Chocolate Tarts

Friday, 25 June 2010

If you've been making shortcrust pastry with cold butter, you need to read this post.

Or if you've been struggling with pastry that keeps melting and tearing as you roll it, you also need to read this post.

Would you like to make the dough and line a tart mould in 10 minutes, without having to rest or chill the dough? Find out how here.

Caramel Popcorn

Friday, 9 April 2010


A tub of popcorn costs $6-7.

Richard B. McKenzie, in a book titled Why Popcorn Costs So at the Movies, estimates there's a 1,300% profit margin on movie popcorn in the US.

In Israel, it was recently proposed to outlaw overpriced popcorn (link here). Will the Israeli parliament pass the law and set a precedent? Well, I'm not holding my breath.

For me, it's not how much I pay for the popcorn but the hordes of people at the cinema. I like movies during weekends but I don't like the weekend crowds. Easy solution: DVDs and DIY popcorn.

Weekend + movie + popcorn – crowds = happiness.

Garlic Butter Prawns

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Cold Storage sells ready-made garlic butter made with these ingredients:
... vegetable oil
... butter (13%)
... water
... garlic (9%)
... parsley
... salt
... emulsifiers (492, 471 & B22)
... flavours
... vitamins (A & D3)
... colour (160a)
... antioxidants (306 & 320)

Garlic Bread

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

I've finally found a rustic baguette, or baguette à l'ancienne, in Singapore. Compared to the regular loaf, the rustic, traditional version is given a much longer fermentation. This gives the crust a darker colour and a rich, nutty aroma. It also makes the crumb – the white part of the bread – soft, chewy and really flavourful

When I was living in Paris, I used to stroll to Champs-Elysées most Sundays – took me all of five minutes – and grab a baguette a l'ancienne for breakfast. Most bakeries in central Paris were closed on Sundays but the really touristy areas had the odd one open.

Carrot Cake

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

PhotobucketCan a cake be moist yet light at the same time? Isn't that like asking a woman to be skinny and curvy? Yes, ideal women do exist, and so do ideal cakes.

I'm not that into cakes and neither is the rest of my extended clan. We find most cakes too rich and filling, especially after a heavy meal. And our meals are always heavy when we get together!

But there's one cake that has everyone's approval: Angela Nilsen's Carrot Cake, from The Ultimate Recipe Book. We love it 'cause it's really moist yet really light. No one needs any strong Chinese tea to wash down this yummy babe!

Sticky Toffee Pudding – Without a Date

Saturday, 12 September 2009

PhotobucketSticky Toffee Pudding, an English pudding, is traditionally made with dates. But because I don't have a date, I make prune pudding instead. HA . . . ha . . . and tell lame jokes, obviously. Aiyah, I just prefer prunes because they are less sweet.

I haven't made Sticky Toffee Pudding for a long time, so I pulled out my recipe this morning and did a test run. I'm going to make some – with dates – for my Muslim neighbours. They are fasting now, and will be celebrating Hari Raya Puasa on 20 September. Traditionally, Muslims eat dates when they break their fast. Besides energizing with their high sugar content, dates are also spiritually significant Photobucketbecause they were one of the Prophet's most frequently consumed foods. (Click here for more information on dates and fasting for Muslims.) My Malay neighbours are extremely friendly, and they pop over every so often with some goodies. See the photo of the chicken curry? That's from them. It was reheated a day after it was cooked but still looked and tasted gorgeous. I reciprocate every now and then, especially when I can make extra portions with no effort at all. Like homemade cookies. Of course, I never ever give them curry since that would be like making Kimchi for a Korean or Tom Yum Soup for a Thai. I think they will be very pleased with a gift of Sticky Toffee Date Pudding. It's appropriate for the religious festival and is something familiar yet new. And it reheats very well, so they can eat it whenever they want. Knowing them, they will be cooking tonnes of food, and giving me some. Mmm mmm, I'm looking forward to that.

STICKY TOFFEE PRUNE PUDDING
(For 6 persons)

This recipe is adapted from Angela Nilsen's Ultimate Sticky Toffee Pudding. It's slightly less sweet and not as rich.

225 g pitted prunes, roughly chopped
175 g (180 ml) boiling water
1 tsp vanilla extract
85 g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
60 g dark muscovado sugar (or soft dark brown sugar)
60 g demerara sugar
2 eggs
100 ml milk
175 g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp baking soda
Toffee Sauce
100 g dark muscovado sugar
300 g thick cream

Pour boiling water over prunes and soak for 30 minutes till soft. Add vanilla extract and mash with a fork.

Position oven rack in the middle and preheat oven to 180°C (360°F). Butter and flour the sides of 6 small pudding tins, each about 200 ml (7 fl oz). Alternatively, use small ramekins or ceramic rice bowls. Trim 6 pieces of parchment paper and place one at the bottom of each pudding container. Place pudding containers on a baking sheet or pan. Puddings can also be steamed. If steaming, bring a wok or big pot of water to a boil.

Beat butter with demerara sugar and dark muscovado sugar till smooth. Add eggs, then milk and prune mixture in stages and beat well in between each addition.

Sieve flour and baking powder over mixture and fold in evenly.

Divide pudding mixture amongst containers and bake, or steam on medium heat. Check after 20 minutes for metal containers, or after 25 minutes for ceramic containers. Puddings are done when an inserted skewer (or chopstick) comes out clean.

Unmould by running a small knife between the pudding and container and turn it upside down on a serving plate.

To make the sauce, put dark muscovado sugar and cream in a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat till thick. If you want a richer sauce, add a knob of butter to the sauce.

Drizzle sauce over puddings and serve immediately.

Alternatively, wait a day or two for a more sticky pudding. Unmould puddings, then pour half of the sauce into the containers and swirl it round the bottom and sides. Put puddings back in, and top with the remaining sauce. Swirl containers around and let the sauce trickle down the sides. Leave puddings in the fridge, covered, for a day or two. When ready to eat, zap 'em in the microwave. Or bring puddings back to room temperature, then reheat by steaming or in a preheated oven at 180°C (360°F) for 15 minutes or so till heated through.

Cream Scones

Saturday, 5 September 2009

PhotobucketI can't remember what was the first Chinese dish I ever cooked. I started helping Mum in the kitchen from the age of . . . oh . . . nine? ten?

It's hard to say exactly when or what I first cooked something totally by myself. Baking, however, was different. Mum never baked, so I picked up baking only when I went overseas to study, and there was an oven in the common kitchen.

My foray into baking was gentle and gradual. I started as the kitchen hand for my neighbour who was an avid and experienced baker. Her pièce de résistance was apple pie in which I performed a crucial albeit non-baking role.

French Toast

Sunday, 30 August 2009

PhotobucketThere used to be a Hilton Hotel in Hong Kong, where Cheung Kong Centre now stands. It was a pretty nondescript hotel in Central and most people probably never thought of it once it was gone. Neither would I except that was where I had the best French toast ever.

The French toast  was really special because it was crispy. I've had good French Toast elsewhere but the crispy part was always missing.

After the Hilton Hotel was torn down, I had no idea where their chefs went, so that was the end of crispy Hilton Hotel French Toast. And the beginning of homemade French Toast.

When I first made French Toast, it was bland, it shrank after it was fried, and it just wasn't crispy.

Over the years, I've tweaked the recipe many times. I started with just eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla extract and bread. Now, cream cheese is a key ingredient. It keeps the texture creamy and "custardy", and stops the bread from shriveling after it's cooked – provided the bread isn't oversoaked. It also adds depth to the flavor, which is enhanced with a splash of dark rum. Most importantly, it's crispy with a sprinkling of sugar caramelized under the grill. And it's not oily because it's not fried.

I now have the perfect French Toast for a weekend breakfast or even dessert. Yay!

FRENCH TOAST
(Recipe for 2 persons)

4 slices stale sandwich bread, thick-cut (I use Gardenia brand's Junior White)
regular-cut sandwich bread would turn soggy and not make good French toast
2 eggs
40 ml milk
20 g cream cheese
1 tbsp fine sugar
1 tbsp dark rum
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp butter at room temperature
1 tbsp fine sugar (for sprinkling)

Depending on the type of bread used, the amount of egg mixture and soaking time required may vary. Please adjust as necessary. For dense bread, a few slits in the middle and a regular rather than thick-cut would help speed things along. The bread should be thoroughly saturated with the eggy liquid without turning soggy. If necessary, cut the bread in the middle and check.

If possible, make egg mixture the night before so that flavors have time to mingle and develop. Stale bread is essential; fresh bread turns soggy and shrinks after it's grilled. Let some butter come to room temperature before starting to cook.

When you're ready to make toast, preheat grill to 230°C, and line grill tray with parchment paper.

Put cream cheese and sugar in a bowl and beat till smooth. Add dark rum, vanilla extract and milk in stages, beating till smooth after each addition. Add eggs one at a time and – you guessed it – beat till smooth.

Remove bread crust. Do it by hand if you have time; jagged edges turn really crispy. Cut each slice into four pieces. Soak bread thoroughly in egg mixture, turning over half-way so that both sides are evenly saturated. Do not let bread get soggy.

Place bread on grill tray. Dot each piece with butter – just a bit, not too much. (You could put butter on a knife, then push small blobs onto bread with a tapered chopstick. Or, if you're making a lot of toast, make a small piping cone with parchment paper, then use it to pipe the butter. Third option: Keep butter chilled and hard, then shave with a vegetable peeler directly onto bread.) Sprinkle bread with sugar, right up to the edges.

Grill with the door closed till bread is golden brown or even slightly burnt, then repeat butter-sugar-grill procedure for the other side.

Enjoy French Toast piping hot with its best buddy, maple syrup. Or drizzle with melted butter and honey and serve it as dessert. How about a light coat of icing sugar, some fresh fruits and cream or ice cream? I'm sure that'll win you lots of 'Ooh!' and 'Aah!'

Sam Leong's Batter

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

It was about two years ago when Sam Leong, celebrity chef and kitchen honcho of the Tung Lok group of restaurants, showed off his batter recipe on a local TV program. I got round to testing the recipe recently – better late than never, right? – and I must say it worked very well. I made a pile of fried onion rings for a group of professional judges – my 11 nieces and nephews – who showed universal approval by polishing off everything in five minutes. They even ate the bits of batter that had broken off. That’s gotta mean they really liked it!