Sunday, March 27, 2005

The best gift

Choc Chip cookies Posted by Hello

Roll the words 'chocolate Chip cookies' off your tongue and you have conjured a world of comfort, innocence and sweet, pure happiness.
So what better way to make someone smile than with your very own home made chocolate chip cookies. What you see in the picture is this Sunday's inspiration. These chocolate chip cookies were made 'post' running in the rain with a plastic bag over my head, sharing an umbrella with a kind soul at the pedestrian traffic lights ('have a great day' she called out to me after i left the safe confines of her umbrella) - and getting back half drenched, but 100% happy to have the rest of the Sunday afternoon to myself.
This is my fourth attempt at this recipe. It was taken from a book by Carole Walter called 'Great cookies'. I chanced upon this book in borders, and was discovered by my boyfriend tucked away in a corner of the book shop salivating over the pictures. I had never had big aspirations to be a cookie expert, but this book was not going to let me go - so i had to have it. On the hard back cover of this book, it proudly claims that 'Carole Walter' is the winner of the James beard award ( i'm not sure what that means - in my ignorancec, i'm going to interprete it as the nobel prize for cookie authors) - and so this book will be my bible for all cookies in all shapes and sizes (and there are so many recipes to choose from here!)
The first time i ever made these cookies, they spread after baking. I soon discovered that this usually means there is too much moisture in the dough - and refrigerating the dough for a bit helps to solve this problem (and it does!) The dark chocolate bits you see in the picture were chopped up pieces of dark toblerone that were my spontaneous attempt at 'cookie' dressing.
I find that the chocolate chips never rise to the surface the way they do in the pictures of recipe books and one needs to manually do it by hand to achieve that model cookie 'look'.

There is something so sweet about the smell of cookies wafting out of the oven. Opening the oven door every few minutes (you are not supposed to do this i'm sure) out of sheer impatience and watching them progressively crisp around the edges to a golden honey brown.

I am still trying to perfect the choclate chip cookie - thus far - the first one barely 5 minutes out of the oven (oh who am i kidding - 10 seconds out of the oven!) is the most divine. Overnight, they really don't taste half as good. I don't think i have made the 'perfect' cookie just yet - i will know it once i have tried it. I am certain the first bite of my perfect chocolate chip cookie will be like an exploding epiphany.

Having said that, i packed these off in an air tight jar to a friend who's eyes light up like no one other i have seen in the presence of chocolate (in hindsight, i probably needn't have bothered with the air tight jar -i doubt they would have lasted beyond a few hours!)
The big smile, the glee,the sheer delight on his face as he crams an entire cookie in his mouth is enough for me to make them again and again.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

lime yoghurt cupcakes Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Tea time!

lime and yoghurt cupcakes Posted by Hello
I had organised an event for work this Sunday for the West Highland Terrier club (i do marketing for pet brands ). It was to be an outdoor tea party for about 15 Westie dogs and their owners. I had organised a set menu with the owner of the cafe, but thought that I would contribute to a dessert. The menu to be provided by the cafe involved the following:
Fried Chicken in wasabi mayo dip
Smoked Salmon Sandwiches
Cucumber and Butter sandwiches
Egg Mayo Sandwiches
Mushrooms on a puff pastry
Italian Meatballs in a tomato ragu

I thought we might neeed another sweet, but something lighter to complement the brownie. Between making scones for the first time or trying a cup cake, i opted out of scones because of the fiddly nature of having to deal with butter and jam. Besides, a scone didn't seem quite like the best option to complement a brownie.

I had seem the recipe for a lemon and yoghurt loaf cake in "Delicous" magazine, and had copied the recipe on a paper napkina couple of weeks back. Instead of making it in a loaf pan, i decided it would be nicer for a cosy group to make them in muffin tins instead. Save the neeed for portioning the loaf.

This recipe required a surprisingly large amount of butter (almost an entire block!) and natural yoghurt. Overall, a very straightforward recipe with excellent results. The yoghurt gave it a richer moist texture - dense and less fluffy than other lighter sponge cakes, but very tender with a hint of lime. The next time, i might try it with a little more lime zest (the recipe only asked for 1 and a half tblspoons).

The Westie club owners looked surprised when i told them i had made these cupcakes, and proceeded to say how lovely they were (but i suppose they were forced into saying so after i had proudly claimed ownership to its creation!)

200g butter, melted & cooled
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
2 ggs
1 cup natural yoghurt
1/4 cup lim ejuice
1 1/2 tablespoon finely grated lime rind
2 1/2 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons baking powder

1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 160c. Place the melted butter and sugar in a bowl & whisk to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, whisking to combine. Whisk in yoghurt, lime juice & lime rind until smooth. Sift together the flour & baking powder & stir into the lime mixture until smooh.
Spoon mixture into a 10 x 20cm greased and lined loaf tin. Bake the cake for 1hr and 15 mins or until cooked through when testeed with a skewer. Cool before making icing.
To make icing, mix icing sugar, lime juice and water until combined.

Remove cake from tin & spoon over the icing.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Chocolate chip Muffins

Choc Chip Muffins Posted by Hello
Third week's delivery of my muffins, and i thought i'd try to perfect the chocolate chip muffin.
This recipe called for sour cream - which i left out - but apart from that, i followed everything to the last detail. I am still unsure of what benefit comes from using sour cream - i can't be bothered to head out and buy it (as i have no other use for it) , so if anyone has any idea, i would love to hear about it.

Another thing i did which the recipes don't tell you is to dot the batter in their filled muffin tins with a few chocolate chips before it goes in the oven. Pure presentation purposes, but it looks so much better.

This recipe also called for you to whip the egg whites until stiff and fold it in in the last step - which apparently gives the texture of the muffin a 'lift'. The end result was good - it was a little less buttery than i would have liked, but definitely a keeper.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Muffin mishaps

My love for muffins started when I was in university in Nottingham, and would grab a chocolate chip orange muffin, thinking that by choosing it over a chocolate bar, i had made the right choice. This muffin had the perfect combination of the tangy sweetness of oranges, and the deep richness of dark chocolate. There was undoubtedly a muffin factory churning these out, because they came in their celophane wrappings that looked exactly like the muffins i saw in every other sweet shop in the UK. Clearly, i was not a muffin conniseur at this juncture in my life ( it was during a time when i would toss myself a bowl of spaghetti with baked beans and pesto sauce and call it a real attempt at a home made banquet)!
Perhaps if i had tried the same muffin today, i would poo poo it for it's 'mass produced' flavour and it's lack of real ingredients.

A brief History
English Muffins are not the same as the more popular 'American' muffins. Legend has it that an English baker named Samuel B. Thomas started making English muffins in the 10th or 11th Century. These were best described as flat chewy things that were yeast raised and baked on a griddle. Crunchy when toasted, English muffins were often eaten with a generous glob of butter.

The American version are also often referred to as 'quick breads'. I expect they are called as such because they are not raised by yeast, but by egg and baking powder (chemically leavened as opposed to yeast leavened). Apparently these muffins were not developed until the end of the 18th Century, after which a ton of them must have been imported into Europe. (Trivia: baking powder was not developed commercially until 1857)

My intimate relationship with Muffins
Post university, i would ocassionally grab a muffin with a coffee. I didn't give it much thought, apart from the fact that it seemed like a pretty nice snack - not as bad as grabbing that cheesecake. But here's the truth of the matter -it must've been someone's brilliant marketing campaign to call muffins 'muffins' to make people feel better about the fact that they weren't ordering themselves a piece of cake for breakfast. But face it - muffins ARE cakes. They use the same ingredients, with some minor tweaks (sieve the flour for the more 'cakey' texture, ) but change the shape - and it's a cake! So for those of you who grab a muffin every morning for breakfast - you're having CAKE to start your day. But hey - certainly nothing wrong with that!

My intimate relationship with muffins started like this - i would order a cake (masquerading as a muffin) occassionally at one of my favourite cafe's in Singapore. One day - the cafe owner told me she didn't sell muffins anymore because the girl who used to sell them had left. So 2 weeks later, as i was sipping on a tea, muffinless - i went up to the cafe owner and proposed that i bake a batch and bring if over to see if she could sell them. i was all braced for rejection, but to my surprise she said 'why not'
and so a muffin baking frenzy was born.

Muffin frenzy
I had baked muffins in the past, but very non committally and with often varying results. Some had turned out well, some were hard as rubber. i did not have a fool proof method. I had one muffin recipe in my donna hay cookbook - the rest were print outs from the website. The first step was clear - to buy an entire book on muffins! The one i finally picked had a wide variety of recipes listed in alphabetical order. The author's foreword suggested that they had experimented on different versions a million times over and had finally published the ones they felt were sure winners. I was ready to go!
My first experiment (the night before my first Sunday delivery) was the safe and sure win -choc chip muffins. The first batch were a disaster. They didn't rise, and came out textured like scones. Edible, but not a muffin. I brought them to a dinner party anyway, and everyone ate them (chocolate chip scones aren't bad) but concluded that they certainly didn't look like or taste like muffins.
Hurrying home after dinner (at midnight) i quickly read in my muffin book that baking powder didn't last beyond 3 months - mine had been sitting in my cupboard for 9 months. i opened up my new bottle of baking powder and tried the 'fail or die' batch early Sunday morning. They rose - looked like muffins, albeit small because the only muffin tin i had were small sized muffin. Cafe owner looked pleased - but said they needed to be twice their size - and proceeded to serve two muffins per order. i had made 6 muffins - all of 3 people ordered them and they were gone in a flash! I was encouraged! it was a sell out!

Twice their size
Logic would have it that bigger muffin tins make bigger muffins. And so they do. i bought a 'jumbo sized' muffin tin - that certainly got the job done. But my next challenge was: how do those bakeries get muffins that seem to 'explode' over the top with mushroom shaped heads? Trick is: Fill it up to the top of the muffin hole. Most recipes tell you to fill up 3/4 of the way - just be generous and fill it up to the top. they spill over the top and mushroom out in billowing glory - and look like the real deal.
Note: It might seem obvious, but bigger muffin tins mean longer baking times - so give it more time or the centre will end up soggy.

The following week, i went into a frenzy, experimenting with banana muffins, oatmeal raisin muffins, oatmeal raisin and choc chip muffins (latter doesn't work - simply too many ingredients in the batter - weighs it down and makes it taste stodgy) - muffin holes filled all the way to the top , filled 3/4 full, with nut crunch topping, with oatmeal topping, without topping.
I had to find a container that was quickly labeled 'where muffins go to die' . My boyfriend and i were opening them up to look at how 'porous' they were (some of them came out dense - some came out with just the right number of air bubbles).

I concluded that i didn't want muffins with the mushroom heads after all. They came out far too heavy and big for Singaporean sensibilities (i suspect some might very well know that a muffin is actually a cake), and have since settled on the jumbo tins, filled 3/4 of the way.

After 3 days of experimentation, i decided i was ready. The cafe owner finally called me on Saturday to say she'd be happy for me to make 12 muffins for Sunday. So my mission was clear - one batch would be oatmeal and raisin (with walnut topping), the other banana with choc chip topping. Unfortunately, the Oatmeal and raisin came out looking burned, which mystified me. I had a brand new oven temperature gauge - everything had been the same as the last successful attempt, so why did it end up burned this time round?

The banana muffins came out of the oven looking glorious. Sturdy and golden, with large domed tops. I had only six to deliver the next day, but i had my boyfriend trying to convince me the entire night that it was not safe to deliver all six without at least trying one. ('i know it looks good, but what if the texture is really dense? or if it's wet on the inside? if it tastes bad, no one will ever order a muffin from the cafe again and there goes your business. really! don't take the risk! you must try it! ' - imagine this speech on repeat for the duration of 30 mins - i am not kidding, he was convinced on this risk averse strategy) I dismissed his theory, convinced it was his sly scheme to have a bite of my most succesful creation so far. But the next morning - i decided that maybe it was best to try. I broke one in half and savoured it. it was perfect, with moist crumbly texture, made even more tender by the bananas. i was ready to go! I whisked them away to the cafe - with only 5 muffins in hand!

They were once again sold out (not hard i guess!) and the cafe owner presented me with a huge plastic storage container - 'so you don't have to bring it on a plate the next time'. The next time! she told me both Saturdays and Sundays were good for muffin orders - 12 muffins per day was the magic number. I had secured a business! (at about $9 profit per day) .

I suppose this is first and foremost a passion. and the next time i deliver them, i'm going to sit at the cafe and watch people ordering and savouring them bite by bite. It will be my week's delivery of satisfaction. The muffin voyeur.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The beginnings

The intention of this blog is to share my baking and cooking adventures with all who share my love for food, and my new awakening into the world of wonderful (and sometimes disastrous!) creations.

The Beginnings
My love for cooking started when i moved out into my own rented place in Singapore, and could finally proudly call A kitchen 'my own'. Back home (in Malaysia), my mother's kitchen was not one that i could ever imagine taking over (and i think i speak for everyone who has a mother that cooks). They were her sauces, her spices, her carefully picked blender of 20 years. I will always have an eternal memory of her hovering nervously in the bakground on the few ocassions (mostly as a child) I have made a mess of her kitchen (making chocolate coated banana's was one such memory)

But with a kitchen of my own - a budding cook, for better or worse was born!
It's a basic kitchen wih basic utensils. To date, i still don't own a food processor, and lust after a Kitchenaid stand mixer, which i have been told are the 'MAC's' of the kitchen stand world. I have a tiny oven that doesn't fit large cookie sheets ( i bought 2 last week after stumbling upon a recommended shiny aluminium cookie sheet, clutching it to my chest as i rushed to the check out counter) - only to find when i got home that i couldn't jam it into my little faithful (but all too small ) oven.

On kitchen equipment alone, i have progressed in leaps and bounds. I still recall the look of shock on my friend Jean's face as i proudly told her I was making her orange almond cup cakes for dessert, proceeding then to measure out cups of flour in my black coffee mug (thinking that my coffee mug was as good a representation of a '1 cup' as any). So i must thank her for my first ever measuring cups (1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/4cup!) and measuring spoons that i now cannot imagine living without!
Cooking, baking, the science and the art of it - has been an eye opener. and i feel compelled to write about it.

So for those of you who are reading this, don't expect an expert's advice on recipes or cooking techniques. I'm not an experienced cook by any means - and certainly not a trained one. It is a site about my continuing education in the wondrous world of food - of its creation, of my many mishaps, discoveries and delightful experiences. And i certainly hope you can share yours with me too.

The word 'epicurean' is defined as 'Devoted to the pursuit of sensual pleasure, especially to the enjoyment of good food and comfort.' And so this is what i will write about - and what spurs me on to cook, to create, to innovate and of course - to eat!

My first cookbook
I came to Singapore 2 years ago with 1 cookbook. It was a farewell present from a friend - her way of 'sending me off ' into my adult working world of independence. The book was called "PASTA".
My first recipe adventure from the pristine pages of this new hard cover book (with wonderful photo's of steaming pots of pasta) was a bacon and tomato penne pasta with a topping of freshly grated parmesan. I invited 2 girlfriends over and my boyfriend. It was a total success - i basked in their company, and watched them devouring their dinner with enthusiasm. And i was hooked.

I now have a fast growing collection of cookbooks that i'm beginning to suspect has become a bit of an addiction. During a particularly trying period at work ( i have a day job as a marketing / brand manager), i discovered the therapeutic properties of reading cook books to sleep. If there was a more apt definition of 'comfort' in my world, it would be about 'reading cook books in bed'. Reading about food is sensous, it fills you with a warmth that sort of starts as a nudge of longing in the stomach, but one that quickly spreads and envelopes you like a warm cup of hot chocolate.

I can't walk into Borders now without failing to browse the cook book shelves. The shelves don't change from day to day, but I'm still there - faithfully looking through the books I can't bear to buy, the books i think i might have missed, the books that i think might one day fall at my feet like a silent calling. I'm looking for another excuse to give in to temptation, to add to my growing collection.

i have gone on - and i haven't even started. now we have the background - let's get cracking on my cooking adventures!