Tag Archives: dessert

Through thick and thin

6 Sep

WHY do some recipes work and others don’t? Have you ever followed a recipe, word for word, step by step only to fail? Well, that’s my puzzle this week.  I decided to make Spekkoek, or the famous Indonesian layer cake as it is one of my favourite cakes. After browsing through several recipes online, looking through the ingredients and the instructions, I concluded that it wasn’t too difficult to execute. Sure, it called for a lot of time and patience —  it isn’t called “thousand layer cake” for nothing. Though way less than a thousand, the cake has many thin layers (about 40) that have to be grilled one by one. Each layer is about 1mm thick, no more.  But, apart from having to spend a couple of hours literally in front of the oven, the cake seemed simple enough to make. True?

OF COURSE NOT. Making Spekkoek proved to be one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had in the kitchen.

I had to make this cake five times before it turned out decent. Five times! Ordinarily, I would have given up after attempt No. 3 but I was making it  for this month’s Don’t Call Me Chef column (which comes out today) so I had no choice but to complete it.

I must have gone through at least a dozen different recipes for Spekkoek. I studied each one, wondering why my cakes looked nothing like the Spekkoek you buy in the shops. The taste was pretty similar but that was as close as I seemed to be getting.

With the Spekkoek, looks matter you see.

I followed the recipes to a T and yet my cakes were dry, my layers too chunky. I didn’t get the fine brown layer. I couldn’t get moisture in the cake. Nothing seemed to work. ARRRRRRRGH.

Finally, a decent Spekkoek

Finally, after five attempts I baked a cake that looked authentic. My cake was still not moist enough. It wasn’t dry but if you’ve tasted a good Spekkoek, you’ll know that it is really quite moist and very rich.  My Spekkoek was nice and fragrant and tasty too but, darn it, it still  was nothing like the Spekkoek I look forward to eating at my friends’ houses every Raya.

I don’t think I will be making any more Spekkoeks anytime soon but I did learn a few things in the process which will, hopefully, make me a better baker. Still, I was proud of my Spekkoek.

I learnt some valuable lessons making the cake and this is what I want to share. (For the recipe per se, you can read the column here). Some of the lessons I learnt may seem pretty obvious (to me esp, on hindsight) so, bear with me.

LESSON 1: The layers in the Spekkoek may look like interlying layers of two different types of batter (one light, one dark; one spiced one not) but THEY AREN’T! The first recipe I tried, had me alternating between a plain butter batter and a spiced batter (Pic, top left). Maybe this is another version of the cake but the authentic cake calles of layering just ONE BATTER over and over. The brown layer you see in the cake is because the cake is GRILLED, so the top of the cake browns while the rest remains pale.

Its not two different batters, lah!

LESSON 2: Spread the layers really thin. About four tabelspoons per layer in a 6 inch X 6 inch pan may seem too little but believe me, it’s being generous. For my first attempt I decided to double the amount. The result? See the pic above. The batter rises.

LESSON 3: The recipe requires you to separate the egg whites from the yolks. Some recipes use only the yolks, some use both the yolks and the whites (though always more yolks than whites). Some require you to whip the whites to a meringue. My conclusion: use yolks only. If you want to use a couple of egg whites, DO NOT whip them too much or your cake will be too airy, too dry. I don’t know if my conclusion is right though. Would appreciate some feedback. Please?

LESSON 4: Grill NOT bake. This was my mistake. All the recipes call for the cake to be GRILLED. The first time I made it however, I somehow didn’t register that command and so I BAKED the cake. The result? No browning of the top and so, no distinct brown layer (See pic below).  Also, I forgot that to grill in the oven, I’d have to shift my rack right to the top. DUH!

LESSON 5: The recipes uses a lot of butter, presumably to make the cake nice and moist. Butter alone didn’t work for me. I even substituted oil for butter a couple of times. Still, I couldn’t get a moist enough cake. My last recipe used condensed milk + icing instead of granulated sugar and that worked better. Suggestions, anyone?

Advertisements

Jelly without the belly

4 Aug

It’s almost always hot and I’m almost always hot and bothered and not to mention sweaty. Air conditioning helps, as does water but one of the best reprieves from the heat is … AGAR AGAR. A dessert staple for many Malaysians, agar agar or jelly is the perfect panacea for the heat. Agree?

A slightly firmer version of the American dessert Jell-O, Agar Agar is derived from seaweed. Red seaweed. It is a natural thickener and unlike gelatine, which is largely extracted from animals, it’s suitable for vegetarians/vegans. The agar agar jelly is firmer than its American counterpart but, if you adjust the liquid-agar agar ratio, you can get a softer, sloppier textured agar agar too.

The best way (the only way, I think) to eat agar agar is chilled. Don’t bite it, rather just let it slither down your throat and enjoy the soothing coolness of the jelly as it goes down.

The best part? It takes very little time and hardly any effort. The basic agar agar recipe will have you boil the agar agar in water until it dissolves  adding just sugar and colouring. But there are variations. I like the coconut milk agar agar (where you replace a portion of the water with thick coconut milk) the best. There are also healthier options where you replace white sugar with fresh fruit juice (also adjusting the liquid accordingly).

It’s really a fun dessert to make and eat. It doesn’t require technique (well, not much) and it apart from boiling the agar agar till it dissolves, there is no real cooking involved. You don’t need your stand mixer, your whisk or your oven. At the most, you will need just a little whimsy as you can, unlike me, go a little crazy shaping your agar agar. Depending on the moulds you have, you can shape your agar agar to look pretty: animal and flower shaped moulds are common but you can fool around a little and create a lanscaped garden with your agar? Why? It’s like edible silly putty, that’s why! Check out the pic below which was taken from foodinthelibrary.com — Jell-O San Fransisco! Ain’t that cool?

Anyway, here’s my recipe for the basic agar agar which I made which is a combo of the clear agar agar (sugar syrup) with the coconut milk agar agar.

35g agar agar — strips (one pkt)

1200 ml water

200 ml coconut milk

1 cup sugar (you can adjust acc to your taste)

Soak the agar agar in enough water to cover it. Heat the 12oo ml water and when it starts to boil, add the soaked agar agar. Add the sugar and let the mixture boil, med heat, till the agar agar dissolves completely. Add colour of choice.

Remove 2/3 of the agar and pour into sterilized (with hot water) moulds: just halfway, not to the brim as you want to top it up with the coconut milk agar. Continue boiling the remaining, adding the coconut milk. Let it simmer while the earlier batch sets. (15 to 20 mins). Pour the coconut milk agar over the plain agar. Leave to set and refrigerate.

Cereal killer

26 Jul

I was inspired by crack (pie). Haven’t heard of crack pie? Well neither had I until my colleague and fellow blogger Marty brought a deliciously sinful plate of pie to work and declared that it was called Crack Pie.

A Momofuku creation, Crack Pie is essentially all butter and sugar on a homemade oatmeal crust (read more here). Oh Marty, how you tempt me. She  made the pie to collaborate with another colleague and fellow blogger, The Hungry Caterpillar who was doing a review of the Momofuku cookbook. This is beginning to sound all too confusing isn’t it? Simply put, I jumped on the Momofuku bandwagon minutes after perusing the book and corresponding website. You will too, if you dare to check it out.

So anyway, I was attracted to the Cereal milk panna cotta recipe. Why did I find it so appealing? Firstly, the idea of using cereal milk — not the cereal itself mind you, just the milk you steep them in — was intriguing.  The pana cotta itself uses very little sugar — less than a tbsp — so the flavour is really from the cereal.  A breakfast dessert if you will.

Now the other attraction to this recipe is the garnishes: caramelised corn flakes and a slab of home-modified chocolate dubbed, the Chocolate Hazelnut Thing (chocolate with hazelnut praline and caramelised cornflakes in it — oh yum).

I have to apologise for my picture which barely does any justice to the recipe. To see a more aestheically pleasing version of the dessert, click HERE.

The panna cotta is also served with an avocado puree but I prefered mine without it.

Here’s how you do it. Be warned, there are more than a couple of steps to the recipe but they’re really easy to follow and pretty quick to execute.

Cereal panna cotta

First, toast  4 cups of corn flakes lightly in the oven (150C) for about 10 to 15 mins. Then, mix 2 cups of milk with 2 cups of heavy cream in a bowl. Add the cups of cereal to the milk + cream mixture and steep for 45 mins. Now, strain the milk from the cereal (get as much of the milk out). Now, add 3/4 tbsp  sugar and a pinch of salt to the milk heat the milk+cream mixture slowly until the sugar dissolves. Keep stirring.

Set aside 1 tbsp agar agar flakes or 1/2 tbsp agar agar powder in a bowl. As the milk+cream+sugar heats up, ladle some of it into the bowl with the agar-agar and let it dissolve. Once done, whisk soaked gelatin back into remaining milk + cream mixture. Strain the mixture so that any undissolved bits of agar agar or sugar are containes and pour the liquid into wither ramekins or wine/cocktail glasses. Refrigerate until set (at least 2 hours).

Chocolate hazelnut thing

Part A: Caramelised corn flakes

Mix 1 cup of corn flakes + 2 tbsp sugar + 2 tbsp millk powder. Spread the coated flakes out on a tray and bake (120C) for about 15 mins or until it’s a deep golden colour. Set aside.

Part B: Hazelnut Praline

Roast 1/2 cup skinned hazelnuts till they’re nice and toasty. Set aside.  Heat 3/4 cup sugar on the stove (low heat) until it melts and becomes a syrup. Add the nuts and stir the mix so the nuts are nicely coated. Turn off and let the sugar+nuts cool.

Blend or pound the mixture  to a paste/powder. Set aside.

Part 3: Melting the chocolate and assembling all parts

Choose a choclate of your choice: plain or one with a nutty flavour would be good. Melt the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl over simmering water. Once melted, add the praline and caramelised corn flakes and spread the mixture on a tray. (I kept aside some of the praline  powder to sprinkle on the panna cotta seperately). Freeze till it sets and break it up into pieces.

Once the panna cotta and the chocolate are set, it’s time to put the sum of all parts together and enjoy the fruit of your labour 🙂

Failure is a layer cake … at first.

19 Dec

Miserably. That’s how I failed at my first attempt at making the famous Malaysian desert — the kuih lapis or steamed layer cake. As a kid, I used to watch my mother as she made the perfect kuih lapis. Hers were pretty simple: not multicoloured, just four  shades of pink: the lightest shade at the bottom and the darkest on top. I used to stand by her side and beg to pour the layers onto the tray but my mother never let me.

Now I know why. She knew I would have messed it up. As I did this time. My first mistake was using a battered aluminium steamer (Duck Brand) that had seen much better days. It was a little wobbly due to the numerous dents which made it  sit unevenly on the stove. Because of this, the layers didn’t set evenly.

Beaten down steamer = dodgy kuih

Next mistake: I didn’t divide portions equally. I kinda estimated and obviously not very well as the layers were not equal in thickness … it’s not a terrible mistake but …..

Aesthetics aside, as I’d never made kuih lapis before I wasn’t aware how much coconut milk you have to use. Soooooooo much. And quite a bit of  sugar too. It’s completely unhealthy!! No wonder it tastes so good.

The recipe I followed called for 840 ml of  coconut milk or 3.5 cups! And it required 280g castor sugar or 1.4 cups sugar.

I could reduce the sugar but how to I manipulate the recipe to reduce the amount of coconut milk because I could not fathom consuming so much coconut milk. I asked around and got a few suggestions: whole milk, soy milk, evaporated milk (as in: use 2 cups coconut milk and 1.5 cups milk or something like that). I decided to give plain old milk a go as evaporated milk is not that healthy either. turned out pretty good although it took almost twice as long to set. Small price to pay for a healthier option, I think.

My second attempt at kuih lapis was a lot better and healthier.

The milk worked pretty well. And I reduced the sugar by a quarter (or slightly more) and so my kuih lapis wasn’t very sweet … but I liked it that way as I don’t crave sugar.

It still isn’t the perfect kuih lapis, but it’s pretty decent. Will I try it again? Surely, but maybe with even less coconut milk and perhaps brown sugar.

Pie-lette, anyone

15 Nov
Apple pie-lette

The Apple Pie that made my weekend

Had some apples that I really din want to eat. Had a boyfriend who loves apple pie and apple crumble. It’s obvious what I hade to do right?

So began my search for an easy apple pie recipe using ingredients I had in my fridge/pantry. I was way to lazy to go buy anything, rainy weather and all. Thankfully, I managed to find one and with some modifications, I managed a pretty decent pie …. errr, pie-lette actually.

You see, one of the ‘ingredients’ I didn’t have was a pie dish. Had a tart dish and I thought since I was making it for one person (I don’t eat desserts — hence my blog site)  a tart dish was perfect. So I reduced the ingredients to a third of what was recommended.

I also didn’t have lime juice, so I used juice of two mini-tangerines and a dash of vinegar. (Dunno what culinary sin I committed there but it tasted pretty darn good).

Thankfully I had one sheet of shortcrust pastry left in the freezer and this proved just nice for one tart dish. It wouldn’t have been enough for a pie dish as this recipe is for a double crust pie — crust on the bottom and the top.

Try it, you’ll love it.

♣ Easy and delicious double crust Apple Pie-lette

2/3 small to medium red apples

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup lime juice (i used orange juice and a dash of vinegar)

1 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1 egg yolk, beaten with a little milk

Shortcrust pastry (i used store bought): one sheet to line the base of a tart dish and another to cover the pie.

Applie pie

Half eaten -- sweet and tangy and oh so juicy

Mix the apples, sugar, clour, cinnamon, ginger and juice and let it sit. Cut the pastry to fit dish and line it. Fill in the apple mix. Dot the tart with butter and cover with the remaining pastry, folding the edges tight. Cut small incisions on the top of the pie and glaze with egg mix. Bake at 180 C for about 40 -45 mins. Let cool for about 1-2 hours before serving. Goes well with ice cream.

And, for a bit of corny, while you are eating this delicious pie, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr-BYVeCv6U