Milk and White Chocolate Chunk Brownies

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The last month has been a busy month. I am happy to see the back of May. For someone who had been working just a few days a week, starting full-time work has been a bit of a shock. Finding a balance between work, spending time with friends as well as giving time to other things I enjoy like cooking and reading has been hard. My pots of herbs and plants have been really neglected and in need of some serious TLC.

As a strong advocate for work/life/balance, last month has been too much on the go for me. My brain has not had the time to switch off. And when I had some time to do some baking last weekend, it was a much-needed me-time. I recently read this article on Huffington Post about how baking is a form of mindfulness. This had me thinking of baking in a whole new view. I spend a lot of time measuring ingredients, gently folding mixtures through, and planning what I would do next. Never am I more present in the moment, other than when I am baking or cooking. I have always found baking, calming. So after a busy month of back to back work and full-on weekends, thinking about how to make a recipe work, how to bake a cake perfectly and what else I can do to perfect a dessert, I found baking the perfect stress-release outlet.

The article also spoke about how baking feels rewarding when it is for other people. This made me think of the brownies I make. I bake it almost always on someone’s request or to share with a group of friends. For a long road trip or as a go-to dessert, these brownies are always welcome.

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My favourite thing about these brownies is the caramelised white chocolate chunks that give it a hint of nuttiness. I spruced it up by adding some cream cheese and walnut praline crumb. This turned an already tasty brownie into something quite fancy; something you might find on a dessert table at a party. Adding the edible flowers made it look absolutely gorgeous, specially when brownies are not desserts that photograph well.

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Ingredients:
Brownies:
– 300g dark chocolate, chopped
– 150g butter, chopped
– 1 1/2 cups (315g) caster sugar
– 4 eggs, lightly whisked
– 1 1/4 cups (190g) plain flour
– 1/2 cup (125g) sour cream
– 200g white chocolate, chopped
– 100g milk chocolate, chopped

Walnut Praline:
– 50g walnuts
– 250g caster sugar
– 2 teaspoon ground coffee

Cream Cheese Frosting:
– 60g cream cheese, softened
– 30g butter, softened
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
– 3/4 cup icing sugar mixture

Method:
– For the brownies, pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees and grease a 23cm cake pan. Line the base of the pan with baking paper, allowing the paper to hang over the sides of the pan.
– Place the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring until the chocolate and butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Be careful not to burn it. Remove from heat and leave to cool slightly, for about 5 minutes.
– Add the sugar into the chocolate mixture and combine. Add the eggs, and stir to combine. Add the flour and sour cream and stir until just mixed. Gently fold in the chopped chocolate chunks and fold gently through the mixture.
– Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 1 hour or until it’s cooked through. When a skewer is inserted, it might have crumbs on it, but that’s okay. We don’t want the brownie to over cook and harden.
– To make the praline, first, roast the walnuts in the oven at 200 degrees for about 5 minutes. Then wrap the walnuts in a tea towel and rub the skins and chop them up. Add the coffee and mix to coat the walnuts. Warm the walnuts and coffee on a baking tray for one minute while you’re making the caramel.
– To make the caramel, add the sugar to a small saucepan. Keep shaking the pan to cook the sugar evenly. Add the coffee coated walnuts into the caramel and stir. Ad the hot caramel onto a baking paper and allow to cool.
– Break the praline into pieces and crush it using a motor and pestle or whizz it in a small food processor.
– For the cream cheese, place the cheese, butter and vanilla in a bowl and beat until pale, using an electric beater. Gradually add the icing sugar, beating until combined well. Pop the cream cheese in a piping bag and pipe it on top of the brownie slices. Sprinkle the praline crumble on top of the brownies. Decorate with edible flowers if desired.

Lavender: to eat and smell!

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Vanilla cupcakes with French Buttercream

Making the perfect cupcakes make me happy. Eating the perfect cupcake makes me even happier. Cupcakes are the beautiful balance of tasty cake and gorgeous, but still delicious, frosting. Aesthetics are a big part of cupcakes but one can never sacrifice taste for looks. This is probably why I prefer buttercream over fondant. It wasn’t until I had started making the French buttercream did I feel like my cupcake game had peaked. I had managed to master a lovely vanilla cupcake thanks to taste.com.au. But I kept struggling with the buttercream.

I’ve had many struggles with buttercream. Buttercream that split or cream cheese frosting that would not thicken. French buttercream is the only one that has never failed me.

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Lemon and Rosemary cake

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When I started making this cake I thought I would be coming out with a delicious recipe. But despite recipe testing, due to the various trials and errors I faced, I ended up mostly writing about what not to do when baking a cake.

As my chef friend Fathun said ‘Cheffing or being a cook is about fixing disasters too, as you have learnt from Masterchef’. I had Fathun’s help throughout this cake-making process. I can say Fathun is one of the people who is most enthusiastic and supportive of my cooking adventures. She’s always excited about new ideas I have and we both have so much fun planning dinners together. We both tend to go over-board when planning these said dinners, and a simple catching up meal will almost end up with a main, sides and dessert.

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Doughnut Time

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Galaxy Doughnuts

I love doughnuts, but I hate frying things. So when I saw that I could make baked doughnuts with a doughnut tray I went on a hunt for one. It was actually quite hard to find it and stumbled on it completely by accident. I was shopping with a little friend E that day and the 6 year old was almost excited at the prospect of me buying it. Since E wanted to make it with me (she didn’t even want me to just make it for her, she wanted to help) I made sure to invite her to come help me decorate the doughnuts.

We decided to try and do galaxy doughnuts and they were so cool! E was very excited to help and she came up with different colour combinations. We had a lot of fun mixing colours, dunking the doughnuts into the glaze and licking the glaze off our fingers.

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Doughnut glaze
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Galaxy doughnuts mixed colours

It was an interesting experience giving E free reign to decorate. I had certain ideas about what I wanted, but E too, had ideas about what she wanted. I think she was more eager to just try new things. I had set colours I wanted to use, but E wanted to try a little bit of everything and the colours turned out great! To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about putting the chocolate sprinkles on the galaxy doughnuts. I thought E would put them on a plain white one or a single coloured one. My mind was fixed on the Instagram pictures I had seen, but E was too happy to play with the chocolate sprinkles in new ways. A learning experience from E; letting myself have fun and experiment, rather than stick to what I know.

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I made 7 doughnuts using this recipe.

Ingredients:
Doughnuts:
– 1 cup flour
– 1 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1 egg
– 65 grams brown sugar
– 1/2 cup milk
– 1/4 cup plain yoghurt
– 30 gram butter
– 100 gram dark chocolate

Vanilla glaze:
– 1 and 1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 2-3 tablespoon milk
– Food colouring and sprinkles to decorate

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees (150 degrees in fan-forced oven). Grease a doughnut pan.
  2. Break chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl with butter. Sit over a saucepan of barely simmering water, until the mixture is melted and smooth (stirring occasionally). Keep a close eye on the mixture, you don’t want the chocolate to burn!
  3. Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and leave it to cool.
  4. Mix the flour, baking soda, bicarb, salt and sugar in a seperate bowl.
  5. Mix the egg into the chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. The mixture will seize up, but don’t worry, it’ll become nice and smooth when you keep whisking. Add the milk and yoghurt and whisk until smooth.
  6. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the chocolate mixture. Stir it until it’s just mixed. Don’t worry if the batter is thick, we want the doughnuts to be a bit doughy.
  7. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Alternatively, what I did was to put the batter in the piping bag (a makeshift one with a ziplock bag and cutting the corner) and piped it into the doughnut holes.
  8. Bake in oven for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool in pan for about 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack. You can store these in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.
  9. Make the glaze. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and whisk till smooth. Add more milk if you think the mixture is too thick. Dip the cooled doughnuts into the glaze and top with sprinkles.

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Happy eating!

 

4 weeks: 5 pavlovass

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Pavlova with lemon curd, cream and berries

As soon as I told my friends and family I was heading to Maldives for holidays, I was greeted by multiple requests for pavlova. In fact, I made more pavlovas in that month than I had in a year!

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Making pavlovas was certainly an adventure. I have a fond memory for each and every pavlova I have made. When I made a pavlova with my younger siblings at my Dad’s place, I had to beat the egg whites with just one beater in the electric hand mixer. The kids’ enthusiasm to help me out made up for the missing beater though.

When I decided to make one for my cousins (whose requests had been the loudest), they told me it was too hard; they didn’t have all the equipment. I told them I would take everything: bowls, electric mixer, baking paper, etc., they told me to calm down, they didn’t even have an oven! In the end, they bought an oven (not just for my pavlova, but so my aunt could also bake her delicious fish pie). Never have I seen a pavlova being devoured so quickly than when I made it that day.

I also got to connect with a friend I had only really spoken on Instagram. We both had a food-loving mutual friend, and we bonded over delicious looking food photos. So when I headed back, we had a pav-date, so she could learn how to make it. Making the meringue worked like a charm (my friend had all the equipment ready to go), but I was trying to whip the cream and it was taking forever, and not getting any thicker! This was something I hadn’t anticipated. Due to the humid and tropical Maldivian weather, I was told by my friends to put the beaters and the bowl in the freezer to cool them down to be able to thicken the cream. Working in an air-conditioned room could help too.

The end product was always well received and the memories we made were always worth any hurdles we faced. My holiday did turn into a pavlova, as my friend mentioned and it was a lot of fun.

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Meringue stack with blackberries

I went through my Instagram account and managed to find some of the pavlovas I had made over the last few years. I’ve included my go-to meringue recipe below. For the pavlova I made today, I steered away form the traditional passionfruit drizzle and made some lemon curd instead. I was inspired to use lemon curd as a topping when my friend from work, Paula, gave me some delicious lemon curd she had made. I had it with some berries and thought about how good it would be on a pav. Plus it is a great way to utilise those egg yolks.

I tend to stick to seasonal fruits when topping my pavlovas. I love berries hence, I usually make my pavlovas during summer. Mangoes are also perfect topping for a tropical theme and even stone-fruit like peaches and nectarines will be delicious, especially if you caramelise them first! Blackberries, blueberries and raspberries with a sprinkle of basil and drizzled with fig balsamic vinegar is the favourite topping I have made so far.

What are your favourite pavlova toppings? Feel free to share.

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Pavlova with lemon curd, cream and berries 

This recipe will make a nice little pavlova enough for about 4-5 people. If you want a bigger one, just double the recipe.

Ingredients:
– 3 egg whites
– 150 grams caster sugar
– 1 teaspoon white vinegar
– 1 teaspoon cornflour
– 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 1 cup thickened cream
– fruits to top (strawberries, banana, kiwi, blueberries, mango, etc)

Method:
– Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees. Prepare a flat baking tray and line it with baking paper. Draw a 20cm disc (or however big your serving plate is) on the paper and place the pencil side down.
– In a clean metal bowl, whisk the egg whites  using a stand/hand held electric mixer until soft peaks form.
– Slowly add the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, while beating, until the mixture becomes thick and glossy. A test to see if the sugar has been incorporated is to rub a bit of meringue between your fingers. If it feels grainy, keep mixing.
– Beat in the vinegar, cornflour and vanilla extract.
– Spoon the mixture onto the baking tray and smoothen the top. You can leave it rustic, or round the sides using a knife.
– Bake the meringue for 10 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 110, and then bake for further 60 minutes or till the meringue shell is completely dry. Leave in the oven to completely cool.
– Whisk the cream till soft peaks form and spread on top of meringue. Top with fruits and enjoy.

Thoodles at the Night Noodle Market

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Getting into summer means market food time! Long days, sipping drinks in the sun and digging into delicious food with friends. If my summer social outings don’t involve some sort of food, it doesn’t feel right.

The Melbourne Night Noodle markets have been happening for a while but this was my first visit. Set right on the edge of the Yarra River, the area looks small at first, but once you get in there’s more to explore. We got in really early, just as they opened at 5pm, which meant no lines and plenty of seating. We quickly dug into the juicy Hoy Pinoy chicken skewers as we browsed around the food stalls.

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One thing I was clear on, I definitely wanted dessert. In fact, I was more excited about the dessert options rather than the baos and dumplings. Sydney’s Black Star pastry was here with their famous Strawberry Watermelon cake which I had never had when I lived in Sydney. And I also got to try the N2 Gelato. I’ve always approached the N2 Gelato with some scepticism, assuming it was mostly the hype of the Nitrogen ice cream rather than taste. But watching them make the ice cream with goggles on, dry ice flowing everywhere and working their KitchenAid mixers was something else. I was definitely proved wrong after digging into the Gold Mugger. It was filled with crunchy gold-speckled cookie dough and some delicious brownie/cake thing. I squeezed the Nutellla ganache out of a tiny dropper and it was delicious. My husband said he didn’t want to try it when I offered, and I said ‘Good, more for me’.
Next dessert in line was the Brûlée Cart. These guys, I visit religiously whenever I see their truck parked. Their creme brûlées are so creamy and smooth. I’ve had their Salted Caramel and Ginger brûlée which is just fabulous, topped with caramel popcorn (here it was peanut butter popcorn, I think). One can never go wrong with the Brûlée Cart. Delicious!

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For savoury, I could not walk past Wonderbao’s fried chicken baos. Their mushroom steamed buns were tasty as well. It was a wonderful afternoon, nibbling on everyone’s plates, tasting fried dumplings, nasi goreng and thai fish cakes. I felt like I didn’t have as much savoury food. The desserts seemed to be the highlight, particularly because I wanted to eat dessert before the day got cold.

The biggest challenge for me was the photography. I thought since we got in early, there would be plenty of light, but the light was not at all helpful. Taking even a decent photo of a bao was challenging in the afternoon sun. The direct sunlight did not help at all and everything was over-exposed. I had to then get my friend to act as a shade, trying to get out of the sun. I did feel like a bit of a douche, taking photos so seriously with my camera and directing my friends and family around. But I love taking photos of food and I especially enjoy taking photos of market food, so after a while I just got into stride. I couldn’t stop and worry about what others were thinking of me.

Next up is the Queen Victoria Night Market. I absolutely love that! So much market fun in summer. Now Melbourne weather just needs to get itself sorted and give us some more sun.

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Trifling with Tiramisu

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I remember the first time I had tiramisu. It was at a restaurant in Male’. It must’ve been about 10 years ago and my palette hadn’t developed enough for me to enjoy coffee yet. Maybe eating tiramisu is how I acclimatised to coffee and started enjoying it, but I remember how light, delicate and amazing it was and instantly tiramisu became my favourite dessert.

Finding a good tiramisu when eating out has been a rather hit and miss affair. There would be times when I found an amazing tiramisu at a local restaurant but then a year later, they’ve taken it off the menu! You can imagine how bitterly disappointed I was at this.

One of the most delectable tiramisu’s was here in Melbourne at Sarti. It was layered and hot and cold! That was certainly a treat but I am always on the lookout for a better tiramisu.

It took me a while to find the perfect tiramisu recipe. The first one I attempted was a chocolate one and it was quite a failure. I didn’t soak the sponge enough and didn’t leave enough time for it to set either. I think one my friends still measures my cooking abilities by that tiramisu!

This tiramisu trifle is adapted from a Neil Perry recipe. He soaks the sponge fingers in a sweet French wine but I’ve used just coffee. Mr Perry also suggests that mascarpone can be replaced by whipped cream, vanilla extract and icing sugar.

Tips:
– Use fresh eggs
– Whip the cream till it’s nice and thick and forms soft peaks. If it’s under-whipped the tiramisu doesn’t set (which happened to me on the first go) and if it’s over-whipped, the cream turns to butter (which has also happened to me before).
– Make sure the coffee is cooled before you dip the sponge fingers. If it’s too hot, the sponge fingers will start breaking before it is soaked through.

Ingredients:
– 1 packet sponge finger biscuits
– 50g dark chocolate, for grating
– 3 cups strong black coffee
– 1 punnet of raspberries
– 1 punnet of blueberries (frozen berries can be used too, once it’s thawed)
Mascarpone filling
– 2 egg yolks
– 80g caster sugar
– 250g mascarpone
– 100g thickened cream
– 80g egg whites (about 2)

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Method:
– Make the mascarpone filling. Combine egg yolks and half the caster sugar and whisk it till it’s pale and thick. Add the mascarpone and mix with a metal spoon till it’s mixed well.
– Whip the thickened cream till it becomes thick and forms soft peaks. Fold in the cream to the mascarpone mixture and fold gently.
– Whisk the egg whites until it forms soft peaks. Add the remaining sugar gradually until the mixture becomes thick and glossy. Fold this gently into the mascarpone mixture.
– Soak the sponge fingers in coffee and put in the bottom of the glasses. You may have to break them in half. Add a dollop of mascarpone filling and then add the berries on top. Repeat this layering again, reserving some berries to serve.
– When layering is completed and mixture is divided into about 6 dessert glasses, grate the dark chocolate on top.
– Chill for at least 2 hours.

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This is a fantastic dessert to make well ahead. When my coffee loving friend and her boyfriend came to dinner, this was the perfect dessert to make for them. I made this in the morning and my husband made a fantastic beef ragu and inadvertently we had an Italian theme. It was very tasty!