With Chinese New Year fast approaching (I have under two weeks to go!!!), I had to get cracking on some CNY goodies. While I was in a flurry of baking last year (for the open house at my mother’s place), this year, things got off to a very hazy and slow start. I couldn’t figure out if it was the soaping or just distractions in the form of spinning, lazing in front of the computer and knitting…
The last time I made fruit cake was for my wedding in 2008. I kept the cake aside and never got to try it until nearly 2 years later when I moved back to Asia! The flavour was wonderfully awesome and rich which I was quite surprised with as I had half expected it to taste off (being as old as it was)!
I didn’t really plan to make a fruit cake this year but after a talk with some girls, I decided to give it a go. To be honest, I had forgotten all about the fruit & nut mix after drowning it with brandy, jam and honey! And then yesterday, I decided I had to make space in my fridge for other things apart from flour and fruit cake mix…so the oven saw some baking action.
The recipe below is adapted from the one by Good Housekeeping – a book that I bought recently. It is definitely easier to execute and has less ingredients compared to the first recipe I had which called for treacle, separating the eggs and so forth. Taste-wise, the hubs found this to be yummy – passed the taste test la! – despite the omission of allspice (I didn’t have any on hand).
We have wolfed down a third of this and the rest is now sitting in the freezer. The plan is that it stays there for at least four to six months to mature and develop its awesome flavour although I wonder if we can wait that long. Tehehehe.
Fruit Cake 2013
(A) Fruit & nut mix
900 g mixed fruits – red & green cherries, dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots
300 g mixed nuts (almonds, walnuts*) – roughly chopped
50 g orange peel – roughly chopped
150 g strawberry jam
2 tbsp honey
2 cups brandy
275 g soft & semi-melted unsalted butter
350 g cake flour
225 g brown/demerara sugar
1 tsp vanilla essense
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
1/2 tsp ground allspice (optional)
* You can use other nuts like hazelnuts, pecans, macadamias.
- Combine fruits and nuts in a container. Add jam, honey and brandy, and mix well.
- Cover and allow to sit for at least 7 days. Stir the mixture with a clean & dry wooden spoon every day. In this cake above, the mixture sat in the fridge for 1.5 to 2 months.
- Before use, add 50gms flour (deduct from the amount called for in the batter) to prevent the fruits & nuts from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
- Preheat the oven at 150°C. Grease a deep 8″ square or 9″ round cake pan with butter and line the pan with 2 layers of baking paper.
- Wrap the outside of the pan with brown paper and secure well. This is to prevent 1) the edges from cooking too quickly, and 2) the top to curve over (dome shaped).
- Sift the flour and ground spices into a large bowl. Add the butter, sugar and eggs (one at a time); using a whisk, beat for 1 minute until smooth and glossy.
- Fold in the fruit & nut mixture until the fruit is evenly distributed. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface. Tap the pan on the workspace several times to remove any air pockets. Press down lightly in the center to ensure that it doesn’t rise too much into a dome shape while baking.
- Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 3 to 3.5 hours. Cover the top with greaseproof paper after 1.5 hours. The cake is ready when it’s firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- Leave to cool completely in the oven in its pan. When the cake is cool, remove from the pan but leave the greaseproof lining around the cake on. Wrap the cake in a double layer of greaseproof paper before covering with foil. Leave to mature for a week in the fridge before serving. This cake keeps well; flavour improves with age – you can freeze this for up to 1.5 years!
My first try and making homemade naan!
I had another recipe which called for slightly more ingredients – yogurt and butter – but I didn’t want to drive out just for these two items so I settled for something simpler. While the preparation time took a while (total 2.5 hours minimum), I reckon it was well-worth the wait! (It is simple to prepare and most of the prep time is more of you waiting for the dough to rise.)
The result was very lovely, fragrant and soft yet crispy crusted naan! We had this with baked BBQ chicken breasts and Nyonya achar. I know, weird combination but I was trying to clear out the fridge. The kids had this with either BBQ chicken or stuffed with back bacon and mozzarella. It was easy to make “stuffed” naan – simply place the ingredients in the middle of the flattened out balls and foll over. Noah kept asking for second and third helpings!
We had extras which is great because these can be chuck into the freezer to be kept for one of those days when I don’t feel like cooking up a storm in the kitchen! Tehehehe.
From Periplus Mini Cookbooks’ Malaysian Hawker Favourites
(Makes 8 naan)
450 g plain flour
200 ml water
1.5 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
- Add the vinegar to the milk and set aside until the mixture curdles and thickens. In a separate bowl, dissolve the sugar in 100ml of the water and sprinkle in the yeast. Set aside until the mixture turns frothy.
- Place the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture and the soured milk into the flour and mix with your hands. Add the remaining water gradually to get a fairly soft dough. Add more flour/water if necessary.
- Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic (takes about 10-15 mins of arm muscle!).
- When ready, set aside and cover with a damp cloth to rise until it doubles in size (minimum 1 hour).
- Divide the dough evenly into 8 portions. Roll each portion into a ball and set aside on a lightly floured surface until it rises and feels soft to the touch (about 30 minutes).
- Dust the working surface lightly with flour and using your fingers, flatten the balls into an oval/round shape. They should be approximately 1 cm thick. Lay them out on a well-floured surface (IMPORTANT!) and cover with a clean, dry cloth to rise until the dough feels spongy and light to the touch (about 30-45 mins).
- To cook, use a non-stick frying pan and place one naan in the center of your ungreased pan to cook on high heat and covered for two minutes. Turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Serve immediately with any dish of your choice.
- To store extras, cool the naan on a wire tray and store them in a container. They can keep for 2 days in the fridge or 2 weeks in the freezer. To heat up, sprinkle each naan lightly with water and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side in a frying pan. Frozen naans should be left to thaw to room temperature before reheating.
Now that my sourdough has been sitting in the fridge for over a week, I decided to give it a try. I didn’t really have any recipes at hand; just wanted to make a bread or slice or pizza-like meal with it. So I went out to get some beef salami-styled sausages (I know it sounds weird), fresh rosemary and mozzarella. Initially I wanted to add sundried tomato pesto to the whole mix but I decided against it at the last minute.
The kids found it amusing to nosy around the table as I worked on the dough – it was very soft and ultra sticky. I didn’t really use any measurements – only estimates – so that could be the reason. Still, it turned out to be a pretty flavourful slice of some sorts. The tang that you would normally expect from a sourdough isn’t quite there (it’s very subtle) but the smell is!
I might attempt this again but this time with the unrefined organic plain flour I purchased earlier. Wholemeal – while extremely filling – can be a little bit dry and “too much” for the kids.
Savoury sourdough slice
Slightly under 1 cup sourdough starter
1.5 to 2 cups flour (wholewheat mixed with plain flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast
1 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
Toppings of your choice (sausage, bacon, onions, olives, etc)
Fresh herbs (oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc)
Cheese (mozzarella, Gouda, Gruyere, Edam, etc)
- A few hours before your meal, mix the flour, sourdough starter, salt and yeast in a bowl. Add water if necessary to form of pliable dough. Set aside to proof for at least 4-6 hours (the longer you proof your dough, the more flavour it develops).
- When ready, preheat your oven to 220°C and prepare a pan of your choice.
- Roll your dough out on a lightly floured surface and place it on the pan. This is meant to be a slice so your dough should be about .5 to 1 cm thick.
- Brush the extra virgin olive oil all over the surface of the bread before sprinkling it with a good amount of fresh herbs. Add the toppings of your choice (I used beef sausages, bacon and some garlic) before adding in rough chunks of cheese (I used mozzarella but feel free to add cheddar, parmesan and Gruyere for that extra kick).
- Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the surface and crust is golden brown. Serve fresh from the oven as it is or with a few splashes of hot sauce.
Eva had been hounding me for the last few days about baking up something with bananas, honey, eggs and all that. So as I was driving the kids to school, we discussed this and decided on doughnuts (she discovered the mould). Okay, I set about on searching for a recipe, came up with one and waited for the kids to finish their nap.
On cue, at 4pm, both wake up and demand to be in the kitchen – yes, Noah included. The little man sat in his IKEA high chair, wondering what was going on. He got all excited when I sent Eva to get the bananas. After downing two, he realized that we were doing something with the darn bananas and started asking for a piece of the action. He wasn’t satisfied with just staring. So I gave him a butter knife. Nope, that didn’t make him happy. In fact, he didn’t stop screaming until I set the mixing bowl right in front of him! Then Eva got upset because she wanted to see what was going on too. I gave her the task of mixing the eggs into the batter. That made Noah angry. So okay, I gave him the butter knife and got him to crack the egg. Nope, that wasn’t enough. He wanted to molest the broken egg. Aiks.
The two finally calmed down but that was only because they were each busy licking off batter from the butter knife and spatula.
Anyway, the resulting doughnut doesn’t really have the crunchy exterior that you get from deep frying but that’s okay. It is more of a cake-muffin in the shape of a doughnut but it still went down well with everyone including the hubby who came home and promptly ate three doughnuts at one go. Heh. As always, it’s best to use ultra ultra ripe bananas for any baked goodies. I didn’t have that were about to die so I settled for “just ripe” bananas. The taste is still good and quite delish but I think it would have been better had the bananas been riper. I might even add some chocolate chips or chopped dried fruit or chopped almonds to the batter the next time I attempt this. Yums!
Baked banana doughnuts
Adapted from Janie’s Kitchen’s recipe here
3-4 small ripe bananas
Slightly less than 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour/plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
- Preheat your oven at 180 C.
- Mix the mashed banana, sugar and greek yogurt together until incorporated.
- Add in the melted butter, eggs and vanilla extract. Mix well.
- Fold in the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Do not overmix!
- Scoop the batter into a zip lock bag/food grade plastic bag or a pipping bag and seal shut. Using scissors, snip the bottom corner of one side of the ziplock bag to create your homemade piping bag.
- Pipe the batter into the doughnut mould until it’s 3/4 full. You can sprinkle brown sugar & cinnamon powder on the top if you like (I sprinkled some brown sugar on a few of the doughnuts).
- Bake for 15 minutes or until the doughnuts are golden brown. Remove from the pan and cool before eating/storage. These can be kept in an airtight container for 1-2 days before storing them in the fridge. To reheat, simply warm them up in a microwave (covered) or steam (covered) for a few minutes.
The final tally stands at nearly 27 mooncakes – 12 made with pure lotus paste, 10 with mixed nuts & lotus paste surrounded by pandan flavoured lotus paste and 5 made with pandan lotus paste. The mixed nuts mooncake was a play on the traditional salted egg yolk centre mooncakes. I just mixed a handful of walnuts, chopped almonds and pumpkin seeds with the remaining lotus paste and shaped them into balls weight 25 gms. To mimic the outer filling (traditionally lotus paste), I used pandan lotus paste instead and utilised about 50-55 gms of the stuff.
As you can see, the nut-centred mooncake looks pretty decent except for the tiny pockets of air. That portion – the kneading and enveloping of the outer filling requires more work. I haven’t tried this but my hubby and his colleague have tried the lotus paste mooncake and find the filling to be just nice, skin isn’t too thick but because it hasn’t matured (mooncakes need at least 24-48 hours to soften and mature), the skin is a bit tad on the hard side. I’ll have to wait and see if that is the case even after maturing as I encountered some issues with the recipe (I found it to be a bit tad too fluid and tacky so I added in about another 50 gms of flour or so). Hm.
Makes about 30 small-medium mooncakes (approx 50-70 gms in weight)
350 gms cake flour
250 ml golden syrup
100 ml vegetable oil
7 ml lye water
Approx 1 to 1.5kg filling of your choice (lotus paste, mung bean paste, pandan flavoured paste, etc)
- In a large bowl, mix the golden syrup, alkaline water and oil well before adding in the flour. Use a spatula to combine all ingredients before kneading into a dough. Do not overknead or over-stir. Cover and set aside to rest for at least 45 minutes or overnight if possible.
- Roll and divide your filling into 65-70 gm balls (remember to oil your hands) and set aside.
- Preheat the oven at 180 C for at least 30 minutes. This is crucial in ensuring a nicely baked crust.
- Divide the dough into 20 gm balls (remember to keep your hands and fingers dusted with flour). Depending on your filling and how it’s structured (just filling & skin or two different fillings & skin), wrap the skin around the filling. If you have two fillings (egg yolk/nuts/filling surrounded by another filling), wrap the center portion with the filling before you wrap it with the dough. Roll the finished product into a nice ball.
- Dust the ball lightly with flour and placed the stuffed mooncake into the mould. Lightly press down onto the pan and gently remove the mould. Repeat until all the filling & dough is finished.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes. Remove and allow the mooncakes to cool for 15 minutes before brushing them with egg wash. Continue to bake until the pastry turns golden brown (about 10-12 minutes). Remove and cool on a wire rack before storing in an air tight container.
- Allow the mooncake to sit and mature for at least 24-48 hours before serving. To store, keep these in an airtight container in the fridge.
This was a last minute bake in an attempt to clear out the fridge and I did this prior to the move back to Malaysia. Due to all the hoohah and craziness of moving itself, finding an apartment here in M’sia and what-not, the entry never made the light of day till now. Between then till now, I have forgotten many things except that the kids (and hubby) enjoyed this and that it was just right.
Citrus crunch cream cheese pound cake
Adapted from Joy the Baker’s recipe here
2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
Zest & juice from 1 orange
Approx 300 gms cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup of chopped almonds
Slightly under 1/4 cup dessicated coconut
1 1/2 tbsps poppyseed
- Preheat your oven at 160 C and prepare a loaf or square pan of your choice.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder before setting aside.
- In a separate bowl, add the zest to the sugar and rub in before setting aside. Beat the butter and cream cheese until they are evenly mixed before adding in the sugar and zest mix. Beat until creamy and smooth.
- Add in the egg, one at a time, before adding in the vanilla extract. Mix well.
- Once ready, add in the flour, poppyseed, chopped almonds and dessicated coconut before folding in until the flour is just incorporated (it’s okay if the mixture is lumpy or looks floury)
- When ready, pour into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 60 mins. Test with a skewer for doneness – a skewer inserted in the center should come out clean, or with just a few crumbs.
- Remove from the oven to cool in the pan and enjoy as is or with a cup of tea. Great for kids too!
Moving makes life miserable because you find yourself cooking up all sorts of things just to finish off that little bit of rice, dried goods or whatever else you have in the pantry. This time, it’s that small amount of arborio rice and a small box of sundried tomatoes. I didn’t really follow a recipe for this – just whipped it up based on what little I knew about risotto. I am familiar with making a basic risotto – onions, rice, white wine and stock. After that, it all depends on what you’d like to “flavour” it with.
This recipe is quite versatile, packed with flavour and suitable for kids & vegetarians. If you want to go even further and make it a vegan dish, skip on the butter and pork belly. For an added kick, you can add other varieties of mushrooms – shitaki, oyster, whatever rocks your both. You can even adapt it by omitting the tomato & mushroom combo, and replace it with zucchini, eggplant, pumpkin, broccoli, pea, seafood, prawns, ham…whatever you want, really.
Sundried tomato & mushroom risotto
Five handfuls arborio rice
1 cup sundried tomatos
1 cup sliced button mushroom
Beef stock (at least 1 to 1.5 litres)
1 medium-sized onion – diced
1/2 cup white wine
150 gms diced smoked pork belly (optional)
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
- Before you start cooking, soak the tomatoes in a pot of warm water until they are soft – I took about 30 minutes. Remove, chop into rough bits and place aside. Keep the water used for soaking the tomatoes – it will end up as part of the stock. In a pot, bring the beef (and tomato) stock (or water + beef stock cube) to a gentle simmer.
- In another pot, saute the diced onions and smoked pork belly (optional) in the butter and oil on a medium-high fire until soft but not brown. Add in the rice and stir until the grains are translucent. Add in the white wine and stir.
- Gradually add in the beef stock while stirring constantly. Add in the mushrooms and chopped sundried tomatoes. Continue to stir. Keep the mixture simmering and add more beef stock when necessary. The rice will absorb the stock as it cooks.
- Cook for 20 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the stock.
- Remove from the heat, and add in the cheese as well as salt & pepper to taste. Mix well and serve immediately.