Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Jasmine tea mousse

We're pretty spoiled for choice these days when it comes to tea-flavored cakes. The use of matcha/green tea in desserts has been popular for a long time... earl grey has gotten pretty trendy in recent years... and I was told recently, chai tea, though I've yet to try it myself.

Over the weekend I got a little adventurous and tried another tea flavor I've never worked with before - Jasmine! I might have gotten inspired by the coming of Spring... or it could just be that I got tired of seeing the box of jasmine tea in my kitchen cupboard (purchased previously on impulse...).

Jasmine tea has a very delicate floral taste, much lighter than earl grey or matcha - the mousse recipe I used kept it simple which ensured the jasmine tea flavor was not masked by something stronger. The mousse was placed on slightly bitter double chocolate sponge base - I found the contrast between the jasmine tea mousse and chocolate sponge base was very refreshing.

When the cakes were done and I was taking photos, I couldn't help but think the white mousse on dark chocolate reminded me a little of how snow capped mountains look in early Spring.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Quick & easy cornbread pie topping

Pies first originated from ancient Greece? Really? Apparently so... and they called it "artocreas". But it was the ancient Romans that adapted the original Greek version to the pies we commonly see today. Boring or interesting fact? You decided for yourself... =P

Do you ever get the thought that making a meat pie is kind of straddling between baking and cooking? I often do, and I guess it might be because most meat pie recipes require the meat filling to be cooked prior to baking the pie in the oven. Further, with ready-made pastry so easily purchased from supermarkets, putting together a pie could actually involve more cooking than baking as one doesn't even need to work on the pie pastry from scratch.

Last week I stumbled on another shortcut to making meat pies - cornbread topping! No messy rolling or shaping of pastry required - just mix flour, cornmeal, salt and baking powder together, then combine buttermilk and egg white and add to dry mixture. Simply stir everything together and spoon evenly over meat filling before baking in oven - its quick & easy! I tried it last week with a cottage pie recipe and it worked beautifully! : )

Monday, 15 March 2010

Craving for Zopf? You'll have to wait till Sunday!

I absolutely love bread... so whenever I'm in Switzerland, its like I'm in bread heaven!! According to swissworld.org, there are possibly 200 to 300 varieties of bread in Switzerland, each canton has its own traditional loaf, and there are all sorts of special loaves for special days and occasions.

My favorite pick is the Zopf, a braided loaf that is only available on Sundays in Switzerland. Made traditionally with a high proportion of butter and fresh milk, Zopf is braided in distinct signature style - either the 2 or 4 strands method, not 3. The braided dough is typically brushed with egg yolk before baking to give it a dark brown crust.

Suffering from swiss bread withdrawal symptoms since my trip a few weeks back, I gave the Zopf recipe I had a try on Sunday. Preparing the dough itself was simple and straightforward. Braiding the dough was a little tricky and I definitely need more practice on that. Would advise anyone who is trying the Zopf that the 2 strand method is easier than the 4 strand method (in my humble opinion). I did however leave my loaf in the oven for a couple of minutes too long hence resulting in a darker crust than I would prefer - thankfully it didn't affect the taste of the bread!! Yummy!!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Who loves that green thing known as pandan cake?

If anyone's wondering why I haven't written for awhile, its coz I've been traveling (w/o my oven and baking tools naturally)! I was in Vals, Switzerland for a week learning how to snowboard (acquired a number of huge bruises whilst doing so but i won't bore anyone with written details about it)... and am writing this while spending a few days in my home country - clean and green Singapore!

Whenever I fly from Singapore to Hong Kong, I notice a large number of visitors from Hong Kong buying boxes and boxes of pandan cake from the Bengawan Solo outlet in Changi airport. It was a little amusing at first given I grew up having pandan cake easily available from most local bakeries. But, having lived the last few years in Hong Kong and at times suffering a little from cravings for the soft, melt-in-your-mouth pandan cake, I now totally understand why they do it and am more than happy to help friends in Hong Kong bring some of those delicious green stuff back - I'm jumping on the bandwagon and buying a few boxes this return trip for sure...

The Maxim's cake chain in Hong Kong recently started selling pandan cakes for HK$88 per cake. A rip off if you consider that Bengawan Solo has been selling it for years and prices theirs at S$8.80. (Disclaimer: I haven't taken a ruler to the cakes to find out if they are exactly the same size but they look the same size to the naked eye... hehehe) In addition, many local bakeries in Singapore sell it for much less than S$8.80. As mentioned in my previous posts, I'm not setting myself up as a food critic so would avoid passing any comments about whether the Maxim's version is up to par, but given the price difference and Bengawan Solo's many years of experience at it, I doubt the branch at Changi airport is suffering any decline in pandan cake sales as a result of Maxim's new offering. =P

Ok, back to what this blog is supposed to be about - home baking! There are tons and tons of pandan cake recipes available on the internet... lots of variations in recipes but the use of coconut milk, lots of eggs (white and yolk separated) and of course pandan juice / paste are common throughout. When I started baking furiously about half a year ago, I spent a good 2 weeks trying out various pandan cake recipes, determined to find one that I like and a method that I could execute with success each time - taste aside, getting the right soft and spongy texture was critical. Herr Scherrer was my poor guinea pig... my neighbors might have been happy though, coz the smell that comes out of the oven was yummy each time, even when the cake texture came out wrong!

Through trial and error, and modifying the recipes I found, I eventually settled on my favorite pandan cake recipe. As you can see from the photos, it produces a crust that is slightly thicker and of a darker brown than Bengawan Solo's, which is the way i like it. It also works with either pandan juice or pandan paste depending on what is available - pandan leaves are not always available in Hong Kong or if available ridiculously expensive. For this reason I always make sure I get some back-up pandan paste when I'm in Singapore, so if you are dying to make pandan cake in Hong Kong and can't find pandan leaves, ask to look into my kitchen cupboard!

Some critical tips I picked up during my learning process:
1. Its critical to beat the egg whites till the peaks are stiff. If not sure, its better to over-beat than under-beat the whites.
2. Keep the cake tin flipped over throughout the cooling process. Its during this "hanging" process that the soft & light spongy texture sets.
3. Do NOT grease or line your cake tin thinking its easier to remove the cake when its done - its supposed to stick to the base and sides so that the cake can "hang" during cooling.

I've dutifully documented my favorite pandan cake recipe below (adapted from Prima mostly), in case there are pandan cake lovers out there who also want to try it out at home!


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