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As the world turns, the carousel of dried fruits spin under the twilight, sparkling like gems underneath the dark, dark night…

My dad needed placating. The best way? To bake him a batch of fruitcake.

It started with subtle hints: Rolling the shopping cart by supermarket displays of fruitcake and looking downcast, looking at a bag of dried fruits in the fridge and wonder wherever the last piece of fruitcake from last summer went… Then came the outright pursuit: Elbows my shoulder and goes, “When are you making fruitcake?” or that Supernatural episode when a neighbour came by offering fruitcake or a Foodography (on Food Network Asia) featured Christmas delights and needless to say which delight made a debut.

Soon before long, I saw myself (out of body, almost) gliding along the shelves of Phoon Huat at Bugis, shopping for almond meal, mixed fruits and cinnamon; some of the many ingredients that contribute to dark, rich and pucker-your-lips sweet festive morsel. I was determined and my mom was quick to add: “You sure about this?”

Roughly two days later, I was cooking the mixed fruits in freshly squeezed orange juice and more fairy dust later (to spare you the antagonizing description of two hours worth of preparation) I spooned the batter into 12-hole mini muffin tins (hence the stunted shape) and baked them till they turned deep treacle.

On a random note,  I wish treacle was a recognize colour-word. Like, look at that boy, he has turned treacle! (Please refrain from imagining how a boy could possibly, or logically so, turn treacle. That might turn you blue, dizzy and the hope for permanent memory loss.)

In matters of taste, the cake has a dense consistency thanks to the use of whole wheat flour. The first pleasant shock you’ll receive is from the orange zest. Second, playfulness is laced by a fiery spice blend of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon while being wildly punctuated with sweet and tarty mixed fruits: consisting of dried cherries, sultanas and cranberries. Finally, the addition of almond meal lends a moist and rich feel.

Quite honestly, this is the first time I’m baking them as mini cakes. I usually shovel the batter into a non-stick loaf tin such that the fruitcake is more like a fruit loaf. To which I later slice and serve. However, in true honour of my household which barely lets the cake crumb pass their lips (my mom and brother aren’t dessert aficionados, much less talk about this retiring dessert queen named me…), past efforts to preserve the culture maintain the festive cheer all year round for my dad reached a stalemate. Literally.  I ever had to gingerly slice off a piece of frosted with mold to save myself the heartache of sending it to the bin.

Horror story aside, I hope it serves as a reminder that fruitcake is best left in the fridge to “mature” (if you’re drenched it in alcohol) but only good for a month or so. If you’d still like to put your fruitcake where your mouth is, I suggest you slam-dunk it in the freezer as soon as you stop stealing bites from it after a month. It should stick in the freezer for a good three months or more (muffins can go up to six months, fyi).

Cookies, or scones? Or Sookies? I’d rather think of them as mounds of cookie dough temptation…

Two hours to spare, a pair of restless hands, two mixing bowls… The perfect afternoon fix: Baking for Christmas!

Honestly, I don’t celebrate Christmas or in that matter, I don’t celebrate any holiday. By celebrate I mean pompous merry-making with confetti and reindeer sweatshirts and festive eggnog. I suppose most families go for simplistic merriment these days (Confetti. Seriously?!) but I hardly take time off to buy a Christmas pine and actually string lights on it.

With that said, lightly spiced cookies spotted with dried, plump cranberries and cheeky white, milky chocolate chips peeking out from the shroud of flour and oats. The flour, the first in my baking record, was all-purpose, mainly a submission to curiosity on how the texture differs if I were to stick to the refined white dust. The result? An unmistakably soft (slightly dense thanks to the rolled oats) cookie which gave the white chocolate chips a pronounced sweetness.

Now the white chocolate addition (to which is also my first in my entire baking record) triumphs a milk chocolate variety. Why? Because I stay away from using butter (instead I use either olive or rice oil), the white chocolate lent such a creamy and buttery flavour, paired with the tangy berries, expect an overall surprise twist to the taste. This is the cookie you want to miss dinner for!

Ok. Maybe I’ve been a little too harsh with dealing with meal replacement. Kids, stick to your three square meals. Surely you wouldn’t want your mom to hit you on the back of a wooden ladle while chasing you to finish your green peas and brussel sprouts.

Also, since I’ve been a far too complacent with my blogging habits and only decidedly finish this post today (four days after Christmas, haha), I guess this cookie is better off joining of the twelve cookie bakes for Christmas in 2012. Till then, cheers to a new year, new resolution and ample resolute to accomplish whatever your heart desires.

Run like the wind Bullseye!

I had ground almonds, no sign of a recipe that was light and still involved the ground nut. Not wanting to give in to jarred preservatives, I decidedly set out to make a homemade Nutella, substituting hazelnuts for almonds, at a third of the store-bought equivalent. Chocolate bath and a flat-belly nut? Angels with chef hats are a-singing! Now, pave the shimmering path to the gates of breakfast spread heaven by preparing the following:

Ingredients

1/3 cup (5 tbsp & 1 tsp) ground almonds (Mine was ready ground)

1/2 cup dry, non-fat milk powder

2/3 cup of white, granulated sugar (you can choose to substitute 1/3 with brown to achieve a subtle sweetness)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp + 1tsp potato starch

3/4 cup whole milk

1 tbsp rice oil

1/4 almond extract (use vanilla and avoid substituting with almond essence if you detest the smell of almonds, or worse, in its artificial essence form)

Directions

  1. In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine ground almonds, milk powder, sugar, cocoa powder and starch. Whisk to combine. Add in milk and oil and whisk till a smooth consistency is achieved.
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and just starts to bubble. Remove from heat and add extract (if need be).
  3. To get a smooth spread, run it through a strainer.
  4. Transfer spread to a glass jar (approximately 9oz in capacity) with an airtight lid. Cool to room temperature with jar open. Send it to the chiller if you are not consuming it immediately.

Notes

  • The so-called smooth consistency can contain minuscule cocoa powder bubbles. No sweat, because it will be smoothed when you’re cooking it.
  • I opted for a heavy-bottomed saucepan because I fear that the mix will burn if I didn’t stir evenly or consistently.
  • Extracts triumph essences because they are not artificially scented. For vanilla extracts, the alcohol would evaporate upon heat, leaving a subtle enhancing vanilla flavour to the recipe. I added almond essence to mine and it pong-ed the entire spread with its cloying fake scent.
  • Ground almonds are fine enough, at least the ones I picked up at the store. No need for further straining unless you ground the almonds yourself and wish to remove nutty chunks. Chunky spreads can get under one’s skin, especially when it gets wedged in gaps of your teeth. Dinner date mayhem alert!
  • Recycle jam jars… You’ll never know when you need them! One of those inexpensive alternatives. (Winks)

So far, my spread is barely a week old, so I can’t tell how long before it dries out in the fridge. After all, airtight lid or not, shelf life of non-preservative laden food triumphs. So far, I’ve stored some in a shot glass and wrapped it in plastic. After 3 days, the spread thickened but still spreadable. Anyhow, all that sugar and low temperature are stable enough preservatives. Anyway, food is best consumed when fresh so… Keeping smearing ’em on those carbs or apply directly onto your tongue. They won’t hurt… Only that it may turn you against the original!

I think I’m turning.


I know this looks like a car crash, but this my friend is the sunshine after the rain. Say it with me now: Cinnamon. Rolls. Pure. Bliss.

This recipe excite me on three levels: 1) yeast and dough, the best pairing since yeast was existent; 2) cinnamon, the spice of life (i.e. sniff it when you’re having a bad hair day, it’s an instant perk-me-up!) and 3) a billowy meringue filling. Okay, it’s mostly the billowy meringue filling. It  just triggered something about clouds and unicorns  and most importantly, meringue in its pre-baked form is always a joy to spread, soothe and level. There was definitely something creative and unexpected about this experiment…

Also, any sweet treats with fillings, custard, paste, sprinkles or thereof always piques my interest. I enjoy savouring the intense flavour of its key ingredient, say custard in a custard-filled bun; sweet treats with a bite.

Without further ado, here’s the comforting recipe as adapted from Home Cooking Adventure:

For Rolls

3 cups flour (I used whole wheat (atta) flour)

7 tablespoons rice oil

7 tablespoons whole milk

3 egg yolks

100 ml whole milk

2 teaspoons of dry active yeast

For Filling

3 egg whites

10 tablespoons white, granulated sugar

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

Directions

  1. Add yeast to 100ml of milk and stir to dissolve. Mix oil, remaining milk and flour in bowl. Use a wooden spatula or your hand to mix. Add yolks and yeast mixture and blend well. Knead well (I used my hands throughout) and turn out onto a clingfilm. Wrap and refrigerate for a full hour to let the yeast develop.
  2. About 50 minutes later, whisk egg whites until foamy and gradually add sugar. This stiffens the egg whites. Continue to add vinegar and vanilla extract, whisking at all times. Finally, add cinnamon powder. Separate this mixture into 3 portions.
  3. Preheat oven to 180C.
  4. Cut chilled dough into 3 portions, rolling each piece out on a lightly floured surface and forming a rectangle of about 30cm x 20cm.
  5. Smear egg white mixture on rolled out dough, leaving a 2cm allowance on all sides. Roll lengthwise to a swiss roll effect, careful not to apply too much pressure as filling would spew out. Continue to slice roll into 2cm thick slices.
  6. Arrange on a lined baking tray, evenly spaced out with spiral pattern face up and rain more cinnamon powder on the slices. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until nicely browned.

Notes:

  • Don’t fret over warming up the milk to activate the yeast. It’ll work its yeasty ways in the most mysterious ways, so simply add it to the cold milk and mix well.
  • I mixed the dough with my hands throughout as it assured me that the dough is well incorporated. You may, however, go clean and use a wooden spatula or stand mixer (WARNING: Make sure stand mixer can withstand dough kneading else motor will burn!)
  • I kneaded my dough till it came away from the bowl, which was my definition of kneading it well.
  • Keep the dough wholly covered in clingfilm to prevent it from drying out in the fridge but take caution in not making a snug package out of it. Dough will rise whilst in fridge, so packing it to the T would cause the plastic wrap to burst at its seams! Package it loosely yet securely.
  • Whip egg white mix till it stiffens till you’ve able to hold the bowl, turned upside down, above your head.
  • Roughly roll the dough out to the dimensions as indicated. The larger the rectangle, the thinner the dough will become. Note that dough thinning will risk tearing during the rolling process.
  • Honestly, filling was way too much for the dough even when I roughly apportioned it equally. Filling will spew out no matter what, so smear any excess onto roll (which explains the rustic, spotty look my rolls are sporting).
  • The next time I’m attempting this recipe, I’m adding more cinnamon to the filling and generously sprinkling it onto my rolls before baking. Adjust amount to preference. Personally, I’m VERY passionate about cinnamon.
  • I lined my baking tray with parchment paper. It’s a god-given gift for all bakers everywhere. Nothing sticks to parchment, so no more frustrating post-bake tray scrapping of stubborn bits.
  • Watch the rolls especially after 10 to 12 minutes. Baking time depends on size of oven and batch. Good rule of thumb: Watch your baked goods like a hawk the moment it enters the cavernous box of metal. I carelessly burnt my last batch of 4. No excuses for me…

Cinnamon roll recipes do not deviate too far from this one, but what was different is the meringue filling. The sweetness of the filling melts on your tongue in the most unabashed way. If you enjoyed meringue anything, you’ll love this recipe. Out of the 15 rolls I’ve made, I fervently wolfed down 10.  Eaten warm or cooled, they have a pleasant crispy and crumbly texture (if you slightly overbaked them like I did). Also, if you adore cinnamon, you’ve already lost half of the battle. Now…

Give. Up. To. Temptation.

To think about it, I’m not the only ecstatic soul running amock, yelling, “Yipee! We have an oven!” Apparently,  my mom has gotten into the act.

About two weeks ago, my mom went into a baker’s frenzy (a term for a person who bakes uncontrollably) and baked what I call, yin-yang muffins. They weren’t a type of muffin, but more like in two batches, each with its own flavour. Why yin-yang? Let’s say when both factions met, one whole-wheat chocolate while the other, ham and cheese, they likened the yin-yang insignia.

Regretfully, I lack photographic evidence on my claim. However I assure you that I laughed so hard the armies of muffins nearly fell off their cooling racks.
Talk about like mother, like daughter.

Admittedly, the past evening’s success of baking Chocolate Syrup Brownies, made my head bloat. Believing the prospects of a baked and healthy breakfast was the ideal meal to jumpstart my morning, boy oh boy did I validate history to repeat one’s self.

Speaking about history, I probably haven’t share with you that Baked Cauliflower, Portabello & Brown Mushrooms breakfast. It was a Sunday morning and it passed languorously. However, a seemingly major disturbance arose when the tray holding a spread of Cauliflower simply refused to fit on the same rack holding the mix of mushrooms. Blame it on the size of the oven. The wait for breakfast was no less than torturous, staring down at the raw produce luxuriously taking its heat bath.

Let’s say I am just one of those proud believers of quick & easy breakfasts. 😛

So, why the second attempt? My question to you is: Tomatoes don’t take long to wilt under heat and more so, eggs allow for one to cook to a preferred doneness. Surely, quick & easy is already in sights.

WRONG to ‘easy’.

The tomato cups (a full tomato with its contents dug out with a spoon) were prepared the night before, along with the cubed ham. All I had to do was to incorporate all the ingredients in the vegetable shell.

Well, that and a bread cup which my mom was compelled to try out after watching those cooking programs. Same concept, just that the bread replaces the tomato.

After fashioning a crustless enriched white bread into a muffin cup, the shallowness of the vessel proved itself and once the eggs were poured into the bread cup, the egg white dribbled slowly but surely off the tin.

Let’s say the bread ended up on a tin foil like a pseudo-French Toast.

Soon after, the cups went into the oven and out came a barely-holding-its-form tomato and a medium-well done egg. It was nearly a mush and frankly, overcooked. Later, I realised the doneness of the egg depends on the cook so the cup needn’t be in the oven as stipulated by the recipe…

Well. The taste wasn’t half as disaster the tomatoes were becoming. The ham lent its saltiness to the egg, where its yolk has lustrously coated. On top of that, the tomato held its natural sweetness, though thoughtfully, it could do better with a punctuation of salt.

Salt + Oven never seem to be a likely pairing for my bake cycles. Sorry mom. Sugar triumphs!

(Photos will be posted soon!)

I am a woman with no mission. In fact, the very inspiration to attempt this recipe was an idle bottle of Hershey’s Genuine Chocolate Syrup.

Well, that and the other fact of not needing to spend time melting chocolate chips over the stove-top.

Get, set and applause to the easiest brownies recipe I’ve ever attempted (store-bought pre-mixes not considered): Chocolate Syrup Brownies.

I believe brownies smell for themselves and anything with vanilla essence piques one’s tastebuds. Never mind the artificial origin.

One cup of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup later, the mixture turns into a beautiful shade of burgundy-brown. However, once the white flour and cocoa powder mix was encapsulated into the wet batter, an unsettling mud bath developed:

Contrary to the unappealing batter, all it took was 25 minutes of immense trapped heat to set the seemingly simple mixture. (Under 5 ingredients and you got yourself a brownie!)

Well, interestingly enough, I took 2 approaches to arrive at its cooked state: first by paper cups then by a longitudinal Teflon-coated baking tin. The first batch turned out better than expected, even rising with the absence of baking powder and soda! What turned out after the baking tin went into the oven (it sat out for a good 25 minutes in the open) was this:

On dissection, a chocolate baked-mooncake-like-biscotti was born! Truly, when I savoured it the day after, it tasted like a baked mooncake. Dense and deceptively tasty.

Why biscotti? The level it rose was how I expected a biscotti to.

To end this daring first attempt of simple brownies, they made an avid chocolate-loving friend a breakfast she’ll never forget.