Summary

Give me cake or give me death cookies.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Tashcrafts: Felting Neko Balls

Introducing Tashcrafts! This won't be a regular thing, but since every so often I'll go a week without posting a new original recipe (such as this week's Victoria sponge), I thought I'd show you a little of some of the other things I enjoy doing: the newest of which being felting.

I first discovered neko balls ('neko' being Japanese for 'cat') when I saw them being sold by Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium, for whom I sometimes do a bit of online writing work for. I instantly fell in love with them, and bought this chappie here:


Isn't he just the cutest? I named him 小猫 Xiǎomāo (Chinese Mandarin for 'little cat').

At the time I had no idea how they were made, until I came across some beginner's felting kits being sold in the Japan Centre in Central London. Thus, my love of needle felting adorable neko balls began.

I was with a couple of friends at the time when I found the kit, and they both agreed that they'd love to have one, if only they'd have the patience to make them. Me being me, I took this as the perfect excuse to buy a kit to make two neko balls (please excuse the quality of photos, I was only using my phone camera at the time because I was only planning on showing my progress to my friends).


The kit came with two special felting needles, a load of wool roving and merino wool to make the bodies, thread for the mouths and whiskers, and safety button pegs for the eyes. I used the foam block I use for sugarcraft as a felting mat.


As you can see, you roll up the rough wool into a ball, and poke it a few times with the needle to secure it (the needle is barbed, which knits the fibres together as the needle passes through the layers of fabric).


I didn't realise these ones would turn out bigger than my keychain neko, but I was happy that they did make quite substantial-sized nekos. The instructions were all in Japanese (which I can often read out loud but seldom understand), so I had to refer to plenty of Youtube tutorials at first.


It's a thin layer of merino wool that smooths out the structures: you can see that the wool roving ball in the picture above this one is kind of rough- but it's needed to create the initial structure.


Neko ears = instant cute. <3


My two creations (Siu-Siu far left, Yoshi far right) found their way to their new owners and homes yesterday. Now my 小猫 Xiǎomāo looks a bit lonely on my computer desk- but since I've been bitten by the felting bug and have just bought a load more wool, he won't be for long.

Fancy Victoria Sponge for Mother's Day

I must make several Victoria sponge cakes a year: it's both my Mum and Dad's most-requested cake.


I always use my bog-standard Victoria sponge recipe. The only thing that changes is the way I put them together. I suppose a true Victoria sponge doesn't have the chunks of strawberries in it, and it would be more accurate to call this a strawberry shortcake, or strawberry cream cake. Whatever it is, I keep getting asked to make it, so it's got to be good.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Raw Praline Fudge- Recipe

Did I mention that my Praline Mousse Couer made it to the finals? And that I made it live during a special event with champagne reception on Thursday? No? Well, I did! Read all about it at my life blog The Wacky World of a Weird Girl.

For this week's recipe, since I've been living on chocolate mousse for a week and spending hours on intricate recipes, I thought I'd do something simple and healthy. It's the return of Sugar Free February... in March!

Just for one day.


After the complexity of my praline mousse coeur and the lengthy process of making Hamantaschen, I think I desserve to make a recipe that only takes five minute: which is about how long raw praline fudge takes to make, as long as you have a good food processor. This is a two-ingredient recipe, if you don't count the salt (which is only really used to enhance the flavours and can be omitted if you want). All your really need to make raw praline fudge is an equal mix of hazelnuts and medjool dates.

Ingredients:

-200g hazelnuts
-200g medjool* dates
-A pinch of salt

Method:

1) Blend the hazelnuts into a fine powder in a food processor.


2) Add the (stoned!) medjool dates, and blend until everything starts to clump together into a smooth lump, and you can see the nut oils being released.




3) Smooth the mixture into a 12 x 17cm container lined with greaseproof baking paper, and pop in the freezer for an hour


4) Cut into cute little square fudge pieces and enjoy!


5) Store in the fridge to allow the chunks to keep their shape, and if you have to stack them, place some greaseproof paper in between to stop them from sticking.



*Medjool dates are the best as they're already soft and fudgey. You could use regular ones, but you'll have to soak them overnight until soft and the end result may not be as smooth.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Hamantaschen for Purim



You know it must be Purim when you walk into a Jewish bakery and the staff have all become Smurfs.

I don't know how it happened, but it seems that Purim to Jews has become what Halloween is to, er Christians? Not even sure if that's a good analogy since Halloween is a pagan thing, but I guess it's been adopted into Christmas custom. Kind of like Christmas trees.

Back on topic! I say this because as the years go by, the costumes that the Jewish community of my 'hood don become less to do with the actual story of Purim and more, well, nuts. Less Queen Esthers and King Mordecais, more zombies and lions.Mind you, the costume range for the story of Purim is pretty limited, with only a few main characters to choose from- and nobody ever wanted to be Haman (the baddie). I remember a kid in my Hebrew class once threw a massive wobbly because he had been cast as Haman in the Sunday School play. Good times.

I may have mentioned in the past that during Chinese New Year, we eat dragon's beard candy (basically slightly coarser candy floss).

During Purim, we eat Haman's Ears.

Hamantaschen- Haman's Ears, have a hideous name and often look a bit beat-up, but are so. Freaking. Delicious. A soft buttery cookie outside and a sweet, chewy filling? Awesome. It just happens to be shaped like some ugly evil dude's ear.

The most common filling is sweet poppy seed, but you can find them with all kinds of filling: apricot, date, jam, even savoury cheesy ones.

I always use the same biscuit dough from my trusty 'Jewish Cooking' book, and usually my own filling of poppy seeds and sultanas, but I couldn't find anywhere selling poppy seeds this year. So instead, I filled them with homemade almond and date paste, made with 100g almonds and 200g medjool dates. They were very, very good.





I did run out of filing though, and ended up filling the last four with strawberry jam.


And one with sprinkles, to keep Benny happy.



I also bought some poppy seed ones from Grodzinski, a famous Jewish bakery, since poppy seed is my and my dad's favourite flavour.



Rumour has it that mine taste better. =O Although major props for the rainbow sprinkles, Grodzinski!


Praline Mousse Coeur- Recipe

I found out about Godiva's chocolate recipe challenge with only two days left to enter- the competition closes this Saturday. To reiterate what I declared on Twitter: 'Baking mode: engaged!'


I don't think I've ever made anything with as many different stages before, I feel like I've really pushed myself this time! I'm really pleased with how I managed to efficiently use my time in the kitchen for each stage.

(Although maybe not quite as pleased with the amount of washing up in generated.)

Serves 8.

Ingredients for Chocolate sponge

-3 eggs
-6oz unsalted butter
-6oz caster sugar
-4oz self raising flour
-2oz cocoa powder
-3tbsp milk
-1tsp vanilla
-pinch of salt

Ingredients for Dark and White Praline Mousses
-150g semi sweet chocolate (50% cocoa solids)
-150g white chocolate
-1 x 170g jar of crunchy hazelnut butter
-3tbsp light muscavado sugar
-6 egg whites
-3tbsp caster sugar
-400ml double cream

Ingredients for Hazelnut Praline

-100g hazelnuts
-100g caster sugar

Ingredients for Ganache Glaze

-200ml double cream
-200ml semi sweet chocolate (50% cocoa solids)

To Decorate (optional):

-Edible Gold lustre dust
-Edible gold glitter flakes (or even edible gold leaf, if you like!)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


STEP 1: Make the chocolate sponge sheet cake.

-Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, and grease and line a rectangular 26x36cm baking tray with baking paper

-Cream the sugar and butter together until pale and fluffy, and whisk the eggs in well

-Sift the salt, flour and cocoa together into the bowl and whisk, and finally whisk in the milk and vanilla

-Pour the cake batter into the pan, spreading evenly and tapping the tray on the counter a few times to get rid of large air bubbles

-Bake for 20-25 mins, or until toothpick clean, take out of the oven and cool.


STEP 2: Make the mousses.

-In a large measuring jug, mix and muscavado sugar and crunchy hazelnut butter together, and using a hand blender whizz everything up until smooth


-Melt the chocolates in two separate bowls, either in a bain marie (with the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water) or in the microwave, checking every 30 seconds and stirring so the chocolate doesn't burn

-Mix half of your hazelnut paste into each bowl of warm melted chocolate, and allow to cool slightly as you complete the next couple of steps


-Making sure your whisk is thoroughly clean, whip up the egg whites until stiff white peaks form, then whisk in the caster sugar well until glossy

-Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, being careful not to over beat

- Incorporate half of the egg white meringue mixture into each bowl of chocolate-hazelnut mixture, starting by mixing in a spoonful of meringue into each bowl to loosten them up (use careful folding motions once you mix the rest of the egg whites into each bowl to keep the air)

-Fold in half of the whipped double cream into each bowl, cover and chill both in the refrigerator for about half an hour.


STEP 3: Make the Ganache and Praline

-Spread your hazelnuts however you like on a non-stick silicone mat (or on oiled foil on a baking sheet), but keep eight whole ones aside, and place the caster sugar in a small saucepan on low to medium heat

-Do not stir the sugar: just wait until it melts! Towards the end you can gently swirl the pan around to help the last clumps of sugar dissolve into the caramel, then take off the heat and immediately pour over your hazelnuts. Set aside to cool


-As the sugar is slowly caramelising, bring the cream to the boil in the saucepan or in the microwave (doing it incrementally in the microwave to stop the cream from boiling over!) Once the cream is bubbling, take it off the heat/ out of the microwave and put the chocolate straight into the hot cream. Stir until well combined, and set aside to cool and thicken for about five minutes.


STEP 4: Assemble

-Turn your cake out onto a clean work surface, cut into twelve equal parts, and slice each part in half carefully down the middle (easiest with a bread knife, or a long serrated knife) You'll have 24 thin slices altogether: enough for eight three-layer cakes.

-Leave as is, or stamp out your favourite shapes on each section (you can freeze the cake scraps and make cake pudding, cake pops or more another time!)


-Take eights of your slices, set on a wire rack over a baking sheet to catch drips, and evenly pour over your ganache (I used an angled spatula to coax the ganache over the sides of the hearts). Ideally put them in the fridge for five minutes to firm up at this point: I just left them out because my wire rack doesn't fit in the fridge


- Layer up the rest of the cake slices with mousse (piping the mousse is the easiest way, plus looks really pretty). You want the layers to go: cake, dark mousse, cake, white mousse




-Top your four cakes off with the ganache-glazed hearts, and pop in the fridge while you complete the final step.

STEP 5: Decorate!

-Crush up some of your praline roughly with a pestle and mortar, and stir in some gold lustre dust.


(Yes, I have the tiniest pestle and mortar in the world.)

-Dust your four reserved whole hazelnuts with the gold dust

-Get your cakes out, sprinkle on your crunchy golden praline and top with a golden hazelnut.



Oh yes and STEP 6... eat!



UPDATE

I posted my pic on Twitter with the Godiva Challenge hashtag, and noticed that there is a picture gallery of some of the entries... and I found another entry that had already been tweeted from a while ago. The basis was pretty much identical to mine, praline, hazelnut mousse and all.

Gutted.

I spent a whole evening designing this recipe and hours making it. I know it doesn't matter, and that I made a genuinely honourable effort- but that won't stop people from assuming I'm being a copycat. The other entry looks so professional as well, like a master French patissier made it. Eep.

UPDATE 2

I got through to the finals. o.o I'll be making this for Mark Hix of Hix restaurant,foor critic William Sitwell, chef Juliette Nothomb and head chocolatier Thierry Muret on Thursday. *Dies*

I'm so excarded! (excited/ scared)!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Adzuki Bean Brownies- Recipe

These certainly don't look like they're healthy, do they?


These healthier-than-usual but still delicious brownies are made gluten-free and higher in protien with a slightly unusual ingredient.


Beans!

Of course they're not going to be exactly like regular brownies. However, they're chocolatey, dense, moist and great for a quick fix. You don't have to use adzuki beans- you can use black beans, or any other kind of canned starchy bean- just make sure it's in water and not brine or something that'd make the brownies nasty!

Instead of flour, the beans provide the starch to the recipe. Just pop them in a food processor...


... And blend until they become a paste.


My only regret is that I didn't double the recipe and make nice chunky ones. I would definitely recommend doubling the recipe to get thicker slices. If not, just stack 'em up like I did.

Ingredients:

-1 can of beans, drained and processed until smooth
-5tbsp agave nectar, honey or maple syrup
-2 eggs
-50g butter, softened
-3tbsp cocoa
-1tsp vanilla
-Pinch of salt

Method:

1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and line and grease a regular 8 x 12" brownie pan.

2) Whisk the butter and agave nectar together until smooth and slightly frothy, then whisk in the eggs.

3) Whisk in the bean purée, and don't panic that it looks liquidy! It'll work. Now whisk in the cocoa, vanilla and salt.

4) Pour into your prepared brownie pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the top is set and firm (you still want them to be a touch squidgy. If you are doubling the recipe, increase cooking time to about 30mins).

5) Cool, and cut into squares, and serve with ice cream (or just scoff as they are).

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Pancake Day Part 2- Apam Balik


Happy pancake day!

Apam Balik (which means 'folded pancake') is a sweet Malaysian pancake filled with sugary gooey goodness. Traditionally ground peanuts, sugar, melted butter and creamed sweetcorn (trust me, it works), but also things like chocolate sprinkles and cheese (also: works surprisingly well), Nutella and banana, red bean... pretty much anything you like.

Peanuts, sugar and corn: an unlikely match made in heaven

It's also known as Murtabak or Martabak Manis (meaning 'sweet Murtabak', Murtabak usually being a savoury type of pancake), and I found a package of mix for it at my usual Chinese food store.


Okay okay, so this time I've cheated. I very, very rarely cheat and use a box mix for anything, but look at how inviting it looks! I've been craving Apam Balik for ages, and this quick win was too good to pass up. I'll say right now that now that I've tried it, it's actually pretty good as boxed mixes go. It'll never be as good as one straight from a street hawker in Malaysia, but it's still good- this coming from someone who hates to cheat in the kitchen.


The instructions are pretty simple: beat the dry mix with eggs and water, leave for an hour to relax, pour into a pan and cook with the lid on before putting your fillings in and folding up. More or less.

Swirl the batter around to get a nice crispy 'lip'

You definitely need a lidded pan for these pancakes though, as they don't get flipped over but still need to be thoroughly cooked all the way through.


When the surface is set and looks bubbly, you add the fillings, re-cover and cook for another five minutes or so:


Then when it's fully cooked and the edges are nice and brown like this:



You fold it in half...

And slice it up to serve!


Trust me, a few slices is enough because it's so thick. The boxed mix said it would make three, but because my pan's quite big I ended up making to big ones. I can't wait to make this again. Next time I will try from scratch, and have a go with different fillings- probably red bean or kaya (coconut jam).