Jerome & Emily's Wedding Cake & Terrariums

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Jerome and Emily are a couple within a group of mutual friends. When they approached me 9 months ago to ask if I could make their wedding cake and favours, I was more than happy to oblige. I was even more thrilled when they told me their idea for an edible terrarium; no doubt to wow and fool their guests into thinking that they have a living plant in front of them. This was in line with their wedding’s garden theme which also included plenty of pastel flowers, succulents, wooden stumps and soft green moss.

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With the terrariums, Emily wasted no time in ordering the plastic containers so I can experiment. I tested my regular chocolate mudcake (predominantly made with dutch cocoa) for the base dark soil but soon found that it didn’t work well after the cake is crumbled as it dried out and lost its chocolate flavour after a day or two. I then experimented with Bourke Street Bakery’s flourless chocolate cake but found the process to be extremely complicated so I came up with my own flourless chocolate cake recipe using almond meal and melted couverture chocolate. Not only did it taste rich, it retained moistness so it was gooey. Next came the top ‘sand’ to introduce contrast in colour and texture, made with almond meal, brown sugar, butter and the magic ingredients of sodium bicarbonate and salt which brings out the flavour of the chocolate and imparted a subtle crunchiness or sandy feel in the mouth. To make this dessert even more luscious, hidden in the center, between the dark soil and top sand is a dollop of delicious ‘mud’ made of Belgian milk chocolate ganache.

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Sprigs of fresh herbs and sprinkling of chocolate rocks that I ordered over eBay provides some realism to the terrarium. The herb component gave us the most headaches. Initially I wanted the entire dessert to be edible with the herbs complementing the chocolate flavour. We discussed microherbs and pretty edible flowers but due to their fragile nature and the fact that I had 150 terrariums to make and deliver within a certain time-frame we needed a backup plan to avoid guests having to look at wilted, half-dead herbs by the time reception lunch comes around. So it was bye bye to the likes of regular thyme, lemon thyme, mint and basil and we considered the very hardy rosemary and aromatic lavender which was technically edible but not encouraged. The lavender and rosemary infused a lovely scent into the chocolate dessert which was surprisingly good and the herbs lasted overnight .

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It  was decided that the pièce de résistance, the showpiece wedding cake, would be a dummy cake constructed of polystyrene barrels. Emily and Jerome gave me a lot of leeway with their wedding cake design so it was a big relief as I could decorate the dummy cake in advance and concentrate on the 150 terrariums a day before the wedding. The only requirement they had was the tiers must be equal in height and feature their beloved pets – lop ear bunnies Barley and Winston. Naturally they were the cake toppers which I made with sugar paste. I decided on a 2-tier cake constructed out of 2 x 8-inch and 2 x 12-inch polystyrene dummy cakes brushed with edible gum made from water and CMC or Tylose powder and then covered in white sugar-paste. Decoration was minimal; just french lace, a big white sugarpaste flower flanked by pastel pink yellow roses and of course the bunny toppers. Fresh flowers, moss and wooden stump bases provided by their florist completed the look. When the florist told me I could pick ANYTHING out of all the flowers supplied I could hardly contain my enthusiasm; almost drowned the cake with fresh flowers. Haha!

Thank you Emily and Jerome for letting me be a part of your special day! On a somber note, while it was the happiest day of their lives, it was also the saddest as one of their pet bunnies, Barley of which the white sugarpaste bunny was modeled after, passed away on the same day :( RIP in Barley. May you continue to have a happy, hippety hoppety life in fluffy Bunny Heaven.

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Flourless Chocolate Cake

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Two kids; a toddler and newborn under the age of 2. No time to blog! However, I’ve been experimenting with a few chocolate cakes lately particularly of the flourless kind for a wedding assignment this coming March and I made one up today which turned out so well that I had to reignite my stagnant blog with the recipe. Fairly simple to put together, the results are as good and divine as the chocolate used so make sure to use quality couveture chocolate. I’ve used both the Dark and Milk Belgian chocolate callet (chip) varieties from Callebaut. For best results, do use the chocolate recommended especially with the glaze; the milk chocolate I used has a subtle hint of caramel and vanilla. However if you can’t get these, then you may substitute with other brands such as Lindt (either the cooking range, 70% eating variety or the ‘Excellence’ series) or Nestle Plaistowe range of cooking chocolate from the supermarkets.

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The cake is dense, rich and moist and the milk chocolate ganache lends it a creamy texture. Absolutely decadent! This is one fluke I’m thrilled to share!

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Flourless Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

A)
100 g Callebaut Couveture Dark Belgian Chocolate Callets 53.8%
100 g butter

B)
90 g caster sugar
30 g dutch cocoa powder – sifted
80 g almond meal

C)
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp thickened cream
1 tbsp fresh full cream milk

D)
3 egg whites
30 g caster sugar

Milk Chocolate Ganache
150 g Callebaut Couveture  Belgian Milk Chocolate Callets 33.6%
90 ml thickened cream

extra cocoa powder for dusting

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180oC. Grease and line the base and sides of a 20-cm round loose-base cake tin or spring form tin with baking paper.
  2. Gently melt (A) in a saucepan over low heat; stirring continuously until smooth. Leave to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk egg yolks into cooled (A).
  4. Add the chocolate and egg yolk mixture to (B), then stir-in the thickened cream and milk. Whisk until thoroughly mixed-through.
  5. Place egg whites in a clean, dry bowl; with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy then gradually add in the caster sugar whilst beating the eggs until soft peaks form. Gently fold this into the chocolate mixture in 3 batches.
  6. Immediately pour mixture into lined cake tin and bake for 45 minutes.
  7. Cool cake in tin.
  8. Make milk chocolate ganache by bringing thickened cream to a gentle boil in a saucepan i.e. as soon as bubbles appear on the sides (do not over-heat the cream), pour into milk chocolate callets. Stir until smooth. Alternatively, place cream and chocolate callets in a microwavable bowl and zap in microwave for 30-40 seconds. Leave it for a minute or two and then stir until smooth. Immediately pour the ganache over the cake still in the lined tin, gently swirling to level out the glaze. Place in refrigerator until set.
  9. To serve, lift the cake out of the tin and gently peel away the baking paper; dust with more cocoa powder and slice with a hot knife.
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Lavender Cookies

Spring time; my favourite season of the year where dormant buds burst into a sea of rainbow blooms amidst the drones of hard-working bees, clouds pour with rain then make way for the glorious sun against the endless expanse of azure. Of course, there’s also today-wild and unforgiving wet weather, perfect to stay indoors and work on my blog. On good-weather afternoons, I enjoy excursions with Joshua in his pram, walking anywhere and everywhere, pausing to admire the cherry blossom trees, the wild daisies that line the side-walks and the majestic pink saucer magnolia trees – absolutely stunning! I am stoked that walking has kick-started my sluggish metabolism and I’ve since shed 2 kgs off my stagnant, 6 months worth of baby weight in the last 2 weeks!

I know it’s ironic to have weight loss and buttery cookies in the same post but whilst I’ve been reserving any baking pleasure or opportunity for customised cake orders, I’ve had a lavender cookie craze for the last 2 weeks. I think it’s a nice way to welcome Spring by perfuming delicious butter cookies with culinary/edible lavender buds. I also toyed around with my new lettering stencil/stamp, pressing ‘foodsze’ into my dough cutouts which unfortunately due to uneven pressure, only half the alphabets turned out. However, these buttery and crisp gems are incredibly addictive and so easy to make so I gave most of them away to friends and hubby to take to work. I borrowed a shortbread recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly: BAKE but instead of chocolate shortbread stars, I substituted chocolate with lavender buds and played around with the amount of icing sugar. I found the original recipe which calls for 160g  of sugar way too sweet for my liking  so you may adjust this. Rice flour lends these shortbread cookies a crisp texture.

So make a cuppa, sit back, relax, smell the flowers and enjoy these buttery morsels. Oh and hello Spring!

Lavender Cookies

250 g butter, softened
2 – 2.5 tsp dried culinary lavender buds ( edible grade e.g. lavandula angustifolia or English Lavender)
140 g – 150 g icing sugar (140 g for less sweet, 150 g for sweeter)
185 g plain flour
100 g rice flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Beat butter, icing sugar, lavender buds and vanilla extract in medium bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in sifted flours in two batches – you may do this in  the machine until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Roll dough between sheets of baking paper until 1 cm thick; refrigerate 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 160oC or 140oC fan force. Line oven trays with baking paper.
  3. With a 5cm- 6cm width/diameter cookie cutter, cut out shapes from the dough. Place them about 4 cm apart on oven trays. While cookies are baking, roll out remaining dough as per Step 1 and refrigerate to firm up dough before cutting out cookies for the next round of baking. 
  4. Bake cookies for 20 minutes. Cool in trays. Cookies will still be soft when taken out of the oven but they will crisp up when completely cooled.
  5. Store in an air-tight jar.

My amazing Strawberry Ruffles Lavender die every autumn to winter but spring back to life in its own pot (I should really transplant it to the ground)

100g of dried culinary lavender is enough to  make lots and lots of cookies!

lettering stencil/stamp

Lavender cookie hearts for a friend

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Ricotta & Spinach Filo Triangles

These Ricotta and Spinach Triangles were the very first things I learnt to make (sort of) when I arrived in Melbourne 12 years ago to begin my foundation studies (pre-uni) program. The orientation camp included 3 nights stay in one of the residential colleges and listed on the itinerary was ‘Cooking Class’. And you guessed it, these Filo pastries were on the menu. Back then, I had not heard or seen ricotta and I got very excited when they showed us sheets of paper thin Filo. What they then demonstrated was very basic as we were on a tight schedule moving from one program to the next (I remember playing croquet afterwards – yawn!) So, it was just ricotta, chopped spinach, salt and pepper, pre-layered filo pastry by the college chefs and bang bang bang ! Cooking class was over! All we did was spoon the mixture onto the pastry and fold them up into triangles! Haha

Anyway, I got an itch to make these after watching the return of Masterchef Australia 2012 series 4 and that meant the Perfect Italiano Man ad was back! Yes, I am obsessed with that ad campaign because the sensitive Romeo (who chops wood, knits and practices his ‘listening’ face :mrgreen: ) selling the range of cheeses is so OTT (over the top). I mean, who comes up with ‘Sometimes When I Cook, I Weep’? It’s so hair-raisingly Cheesy (pun intended of course) that it’s awesome! I love it! To watch the videos, click on the following links:-

Right. Back to my Filo Triangles, I cut the pastry lengthwise into two so each triangle is quite large. If you prefer petite triangles to serve as appetizers, you could always cut the filo widthwise into thinner strips. I added pinenuts to the filling and this just imparts a sweet nutty bite to the otherwise creamy ricotta. The sharp parmesan and spring onions add a bit of contrasting tang to the filling as well. Brushed with melted butter between each filo layer and lastly on top (which imparts a burnt butter flavour when baked), these are so tasty, they make a meal on its own.

Ricotta & Spinach Filo Triangles
makes 7-8 large triangles 

Ingredients

500 g ricotta cheese (you don’t have to use Perfect Italiano, fresh ricotta from your local delicatessen will do)
150 g – 200g baby spinach leaves
90 g pinenuts, toasted
120 g grated sharp parmesan cheese
1 egg
3 spring onion/scallion leaves, chopped
Handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
grated rind from 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
cracked black pepper to taste
1 box of Filo pastry
100g butter, melted

Method

  1. Pour boiling hot water onto the baby spinach leaves; leave for about a minute; drain and refresh with cold water; squeeze out as much liquid as you can and roughly chop the spinach.
  2. Combine the chopped spinach with the ricotta, toasted pinenuts, grated parmesan, egg, spring onions, parsley, lemon rind and juice, salt and pepper and mix well.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180OC.
  4. Working with the filo 1 sheet at a time, brush the first layer of filo with melted butter, place the second sheet on top of the first and brush with melted butter; repeat until you have a total of four layers.
  5. Slice the layered filo sheet lengthwise into two; spoon a heap tablespoon of filling onto the left bottom corner of one strip; fan out the filling into somewhat of a triangle. Fold upwards to the right to form a triangle. Continue upwards in a zigzag pattern and tuck in, fold or trim off the excess pastry at the end.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until all filling’s used up.
  7. Brush the top of each filo triangle with melted butter and bake in pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes until brown and crispy.

 The filling

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Drop Cinnamon Doughnuts

Mmmm..Cinnamon Doughnuts…Me likey, makes me feel warm and fuzzy

I don’t usually deep-fry anything as I find clean-up a hassle but once in awhile when doughnut craving takes over (which is quite rare), I’ll take that original style thank you: fried not baked. I wanted to bypass all the kneading and cutting of the usual ‘O’ shaped doughnut so a quick perusal of my cookbook collection landed me Karen Martini’s no-knead drop doughnuts! Perfect! I decided to omit the chocolate cardamom custard that accompanies the already delicious cinnamon sugar treats but just to take sinful up a notch, I doused half of the doughnuts with melted dark chocolate! It’s called drop doughnuts because you literally drop spoonfuls of  rested dough batter into the hot oil. Keeps well for 2-3 days but best enjoyed warm and fresh! If you have an injection nozzle or pastry syringe, you could even pipe in some strawberry jam/jelly and oooooohhh salted caramel or just enjoy them plain with warm cinnamon and sugar like I do; whatever tickles your fancy.

Chocolate-drenched doughnuts says ‘Eat me!’

Drop Cinnamon Doughnuts
(adapted from Cinnamon Doughnuts with Chocolate and Cardamom Custard by Karen Martini: Cooking At Home)

Ingredients

1 tsp dried yeast
4 tablespoons warm water
50 g castor sugar
400 ml milk
60 g unsalted butter
pinch of salt
3 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
580 g plain flour
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1/2 cup pure icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon ( I used 2 tsp cinnamon)

Method

  1. Combine the yeast, water and a pinch of sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Place the milk in a saucepan over medium heat and bring almost to the boil, then remove from the heat.
  3. Place butter, salt and remaining sugar in a large bowl and pour in the hot milk.; whisk until all the ingredients have dissolved, then set aside to cool.
  4. When cool, add the yeast mixture and eggs, and stir in the flour until the mixture is smooth; cover and rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
  5. Heat the oil to 170oC in a deep-fryer or large saucepan and deep-fry tablespoons of the doughnut mixture until golden and cooked through. Drain on paper towels
  6. Combine the icing sugar and ground cinnamon and dust over the doughnuts.

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Sticky Orange Chicken

A bag of oranges laid on the kitchen floor. I juiced some and they were pretty sour; very juicy but tart! So I decided to make orange chicken the same way I would lemon chicken. The dish turned out really fantastic; the interplay of sticky sweet, tangy and spicy flavours coating the juicy pan-fried chicken made it a mouthwatering dish. In fact I think I now prefer this to lemon chicken, the depth of flavour from the orange juice and zest was simply delectable. Reduced with sugar, chopped garlic and bird’s eye chilies, it almost resembled chili jam. I coated the chicken with a salt and pepper cornflour mix before frying them as this creates a crispy outer layer which the orange sauce will adhere to nicely.

 

Sticky Orange Chicken 

Ingredients

4 chicken thigh fillets ( approximately 650 g)
60 g cornflour
2 tsp salt and pepper mix (click here for the salt and pepper mix)
1 cup oil, for frying

Juice from 3 navel oranges
Grated zest from all 3 oranges
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 bird’s eye red chilies (chili padi), finely chopped
2 tbsp light soy sauce
4 tbsp raw sugar (add 1/2 tbsp more if you like it really sweet)

Method

  1. Trim off the excess fat from the chicken.
  2. Add the salt and pepper mix to the cornflour; mix well. Heat the  oil in a 9-inch pan/skillet until hot (180oC); coat each chicken thigh fillet well with the flour and shake off excess before adding to the hot oil.
  3. Reduce to medium heat and fry the first side for 7 – 8 minutes. Turn the chicken fillets and cook the next side until golden brown; this might take less time than the first side
  4. Transfer chicken to a clean chopping board; wait for them to cool slightly before cutting into chunks in thirds or fourths.
  5. Discard most of the oil from the pan (you may reserve this for future use) but leave around 2 tablespoons of the pan drippings ( oil + residue from frying the chicken); reheat this, add the chopped garlic and chili and fry until fragrant. Add in the orange juice, zest, light soy sauce and stir in the sugar; bring to the boil then reduce to medium heat and cook, continuously stirring until the sauce is thick and sticky.
  6. Add the chopped chicken to the pan and coat evenly with sauce.
  7. Serve (goes well with steamed rice)

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Angku Kueh and introducing Baby J

After a 10 month hiatus from blogging, I am back and boy am I struggling for words. To summarise , I was expecting and whilst cooking didn’t exactly slow down during my pregnancy, I stuck to what’s familiar. Actually correction, I didn’t really want to experiment with new recipes as pregnancy hormones distorted my taste buds; even foods that I previously loved tasted off to me. Can you believe I couldn’t even stand chocolate for the first two trimesters?  And in the non-veg department, I had to force myself to eat red meat when my iron levels went down ( a far cry from the meat-lover I once was) plus ingesting anything dairy would be followed by severe nausea and you know where that ends up at or rather in :P But as amazingly strange and how quickly these aversions came about, as soon as baby J was born, my taste buds went back to what it used to be; I know this because Milo tasted wonderful again and it stayed in :P

Well, baby J is keeping me occupied, grounded and entertained these days and I love my little chubby munchkin to bits. With the awesome help of my mom for the first 2 months and now my in-laws, I can once again indulge in some cooking albeit simpler endevours as time will be spent mostly on baby J and also my other passion – crocheting, which I hope to turn into a small enterprise.

Baby J wearing the On Nom (from Cut the Rope) beanie I crocheted

So for baby J’s Full Moon celebration, usually observed by the Chinese when a baby turns one month old, I decided to make the traditional Angku Kueh, translated from hokkien to ‘red tortoise’ glutinous rice cakes. Tortoise because these sticky rice cakes are commonly moulded into a symbolic tortoise shape, which denotes longevity. Traditionally the announcement of a baby boy is symbolized by the giving of tortoise-shaped Angkus and peach-shaped kuehs for girls. These days however, the tortoise shaped moulds are more commonly sold and they come in both wooden and plastic forms. These tender, chewy Angkus are usually filled with a creamy, fragrant and sweet split pea/mung bean paste although you can also find variations such as ground peanuts, red bean and black sesame pastes or sweet shredded coconut fillings. My mother-in-law mentioned that in the past, the Angku skins were made purely from a dough of glutinous rice flour and water but some genius figured out that by adding mashed steam potatoes to the dough, you end up with a more tender skin which doesn’t harden so much when left overnight. I made the Angkus 2 days before baby J’s Full Moon celebration; they will harden slightly especially in cold weather AND definitely in the fridge so it’s just a quick task of re-steaming the Angkus for 3-5 minutes to make it soft and yummy again. To accompany my Angkus, I also dyed some hard-boiled eggs red for my guests; another auspicious symbol to welcome our precious baby boy :)

Angku
(adapted from Nonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine)
(My notes are in italics)

Filling

300 g split green beans (mung beans), washed and soaked overnight
2 pandan leaves, knotted
300 g caster sugar (I personally find this amount too sweet so I’ve reduced the sugar to 200 g for my Angkus)
4 tbsp oil (I use extra light olive oil, doesn’t make a difference as it a neutral-tasting cooking oil, you can use peanut oil if you wish)

Skin

1/8 tsp orange-red colouring (add more if you prefer a more vibrant skin)
300 ml water (I use warm water)
400 g glutinous rice flour
150 g orange sweet potato, peeled, steamed and mashed (steam for anywhere between 20-30 minutes until soft)
4 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp oil
1 banana leaf, cut into rectangles to fit the size of the Angku mould (I use frozen banana leaves; you can find them in asian grocery stores in Melbourne. Thaw and wash thoroughly before cutting)
1 tbsp oil for greasing

Method

  1. Steam the split green beans and pandan leaves over rapidly boiling water for 30 minutes, or until soft and mushy. Discard pandan leaves.
  2. Mash the steamed split green beans with a fork, potato masher or blend it in a food processor until smooth.
  3. Combine the mashed steamed beans, sugar and oil in a wok. Stir continuously over medium heat until beans and sugar becomes thick and binds together, and will not stick to the hands.
  4. Cool and shape the filling into balls to suit the size of the Angku mould. Keep covered with a damp towel. (I pack my Angkus with filling so my individual rolled up fillings are almost the same size as my dough balls)
  5. To make the skin, first add the colouring to the water, and mix all the ingredients together and knead, adding the water bit by bit, to get a smooth dough. This can be done in a mixer with a dough hook, or by hand. Divide into suitably sized balls to fit the size of the mould. (The dough should come together smoothly and must not be too soft; if it is, add a bit more glutinous rice flour. Keep dough covered with a damp tea towel to prevent them drying up and cracking)
  6. To assemble, flatten a piece of dough to 0.5 cm (1/4″) thickness. Put a ball of filling in the center and wrap skin over the filling to cover it completely. Roll lightly between the palms to smoothen the surface.
  7. Lightly dust Angku kueh mould with glutinous rice flour and press the filled ball of dough into the mould. Knock mould gently against the table to dislodge the Angku and turn it out.
  8. Place Angku on a lightly greased banana leaf. Steam over medium heat for 8 – 10 minutes, opening the lid every 5 minutes to depressurise. (My wooden Angku Kueh mould is quite small so I steam mine for 7 minutes)
  9. Lightly brush the steamed Angku with oil. When cooled, trim the banana leaf neatly around the base of the Angku with a pair of scissors ( I usually omit this step)

Additional Notes:

  • It is important to lightly grease the Angkus with oil so they don’t stick together. Space them apart on the steaming plate as they will expand during steaming.
  • Freshly steamed Angkus are extremely sticky so it’s best to leave them to cool for about 15 minutes before handling and packing them away if not consumed straightaway. Once cooled, these greased Angkus can be stacked together in a container and kept outside under room temperature for 2-3 days. You may also freeze the Angkus for another occasion. Just thaw the Angkus slightly and re-steam over rapidly boiling water for 4-5 minutes.

The Angku Mould my mom bought me from Malaysia

Soaked split green beans/mung beans ready to be steamed and then mashed or blended

Cooking the green bean filling with oil and sugar (this photo was from my first attempt and I didn’t process the steamed green beans into a smooth paste so there were bits of split peas left which some say gives it  bit of texture/bite although I myself prefer it smooth)

filled and moulded Angkus, ready to be steamed

Yummy, sticky sweet Angkus. Notice how the colour deepens when the kuehs are cooked

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