Pear Amaretto Cake

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In August of 2011, I bravely left a job in a company that I really loved. I went head in to setting up an online bakery. The philosophy of the business was simple. I wanted to sell high quality baked goods that I would be proud of. Not long after in 2012, there was a wave of people crazy for rainbow cakes, even then I would kindly turn down taking those orders, same for the fondant cake hype. I just couldn’t bring myself to take those orders and water down my business’ integrity. I held on to what I believed was important to me and the business continued to grow, until I was wooed back into the corporate scene and the bakery took a backseat.

Why is this story important to the cake? My speciality was to create cakes especially for the recipient, according to their palate. This cake was created with my husband (aka my official taste tester) in mind. Fortunately for me, this is his favourite cake that I bake. In honour of him, it was also added to the menu of my bakery.

Last week, when I decided to bake a cake to practise my food styling and photography, he quickly put in a request that I bake this cake because he had not eaten it for a long time. Watching him eat it was so satisfying, he had not one huge slice but 2 of it! So I hope that you will enjoy baking this cake, and sharing it with people you love (like maybe your mum for mothers’ day).

*** I recommend using this vanilla buttercream recipe from Serious Eats to pair with this cake. Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream

Pear Amaretto Cake 

Ingredients:

Pear preparation:
1 Packham Pear (coarsely grated)
3 Tbsp Amaretto
Cake:
315g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
360g caster sugar
4 Eggs
1 cup of milk (room temperature)
200g butter (soften)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp Amaretto
Method:
  1. Soak grated pear in Amaretto. Leave aside.
  2. Preheat the oven at 150degC (for an 8” round tin)
  3. Beat soften butter in the mixer with the caster sugar till the mixture looks smoother and pale.
  4. Add in the eggs one a time, mix till incorporated.
  5. Add in the 1tsp vanilla extract and 1 Tbsp of Amaretto. Mix.
  6. Sieve flour with baking powder.
  7. Add one-thirds of flour into the  mixture, alternate with half of the milk, until everything has been added.
  8. Add in the prepared pear and mix well.
  9. Grease the cake tins, divide the batter among your tins and put it into the oven.
  10. When it’s ready, you’ll be able to press the middle lightly and it will spring back.
  11. Take it out of the oven and let it cool. Resist all temptation to take a bite out of it and burn your tongue.

The Journey

I am a relentless learner. I don’t believe in knowing it all and therefore the part of the journey of life for me is a continuous loop of learning, understanding and improving. When I started this blog, I knew that there would be skills that I would need to pick up like proper food styling and photography. After all, what’s a food blog without beautiful images.

So two months ago, I took an online class with Eva Kosmas Flores to learn how to do food styling and photography better. It was a 4 group classes conducted over the internet using a video conferencing tool and since then, I’ve been trying to practise every weekend a little, if possible. Learning over the internet gave me a gist of what I could do with my camera and also helped me with the thought process of staging a photo. 

I then started to think about what my look would be. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I have found or perfected my look but I know that I wanted it to include flowers, lots of natural light, beautiful cutlery, ceramics/china, linens and textures. So for this blog post, I thought I’d share with you my journey so far.

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26th February 2017: as part of my assignment, Singapore.
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8th March 2017 another assignment piece, Melbourne.
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8th March 2017: capturing steam, Melbourne.
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8th March 2017: Cooked Salmon dish, Melbourne.
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19th March 2017: Vietnamese pork chop, Singapore.
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25th March 2017: Sugee Cake, Singapore.
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25th March 2017: Close up of that Sugee Cake, Singapore.
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9th April 2017: Carrot Cake, Singapore
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16th April 2017: Sticky Hot Cross Bun, Singapore
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1st May 2017: Plum Cake 1st May 2017: Plum and Almond Cake, Singapore

Bringing produce Home: Tokyo Feb ’17

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I’m one of those folks that travel and on the last day of my trip, head to the market or supermarket to pack home fresh produce (think vegetables and fruits), ingredients (like celery salt, sake kasu, poppy seeds,etc) or food (like bread, Higashiya’s dried persimmon, or coffee beans from a small roastery).

There is always something that I find that inspires me during the trip, mostly seasonal produce, flavour pairings and technique. This time round, I brought back from Tokyo: organic carrots, purple potatoes, lotus root, broccoli, a wasabi root, sake kasu (lees left from the production of sake), a 4 year aged soy sauce, yuzu vinegar, strawberries and shichimi (usually made up of 7 spices, 七味, but Daio’s version is made up of 8 spices, the last being wasabi).

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So this post, I’m going to share with you the dinner that I cooked the same day I got home. By the way, I got home at 5am in the morning. The different dishes are: charred broccoli with yuzu salt, Japanese potato salad with goma (white sesame) sauce and fresh wasabi, stir fried renkon (lotus root) with julienne carrots, hijiki and mame, and braised beef karubi (I picked the thinly sliced one because this was cooked after work within an hour, I needed it to cook faster) with daikon (Japanese radish). These were served with Japanese rice, high quality ponzu sauce and a pack of Daio’s wasabi seaweed that we brought back.

Please note that seasoning as mentioned before should always be to taste. I encourage you to taste as you go along and open your senses to the colours, the ingredients that you buy, taste them as well and balance the amount and flavours as you go along. Food has to be a sensory experience.

These are the vegetables that I brought back and are using for this meal as well as the pack of sake kasu.

 

Charred Broccoli 

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This is my husband’s favourite way of eating broccoli. He would actually eat half a head or more on his own.

  1. Break down the broccoli into pieces, remove the outer layer of the stem and slice into thick slices.
  2. Boil a pot of salted water (I usually add around a teaspoon to a litre and a half). Add the broccoli to it and boil it for a min.
  3. Pour the contents of the pot into a strainer and put it into a bowl.
  4. Pour in olive oil, enough to douse the broccoli and sprinkle with yuzu salt to taste ( you can use sea salt and freshly cracked pepper). Then stir to coat the vegetables.
  5. Heat a pan till it becomes very very hot, as hot as you would use to grill a steak.
  6. Spread out the broccoli and grill till that side in contact with the pan becomes charred, then flip it to char another side.
  7. Remove from heat and serve.

 

Japanese Potato Salad

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  1. Wash the potatoes. Don’t be overzealous and damage the skin. The skin helps to keep the starch and flavour in.
  2. Boil a pot of water, salt the water.
  3. Add the potatoes in.
  4. Boil till you can pierce through the potato with little resistance (but not too soft).
  5. Remove the potatoes, put it under running water and cut into chunks.
  6. Drizzle goma dressing on top, give it a little stir and add the freshly grated wasabi on top. At this point, you may also add freshly toasted sesame seeds.
  7. Serve.

 

Braised Beef and Daikon

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This dish is inspired by one of my favourite restaurants in Tokyo, Maru. I asked the chef there how I can use sake kazu and he gave me some tips. This is used together with dashi. When you braise the meat in this, the sake kazu helps to tenderise the meat. These beef pieces were so tender and juicy, and had that light sake flavour. Delicious.

  1. Make a pot of around 2litres of dashi. For days that I need it fast, I would use these packs that look like tea bags of pre packed bonito, seaweed, etc. Again how strong it should be is to taste. You can get them from good reputed Japanese supermarkets.
  2. Keep a small amount of it (like a ladle’s worth) for stir frying the vegetables later.
  3. Add the stock into a small pressure cooker pot, add in sake kasu (to taste) stir till the same kasu breaks down and the stock becomes a little milky. Keep tasting till you get
  4. Then add the daikon that has been cut into big round pieces and the beef karubi (if you decide to use thick rumps or pieces, you’ll just need to adjust the cook time).
  5. Seal the pot with the pressure cooker lid and put it on high for 20mins.
  6. Remove from heat, remove the lid,
  7. Quarter the piece of daikon and place the beef pieces on top and add freshly grated wasabi.
  8. Serve.

 

Japanese Stir Fried Vegetables

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  1. Use a mandoline slicer to thinly slice the renkon (lotus root).
  2. Julienne the carrot, pour hot water over the dry hijiki, in a separate cup, and strain out the water.
  3. Pour hot water over frozen edamame or boil fresh edamame in slightly salted water. Remove the mame (beans) from the pods.
  4. Chop a clove of garlic. Grate half a teaspoon of ginger.
  5. Heat a pan, add in a tablespoon of sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Then add in renkon, carrots, hijiki, quarter a cup of dashi, and the last just before serving, the mame.
  6. Serve. Sometimes I’ll add freshly toasted sesame seeds as well.

Will Travel for Food.

Some people travel to shop, to be seen, to be part of that enviable life (especially so these days with social media and how it preys on the minds of the young and impressionable). I, on the other hand, travel because there is a whole world out there that I want to explore, lots of things to experience and food to eat and learn about.

I am one of those folks that will travel for food. In fact when I figure where to go, the next thing I do, is to bookmark places I want to go eat at. I have decided a long time ago that even though I’ve eaten well and at many different places, it doesn’t give me the right to openly critique (esp on social media) someone else’s (up to) months of hard work to create a dish just because I’ve taken 5-10 mins to eat it, I paid for it and I (not forgetting that it is a personal opinion) do not like it. Negativity never made anyone better people. Instead, I prefer to be inspired and write about what inspired me and how I can bring that experience home with me and reconstruct flavours or improve my cooking.

We were in Hakuba, Nagano, Japan and now we are in Tokyo. What I love about Japan is that they have some of the best homegrown produce. They take so much pride in what they do that it shows in the quality of the crops they grow, their chefs also respect their produce and they bring out the best in what they cook. So thought I’d share some of my favourite food/food related places to date (the last 5 days) from this trip. More to come.

Daio Wasabi Farm

The wasabi you eat probably isn’t wasabi. Watch this video!

Daio Wasabi Farm has been around since 1915. It is one of the biggest farms in Japan and the biggest wasabi farm. Wasabi has been dubbed as the hardest plant to farm because it needs clean spring water between 13 degC to 18degC, a certain amount of sunlight and it takes 18 months for it to be ready for harvest. That’s also why most of the wasabi you eat isn’t real. We got to visit the farm. It’s amazing how they are grown with spring water flowing through rows and rows of them. Earlier in the day, we made a stop at a small batch coffee roaster at Azumino. She told us that at Azumino, you can actually find wild wasabi by the river. Azumino is famous for their fresh air and water. That lady we met even gave us each a cup of water to taste it. It is crisp and clean tasting, and refreshing to drink. Sounds cliche i know but having drunk a fair bit of water from pretty much everywhere I go, this was pretty special. Special enough for them to brew an award winning beer with its water at their own micro-brewery.

In the above photo, one of them is their wasabi lemonade drink. They froze wasabi as an ice cube and added that to the lemonade. You can try that at home but you need to use fresh wasabi not the artificial one because the fresh one isn’t as sharp and has a “sweet” flavour. That’s a wasabi leaf oyaki. The buns are filled with stir fried wasabi leaves. To get close to that flavour if you haven’t access to it, is to use arugula leaves but it won’t have that same sweetness or texture.

Kawakami An at Karuizawa

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They had the biggest prawn tempura we have ever seen The prawn is longer than my hand. What I liked about it is that the batter is very crisp and the texture of their soba was still firm.

Tips:

When frying tempura, always use a thermometer to make sure that your oil is maintained at 170 degC to 180 degC. Use a cast iron pot to keep the oil in check. I also always make the batter with ice cold water. That tip was from my father who told me that makes the batter light. As for the noodles, follow the prescribed time to cook them and use a timer. To test, take a strand out and put it under running water then taste. If it is ok, then pour it out into a sieve and add in ice cubes and run it through running water. This stops it from cooking further and gives it the firm texture.

Yamawarau

For the folks that know me, it is no surprise that I absolutely love eating shabu shabu. The quality of the meat and vegetables matter here because of the simplicity of the dish. This establishment has done it right. Everyone has an individual hotpot. Their yonezawa buta (pork) is so tender and flavourful. Their beef is from a famous farm, Taketori Farm in Miyagi prefecture. We had their special sirloin and it lived up to its name.

Tips:

Always buy good and fresh quality meat. For beef, there is no need to buy one with a high fat content for shabu shabu. In my opinion, the grade of the meat matters more than the marbling.

So meat is graded from A to C, A being above standard, B is the standard and C is below standard. Then there is a number from 1-5 next to it 1 being the poorest and 5 the highest. The grade depends on the colour and brightness, the firmness and texture and lastly the colour, luster and quality of fat. So for example, you know that you’ve gotten a very good piece of meat if it is A5 (which is rare).

Then there is the BMS (Beef Marbling Standard) that ranges from 1-12. My preference is anything between a 5-9 which is already expensive enough and not too oily. However for shabu shabu a BMS of 5 or 6 is more than enough if you decide to splurge.

Vegetables wise, no hard and fast rules as long as they are fresh.

Test Kitchen: Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake.

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This is a cake recipe that is created by me. It was my excuse to try out a “cocktail” and also use the poppy seeds that I bought from Perth. However, this was an impulsive decision to bake at 2am. So I’m going to tell you how to bake on a whim.

Objective:

  • Use the poppy seeds.
  • To get a beautiful soft, moist crumb that wouldn’t fall apart when cutting.(softer than a pound cake but firmer than a full buttermilk based cake).
  • Light lemon flavoured cake without it being tart.
  • Develop a beautiful line on top of the loaf instead of a “ripped” look.

 

In order to bake on a whim, your eggs must be at room temperature. For the milk/butermilk you can warm it using a milk pan over a low flame till it’s just warm to touch. As for the butter, you can put it in a ziplock bag and hit it with a rolling pin till it becomes flatter and softer.

By the way, I really do enjoy test kitchen experiments. I learn so much more being creative, making mistakes, troubleshooting and pushing myself. I think you should take courage too, to obssess a little, be curious and try. Hope that you enjoy baking this cake recipe  as much as I enjoyed formulating it.

 

Lemon and Poppy seed Loaf Cake

2 Loaf Tins (8″ X 4″)

Oven Setting: 150degC, Fan Forced.

Ingredients:

200g Soften Unsalted Butter (plus extra for the butter line)

360g White Caster Sugar

310g All Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Buttermilk

1/4 cup Mascarpone Cheese

1/4 cup Full Cream

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 tsp Baking Soda

1 lemon

4 Eggs

2 Tbsp Poppy Seeds

 

Method:

  1. Whisk or Sift both flour and baking soda together.
  2. Beat soften butter together with the zest of 1 lemon and caster sugar till it is pale and light.
  3. Add in eggs one by one, beating in between and scraping the sides of the mixing bowl.
  4. Add in vanilla extract, juice of 1 lemon and beat till incorporated.
  5. Mix in a measuring cup, buttermilk, full cream and mascarpone.
  6. Alternately add 1/3 of the flour mixture, 1/2 cup of the mascarpone/full cream and buttermilk mixture, repeat till you have added all in.
  7. Fold in the poppy seeds.
  8. Put it into 2 greased and floured loaf tins.
  9. Add soften butter into a piping bag or ziplock bag and pipe a thin butter line on the batter’s centre.
  10. Bake.

 

From Garden to Table.

 

It’s been almost two years since I embarked on this journey of (what initially was) having my own herb garden so that I wouldn’t have to buy big packets of herbs to just use a few sprigs. The eventual goal was not to buy any more of the commonly used herbs. What really started me off was a little dill plant that my dear friend gave me. Before that, I killed a lot of plants. Those supermarket herbs in pots were supposed to be able to grow well when repotted. It didn’t seem to happen that way for me at all. However, that dill (weed) grew rather easily and fast. It gave me the confidence booster that I needed to try again.

Soon I was onto hydroponics (growing mint and basil. That grew very well and effortlessly until the mint became much bigger and then the styrofoam box couldn’t hold the weight of the tall growing plants. So I went off to Ikea to buy some terracotta pots. I repotted those and they grew very well. I gradually added plants from Far East Flora to my collection like curry leaf, lime, pandan (screw pine), peppermint, rosemary and sage.

During my trip to New York, I chanced upon a fantastic collection of seeds from Botanical Interests. Their lovely packaging enticed me to buying quite a few packs to try and grow them. Besides those seeds, I brought home organic lemons from Whole Foods. Those lemons were deseeded and planted. Out of these, I successfully grew broccoli, blue lake beans, golden zucchini, a basil mix and the lemon. I’ve harvested the broccoli leaves and stir fried them. They taste like kale or chinese broccoli (which are both from the same family from it).

I also took a small piece of Japanese sweet potato that had sprouted and grew that. To my surprise, it took only 4 months before I was able to enjoy Japanese sweet potatoes. Usually to be able to store sweet potatoes and develop their sweetness, they are cured. The process involves drying the sweet potatoes on the surface of the soil for a day, then transferring them into a box and letting them sit for 8 days to 2 weeks. What this does is it breaks down the starch in the sweet potato into simple sugar. In this case, we wanted to taste it fresh so in this picture, this sweet potato was steamed the next day. Uncured sweet potato tastes not as sweet and more starchy.

What is the most special to me in my garden has to be the plants that were cuttings or plants swapped from someone else’s garden. I have a roma tomato plant from my best friend, a fig tree from my dearest uncle and of course that dill. I’m looking forward to using the fig leaves to braise, smoke, steam or grill meat in.

Growing some of your own produce helps you to understand food better from an end to end perspective. I’ve learned just from my garden, how all the elements that we take for granted affects the flavour (and growth) of my produce, how watering also affects it. In my also strange sideward glance perspective, I feel more connected to the environment, and every time I eat something, I have so much reverence for the farmer. The arduous toil to force a living from the land. I feel compelled to eat everything and leave nothing to waste because I think that will be the best way to show my gratitude. I think also harder about the fresh produce I buy, I rather pay more for a smaller quantity because that’s what I really need and I rather buy better quality meat, fruits and vegetables.

Eating mass farmed produce, simply does not taste the same. It lacks flavour because most of them are harvested before they are allowed to ripen on the tree/vine. That’s why if you can get the fresh produce from farm to table as soon as you can (besides the exception of root vegetables like potatoes, onions or garlic that need to be cured to improve the flavour), they will taste the best. Tomatoes for example lose their flavour gradually after they have been off the vine even though they might still continue to turn red. My best memory of some of the best fruits I’ve eaten were when I was studying in Melbourne. Strawberries plucked fresh from the farm, or when a speciality fruit grocer had first picking of the harvest season fruits (I hear some of these are even auctioned off), these were the best tasting fruits. It was amazing, nothing came close. I remembered eating them and thinking how fortunate I was and how inspired I was to want to cook a good dish out of them.

 

Measuring Success.

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I’ve always wondered about measuring my ingredients especially when it comes to cooking savoury food. When you read many recipes, for example: it calls for a carrot, but they never ever tell you how big or small that carrot is. So the question is, does it matter?

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In my opinion, for savoury food, it’s open to your judgement of how much of the different ingredients you want to add in (provided you are not doing molecular gastronomy). The acceptable range is pretty wide. It really is to taste because like I mentioned in a previous post, what you taste may not be the same as what someone else tastes. However, when they tell you to add a dash of vinegar, is there a quantifiable amount? A dash is around 1/16 of a teaspoon, and a pinch is what you can pick up with the first 3 fingers. For savoury, I believe in practising restrain. Just because you may like a certain ingredient, doesn’t mean you should be heavy handed with it. Also the rule of the thumb is to taste taste taste. Try to season as you go, why? If you season only at the end, you get only the salt on top of the dish. What you want is the flavour to be infused in the entire dish.

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For sweets on the other hand, precision is very important. There is also that little problem of the weather. For pastry, bread and cookies/biscuits, you need to know what sort of texture you need to get to because most recipes are tried and tested in dry countries. Did you know that flour and sugar absorbs humidity? So if you were to measure flour in a cup, you will realise that on days that are more humid, for the same cup of flour, you’re actually getting less flour in terms of amount.  What I would recommend you to do is to always weigh out what the equivalent is. For example, one cup of flour is around 230g (for me) Go through the exercise of measuring out in weight 1 cup of all the different ingredients (plain flour, self-raising, white caster sugar, brown sugar, etc) in your environment. For eggs, the standard size I use is 55g. Importantly, look at your batter, bread or cookie dough’s texture, and adjust it if it is too wet/dry. You may not know what optimum should look like at the first try but after doing this often enough, you will know for sure what it should be. And if all else fails, google for a photo of what someone else’s looks like and compare.

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The last thing which is really important is temperature. When I get a new oven, I love baking cookies in it. I do that to figure out where the hot spots in my oven are. If you just want to go through this exercise without wasting your good cookie dough, buy the frozen one and follow the instructions very carefully because those are very vigorously tested and if you were to follow the instructions, you should get the same cookies every time. I also use an oven thermometer to understand my oven. Sometimes it doesn’t always read the same temperature inside as what you are trying to calibrate it to be. Also when deep drying, use a candy/deep frying thermometer to make sure that the oil temperature is between 170 degC and 180degC.

I know that these things are common sense to some and it also takes experience to tell if your measurements are good for the recipe, but enjoy the experience. Keep going, and keep tweaking as you go. It’s all part of the learning process.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake: Part 1, The Cake

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Before I get down to the recipe, a little background. This MilkBar cake was designed for a customer’s son. When I customise a cake for someone, I find out what that person’s favourite desserts and fruits, and usually from the answer I can roughly tell the customer’s preferred flavour palate. In this case, he liked peanut butter, caramel, chocolate, salt and bananas. As he was a teenager, I wanted to keep it simple. So I proposed a Valrhona chocolate buttermilk cake with salted peanut butter buttercream. Two sponges sandwiching a layer of peanut butter buttercream and Valrhona crunchy chocolate pearls.

After much thought, I decided that this cake recipe should be divided into 2 parts because by separating the sponge itself from the buttercream, I can explain in greater detail the rationale of what makes the cake good. After all, the basis of a good cake is the science behind it. Do note that everything formulated by me is through empirical knowledge.

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The general philosophy of what baking a cake is (to me): the emulsion of fats and water (liquids). It’s the gentle balance between both of them. So that’s why when you over add fluids, you will see the cake batter split (break). It can happen from even adding eggs that are too big. When that happens though, most recipes will tell you to add in flour. It only helps to hide the split but it actually doesn’t solve it. Instead it actually makes the cake more dense.

A couple of things to take note. Milk is an emulsion of water and milk fats. Egg whites are made of proteins and water. When to use baking powder or baking soda? Baking soda for me when there is a presence of acids (like in buttermilk, yoghurt). In most cases for a chocolate cake, they will use cocoa powder. I find that it dries the cake. Instead, using chocolate and melting it down, is a lot more work and trickier but gives you a better flavour.

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When melting chocolate be careful because melting chocolate is sensitive to water. Just a tiny drop of water is what it takes to cause a chocolate seizure. Why? Chocolate is a dispersion (opposite of an emulsion), consisting of solids distributed in a fatty (continuous) phase. It contains miniscule cocoa particles (mean diameter ca. 0.016 mm) and sugar particles too small for our tongue to notice them as grainy when properly distributed. The sugar is hydrophilic (water loving), and repelled by the fat. An important function of the lecithin emulsifier is to build protecting layers around the sugar particles so that they don’t separate from the fatty phase and give a grainy texture. The emulsifier is commonly lecithin (lecithin is also a natural constituent of egg yolk, and the main reason for why the yolk doesn’t split into a fatty and a watery phase).

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In the case of this cake, after adding 4 eggs, you will see the batter split, adding the chocolate, it will act as the binder and bring the cake batter back together.

Also I check my cake whether it is ready by catching a whiff of the cake, then using my fingers to press the centre of the cake (it should bounce back) and come away from the cake tin sides slightly.

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake (adapted from “More from Magnolia”)

makes 1 big cake in 2 or 3 layers, or 24 cupcakes.

Oven setting: for 8” layers 140degC, cupcakes 150degC. Use fan forced setting.

 

170g of Valrhona chocolate couverture (I like mine at least 60% Cocoa)

200g of unsalted President Butter (soften, check by stabbing it with a knife, it should go through easily. The butter should also not be melting)

1 cup of brown sugar

½ cup of white caster sugar

4 eggs ( I use 55g eggs)

2 cups of plain (all purpose) flour

1 tsp of baking soda (always make sure they are not more than 6 months old)

1 cup of cultured buttermilk (room temperature)

½ tsp of vanilla extract (my favourite is Nielsen-Massey or real deal vanilla extract)

 

  1. Using a pot of boiling water, put a bowl over and melt the chocolate couverture. Make sure the water isn’t touching the base of the bowl. Then keep stirring until the chocolate melts. Leave aside to cool to room temperature.

 

  1. Sieve the flour and baking soda together. Then using a whisk, whisk the flour. This is to introduce more air into the cake. (By the way if you don’t own a sieve, you can just whisk the flour as well.

 

  1. Use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or hand mixer with beater attachments to beat the soften butter. Then add both brown and white sugar in parts to the whipped butter and keep mixing them until you see that the sugar crystals in the mixture has become very fine and the mixture has also become fluffier and paler.

 

  1. Using a spatula, scrape the sides of the bowl. Always try to scrape the bowl after every addition to ensure even mixing.

 

  1. Add eggs one at a time and using a mixer (hand/stand), mix before every additional egg. (Add egg, mix, scrape, repeat)

 

  1. Pour the 1 tsp of vanilla extract in. Mix till incorporated.

 

  1. Add in melted chocolate. Mix.

 

  1. Add in 1/3 of flour, mix lightly till you don’t see the flour bits, then add in ½ of buttermilk, mix. Repeat till you finish both buttermilk and flour.

 

  1. Grease and flour cake tins (if you are using that) or line 24 cupcake moulds with paper. Put in the middle of the oven. Bake.

 

Have fun baking! I absolutely love the beautiful soft crumbs that this recipe gives. This is a very moist and soft chocolate cake. Very delicious.

 

 

 

The Taste and Flavour Confusion.

 

This is my definition of both taste and flavour.

Taste: sensation of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (savoury meaty taste) in the mouth, caused by a chemical reaction between the taste receptor cells and the substance in the mouth.

Flavour: The mixture of smell and taste.

One of the strange things that I discovered is that spiciness is not a taste. Instead it is just                                     a form of pain!

 

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Taste receptors (also known as taste buds) are located in and around papillae. There are 4 main types of papillae; foliate, circumvallate (triggers saliva production), fungiform (white bumps on your tongue) and filiform. Filiform papillae (the red part of your tongue) has no taste receptors. To sum it up:

Fungiform papillae: all over the tongue and they can sense all 5 tastes but depending on where they are located.

Bitter: Fungiform papillae + circumvallate papillae

Sour: Fungiform papillae: Fungiform papillae + Foliate papillae

Umami: I deduce that it triggers both sweet and salty taste receptors.

The human saliva is made up of digestive chemicals (enzymes and acids) which interact with the substance in our mouth and also starts the process called chemical digestion (in the digestive system there are both chemical and mechanical digestion).

If you think of your taste receptors as sensors (aka data collectors), it’s collecting the data from the suite of chemicals (the product of the saliva interacting with the substance) in our mouth and transmitting them to our brain which analyses them as sweet, sour, salty, bitter or umami.

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Airborne odor molecules, called odorants, are detected by specialized sensory neurons located in a small patch of mucus membrane lining the roof of the noseAxons of these sensory cells pass through perforations in the overlying bone and enter two elongated olfactory bulbs lying against the underside of the frontal lobe of the brain.

Odorants stimulate receptor proteins found on hairlike cilia at the tips of the sensory cells, a process that initiates a neural response. An odorant acts on more than one receptor, but does so to varying degrees. Similarly, a single receptor interacts with more than one different odorant, though also to varying degrees. Therefore, each odorant has its own pattern of activity, which is set up in the sensory neurons. This pattern of activity is then sent to the olfactory bulb, where other neurons are activated to form a spatial map of the odor. Neural activity created by this stimulation passes to the primary olfactory cortex at the back of the underside, or orbital, part of the frontal lobe. Olfactory information then passes to adjacent parts of the orbital cortex, where the combination of odor and taste information helps create the perception of flavor.

taken from brain facts.org

By the way, smell is also a key contributor to nostalgia or heavily linked to memories (of moments and places). We’ve touched on this in the first blog post, “Seasoned with Nostalgia”.

Apparently if you only tasted without smelling, the mouth only captures texture and just taste (sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami). Tests have been done on people tasting food without smelling and apparently, without smell, you won’t be able to tell the difference between a skinned raw potato and a slice of skinned apple. Coffee would also taste horrible (the flavour of coffee comes mainly from the smell).

Bearing all that in mind, that is also why different things taste different to different people (especially if their smell is impaired). There are so many different things that play very crucial parts in determining flavour; your saliva chemical make up, your taste receptors in picking up these chemicals, how acute your sense of smell is and how your brain analyses that information from the mouth and the nose.

So what makes a chef better than the other (besides technique)? It unfortunately is how sensitive that person is in terms of flavour recognition. Some call it a very sensitive palate (the model example would be the great French chef, Joel Robuchon). Can this be trained? Yes (but I also believe up to only a certain degree because of the human/hardware limitation). Also as we grow older, our taste buds die, so we are also left with as little as half of the initial number of taste buds. That makes us less sensitive to taste.

Old-schooled Japanese chefs are known to go through vigorous training of the palate. Some would eat a week of just rice, unsalted boiled cabbage and tofu for a week to “calibrate” their tastebuds. After a week, flavours are supposed to be more pronounced.

In Germany, there are also classes organised by the German Neurological Society teaching people how to recognise flavours.

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Then there is this. Flavour wheels developed by many different associations. There’s one for coffee, wine, whiskey, chocolate, maple syrup, seafood, etc. Using these can also help us to train our palate.

The importance of this topic is the fact that there is no right or wrong answer to how a flavour is to one person or another. There is only a more right answer than another (*wink wink*) However, to be a brilliant chef, being able to understand how flavours are created (smell + taste) is important. Having a sensitive palate  can make a difference in the food we produce. For example, did you know that the herb rosemary is more of a smell than a taste? It is actually bitter in the mouth. So we don’t necessarily need to eat the herb, instead we can release its aroma in the food we cook and to the person enjoying it, it will come across as a flavour. In fact most herbs are also that way, they are more of a smell than a taste.

Food photos from a visit to Odette, Singapore (2015)

For a change try this. When you consume something, enjoy it slowly. Engage all your senses. Don’t get distracted by a book, your smart phone, or your train of thoughts. Maybe not for all your meals, but for those that are special, try that. Be present in that moment. Let your senses take it all in (close your eyes if you need to when tasting, it’s supposed to heighten your other senses) and allow your brain register that moment. Then turn to your companion and share that moment. After all, no good meal is ever complete without good company.

 

To Share Or Not?

I’m a third generation baker as my aunt would call it. My aunt (my dad’s sister) and my grand-aunt (my dad’s mother’s younger sister) are home bakers. They have been in this business for decades by now. They don’t advertise but they get the word around by word of mouth. So what has this topic got to do with them? They don’t believe in sharing their recipes.

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Some examples of traditional kuehs but these are not baked by my grandaunt.
My grandaunt is rather famous for her homemade kuehs (traditional cakes from Singapore/Malaysia). I loved her kuehs since I was I was a child. I never really knew that she was that famous until I had a slice of her walnut cake at a party and when asked where the hostess had purchased it from, she declared,” There’s this lady who makes very good kuehs in Bukit Timah. she’s known as Mrs Lim from Maple Ave.” My eyes lit up! “She’s my grandaunt!”, I exclaimed. Truth be told, she does make really good kueh lapis (a yellow spiced baked layered cake), kueh lapis sagu (a colourful steamed coconut cake, some would also know it as 九层糕), kueh salat (a coconut jam custard cake with a base of glutinous rice coloured with butterfly blue pea flower), otah (a savoury fish cake in banana leaf, usually steamed then grilled) and a walnut cake (her version is made up of light vanilla and shaved chocolate sponges baked with lots of chopped walnuts on top and sandwiching jam). My grandaunt is a poster child for traditional baking. She even got my grand-uncle (or Uncle James as we would affectionately call him) to come up with a machine that would help her extract pandan “juice”, or coconut milk because it was starting to hurt her hand when she did it. She goes as far as to use butterfly blue pea flowers collected from her garden to create the marbling effect in the steamed glutinous rice in her kueh salat (most kueh salats nowadays use colouring if you see the colour blue or the rice is just left uncoloured). She even bakes her kueh lapis in small table top Baby Belling ovens. According to her, the heat in that particular brand of oven is the most even. She’s 77 years old (at the time of publication), so the question of passing down her legacy and sharing her recipes has come up. I have on a few occasions been rather audacious to ask her outright if she would share her recipes with me. For example at a cousin’s wedding rehearsal dinner, she hand carried her otah with her to Perth and it was served at that dinner. I stood next to her and while enjoying her otah, praised her culinary skills extravagantly then proceeded to ask for the recipe. She looked at me, and said,”It’s just fish and chilli.” That’s all I got out of her. On another occasion, she had very kindly put up a visiting cousin in her home, and when my cousin woke up for breakfast, my grandaunt wouldn’t let her into the kitchen to watch her bake. She is determined to take the recipes to the grave with her.

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A candy house cake for me. (1987)

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A Smurfette cake for my sister. (1987)

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My aunt’s chocolate fudge cake. (2016)
My dad’s sister (who is 75 years old at the time of publication) has been baking many of my family members’ birthday cakes since my sister and I were little. My aunt used to be a dancer in her younger days, then years later a school teacher. In her 40s, she retired, became a housewife and decided to bake on the side. When I was young, my dad would get me to help him in the kitchen but my aunt was actually the first one to teach me baking. I remembered during a school break when I was in primary school (7-12 years of age), she came over with a recipe for oatmeal muffins. She brought over ingredients, and taught my sister and I how to weigh and mix. We didn’t use any mixers then, it was all done with a spatula. When it comes to art, my aunt is a perfectionist. She would decorate her tasty cakes beautifully with buttercream flowers, patterns, and even free hand cut out and iced cartoon characters for children birthdays. I loved her swiss rolls, chocolate fudge (we used to take them to school for teacher’s day), and her soursop cake. My aunt was never mysterious or secretive with her recipes unlike my grandaunt but she always had one clause. I can never share it with anyone. Her stance on this is that most of the recipes were formulated by her, therefore her pride and joy. Also they were what her business was built upon so she didn’t want any competitors selling the same cakes as her.

I’ve wrestled with this for a while before. While I’m not exactly secretive with my recipes (having shared some with friends and family), but sharing with the general public on the other hand, I was hesitant. I’ve asked myself if there is a line that I should draw? My aunt of course does not think that I should share anything with anyone. I must keep that air of mystery around my products. Her exact words that she used were “be exclusive” and “protect your signature product”. A few years ago, a magazine editor from a NTUC lifestyle magazine (it has the biggest subscription in Singapore reaching 200,000 readers) called me, requesting for me to contribute 3 recipes to publish. I thought about it for quite a while, I could give any recipe that MilkBar doesn’t sell, or I could give them the recipe for my salted caramel sauce (which they did ask if I would). After much consideration, I decided that I’ll give them the recipe for my salted caramel sauce, a surprise tart and mille feuille that they could use the sauce as part of the dessert. After all, giving the recipe does not ensure that they would be able to execute it. So I gave the excited editor my recipes and over a span of a few months after it was published, I received emails from readers, asking questions about the recipes, and thanking me. I also shared a recipe for a coconut cake during a baking demonstration at the APS Lifestyle showroom (who are the distributors of SMEG) during my pop-up event there. It was actually really nice to meet and greet other fellow (curious) home bakers and MilkBar customers.

When I started this blog, this question came up again. Friends wanted to know if I would be sharing recipes on this website? To address the elephant in the room, the answer is yes. I believe that cooking and baking is 30% a recipe, 70% technique and the individual’s human touch. It’s quite unlikely that 2 people using the same recipe would produce the dish to the same effect. There really is no reason to be selfish. In fact, there is a lot to learn together. I don’t admit to knowing everything or am brilliant at everything, but one thing is for sure, I am on the same journey as many other cooks, chefs and bakers alike. We are all trying to hone our skills, we all want to get better because we are passionate about our craft. Making mistakes, troubleshooting and trying all over again is all part of that learning process. Having said that, this blog is the vehicle to share my experiences and if God willing, hopefully one day this blog will grow and there will be more like-minded authors to share their food philosophies, inspirations and their journeys besides mine.