Wednesday, August 6, 2014
After a very busy July, I've been thinking a lot about the whole work/life balance thing. Ask anyone you know how they've been and 'busy' or even 'crazy busy' seems to be the default answer, a badge of honour for the ambitious. I know it's true for me!
We pack our schedules with work or self-imposed obligations, check our emails before we even get out of bed in the morning, and feel guilty, bored or useless in any moments of idleness. To me, finally being 'busy' came as a relief that my business was growing and my services were beginning to be in demand.
I took every opportunity that came my way, worked around the clock and didn't take a day off in months. I pushed aside the things I really loved to do - from reading to blogging - as less important. And then I wondered why I felt burned out and uninspired...
The more I tried to endlessly multi-task, the more scattered and forgetful I became, and then I saw a quote that really resonated with me - "The answers you seek never come when the mind is busy, they come when the mind is still".
Of course! Why do your best ideas always come when you're in the shower, walking somewhere, mixing cake batter or about to fall asleep, just as you let go of your thoughts? Down time shouldn't be a indulgence, it's an absolute necessity to recharge creativity and inspiration!
I've gotta say, it was so nice to get back into the kitchen and bake something amazing after a month of throwing dinners together haphazardly or eating unhealthy take out when I was too busy to cook.
A few overripe bananas in the fruit bowl were the inspiration for this cake. I decided to caramelise them with brown sugar in the oven before adding them to the cake to really concentrate the flavour, and then added a big splash of spiced rum to the mixture for good measure. When the cake was cooked, I piled it high with more caramelised banana slices and oozy boozy salted caramel sauce. It looked and smelled incredible!
The cake itself is a winner, but the caramelised bananas and spiced rum gave it an extra dimension of flavour. It was super easy to make in the food processor with minimal washing up, and I loved it served warm with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream, a perfect comforting dessert on a chilly winter night!
Monday, April 7, 2014
Cake. This simple yet magical combination of butter, sugar, eggs and liquid in it's most simplified form goes back centuries, has transcended cultures and is synonymous with celebration all around the world. Cakes can be big or small and as simple or as complex as your own imagination. I mean, you can't have a birthday, or a wedding without cake, or as Julia Child says... "a party without cake is really just a meeting."
In times where the ingredients such as sugar, nuts and spices were expensive, having a cake made for you was an immense honour. These days we experience birthday celebrations involving cake from age one and all throughout our lives, but the fundamental message has remained. I love making homemade birthday cakes for the special people in my life. It is a culinary offering of love, a way of showing someone that they are important and that you care about them. But the real joy is in the sharing and celebrating with your friends and family - it really is a lovely tradition.
It was my sister Beth's 21st birthday last week, and I wanted to make her a very special cake. After years of childhood bickering, I'm so happy that she is now one of my closest friends and business partner in a new venture that I'll tell you all about very soon. She is so funny, creative and a beautiful person inside and out. To say this cake was made with love would be the understatement of the century.
I put my own spin on a famous Momofuku Milk Bar recipe by Christina Tosi, keeping the chocolate chip cake and crumb elements but experimenting with the passionfruit curd and adding a vanilla bean cream cheese icing instead of the coffee buttercream. Is this sacrilegious? Perhaps...
I've long been a fan of the chocolate and passionfruit flavour combination (see here and here) so I knew that it would be good. But when my Dad, who has tasted many of the cakes I've ever made, says this is the best cake I've ever made, I think I made the right call. He has also requested this exact same cake for his own birthday next month. Hey, if it's good enough for David Chang...
The cake has a lot of liquid and fat in it, and the book was fairly specific about how the batter must be homogeneous at each stage to end up with a lovely moist cake. I split the cake mixture into four equal parts and baked my cake layers separately as I knew I wanted the 'naked' cake look of visible fillings and un-frosted sides, again another small deviation from the 'Milk Bar' way, but I think it's one of the best looking cakes I've ever made and I couldn't stop taking photos of it.
I was thrilled with how each component came out separately, and together the result was phenomenal. The passionfruit curd was sweet but tangy, which balanced out the rich cream cheese frosting. The chocolate crumbs added some texture and weren't too sweet. I actually wish I had doubled the amount of crumbs between the layers as I had a lot left over. The recipe after the jump looks quite long, but each part is pretty straightforward and you can make the elements over several days to lighten the load.
Happy 21st Birthday again to my gorgeous sister Beth. I hope this year is the best one yet, and I wish you adventures and happiness and french toast and success in everything you put your mind to xxx
Monday, March 17, 2014
Let's rewind to about a month ago, where my obsession with kaffir lime leaves began. I made a green curry from scratch for the very first time and I have been finding interesting ways to use them in both sweet and savoury dishes ever since. From a citrussy prawn and chilli spaghetti to a chicken, chilli and coconut soup to this delicious cake with a kaffir lime infused syrup, this new-to-me ingredient is surprisingly versatile and seems to lift it's accompanying flavours to fantastic new levels.
If you haven't tried them before, it's a little difficult to describe the flavour. They are herbaceous but floral, bright and aromatic, and are used extensively throughout Thai cuisine. I love it so much, I'm planning on raiding Steph's new garden as often as possible.
I saw this recipe in Real Living magazine, where the beautiful photo caught my eye. It was served in individual loaf tins and with minted raspberries, so I put my own spin on it with summery mangoes. It's a great recipe for a simple and versatile cake. The sour cream kept it nice and moist and I liked the hint of lime that shone through. Although there was a pretty major typo in print - 3/4 cup of baking powder seemed excessive - but don't worry, I've fixed it up in my version of the recipe below!
The kaffir lime is a really great match for the coconut and mango, and would be great with many other kinds of fruit as well, so use your favourite! And it isn't shown in my photos, but I served this cake with a large scoop of creme fraîche, which was a lovely counterbalance to the very sweet syrup.
Have you cooked with any new ingredients lately?
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
One of the things I love the most is learning about and trying out new foods and ingredients. I could spend a ridiculous amount of time and money happily wandering around specialty supermarkets, picking up random products I've never heard of and then pottering around the kitchen finding delicious ways to use them. The last few years has been all about exotic superfoods with amazing health benefits, alternative gluten-free flours and sweeteners.
They were just starting to come into the mainstream when I started blogging nearly seven years ago, championed by Heidi Swanson from 101 Cookbooks and Alice Medrich amongst others. These days, quinoa, buckwheat, and most of those once hard-to-find ingredients are now available in your local supermarket!
I love chia seeds. They are super healthy and delicious sprinkled on cereal or yoghurt with fruit and in juices and smoothies too. But I'd never tried baking with them, and I wanted to do a slightly different take on the classic lemon and poppyseed muffin.
I used a recipe from Taste, and it was ridiculously easy to make all in one bowl for minimal washing up, which is always a good thing! I also made a very simple glaze which was a nice touch for a little bit of sweetness, but they would also be nice without.
These muffins would be a great little snack to pack in the kiddies' lunch boxes now that school is back. Next time I might add a little yoghurt to keep the muffins super light and moist, as the texture was a tiny bit heavy.
You could also experiment using the zest of orange, lime, grapefruit or a combination of all for slightly different citrussy taste. And if you can't find chia seeds at the supermarket or health food shop, poppy seeds would be delicious too!
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
CHERRIES! I get super excited this time of year, because yes, Christmas is a little over a week away... but even more awesomely, almost all of my favourite fruits are in season, abundant, and totally delicious. Berries, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, figs (soon) and cherries!
They're one of my favourite fruits and only have a very short season, so I wanted to share 13 amazing looking recipes that I hope you'll try. And if you're in the northern hemisphere and fresh cherries aren't available, most of these recipes work with preserved cherries too. I think some of these would be perfect at your Christmas lunch!
13 Ways with... CherriesOur Kitchen & Cookie and Kate
1. This Cherry, Lime & Whisky Cocktail from Our Kitchen looks very pretty, and sounds perfect for any Christmas party, no matter which hemisphere you're in. Stripy straws a must!
2. I only discovered Rainer cherries recently, and loved their sweeter flavour. I loved Cookie and Kate's lovely twist on the classic cocktail - the Rainier Cherry Mojito. Sounds perfect for a sunset tipple on a hot summer's day.
Picture Credits: How Sweet Eats & Martha Stewart
3. How good do these Roasted Cherry Bourbon Milkshakes with Hot Fudge look! This recipe from How Sweet Eats looks like a very, very special boozy treat. I've also become addicted to this beautiful and new-to-me blog. Check it out!
4. When I was in New York earlier this year, I became addicted to this Cherry Juice that was sold at the Union Square Greenmarket, which was tart and super refreshing. I think Martha Stewart's Sour Cherry Lemonade would be just as delicious. I love that it's served in a large pitcher - perfect for your summer BBQ's.
Picture Credits: Cannelle et Vanille & Spicyicecream
5. Aran from Cannelle et Vanille is a very talented lady who always makes the most delicious looking desserts, and these Cherry, Cinnamon and Vanilla Flan Tarts are no exception! I love that she has mixed different kinds of cherries in the one dessert for colour and flavour.
6. I made these Cherry Poptarts with Vanilla Bean Glaze for my blogger girlfriends a few Christmases ago and they were a massive hit. The best thing is that they're made with a good quality (or even homemade if you're feeling keen) cherry jam, so you can enjoy them all year round.
Picture Credits: What Katie Ate & Lara Ferroni
7. What Katie Ate is one of my favourite blogs without a doubt. I remember seeing this epic Black Forest Gateau (from an episode of Masterchef Australia) soon after I discovered it and was immediately hooked. Luckily it's still picture perfect, even if the recipe had a few problems.
8. Lara Ferroni is the author of a book all about doughnuts (which I own and love), so I would trust her implicitly on all matters concerning fried dough. I love the sound of these simple Ricotta Drop Doughnuts with Fresh Cherry Sauce. Perfect for breakfast or dessert!
Picture Credits: Citrus and Candy & Gourmet Traveller
9. My gorgeous friend Karen from Citrus and Candy does decadent desserts like no other, and clafoutis is a great "lazy but fabulous" option, in her words. So it goes to reason that this Chocolate and Cherry Clafoutis is perfect for the busy Christmas season, when you'd rather spend time by the pool than in a hot kitchen. Perfect.
10. Christmas breakfast is sorted. This alluring stack of Cherry Toast with Vanilla Cream looks like the perfect way to start your Christmas Day. With a few Mimosa's too?
Picture Credits: Call Me Cupcake & The Bojon Gourmet
11. Ice cream on Christmas Day is a bit of a tradition here in Australia, because it usually gets so hot! Dessert is often followed by a dip in the swimming pool. I really love the look of this festive Fudge Ice Cream Cake from Call Me Cupcake, topped with ruby red cherries. Stunning!
12. This Roasted Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream with Bourbon and Chocolate from the Bojon Gourmet looks like a grown up cherry ripe. And that is definitely something I can get behind. If you haven't already checked out this blog, do! It's filled with great recipes and amazing photographs.
13. It was my Mum's birthday over the past weekend and she deliberated long and hard over the kind of cake she wanted. "Cheesecake would be nice... or something with cherries" were her requests, so I set about combining the two in one decadent birthday dessert - Chocolate Cherry Bourbon Cheesecake - that would also be perfect for Christmas.
I think next time I'd swap half the amount of cream cheese for mascarpone or ricotta (or a combination of the two) and use melted chocolate instead of cocoa powder. I was a little rushed for time, used a cake tin that was slightly too small and probably didn't give the cheesecake quite long enough to cool in the oven before transferring it to the fridge, so it sunk a little and developed a few cracks in the top. Oops. Luckily with some strategic photo angles you can't really tell, and it still tasted great. I even got Mum to cut her cake for me while I photographed it! Happy Birthday Mummy! xx
Hope you give these a try, and if you have any other great cherry recipes, please post the link in the comments below!
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
I tend to get a little
When the lovely Tamara from Puro Coffee offered to send me a package of their organic fairtrade coffee blends, I couldn't say no. Owned by Miko, one of the oldest coffee roasters in the world, I was especially interested in Puro's commitment to the environment, farmers and workers, as well as producing a quality product of course.
Thousands of acres of rainforest have been purchased and saved from logging in Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia. During this preservation, several new species of orchids have been discovered and an endangered frog saved from extinction. For more info click here.
I really enjoyed trying all three of the coffee varieties. The Fuerte was strong with a hint of spice and good for the mornings, but my favourite overall was the Organic, a medium roast that I found didn't need any sugar added. I wanted to create a dessert that would not only use Puro coffee but also match nicely with it. I couldn't get tiramisu out of my head, it's the perfect sweet pick-me-up.
Instead of a traditional tiramisu, I decided to make a cute five layer mini cake, and was very pleased with how it turned out. And I'm especially
I've also got a Puro Coffee prize pack to give away to one reader, which includes all of the coffee varieties that I was lucky enough to try. Entries are open until Christmas Day. The pack contains:
- 1 x Puro Bio-Organic 250g: Medium roast combining soft notes of sweet chocolate with tangy citrus
- 1 x Puro Noble 250g: Rich and lively medium roast, with hints of fruit and hazelnut
- 1 x Puro Fuerte 250g: Fragrant roast with a touch of spice and a full body
- 1 x Puro Fairtrade Hot Chocolate Sachet
- 9 x Puro Fairtrade Brown Sugar Sticks
- 1 x Puro Cup and Saucer
Friday, November 15, 2013
Today is my beautiful friend Steph's birthday. I feel so lucky to have met her through this blog when we sat next to each other at an event all the way back in 2009. At the time I had no idea this tiny, sweet Malaysian girl would be one of the most hilarious and talented people I know, and become one of my closest friends. I'm a very lucky girl.
If you read Raspberri Cupcakes, you'll probably know that she loves sky high layer cakes, salted butter, sprinkles and the colour purple. Well, I managed to get three out of four into the cake - maybe a purple one for next year? The last birthday cake I made for Steph was the epic Vanilla Malt Sprinkle Bark Cake, which is still my most popular post!
I had the idea for a Funfetti Fairy Bread Cake a few weeks ago and just knew that Steph's birthday was the most perfect time to try it out. Fairy bread is an Aussie childhood staple, soaked in nostalgia for kids parties of years past. White bread is spread with butter and topped with sprinkles or 'hundreds and thousands' as we call them here, typically cut into triangles.
I had never made a Funfetti Cake, or a 'naked cake' (with icing only between the layers and not on the sides) before, but they look so pretty so I wanted to give them a try. On top, I used extra cake instead of bread, spread with salted buttercream and covered in sprinkles. I used one of Steph's own favourite recipes because I wanted a beautiful light vanilla cake that would allow the coloured sprinkles to really show through.
The hardest part was working out how to transport the cake via train to lunch yesterday! I had originally baked five layers of funfetti cake plus an extra thin layer in a brownie pan for the 'fairy bread' on top. As you can see I ended up only using four layers of the cake as it was already enormous and pretty heavy.
But of course it was all worth it. I was so happy with how it looked and tasted, and the birthday girl absolutely loved it too. We enjoyed (tiny) slices of cake sitting in the park by the river yesterday. The only thing that would have made it better was to have popped a bottle of bubbles to go with it! And then maybe a nap...!
Happy Birthday Steph, I love you to pieces and I hope that this year is the best one yet! xx
Friday, September 6, 2013
Sometimes, upon dressing myself in the morning, I'll think Girl, you rock a lot of polka dots. If you've been following for a while, you'll know that I own an inordinate amount of polka dot patterned stuff. More often than not, there are dots incorporated into my outfit somewhere. From dresses to lingerie, shoes to iPhone cases, it's my thing, I'm powerless against them, they make me happy. And I've been massively in need of a big dose of sunshine, sprinkles and polka dots lately.
Post holiday blues hit harder than expected, and after months of indecision and self-doubt, I resigned from my job last week! But now it's spring, the weather has been fantastic, and I'm equal parts excited and terrified about soon facing the very different world of full time freelance (and blogging). So I thought I'd celebrate accordingly with these cute little cakes!
The flavour inspiration came from an abundance of lemons that my Mum found herself with when I went to visit over the weekend. And when life gives you lemons, I say keep them - because hey, they're free lemons! I hunted up a cupcake recipe with sour cream because I wanted to try something a little different from my go-to buttermilk cake.
The recipe I found was a super easy to make one-bowl lemon cake, and a sour cream frosting that paired nicely with the moist cakes, but was perhaps a little too sweet for me, believe it or not. And sprinkles were a must, of course. It's impossible to be unhappy while eating a cupcake!
Have a great weekend everyone xx
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
I really don't deal well when things don't work in the kitchen. There's usually some form of tantrum, many curse words and occasionally there's even some utensil throwing. Over the weekend, I was visiting home for Fathers Day, and I attempted to make a Ricotta Cake for my Dad.
Things were going well. The pastry and the ricotta mixture came together perfectly. We'd just had lunch, the cake was cooling off in the oven after baking, and then Dad said, 'I think I can smell something burning'. I had switched the oven off, but went to check anyway. I cracked the oven door open a little and was greeted with a massive cloud of smoke and this very, very sad looking state of affairs....
You see, what I did not realise, was that the grill had turned on mysteriously, and for 15 minutes or so had been absolutely toasting the top of the cake. We were lucky not to set off the smoke alarms! I instagrammed my epic failure (to prove that I'm no domestic goddess, and that I eff up too sometimes) and was ready to throw the damn thing out the window. But Dad was determined to salvage the cake, knowing how long I had spent making it that morning.
While I was off photographing another dessert, he carefully cut off all the burnt bits. Luckily, this kind of cake has to be inverted anyway, so the bottom became the top. My sister decorated it with strawberries, and when I returned, it looked more like this....
Pretty damn gorgeous, right?! And it tasted even better. The ricotta cheesecake filling was incredibly light in texture, flavoured with lots of vanilla bean, cinnamon, orange zest and Frangelico. I now find it a little hard to believe that I used to hate ricotta, because this is probably one of the most delicious things that I've baked in a while, and a big hit with the family. I think it's going to become one of our favourites.
Credit must be given of course, to my very clever Dad and sister Beth who worked together to salvage my very sad, burnt cake and turned it into something beautiful. This isn't the first time he's helped me salvage a cooking experiment/failure that I was about to give up on, and it probably won't be the last. Happy Father's Day to the best Dad around! xx
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
13 Ways with... Pandan
I have Steph and Karen to thank for introducing me to Pandan. A somewhat uncommon ingredient to us everyday Aussies, but these green leaves are used extensively in South East Asian cuisine. Lending a delicate, almost floral taste that is perfect in baked goods, drinks and even ice cream, in a similar way to how we would use vanilla. I wanted to shine the spotlight on this great ingredient with 13 interesting and unique ways to it!
Picture Credits: Cooking Tackle & Singapore Shiok
1. It was a little surprising not to find more drinks made using pandan, but this Ginger Honey Pandan Drink from Cooking Tackle combines some of my very favourite ingredients in one drink. It looks so soothing, like something that would make you feel a lot better when you are sick.
2. How refreshing does this Lime Drink with Pandan look? The recipe comes from from Singapore Shiok, and I can imagine it would really hit the spot on a hot day, especially in the humid Malaysian climate! I am hoping that I can track down some fresh pandan leaves soon so I can try this.
Picture Credits: The Food Dept & Dessert First
3. It is great to see Pandan being featured on incredible and popular blogs like The Food Dept. which is one of my new favourites, as the recipe ideas and photography are both amazing. Their Pandan ice cream with toffee pecans looks so good! I have made pandan ice cream before but the toffee pecans would take it to a whole other level of yum.
4. I remember seeing this post on Dessert First a few years ago (when I was still a Daring Baker!) before I had tried pandan for myself. These Pandan Cheesecake Pops are so cute and I can imagine how good they would taste. This post is really interesting for a side by side comparison of using pandan leaves vs pandan extract, and aside from the green colour which comes from the extract, the taste was remarkably similar!
Picture Credits: Spicyicecream & Alanabread
5. This Caramelised Pandan Cake with Coconut Sorbet from my archives was my first foray into baking with pandan, inspired by the dessert at Ms G's in Sydney. I gave it a calorific French-toast-like twist by soaking the chiffon cake in a sweet egg mixture and cooking it in caramel, with a big scoop of coconut sorbet to serve. This is actually one of my favourite desserts that I've made on this blog!
6. Another delicious looking recipe is this Jasmine Pandan Macarons from Alanabread. I can only imagine how nicely the pandan flavour goes with the floral jasmine! And as always I love the neon-green colour of the filling.
Picture Credits: Raspberri Cupcakes
7. As I mentioned, my friend Steph introduced me to Pandan, and her blog Raspberri Cupcakes is an amazing source for recipes using the ingredient. I love how she combined an Aussie dessert with the Asian ingredient to create these Pandan Lamingtons. And we all know how well pandan goes with coconut!
8. Okay, one recipe wasn't enough, so here is a beautiful Pandan Cotton Soft Cheesecake with Kaya also from Raspberri Cupcakes. Kaya is a coconut jam cooked with eggs and pandan leaves until caramelised, so you can imagine how delicious it would be slathered generously inside this cheesecake! I'm still looking for a way to use the kaya I brought back from Malaysia and I think this might be it!
Picture Credits: Masam Manis & Pickyin
9. I have never tried combining pandan and chocolate together, but the green and chocolate swirls in this Pandan Marble Cake from Masam Manis look so beautiful! This would be a delicious cake for a birthday party.
10. Another beautiful dessert is this Pandan Gula Melaka Cake from Pickyin. I absolutely love the icing roses and detailed tutorial for making layer cakes, but I am most intrigued by the flavour combination. I think the Palm Sugar frosting would be a perfect match for a cake flavoured with pandan!
Picture Credits: Ribbon and Circus & We Dare Food
11. It was actually through a waffle that I first experienced pandan, at a little shop in Cabramatta with the girls, and now I always get one whenever I go back! More recently I saw them on the menu at my favourite local Thai place Green Peppercorn. So then I had to include these Pandan Waffles from Ribbon and Circus in this roundup, as I can only imagine how good homemade would be.
12. And after the waffles, try these Pandan Pancakes from We Dare Food! Give your breakfast a green twist by adding pandan to your pancakes and serve them with a delicious coconut syrup. Or some kaya. Yum!
13. Yes, this cake is very very green. And also delicious. While looking for an interesting turn on the classic South American Tres Leches (three milks) cake, I wondered if an Asian twist would work. When pandan leaves are unavailable, a good quality extract or paste is my weapon of choice, which also gave this cake the most incredible colour. For the three milk soak, I used a combination of milk, sweetened condensed milk and coconut milk. And the Pandan Tres Leches Cake was born.
I'm so happy with how it turned out, the cake is incredibly moist without turning soggy, and actually tastes even better a day or two after making it. The coconut milk was definitely a good move here, as it goes so nicely with pandan. I topped the cake simply with some barely sweetened whipped cream and fresh raspberries for a colour and tart flavour contrast. But I think a palm sugar caramel drizzled over the top would be quite amazing as well!
I hope this roundup inspires you to experiment with some less common ingredients soon, and if you have any other great pandan recipes please share them with me in the comments below!