Summary

Give me cake or give me death cookies.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Easter Nests

For this fortnight's Mothercare food blog I made some chocolate nests for this Easter weekend!


Check out my recipe on the blog to see how to make them. They're so easy, and you can pretty much substitute any crunchy cereal for the Shredded Wheat if you want to. Although Shredded Wheat looks more 'nesty-er'.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Passover Seder Night

Passover has always been my favourite Jewish festival (see my previous entry about cinnamon balls and coconut macaroons for a very brief overview of it). For me it even beats Hannukah, on which you're religiously obliged to eat doughnuts (well, sort of) and I used to get a small present every day for each of the eight days the festival lasts when I was little.

Wine, wine, wine.
On Passover (or Pesach, if you prefer), the family gathers around for an at-home service (the Seder) and, in a nutshell, retells the story of the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt, and their freedom from slavery. Songs are sung, food is eaten, and a heck of a lot of wine is consumed (as dictated by the Haggadah- the Passover prayer book. Seriously, there are instructions in there on when to drink the wine and how much to drink at a time).


This is the Seder plate. Traditionally it includes bitter herbs (parsley), lettuce (... more parsley, since we didn't have any lettuce), charoset (the brown paste stuff, made from apples and nuts and made to look like mortar), more bitter vegetables (horseradish), a shank bone, and a very hard boiled egg. Salt water's in the middle... but I don't think it's part of the original Seder plate- usually it's put to the side of it. Each thing symbolises our ancestors' pain, suffering and ultimate hardiness.

There's also a lot of this stuff floating around during Passover:


Ah, matzoh. Or matzah- there are a lot of ways to spell a lot of Hebrew words. Flat, dry and, on the surface, unappealing: and yet we love it. Can't get enough of it, even when it's not Pesach and we're allowed to eat leavened bread.

Also, as the youngest of the family, it's my job/ duty to read the Mah Nishtanah every year during the Seder: which is essentially the passage in the Haggadah that asks all the 'why' questions. Why do we do all these strange rituals once a year? Almost literally the first passage asks, 'why is this night different from all other nights?'

I've read this passage almost every single year and still fluff the Hebrew.
Yes, I can read Hebrew- I was Bat Mitzvah-ed, after all. Can't understand most of it, though.


After the first chunk of the service, it's time for dinner. Mum cooked up a delicious roasted kosher chicken, with braised red cabbage, honeyed carrots and garlic butter potatoes. Then comes the second chunk- after which we settled down for coffee, alongside my cinnamon balls and macaroons.

And just to prove to you that I've inherited my liver from my Russian/ Polish ancestry rather than my Chinese one, I'm writing this quite coherently not so long after about four full glasses of wine downed within the space of about forty-five minutes. Disclaimer: do not try this at home, kids.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Cinnamon Balls and Coconut Pyramids for Pesach

Passover starts tomorrow night. I've given you some recipes from my Chinese/ Malay side; now it's time for some from my Jewish side!



Passover, or Pesach, celebrates the time when Moses freed the Jews from slavery under the tyrannical rule of the Pharaoh. It took some heavy persuasion- The Big Guy Up There had to help twist the Pharaoh's arm with a a plague or ten. Lots of pretty gnarly stuff went down, like blood, death and frogs (don't know why I chose frogs as my last example), but eventually he let them go. Of course, he was a bit of an arsehat and decided to chase them down afterwards, but he got his comeuppance- just watch The Ten Commandments or The Prince of Egypt. Man I love those films.

Anyway, to cut a very long story short, the Jews didn't have time to bake any proper bread before high-tailing it out of the Pharaoh's lands, and got stuck with matzo- that flat, dry, mottled and burned-looking stuff that us Jews often eat and somehow enjoy. The icing on the cake is that, during the week of Passover, Jews can't eat normal bread. Or cake. Or biscuits. Or certain types of cereal or breaded chicken/ fish. Nothing with raising agents, or any types of grains our ancestors couldn't use in the rush to GTFO of there, can be eaten.

Does that mean we stop baking for a week? Like hell it does.

Two sweets most traditionally made during passover are cinnamon balls and coconut macaroons, which don't need flour or baking powder. Cinnamon balls are cake balls made from ground almonds, and coconut macaroons are made from... yeah. This year I made cinnamon balls and coconut pyramids, the latter of which uses whole eggs instead of just egg whites. Cinnamon balls are brilliantly quick and easy to make. Coconut pyramids are easy but not as quick- shaping them can get a little messy, but if you have eggcups to mould them with, it's not so bad.

I always use the same recipes for these from a book I was given as a Bat Mitzvah gift: the The Essential Jewish Festival Cookbook by Evelyn Rose. I know I usually mess with recipes, but these have a somewhat sentimental value as I've been making them since I was 13 years old, so I've done them by the book. Okay, maybe I took a few liberties decorating them with melted chocolate, but old habits die hard.

Cinnamon Balls

- 2 egg whites
- 125g/ 4oz caster sugar
- 125g/ 8oz ground almonds
- 1tsp cinnamon
- small bowl of icing sugar

1) Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C/ Gas Mark 3, and line a baking tray with baking parchment (grease the parchment for good measure, too).

2) Whip the egg whites up until stiff and white- just like you'd do for a meringue.

3) Stir in everything else.

4) With wet hands, form the mixture into walnut-sized balls (I managed to get 20 out of this recipe), and space out evenly on your baking sheet. You'll want to keep a little bowl of water close by so you can wet your hands in between ball-shaping.

5) Bake for 20mins until lightly browned and firm to the touch, and take them out to cool for a minute or so.

6) Roll balls in icing sugar when they're still warm (the book says to do this a second time when they're cold, but I see no need to).

Coconut Pyramids

- 2 eggs
- 125g/ 4oz caster sugar
- juice and zest of half a lemon
- 225g/ 8oz dessicated coconut

1) Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C/ Gas Mark 5 and line and grease a baking tray.

2) Beat the eggs and sugar until light, foamy and pale.

3) Stir in everything else.

4) Use an egg cup wetted with cold water to form the mixture into mounds, tip them out onto your hand, mould them a bit more as you like and arrange on the baking tray. (As with the cinnamon balls, keep a bowl of water handy so you can keep dipping into it.)

5) Bake for about 20mins- be careful not to let the tops burn (put an extra sheet of baking parchment over the top if they're browning too much but still need more time).


According to the book, you can freeze these for up to three months, or else just store in an airtight container for a week- if they last that long.

I made these today, but I've forbidden anyone from eating any until after the Seder tomorrow night, once Passover has officially begun- including myself. Damn. Oh, well. I'm looking forward to enjoying them with a good, strong cup of coffee.


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Birthday Cake Request

Chocolate cake! With a handmade chocolate guitar. The strings were a pain- I painted each one freehand with a toothpick.


I'm getting better at piping messages, woo!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Chocolate Guinness Cake- Recipe Dissection & Tips

I've been wanting to make Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake for ages now, but my 'To Bake' list is long and unending, and a girl can only bake so much until she explodes from too much cake. Luckily a colleague of mine reminded me that it's St Patrick's Day this Sunday- why not make a Guinness cake in time for that?

Perfect!

In general I love Nigella's dessert recipes. It was Nigella's recipe book 'How To Be A Domestic Goddess', which was handed to me on my birthday in my teenage years, that was the book that made me a cake enthusiast (although I still accredit my early general cooking skills to Delia). As usual, however, I made some alterations to the original recipe. I can never seem to stick to a recipe any more... I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing.

For starters, I used low fat margarine instead of butter. I'm in two minds about marg- on one hand, it's synthetic stuff, and even if butter is high in cholesterol and saturated fat, 'You know where you stand with butter' (quoting my dad directly, here). On the other hand... yeah. All that cholesterol and saturated fat. It's a coin toss, really, and this time my arteries chose synthetic and low-fat. I'll admit, butter is always better (especially for flavour), but the cake didn't suffer in the slightest and still tasted fantastic.

Secondly, instead of a cream cheese frosting, I made a Guinness glaze.



Don't get me wrong- I LOVE cream cheese frosting. I could eat it with a spoon. However, something Nigella pointed out in her own recipe made me rethink: '...although I've eaten versions of this made up like a chocolate sandwich cake, stuffed and slathered in a rich chocolate icing, I think that can take away from its dark majesty.'

Alrighty. So why replace a rich chocolate icing with a rich whipped cream cheese one?

Also having done a bit of research on this cake, quite a few people noted that you could barely taste the stout- only as a sort of malty ghost of a flavour that complemented the chocolate (a good thing- stout on its own is bitter, strong and an acquired taste). I also suspected (correctly), that the amount of bicarb required, which on its own has an almost soapy taste, would end up masquerading as the flavour of the stout: it's the bicarb you're tasting rather than the Guinness, but thinking it's the Guinness. Wouldn't a thick dollop of creamy, tangy frosting hide the true nature of the cake even more?

So even though I'm a cream cheese frosting fiend and everyone on the interweb agreed that the cake was delicious with it, I replaced it with a thick, glossy glaze made with icing sugar and a few tablespoonfuls of Guinness. I'm glad I did- it was smooth and unmistakably stout-flavoured without the bitterness. It was the perfect complement to the cake and gave a sweet little reminder of the star ingredient of the show.

Really, I didn't have to ice it- Nigella says this moist, soft cake is gorgeous on its own (and it certainly is). But then I am a sucker for aesthetics.


Please excuse the dying daffodils. And Fudge warming herself on the radiator in the background.

"I said no closeups..."
Take a look at the inside of the cake: so damp and dense, but not claggy. Somehow, this cake still has a light spring to it despite all the moisture that went into it.


Nigella says that this cake is like an aromatic gingerbread without the spices, and I can definitely see where she's coming from. I'm also a gingerbread fan, so I can see myself adapting this recipe even further and attempting a Guinness gingerbread cake in the future...


This is what the baked cake looks like still in its tin. Don't bother with the skewer-poke test: the centre will never truly be dry. The recipe calls for the cake to be baked for 45mins to an hour, and indeed it took me an hour. It really depends on your oven. I found the best way to check if it was done was by jiggling the pan a bit to see how firm it was in the middle, and even poking the surface with my finger to see how springy it was.

Sheba, wondering why I keep taking this thing out and poking at it.
Also, I bought a 500ml bottle of Guinness, whilst the recipe calls for 250ml. Obviously I used a little more for the glaze... but what to do with the rest of the foul, bitter stuff?

Guinness hot chocolate. Oh, yeah.

Enjoy!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Kueh Dadar- Recipe

I seem to be having a persistent craving for Malaysian desserts, recently.


Kueh dadar, or kuih ketayap depending on where you're eating it, is another fabulously green, pandan-scented nonya sweet found in places like Malaysia, China and Thailand to name a few (see my bubur cha cha post for a little bit about nonya cuisine). It's the extract of pandan leaves that gives it its distinctive green colour and fragrant scent.

What kueh dadar is, in a nutshell, is a thin pandan crêpe stuffed with a caramlised, fudgey coconut filling and rolled into a cigar shape. Sometimes when you buy them (if you can find them in Chinatown) the filling can be a bit on dry side- but not mine. Here's how I did it.

Ingredients for Crêpes:

- 1 egg
- 1tbsp caster sugar
- 6tbsp plain flour
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 1/4 cup regular milk (from a cow. Or a goat. Or a soya bean. Or even more coconut milk if you want a really rich batter)
- 2 tbsp water (to thin the batter out as you like)
- 1 tsp pandan paste (or vanilla and green food colouring if you can't find it)
- 1 tbsp oil

Ingredients for Filling:

- 1/2 cup dessicated coconut
- 150g gula melaka (dark palm sugar- you could substitute for dark muscavado sugar, but most supermarkets stock palm sugar and I think it makes all the difference)
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- pinch of salt
- 1 pandan leaf (again substitute for 1tsp vanilla if you can't find it)

Method:

1) Make your filling first: chop up your palm sugar (the stuff I use needs to be microwaved on low for a few minutes to soften it up a bit first), and simmer it on a low heat in a saucepan with your coconut milk, salt and pandan leaf (shred the leaf lengthways and tie it up in a loose knot to get the most of the flavour).


2) Once all the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture has simmered for about two minutes, take out the pandan leaf and add the dessicated coconut. Stir for a minute or so more until the coconut has absorbed the liquid and it becomes a sticky mass, and take it off the heat to cool completely. Do NOT be tempted to sneak a taste before it's cooled: we're dealing with molten sugar, here.


3) Whilst your filling is cooling, make the pancakes. Whisk the egg, oil and sugar together, followed by the flour. Now add your milks (both kinds) bit by bit to get a smooth batter, and whisk in the pandan paste. Now add the water a bit at a time- you may not need both tablespoons, or you may need another one. Either way, you want your batter to be a thin-ish pouring consistency, sort of like single cream.


4) Oil a frying pan very lightly- I do this by slightly dampening a bit of kitchen towel with oil and using a pair of chopsticks to swipe it over the pan. You can put the oiled paper in a bowl and brush the pan with it in between pancakes. Turn on your stove to a low-to-medium heat (these crêpes aren't meant to be browned).










5) After about a minute once the pan is completely heated through, pour enough batter to lightly coat the bottom of the pan and swirl it around- you're going to have to experiment with quantities yourself, depending on the size of your frying pan (even I didn't get it right the first time!) Don't be tempted to turn the heat up- just let it cook for a couple of minutes until the surface dries and the edges of the pancake start to become a bit crispy. Flip the pancake over (I used a spatula to loosten the edges and then turned them my fingers- these things are really thin and delicate) and cook it briefly on the other side for no more than a minute. Plate it up, and start again, repeating these steps until you have a stack. This recipe made six crêpes with my frying pan.


6) Once your filling is cool, you can start assembling your kueh dadar: split the filling into equal parts (in my case, six), and spoon a portion onto a crêpe in a long shape, nearer the end towards you.







 


7) Fold over once...











8) Fold the sides over...

 








9) ... And finish rolling it up.










10) Repeat with the rest of your crêpes and the filling, and you're ready to eat!


A note on 'the green stuff':

I really recommend sourcing pandan for these recipes: vanilla's fine, but it's pandan that makes it. I found both the pandan paste and leaves at a supermarket in Chinatown London (I usually go to New Loon Moon as it's marginally less crowded then the other bigger one), but you can also find the paste on the internet.



Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins


Mothers' Day is fast approaching! For a yummy Sunday breakfast, take a look at my post on Mothercare's blog for my recipe for blueberry buttermilk muffins.



Saturday, 2 March 2013

Impossible Pie- Recipe

Impossible pie: you stir all the ingredients up in one bowl, dump it unceremoniously into a pie dish, shove it in the oven and *boom*, you have a pie.


This is a sort of self-crusting coconut custard pie, and it's so easy to make it's silly. It requires absolutely minimal effort and only takes a few minutes to whip up the pie batter. The batter is dubiously liquid-y when you pour it into the dish, but the magic happens when it's baking: the coconut rises to the top to create a crunchy, slightly chewy caramelised crust, the flour creates a dense cake-like base, and the middle becomes a set coconut-scented custard.

Like the sound of that? Read on...

Ingredients:

- 1 cup dessicated coconut
- 1/2 cup plain flour
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 300ml milk (I used Kara for extra coconutty-ness, a coconut-based milk alternative found along with soya milk in supermarkets)
- 5 eggs (lightly beaten)
- 150g melted butter or melted margarine (cooled)
- 1tsp vanilla

Method:

1) Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C and grease an 8" or 9" pie dish.

1) Put all the dry ingredients (coconut, flour and sugar) into a large bowl.

2) Mix in the wet ingredients (eggs, milk, melted butter and vanilla) with a balloon whisk.

3) Pour into your pie dish and bake for about 45 minutes or until the pie is lightly browned, set, and looking like it's trying to escape.

'I don't want to be a pie, I want to be a soufflé!'


4) Don't panic, because in about two minutes the pie will stop looking like a monster pie and calm down.

 
Sorry pie, you were made to be as your baker intended.

5) Cool, and serve slightly warm or cold (I think warm is best).


Enjoy!