

I'll start with the frosting - simple whipped cream with lemon curd. Light-ish and not too sweet with the tang of lemon. Yum. 

The cake was moist and not too sweet. Loaded with raspberries - I used frozen whole raspberries, chopped roughly AND some puree and combined with shredded coconut (unsweetened), this cake was a vast improvement from the cherry disaster even if it didn't look quite so vibrant.

So, all's well that ends well - I had my cake and ate it too! And now I'm left with another which I have no idea what I'm going to do with. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The show-stopping Dobos Torte

I always believe that if you're going to make a comeback, it better be good. I'm embarrassed to say that I've been away from this blog for more than two months. And before that, my posts have been sporadic to say the least. 

I'm not going to list down my excuses for being absent - nobody really wants to read about excuses. But I've found a perfect cake to bounce back on - the Dobos Torte, a Hungarian seven-layer sponge cake, with chocolate buttercream and a caramel layer on top. 

Doesn't that sound divine. Sponge, chocolate, caramel. Layers and layers of sponge, chocolate and finally ... caramel.

Being a TV freak, it isn't surprising that the idea to try this cake came from a TV show - the Great British Bake Off (season 5, ep 6). As soon as the show ended, I went online and started reading up about this decadent cake and bookmarked two sites: Joe Pastry and Smitten Kitchen. 

A traditional Dobos Torte is round and has seven layers but I kinda liked the non-traditional rectangular cake made by Smitten Kitchen and I added a couple more layers. So it's a derivation from the classic (of which there are apparently over 100 variations), but the flavours are the same. Well, kinda. The chocolate buttercream is more of a ganache but heck, it's delicious so I'm certainly not complaining.

I was psyched. I read through both recipes and checked to see if I had all the ingredients - apart from the standard flour, sugar (confectioner's sugar), vanilla extract, chocolate and butter, you will also need eggs. A lot of eggs. About 13. 

Check, I had them all.

I decided to start it on a Saturday morning, bright and early because this cake takes at least three hours to make, from start (assembling the ingredients) to finish (frosting the cake and photographing it).

In all honesty, it's not a complicated cake to make but it takes time, some patience, attention to detail and ... did I say patience already? But the recipes on both Joe Pastry and Smitten Kitchen are fabulously precise and clear which made it a lot easier.

But let me warn you, there's an awful lot of washing up to do. 

That's only half the equipment you'll use. 

But, do try it. No, seriously. Try making it and then try eating it. And then try stopping yourself from eating it all at one go because it tastes even better the next day, all chilled.

I'm not going to include the recipe in this post as you'll get a better idea of the process on Smitten Kitchen's website (she has gorgeous photos of the process - I was too stressed to stop and photograph each step. Heck I didn't even know if it'd turn out) but I will point out a few of details/technicalities you will have to be prepared for.

Not to scare you from making it or anything, just to prepare you.

1. There are lots of eggs to separate. About 13. And you will be left with 3 egg whites to use elsewhere. I made an egg-white omelette and felt really healthy (even after two large slices of the torte).

2. You will have to bake seven layers of thin sponge, each for about 6-7 minutes (which means you really can't leave the kitchen for about an hour). Achieving almost the same thickness for all seven layers was the hardest part about making this cake - you can weight each portion but I just winged it and it turned out pretty fine, although my sponges were a little thin - perhaps I should have stuck to seven layers. Next time. 

3. You will have to clear some kitchen space as you will need to lay each layer out to cool before even thinking of assembling the cake. I inadvertently cleaned my kitchen in the process, so I guess it was a bonus.

That's about it really. The rest are pretty standard baking protocols.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Warm Farro Salad (with Roasted Vegetables and Red Pepper Pesto)

Knowing how OBSESSED I've been with grains, Jane (The Wayward Oven) bought be a packet of Farro from her holiday in America some time back. I was thrilled. It's strange how I get more excited about ingredients and food items then I do about make up or jewellery. We can't find Farro in Malaysia and I've read about it and was curious about how it'd taste. So, yes, I was super excited with my souvenir (?).

Like quinoa and millet (and rice, actually), I cooked the farro in water following a 1:2 ratio (1/2 cup farro: 1 cup water/stock). Farro however takes a teensy bit longer to cook than millet or quinoa - about 15 minutes (as opposed to 10) and is a bit more chewy and definitely more nutty.

I admit that it took a few chews before I totally fell in love with it. You see, I've been convinced that millet is, by far, the tastiest grain I'll ever eat. But farro ... well, it's a close call. It's more filling, I'll give you that.

I made a warm salad with the farro, with roasted cauliflower and brussel sprouts and instead of a dressing or sauce, I went with a red pepper pesto.

If you haven't tried red pepper pesto, you've got to. It's super delicious. Roasted peppers + walnuts + cheese + basil + olive oil. Easy. The sweet and slightly smokey taste of the roasted peppers with the nuts and cheese is just rich. Not too rich for I only added a little cheese. But rich in flavour.

I had some leftover salad and the next day, I took it out of the fridge and put it into the skillet - yes, still cold, and stir-fried it, Asian-style, with an egg. Forget fried rice; go with day-old fried farro. And yes, I still ate it with the pesto because it was just so good!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pumpkin, Spinach and Caramelised Onion Quiche

It's been a while since I made a quiche for myself. You see, I've kinda been fascinated by millet - my new favourite ingredient (a post on millet will soon be up) which I cook for myself almost three times a week, sometimes five. :) Yeah, I guess I am obsessive that way - I find an ingredient I love, eat it till I'm sick of it and then, move on to the next best thing.

But I was reminded of how much I actually love quiche after Ivy of showed me photographs of a slice of quiche she had in Sydney recently.  It was a pumpkin and mushroom quiche - she sent me photos of the quiche through instant message while she was having it - talk about the wonders of technology, huh? - and all she said about it was was: "so yumm!". Now that speaks volumes, surely.

What a brilliant idea - pumpkin in quiche.

I wasn't going to Sydney anytime soon, so I decided I just had to make a quiche with pumpkin in it myself.

I resisted adding mushrooms to my pumpkin quiche though. I tend to use mushrooms as my go-to ingredient many of my dishes as it's a sure-thing, really - how can you go wrong with mushrooms, right?

Well, unless you're my husband who hates not only the taste but the smell of 'shrooms. So yes, I omitted them so that he could (and would) taste the quiche too.

I used spinach and caramelised onions instead. Sure, that meant more prep time as caramelising onions does take some time - but I roasted the pumpkins as the onions were slow cooking and also sauteed the spinach with garlic.

For the crust, I added some finely chopped hazelnuts - you should try this too (in any other quiche you may make) cos it added not only texture but flavour to the buttery pastry.

The result? It was, as Ivy puts it, so yumm.

* Check out this earlier post for a basic quiche recipe and replace the fillings with roasted pumpkin and anything else you fancy. For cheese, I used mozzarella.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Tea: Victoria Sponge

Before I try my hand at making a classic cake, I do a lot of research first. This pleasant Sunday (it was muggy, but I was so glad it wasn't scorching like it was during the week) I decided to make the classic Victoria Sandwich, also known as the Victoria Sponge, for tea. 

I read at least a dozen recipes and incorporated tips from the best of them to make my own version of the dessert - Mary Berry, Dan Lepard and Felicity Cloake had my three favourite recipes. I was sure I'd end up with a superb cake. 

I did. It was very, very fine. So fine that I actually had a sit-down tea - just me, my tablet, my cake and a cup of freshly brewed spiced tea. 

The husband? Sleeping upstairs. You snooze, you loose, buddy! 

The key to making a great Victoria Sponge is getting the sponge cake right. Since Felicity Cloake (in her 'How to make the perfect ...' column in The Guardian) had already done the hard bit by testing various techniques out, I followed her recipe ... almost to a T. You can view her recipe here.

The secret? You have to measure the eggs (in their shells) first. Then, using the weight of the eggs as a guide, you measure equal portions of flour, sugar and butter. My three eggs weighed 192gms and so I measured 192gms (or thereabouts) of self-raising flour, sugar and butter. 

For the method though, I referred to master baker Dan Lepard. I was intrigued by his technique which I'd never come across before.

The usual method I use when making most cakes is pretty straightforward: first cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy; then add the eggs one at a time till incorporated and then fold in the flour, baking powder and salt (sieved and whisked together). 

Lepard uses a different method. 

He creams the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. But ... BEFORE adding the eggs, he adds 1/3 of the flour (minus the baking powder and salt). This, he says, is an old baking technique that makes the cake a little more moist. Once the flour is mixed into the butter and sugar mixture, you add the eggs and then the remaining flour + baking powder + salt.

More moist? I had to try it. 

My cake turned out super moist! Lovely.

The next step to a fabulous Victoria Sandwich is the jam. Traditionally, raspberry jam is used. I used strawberries - they're cheaper and just as delicious.  

To make the jam, I washed and hulled the strawberries and then combined them with some sugar and a little water and cooked them over low heat until the fruit and it's juices become one gooey, sweet mush. 

Now Lepard's Victoria Sandwich has only jam as a filling. Some versions use cream. I decided to use jam and buttercream because ... well, I had some leftover buttercream from a cake I made a couple of days ago and also because buttercream lasts longer than cream. 

I may like the cake but I wasn't going to eat the whole thing in a day. Not even two. So, it needed to keep.

Just a little buttercream. A thin layer of sweetness to counter the tart jam (my strawberries were not all that sweet).

And there you have it. A lovely cake that's perfect for a lazy Sunday!

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