Chocolate Ganache Birthday Cake

After I went back to the workforce, my time for baking was severely reduced. So sad.. , and not being in the full swing at work for almost 2 years Рdid take a bit of a toll on me. Was practically exhausted daily, and I needed time to get into the rhythm again. Sometimes I wonder for the meagre salary is it all worth it to lose your freedom ? Unfortunately in such times, you need to still accummulate what you can and save for a rainy day. With that, I ploughed on.

To be fair the job isn’t that bad, salary could have been better, but you know as a foreigner working in Singapore, you don’t really get much rights or protection (even for your regular Singaporean, what more as a foreigner). I did lose out a large chunk of pension legally bound by employers to pay their employees because I am a foreigner, good deal for the employer! Suffice to say, when one is already unemployed and have left the workforce for 2 years, not likely you are in much¬†of a bargaining position. ūüė¶ OK enough of my griping about work.. back to the cake!

Anyways, so for the first time after a long time (since Nov 2010), I am trying a new recipe – back to NON GLUTEN FREE. It¬†is Henrik’s birthday¬†today – Jan 16th. A nice dinner was planned yesterday evening at Au Petit Salut – a French restaurant,¬†¬†good – yes pricey but not overly , serving above average¬† French food.¬† For a little nicey surroundings, this place is not that bad, service, ambience and foodwise. (ps -I was told that Bistro du Sommelier serves very good down to earth Frenchie food, will need to check that out next time)

But as a tradition goes birthday cakes in this household will always be homemade Рcome hell or high water!

Went through Rose Levenbaum’s¬† cake¬†recipes (her Heavenly Cakes)¬†and decided upon her wicked Chocolate Devils Cake with Midnight Ganache. This chocolate cake is intense but not quite heavy (kidding – it is a very dense chocolate cake)¬†. We really liked the addition of the cognac cherries. It is a grown up cake, no fancy cake decoration , just loads of chocolate piled in the cake itself and on the frosting. Yum..

Lessons in baking, I made 2 mistakes in baking the cake, first the sugar – it asked for superfine, not icing, but castor. I had only fine sugar in the store, so thought I could just use that. It does not affect the taste or texture too much, but the lumps you get does make difference to how the cake looks. Secondly, the speed of the mixer, the last part when everything else has been incorporated I should have beat it in medium speed (2-3 , for my Kenwood Chef Major) and not at ‘min’! That would have help even out the sourcream and the rest of the batter with the chocolate paste mixture.

Be warned! This cake needs to be made in stages, especially the cognac cherries which needed to be soaked for 8 hours. So obedientlythe last 2¬†evenings, I made part of the cake for the final assembly today! The ganache needs time, so don’t be like me, not patient enough to let the ganache thicken on her own.¬†It has to¬†sit for at least 5 hours. In our tropical heat, probably longer even in the fridge – so ideally, when the ganache is hot, let it cool for 1 hour at¬† room temperature , then cover it let it rest for 5 hours before popping into the fridge for the last 2 hours. Consistency should be like softened butter it says but¬† not a¬†runny paste.

It did not look as it should, but tastewise, it was yum..So did Henrik like it? Of course, that was his wish, he wanted a chocolatey chocolate cake and he got it. For any chocolate lover this cake will hit the spot!

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Mooncake Festival

Chinatown in Singapore Рstreet decorations

Mid autumn festival for me represents 2 things, mooncakes and lanterns. It is one of the most romantic celebrations, firstly because it is in honour of the moon Goddess of Immortality and lanterns, lighting up in various forms of flowers, animal shapes, or large lanterns send alight and afloat up in the air, sparkles in the dark of the night all over, like stars.

Buying mooncakes at a chinese confecrtionary stall

It coincides with the autumnal equinox (of the solar calendar), the 15th day of the 8th month of the chinese lunar calendar, when the moon is at her fullest and roundest.

A mooncake

Mooncake festival started like last week culminating on the 22nd Sept 2010 . The restaurant, bakeries and hotels are producing and selling them like hotcakes. These delicious cakes are a delicacy on its own, heavy in calories and popular gifts to family and friends this time of the year. The perfect accompaniment is the chinese tea.

There has been queues everywhere and¬†people snapping them up like there is no tomorrow. These chinese pastries come with various pasty fillings. Today the array is mindboggling too – from traditional ones like lotus seed paste to modern fusiony flavours like chocolate ganache , durian, green tea , ice cream, etc.¬† However, I am rather a purist – when it comes to traditional celebrations I like to stick to traditional versions of the mooncakes. The ones I knew growing up were the piglet biscuits, baked mooncakes with the lotus seed paste¬†and melon seeds , with or without salted duck yolk, or red bean paste or the ultimate decadence¬†– jin hua ham and wu ren, 5 nuts, consisting of¬†walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, sesame, pistachio, macademia, watermelon seeds and¬†winter melon) –¬† it really¬†reminds me of the Italian paneforte.

Jin hua ham and nuts mooncake

Due to the convergence of regional specialities throughout China showing up in our shores, both Malaysia and Singapore – we now can get besides the baked mooncakes, the snow skin (unbaked) or flaky pastry (shanghainese).

So what is a good  mooncake? How does one judge? In my humble opinion, it is so individual. The addition of salted duck egg yolk gives it a harmonised balance  of salty savoury angle to the otherwise cloying sweetness of the lotus seed paste or red bean paste. Melon seeds give it a nice crunch. Traditionally one judge a good mooncake from the finished look, the imprints should be clear, skin is baked smooth, and golden brown. The skin should not be too thicked, with a slight separation from the filling itself. The filling must have the right consistency, not overly sweet or heavy and yet when one takes a bite, the paste should not be overly sticky or oily but yet holds together in a semi solid form. Have a few and be the judge yourself what you like best! I personally go for mooncakes made from known chinese restaurants or bakeries , hand made and are famed for using good quality ingredients.

As for the legends related to this celebration, there are many versions. A story about an Imperial General Houyi, a very skilled archer, was ordered to shoot 9 suns out of 10, as the earth was heating up. Succeeding he was given a pill for immortality which he hid . Unfortunately his wife Chang ‘ e found it and swallowed the pill, she flew away ( or¬†was banished)¬†to the moon. There, she coughed out the pill. She befriended the Jade Hare on the moon who is still pounding the pill so she could return back to earth. She lives in a palace on the moon, while her husband who made himself a palace on the sun, visits her once a year on the 15th day of the 8th month. Hence you see many mooncake imprints show a lady silhouette on the moon.

Snowskin mooncake Рthis is rose flavoured with red bean paste filling and melon seeds

Another story is about a revolt overthrowing the Mongul rulers by the Chinese. Secret messages were hidden in the mooncakes and distributed to the chinese inhabitants, to organise a revolt which was eventually successful.

A paper lantern using a thin candle.

As for the lanterns, rather unsure how it came about to¬†be a¬†part of the mooncake festival, either to recreate light on a mid autumn night or representing the 10 suns, or maybe to show Chang’e her way home to earth. Whatever¬†the reason may be,¬†it is a delightful addition to¬†the festival¬† especially for the children and romantics like myself.

And for the mooncake recipe – I don’t have it, my mom does, but she has not made one¬†for a very long time. Truth be told, it is a lot of work¬†, if you intend to make everything on your own, from the lotus seed paste to the pastry. When I do manage to dig her recipe out one day, I will post it on my blog , and if any one of you are game to try it out – let me know how it went.

Orange Blossom Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yes this time, it was my godson’s birthday I have been commissioned to make a cake for. He is turning 8 this Thursday (today), and I have been busy today baking 2 cakes (2 x 10inch square cake) so that it will be ready to be iced by Wed and all set up before Thurs morning. Initially I¬†intended to make a rainbow cake for him, after discussing back and forth with the very sensible little boy, we agreed on an orange cake. Too many colours scares him – artificial colouring, you see.

Now the little surprise is he does not know how the cake would look like. But the mother does, and we know he loves sailing and is very proud of it. Hence the cake will be nautical themed.. ! I do hope he will like it .  And I think he did.

We brought it to his school just before their recess break so that his classmates could sing him a birthday song. He looked happy and beaming, with all the flurry of activity around him.  He had goody bags to share with his classmates. I thought it was a good day for the little boy. He finally turned 8! 

The cake was made based loosely on TLC’s Orange Blossom Pound Cake by Carrie Biggers .¬† I followed the cake recipe to a T, making 2 batches from the recipe stated because my cake had to be 10 inches square¬†wide and 3 inches high.¬†Then I chose to sandwich the cake with fresh whipped cream, to offset the sweetness of the buttercream/cream cheese frosting on the outside.¬† As for the frosting, I followed loosely, halving the¬†quantities¬†in the recipe, and¬†omitting the orange juice additions, while adding instead 3 tbp of water. Due to the humidity and heat here in Singapore, I had to make the buttercream stiffer than normally required. It helps to retain the forms of the decorations piped out. It was still rather soft despite reducing the liquids.

So careful planning went ahead to transport the cake. I think next time I will just have to stick to traditional buttercream icing, using half shortening and half butter and include meringue powder to get that neat smooth coating for the cake. This one did not give the same finishing look. At the same time, it did not hold as well as the buttercream with meringue powder.

This sailing boat themed cake had freshly squeezed orange juice, orange rind, pure orange blossom water, organic flour, fat free buttermilk, homemade cream cheese / buttercream icing and an old time favourite Рpolo mints. The buttermilk kept the cake moist and with a tender crumb.

An ode to the birthday boy, our little sailor –¬† may he always have tailwind in his endeavours.

A sailor went to sea, sea, sea

To see what he could see, see, see.

But all that he could see, see, see

Was  the deep blue sea, sea, sea

Rice Dumpling Festival

Above is ‘kee chang’ – made from lye water and glutinous rice, eaten with gula malacca syrup. My all time favourite

Or otherwise known as ‘chang’ festival. In Singapore somehow, one does not realise the passing of many traditional chinese festivals despite the fact that Singapore’s population is predominantly Chinese (although of various ethnic groups). I supposed I would have to head to Tiong Bahru or Chinatown (I always feel weird to speak of Chinatown as an area in Singapore when we are surrounded by chinese anyway). Maybe I am living in the wrong neighbourhood.

Chang festival, falls on the 5th day of the 5th month every year – which is also the chinese summer solstice. In China, Taiwan and Hong Kong,it is a public holiday.

Duan Wu Jie is a widely celebrated festival amongst the Chinese, to pay respect to the patriotic poet, Qu Yuan (pronounced as Chue Yuan). The legend involves a really long and complicated throne-fighting war and political history. But to make a long story short: Qu Yuan was an important minister back in Chu Kingdom in ancient China. He had been known for his loyalty for the emperor of Chu, and loved his country greatly. However, His Majesty had not taken Qu Yuan’s advice seriously, and he eventually got himself trapped and captured in a foreign land by his enemies, which then lead to his own death.

Sad and angry at the corrupted, dying Kingdom, Qu Yuan tied himself to a big rock and threw himself into the River of Puo Luo. The people then made rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and threw them into the river. They believed this would stop the fish from eating Qu Yuan’s body. Some would even row down stream in a boat, beating drums and shouting out loud in the hope to scare the fish away (it was believed that it is how the Dragon Boat event is related to the festival.

Since then, the 5th day of the 5th month in the Chinese calendar has been set as Duan Wu Festival to remember the incident. Although there were versions of legends and stories that indicate Duan Wu has existed way before Qu Yuan’s death, the tradition still carries on.

from http://www.knowingfood.com/rice/rice_dumpling_festival.html

I know, why must all chinese festivals involve food? Because us Chinese love food too much Рthat is why!

A stall selling ‘chang’

The chang comes in many different flavours, like bak chang Рhokkien style, has tau eu pork (pork cooked in soya sauce), mushroom, chestnut and salted egg yolk, encased in glutinous rice seasoned with black tau ee, wrapped in lotus leaves or bamboo leaves. Others are the nyonya style (called pua kiam tee meaning sweet  & salty), made from peanuts, candied winter melon, shredded pork, shallots, etc Рanother would be the cantonese tau chang, with mung bean filling and pork. One of my favourites. Some are filled with red bean paste or black eye peas.

Tomorrow marks the day of the festival, 16th June 2010 Рand I will be off to hunt for some dumplings in Singapore. If anyone knows of a good place to get them, please let me know!

ps- I was told Hoo Kee Rice Dumplings at Amoy Street (7 Maxwell Road #01-18 Amoy Street Food Centre)  is very popular, sold out daily by 1pm. Other places to check out would be the major hotels, most of their chinese restaurants would make dumplings of their own concoction to celebrate the festival.

I found out from my friend Pei Fern, there is apparently an activity Рegg standing game, popular amongst young people and children. The peak time to do it is 12noon, on this chinese summer solstice day. Only once in a year you can try to defy gravity.

NB – She tried it and well it worked! See photo above from her FB.

Strawberry Cake

I was asked to make a birthday cake for a 5 year old. I¬†jumped¬†in¬†with 2 feet¬†at the chance¬†as it was for my BFF’s daughter’s birthday at her kindy.¬†Then realisation and stress hit home. I panicked. Taking several gulps of air, I decided to attack it in methodical way. Plan, Research and then Execute. I knew one thing though, the cake had to be pink. So that was a start.

Trying to find a delicious pink cake, a thought pop into my head, why not a strawberry cake? Yes why not? Strawberries yum… and it will be (naturally)a¬†pink cake, bestest combination. So where do you find a recipe for a strawberry cake? None of my¬†baking cake¬†books had it. It was back to the world wide web.

After much research, I kept getting¬†the¬†Paula Deen’s version of white cake mix plus jello.. not quite what I was looking for. Finally I¬†came across¬†this Strawberry Cake recipe¬†(courtesy of Smitten Kitchen’s – Pink Lady Cake and¬† made it – the cake mixing method adopted from Rose Levenbaum’s Red Velvet Cake).¬†¬†It was the¬†crushed- strawberries- mixed- into -a -white -cake -batter – way I went, yes fully agreeing with many of the back to basics food bloggers. ¬†

Staying with the ‘natural’ concept (and I am a bit anti-Princess which is so popular these days with young girls aged 3-8)¬†, I made a garden themed decoration with flowers, bees and lady bugs!¬† The cake is sandwiched with fresh whipped cream combined with¬†3 tbp of raspberry jam and iced¬†with homemade¬†buttercream frosting.

Admittedly, this is my first attempt at a public display of my cake baking and decorating abilities Рah.. very stressful you know, uncertainty and constant worry, how well (and also decorating wise with buttercream) it will turn out.  A lot of planning went into it. Baked the cake a week earlier to make sure the taste and texture is right. Had a tasting panel consisting of myself and my poor husband who had to suffer through much of my experiments Рsome days were better than otthers. It passed the test. So the recipe was alright to go for Friday. Then I drew up the plan on where the flowers, bees and ladybugs will be placed and which colour combination to use.

To make it even more special, I wrote up a little poem to commemorate the theme and the little darling’s special day. I hope she likes her birthday cake from Aunty Sui Yin – yes I am a worry wart and sometimes paying too much attention to details. Honestly, I am terribly fond of her, and yes¬†I do want her to have a very special cake on her very special day.

Well everything has to start somewhere, so here goes  and fingers crossed, that the cake will be a hit with the little ones and the mommy (who is probably too sweet and supportive to tell me otherwise) is happy with it too.

ps – indeed the little girl and 24 of her classmates¬†loved her cake! Phew…

Sugee Cake

Sugee cake is a semolina buttery cake¬† infused with rosewater (or rose essence) , brandy and almonds which¬†originates from another sub-ethnic group in Malaysia – the Eurasians – a mix of Indian, local, Portuguese or Dutch blood, some may trace their ancestries to Spain (and the mixed bloodline with the Moors).¬†¬†The word ‘sugee’ is in fact in Hindi for semolina.

This cake¬†is so popular, it¬†has been adopted by many¬†Malaysians especially the peranakan (nyonya) households adapting it to their own taste – you will see the addition of¬†candied kumquats and melons – your typical sweetener for the chinese ‘tong sooi’ – sweet soups.

This cake is unique as it has rosewater  (or rose essence included) besides sugee, no doubt there is a strong influence from the Middle Eastern /South Mediterranean region. This cake is rather popular with the locals hence you can find these exotic ingredients available easily in most stores in Malaysia or Singapore.

As this cake is quite heavy so a small piece each is sufficient for most people, normally made for very very vspecial occasion or festivities.

For more on Eurasian ethnic group please see my post on Pineapple Tarts¬†or on Eurasians in Malacca (specifically the Cristang people ) please read Celine Marbeck’s website on their culture and food heritage.

The flipside with a multicultural society is , sometimes the blending has been so well intergrated – the origins get blurred. Each subculture starts adopting one another’s cuisine heritage, sort of like cherry picking the best from one another and incorporating into their own repertoire. And the result is the younger generation have no idea of its history. That is why you see sometimes local folks themselves get confused thinking sugee cake is a nyonya delicacy which may not be entirely wrong, but it¬†definitely does not originate from them.

I find the traditional fusion of  food cultures  in South East Asia, parts of Africa, Mediterranean and the Middle East, to the United States Рparticularly California, New Orleans very fascinating. I have not travelled to South America or the Caribbean but I am quite convinced you will find a colourful blend of fusiony foods there too.

Anyways here is a home recipe of a sugee cake. You can ice it with marzipan, buttercream (but being in Singapore due to the humidty and heat, this frosting sweats too much) or in this case simply dust icing sugar over the cake and sprinkle some organic dried rose bud petals.  They are very popular as wedding cakes in Singapore and Malaysia.

Recipe

  • 4¬†oz of Self Raising Flour
  • 4¬†oz of sugee (fine semolina)
  • 2 oz of tang kua teow (candied melon pieces)+ 2 oz of candied¬†tangerines or kumquats¬†chopped (pulsed it through the food processor) into small pieces but not fine.
  • 2 oz finely chopped almonds but not ground.
  • 1 tsp rose essence or 1 tbp of rose water
  • 1 tbp of brandy
  • 6-8oz¬†sugar castor depending how sweet you like the cake to¬† be
  • 8oz¬†salted regular butter soften
  • 5 eggs + 1 egg yolk – beat the eggs till fluffy and pale yellow.

Cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add the egg mixture and blend well. Add the brandy, rose essence after. Fold in the flour + sugee into the butter/egg mixture carefully , followed by the candied melon +  kumquats and almonds. Mix until well incorporated.

Pour the batter into an 8inch square baking tin lined with greased parchment paper.

Bake in 150 degrees preheated oven for 50mins-1hr or cake skewer comes out clean.

Chap Goh Meh

Chap Goh Meh is the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration. We celebrate it for 15 days, and Chap Goh Meh means the 15th night. So after the clock strikes midnight no more ang pows¬†for you young /single folks when you visit your friends’ or relatives’¬†households. This year it is falls on 28th February.

The night, amongst the Taoist, involves prayers as it coincides with the first full moon of the New Year. You must all go out and look at the moon, very nice and big.  In my hometown Penang, it is also a night where single ladies will cast mandarin oranges into the sea with the hope it will be scooped up by a prospective husband. However today, it is not really practised for that reason, although the tradition is upkept with a mandarin orange throwing competition, with food bazaars and concerts.  Everybody (I do mean everybody Рmarried people , kids, single or not) will do this throwing of oranges into the sea at Esplanade. 

In the old days, (mainly a peranakan tradition) – young maidens will dress up in their beautiful kebayas and being accompanied by their parents, they will stroll around Esplanade, and young eligible men can get an eyeful. Should there be any interest¬†from either parties, the matchmaker at that time will do their job of investigating each other’s backgrounds and reporting back to each side with the hope a marriage will ensue after that,¬†if all goes well.

There used to be also a performance by the nyonyas at that time (instead of today’s modern pop concert), on a bus called the Dondang Sayang, crooning love songs and pantuns in Malay (poetry) and doing a little dance¬†– the joget.¬†I have not been back for a long time now for Chap Goh Meh so I can’t report much what else goes on there except what¬†¬†the Penang Tourism Board is planning for the celebrations. I do know though this musical event still goes on albeit with¬†a little more commercial/tourist flavour to it.

For more on Chap Goh Meh in Penang :

In my family, my mom (100% nyonya mah)¬†will make ‘pengat’ – it is bananas, yam¬†and sweet potatoes of various kinds,¬†stewed in sweet, creamy coconut¬†sauce flavoured with a pandan leave.¬† I love it. I will certainly make them here in SG although I¬†do not¬†know any Dondang Sayang songs to hum to.. how sad!

Recipe for Pengat (4 people)

  • 1¬†large banana (pisang raja – best choice)¬† or any firm large banana- cut into chunks
  • 1 cup of yam (peeled and cut into cubes 1 inch by 1 inch)
  • 1¬†cup of red sweet potato (peeled and cut into cubes 1 inch by 1 inch)
  • 1¬†cup of¬†yellow or purple¬†sweet potato (peeled and cut into cubes 1 inch by 1 inch)
  • 1 large pandan leave (washed and tied into a knot)
  • 250 ml coconut¬†cream* (santan ‘tau’)¬†+ 100-200 ml water
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt

Steam the yam and the potatoes, until cooked , they may cook at different stages so check on them. Some cook faster than others, as yam is  harder, so it goes in first on the steamer for about 5 minutes before the rest. Steaming is the best as the potatoes remain in their nice shape rather than getting too mushy.

But if you don’t have a steamer, you can use the microwave. Put the cubed yam and potatoes in a single layer on a shallow dish, sprinkle with 4 tsp of water. Switch the microwave to 600 watts for 10-11 minutes. Becareful, the plate would be hot.

In the meantime, bring to boil and leave to simmer , banana (pisang raja) , 1 cup water with the 1/2 cup sugar and pandan leave till it becomes syrupy. Then pour in the coconut milk and a pinch of salt, continue to let it simmer for another 4 minutes.

Do not boil, otherwise the coconut cream will separate from the liquid.. simmer gently. Should the coconut milk feels too thick , more like clotted cream, add in the bit by bit,  100-200ml water, adjust accordingly if the consistency appears still too thick . It should be creamy with a slightly viscous consistency but not thick.

Give the coconut syrup a stir now and then.

Finally add in the cooked potatoes and simmer for another minute  and switch off the fire.

Let it cool slightly, serve warm РI like it best this way. Some like it chilled.

Certain families add in black eye peas, sago or tapioca jelly.¬† This is my family’s version. My mom tells me that people sometimes confuse pengat with bubur cha cha. Pengat has a creamier¬†coconut gravy while bubur cha cha is very watery. Think of pengat as potatoes and bananas coated with creamy coconut syrup, rather than ‘soup’.

* note on coconut, depending where you are in the world, if you use KARA (Indonesian brand) coconut cream or local market coconut milk which tends to be thicker and creamier, follow above recipe as it is. But if it is coconut milk – more watery kind, omit the additional water (100-200 ml) and reduce the 1 cup water to make the syrup to 1/2 cup.