March 29, 2011

Carrot cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut-almond garnish

Easter coconut carrot cupcakes (with chocolate Mini Eggs), with mini strawberry cheesecakes in the background. 

A simple, grown-up (?) version of carrot cupcakes.

For me, there are three cardinal rules of carrot cakes:
  1. Moistness: The cake has to be moist but not dense/heavy/greasy, with a coarse but soft crumb.
  2. Nuts (pecans, walnuts - take your pick): These can go on top as a garnish to add crunch and flavour but never inside the batter. I hate those soft mushy greasy lumps of nuts in some carrot cakes. I might consider adding raisins in the cake if I'm having that kind of a day.
  3. Frosting: It's all about the cream cheese frosting.
  4. The third rule is so important, it's worth repeating: it's all about the frosting.

This carrot cupcake looks melancholy without the frosting.

March 21, 2011

Gluten-free vanilla cupcakes with berry cream cheese frosting

A co-worker recently was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and has been having trouble finding gluten-free food (not just baked goods, but also a lot of Chinese food, as soy sauce contains wheat), so I decided to bake some gluten-free cupcakes to cheer her up.

I've never baked gluten-free before (besides some meringues), so I did some Googling and was initially a bit intimidated by the recipes I found, which all seemed to require unfamiliar and exotic-sounding ingredients like xanthan and guar gum. Luckily I found a gluten-free plain white flour mix by Dove's Farm (UK) at the supermarket, which can be used in place of regular wheat flour in most recipes.

Here's the recipe for the gluten-free cupcakes that I made. They came out lighter and looser than regular cupcakes, but I think my coworker will be happy to have these baked goods as they're equally tasty, even without the denser crumb of cakes made with regular wheat flour.

March 20, 2011

Fresh fruit tart

I've never had that much luck before with making pastry for tarts. I've tried various recipes, including a chocolate tart recipe (with chocolate pastry crust) from Jamie Oliver that came out too greasy and also too puffy, despite the blind baking.

This time, however, it went all quite smoothly. I made one big tart (8") and two mini (4") tarts.
Here's what I did:

  1. Make the tart dough (pâte sucrée). I used this recipe, but with a few minor alterations:
    • Instead of 100g flour, I used 70g flour and 30g cornstarch/cornflour. I'm not sure how big of a difference it made, but I like to add a bit of cornstarch as I think it makes cookies etc slightly more tender. I might try the original recipe next time (no corn starch) for comparison purposes.
    • Almond powder = ground almonds. I used ready-ground almonds but I suppose it would be better to grind your own at home (add some sugar if doing so to avoid your almonds becoming almond butter instead of powder).
    • You should really make this ahead but due to lack of time, I didn't leave the dough overnight to develop. Instead I let it chill 1.5 hours in the fridge before rolling out into the tart tins, then let it rest another 30 minutes in the fridge before baking.
    • My major discovery/revelation was that you don't need to mess about with beans, rice or pie weights to blind-bake your tart case. I just followed the suggestion of pricking the dough with the tines of a fork multiple times (both on the sides and bottom). This technique is called docking, and the little holes created by the fork allow the steam to escape and stop the dough from rising too much. I think the end result was not as perfectly presentable as using beans or pie weights, but the convenience factor won me over.
  2. Make your filling. I used a pastry cream/crème patissière recipe by Martha Stewart. The taste was good but the consistency/texture was a little too liquid/custardy for my liking. I might try a recipe with more cornstarch/flour next time to make a more solid filling.
  3. Melt some chocolate to line the bottom of the tart. Dark chocolate is traditional, but I didn't have any so I melted some milk choc buttons in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. I then spread the melted chocolate into the tart case (which was already blind-baked and cooled to room temp.), then spread it around with a spatula to cover the entire base of the tart. Let stand until the chocolate has cooled and hardened. This serves two purposes: A) it's yummy chocolate! and B) the chocolate layer keeps the wet filling from making the tart case soggy and helps prevent any possible leaks from the little holes made by the docking process.

  4. Once your filling is chilled enough, you are now ready to assemble your fruit tart.
    • Pour the pasty cream onto your tart slowly - you don't want to add too much and risk a spill/overflow! Remember that your fruit will sink slightly and displace some of the filling, so don't fill it up too much, about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up the crust is about right.
    • Add whatever mix of fruit you like. I made two kinds: strawberry-blueberry and mango-banana.
    • Just before serving, dust with icing/confectioner's sugar or cocoa using a fine sieve.
  5. As you can see, the tarts I made don't look beautifully perfect - the crust is a bit straggly and uneven, but the taste and texture got a thumbs up from everyone at work. The only thing I would focus on next time would be to improve the pastry cream which was a little too liquid.

March 19, 2011

Tea-time dimsum and steamed pot rice

There's a cha chan teng (茶餐廳) [literally, "tea restaurant" but it means more of a Hong Kong-style diner or casual restaurant] near where I get off the bus in Wanchai. It's down an alley by an outdoor street market. It serves nothing but dim sum and steamed pot rice all day. It's a little family-run shop with simple tables and stools. The choices are listed on posters on the wall. There's a takeout counter at the entrance serving steamed buns and sticky glutinous rice with Chinese sausage.

During tea-time, they have tea sets. I ordered the steamed chicken pot rice, braised chicken feet and a hot lemon tea, all for HK$28 (about US$3.60).

This was a great find for me, because I love steamed pot rice (other versions include pork spare rib, egg and minced beef, fish, etc.).

Why I will be going back:
  • All day dim sum and steamed rice!
  • The people are quite friendly (at least during the afternoon tea period when it's not so busy)
  • It's not the best dim sum and rice I've ever had, but it is a decent choice in the area and really cheap, making it good value for the price

Kam Fai Dim Sum Restaurant
G/F, 49 Spring Garden Lane, Wan Chai

March 10, 2011

Lemon cake with caramelized lemon peel and almonds

After succeeding with Tamami-san/Coco & Me's cheesecake recipe, I decided to try her famous lemon drizzle cake recipe. I'm a huge lemon fan but have had only mixed results with the other recipe that I've been using to date (the lemon syrup cake from Nigella Lawson's How to be a domestic goddess). (Tamami-san is also working on a Coco & Me cookbook so I am eagerly waiting its release since both recipes I have tried from her blog have turned out very well for me!)

Tamami's method is slightly unusual as it requires you to whisk the eggs and sugar into a foam in a simmering bain-marie (almost like making a sabayon), but it does result in a light but airy cake. I'm guessing that heating the eggs here has a similar effect as doing the "cooked dough" in choux pastry recipes - it forces the dough to rise due to the egg content and steam.

Recipe: Lemon Drizzle Cake from Tamami-san at Coco & Me.


Stick to the recipe.
The recipe looks a bit fussy and overly detailed (rather than my usual "mix dry ingredients; mix wet ingredients; combine both; bake) but it makes a HUGE difference in what comes out of your oven. You get a proper delicious cake made with care and love instead of something that's too mushy, too dry or too tasteless!

Scale the amounts to fit your pan.
I scaled the ingredients to fit a Japanese no. 5 / 15 cm / 6" round cake pan. I also had enough batter and icing left over for two "tester" cupcakes (shown above).

Line both the sides and bottom of the cake tin.
Instead of just lining the bottom of the tin and flouring the sides, I lined both the bottom and the sides of the tin (I had some pre-cut tin liners that I bought from the Jusco $10 store here in Hong Kong. Side note: Jusco is seriously my favourite baking accessories shop as they sell cheap cake liners, tins, chocolate moulds, ribbons, trays, decorative bags/boxes and more. I highly recommend it if you happen to live in Hong Kong.)

Almond powder/ground almonds?
I substituted ground almonds for almond powder with excellent results.

Use an electric hand mixer.
Instead of whisking by hand, I used the electric mixer to whisk the eggs. I started off with a manual whisk but my wrist quickly started to hurt. So, make sure you use the electric mixer!

Cut off the muffin top.
The only thing is that my cake was not flat (it had a muffin top) so instead of turning it upside down as instructed in Tamami's recipe, I just lopped off the top. I found that removing the top actually made it easier for the lemon syrup to penetrate and soak the cake. Being a greedy pig, I then ate the top with a bit of leftover lemon syrup - the cook's privilege! I now feel a bit sick from eating a giant piece of cake, but I don't regret it for a second! :)

Try different kinds of garnish.
Instead of using chopped-up pistachio and sugared lemon peel as a garnish, I used flaked almonds and browned/caramelized lemon peel. (To make the caramelized lemon peel, carefully cook the lemon peel strips in sugar water in a saucepan on low heat until it turns brown and sticky. Then remove from heat and add warm water to "shock" and melt the caramel syrup. You should strain the peel (which should be caramel brown) in a sieve to remove excess water and de-tangle the lemon peel strips.

This also works for cupcakes as well as regular cakes.
The cupcakes turned out pretty cute. I think I'll use this recipe for little cupcakes to bring to the office next time.

I am so pleased with this recipe, even though it's more complicated, I think this will replace the Nigella Lawson one that I've been using for the past couple of years.

March 6, 2011

One-pot steamed Chinese chicken mushroom rice

A classic Chinese comfort food is steamed chicken with winter/shiitake mushrooms (冬菇蒸雞飯). There are variations with dried lily flowers but I like the ones with mushrooms best. In Chinese cooking, shiitake/winter mushrooms are more commonly used dried than fresh. The dried ones have a stronger, more umami flavor to them that the fresh ones don't, and the best dried winter mushrooms can be quite expensive!

I adapted my recipe from this one I found online.

The only specialized equipment you will need is a rice cooker (found throughout Asia). Rice cookers are amazing things - see this blog post by Roger Ebert (yes, the film critic) if you need to be convinced of its usefulness.

  • Rehydrated winter mushrooms (or you can use any fresh ones that you prefer. A "meatier" mushroom would probably work better here.
  • I used boneless chicken thigh, cut into small pieces, because my boyfriend doesn't like bones. In cheaper restaurants in Hong Kong, the chicken in this dish can have a lot of bone splinters :(
  • Didn't have spring onion so I substituted coriander/cilantro - not strictly traditional but I feel that you have a lot more flexibility for savory dishes than with baked desserts.
  • Rice + about 2/3 of the normal amount of water you would normally use in your cooker because the soy sauce marinade for the chicken will make up the remaining liquid.
  • If you don't have Shaoxing wine you can use cooking sake/mirin/pale dry sherry/gin. Not quite the same but close enough.
  • It's OK if your rice gets a slightly burnt and crispy crust - that's the BEST part!
  • The main point is, don't worry about following the recipe too strictly, play around with it depending on what ingredients you have on hand and ENJOY. It will be yummy.