29 June 2010

Chocolate & Hazelnut Reverse Dominoes

Rich, creamy Valrhona Jivara Milk Chocolate, laced with rum, and studded with butter-roasted hazelnuts.  All this sitting on a crunchy chocolate wafer base slathered with sticky Dulce de Leche.

These Chocolate & Hazelnut Reverse Dominoes are so named, because they'll have you falling for them, not them for you.

Sprinkle with some margarita salt flakes before serving and they become absolutely phenomenal with salty-sweet chocolatey goodness. Trust me, like dominoes, your first piece will quickly be followed by another.

Don't just take my word for it. Look at those thieving fingers, stealing them from right under my nose (and camera lens).  This is NOT a posed shot, and a common occurence around here, I might add... 

Time to put the camera away.

Recipe for Chocolate & Hazelnut Reverse Dominoes
(copyright 2010 A Spoonful of Sugah)

Layer 1:
180 grams pailette feuilletine*
260 grams premium milk chocolate (e.g.Valrhona 40%)
80 grams premium dark chocolate (e.g.Valrhona 55%)
105 grams nutella or praline paste

Layer 2:
350 grams thick caramel/Dulce de Leche (see here for instructions on how to make)
80 grams premium dark chocolate (e.g.Valrhona 55%)
pinch of fleur de sel/salt

Layer 3:
250 grams heavy whipping cream (at least 35% fat)
350 grams premium milk chocolate
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp rum
1 cup toasted hazelnuts (rub with butter for the last 2 minutes of toasting).

Layer 1:
Line a 13"by 13" sheet pan (with at least 1" height) with baking paper.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler (taking care not to overheat). Remove from heat. Add nutella/praline paste and mix until fully combined. Stir in pailette feuilletine.  Press mixture into an even layer on sheet pan. Chill in fridge until firm, at least 1 hour.

Layer 2:
Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler or in a microwave (taking care not to overheat).  Stir in melted chocolate, 1 tablespoon at a time, into dulce de leche. Mixing well after each spoonful. Add a pinch of fleur de sel or salt and mix well. Spread chocolate caramel paste evenly onto the chilled wafer base.  Chill in fridge until firm, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Layer 3:
Place milk chocolate chips/feves in a bowl. Heat whipping cream gently over stove, remove from heat once it starts to simmer. Pour hot cream over milk chocolate chips/feves and let stand for 1/2 minutes. Stir through until chocolate is completely melted.  Add golden syrup and rum, then stir to combine.

Pour chocolate mixture into sheet pan (over layers 1 and 2). Working quickly, press whole hazelnuts randomly into the chocolate.  Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight until chocolate bar is firm enough to cut.

Cut into squares and serve with a sprinkle of margarita or maldon sea salt flakes.

* pailette feuilletine are crushed vanilla wafers. I purchase mine in bulk (i.e. 2 kg) from Euraco Fine Food Ltd (You can contact Ms Celine Lo at 6276 5433, and mention that you were referred by A Spoonful of Sugah).  If you are not inclined to purchase so much, I've read somewhere that Chinese love letters, crushed finely, make a reasonable substitute.

28 June 2010

Red, White and Blue

Seeing as the Fourth of July is just round the corner, what better way to celebrate Independence than with a Red Velvet - a proper all-American Southern cake?  Be that as it may, I did not quite have this in mind when I baked this cake.  After all, my country's independence is in August, not July.  And, truth be told, I don't need much persuasion at all to turn out a Red Velvet Cake.   Just a couple of blocks of cream cheese and a carton of buttermilk in the fridge, and my mind will subconsciously incline itself towards this tender-crumbed buttermilk cake.      

Add to that the fact that I am as much a fan of buttermilk cakes as I am a sucker for striking visuals.  Which explains why after having (I believe) developed a more refined palate over the years I still find myself inexplicably giving in to the lure of the golden arches and all the empty calories it represents.  So, much as I am aware that the cake owes it's glorious hue to Wilton's food colouring, I can't help but fall for the beautiful contrast of its bold, velvety red against the creamy white frosting.  Good looking cakes just taste better.  Just ask my Sugababes, who will eat almost anything heart-shaped and pink.

My favourite way to eat this cake is with lots of blueberries and raspberries heaped on top and sandwiched between its layers.  Alternatively, you could eat it like a true Southerner, with a generous topping of flaked coconut.

The recipes for Red Velvet Cakes tend to be pretty standard, with some substituting vegetable oil for butter to produce a more tender crumb. I prefer however the full flavour of a butter cake. The recipe below produces a cake that is not only tender, but which also has an open fluffy texture from the dual leavening action of creaming butter and the reaction between buttermilk and baking soda. 

Recipe for Red, White and Blue Velvet Cake 
(adapted from Saveur and Bon Appetit) 

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)
2 heaped tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk (shake well before using!)
1 tablespoon red food coloring (I used 2 tsp Wilton's Christmas Red colouring paste)
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

454 grams cream cheese, room temperature
113 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
2  cups icing sugar, sifted
2 tsp lemon zest
1 cup blueberries/raspberries
1.5 - 2 cups flaked coconut 

For cake:
Preheat oven to 180C. Line with baking paper, two 7.5" by 10.5" rectangular cake pans (alternatively, two 9" diameter cake pans) with at least 1.5" inch-high sides. 

Dry  ingredients: Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl.  Mix dry ingredients well with a whisk. 

Buttermilk mixture: Whisk buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend. 

Using electric mixer, cream sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy.  Add beaten eggs in 2 instalments, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions. 

Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 - 30 minutes.  Do not overbake. Cool in pans on racks for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely. 

For frosting:
Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in lemon zest and vanilla. Add icing sugar and beat until smooth.

Trim each cake of its domed top to get flat cake layers.  Frost cake with cream cheese frosting between layers and over top and sides of cake. Top (and/or sandwich cake) with blueberries or flaked coconut.  Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 1/2 hour before serving.

25 June 2010

Samba to this Salsa

The only thing possibly better than having a BBFF (i.e. Baking BFF), is having a FBFF - Football BFF.  In my case I am blessed to have found both in my cool girlfriend C (which makes her a BFBFF).  This is my contribution for our Brazil vs Portugal football & tapas party which she is hosting tonight.

I am fussy when it comes to salsa.  That's not to say I am an authority on it, just that this is the way I like it - fresh, spicy and sharp.  I believe the first time I tasted good salsa was at Rosa Mexicano in New York, on our honeymoon. I never ever ate salsa from a jar again.  The secret to Rosa Mexicano's salsa is the paste, which is made in a molcajete, or a stone pestle and mortar. I have varied the original version over the years, and as best as I can correctly record, these are the proportions I now use.  The qualifier is there because salsa is one of those dishes that you really have to taste and adjust as you go along. This is a less spicy version of what I would do for myself, since my tastebuds can't detect anything less than a direct hit of pure unadulterated jalapeno.  If you have more delicate tastebuds this will be exciting enough to make them tingle.  

Have these with some of Tostitos' Hint of Lime tortilla chips and you will understand why I need to run every week to keep the pounds off.
The only downside to making this salsa is that 1/4 of it (and the bag of chips) invariably ends up in my tummy before I even make it to the party.  Oh well, I hope what's left will be enough to last us until Portugal scores its first goal.

C'mon Portugal! Give me a reason to samba!!!

Guacomole ala Rosa Mexicano

2 tablespoon onions, chopped
 1 teaspoon jalapenos, chopped
1 teaspoon cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 ripe Hass avocados
6 tablespoons onions, chopped
1 – 2 teaspoon seeded, finely chopped jalapeno chile
3 teaspoons finely chopped cilantro
3 - 4 chopped tomatoes, discard juice and seeds
salt to taste   
 Juice of 1 white lime
 dash of Tabasco  

Mash or blend paste ingredients into a paste.
Cut ripe avocado flesh into roughly 1cm cubes.
Squeeze lime juice over the avocadoes to prevent browning.
Add avocado cubes to the paste and thoroughly mix together. Do not mash as you do not want the guacamole to be mushy.
Add the rest of the ingredients and fold them together gently.
Add jalapenos and salt, a dash of Tabasco (and more lime juice if required) to taste.

24 June 2010

When in doubt, Tiramisu.

I have hardly met a person who didn't like Tiramisu (except for my friend M, but that is a story for another time).  Whenever I have a dessert deadline to deliver on and have neither time nor energy for something complicated, or more often than not, when I need an easy do-ahead dessert that will improve overnight, I will make tiramisu. The beauty of a tiramisu is that it is an impressive-looking, sophisticated dessert that will have everyone thinking you bought it, but which thankfully, is really a no-bake dessert that is not too difficult to make.

This is my go-to recipe:

Recipe for Tiramisu
(adapted from Gourmet)

480ml of espresso sweetened with 1 tbsp sugar
113g caster sugar
3 tablespoons Kahlua 
4 large egg yolks
80 ml dry Marsala
500g (1 big tub) mascarpone cheese, room temperature
300ml chilled heavy whipping cream (at least 35% fat)
36 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers)
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Combine egg yolks, Marsala, and 1/2 cup sugar in a metal bowl. Set mixture over a saucepan of barely simmering water and beat using a whisk or handheld electric mixer until tripled in volume (7 to 9) minutes.  Mixture should look thick, creamy and pale.  Remove bowl from heat.  Gently beat in mascarpone until just combined.

Beat whipping cream until it holds stiff peaks.

Fold mascarpone mixture into whipped cream gently but thoroughly.

Dipping both sides of each ladyfinger into espresso, line bottom of a 13- by 9- by 3-inch baking pan or dish with ladyfingers, trimming to fit if necessary.  Each ladyfinger should not be dipped into the espresso for more than 1 second for each side.  The dipped ladyfinger should feel wet and moist on its outside but still have a firm core.   Brush ladyfingers with half the Kahlua.  Spread half of mascarpone filling on top and dust lightly with cocoa powder.

Repeat with a second layer of ladyfingers.

Chill, covered, for at least 6 hours before serving.

20 June 2010

Abracadabra, Alakazim, Eat These Cookies and You Won't Be Thin...

...but you won't care either.  The first time I tried these, as baked by the inimitable Aunty V, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  The explosion of sweet, caramelly, nutty, coconutty and buttery flavours in my mouth was just out of this world.  I immediately packed a couple to bring home to Sugahdaddy.  I remember asking him, "What IS this stuff called?? Have you ever tasted anything THIS GOOD?", and obviously he hadn't, because he straightaway demanded that I obtain the recipe.

Aunty V, who is a kind of baking legend in our circles (whose theme song should be 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic') was kind enough to share with me the recipe for what I now know is called Magic Cookie Bars.  And they are magic, believe me, because I can get Sugahdaddy to do just about anything with a wave of these cookie bars.  The best part is, they are insanely easy to make.  These are what I would call high ROI (i.e. Return on Investment) desserts - minimum investment of effort for a crazy good return on results.

It is World Cup season again, and if you want to have some nice munchies while you cheer or cry your way through the games, you will not find a dessert with a better ROI than this, that will satisfy your nervous need to chew on something while leaving you enough time and energy to enjoy your games.

Magic Cookie Bars
(adapted from Borden Eagle brand's recipe


1½ cups graham cracker or digestive biscuit crumbs
113 grams butter, melted
1 (14-ounce/397 grams) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
2 cups (340 grams) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut (Baker's Angel Flaked Coconut is the best because it is moist)
1 cup roughly chopped pecan nuts (can be substituted with other nuts)

1) Heat oven to 350°F/175C. Line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with baking paper.
2) Combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in small bowl. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Pour half the sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly with chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Drizzle remaining condensed milk over the top.
3) Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Loosen from sides of pan while still warm; cool on wire rack. Cut into bars or diamonds.
For perfectly cut cookie bars, chill in fridge to set before cutting.

Variations: Substitute chocolate chips or nuts with candy coated pieces, dried cranberries, raisins, mini-marshmallows or butterscotch chips.

Note: Do not be tempted to reduce the amount of condensed milk as it will impact on the taste.

13 June 2010


Few questions will generate such varied and passionate responses as "How do you like your brownies?", as I discovered last week in an informal Facebook survey. Some like it chewy, some like it fudgey (but almost none like it cakey).  Some like it plain, while others preferred fillings ranging from nuts (pecans, macadamias, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios), marshmallows, chocolate chips, to raisins.

I had taken it upon myself to make brownies for 2 parties, and even though I knew I couldn't please everyone, I was psyched enough by the challenge to try.  But how?

Many are the claims among published and unpublished chefs to the recipe for the "Ultimate Brownie", or the "Best Brownie in the World", and I had a difficult task trying to decide which recipes to use.

In the end, it came down to 2 recipes, and 3 different batches of brownies.    

The first, a Double Chocolate Mocha Brownie.  

Crunchy on the outside, and chewy on the inside, with a strong coffee flavour, and studded with chocolate chips, pecans and macadamias, this is what I imagined a 'Wall Street' Brownie would taste like, and was indeed Sugahdaddy's favourite.  If you are looking for a robust, grown-up brownie with a definite bite, this recipe from Gourmet will not disappoint. The bittersweet intensity of the Valrhona Equatoriale 55% Dark Chocolate and Italian expresso packs a punch, which was no less diminished when served with a scoop of vanilla.

They say that coffee brings out and accentuates the flavour of chocolate.  But if you, like me, think that your dark chocolate is just fine on its own and needs no help from coffee thank-you-very-much, then perhaps you will be enticed by the Dulce De Leche Brownie:  

Deeply chocolately, with a slightly crunchy crust and an interior that achieves that beautiful balance between chewy and fudgey, Nick Malgieri's recipe is not called Supernatural Brownies without reason.  This version was made to please those of my friends who preferred their brownies sans nuts.  I couldn't quite shake the feeling that a nut-less brownie was a little sad, and decided to drop generous gobs of Dulce de Leche in the brownie batter to liven it up (following the suggestion of my favourite food blogger and cookbook author David Leibovitz)

Dulce de leche is the Spanish name for what is basically milk caramel.  I love caramel of any kind, and the best part about dulce de leche  (apart from how its sensuously delicious it sounds) is that you can make it very easily at home.  All you need to do is to boil an unopened can of condensed milk in a pressure cooker for 30 - 45 minutes, and you will end up with this lovely caramel at the end. (Alternatively, you can cook it in the oven like Leibovitz suggests here.)  I boiled my can of condensed milk for the full 45 minutes, so as to get this gorgeously smooth, dark brown toffee.  I liked how its creamy sweetness balanced out the dark chocolate and added interest to the otherwise plain brownie. 

By the time I got to the third batch of brownies, I decided I wanted to stick to Malgieri's recipe. The original contender, Barefoot Contessa's Outrageous Brownies recipe, apart from the fact that it also contained coffee, would yield too many brownies for that recipe size.  Besides, as I said, I really liked the texture of those Supernatural Brownies.

And so, the Gone Nuts! Brownie was born.

Deliciously chocolately and pleasantly (but not overly) sweet, this was made with a mix of dark chocolate and milk chocolate in a 3:1 proportion (Varhona's Equatoriale 55% and Valrhona Jivara Lactee 40%).  I went crazy and filled it with 4 different nuts - macadamias, pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts - giving this fudgey brownie a satisfying crunch. This brownie is my favourite, not least because I am such a nut lover. Served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a generous pouring of Dark Chocolate Sauce with Rum, this was irresistable and especially difficult to defend from the Sugababes during the photo shoot.      

Oh shoot, I guess I'll just let her have her have it then. 

Meanwhile, back at my parties (the reason for this brownie adventure in the first place) here's how the battle between the brownies played out:

Initially, it looked like the men favoured the Mocha Brownies, as they all seemed to gravitate toward getting a caffeine fix after dinner.  Comments pointed out that they were not too sweet and went very well with the ice cream and chocolate sauce.  But then, equal votes started coming in for the Dulce de Leche Brownies and the Gone Nuts! Brownies, as they all started to disappear at a more even pace.  I then realised that the fans of the Mocha Brownies were not so much dessert fans as a whole.  In the end, the clear winner was the Dulce de Leche Brownies, with the pace of consumption outstripping the others by a clear margin.  What can I say - even adults can appreciate a sugar high.

So there you have it.  Somewhere between those 3 versions, I thought my mission was accomplished and that I had managed to find THE Ultimate Brownie.  For about a minute.

Then someone remarked that if I added nuts into the Dulce de Leche Brownies, they would be perfect ...

09 June 2010

Sticky Cinnamon Buns


Sometimes, when we run out of breakfast food (i.e. sliced bread, cereal or cake), and I am not inclined (which I usually am not) to buy a loaf of sliced bread, I will make my own bread.  Yes, I did mention before that I really dislike bread.  Which means that I will not go through great lengths to make it, and which in turn means that the recipe that I am about to share is really very simple or I would never have bothered.  Simpler, in fact, than driving out to get that loaf of bread. 

Sugar and spice and everything nice ... that's what these buns are made of.  Laced with sticky cinnamon and vanilla sugar within its swirls, and studded with sweet raisins and chocolate chips, these are phenomenal fresh out of the oven, and even better with a cup of coffee.  

The only problem is that they don't keep very well (no preservatives!), but I haven't had to worry about that too much because they disappear quite quickly around here.

You can bake these in muffin cups, muffin tins, or any tin of any shape - round, square or rectangle.  Just squash them up like I did above.

The basic sweet bread recipe for these buns produces a loaf of a soft and fluffy texture, and can be used as a base for a variety of buns - e.g. ham and cheese buns, sausage buns, etc.

I should have taken a picture of a ripped apart bun just so that you can see the sticky goodness of the melted cinnamon sugar and chocolate chips within, but somewhere between trying to get a good shot and fending off my Sugababes (who are always hanging around like starved vultures trying to snatch my fresh-baked goodies) I forgot. But I think you can see from this photo the nice, open and fine texture of the bread.   
So if you have never made bread from scratch before, give this a try. You may surprise yourself with how easy it is.

Recipe for Sticky Cinnamon Buns
(adapted from King Arthur Flour)

3 cups bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or instant yeast)
1 1/8 cups (266g) lukewarm milk
3 tablespoons vanilla sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup potato flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 egg, beaten, or 1 tablespoon milk (to brush on dough)
1/4 cups raisins 
1/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)

1. First, make the dough. If using active dry yeast, dissolve it with a pinch of sugar in the lukewarm milk. Let the yeast and milk sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and expanded.  If you're using instant yeast, you can skip this step.

2. Combine the dissolved yeast (or instant yeast) with the remainder of the dough ingredients. Mix and knead everything together by hand until you've made a smooth dough. Dough should form a smooth ball that does not stick to your fingers. (If dough sticks, add just enough flour until it comes away in a smooth ball, but do not add too much or it will become tough). Knead for about 10 minutes.

3.  Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise, at room temperature, till it's nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours. Rising may take longer, especially if you've kneaded by hand. Give it enough time to become quite puffy. 

4.  Transfer the risen dough to a lightly greased work surface, and pat or roll it into a  rectangle about 1/3 inch thick.  

5. To make the filling, whisk together the sugars and cinnamon powder. Brush the dough lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough, covering the entire surface. Scatter raisins and chocolate chips evenly on dough.

6. Roll the dough into a log the long way. Slice the log into 12 – 14 slices.  Space the rolls in the prepared baking pans, allowing some space for expansion.  Cover the pans, and let the rolls rise till they're noticeably puffy, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours; they should spread out and start to crowd one another. Brush the tops of the rolls lightly with egg.  

7. Bake the rolls till they're brown around the edges and beginning to turn golden brown across the center, about 20 minutes. Once done, brush the tops of the rolls with butter so as to soften the brown crust.

04 June 2010

Clouds for Tea

A dear friend recounted to me the other day, her memory of the most beautiful cake she had ever seen. She was a little girl then, and her mother brought home a tall cake that was pristine white, covered with snow-white frosting and sprinkled all over with coconut. What made the cake so special was that it was completely white, like a cloud, without a speck of any other colour. That image of a little girl, completely enraptured by this dreamy confection, inspired me to make one too.

Naturally, the cake base for my ethereal vision had to be an angel cake. The angel cake is one of my favourite cakes for several reasons, not least of which is that it is completely FAT-FREE and naturally low in cholesterol (since there are no egg yolks). The fact that it is comprised predominantly of egg whites also means that it is a great source of body-building protein; which makes it possibly the only cake which might actually help you to build muscle. But perhaps the most beautiful thing about an angel cake is that, in sea of pedestrian yellow and brown cakes, it stands elegantly white.

Such a delicate cake must be paired carefully with similarly delicate flavours that will not overwhelm it. In the end, I chose the refreshing tropical flavours of white-fleshed lychees and coconut.

Incidentally, while picking up red lychees at the market the other day, I chanced upon the brown lychees below from Brazil. Unfortunately I couldn't use them in the cake, as they were not as sweet, and had a faint aftertaste that reminded me too much of (of all things!) of durian. Interesting, but ... nah.

I had a wonderful baking day with this cake (which kind of made up for my recent harrowing experience with the Strawberry Shortcake). The angel cake baked up nice and tall. Once trimmed of its brown outer crust, it looked as if I had a big piece of cotton resting on my cooling rack! I split the cake into 2 layers, brushed them lightly with lychee syrup, and folded fresh lychees into a whipped lychee-almond cream that went between and over the layers. Lastly, a confetti-like coat of finely-shredded fresh coconut completed the look.

This cake is so light, each slice has to be cut gently with a serrated knife, as any other kind of knife will compress and ruin its delicate structure. On first bite you will first notice how light and airy-soft it is. Then comes the joy of munching on juicy pieces of firm-fleshed lychees enveloped in almond-scented cream, its aromatic sweetness perfectly complemented by the slightly salty and almost nutty flavour of the shredded coconut.

I've heard someone exclaim once that eating a piece of the Ispahan cake (also made from an angel cake base) was like eating air. Well if that is true, then a slice of this Lychee and Coconut Angel Cake would certainly feel like having a bit of a fluffy tropical cloud on your fork.

Recipe for Lychee Coconut Angel

Angel cake base:
1.5 cups egg white (about 12 large egg whites)
¾ cup less one tablespoon caster sugar
¾ cup caster sugar
1 cup sifted cake flour
1.5 tsp cream of tartar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 170C. Whisk together the ¾ cup less one tbsp caster sugar, together with cake flour, set aside.
Beat egg whites until frothy, then add cream of tartar and salt. Beat until fully incorporated then begin to add the remaining ¾ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat to soft peaks, then once that happens, add vanilla extract and beat until the egg whites just forms stiff glossy peaks. Do not overbeat.
Sift the sugar and cake flour mixture lightly over the egg whites in 6-8 additions, and gently fold in after each addition. Take care not to fold too quickly or with too many strokes or the egg whites will deflate and the cake will not rise properly. Once the sugar and flour have been fully folded into the egg whites, transfer the batter gently into an ungreased 9-inch chiffon tube pan with removable bottom. Run a spatula through the batter to ensure that there are no large bubbles in the batter, then smoothen the top.
Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, until the top springs back lightly when pressed and a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean (or with only a very few dry crumbs adhering).
Remove from oven and invert pan over a bottle to cool completely.
Once cool, run a sharp knife around the sides and bottom of the pan to release the cake. Trim the cake completely of its brown crust so that it is completely white.
Lychee cream frosting:
2 ½ cups heavy whipping cream (must be cold)
¼ cup lychee puree (if unavailable, increase lychee extract to 1¼ tsp or to taste)
1 tsp lychee extract
½ tsp almond extract
5 tablespoons sifted icing sugar
Using the electric mixer (whisk attachment), beat cold whipping cream. Just when it gets soft and billowy, slowly and very gently add lychee puree in 3 to 4 additions, sugar and extracts then beat to stiff peaks.
1 cup fresh shredded coconut
1 cup of fresh lychees, pitted, drained and patted dry. (Reserve juices)
¼ cup of lychee syrup or if unavailable, simmer lychee juices with sugar to make a light syrup. Lychee liquer if available is also a good substitute.
Brush each angel cake layer lightly with lychee syrup, being careful not to brush on too much as it would make the cake soggy.
Fill the layers with whipped lychee cream and fresh lychees, and then frost the entire cake. with the whipped cream. Sprinkle dessicated coconut liberally over the top and sides of the cake.
Storage: Because of the use of fresh coconut, this cake should be served and eaten on the day it is made. Fresh coconut will quickly turn sour the next day. If desired, the fresh coconut may be substituted with dessicated coconut to allow for slightly longer storage (i.e. 3 days).

03 June 2010

Berrylicious Strawberry Shortcake

Who sleeps all night in a cake made of strawberry?
Wakes up bright in a cake made of strawberry?
Livin right in a cake made of strawberry?

That was me for the past two days, wouldn't ya know; sleeping, waking and living in a strawberry shortcake baking nightmare.

I'm not a fan of sponge cakes. The only reason I even like strawberry shortcake is purely, PURELY, because since I was a child I identified it with Strawberry Shortcake, the cartoon and merchandising character. That's the power of TV for ya.

I love it that my daughter is just as nuts about Strawberry Shortcake, so after repeated requests from her, I finally got down to making one this week.

As you may know, there are many variations of the strawberry shortcake. The true American version, so I'm told, is not a cake at all, but a biscuit, kind of like a scone, which you split in half and fill with strawberries and whipped cream. Then there is the more common cake version, consisting of pound cake or sponge cake layers (usually soaked or brushed with syrup) sandwiching strawberries and fresh cream. Over here, the Japanese style of strawberry shortcake, consisting of very light sponge layers, is very popular.

My favourite kind of Strawberry Shortcake is ... the berry-scented, collectible rubber figurine kind (I think kids in the 80s were in serious danger of brain damage from sniffing those toys).
Unfortunately, since that is neither bakeable nor edible, I decided that a sponge sandwich version, with strawberries and fresh cream oozing out between layers, would be most reminiscent of Miss Strawberry Shortcake's poofy get-up. It was supposed to be an easy affair: I thought I could bake it in the morning, frost it at noon and have it in time for a late afternoon tea on Tuesday. And even have time after for my run.

How the best laid plans of mice and men go astray.

I followed a recipe on Okashi's cookbook for the genoise sponge, and noticed that it required butter to be added into the egg yolk mixture before flour was folded in. Usually, you are required to add in butter last. However, like the goon that I was, I thought she probably had a good reason for this discrepancy and that this was perhaps a super secret way to make the sponge incredibly fluffy ... and so I pressed ahead. Later, I found out that when you add butter first, it makes it hard to fold in the flour completely, resulting in the cake having little pockets of uncooked flour. I should also mention that I am not without fault in the first failed attempt - I had carelessly doubled the recipe to accomodate my bigger pan and as a result, the cake did not rise well. It ended up so tough and springy I could have bounced on it like a real foam cushion.

Then I chanced upon this post on Crumbb (by Teo Pau Lin, you may remember her as a former local news journalist) on the perfect sponge cake, and was encouraged to try again. The problem with me is that I can never leave a recipe well enough alone. Sometimes my meddling is a stroke of genius, but just as often I realise too late it is a sheer act of imbecility.

In this case, I substituted the plain flour with cake flour, added 2 tablespoons of hot water to the egg yolk mixture (it was supposed to whip to a greater volume this way), and (this probably being the reason for my failure) I scaled up the recipe (again) to accomodate my 9-inch pan. In the end the sponge baked up nice and fluffy along all the circumference but was noticeable denser in the middle. I think it would have baked fine in a chiffon tube pan with its hollow column, but somehow the scaled up recipe didn't allow for it to cook through and rise nicely in the middle. It wasn't bad enough to be chucked, so in the end I decided to go ahead and frost it anyway. I brushed the layers with italian strawberry syrup and Limoncello, whipped up some vanilla cream and folded in some fresh strawberries. After the cake was chilled in the fridge and the flavours had time to work themselves into the spongy layers, the cake actually tasted pretty good, even though I wasn't happy with the texture.

The problem with baking is that when it turns out perfectly, you don't have enough to go around. And when it doesn't, you have to eat it all up yourself (at least if you are a perfectionist like me). And that's where I have to be thankful that it was, after all, a strawberry shortcake, because wouldn't ya know, my little Sugababes would eat practically ANYTHING that has something to do with Miss Strawberry Shortcake. Although that doesn't explain why my husband is eating it...


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