Wednesday, July 30, 2014

matcha cheesecake.


So I actually had a chocolate cake scheduled today because I had this wonderful vision of using this ingredient, which I won't reveal just yet of course, to decorate the outsides but I was mildly sick of chocolate somewhat so I decided to postpone the idea. In fact I think I'm tired of the texture of cake; I bake way too many cakes all the time because they are so gloriously versatile and perfect for my random decoration brainwaves.


Because I temporarily gave up on my fabulous cake idea *grins* I had to choose something equally stunning in appearance to make up for the disappointment (even though it was my own fault). I turned to my new Japanese recipe book that focuses on decorating techniques. There were so many enticing options but I settled on this cheesecake firstly because it had no cake component whatsoever and secondly, I had cream cheese to use up. The instructions were also relatively uncomplicated which was great as the decision to switch was pretty last minute.



The decorating stage was the most fun as usual. I had no idea that those little tadpole/leaf designs were so easy to do! After I finished dotting the surface with them I stood back and I thought to myself that the cake looked pretty good in a simple yet presentable way, but I just couldn't leave it as it was. Like what's new. I took some extra matcha filling, whipped up some more cream, stirred them together, got out my piping bag with the star tip, filled it with the matcha cream and started piping. At first I piped six frilly little mounds of cream, spaced equally apart from each other. I still had some more cream left though, and before I knew it I was filling the spaces with smaller mounds of cream. It looked rather messy, like a border of misplaced afterthoughts like it really was, so I concluded that the newer tufts of cream needed something to differentiate them from the larger ones. I raided my snack cupboard for an appropriate decoration and I found some collon biscuits that were green tea flavored as well - jackpot. I stopped myself short of adding silver dragees, thankfully.


The matcha filling is really airy and fluffy, very mousse-like. Honestly speaking, I would increase the amount of matcha powder but it still tastes acceptable. If you like a very intense matcha flavour though, feel free to amp it up!


Matcha Cheesecake
makes a 6 inch cake

For the crust:
45g butter
22g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
90g flour
egg white, for brushing onto the baked crust

For the matcha cream cheese filling:
75g cream cheese, softened
25ml milk
15g sugar
1 1/2 tsp matcha powder
3g powdered gelatin softened in 15ml water
50ml cream, beaten to medium-stiff peaks
25g egg whites beaten to stiff peaks with 10g sugar

For decoration:
50ml cream beaten to medium-stiff peaks with 1 tsp sugar

Make the crust: Cream the butter and icing sugar until well combined. Add the egg yolk and beat until incorporated. Stir in the flour.

Press the dough evenly into a 6 inch round pan, prick the surface with the tines of a fork and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Bake in an oven preheated at 170C for 15 minutes. Brush the egg white over the surface and bake for another 2 minutes. Cool completely before proceeding.

Make the matcha cream cheese filling: Beat the cream cheese and milk until combined. Add in the sugar and matcha powder and stir until incorporated. Stir in the softened gelatin. Fold in the beaten cream. Fold in the beaten egg whites in two additions until all traces of egg white disappear. Pour batter into the cooled crust, reserving 1 tbsp for decoration. Chill until firm.

Decorate the cake: Spread the whipped cream evenly on the surface of the matcha filling. Pipe small dots of the reserved matcha filling on top. Use a toothpick and drag it through each dot to create a tadpole kind of pattern. Chill until whipped cream has firmed up before serving.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

salted caramel toasted walnut shortbread bars.


The spatula beats and smooshes the cubes of butter into an undistinguishable mass of yellow. Throw in crystals of sugar and salt, piles of brown, white and white, stir. Throw in another pile of white, but this time powdery and less bright, stir.

Pat pat pat, the dough morphs from a sphere into a rectangle. The pan clangs loudly against the metal racks, the oven door shuts with a small squeak. Seven minutes, eight minutes, nine, the dough is uneven with mini hills. There is a fork on the counter, its tines still clean. Whoops.

Into the saucepan goes three-dimensional squares of various sizes and colours. And then a puddle of gold, and then a splash of milky white. It's a mess - how could this ever become caramel? But it can, it will.


The sweet-smelling liquid in the saucepan sizzles and bubbles furiously like lava. Stand back, hold your breath, rotate your wrists; freshly toasted walnuts slide down the sheet pan with a whoosh and fall into the pan in a parade of soft thuds. The caramel hushes. A small capful of vanilla goes in. Ah, it's alive again.

A long mechanical beep breaks the stillness of the kitchen. The pan comes out, the caramel goes in, and back in the pan goes again.

Another beep sounds. Is it done?

Yes it is.


I placed the bars in the fridge overnight to chill, thinking that if the caramel was firm it would be easier to slice but no. The coldness did its job too well and I had to invest a lot of muscle power into breaking up the large slab. I remember pressing on the knife continuously for 30 seconds but it created barely more than a visible line on the surface. Well I guess after 5 minutes of struggling the warmth of the weather helped more than my pathetic attempts at hacking at it and I finally managed to divide it up into small chunks. Not without shards of caramel and shortbread debris flying everywhere though!


All that slicing took so much work that I couldn't help but pick out a piece to nibble on to replace all the energy I expended. And I think that was actually quite a bad idea because I ended up with a few too many pieces gone. I couldn't help it, it was just so. good. Sweet, salty, crunchy, gooey, need I go on? Definitely make this. Please.


Oh and if you place your cursor over a picture you might notice this icon popping up. Do you see it? Yay you do! And yes it's pinterest's symbol! I finally got this function up and running so that you guys can pin away more effortlessly. In fact I was so excited that I managed to pull it off I even dedicated a post to it. Okay, announcement's over; now back to these bars.

 
Salted Caramel Toasted Walnut Shortbread Bars
adapted from here

For the crust:
9 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour

For the filling:
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup agave (I used golden syrup)
1 + 1/2 tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted and cooled
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
coarse sea salt for finishing

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a 8 x 8 inch pan with parchment.

Cream the butter, sugars and salt until light and fluffy. Add the flour and stir until just combined. Press firmly and evenly into the prepared pan, prick all over with a fork and bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Place on the cooling rack while you make the filling.

Make the filling: Reduce oven temperature to 325F.

Place the butter, sugars, agave, heavy cream and salt into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to boil for about 3 minutes, or until caramel is thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, stir in the toasted walnuts and vanilla and pour on top of the crust.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture has begun to bubble. Remove from oven and let it cool to room temperature. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Slice when the bars are completely cooled. You can place the pan in the fridge to speed up the cooling process.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

pinterest-ready!


Hi all! I have just pulled off an amazing feat, for me at least - I have enabled the pin button for my images so that you guys can upload the images to Pinterest more easily! Applause, fireworks, whoops of joy! I'm not the most tech-savvy person so even something like this can cause me to suffer a nervous breakdown; please forgive my over-enthusiasm. Incidentally, this is also why my blog is plain and basic as can be. Adding a header is enough to make me feel like beheading myself (believe me, I tried to do so last year), and changing the template, let's not even go there. But you know what, I've kinda really grown to love the minimalist look over the years.

I would have liked to used this icon you see up there but after trying to customize the code it didn't work, so I just used the default instead. But I'm just really glad that I got it up and running so I'm okay with the iconic red. That, and because I really wanted to escape from the wall of techno-garble stat.

So anyway, I hope this benefits you guys! Pin away~

Saturday, July 19, 2014

brown sugar berries chocolate cake with vertical ombre frosting.


Helloo! It's cake again today! In fact I think it's cake 80% of the time around here. This time it's because I wanted to try the ombre frosting technique.

Usually, cakes frosted a la ombre would look something like this, with complementary colours spiraling up the cake in decreasing lightness, and I fully intended to do something like that until I realised that my cake was way to short to create a gradient of more than one colour. I then abandoned this idea (but not after first mentally berating myself for not using a smaller pan which I was close to doing (!)) and thought of maybe practicing piping some flowers but if I was going to pipe flowers then I would prefer to have different colours of them, and the problem was that I had only a piping tip of each kind. Which means that I would have to wash the piping tip and get out another pastry bag everytime I finish with a colour. Um, no thank you.


So I went back to my ombre idea and racked my brains for a way to make it work and it hit me suddenly that I could frost the cake in a vertical sort of way. Look at a cake from the top and mentally divide it into thirds, each in various shades - that's what I mean. I was a little hesitant when I started frosting, but then again it could be because this was only the second time I've tried ombre-ing, because the colours weren't quite like what I pictured them to be (not in a bad way, just different) and it was a little difficult proportioning the frosting equally. But after melding the borders of two colours into one and smoothing all the messy edges out, the cake actually looked pretty good. I think ombre frosting is definitely for me - I'm not the most meticulous and exacting person so sometimes I do a sloppy job of frosting (I don't have a turntable too so cut me some slack), so techniques like this that gives me a bit of room for messiness but still turn out quite amazing is just perfect. Just like how I love that the way to care for my permed hair is to mess it up~~


I didn't manage to frost the middle portion so well - a bit of the cake was showing through because the frosting was thin in certain parts - so I decided to use some cookie flowers that I'd frozen beforehand for emergencies such as this. The cake looks gorgeous if I do say so myself, so much so that I'm even slightly thankful for my lousy frosting abilities! But seriously, I need to get myself 50 cakes and 10 barrels of frosting and do something about this weakness of mine. Oh and get a turntable too.

So that's enough about the frosting and now moving on to the cake. Like I said, the main reason for baking this cake wasn't about trying out a new recipe but just frosting it so I wasn't fussed about the cake. I just picked out a recipe that I'd tried before and found it to be pretty decent. As I was getting the butter and egg out of the fridge though I spied a small tub of mixed berries yoghurt, and me being unable to follow recipes as they are written as usual I decided to grab that and replace the buttermilk called for in the original with it. I imagined that the finished cake would have just a faint hint of berries since chocolate is a very strong flavour but I was wrong. The whole kitchen was filled with the sweet smell of berries mixed with a bit of chocolate when the cake was baking. And it's pretty noticeable in the cake too, although chocolate dominates taste-wise. I quite like it, it keeps the predictable chocolate cake interesting.


Wow this cake feels like quite the adventure. I think I should stop here. I bet most of you have gotten tired of reading halfway - even I'm slightly tired of typing out all my self-instigated worries, but if you've followed my story to the very end, thank you! Please have some (pictures of) cake.


Brown Sugar Berries Chocolate Cake
makes a 6 inch cake

For the cake:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp + 2 tsp cake flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/3 cup butter, cubed and softened
1 egg
1/2 cup mixed berries yoghurt (or any other kind of berry yoghurt)
2/3 tsp vanilla extract

For the cream cheese frosting:
recipe here (make 2/3 of the recipe)

Optional:
cookies, recipe here

Bake the cake: Prepare a 6 inch cake tin.

Whisk all the dry ingredients together. Stir in the butter and mix until the mixture resembles moist crumbs. Add in the egg, yoghurt and vanilla and stir until well-combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for about 30 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool cake completely before frosting.

Frost the cake: Prepare the frosting according to the recipe. Divide the frosting into three portions and tint them in your desired colours. Take the darkest shade and frost one third of the cake with it. Take the second darkest shade and frost the middle portion. Don't worry about overlapping the first colour; in fact, you should! Finally cover up the last third of the cake with your lightest colour. Again, try to frost such that this and the second colour blend seamlessly at their borders. Refer to the pictures and the third paragraph if you're unsure of what I mean by a third. Chill the cake to allow the frosting to firm up.

If you're decorating the cake with the flower cookies as well, after they are baked they should be cooled completely before studding them into the frosting.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

brown sugar oreo cake.


"My birthday is next monday!"

"Oh really? Shall I make a cake and bring it to class?"

"I like oreos."

So the story goes, a very abbreviated version of it that is. I then found myself with the task of coming up with a birthday-worthy cake using oreos. And I enjoyed it as usual.

I am a chronic daydreamer. Close to half my waking hours are spent daydreaming; it may be an exaggeration, then again maybe not. I feel that most of the time my eyes are open but I'm seeing without really seeing. In front of me lies a magazine flipped open with its pages painted in kaleidoscopic hues but even the brightest of colours can't pull me back from my state of being plugged out from reality; these kinds of scenarios happen a lot and reaches an all day high when I'm in school.


One of my favorite things to daydream about is baking. What to bake next, specifically. I like having to innovate with the last bit of heavy cream, the remaining few slabs of white chocolate, the final spoonfuls of peanut butter than having an entire range of ingredients available to me. I think it's because my brain would just overload with the amount of possibilities and I would usually end up not baking because it's too tiring to think.

So I was glad that my friend named a particular ingredient she wanted in her cake. It's only one condition, which I think draws a certain boundary but doesn't restrict my creativity too much either. But I had other issues to think about as well. The cake had to be transported and exposed to super hot temperatures for at least 15 minutes so I wasn't about to risk frosting the cake for it may melt. Therefore, my two restrictions were: oreo, no frosting (but the cake still had to look good).


I started with the idea of a giant chocolate chip cookie cake with oreo pieces embedded in it. But I was afraid it would be too rich and too sweet for some and I momentarily played with the idea of making regular oreo-stuffed cookies. Then I wondered if cookies were festive enough for birthdays and decided that it was not, instead turning to a cake version of a chocolate chip cookie, replacing the chocolate chips with oreos. I would have picked it if I wasn't that particular about aesthetics; I mean - the cookie cake is supposed to bake up a little shorter than regular cakes and you know when it comes to birthday cakes, the bigger, the taller, the better. I think this paragraph is getting kinda long so I shall skip to the end where I finally decided to do this brown sugar oreo cake. My friend also likes cookie dough so I just adapted a regular yellow cake recipe, changing the white sugar to brown for a caramelly flavour that is reminiscent of chocolate chip cookies.


When the cake was baked the top, although littered with oreos, looked a little bare so I decided to drizzle a regular glaze over the surface. Halfway through I decided to add a little cocoa powder and continue waving my fork back and forth over the cake just for a little extra colour. I sliced the cake, I snacked on a few large crumbs that dislocated themselves from the slices. Baker's treat. The cake was so moist it might as well have been one that was made with oil and not butter.

Oreos or not, I'm bookmarking this recipe.


Brown Sugar Oreo Cake
makes a 7 inch tube cake

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
one sleeve of oreos (about 14), crushed roughly

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a 7 inch tube pan.

Whisk the cake flour, baking powder and salt until combined.

Cream the butter until smooth. Beat in the brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one by one, incorporating the first fully before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Stir in flour mixture in 3 additions and the milk in 2, incorporating each fully before adding the next. Stir in some of the crushed oreos.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining oreos on top. Bake for about 30 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely before slicing.

Friday, July 11, 2014

butterfly cookies.


When I'm absolutely bored out of my wits, feel like baking but have reached the capacity of my sugar intake for the week (I do have a limit, surprisingly), I turn to cookies, and the more complicated the better.

Cookie dough can be made in advance and stored in the freezer, defrosted and baked as and when your craving hits. Even if you bake the cookies straight away you don't have to finish them as soon as possible. Plus, cookie dough allows you to relieve your playdough years. (I was a huge fan of the giant tub of brightly-hued cylinders of dough that can be found at Ikea.)


Years ago I received a Japanese cookie recipe book from my cousin that has amazing cookie designs. Before I read that book my idea of a very fussy cookie was the cut-out kind - I could groan at the very thought of having to roll out dough of any variety in this tropical weather. Moments after you retrieve chilled dough from the fridge it's already melting all over your board. The dough is sticky, your hands are sticky and you really just want to wash all this sticky business off your hands. Then, buckets of flour later, there's the slightly difficult task of rolling out the dough to an even thickness all around. Needless to say, I seldom make cut-out cookies.

It's thus very strange that I'm beginning to like making cookies from that book. The instructions stated in it extends beyond simple rolling. You have to separate a batch of plain dough into several other smaller portions of different colours depending on the design you wish to execute and then shape them into thin cylinders fat cylinders triangular logs squares etc. You refrigerate the dough (there's a lot of waiting time involved overall), you combine all the components together. And it's not easy to keep true to the original design. But it's equally rewarding. As strange the final design turned out, I couldn't help feeling a small sense of satisfaction. The pink circles embedded in the purple wings are almost undistinguishable and their positions awkward, I forgot to add the top part of the feelers so something was clearly missing, and there are large gaps in in between the disproportionately-sized body and the brown rectangles that extend from it, but the colours work together beautifully and these definitely aren't your average chocolate chip cookies.


Today I'm not going to type out the instructions on how to make the butterfly shape because looking at these pictures I'm sure you wouldn't feel very compelled to try it out *insert laughs of embarrassment* but I shall share with you the recipe for the cookie dough because I think it's a great one to have on hand. Cookies made with this dough don't expand much so it's great for cookies with patterns and they taste great too!

Plain Cookie Dough

100g butter
75g sugar
1/2 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
170g cake flour
30g ground almonds

Beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar in two additions, beating until combined before adding the next. After adding in the second batch of sugar beat the mixture until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Fold in the cake flour and ground almonds just until combined. Refrigerate dough if too soft before shaping.

To retain the pale colour of the cookie dough I suggest that you bake it at 135C. How long the cookies need to bake depends on their shape and thickness.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

matcha pyramid cake.


Holla! How's everybody been? I've finally been granted a few days free from exams (free from worrying about exams as well) so after I finished my last paper, I went home and did the most logical thing - sleep. Then bake. I bet you were expecting baking to be my top priority, believe me I was betting on that too, but math just drained me of so much energy I was close to crawling the last stretch of pavement leading back home.


Over the past few weeks when I didn't get to bake at all, I had so much creative energy stored up inside of me bubbling so furiously that it was about to explode that I just couldn't even fathom baking anything from all my recipe books except for one titled Bake It Like You Mean It. I think I wrote about it before; it is my go-to book whenever I have a little more time, a little more energy and a whole lot of crazy. Almost all the recipes there are over. the. top. Perfect for my baking-starved soul.


I browsed through the book quickly and decided on a recipe called Chocolate Pyramid. Imagine layers of chocolate cake shortening in length, glued firmly together with a luscious chocolate buttercream and stacked up until it forms a mountainous shape. The entire top of the cake is enveloped in a dark shiny glaze and for the finishing touch, a dusting of cocoa powder. And every one of those components I changed to make my own matcha version of the cake.


I was all game to follow the recipe initially until I realised that the cake required almond paste which I didn't have. I had to change the cake recipe, so why not change everything else? Instead of the chocolate cake I baked a matcha almond cake, in place of the chocolate buttercream I made a salted honey buttercream and I changed the chocolate glaze to a matcha white chocolate ganache. My very own chocolate-pyramid-inspired cake.


I didn't really have a hard time assembling the cake although it was my first time making one in such a shape, but the slicing on a diagonal really had me worried. I was never good at slicing cakes length-wise in the first place and this cake was all out to expose my weakness. The cut ended up a bit crooked but after covering up all the defects with buttercream nobody would notice. I hope.


This is definitely one of those conversation-starter show-stopper cakes. The moment you slice into it with a serrated knife and gently nudge away the corner piece, your breath would be taken away by pattern that lies beneath. When I saw the insides, the first thought that came to me was that all that hard work slicing the layers was one hundred percent worth it.

Like what I did, you don't have to follow my recipe here and choose your own flavours of cake and buttercream and mould it into a pyramid. I think this is a great design and I can't wait to make more variants of the pyramid cake!


Matcha Pyramid Cake

For the matcha almond cake:
1 cup + 2 tbsp cake flour
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
2 tbsp matcha powder
3/4 stick unsalted butter, cubed and softened
1/2 cup milk
3 large egg whites
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9 x 13 inch sheet pan with parchment paper.

Whisk the milk, egg whites and extracts together.

Mix the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and matcha powder in the bowl of a mixer on low speed. Add the cubes of butter and continue beating on low speed until the mixture resembles moist crumbs.

Add all but 1/4 cup of the milk mixture and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add the remaining milk mixture and beat until incorporated.

Pour batter into pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool completely.

For the salted honey buttercream:
6 tbsp butter
3/4 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp honey
large pinch of salt

Cream the butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy. Add the honey and salt and beat until combined.

For the matcha white chocolate ganache:
100g white chocolate, chopped
100g heavy cream
1 tbsp matcha powder

Place the matcha power and white chocolate in a heatproof bowl.

Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan and pour over the white chocolate mixture. Let the mixture stand for about 2 minutes then stir until smooth. Refrigerate until slightly thickened.

Assemble the cake: Slice the cooled cake into four equal rectangles. Trim away any uneven edges. Spread a thin layer of buttercream on top of a rectangle and top with another piece of cake. Repeat until all the rectangles are used up (don't use all the buttercream) then place the cake in the freezer for about 1 hour or until very firm.

Slice the cake on the diagonal and rotate one of the triangles to form a pyramid. Spread the remaining buttercream on the sides of the triangles that are to be joined together. If you have any excess, frost the rest of the cake. Refrigerate until the buttercream is firm.

Glaze the entire cake in the ganache and refrigerate the cake again for it to solidify.

Serve.

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