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Thursday, November 29, 2012

salted caramel apple crumble bars.

Hands down the best apple crumble I have ever eaten.

Usually, the apple filling of apple crumble tastes so bland. I mean, you taste apple apple apple but that's pretty much it. It's monotonous. And because green apples are not exactly on my favourite foods list, it was so hard to find an apple crumble I actually liked. Plus, most store bought apple crumble have soggy crusts.

You know what they say, if you can't find one that you like outside, make it yourself.

These bars have an apple filling so rich and flavorful that they threw me totally off guard. I also liked that the filling wasn't too liquid and messy. All my previous disappointments with apple crumble lowered my expectations for a really good rendition of this dessert. What sets these bars apart is the salted caramel sauce. Most recipes just mix the apples with brown sugar as the sweetener. That's okay, but not enough for me. Salted caramel sauce adds a ton of caramelly flavour without making the bars too sweet. I'm not partial to green apples but they worked really well here.

I rarely make such a big pan of dessert. I usually divide recipes that call for 9 x 13 inch pans by four to fit in my loaf pan. Strangely, instead of being disconcerted from such liberal use of butter, I enjoyed portioning out an entire cup's worth of it. It was also fun to drizzle caramel sauce over such a large surface area. Your movements become a lot less restricted.

I was initially worried that the base would become soggy because of the juices of the apples so I pre-baked it for 15 minutes, until the top was a light brown. The crust of my bars managed to escape the soggy horrors even 12 hours after baking. The original recipe also instructed to divide the dough into half- half for the base and half to crumble on top. But I found that such a ratio left the bottom with such a thin layer of dough. I think it's better to divide the dough such that the bottom crust takes 3/4 of the total amount.

Another change I did to the recipe was to omit the vanilla and cinnamon from the dough because I wanted something straightforward to go with the very complex apple filling. Personal preference. I used brown instead of white sugar in the filling, and used less too.

If you need a life-changing apple-crumble-hater-converting apple crumble recipe, here you go. And you're welcome.

Salted Caramel Apple Crumb Bars
makes a 9 x 13 inch pan's worth
recipe slightly adapted from here

This caramel sauce recipe uses less heavy cream and makes up for the missing amount with evaporated milk, a dairy with lower fat content. As such, the overall fat content in this sauce is lower and is able to remain liquid and pourable even when refrigerated.

For the salted caramel sauce:
1 cup sugar
100ml heavy cream
100ml evaporated milk
1 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt

For the apple filling:
5 cups diced apples (green ones are preferable)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cornstarch
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice

For the crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the salted caramel sauce: Combine the heavy cream and evaporated milk in a small bowl. Heat the sugar over medium-high heat in the bottom of a large saucepan until the sugar has liquified and turns into a deep amber colour. Make sure you swirl the pan occasionally to promote even caramelization of the sugar. Off the heat, slowly stream in the milk mixture while whisking quickly to prevent the caramel from bubbling up too much and overflowing. Add the butter and and salt and stir to combine. Cool the caramel completely before using. I suggest that you make this the day before.

For the crust: Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the cubes of cold butter and on low speed, mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add in the egg and mix until the dough starts to clump together.

Take 3/4 of the dough and press it into the bottom of a greased and floured 9 x 13 inch pan evenly. Chill in the fridge or freezer while you preheat the oven to 350F. Store the remaining 1/4 of the dough in the fridge as well while you prepare the apple filling.

For the apple filling: Combine the diced apples and lemon juice in a large bowl and toss to coat the apples. In another bowl, mix the flour, cornstarch, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice together. Pour this mixture over the apples and carefully combine.

Bake the crust for 15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Pour the apple filling over the crust and drizzle over the salted caramel sauce. You will only need 1/2 to 3/4 cup. Crumble the remaining dough over the apples and bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the crumble topping has browned and the apples are soft. Cool completely before slicing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

peanut butter pretzel chocolate cake.

This cake consists of chocolate cake with a crunchy pretzel disk in the middle, glued by peanut butter frosting. This is probably my third or fourth time making this chocolate cake. In between, I've experimented with many of what most consider to be the "best" chocolate cake recipe ever. So right now, this chocolate cake is no longer my favourite, but I chose it because I wanted a cake that was spongey and not too rich, because of all the frosting and pretzels I was going to pile on later. While I admit that I was looking for something not so heavy in taste, this recipe would benefit from using brown sugar instead of white in the cake batter. It would really bring out the flavour of chocolate better. I tried a different recipe for peanut butter frosting this time, but it ended up being too stiff. I would fall back on this one, which is fluffy and easy to spread.

I had a lot of issues with the pretzel disk. I thought I could take a pretzel crust recipe and bake it in a round. When it cooled, I would pick it up and plonk it onto the center of the bottom layer of cake, with a dab of peanut butter frosting to hold it in place. If it had went the way I planned, I would be overjoyed. Jump-over-the-moon happy.

When I made it according to what I had imagined, the pretzel disk downright refused to hold together. I could barely pick it up. I crushed the pretzels even more finely and tried again, with more butter. Didn't work. Finally, I decided to use an egg white. It made perfect sense- egg whites are natural binders. So I added one, disproportionately so, I'm afraid, and although I ended up with a product that stuck together so perfectly I could hold it like a frisbee, the excess moisture from the egg white made the finer pretzel crumbs soggy. I was lucky I didn't bother to crush all the pretzels I used into powder form- I still had a significant portion of them in medium pieces. Those pieces managed to retain their crunch. All in all, I was rather happy, because now I know that the secret to keeping that pretzel disk together is to use egg whites. The correct amount of egg whites, more accurately. Then, you would have a crunchy cohesive crust without having to crush the pretzels to smithereens.

In case you are wondering about those spheres of black on the top of the cake, those are salted caramel chocolate cake balls. My cake baked up unevenly with a skewed dome and I had to trim off quite a fair bit of cake. Not wanting to waste that much cake, I crumbled the extra cake and mixed in a bit of salted caramel sauce, just enough to form the cake into balls. Salted caramel sauce is indeed very handy to have on hand. Almost too convenient, in fact. I can barely stop myself from going to the fridge with a spoon in hand to have a mouthful of the sweet-salty amber liquid.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

coconut cream coffee cake buns.

I have one more bread recipe I can make from the dough I made and froze, ready to be used when the moment strikes. It's the last one, I swear. I have a few more bread recipes I want to attempt, but they will be using different doughs. I'll inevitably try to stretch one kind of dough for two kinds of rolls though. Bread isn't very laborious to make but it is time consuming so I prefer to make a recipe in bulk and freeze for later uses. Oh and one of my future recipes will be a dough with mashed potato in it. It sounds interesting but somewhat unappealing. At least sweet potato or pumpkin are more acceptable. Well, we'll see. Is bread made with mashed vegetables really superior? I'm itching to find out. If I were to draw parallels with cake, I would guess that the bread would turn out super moist, just like carrot cake because of the shredded carrots in it.

Coming back to these buns, they are christened so because their filling, a coconut pastry cream, is made with coconut cream. Or, you could understand it by omitting pastry from "coconut pastry cream". They are topped with streusel again, as if they were casual tea time cakes. This entire recipe is inspired by Baking by Flavour. Again. (I love that book, I can't help it.) I don't know if I can say inspired, because I just replaced the individual components in the recipe with my own.

The coconut pastry cream was something I came up with spontaneously. Rather than use regular milk and coconut extract, I used coconut cream thinned with a bit of milk. I just happened to have it on hand, if not, I would have gone the coconut extract route. I can't tell you how lucky I am to have coconut cream because the taste it gives to the final product is far superior than the artificial harshness from the extract. I always thought that coconut extract with milk would yield a taste similar to coconut milk and such but I have been proven completely and utterly wrong. The results are worlds apart. The sad truth is that extract is so much more lasting and convenient than the real stuff. Unless the recipe calls for a significant amount of coconut milk, I would revert back to coconut extract. Grudgingly, of course.

The filling is so good you could eat it by the bowlful when warm and fragrant. Honest. Make more so you can frost the tops of the buns, your fingers and your face with it.

Coconut Cream Coffee Cake Buns
makes 2

1/3 recipe of my favourite bread recipe
your favourite streusel recipe, with some shredded coconut mixed in
coconut pastry cream filling, recipe below

For the filling:
40ml coconut cream
40ml milk
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp + 1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
pinch of salt
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the the coconut cream and milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat.

Whisk the egg yolk, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a bowl. Gradually stream in the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the resulting mixture back into the saucepan. Whisking constantly, cook until the mixture reaches a boil and has thickened. Off the heat, whisk in the vanilla extract. Cool completely before using. You can also make this a day before and store in the fridge.

Assembly: When the bread dough has been deflated after its first rise, roll it out into a rectangle and spread the coconut pastry cream on the surface. Roll up the dough and slice into 2 equal parts. Place in a small baking pan to rise until doubled.

Preheat oven to 350F. Meanwhile, top the rolls with your streusel mixed with shredded coconut. Make sure that the clumps of streusel are not too big or they wouldn't cook in time.

Bake for 14 minutes or until the rolls are lightly browned.

Friday, November 23, 2012

butter cake.

Butter cake is one of those "oldies but goodies" kind of thing. It's like a style that never goes out of trend. Like the black in fashion. No matter which generation, it has a respectable number of devoted followers.

This cake is light, fluffy and soft. A yellow cloud of butter on your plate. It's a little sweet, so I take note to reduce the sugar. If you like your cake with a hint of egginess, use 1 tsp of vanilla extract.

I tried to do 1/4 of the recipe below, baked in a 5 inch round pan but the pan is still too big, unfortunately. It's a midget cake, in height and in breadth. I should have just baked it in a rectangular pan so it would have a good height. Because tall cakes are always a sight of comfort, no?

Butter Cake
adapted from here
makes an 8 inch square cake

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1/4 cup + 3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 8 inch square baking pan with parchment.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl.

Cream the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the egg yolks one by one, beating until just incorporated. Add in the vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk (2 additions).

Whisk the egg whites until foamy then gradually add in the sugar until it reaches stiff peaks.

Whisk 1/4 of the meringue into the yolk mixture to lighten. Fold in the rest of the egg whites.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

rosemary apricot squares.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I saw the use of rosemary in dessert. Rosemary is a pretty strong herb. Besides, I have yet to accept mint in chocolate, so why would I like rosemary with apricots?

I won't say that rosemary and apricots are a match made in heaven, but I concede that the herb makes the otherwise ordinary apricot squares interesting. Somehow, they just go together. And with the nuttiness of the almonds in the topping, they taste pretty exotic. In a good way.

The instructions for the apricot filling would benefit from a bit of clarification: When the instructions say "to simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated", it would be best to pull the pan off the heat when there is slightly more than a shallow pool of syrup in the pan. Really. Because I went a bit overboard and was left with nothing more than a thin film of liquid after I had set it aside to cool. The thick syrup was extremely stubborn and blending it together with the apricots nearly broke my blender's blade if not for an extra tablespoon of hot water to loosen the mixture.

I was surprised at how much filling there seemed to be at first but after baking and slicing, I realized that the apricot layer was really thin in comparison to the shortbread layer. Speaking of the shortbread, I was initially worried that I had underbaked it- the cross section reveals a texture akin to underbaked cookie dough, doesn't it? But it all turned out all right in the end. It wasn't particularly crunchy, but it had a lovely smooth texture.

Rosemary Apricot Squares
adapted from Baked Explorations

The apricot filling is pretty sweet so reduce the sugar to suit your taste, if necessary. Also, dicing the apricots might help to hasten the simmering process.

For the rosemary shortbread dough:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, minced (I used dried)
12 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

For the apricot filling:
2 cups dried California apricots
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp brandy
pinch of salt

For the crumb topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (I used almonds)
pinch of salt
3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, diced

Line a 9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving enough overhang to lift the bars up easily.

To make the rosemary shortbread dough: Whisk the flour, salt and rosemary together in a medium bowl. Cream the butter, icing sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Stir in the flour mixture. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and press it into an even layer. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. You can get started on the apricot filling in the meantime.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Bake the dough until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool the pan on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

To make the apricot filling: Place the apricots, sugar, honey, brandy, salt and 1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan and simmer over low heat for 40 to 50 minutes or until the apricots are fork tender and most of the liquid has evaporated or thickened. Do not go overboard. Remove the pan from the heat and stir to release the excess steam. Scrape the apricot mixture into a food processor and puree until smooth.

To make the crumb topping: Combine the flour, brown sugar, pecans and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until crumbs begin to form. You can do this by hand or in a stand mixer. The crumb topping can be made in advance, stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To assemble: Spread the apricot filling over the shortbread, then sprinkle the crumb topping over. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crumbs have browned. Let the pastry cool for 30 minutes in the pan then lift it out using the overhang and cut into squares. I find it easier to cut if you let it chill in the refrigerator until cold. The squares can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, for up to 3 days.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

cinnamon sticky buns.

I used to put sticky buns in a category of their own, and cinnamon buns likewise. It took me a while to realize that sticky buns were actually cinnamon buns on steroids- like a cinnamon bun but with added decadence. The filling of a sticky bun is essentially the same as a cinnamon bun. The only difference is that sticky buns have a layer of caramel at the top, or bottom, depending on how you see it.

That's why I think these buns are aptly named, to a certain extent. Cinnamon buns + Sticky buns= Cinnamon Sticky Buns.

But I do think that the name also needs more tweaking. These should be named superfrickin'deliciousooeygooeycinnamonstickybuns. Only then has justice been done to these buns. These are the gooiest moistest sticky/cinnamon buns I ever had. Have I said that you absolutely positively have to make these asap? Not yet? Then you absolutely positively have to make these asap.

The best thing about these buns? Their filling has no a single gram of butter in it. Nada. Well, the original recipe does, but I wanted to see if I can recreate the gooeyness and stickiness by making a paste with the brown sugar and spices with water. After all, I've seen something similar before. And it worked! The interior of the buns were so indulgent that I barely missed the butter. There was never a time I had to reach for my glass of water to combat dryness of the buns.

I would like the attribute the success of these buns entirely to my ingenious filling but that would be a grave oversight. The gooey mixture the buns were baked in also made them extremely moist. It's not as stubborn and stodgy as caramel toppings I've made before. In fact, it was so unusually loose that I was even slightly worried that I made a mistake in its preparation. But that's a good thing. The loose consistency of the topping ensures that it can run down the buns' sides and coat them wholly instead of remaining in a congealed mass at the top.

Heaven in a bun? Hell yes.

Cinnamon Sticky Buns
makes 12 large ones
recipe adapted from Baking by Flavour

I love my bread dough recipe but if you have your favourite, go ahead and use yours!


Bread dough recipe

For the filling:
1 cup minus 2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup raisins, plumped

For the topping:
1 stick butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 2/3 cup toasted walnuts or pecans

Make the bread dough recipe up till the stage where it is ready for its second rise. Deflate the dough and roll it into a large rectangular shape. Have a 12-cup muffin pan ready.

For the filling: Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl. Add just enough water to form a thick paste but still loose enough to spread easily. Spread the paste evenly on the surface of the rolled out dough. Scatter the raisins on top and roll the dough up. Slice into 12 equal pieces.

For the topping: Cream the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt until combined. Divide the mixture evenly among the 12 muffin holes. Divide the toasted nuts amongst the 12 holes too, pressing them into the topping mixture. Place a sliced roll in each muffin hole. Let the dough rise until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350F. Bake for 10 minutes or until the rolls are lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes before unmolding. Serve immediately.

Friday, November 16, 2012

chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake bars.

Usually, I loathe cheesecake. (Don't like cheese in general.) But how plebeian is chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake in adorable bar form?

The rich and sweet truffles of cookie dough were are perfect contrast to the tart and creamy cheesecake filling. The graham cracker crust was just a bonus. I purposely formed large balls of cookie dough instead of smaller ones to scatter across the surface because I wanted to make the cookie dough to go like boom! in your face! Plus, then no one would fight over which piece has more claim on cookie dough. Oh and slicing would be so much easier too.

The problem with doing that was the large clumps of cookie dough were extremely hard to stick your fork into. I mean, you can't swallow the entire chunk of dough in one mouthful, unlike smaller ones right? Occasionally, the resistance of the cookie dough to budge against the pressure of your fork would cause the bar to travel halfway across your plate and do a somersault while at it, and the graham cracker crumbs would disappear from your plate onto the table. That's some messy eating.

While these bars are pretty good as they are, to really emphasize on the chocolate chip cookie dough flavour, I feel that brown sugar instead of white should be used in the cheesecake filling, bringing about a toffee-ish flavour, and chocolate chips should be added to the crust, for more chocolaty oomph.

P.S. I actually forgot all about the bars while they were baking and I didn't know if I baked them for the correct amount of time. My oven timer spoilt, see. I sent the bars into the oven, turned the dial a few degrees and left the kitchen. Only more than half an hour later did I find that the oven's light had gone off, which meant that the time (which I didn't know) I set it to bake had run out, and the cheesecake bars sitting in a semi-cold oven. I was so lucky to not have overbaked the bars. This was the first time I completely forgot about something in the oven. Gosh am I getting old?

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars
makes an 8 x 8 inch pan's worth
recipe adapted from My Baking Addiction

For a chocolate chip cookie dough flavour through and through, use brown sugar in the cheesecake filling instead of white sugar and add some chocolate chips to the crust before baking.

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 tbsp melted butter

For the cookie dough:
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1 cup chocolate chips

For the cheesecake filling:
300g cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F. Line a 8 x 8 inch baking pan with parchment.

For the crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a bowl and press the mixture into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 6 minutes. Leave the oven on.

For the cookie dough: Cream the butter, sugars, salt and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips.

For the cheesecake filling: Cream the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until smooth.

Pour the filling on top of the crust. Break off the cookie dough into large clumps and scatter them across the surface of the cheesecake filling. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the surface looks dry and firm and the cheesecake is set. Cool completely before refrigerating. Refrigerate until cold before serving.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

peaches and cream swiss roll.

Finally finally finally! A swiss roll that didn't crack on me. Kudos to this recipe for helping me overcome the dreaded fissures. As much as I would love to claim that the recipe has no need to be modified and is perfect as it is already, it needs a few more tweaks to nudge it into perfection.

Although the sponge is ridiculously soft and fluffy, I found it slightly bland. It was neither eggy nor milky nor vanilla-y. It was also barely sweet but you can easily solve that problem by piling on the cream! Next time I might use melted butter instead of oil, and add more vanilla extract.

For the whipped cream, instead of just sugar and vanilla, I decided to add condensed milk too to make it milky and dreamy. I should have whipped it to stiffer peaks so that it doesn't ooze out of the swiss roll so easily when rolling. I wanted to roll the cake such that the centre is a perfect circle of cream with the peaches suspended in it and the sponge enveloping it all around. Kind of like this. Alas, it was easier to imagine than to execute it. The stiffness of the cream really is crucial. And one thing's for sure- never be too greedy with the filling!

Peaches and Cream Swiss Roll
cake portion adapted from this recipe

For the cake:
4 eggs, separated
90g sugar, divided
35ml oil or melted butter
50ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
70g cake flour

For the cream:
150ml whipping cream
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp condensed milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

peach chunks, amount as needed

For the cake: Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 30 x 30 cm pan with parchment.

In a bowl, combine the egg yolks and sugar and whisk until pale, fluffy and thick, also known as the ribbon stage. Combine the oil, milk and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Stream in the oil mixture while whisking constantly. Whisk in the cake flour just until no traces of flour remain.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, adding the sugar gradually once the egg whites have begun to foam.

Whisk in 1/4 of the meringue into the egg yolk mixture to lighten. Whisk in the rest of the egg whites until the mixture is homogenous.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 18 minutes. When the cake is done, drop the pan from a height of 30 cm onto the counter to allow the cake to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Unmold the cake, make 3 shallow slits at one end of the cake and roll it up from that end. Allow the cake to cool in its rolled state before proceeding, about 30 minutes. If you want to, you can brush some syrup on the surface of the cake before rolling.

For the whipped cream: Combine the whipping cream, sugar, condensed milk and vanilla extract in a bowl and whip to stiff peaks.

After the cake has cooled, unroll the cake and spread the whipped cream evenly across its surface. Scatter the peaches on top and roll the cake up. Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

soft-baked chocolate chip, nutella and walnut cookies.

To say that I'm obsessed with finding the perfect chocolate chip cookie might be off an accurate description by a valley's breadth.

I've tried so many variations, documented on this blog and otherwise, that I can hardly keep track. In fact, I can't remember all of the recipes I've tried before. I can't really recall which "secret ingredient" works best- cornstarch, corn syrup, bread flour...

Perhaps the only way to investigate the best formula for a go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe is to try all those ingredients again. This recipe, contains corn syrup. Like the name suggests, these are soft-baked versions and are rounded and puffy as opposed to their more butter-laden counterparts, which bake up flatter and crisper.

I like these because they are thick and almost slightly chewy. I could have retrieved the cookies from the oven a few minutes earlier if not for the fact that I forgot that coloration comes less easily to cookies of this kind. Because of the lesser amount of sugar in this recipe, it would be harder for the cookies to brown. Even waiting for the slightest shade of brown would send the cookies on their way into the perils of the overbaked realm. Put simply, I waited for the cookies to get too brown and they were a tad overbaked. The edges were a little dry but thankfully, the centres were still moist. Not quite gooey, but that could be achieved with faster reflexes- attack the cookies barely moments out of the oven.

I wanted to have nuggets of nutella suspended in the cookies like chocolate chips but I was overzealous in stirring the cookie dough and most of the nutella chunks blended into the dough. Deja vu much? To avoid this problem, pay careful attention to the special instructions in the recipe below.

Soft-Baked Chocolate Chip, Nutella and Walnut Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 16 large-ish cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup dark-brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
nutella, room temperature
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Using a teaspoon, drop tiny blobs of nutella onto a lined baking sheet. Freeze until rock solid, about 30 minutes.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.

Cream the butter, brown sugar and corn syrup until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips and toasted walnuts. Stir in the nutella chunks. Be careful not too work the dough too energetically or the nutella would blend into the dough. Portion out the dough onto a lined baking sheet and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Bake cookies for about 10 to 12 minutes or until their surfaces no longer appear shiny.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

vanilla crumb buns.

You know what's genius? Putting streusel on vanilla pastry cream filled rolls. All at once, you get crunch from the streusel, creaminess and moisture from the pastry cream, and a soft and fluffy yeasty carrier to cradle all the flavour and textures. I wish I had thought of this. I love buttery streusel to death and I've been too many times too liberal with it on cakes, muffins, mouses, puddings but never bread.

The inspiration is from Baking by Flavour, possibly one of my favourite books ever. Despite it's lack of pictures I never seem to tire of flipping through it. Well, maybe "inspiration" is not that accurate a description. More astutely, when I chanced upon the recipe for vanilla crumb buns in her book, I simply decided to use my recipes to swap in for some of the original components.

The recipe consists of three parts: rich buttery bread dough, vanilla pastry cream (albeit a looser version) and vanilla streusel. I used my own recipes for the bread dough and streusel, with good reason. I was a little taken aback at the amount of butter that went into the bread dough and I wanted to use a recipe that ensures that the bread remains soft even on the second day. The last time I followed the recipe for rum buns from this book exactly, the buns turned hard within a few hours. I also made a streusel recipe (same base recipe) from this book before and I found it too buttery for my liking. Hence, I decided to use my own recipes.

Ultimately, it is about the overall combination of flavours and textures, so I don't get so hung up about following the recipe exactly. After all, if you like the individual components by themselves, when brought together, they will more or less work out well.

Vanilla Crumb Buns

my favourite recipe for bread dough, or use your own
vanilla pastry cream, made with less cornstarch for a looser consistency
your favourite streusel

Make the pastry cream a day before.

After the deflating the bread dough after its first rise, roll it out into a rectangle and spread the pastry cream evenly across the surface. Roll it up and slice into equal portions. Place in a baking pan and let the rolls rise until nearly doubled in size. You can also use muffin cups for individual rolls. Meanwhile, prepare your streusel.

When the rolls are about ready to be baked, preheat the oven to 350F. Break off large clumps of the streusel and scatter them on top of the rolls. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the rolls are lightly browned. If you let the rolls get too brown, it would mean that the bread has dried out quite a bit.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


If you need cookies that are snap to assemble, then you should bake these. Even if you have all the time and luxury in the world, you shouldn't pass up these cookies. Well, "cookies" as a term for these little snacks is debatable. After all, they are not more than just puff pastry showered with sugar. Maybe these should be reclassified under pastry. Or really, does it even matter?

I have never given palmiers or most of their puff pastry cookie cousins much thought before. Those puff pastry straws that seem so popular? Didn't entice me in any way. Perhaps it was because they seemed too simple. Just puff pastry and sugar surely cannot be that big a deal.

However, they say that sometimes, simple is best. Based on my experience in baking varied cakes, tarts, cookies and yadda yadda yadda over the past few years, I concur with that statement. Besides, I love puff pastry, and since I was bored, I decided to try out some palmiers.

As quick as these cookies are to put together, you have to make and freeze them in advance. That is to say, after coating the thawed puff pastry with sugar and rolling it up, you have to put them back in the freezer so that they can firm up. Only then can you slice and bake of the palmiers at your whim and fancy. But from that point on, the cookies can be baked and sent into your mouth in less than 20 minutes. It's that quick.

The recipe is so simple it's not really a recipe- On a work surface, cover an area as large as your sheet of thawed rolled out puff pastry with granulated sugar. Take the puff pastry and place it on top of the sugar, applying slight pressure on it so that the sugar will adhere. Press more sugar into the surface of the puff pastry. Start from on end of the puff pastry and roll it up like a swiss roll until you reach slightly before the halfway mark. Repeat, this time rolling from the opposite side of the puff pastry. Bring the two rolls together, pressing them together slightly, and freeze until firm.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425F. Slice the palmiers into 1/3 inch slices or thereabouts and place on a silicon mat-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle the tops of the palmiers with coarse sugar and a pinch of salt. (I feel that salt brings out the butteriness of the palmiers.) Bake for about 12 minutes or until the palmiers are lightly browned. Take care not too let the cookies get too brown. Cool on the baking sheet for about 3 minutes and remove them from the baking sheet to a wire rack while the pools of caramel they sit in remain liquid so that the caramel won't set around the cookies when they cool completely. They cool really quickly so you have to work fast.

Monday, November 5, 2012

chunky apple and cream cheese bundt cake.

As revision for my recently concluded exams, I studied about social media. I analyzed the good and bad sides of it, and how the good outweighed the bad and vice versa. Technology has become such an integral part of our lives that we almost take it for granted. I bet even some of us would have forgotten that the internet is barely more than a decade old. Once the novelty of the internet passed, we were no longer star-struck by it. Feelings of reverence and amazement slowly faded into the background. We no longer treat it with the respect it deserves. It becomes just another tool. We abuse it. We misuse it. While undergoing my revision, I was incredibly saddened by how technology- the internet, social media, has fallen from grace. People were using it to hurt others through cyber bullying or even just leaving unscrupulous comments anonymously.

However, I do know that nothing is without its merits. Before all the negativity surfaced, social media was, and still is, a wonderful tool for communication. It makes communicating with people all around the world a breeze. It allows people to transcend geographical boundaries within the physical four walls of one's room, just like how I'm talking to all you fellow netizens from all four corners of the world without budging from my cozy swivel chair. More than just communicating, it bridges the emotional gap between people, allowing anyone to extend a helping hand to those in need, or just leave behind kind words of encouragement that can be a great lifesaver in this hideously stressful world.

I've personally been on the receiving end of those kind words ever since I started this blog. Sure, not all comments I receive are without malicious intent, but it is those friendly comments that constantly remind me that the world is a better place. Whenever I mess up a recipe (and I mess up alot), and rant about it in my posts, I would sometimes see uplifting words of comfort like "it looks gorgeous anyway!", and I would instantaneously feel better. I am, I admit, a perfectionist, and it is always hard to look past the tiny faults and see how the end product is not as bad as it seems. Those kind words always help me to see the bigger picture, and that no one is perfect- we will all make blunders along the rocky path towards success.

Typing those first three paragraphs has made me reflect deeply about whether it really pays to beat myself up so badly because of a bit of poor execution of a recipe. Logically, the answer is no, but for someone who thinks perfection is only just enough, I need to mull over it a bit more. Which is why, coming back to this cake, I feel a tiny bit disappointed in myself because I failed to pull of the glaze flawlessly. Just by its looks, you can see how different it is from the original recipe. I tried to be too ambitious and heated the butter and brown sugar together to intensify the flavour, but ended up cooking them for too long. Hence, when I added the rest of the ingredients as per instructions in the recipe, it became a finicky caramel that set up like armor. It was delicious (I love caramel), but it wasn't intentional. It was also extremely hard to slice through with a serrated knife so part of my cake was in shambles after I tried to hack through the glaze with the knife. Moral of the story? Don't mess with the recipe, especially if it involves heating of sugar.

The cake itself was extremely moist and full of warm and comforting fall spices. I also deviated from the original recipe slightly by leaving the apples in discernible cubes because I didn't read the "finely chopped apples" bit really carefully. There was no big problem though- the apples managed to be cooked to a point where they were still soft but firm enough, and still retaining a bit of crunch. I thought it was a pretty lucky mistake. If you like cheesecake, then you may like the ripple of cream cheese tunneling throughout this cake. I'm not particularly wowed by it because I'm not partial to cheesecake, in fact, I don't like it, but this cake sounded too good to pass up.

And finally, here is the recipe!

Chunky Apple and Cream Cheese Bundt Cake
adapted from here

For the cream cheese filling:
8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the cake:
1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
3 large eggs
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups diced apples (about 2 to 3 medium apples)

For the praline frosting:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
3 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup icing sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare a 12 or 14 cup bundt pan (preferably use a 14 cup).

To make the filling: Beat the cream cheese, butter and sugar until well combined and smooth. Add the egg, flour and vanilla and continue beating until just incorporated. Chill in the fridge until later. You will see why soon.

To make the cake: Whisk the flour, sugars, spices, salt and baking soda together.

Whisk the eggs, oil, applesauce and vanilla extract in a separate bowl until homogenous and add to the dry mixture. Fold in the toasted pecans and chopped apples until evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Pour 1/2 to 2/3 of the cake batter into the prepared pan. Retrieve the cream cheese filling from the fridge and spoon it into a piping bag. Pipe the cream cheese filling on top of the cake batter, leaving a 1 inch border around the edge of the pan. Swirl the cream cheese filling into the cake batter with a knife- don't over do it. Top with the rest of the cake batter.

Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes before inverting the cake onto the rack to cool completely, about 2 hours.

To make the frosting: Combine the brown sugar, butter and milk in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the vanilla. Whisk in the icing sugar, a little at a time, until completely incorporated and smooth. Gently stir the frosting until it starts to thicken and then pour it over the cake. The frosting will set up quickly so don't make it in advance- wait until the cake has cooled completely.