Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chocolate Cream Tart

I'm not feeling good. Haven't been feeling too good over the past few days. Everything seems to be going all wrong. Nursing a broken heart, a failed relationship...patching family ties...and under all sorts of pressure at work. Life at this point, really seems grey and dreary...and I'm desperately in need of a pick-me-up.

Been snacking on chocolates almost every day for the entire week, cos it provides such simple comfort. Whenever I'm unhappy, chocolate perks me up...chocolate makes me happy...chocolate makes me smile, even if it's for a while. My relationship with chocolate is always evolving...and we seem to grow closer with each passing day.

Since I have frozen tart shells in the fridge, I decided to bake this to cheer my sad self up. It was easy to prepare really, especially when you do this bit by bit, separately one component after another. First the tart shell, then the custard cream, and lastly the whipped cream crown. The individual components, though not mind-blowing on its own, came together beautifully to form a rich, chocolaty dessert which impressed with its taste and texture. I took this to my colleagues and everyone totally loved it...yet I got all the credit for it although this is really the result of the detailed guidance from my favourite book. Having gone through quite a couple of recipes from Baking from my home to yours, I must say that the recipes are virtually foolproof. The little tips and details that accompany each step along the way are so meticulously written, that it feels as if Dorie's telling them to you in person. Watching Julie & Julia in the theatre, I feel as if I can somehow relate to Julie in the story and imagine Julia right at the other side of the world. The relationship's beautiful - distant, yet ever so close. The amazing amount of work that goes into writing a good cookbook blows me away. There are many out there who lists recipes without testing them fully. Yet those books which have gone through the full process of testing and refinement are really set apart from the rest of the field. And this book, to me, is a real gem.

I totally loved this pie. The crust was rich, crumbly, almost bitter. The custard was smooth, creamy and luscious. Both combined together perfectly with the whipped cream crown to create a truly delicious tart. After the first bite, I was sold. And the subsequent bites won me heart over coompletely. I really really love this, and surprisingly, so did my mum. She's not a big fan of chocolate, but she actually liked this more than the banana cream pie. Surprise surprise! There wasn't enough to go around and my dad and bro sulked at not having one to try. Hopefully there'll be one more round since I still have tart shells in the freezer! This is one great chocolate dessert that will be a hit at any dinner party. I'm already thinking of bringing this to a party!

Chocolate Cream Tart
adapted from Baking from my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan


(For the filling)
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
6 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
7 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted
35g unsalted butter, cut into pieces and at room temperature

1 9-inch Chocolate Shortbread Tart Dough, fully baked and cooled

(For the topping)
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
1 1/2 Tbsp icing sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

Chocolate shavings or curls for decoration, or cocoa powder for dusting


1. Bring the milk to a boil.

2. In a large saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar, cornstarch and salt until well-blended and thick. Whisking without stopping, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk, then, still whisking, add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat and whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

3. Whisk in the melted chocolate. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the custard is smooth and silky. Chill the custard in a large bowl of ice water or refrigerate overnight.

4. When you are ready to assemble the tart, whisk the chocolate cream vigorously to loosen it and to bring back its velvety texture. Spoon the cream into the tart shell, stopping just short of the crust's rim. Smooth the top and, if you are not serving the tart immediately, press a piece of plastic wrap against the cream and refrigerate the tart until needed (or up to 6 hours).

5. Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream until it just starts to thicken. Beat in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until the cream holds firm peaks.

6. Spread the whipped cream over the tart and smooth it with a spatula. Serve the tart now or refrigerate it for up to 2 hours before serving. When you are ready to serve the tart, scatter chocolate shavings or curls over the top or, lightly dust the top with cocoa powder.

Yields a 9-inch tart.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lemon Chiffon Cake

I have a love-hate relationship with chiffon cakes. I love eating chiffon cakes, having enjoyed them while growing up through the years, especially the pandan chiffon. Whenever I pass by a neighbourhood bakery, I'm always tempted by the green pandan cake that never fails to perk me up on a bad day. I love its fluffy, light texture that's slightly sweet, yet makes you feel like you haven't eaten much.

At the same time, I hate making chiffon cakes. Perhaps fear might be a better word to describe it. My mum haven't had much success with chiffons and I've witnessed the sunken centres even though they rose promisingly in the oven. I haven't dared to attempt one since, though it is, after all, my favourite everyday cake.

After reading numerous blogs and watching a couple of videos on troubleshooting chiffon cakes, I finally decided to go for it! But my fear of doing injustice to my favourite pandan cake got better of me, haha! I settled for the lemon chiffon cake instead, which looks decent and simple enough for my first try. Lemons are one of those fruits that I like very much in my desserts, their taste and smell simply invigorating.

I used the recipe from Kitchen Corner, and experimented with a change of flavours, using lemon instead of the chocolate in her recipe for a 21 cm tube pan. The sugar content was slightly reduced as well.

And how did my first try turn out? It was alright! No sinking, no major gaping holes. Phew, I can breathe a huge sigh of relief. The batter mixing process turned out pretty manageable as well, though the smart alec in me went to tweak the recipe, only to realise that it's a little heavy on flour after I was finished with the mixing and recalculated the proportions. The resulting cake, turned out denser than the usual chiffons I'm accustomed to, though the lemon taste was nice! The denser cake would be great for layered cakes though, as it's stable enough to hold the weight of the frosting and fillings. Well, I learnt another lesson today, which is to STICK TO THE BOOK during my first try at any recipe.

Nevertheless, it was an experiment which didn't put me off from making chiffon cakes again. My unmoulding skills are nonexistent though >.<. I hope I'll get better at this over time...

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Unassuming Favourite - Chocolate Chip Cookies

It all started out when I went to my kitchen one day, looked all over, and found nothing in there that can satisfy my craving for sweets. Banana bread doesn't count as it's breakfast food and hardly sweet enough to be termed as a snack. Hence, the fastest, simplest thing to bake which is, at the same time, disaster-proof and popular with everyone is - the chocolate chip cookie!

The unassuming chocolate chip cookie is hardly plain and simple. Numerous debates have been generated over it including discussions over the use of each ingredient within the cookie. Creamed butter vs melted butter, brown vs white sugar, cake flour vs all-purpose flour and even the size of the chocolate chips has come into question. Now you know what I'm talking about. Though plain and unassuming on the outside, what goes on beyond that exterior is pretty much up to your own imagination.

I've been trying all sorts of recipes for chocolate chip cookies - chewy, cakey, light and fluffy - but I haven't made crunchy ones yet, at least not from scratch besides using the cookie pre-mix. From the discussions I've read, it seems like most people prefer the softer, chewy chocolate chip cookies as opposed to its more crunchy counterparts. For me, it really depends on my mood. I love soft chewy cookies with a hint of caramel brown sugar on days when I need a pick-me-up, but I also love these crunchy cookies that are perfect for the cookie jar. If I'm forced to choose, I would go for the former, simply because it masks the butter taste alot better and the texture's easier on the palate.

Anyway, here goes - my very first crunchy chocolate chip cookie! I used the recipe from Happy Homebaker, and made slight adjustments to make them less sweet. I love the way these lovelies spread out into nice rounded cookies and even left tracks where I pressed my fork against the top. It has just the right amount of sweetness (according to my taste) and a pleasant vanilla taste. For these, I used Valrhona Pearls instead than my usual Ghiradhelli Semisweet/Bittersweet chips. The pearls, being smaller and rounder, look very cute in these cookiee and they were considerably less sweet than Ghiradhelli's as well.

Okay, time to dig in!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Happy Home Baking

115g unsalted butter, softened
100g castor sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
175g all-purpose flour
125g Valrhona Pearls


1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees. Line baking sheets with silicon-coated paper.

2. Cream butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

3. Beat in the egg gradually. Mix well after each addition. Add in vanilla extract, mix well.

4.Sift flour over the mixture and fold it in with a spatula. Fold in the chocolate chips.

5. Drop heaped teaspoons of the cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving one and a half inch to two inches of space between the cookies to allow for spreading. Flatten each cookie dough slightly with the back of a fork, keeping the shape as even as possible.

6. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes or until the cookies turn golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Yields 26 cookies

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Life's Simple Pleasures - Banana Bread

What do I do when I'm sad, disappointed and upset with me and everything else? I'll make some comfort food that makes me feel a little better. Spent the morning on my second macaron experiment, which ended up pretty bitter. My first experiment was a disaster and I was pretty determined to get it right this time. The consistency of the batter did look really promising, but ultimately the baking part failed me, left me a sad and demoralised girl. I really didn't feel like doing anything, just felt like keeping all the recipes and shelving the books to one corner so I won't be reminded of the failure. Then again, the kitchen's already all messed up, with nothing to show, adding to my sadness.

I decided to cave in to my week-long craving and bake some good ol' banana bread. I call it life's simple pleasures, simply because it's so easy to make, with minimal cleaning and fuss, yet tastes so good each time  I make it. Traumatised by the earlier experience, my mind wasn't in it at all. But thank god banana bread is so foolproof, it's hard to go wrong with it. I forgot the trusty vanilla extract, and ended up with pure, unpretentious banana bread - defined by the natural banana fragrance and taste without added flavouring or enhancers.

The sight of the brown loaf rising from the pan had a calm and soothing effect on me. Finally, something that went right today, something good coming out from my oven. I feel so comforted, slightly happier and less traumatised. This can actually taste alot better with a dash of ground cinnamon and vanilla extract. But at this point, anything that smells comfort and taste yummy will do. I was so hungry at this point I had three slices of this at one go. And this was perfect for such times - not too sweet, yet moist and full on flavour. I can jolly well eat this for breakfast for an entire week - no joke.

While the macarons experiment continues to haunt, it's nice to know that I can indulge in good ol' fashioned sweets that can never fail. Probably need to put this episode behind me and start afresh again. Though I wonder how long it'll take for me to muster up the courage to try it out again. The search for the answer continues, with yet another lesson learnt in this confidence-beating journey towards perfecting the art of making macarons. Till then, I'll always find comfort in good ol' banana bread - life's simple pleasures.

Banana Bread
 adapted from Kitchen Corner

60g unsalted butter (softened)
120g all-purpose flour
80g sugar
1 egg
70ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 medium bananas (mashed)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)


1. Whisk butter with sugar until pale.

2. Mix in the egg until well-combined. Add in the bananas and mix till incorporated.

3. Add in the plain flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt mixture slowly, while whisking the mixture. The batter will turn thick and become harder to whisk.

4. Mix in the milk, then fold in the walnuts. Be careful not to over mix or the bread texture will turn tough.

5. Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for 35-40 minutes till a skewer is inserted and comes out clean.

Yields a 18 x 8 x 6 cm loaf.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Banana Cream Pie

I love bananas, I eat almost everything with bananas, and with that, I meant REAL bananas, not banana essence. The difference between the real fruit itself and the essence is stark. I tend to cringe at the latter, yet embrace the fruit in its entirety. I don't know how many times I've flipped through Baking: from my home to yours and wanted to bake this. The recipe looked awesome and the reviews for it are fantastic. As I've never made a pie or a tart before, this seems highly challenging to me. I'm so used to cupcakes, cookies and spooned desserts but a tart? I don't even have a tart pan to start with!

After setting my eyes on making this, I headed to Phoon Huat to purchase the tart making essentials. I bought myself a 7-inch pan and along with it, a whole load of baking UNessentials. I swear the store has some magnetic powers that draws me to everything I see. And you guessed right, the trip left a big hole in my pocket. Time to make good use of all the equipment I got! I'm excited now!

I replaced the flaky crust with the sweet tart dough recipe found in the book and it was pretty foolproof. The texture was easy to press into the pan, though I made it a teeny bit too thin for my liking. I'm just glad it turned out alright and nicely-browned - not too light, not too dark. Next up, the pastry cream!

The instructions for the pastry cream was easy to follow. I love how Dorie makes her instructions so detailed and simple. It was easy to identify when the cream was done. Chilling the cream took a couple of hours, and I was pretty much left with nothing much to do except to keep myself busy with other things.

After assembling the pie, it turned out pretty alright! At least it looks like a pie, a rather decent one in fact. I especially love it when it's thoroughly chilled, so did my entire family, everyone loved it! Keeping my word to someone whom I've promised to make good use of the book, here are the results. I wish you'd tried it, you would have liked it.

This is one pie I'm pretty certain I will taste more of. Surely there will be a next time.

Banana Cream Pie
adapted from Baking from my home to yours

1 cup milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
3 large ripe but firm banana
1 9-inch single crust made with Sweet Tart Dough recipe, fully baked and cooled
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar

For the full recipe, head over to Sing For Your Supper.

Yields one 9-inch pie.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Double Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

Today is my off day. And off day = baking day. Baking is therapeutic. I love seeing how the flour, eggs, sugar and butter turn into delicious works of art upon its exit from the oven. The feeling's simply magical.

I had all the time in the world today. I can decide what time i wanted to wake up, what to do, when to start doing and how long I'll take to do it. I've been looking forward to this day, cos I'm finally gotta take my own sweet time to bake some comfort food for me and my family. It's also the day for new experiments, and that means, trying out new recipes that I've never done before.

You know, I feel really really blessed. The very things I needed and wanted, were those very things that were already put (bought) in place for me. The oven, stand mixer, dslr...all these I have access to, at my convenience and my disposal, without needing to pay a single cent. Ha...this makes me a very happy girl! My mum used to bake ever so often, hence the kitchen is equipped with good quality equipment, and my dad, loves photography, hence the dslr is there! This means I can get to do alllll the baking and photography I want, without paying for the equipment! *squeals in delight*

I've finally decided that I'm hardworking enough to swop my trusty Panasonic Lumix for the Nikon D60. It takes quite abit of effort to stand on the tips of my toes to pull out that black bag from my daddy's cupboard, and more to find the right spot where daylight actually shines into the house. As I'm used to baking at night, getting daylight in my photos is a totally impossible task.

Laying out my current two favourite baking books side by side, one by Dorie Greenspan (which I favour alot more these days) and the other by Martha Stewart. I decided to go for the latter for variety sake. Was craving something suitable for breakfast and tea and hence I picked this recipe.

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of pistachios and was seriously contemplating substituting them with hazelnuts. But since I found it at the baking supplies store, I took a chance and went for it. Sure enough, it did not disappoint. I loved the combination of chocolate and pistachios in this crispy teatime cookie. I used the best quality cocoa powder I could find - Valrhona, together with Ghiradhelli semisweet chocolate chips. Martha Stewart's recipe is a little on the sweet side and I toned this down by using less sugar. Still, it was sweet and I'll just have to reduce the sweetness even more next time. The execution could have been improved though, cos my biscottis came out really long! Nevertheless, I love the deep, chocolaty flavour of this cookie, which perfectly complements a good cuppa coffee. Now I have an excuse to take that midday break. Yay to more tea breaks this week!

Double Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies

85g unsalted butter
220g all-purpose flour
50g Valrhona unsweetened cocoa powder
180g castor sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 large eggs
100g pistachio nuts (toasted)
1/2 cup Ghiradhelli semisweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

2. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until well combined. Add in flour mixture and incorporate to form a stiff dough. Stir in pistachios and chocolate chips.

3. Transfer dough to baking sheet. Shape the dough into a slightly flattened log. Bake for 25 -28 minutes, until the dough is slightly firm to the touch. Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

4. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log diagonally into inch-thick slices. Arrange the biscotti slices on a baking sheet, with the cut sides facing down, and bake the biscottis for 8-10 minutes, until crisp but still slightly soft in the center.

Yields 12- 14 biscottis.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Blueberry Crumble Muffins

Muffins...I have a bittersweet relationship with them really. Bitter cos I never found the perfect recipe that yields me light, fluffy muffins that I can enjoy one after another. And sweet cos I love their airy light texture with a slight hint of sweetness without being too heavy on the palate or overpowering in taste. Hence, I've shunned from baking muffins most of the time, well, until I found this lovely recipe from allrecipes.

As you might already know, I'm a huuuuuuge fan of chocolate, hence most of the sweets I bake will more or less include some form of chocolate in it. I'm a recently-converted blueberry fan though, especially after devouring dozens (yes you read it right, dozens) of blueberry muffins from a local muffin place. And it provided the impetus for me to get off my butt and start searching for that illusive muffin recipe.
I have to admit, this recipe was inspiring. Though not perfect, it yielded light and fluffy muffins just how I'd like it. The crumble topping was new to me, and I totally loved the crispy tops that came out from it...sweet and delicious! The ground cinnamon added a nice, flavourful touch as well.

My only grouse in my latest muffin experiment is that the batter overflowed from the cups. I've had problems with these paper cups before and the recipe called for the batter to be filled to the cup's brim. It's not a good idea to do so. Filling it two-thirds full will be your best bet, allowing sufficient space for the batter to rise, and yielding pretty, domed-shaped muffins. Some of mine are rather flat due to the overflowing batter, which I shall learn from and work on having perfect muffins next time. Nevertheless, preparing this was easy and fuss-free. You can pretty much mix everything by hand with a mixing bowl, without the need to mobilise the stand mixer. Looking at the recipe, I thought it was a little odd to leave out the vanilla extract, so I added them in anyway! Though there's not much need for it as the cinnamon smell was dominant in this recipe. These muffins taste best when warm, I especially loved them when they came straight out of the oven! I'd prefer it if they look a little less brown, though it's mostly due to the brown sugar I've used in place of the white. Colour-aside, these are finger-licking good!

Blueberry Crumble Muffins
adapted from

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries

For crumb topping:
1/4 cup white sugar (I used brown instead)
3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp cold butter, cubed
1 tsp ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to  200 degrees C. Line muffin pan with liners.

2. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. Whisk vegetable oil, egg and milk in a cup. Mix this with the flour mixture. Fold in blueberries.

3. To make crumb topping:, mix together the sugar, flour, butter and ground cinnamon. Mix with fork, and sprinkle over muffins before baking.

4. Fill muffin cups up to two-thirds full, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture.

5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick is inserted and comes out clean.

Yields 10 medium muffins.


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