Monday, 11 May 2009

LETTING OFF STEAM



My mother took an interest in this cake simply because it is steamed, not baked. Mom doesn’t do baked goods. The oven scares her. During her time, Asian kitchens were rarely equipped with ovens. All the cooking were done over a stove. Even till today, traditional cakes and kueh-kueh are either steamed or painstakingly grilled over a bed of charcoal.

To my mother our built-in oven is a white elephant taking up precious space in her tiny kitchen. So when not in use, she stores Chinese dried mushrooms inside it. No kidding!

Anyway, mom happily took part in the prep work for this cake. She filled a wok partially with water and it soon came to a merry bubble.

Beating the eggs took a lot of hard work. Mom suggested the electric mixer but there were "only 4 eggs!", I scoffed. One should always listen to her mother. It doesn't matter if the mixer in question is sitting in a dark dark corner of a dark dark shelf in a dark dark room. Trust me, it pays to relief it from its solitude.

The original recipe calls for self-raising flour. Since I didn't have any, I used all-purpose + baking powder. Maybe I didn't use enough BP because the cake turned out rather dense. I had expected something a little fluffier.

Still, this eggy delight does bring me back in time - when there were no French pâtisserie or Pierre Hermé; and terms like ganache and creme fraiche were practically unheard off - a cake like this was the most pleasurable thing in the world!

Times have changed. Back then we were happy with our roti, kopi or kopi-O. Now we can also enjoy baguette, cappuccino and espresso! It is a good change, izit not?

传统蒸鸡蛋糕
Traditional Steamed Sponge Cake
Adapted from Delightful Snacks & Dim Sum by Agnes Chang

4 large eggs
160 grams caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
180 grams all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
50 ml 7-Up

Line a 18-cm square pan with parchment paper. Bring a wok of water to the boil.

Sift flour and baking powder together.

Whisk eggs until frothy, then add the sugar slowly. Continue to whisk fervently until mixture becomes thick and creamy. Stir in the vanilla.

Fold in sifted flour, stirring gently in one direction, until all are used up. Add the 7-Up.

Pour batter into prepared cake pan. Steam the cake, covered, for 30 minutes on high heat. Cool on a wire rack.

Friday, 8 May 2009

ORIENTAL EYES


When my colleagues and I were in Bangkok in February, we had the good fortune of spending a few days at The Oriental. Let me warn you about the dangers of spending so much time at The Oriental Bangkok: the staff will pamper you and spoil you with their personal service. They'll greet you by name every morning.  They'll remember when it's your birthday.  The lift attendants remember which floor your room is.  They'll wait on you hand and foot, 24/7 and cater to your every whim.  They'll make you feel like they exist only for you.  At the end of the 3 days, you find yourself telling your boss that you have no wish of leaving your castle. In all fairness, after all that personal attention you've been given, you think that you actually own the place! You don't ever want to wake up from the illusion. Even after months of your return to the reality of everyday life, you'll still be recovering from the overwhelming Thai hospitality.

So here I am, four months afterwards and I still can't get over the hotel's Raspberry Ox-eyes -a simple thumbprint shortbread filled with the most delightful raspberry jam. One bite of it and I was hooked. If I wasn't feeling so terrible shy (ahem!) , I'd have asked for a box of them delivered to my room!

Back home, I searched a long time for the recipe to relive that delectable moment.

Rasberry Ox-Eyes
Adapted from the Thumbprints For Us Big Boys recipe in Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Makes 60

100 grams finely ground hazelnuts*
227 grams all-purpose flour
227 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
100 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting
About 1 cup raspberry jam, for the filling

*Available at Phoon Huat

Preheat your oven at 180 degrees C. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together the ground hazelnuts and flour.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract, beat, then throw in nut-flour mixture. Mix until just incorporated.

Working with a teaspoon of dough at a time, roll the dough between your palms to form small balls. Lay them apart on the baking sheets. Press down on each ball with your thumb (I used the end of a wooden spoon) to make a small well in the centre of the cookie. Do not press too hard or the cookie will fall apart.

Bake for 15 minutes. Leave the cookies in the baking sheets for about 2 minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Dust confectioner's sugar over the cookies. Fill indentations of all the cookies with raspberry jam!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

WINNING HEARTS AND MINDS




Tammy and I met in 1991. Our company sent us (she from Hong Kong and I from Singapore ) to Kuala Lumpur for the launch of a set of limited edition coins commemorating the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. We shared not just a hotel room but also a love for movies, shopping and good food. We kept in touch via hand-written letters and greeting cards. Over the years, the snail-mails turned into emails; and the love for good food developed into a passion for cooking and baking. Each time we visited each other’s city, we swap recipes and traded baking books.

Tammy gets carried away in baking specialty shops like Phoon Huat in Singapore . And Fairprice Xtra. “There is no store this massive in Hong Kong,” she tells me enviously, “you Singaporeans are so lucky.”

Whenever she stays over, Tammy has to put up with a tiny sofa bed and a shared bathroom. When we are not out shopping and sampling at new restaurants, we’d be curled up on the little sofa bed – girl talk and reminiscing about old times.

One morning, I suggested that we should bake a cake. Her eyes lit up. “Let’s do a really simple one. Something you’ve done many times.” So we baked this French-style Lemon Yogurt Cake. For those of you who are familar with Orangette, you must be aware the special meaning this cake holds for blogger Molly and her husband Brendon. And if you’ve read Molly’s site (and her book) you’ll know that Molly's “Winning Hearts and Minds Cake” is her chocolate wedding cake. For me, if by some chance Orangette fans could accept a second "Winning Hearts and Minds Cake", this Lemon Yogurt Cake would have to be it! The recipe is so easy to follow and I've had to bake it again and again and again at the encore of neighbours, colleagues and friends. It truly wins the hearts and minds of everyone around me.

Tammy shares my enthusiasm for the Winning Hearts and Minds Cake. She eagerly grated the lemon zest (which, to me, is the most hateful job in the world!) and sifted the flour. I fired up the oven, weighed out the ingredients and demonstrated to her just how easy it was. When the cake came out of the oven, Tammy cooed in delight. She was won over even before she has had a taste.

Needless to say, Tammy returned home with the recipe. Her kitchen in Hong Kong is particularly small, a 9-inch round cake is out of the question with a counter-top oven. So she baked several batches of mini cupcakes. Tammy later told me that her father commented that the cakes were “very nice” (which in truth meant “out of this world” because he normally only grants a slight nod of approval for most baked goods). Tammy’s father passed away some months afterwards. Two weeks after she broke the news, I suddenly found myself sighing in relief: Well, at least he had a taste of the lemon yogurt cake! Somehow, the thought left me a little less sad.