Saturday, October 31, 2009

8

Spider Cupcakes

This may be a bit late for Halloween - it's still the 31st here, so maybe just in time! Halloween's not a huge thing here in Hong Kong - I've never even dressed up before for Halloween! Usually my friends and I would go to the annual Halloween Bash at Ocean Park (a theme park), but this year we're just all too busy, so I baked a batch of Spider Cupcakes to mark the occasion.

Of course, the last thing I'd like to dress up as, or see during Halloween are spiders. But I wouldn't mind having a spider morphed from a chocolate cupcake, with a generous slather of chocolate frosting, and sprinkled with more chocolate. I think they look cute, no?

The chocolate cupcake recipe I used was from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours, and the idea for decorations were from Bakerella. I was a bit disappointed with the cupcake because the crumb was very loose and the chocolate flavour was not deep enough. I defiantly going to stick to my favourite chocolate cupcake recipe in the future. The glaze, however, was nice and hassle-free to make. Made up of simply 3 ingredients - melted chocolate, butter and icing sugar - it tasted wonderful and had a lovely sheen to it.
To transform the cupcakes into scary, chilling arthropods, I used chocolate shavings or Varlhona crunchy pearls as the 'exo-skeleton', strawberry licorice for the legs and M&Ms for the eyes. I know that the heart-studded cupcake liners are hardly Halloween-ish, but that's all I had at home!

So after the transformation, I preserved them in a box in the fridge over night, and bought them to school for my friends to catch and devour. (In fact, some of my friends actually ate REAL spiders in Cambodia during Challenge Week! Cool, right?)

And finally as a Biology student, I do actually know that spiders have 8 legs (...but not without asking a friend first!), but I couldn't fit on 4 pairs - so theoretically all my spiders were disabled spiders!

I'm amazed by some of the Halloween creations other food bloggers have created. Here are some of my favourites: Brain Clot Cupcakes from Annie's Eats, Sugar Cookies from Sweetopia and Coffin Cookeis from Bake at 350. I'd love to try out some of those next year!

Here's me being a 'ghost', taken by myself using the self timer on my camera. If you're out for Halloween, it'd be something fun to do! Check out Photojojo for the tutorial. Aaand, Happy Halloween to you all!

(I'm not writing this post at home, so I do not have the cookbook with me - I'll update the recipe later. If you would like to see my favourite chocolate cupcake recipe, see my old post.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

9

Black and White Chocolate Birthday Cake

What's a birthday without a cake, right? Usually, if time permits, I'd try my best to bake cakes or other treats for my friends when their birthday comes. Hmm, let's count. The last one was a chocolate chiffon cake. Then it was a chocolate cheesecake. Oh, and the chocolate espresso mousse cake. Two of those, in fact. Chocolate cupcakes, chocolate tarts...Can we sense a theme here? :D

But for A., whom this cake was for, of course it had to be chocolate too - only both Black and White chocolate. As this year is the last time I'm going to celebrate my friends' birthdays with them before we go our own ways for uni, I promised myself that I have to bake them each a big, special birthday cake.

But making it special is not as easy as it sounds. This is the first time I've ever made a birthday cake with mulitple layers and fillings and frostings. Heck, I only bought my first offset spatula two days before! Even with my planning beforehand, I still encountered some problems, partly due to my clumsiness but mainly because I've never made such a cake before, I totally did not know what to expect and I panicked alot when...

...I was slicing the cake layers. I held the knife in one hand, and stared at the cake layer that was barely an inch high. How on earth do I slice that in half without accidentally slashing in the wrong direction? I took a deep breath, and gently sawed through the cake later. Phew. Although the layers were not particularly even, at least they held up! As the cake layers are quite soft and fluffy, I quickly stuffed them into the freezer to make sure they didn't snap in half of something. So the first scare was over.

...I frosted the layers. I'm not sure why, but I had a huge problem with the white chocolate whipped cream. See that ugly white layer in the photo above? Yeah, that. It was perfectly fine after I initially whipped it up - it was smooth and just firm enough to spread, but as per the recipe's instructions, I chilled it for around 2 hours. And after that, I took it out. I prodded it through the plastic wrap. The surface was firm. Not good.

It turned out that somehow, the cream had curdled in fridge, and I didn't have a backup plan. So I went ahead and used it for the middle layer, but it just looked too way bad and unappealing to be the frosting. So I sprinted down to the supermarket, grabbed another carton of whipped cream, ran back and whipped up some lightly sweetened cream and used it to frost the cake instead. It took me ages to get the frosting right, as I've never frosted a big cake before and it was hard to get the crumb coat right, to get the top and sides smooth.

But finally, the cake was done. The top was simply decorated with homemade white chocolate curls and some store bought dark chocolate shavings. I quickly photographed it, and went to sleep - tired, yet happy that I found an alternative to the white chocolate cream disaster. But I was anxious too, as I was very very scared that the white chocolate cream I used for the filling would separate over the night, and mess up the whole cake.

But the next night, after our long day of Challenge Week golfing, 9 holes, a barebeque... it was cake time! We took the photos, sang the song, the birthday girl made her wishes...and finally it was time for me to slice and serve the cake. I took a deep breath in my brain, and cut the cake into slices. All was well. I simply cannot describe how relieved I was to see that the slices came out nicely and the white chocolate cream filling was perfectly fine! And it was actually somewhat symmetrical with the layers looking fairly intact!

So everyone had their slice, and everyone said it was goooood. I felt satisfied and bubbly and excited and happy to see that everyone enjoying it, and that my first layered cake was successful, that everything turned out fine eventually albeit the glitches in the process. So I rightfully dug into my slice to taste the fruit of my labour.

Well, since the cake was made with a fluffy buttermilk white cake, a rich dark chocolate pastry cream, real white chocolate cream and well, more sweetened whipped cream (and of course the love and effort I put in too), it was just simply decadent. The smooth creams complemented the cake well, and the sweetness was just right so the flavours of both chocolates came through. In fact, I was glad that I used whipped cream for the frosting, as it helped round all the layers together nicely and so the cake is not too heavy and cloying.

If you're a chocoholic for both chocolates that's looking for a cake to bake, why not this? The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours. The recipe can be found on this site. (Sorry, I'm too tired to type it all up :P In fact, A. was the person who helped me order this book from Amazon, so what's better to bake a cake from that book for her?)

Happy Birthday for the nth time A.! I'm really really glad you liked the cake!

Although layered cakes are probably a no-brainer for practically everyone but me, to myself, it seems like I've reached a mini baking milestone. And honestly? I can't wait to bake the next big-special-birthday cake!

P.S. Actually I had my 17th birthday a few weeks ago too, in case anyone wondered why the 'About Me' section has changed :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

1

My Favourite YouTube Channel - Cooking with Dog

Apart from baking, I enjoy cooking very much too. One thing I like the most that you do in cooking but not baking is chopping. I feel empowered with a nice, sharp kitchen knife - for example, there's a sense of satisfaction I get when I manage to chop up an onion into a neat mince, despite having tears rolling down my face! Another important thing is that I get to learn a lot from my mum when we're working together in the kitchen. The tips and tricks that are passed down the family from daughter to daughter is always valuable, as you probably won't be able to find them anywhere else.

Occasionally I'd be in charge of making dinner, using the opportunity to try dishes that made my mouth water the instant I saw them on the Internet, or say, practice cooking more so I don't have to survive on just instant noodles when I get to uni! This is what I made for dinner last night:


So, back to my favourite YouTube channel. I stumbled across it a few months ago, and after watching my first video - I was hooked. Literally. I have been known to procrastinate by watching video after video on Cooking with Dog. In short, the videos teach you how to make everyday Japanese dishes, demonstrated by a lovely Japanese woman, and hosted by a dog called Francis.In this post I'd like to introduce you to this wonderful channel and show you some of the dishes I've made:

Hamburg Steak, also known as Hanbagu - my latest dish. It's a Japanese recreation of the American Hamburger, but it's a little thicker and very juicy, and is served as a main dish.


I think my go at it was pretty good - the patty was indeed very juicy and the onion gravy was absolutely delicious - it smelled great with the addition of butter, but wasn't very oily or heavy. The potato wedges were also pan fried, but the potato was parboiled, cooled slightly then cut. I was surprised that even by cooking them in a pan, the exterior was still very crispy and it's much quicker than roasting them in an oven. However, a glitch did occur - I severely over salted the broccoli, so it was inedible. Oops!

Yaki Gyoza (Pan fried dumplings). My sister and mum helped out a bit with this as we wrapped them together one afternoon. Frying them in sesame oil gives a lovely, enticing fragrance to the gyozas and by using the method, the skin crisped up very nicely. Hard to resist eating a whole plateful! I like to dip them in some soya sauce mixed with Chinese black vinegar and a dash of sesame oil.


Omurice, which was my first attempt at making something from CWD. Okay, the ketchup blob was a fail, because I was pouring from the bottle, not from a squeeze bottle. But apart from that, I remember that the tomato fried rice was delicious even on its own. I was so glad that the omurice came together well - i.e. I didn't tear the egg or overly brown the surface. The lady makes it seem so easy on the video, but in fact, it's actually really hard to control the size of the egg sheet, how much rice to put in, and keeping it intact when flipping it over is actually very hard!


Technically, a dessert: Shiratama (chewy glutinous rice balls). There isn't an actual video on it, but one day I had a huge urge to try make shiratama, and I followed the instructions on their video on Tofu Dango. I simply mixed roughly equal amounts of Japanese glutinous flour (shiratamako) and water, shaped them into balls and boiled them until they floated and were cooked.

These little balls are chewy, the perfect accompaniment with ice cream as it provides a great textural contrast. Here, I ate them with Goma (black sesame) ice cream that was scooped with a mini ice cream scoop so they are around the same size as the shiratama, and with a sprinkling of ground black sesame seeds. An alternative to the normal wafers or cookies, adding a nice twist to your otherwise plain bowl of ice cream!

So, I hope that you will watch some of the videos from that channel too and try your hand it some of the dishes!

Do tell me if you have any other favourite cooking channels that you would recommend! I'm never tired of watching videos on cooking or baking :)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

7

Sun Dried Tomatoes - Pastas and Flatbread

I love tomatoes. Whether it be just eating them in raw slices, or cooked with eggs (Stir fried tomato eggs, a Chinese dish), or in tomato soup, or in the sauce in a pasta dinner...but one thing I have been longing to try is sun dried tomatoes. I've come across this ingredient many times before both in cooking and baking recipes, but I only bought my first jar of sun dried tomatoes in oil and the dried ones a month or so ago, after years of wanting to try one (although it may be a basic staple in western households, they were actually really hard to get hold of in Hong Kong!)

When I got home with my beloved jar, I immediately popped open the lid, snipped half a tomato, and ate it. Mmmm. The flavour is hard to describe - sweet, yet a little sour, with a deep flavour that I was hooked with at the first instant. With the ones in oil, I made the Sun Dried Tomato Pasta Salad from Pioneer Woman and a Pesto Pasta from Use Real Butter. Both were delicious as they contained my newest favourite condiment and well, Parmesan cheese.

As for the baking side, I bought another variety of the sun dried tomatoes - the dehydrated packaged ones and used them for a Sun Dried Tomato Flatbread. Thinking about it, the last time I made bread was way back in...April! I was sure excited about making this, and I thought the dough wouldn't be hard to handle, but unfortunately, the dough was super sticky and I had to add around a whole extra cup of flour to get the dough firm enough for me to even knead it.

So, when the kneading was done (which took a while, but I'm not complaining - the action of kneading is just so relaxing and allows me to punch, whack and tear it as much as I want) I let it rise (which took a while too, because I forgot to preheat the oven to create the 'warm environment' for the yeast to do its thing) and finally, it was done and the whole flat smelled heavenly! I pulled it out of the oven just to find that the sun dried tomato pieces I placed on top were burnt. But fortunately, it didn't stick down, so I picked them off, resulting in the ugly surface. I immediately cut off a bit to try, and it was so good.

So taste wise, it didn't disappoint! The mildly sweet tomato pieces in the bread was a great contrast to the crunchy sea salt on the surface, and the dried basil really rounds the whole thing off with a lovely, mellow, Italian flavour. And the texture is something between a thick crust pizza and bread, but slightly crunchy crust is definitely the best bit!

I still have a few dried tomatoes left, so I think I'm going to make more bread with them too - maybe some tomato buns. Since I'm on Challenge Week and half term holiday (which means no school for two weeks, but nonetheless, a heap of work to be done), hopefully I can set aside more time to bake and update this space more!

Sun Dried Tomato Flatbread
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine, via Evan's Kitchen Ramblings

2 tsps active dry yeast
1 tsp caster sugar
1 1/3 cup lukewarm milk
2 1/2 cups plain flour (I had to add almost an extra cup of flour)
1 tsp table salt
1 tbsp olive oil + extra for brushing (I used the oil from the jar of oil soaked sundried tomatoes)
1/2 cup/1 oz sundried tomatoes, rehydrated and snipped into small pieces
sea salt, for topping
dried basil, for topping

1. Place the yeast, sugar and milk in a bowl and mix to combine. Set aside in a warm place for 5 mins or until bubbles appear on the surface.
2. Place the flour, salt, tomato pieces, oil and yeast mixture in a bowl and mix until a smooth dough forms. Knead on a lightly floured surface or a standmixer fitted with a dough hook for 5 mins or until smooth & elastic. (I kneaded by hand, took around 20 minutes and adding extra flour to get it to the right consistency)
3. Place dough in an well-oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 30 mins or until doubled in size. Punch dough down to release air. Press dough in baking tray, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and dried basil. Bake in a preheated oven of 180C for 15 mins or until golden.

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