Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December Daring Bakers Challenge: French Yule Log

french yule log

"Is it that time of the month again?" OCT asked when he saw me running with mixing bowl in hand, between the laptop and the kitchen.

Indeed, it's time for another Daring Bakers' Challenge. I missed the November challenge when I went home for vacation. And I almost give the french yule log amiss too, because of my unusual tight schedule this month. In the end, I decided to do it, because this may be my last Daring Bakers' Challenge.

french yule log

There's some exciting change around here, which will prevent me from spending as much time as I'd love in my kitchen. But no, I am not pregnant. In case you wonder.

I am moving to Chicago on Jan 1 alone and will stay in the Windy City for another 6 months. I am excited but at the same time apprehensive of the challenges that lies ahead. More on that in my next post.

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il En Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand. It turned out to be the most laborious Daring Bakers challenges I have participated. Perhaps it's my lack of foresight. I should have made detailed plan when making desserts of multiple components.

Well, it's almost 2009, and I don't want to spend the remaining time in year 2008 whining on the technical difficulties I faced when tackling the yule log, (such as the hot sugar syrup that harden too fast in the mousse and the never setting icing!) Neither should I lament on the miscalculation of dacquoise surface required to cover the log. That was all, as the saying goes- water under the bridge.


I am not entirely happy with the asthetic of the cake. I know I could do better. But that's under my 2009 resolutions. For now, I am going to dig in and enjoy a slice of cake before all the madness of moving ensues.....

Check out all the delicious french yule logs that dropped on blogsphere this festive season here.


French Yule Log

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)

Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper

Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).

Sift the flour into the mix. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.

Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).

Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.

Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse

Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.
In the Vanilla Mousse variation, pastry cream is made to the same effect.
In the Mango Mousse variation, Italian meringue is made to the same effect. Italian meringue is a simple syrup added to egg whites as they are beaten until stiff. It has the same consistency as Swiss meringue (thick and glossy) which we have used before in challenge recipes as a base for buttercream.
The Whipped Cream option contains no gelatin, so beware of how fast it may melt.
Gelatin is the gelifying agent in all of the following recipes, but if you would like to use agar-agar, here are the equivalencies: 8g powdered gelatin = 1 (0.25 oz) envelope powdered gelatin = 1 Tbsp powdered gelatin = 1 Tbsp Agar-Agar.
1 Tbsp. of agar-agar flakes is equal to 1 tsp. of agar-agar powder.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)

Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).

Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.

Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.

In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.

Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe. Add in the rest of the WHIPPED cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color.

While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.

Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #4 Chocolate Crisp Insert

Preparation time: 10 mn

Equipment: Small saucepan.
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper

3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) unsalted butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
1 oz. rice krispies

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.

Add the praline and the rice Krispies. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.

Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.

Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white). Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.

Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing

Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan

Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.

4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.

Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

Assembling the yule log:
1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.

Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.

Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.

Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.

Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.

Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.

Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.

Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.

Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight eidge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.

Close with the last strip of Dacquoise. (in my case, the praline chocolate crisp insert)

Freeze until the next day.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Dear Friends......

christmas 2008

May Christmas
bring you happiness
and many dreams come true,
And may the love you give
throughout the year
come right back to you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

christmas 08

And remember good food are meant to be shared with people you care.



Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Baking III: Korova Cookies with Cocoa Nib

korova cookies

Korova Cookies, also known as World Peace Cookies is possibly my most favorite chocolate cookies. Naturally, I have to include some in the cookie tin I was sending to sister in law and ST.

To make it extra special, I added some Valrhona cocoa nibs which I brought back from Singapore. Thanks to my friend Evan, who pointed me to the Varlhona distributor in Singapore. It was soooo much cheaper to buy in bulk!


I got a pound of that good stuff with the same price I paid for the Scharffen Berger 6oz pack of cocoa nibs.So readers, embrace yourself for many more cocoa nibs related recipes in the near future of my little blog. I can't help it!

korova cookies

The Korova Cookies are mighty tasty even without cocoa nibs. But a healthy dose of nibs give the chocolatey cookies a crunchy and intriguing edge. I topped the cookies with some salted cherry blossoms Grace passed me a few months ago in place of fleur de sel.

Korova Cookies with Cocoa Nibs aka World Peace Cookies
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Dutch processed cocoa powder)
1/2 tsp baking soda
11 tbsps unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup packed, light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp fleur de sel or 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 (3.5 oz) 72% chocolate (I used green & black), chopped
1 oz cocoa nibs
salted cherry blossom ( optional)

Sift flour, cocoa powder and baking soda together.

Working with a mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer, pour in the dry ingredients. Pulse the mixture at low speed for 5 times, with one to two seconds each time, until the flour disappear into the dough. Try to work the dough as little as possible for better texture. Toss in the chocolate pieces and cocoa nibs and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of saran wrap, roughly shape it into a log, approximately 1.5 inch.

tip:For perfect round, I split the paper towel core to half in the center, and place the wrapped dough in the center. Tie the paper core on both ends and freeze the perfect round dough in the freezer until ready to bake.

Slice the dough into 1/2 inch rounds, don't be concerned if the dough crack as you cut them, simply squeeze the bits back to the cookies.

Tip:To minimize crack, try to cut the chocolate chunks into smaller chips, that way the chocolate can disperse more evenly into the dough. Also, if you put the dough in freezer, wait about 5 minutes to let the dough soften a bit.

Bake at 325F for 12 minutes. They won't look done nor firm, but that's the way they should be. Transfer to cool.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Baking Part II: Pistachio & Cranberry Icebox Cookies

Pistachio and Cranberry Icebox Cookies

"What cookies do you want me to include in your cookies box?" I asked sister in law earlier last week.
"Chocolate chips cookies, almond cocoa nib sticks! And something christmassy." She enthused.

Something Christmassy? I considered making the Cherry Garcia Biscotti or the Decorated Sugar Cookies. In the end, the favorite cookies slideshow that Gourmet.com put up changed my mind. Folks at Gourmet has choosen the pistachio & cranberry icebox cookies as their favorite for year 2006.

The same cookies I made for friends when that issue came out. Despite their festive appearance, the resulting cookies were quite forgetable. I didn't even blog about it then.

"Did I miss something?" I think long and hard. All I could recall, is the omitted decorative sugar in the last step. I didn't think it was a make or break factor then.

To satisfy my curiousity, I got myself a big bottle of the glittery sugar this year and sprinkled it liberally on the shaped square log before slicing and baking them. I also replaced the orange zest with lemon zest, because I always have extra lemons in the fridge.

pistachio and cranberry cookies

My verdict? The pistachio & cranberry icebox cookies are totally worthy of their prime location in the packed cookies tin! The decorative sugars transformed the otherwise forgetable cookies into something seductive and memorable. It provides the crunchy sweet edges to the buttery cookies that makes them down right addictive.

If you are planning to make these cookies, learn from my mistake- don't omit the decorative sugar! And make a double batches.

Want more cookie recipes?
Cherry Garcia Biscotti
Nutella Two Tone Cookies
Pinwheel Cookies
Decorated Sugar Cookies
Coffee Hazelnut Cookies
Hot Chocolate Cookies
Peppermint Cookie and Cream Brownie

Pistachio & Cranberry Icebox Cookies
adopted from Gourmet.com

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped (2 1/4 oz; not dyed red)
1/3 cup dried cranberries (1 1/4 oz)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup decorative sugar (preferably coarse)

Stir together flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter, granulated sugar, and zest in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until dough just comes together in clumps, then mix in pistachios and cranberries. Gather and press dough together, then divide into 2 equal pieces. Using a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper as an aid, form each piece of dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Square off long sides of each log to form a bar, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until very firm, at least 2 hours.

Slice and bake cookies:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Brush egg over all 4 long sides of bars (but not ends). Sprinkle decorative sugar on a separate sheet of parchment or wax paper and press bars into sugar, coating well.
Cut each bar crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, rotating bar after cutting each slice to help keep square shape. (If dough gets too soft to slice, freeze bars briefly until firm.) Arrange cookies about 1/2 inch apart on lined baking sheets.

Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are pale golden, 15 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies from parchment to racks using a slotted spatula and cool completely.

Cooks’ notes:
Dough bars can be chilled up to 3 days or frozen, wrapped in plastic wrap and then foil, 1 month (thaw frozen dough in refrigerator just until dough can be sliced).
Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Baking Part I : Chocolate and Peppermint Cookies

playing with picnik!

"I am late in my Christmas baking!" I told OCT when I realised it's less than 2 weeks before we celebrate our 4th Christmas here.

Earlier this week, I baked 4 different kinds of cookies and have them packed and shipped, the seconds they cooled down.

I have wanted to attempt fancier cookies and spread our cookies love to more friends overseas, but things are crazy around here. We have no choice but to abort our grand plan.

One of the cookies on my baking list is the Not- Neiman Marcus's Chocolate Chip Cookies from Nancy Baggett's "The All American Cookies book". I can't believe I have quietly made them so many times without telling you! This is one of my favorite cookie recipes. During Christmas season, I like to add chopped Andes peppermint thins into the batter to make a chocolate and peppermint cookies. It is not a complicated recipe, but the cookies benefitted from the use of oat flour, (which is basically rolled oats grinded in a food processor),various kind of sweeteners and chocolate. It is everything that a good cookie should be, at least in my book!

Tis the season to make cookies

Whenever I make this cookie, OCT openly wonder why the author has to incorporate peppermint chips as an ingredient.
"The cookies would be better without the peppermint chips!" He said.

Of course, I never let on the truth - that "special touch" is my stroke of brilliant! If you are not a peppermint fan too, simply omit it and substituted chopped milk chocolate to the batter. Nuts are optional too.

Here's some of the cookies I made last year:
Cherry Garcia Biscotti
Nutella Two Tone Cookies
Pinwheel Cookies
Decorated Sugar Cookies
Coffee Hazelnut Cookies
Hot Chocolate Cookies
Peppermint Cookie and Cream Brownie

Chocolate and Peppermint Cookies (aka Not Neiman Marcus's Chocolate Chip Cookies)
adapted from Nancy Baggett's " The All- American Cookie Book"

2 cups old fashioned rolled oats (grind to a fine powder in a food processor, blender or coffee grinder)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 bag (11.5 oz) semisweet/ bittersweet chocolate chips
3.5 oz chopped Andes Peppermint Thins (or chopped milk chocolate)
1 cup (4 ounces) chopped walnut (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the grinded oat, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and mix well, set aside.

In a mixer bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter unil light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar and corn syrup and beat until well blended and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Beat in about half of the flour mixture. Beat in the chocolate and peppermint chips, nuts (if using), and remaining flour mixture until evenly incorporated. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the dough firms up just slightly.

Depending on how big you want the cookies, use an ice cream scoop or teaspoon to drop rounds of dough onto parchment paper. Bake the cookies for 6-12 minutes, or until tinged with brown and just beginning to firm up in the centers, for very moist cookies. Becareful not to overbake. Bake longer if you prefer crispy cookies.

Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let stand until the cookies firm up slightly, 3-4 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely before storing in airtight container. Cookies keep for 1 weeks or can be frozen for up to 1 month.


Monday, December 15, 2008

And the winners are.....

Thanks everyone for your participation in my little lucky draw! The three Hershey baskets go to........

Eliza, Rachel and Kevin!

Congratulations guys! I will drop you an email later for your addresses. The baskets will be sent directly by Hersheys.

On another not so great news, my laptop died on me last Sat. :(
But OCT got me a new one tonight! I lost all the photos in the old laptop because I did't backup! What a bummer.Lesson learned. The hard way.

oatmeal cookies

Here's a sneak peak of something I made this afternoon, along with other treats, all ready to be sent off! More on that later, after I have the new laptop set up.

Have a good week ahead everyone!


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Almond Cocoa Nib Sticks and a Giveaway!

almond sticks

Unlike some of my caring, thoughtful and meticulous friends, who have started Christmas baking and packing well ahead of time, I procastinate. I blame everything on the jetlag since I returned from Asia last Thursday.The horrible food on board, various transits and the long hours flights have zapped out most of my energy. All I want to do, is curling up on my favorite spot, drooling over the food photos on tastespotting and foodgawker and eating the snacks I sneaked in from Malaysia.

Having said that, I have shortlisted some cookies to be included in my baking list this holiday, and a list of friends, who may receive the cookies. (It all depends on whether I could bake and send them out on time! )

almond sticks2

One of the cookies I intend to make this year is Almond Cocoa Nib Sticks from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet.I have made them once to be sent overseas. Not only are they sturdy enough to withstand the potential abuse when mailed; according to OCT, they taste pretty darn good too. So good that he who usually doesn't like cookies can't stop munching them. I have to stop OCT from snatching yet another stick in order to have enough to fill up a box I need to send.

The almond cocoa nib sticks are not as hard as biscotti but don't crumble as easily as shortbread cookies. They would be perfect by the side of a steaming cup of tea. Although OCT would add that it tastes just as awesome as it is-buttery, nutty, crunchy with a hint of cacao.

Almond Cocoa Nib Sticks
adopted from Alice Medrich's- Bittersweet

3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) whole blanched almonds
1 cup plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 t. salt
6 T. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 T. water
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/8 t. pure almond extract
1/4 cup Cocoa Nibs

Combine the almonds, flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor, and pulse until the almonds are reduced to a fine meal. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like a mass of crumbs. Combine the water, vanilla, and almond extract, drizzle them into the processor bowl and pulse just until the dough looks damp. Add the cocoa nibs and pulse only until evenly dispersed.

The dough will not form a smooth cohesive mass - it will be crumbly, but it will stick together when you press it. Turn it out on a large sheet of foil and form it into a 6 x 9 inch rectangle a scant 1/2 inch thick. fold the foil over the dough and press firmly with your hands to compress it, then wrap it airtight. Slide a cookie sheet under the package and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment or wax paper.

Use a long sharp knife to trim one short edge of the dough rectangle to even it. Then cut a slice a scant 3/8 inch wide and use the knife to transfer the delicate slice to the cookie sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough, transferring each slice as it is cut and placing them at least 1 inch apart. If some break, just push them back together, or bake them broken - they will look and taste great anyway.

Bake, rotating the cookie sheets from top to bottom and front to back half way through the baking time, 12-14 minutes, or until the cookies are golden at the edges. Set the pans on the racks to cool completely. (The cookies can be stored, airtight, for several days).

Makes about 30, 6-inch sticks


And now, onto something fun- the Giveaway! The good folks at The Hershey Company are offering to send 3 baskets full of baking goodies, which include: 2 varieties of Hershey Kisses, Peanut Butter, flour, brownie mixes, cocoa powder, spatula, mixing bowl and oven mitt to 3 lucky readers of Fresh From The Oven!


photo provided by The Hershey Company

All you have to do, is leave me a comment to tell me what's your favorite cookies for the holiday season. The deadline is 14th Dec, which is this Sunday. I will conduct a drawing on Monday morning, and 3 lucky readers will each receive a goodies basket, courtesy of The Hershey Company.

The only catch? It's only open to US and Canada residents.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cream Scones and life back to normal


You may think it's a cliche, but time really flies faster when you are having fun. We reluctantly bid our loved ones farewell last Thursday after a 3 weeks vacation in Singapore and Malaysia. The journey back was exhausting, as usual. Both of us walked pass the custom and immigration like zombies, only to come alive when we realized that we had left our carry-on luggage (with both our laptops)somewhere at the immigration check point! Thank God for the TSA staff, who went in to search for us three times, and had it found!

The incident almost costed us our connecting flight back to Atlanta. We were at the gate 10 minutes before its takeoff. Our luggages however, couldn't make it on time. Looking on the bright side, we were happy that someone sent them to our doorstep the next day for only 2 dollars. And that's the tip I gave the guy for carrying them up to my apartment on the second floor. After a 24 hours of flying and transiting, the last thing we desire, is to carry our unbelievably heavy bags up those stairs!

So yes, life is back to normal. I am almost fully recovered from the jet-lag, having slept most of my Friday and Sat away. The coming weeks are going to be super busy around here, there are cookies to be baked, parcels to be sent and some important decisions to be made.

And my first ever giveaway too! I will tell you more about it early next week.

chocolate chips scones

Meanwhile, here's the cream scones I made sometime ago for a friend's house moving. I figured they were easy to eat and provided a delicious source of energy before the physical labor ahead of us.

The cream scones recipe from Alice Medrich is richer than my usual standby, which uses buttermilk as the binding agent. If you are looking for something indulgent for the weekend breakfast or tea time, give this a try.

Making scones by hand is a surprising easy and rewarding experience. If you are making scones for the first time, here's my simple guide to delicate and flaky scones.

Cream Scones with Chocolate Chunks
adapted from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus sugar for sprinkling
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 to 4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, cold
1 tbsp milk or cream for brushing the tops

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together thoroughly. Stir in the chopped chocolate. Make a well in the center and pour the cream into it. Use a rubber spatula to push the dry ingredients from the sides of the bowl into the well, cutting and turning the mixture just until the dry ingredients are almost entirely moistened and the dough looks rough and shaggy. Gather the dough into a lump and knead it gently against the sides of the bowl five or more times, pressing in the loose pieces, until the dough just holds together (it should not be smooth) and the sides of the bowl are fairly clean.

On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into an 8.5 inch round about 3/4 inches thick.*at this point, I like to cover the dough in saran wrap and chill for at least half an hour,before proceeding to the rest of the steps. The dough is more manageable upon chilling. You can also keep the dough for up to 1 month at this stage, and bake it without defrosting first. Just lightly score the dough into 12 wedges, so that it's easier to cut and bake later. *

Cut into 12 wedges. Place them at least 1 inch apart on the lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with cream or milk and sprinkle lightly with sugar.

Bake until the tops are golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Let cool on a rack, and serve warm or at room temperature.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Apple Coffee Cake & Happy Thanksgiving!

apple coffee cake

Although Thanksgiving is not part of our culture, we embraced the speacial day ever since we have been here. Every year, we invited friends over to spend Thanksgiving with us. This Thanksgiving, however, we are back in sunny Malaysia, surrounded by our family for the first time in many years.

We are glad to be home, of course. But we also miss the time spent preparing the big meal. This year, we are lucky to have traditional homecooked meal prepared by mum. I know many of you are travelling today, so I hope you'll have a safe trip home!

From the "Fresh from the Oven" household, we wish you a happy Thanksgiving!

apple coffee cake

I don't have any Thanksgiving recipes to share, but may I recommend this Apple Coffee Cake for your post Thanksgiving breakfast? It's easy to make, yet the recipe yield a moist and generous serving. OCT colleagues loved it when he brought it to the lab meeting before we came back. I hope you will like it too!

apple coffee cake

Apple Coffee Cake with Crumble Topping and Brown Sugar Glaze
adapted from FoodNetwork.com

1 stick plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups peeled, cored and chopped apples
Crumble Topping:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Brown Sugar Glaze:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish with 2 teaspoons of the butter.

In a large bowl, cream together the remaining stick of butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating after the addition of each. In a separate bowl or on a piece of parchment, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the wet ingredients, alternating with the sour cream and vanilla. Fold in the apples. Pour into the prepared baking dish, spreading out to the edges.

To make the topping, in a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter, and mix until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the topping over the cake and bake until golden brown and set, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.

To make the glaze, in a bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla, and water and mix until smooth. Drizzle the cake with the glaze and let harden slightly. Serve warm.

note: I omit the glaze, because I think the cake is sweet enough.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Homemade Bagels


I love bagels. I can eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We usually get them by the dozens and finish them between the two of us in the span of a few days. When I visited NYC a few months ago, ST and I checked out Absolute Bagels and Murray's for their bagels. I was hoping to experience the bagel epiphany,in the city that claims to have the best bagels in the US. But guess what? I realized that they don't taste much different from my neighborhood Einstein Bro's. Perhaps I don't have discerning taste bud?

I have always wanted to make bagels, but the lengthy process of mixing, proofing, shaping, boiling and baking deterred me for a long time from sinking my fingers into the dough . It wasn't until a few weeks before our trip to Asia that I got down to making my first batch of bagels.


The bagel recipe comes from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook , which I find the instructions to be clear and straightforward. Although the instructions seemed lengthy, it wasn't as hard as I imagined.

To my relief, the shaping was a breeze because the dough was not sticky at all. Even the most nerve racking part- boiling the dough was quite manageable. I was mesmerized by the movement of the dough which first sank to the bottom in the boiling water, and then floated onto the top when it's ready to be baked.


For toppings, I was thinking of my favorite "everything" topping, but have to settle with things I have in the pantry. I experimented a few bagels with Furikake, which is a kind of Japanese seasoning. It gave the bagels a japanese twist but I still prefer the "everything" topping. Having said that, I like the texture of the bagels, especially when they were fresh from the oven. It is great to cross out another item on my to-bake-list before the year ends!

adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 2/3 cup warm water
3 tbsp granulated sugar
3 tbsp malt syrup
1 lb 6 oz bread flour (about 4.5 cups)
1 1/2 tbsp salt
toppings: sesame seeds, fennel seeds, poppy seed , Furikake seasoning

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the active dry yeast and warm water. Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Then replace whisk with dough hook. With the mixer on low, add sugar, 1 tbsp malt syrup, bread flour and salt. Knead until the dough forms, which takes about one minute. The dough will be a little sticky. Continue to knead on medium for 5 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours.

Divide dough into 10 pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 20 minutes.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray to grease. With lightly oiled hands, roll each piece of dough to be about 8″ inch long and then shape into a circle to make the bagel.

Place bagels on prepared sheets at least 2″ inch apart. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let sit for another 20 minutes or until slightly puffy.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Fill your largest, widest stockpot with about 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add the remaining malt syrup.

Gently drop bagels into the water, putting in as many as possible without them touching. After 30 seconds, flip bagels over and simmer for another 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon remove the bagel and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Top with toppings of your choice.

Immediately place baking sheets in oven and bake for 5 minutes. Then rotate sheet and lower oven temp to 350F. Continue to bake until the tops of the bagels begin to turn a golden brown - about 10 minutes. Flip bagels over and continue to bake for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy it while it's warm or keep the remaining in the freezer, for up to 2 weeks. Reheat the frozen bagels in a preheated 350F for 5 minutes, or until warm.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Lemon Yogurt Cake

lemon yogurt cake

I am greeted by my greasy reflection, while sitting in front of a mirror to type this entry. The loose t-shirt I have on, is glued uncomfortably to my back. In case you are wondering, I am far from the dry and cold winter in the northern hemisphere. And yes, we are back to the hot and humid foodies paradise- Singapore!

In my rush to clear up the fridge content before our 3 weeks vacation, I baked this lemon yogurt cake. Instead of our usual travel companion-banana cake, we have this to snack on board the 20 odd hours flight.

The lemon yogurt cake recipe originated from one of my favorite cookbook author- Ina Garten. Her lemon cake recipe is one of the early recipes I have tried when I first started baking. It is also one of my all time favorites.

lemon yogurt cake

Her lemon yogurt cake uses the same technique of brushing lemon syrup onto the hot cake, which assures that the cake stays moist and packed full with lemony flavor. The kind of cake that I would gladly eat anytime of the day. Instead of using whole milk yogurt, I used the greek yogurt samples I got from Stonyfield Farm. I added 2 containers of the 5.3 oz Oiko organic Greek yogurt, which was slightly more than the recipe indicated. Because I remember having lots of syrup leftover when I made the lemon cake last time, I simply used the juice from 2 lemons, in which the zest had been added to the batter earlier on.

For the convenience of packing, I made the cake with my mini loaf pan and did some personalization with each. Frozen blueberries were added to one mini pan, making that a lemon blueberry cake. The next one has poppy seed in it, making it a lemon poppy seed cake. I left one au naturel, and one with lesser poppy seed in case OCT decides he doesn't like poppy seed.

lemon yogurt cake

How glad we were having the lemon yogurt cake on board with us! The food that United Airline served in the economy class cabins were horrendous! OCT who is not a picky eater laments that the portion has shrunken too. Naturally, he was hungry before the next meal was served. The yogurt cake saved us from resorting to the airline pretzels. :)

Lemon Yogurt Cake
adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa At Home

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 containers of 5.3oz organic Greek yogurt
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
2 tablespoons of poppy seed
1/4 cup of frozen blueberries (more if you are making a big loaf cake)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan or the mini loaf pans.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Add in your preferred add on ingredients (poppy seed or blueberries) and bake for about 50 minutes, (if you are using the big loaf pan) about 25-30 minutes (if you are using smaller pans),or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/4 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Apple Galette

apple galette

I love fruits picking. There's an indescribable satisfaction of biting into the ripe fruit that one just picked from the tree. A few weeks ago, I persuaded my friends who have never been to fruits picking for an apples picking session at an apple orchard 2 hours drive from Atlanta. Needless to say, we had a great time that day.


Upon returning with a lot more apples than we could consume, my friends C and T turned to me for an apple pie demonstration. Instead of teaching them the classic apple pie, I opted for a simple apple galette recipe from Cook's Illustrated. A recipe source I know will not disappoint. And I am happy to report that the crust is one of the flakiest I have made. The video demonstation on the site is easy to follow and helpful for bakers of all experience levels.

apple galette3

Although the recipe used food processor, we made the dough by hand, with a pastry cutter. I offered my friends C and T who have never worked with pie dough the following pointers, which I hope you will find them helpful too:

1. Remember to have all the starting ingredients COLD. (the butter, water and flour).

2. Add the ice water slowly. One tablespoon at a time, until a dough ball is almost formed, but not quite yet. There will be some flour left at the bottom of the bowl, but that's ok. You can easily incorporate them into the dough when wrapping it into a circle for chilling later.

3. Handle the dough with a light hand and as little as possible. You don't want to overwork the dough or it will turn out tough after baked.

4. Let the dough rest and chill,for at least 30 minutes, after mixing and forming.

5. Don't be afraid of the dough and have fun!

apple galette

Although we had a little problem cutting and arranging the apple slices in an appealing fashion like the video demonstration,our apple galette turned out just as delicious. I didn't have apricot preserves, so I substituted it with raspberry preserves which explains the dark hue of the galette. That maybe the only aspect that could be improved on. That could easily be fixed with some chopped nuts scattered on top for color constrast.

The Apple Galette is a simple and elegant alternative to the classic American Apple Pie. You will be amazed by how fast it's disappearing from the plate. And if you are like me, you'd regret not cutting a bigger slice for yourself first before serving the others.

Apple Galette
adopted from Cook's Illustrated

2 cups all-purpose flour (7 1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter , cut into 5/8-inch cubes (1 1/2 sticks)
7-9 tablespoons ice water

Apple Filling
1 1/2 pounds apples (3-4 medium or 4-5 small-use granny smith, empire or golden delicious)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons apricot preserves ( I substituted with raspberry preserves)
1 tablespoon water

Using Food Processor: Combine flour, cornstarch, salt, and sugar in food processor with three 1-second pulses. Scatter butter pieces over flour, pulse to cut butter into flour until butter pieces are size of large pebbles, about 1/2 inch, about six 1-second pulses.
Using pastry cutter: Mix all dry ingredients in a big bowl, scatter butter pieces over flour, and cut the butter into flour until butter pieces are the size of large pebbles.

Using Food Processor: Sprinkle 1 tablespoon water over mixture and pulse once quickly to combine; repeat, adding water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulsing, until dough begins to form small curds that hold together when pinched with fingers (dough should look crumbly and should not form cohesive ball).
Using pastry cutter: Sprinkle water over mixture and lightly mix with hand, adding water 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough begins to form small curds that hold together when pinched with finger. It is ready when it looks crumbly and should not form cohesive ball.

Empty dough onto work surface and gather into rough rectangular mound about 12 inches long and 5 inches wide.

Starting at farthest end, use heel of hand to smear small amount of dough against counter, pushing firmly down and away from you, to create separate pile of dough (flattened pieces of dough should look shaggy). Continue process until all dough has been worked. Gather dough into rough 12 by 5-inch mound and repeat smearing process. Dough will not have to be smeared as much as first time and should form cohesive ball once entire portion is worked. Form dough into 4-inch square, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until cold and firm but still malleable, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

About 15 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Peel, core, and halve apples. Cut apple halves lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices.

Place dough on floured 16 by 12-inch piece of parchment paper and dust with more flour. Roll dough until it just overhangs all four sides of parchment and is about 1/8 inch thick, dusting top and bottom of dough and rolling pin with flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Trim dough so edges are even with parchment paper.

Roll up 1 inch of each edge and pinch firmly to create 1/2-inch-thick border. Transfer dough and parchment to rimmed baking sheet.

Starting in one corner, shingle sliced apples to form even row across bottom of dough, overlapping each slice by about one-half. Continue to layer apples in rows, overlapping each row by half. Dot apples with butter and sprinkle evenly with sugar. Bake until bottom of tart is deep golden brown and apples have caramelized, 45 to 60 minutes. Check the bottom of the galette halfway through baking-it should be a light golden brown. If it is darker, reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

While galette is cooking, combine apricot preserves and water in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium power until mixture begins to bubble, about 1 minute. Pass through fine-mesh strainer to remove any large apricot pieces. Brush baked galette with glaze and cool on wire rack for 15 minutes. Transfer to cutting board. Cut in half lengthwise and then crosswise into individual portions; serve.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Hazelnut Ring Tea Cake

hazelnut ring tea cake

A few weekends ago, OCT and I played babysitters for his colleague who needed to work in the morning. Thinking of having something sweet for all of us to nibble, after a morning of play, I made a simple tea cake from Roland Mesnier's Basic to Beautiful Cakes . Chef Mesnier who is the former White House Executive pastry chef, has spent 25 years serving desserts to many influential politicians and first family.

hazelnut ring tea cake

I also enjoy reading the little introduction preceded every recipes. For instance, Chef Mesnier wrote that this Hazelnut Tea Cake was referred by President Reagan as "The Crunchy Cake" and had requested it for his birthdays several times. Information like this would be great conversation material on dinner parties, although I secretly suspect our young friend wasn't interested in this snippet of Mr Reagen's birthday cake preference. He was more anxious to get a second slice, with extra crunch on the side.

I adopted the recipe of the cake base, but used the praline buttercream recipe from one of the past Daring Baker's Challenges. Instead of making the nougat suggested by Chef Mesnier, I used Giada De Laurentiis's recipe.

Our little friend enjoyed the cake, especially the crunchy part!So was his play mate. :p

hazelnut ring tea cake

Hazelnut Ring Tea Cake
adapted from Roland Mesnier's "Basic To Beautiful Cakes"

For the Cake:
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream, at room temperature. I use sour cream.

For the crunch:
1 cup (about 4 1/2-ounces) hazelnuts/almonds, toasted and skinned
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water

1 recipe of Praline Buttercream. See here for the recipe.

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 400F. Heavily grease and flour an 8-inch tube pan. I use a 10 cup bundt pan. The cake is not as high as the original recipe, but taste all the same.

Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Stir until well combined, but do not overmix. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Then stir in the butter and sour cream/creme fraiche.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake intil the cake begins to form a crust, about 15 minutes. Without opening the oven door, turn the heat down to 350F and continue baking until a toothpick insered into the center comes out clean, 20-30 minutes longer.Let the cake rest in the pan on a wire rack and unmold it. Re-invert it onto another wire rack so it is right side up, and allow it to cool completely.

To make the crunch,
Place the toasted nuts close together in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir the sugar mixture until dissolved. Bring to a boil and let cook until the sugar is light brown, about 8 minutes. Let the bubbles subside then pour the caramelized sugar over the nuts. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator and let the sugar nut mixture cool until hard, about 30 minutes. When the sugar nut mixture is hard and cool, top with another piece of parchment paper and pound into small pieces, or place the sugar nut mixture on a cutting board and cut into small pieces. Set aside.

To assemble:
Liberally cover the prepared praline buttercream on the cake. Smooth all sides, and arrange the crunch in an appleasing manner.

Serves 12.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Chocolate Mousse Cake for a special man

oct birthday cake 08

OCT's birthday falls on October. Every year, as his special day approaches, I'd pile a few cookbooks on his lap and ask him to pick one as his birthday cake. Ever since I started baking, his request has always been mango cake. Yes, we both love mango, a lot. So I granted his wishes the past two years. We love mango so much that I even make a mango cheesecake for my birthday last year too.

oct birthday 08

This year however, I think it's time for a change.
"How about having something different for your birthday this year?"
"hmm...but I like mango cake."
"you know, mangoes are not in season now...I will need to use the frozen stuff and you know they are not as flavorful as the fresh ones."
"really? *sigh*....then I will have a chocolate cake"
"great choice, my Lord !"

Then it was up to me on which chocolate cake to make. In the end, I chose a chocolate mousse cake. The cake base was a coffee genoise I adapted from Roland Mesnier's book, and the chocolate mousse was the same one I used for my birthday cake. While the cake turned out disappointedly dry and flavorless, the low fat chocolate mousse was as delightful as I remembered.

oct birthday cake 08

I love how the low fat chocolate mousse tastes deceptively rich and sinful. Instead of using heavy whipping cream, eggwhites was used to make the safe meringue. It was then folded into the chocolate mixture to provide the cloud-like texture to the mousse.

I am not inclined to share the genoise recipe, based on the result I got. Instead, I would recommend anyone interested in making this cake to use this recipe. Of course making the lady fingers from this recipe would make the delicious chocolate mousse cake extra special too.

Not wanting to add unnecessary calories with buttercream decoration, I simply adore the cake with hazelnut brittle I have left from another cake.

oct birthday 08

Before OCT reached home from work, I took out some of his favorite toys to take a picture with the birthday cake. After that,I prepared a seafood noodle, along with 2 eggs for his dinner. The dinner he has requested, along with the chocolate cake. Noodle signifies longevity in Chinese. My mother in law used to cook noodle on OCT birthday every year before he came to the States, and that responsibility has passed down to me now. :)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge is What's for Dinner Tonight


(seafood pizza, lemon asparagus pizza, caramelized onion, mushroom and triple cheese pizza)

It's the time of the month again! Pizza is chosen as the October Daring Bakers Challenge, by our hostess Rosa's Yummy Yums. When the challenge was first revealed, I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. Why, I have made a few pizzas before, it's not the most complicated thing to make, if working with yeast doesn't intimidate you.

As I read on, I realize that, as part of the challenge, we have to attempt tossing the dough, and capture the moment. That would indeed be a challenge.

Unlike the pizza recipes I have worked with before, this recipe from Peter Reinhart takes 2 days. I am intrigued by the different in texture and taste developed from the prolong fermentation/resting. I must say that it's one of the best pizza crust I have made.

I don't have a pizza stone, so I simply use the back of the cookie sheet. The crust still turns out crisp. Instead of cornmeal, I use kamut flour, which I can't find other use after making a batch of kamut shortbread. Other than that, I follow the recipe provided.

seafood pizza

I make 3 pizzas from half a batch of pizza dough- Seafood Pizza, Lemon Asparagus Pizza and Caramelized Onion & Mushroom with Triple Cheese Pizza. As expected, the Seafood Pizza turned out to be the crowd pleaser. But the lemon asparagus pizza, which toppings idea I adopted from Elizabeth Falkner on foodandwine.com is surprisingly delightful.

The three pizzas are what's for dinner tonight, and that makes me a very happy girl! Thanks Rosa's Yummy Yums for selecting this recipe as our October challenge. I am glad to have another great pizza dough recipe under my belt now. I can totally foresee myself making it again soon for brunch or lunch party, as my friend T not so discreetly hinted.

I tried the tossing method, a skill I really want to master, but just couldn't get it right yet. :( I am going to try that again when I shape the remaining dough.

Check out other mouth-watering pizza creations from my fellow Daring Bakers here.

Basic Pizza Dough
“The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread” by Peter Reinhart
Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled - FOR GF: 4 ½ cups GF Flour Blend with xanthan gum or 1 cup brown rice flour, 1 cup corn flour, 1 cup oat flour, 1 ½ cup arrowroot, potato or tapioca starch + 2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast - FOR GF use 2 tsp
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar - FOR GF use agave syrup
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.


2. FOR GF: Add the oil, sugar or agave syrup and cold water, then mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.


8. FOR GF: On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the number of desired dough balls from the refrigerator. Place on a sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle with a gluten free flour. Delicately press the dough into disks about ½ inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil. Lightly cover the dough round with a sheet of parchment paper and allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.


10. FOR GF: Press the dough into the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough).

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.


11. FOR GF: Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.


12. FOR GF: Place the garnished pizza on the parchment paper onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.


13. FOR GF: Follow the notes for this step.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

To make Seafood Pizza
Toppings: 8 medium shrimps, 1/2 cup squids and 1/4 cup crab meat, cooked and cooled. parmesan cheese, provolone cheese.
Sauce: Smoked Salmon Cream cheese spread, leftover from my local bagel shop.

caramelized onion, mushroom & three cheeses pizza

To make Caramelized Onion, Mushroom and Triple Cheese Pizza
topping: Caramelized onion, see instruction here; sauteed mushroom, brie, parmesan, provolone cheese.
sauce: marinara sauce

lemon asparagus pizza

To make Lemon Asparagus Pizza:
topping: 1/2 pound of asparagus, cut into 1/4 inch piece on a diagonal, provolone cheese, parmesan cheese, 1 lemon, preferably meyer lemon, sliced thinly.
sauce: none. just brush the top of the dough with extra virgin olive oil.


Friday, October 24, 2008

My favorite Banana Cake

banana cake copy

I don't remember how it begins. I bake the same banana cake for all the short and long trips we take. Of all the recipes I have, I alway bring this banana cake on board. Sometime, I bake it for friends who are travelling too. Ask my friends G and M who have since moved back to Singapore. I baked this cake when they drove down to Memphis for a marathon, and when they flew back to Singapore for good. It's funny, because I have emotionally connoted this banana cake with travel, love and well wishes.

This is also the cake I baked for my friend ST when we met in NYC. She was surprised when I took out a cold brick, covered with aluminium foil from my luggage, and presented it to her. I kept it in the freezer, I told her. She was mildly amused, but accepted it politely. After our 5 days getaway, she brought the said cake back to London. How it survived the long journey with luggages packed full with new shoes and clothes perplexed me. But ST told me it survived. And she exclaimed that the banana cake tasted different when it was at room temperature. To that, I nodded knowingly. Isn't it wonderful? A cake that can either be eaten straight from the freezer, or at room temperature. Personally, I like it at room temperature though. :)

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I have been wanting to share this moist and light cake with you for a long time. Perhaps you have made it or heard about it already. Or maybe it's also your go-to banana cake recipe? The recipe comes from Rose Levy Beranbaum. The author of "The Cake Bible","The Pie and Pastry Bible" and "The Bread Bible". I love the simplicity of the recipe, and the method of beating softenend butter into dry ingredients yield a light and moist cake everytime.

Recently, I snatched a pan with 4 mini loaf cakes capacity at a bargain price. It gives me an excuse to make my favorite banana cake again with some personalization. I make a batch of batter, and divide it evenly. The first one, I sprinkle walnut on top, chocolate chips are added to another, dollop of milk chocolate hazelnut spread is swirled to the next and the last one - with a bit of everything. It's a lot of fun! Although I kind of guessed which one OCT will pick. And he confirms it later, when he asks for the one with everything! For me, I like the loaf with milk chocolate hazelnut spread. ST lugged 2 jars of it to NYC, along with other goodies that she knew I'd enjoy. Biting into the loaf with my friend hand carry chocolate spread makes me feel so loved.

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The cake can also be made in muffin pan or the normal loaf pan. The time for doneness will varies, so check your cake when the smell of banana cake first hits you. Often time, it's an indication that the cake is almost ready. Don't wait until you smell burnt, which I don't have to tell you what has transpired. :p

Have a good weekend everyone!

My Favorite Banana Cake
adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Bread Bible"

2 very ripe banana, peeled and lightly mashed (1 cup, 8 oz)
1/2 cup sour cream (~4 oz)
2 large eggs
grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups (scant) bleached cake flour Or 1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (7 oz)
10 tablespoons granulated sugar(5 oz)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (5 oz)
a handful of chopped walnut and chocolate chips (optional)
Nutella or other chocolate spread (optional)

Heat oven to 350 F. In the bowl, combine the mashed banana and sour cream until smooth. Add egg, lemon zest, and vanilla, mix well. In a mixer bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed for 1 min. Add in all the butter and half of the banana mixture, beat on low until dry ingredients are moistened. Increase mixer speed to medium, beat for another 1 1/2 minutes, then add the remaining banana mix in 2 parts, beating well after each addition.

Pour the batter into a greased pan (you can use muffin pan or a loaf pan). Sprinkle your choice of toppings on the cake. As the cake bakes, most of the topping will sink. Bake for 20-35 minutes, if you are using the muffin pan, and 40-50 minutes for a loaf pan or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Grace's Vegetarian Turkey

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My friend Grace has many talents. On top of being a fantastic baker, cake decorator extraordinaire and photographer, she is also a terrific cook. Last July, I had the pleasure of partaking in a feast she whipped up for her birthday party. This vegetarian turkey was one of the dishes she served.

Grace's vegetarian turkey reminds me of my good friend K in Malaysia, who has been a vegetarian for more than 15 years. Whenever I am in town, I like her to bring me to her favorite chinese vegetarian restaurant and let her do the ordering. There will be a table full of mock chicken, mock ham, mock bacon, and mock roast pork, mock fish and vegetables. I find it fascinating that one can name any meat, and the restaurant will surely has a vegetarian version, make with the mock meat in which the ingredients are essentially soy bean and mushroom, flavored to mimic the real deal.

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I have not seen this kind of chinese vegetarian restaurants in the US, so I was excited when Grace served the vegetarian turkey. I knew I need to learn this dish. K will be impressed if I bring this to the next potluck party when I go home this Nov!

Grace uses an assortment of vegetables as filling/meat, and the beancurd sheet, which can be found at the freezer section of Asian grocery store, as the "turkey skin". That's our friend T, hiding behind the beancurd sheet.


Here's the step by step photo instructions I have taken while Grace was demonstrating the process. If you can read Chinese,check out the recipe on Grace's blog and other mouth watering creations she make. That woman is insanely talented, I miss her food.

step by step

step by step2

Here's Grace posing with the vegetarian turkey. She will be so proud to know that I finally made it last week on a rainy day. It is as good as my mentor's! ;)

vegetarian turkey

Grace's Vegetarian Turkey
see the recipe in Chinese here

1 pack of beancurd sheet (see the picture above)
1 medium carrot, finely shredded
1 cup wood ear mushroom, rehydrated in water, for 1 hour, and finely shredded
6 dried shiitake mushroom, rehydrated in water, for 1 hour, and finely shredded
vegetarian oyster sauce
soy sauce
1/2 cup vegetable broth
sesame oil
dark soy sauce

For the filling:
Add 2 tablespoons of oil in a nonstick pan, and stirfry the carrot and mushrooms. Season with 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1/2 tablespoon of vegetarian oyster sauce and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning according to your preference. Continue to stirfry until all the ingredients are soft and cook.

Remove from the pan and put the filling in a pan to cool slightly.

Make sauce:
In a small or medium bowl,mix together 1/2 cup of vegetarian broth with 1.5 tablespoons of vegetarian oyster sauce, 1 tespoon of sesame oil, 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce,1/2 teaspoon of dark soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar.

To assemble the vegetarian turkey:
Remove 2 pieces of the bean curd sheets from the package,fold the sheets in half and cut with a scissor. You will have 4 pieces of half circle now. Using a pastry brush, generously brush the sauce onto a piece of half circle, cover with another half circle, and brush with the sauce. Repeat for 2 more times. You will have 4 pieces of overlapping beancurd sheets.

Put some of the filling in the center of the beancurd sheets, and fold following the step by step instructions above. Secure with a toothpick.

Heat a nonstick pan with oil, add in the "turkeys", and sear until both sides are lightly golden. Pour in th remaining sauce, the turkeys are ready when the sauce is almost fully absorb. Remove from pan, and cool.

At this point, you can keep the vegetarian turkey in the fridge and keep for up to 2 days. Cut when ready to serve.

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