Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chocolate cupcakes with Peanut butter frosting

Dear readers, you guys are in for a treat! My sis-tar is in the house, which means there will be lots of mouth-watering pictures =) We have been enjoying a spat of brilliantly sunny days these past week, and it really puts me in the mood to bake, especially something fun and cheerful, and what's more cheerful then chocolate cupcakes?

Chocolate and peanut butter is one of the flavour combinations I adooore the MOST in this world. It even beats just good old plain dark chocolate. In this recipe, instead of making a proper peanut butter frosting, I'm going to 'cheat' and use only peanut butter, though I don't really see this as cheating. I would only make a proper frosting if it's going to be left somewhere warm for a period of time, as peanut butter melts; otherwise, room temperature peanut butter spreads wonderfully and taste heavenly, not to mention that its requires zero work =P


Chocolate Cupcakes [makes 12]

85g cocoa powder

85g plain flour

1/2 tspn baking powder

1/4 tspn salt [or just use salted butter]

170g unsalted butter, softened

225g sugar

3 large eggs

1 tspn vanilla extract

120ml sour cream [or substitute with milk and 1 tbspn white vinegar]


Chunky/smooth peanut butter, room temperature

As you can see from the ingredients, there's no chocolate in this recipe, only cocoa powder. I personally actually prefer using only cocoa powder in cupcakes, though not so much in whole cakes, because a large amount of cocoa gives this incredibly intense and velvety texture, that while amazing in a cupcake, can be a little too much in a whole cake.

First, cream the butter and the sugar until creamy. Its ok if the sugar stays grainy, but mix it for a good 10 minutes. All the beating will benefit the rising of the cupcakes later. Then, beat in the eggs one by one. While the creaming of the butter helps, the beating of the eggs is CRUCIAL to the rising of the cakes, and must be done well. Beat till creamy and thick. Then beat in the vanilla as well.

Mix together all the dry ingredients and sift them through. I know Nigella never sifts, and I've been guilty of that on occasions as well, but a fluffy cupcake is no time to muck around with the sifting of the dry ingredients, as it really helps. Once sifted, fold in the flour in two batch, alternating with the sour cream/milk. I found that the butter mixture doesn't take very well to the cocoa, but just mix it as well as you can, as gently as possible, and it should be fine. Mine turned out brilliantly anyway =)

Fill your cups 3/4 full, and bake in a preheated 180 degree celcius oven until a skewer comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting with the peanut butter.

To get the spiky look, place the flat of a butter knife against the peanut butter and lift up. Dead easy =)

By the way, recipe adapted from, and Martha is an absolute genius.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Apple Crumble Pie

The long awaited midterm breaks are finally here, and I have to say I have never looked forward to a break as much as I have this semester, which has been hell so far. So, naturally, first thing I did was to whip out my rolling pin and bake a pie.

I love baking and eating apple pie. Usually, I don't eat much of what I bake, but I just adore apple pies, and if I may say so, its one of my best creation. Flaky pie crust, sweet yet tart apple slices cooked in plenty of fragrant cinnamon, tender enough to be cut through with a fork, yet cooked just right so that it still holds its shape. This is definitely one of my best creation.

Today, I decided to do something a little different with the pie crust, and make a crumble crust instead. I adore crumble crusts. They are easy to make, looks gorgeous, and has a really amazing texture. My recipe for the crumble basically follows that of the short crust pastry, and is very convenient, with almost zero extra work. This is also a deep dish apple pie, because I wanted to try making an apple pie in a cake pan instead of the usual pie plate, so as to get that interesting tall and straight sides to the pie, and thus the amount of apple is on the high side. =) So, lets get down to it!


Shortcrust pastry:

250g plain flour

150g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes [actually, here, salted butter might work better, up to your preference]

Few tablespoons of ice water

Sugar or salt, optional

Crumble crust:

Few tablespoon sugar

Handful of almonds or any nuts

Apple pie filling:

10 green/granny smith apples

Few tablespoons of sugar

Few tablespoons of water

Good amount of ground cinnamon

Raisins [optional, adds texture and flavour]

Always always start with the pastry, because it needs to sit in the fridge for a while before rolling out. So, shortcrust pastry has only a few steps to it, and can be really easy, but it does take practice. First, dump butter cubes into the flour and rub in with fingers, or cut in with a pastry cutter if you have one. Personally I hate touching butter, so my pastry cutter is my best helper, and it works like magic. [I'll provide an end note on how to rub in butter for those unfamiliar with the term.]

Once rubbed in, add in sugar or salt if you want. This is for you to decide if you want your crust to be sweet, slightly salty, or plain. If you like your filling very sweet, chances are you don't want to be putting sugar in your crust. As for salt, it helps to balance the sweetness of the apples a little, but is not necessary. I generally just use salted butter and save myself a step. Once all the dry ingredients for the crust is mixed in, remove roughly 1/3 of the crumbly mixture and keep aside. This will become the crumble crust later. Then, add the ice water to the rest of the crumbly mixture to make a soft dough. Add the water tablespoon by tablespoon, mixing everything up to make sure that it needs more water before you add more. A wet dough is hell to work with and the number one reason for a shrinking and ugly crust. When mixing, using a butter knife, use a cutting action on the dough, cutting the water and crumble together until they form clumps of dough. Once most of the mixture is in clumps and the mixture looks slightly moistened, using your fingers gather everything together and either knead on a flat and cool surface or just press everything together into a soft dough in the bowl you are using [here a big bowl really pays off]

There your pie dough is done, just shape into a disc, wrap in cling film or foil and bunk into the fridge for an hour or until firm to the touch. Trick with shortcrust is to touch it as little as possible, so as to keep the temperature of the dough as cool as possible, which gives a flaky crust.

Next, for the crust. Tip the reserved crumbly mixture into a bowl, add a few tablespoons of sugar and the chopped/crushed nuts. You can also add some rolled oat to it, or anything you fancy actually. Mix well, keep in the fridge until you need it, and that's done.

The filling, heart and soul of the pie, is crazy simple. I'm inordinately proud of the fact that I can peel apples in an unbroken peel, and I got 7 out of the 10 apples this time =) So, peel and core, then slice as neatly and as evenly as possible. This will make packing the slices in later easier. Once done, dump into a big pot, add raisins [if using], sugar and cinnamon to your preference, and just enough water to insulate the layer of apples touching the bottom of the pot, which usually comes to slightly less than 5 mm of water. This is just to keep the bottom apples from burning. The apples will release plenty of water later, and you don't want too much in there cooking with the apples, because they'll turn mushy.

How long to cook the apple is a matter of experience and preference, so its a little hard to say. I prefer my apples to still have some bite, so I only let my apples cook til just tender, as they will get cooked again in the oven. It looks and taste much better when the apples are still firm enough to hold their shape. Only way to get this is to practice practice practice! Drain the apple slices well [too much liquid will spoil your crust] and set aside to use later.

Now all we are left with is the assembly, which is my favourite part [after eating =)] Remove pastry from fridge [let stand a while if too hard] and roll to desired size, with your pan as a guide. This recipe fits anything from a 9 inch pan to a high dish cake pan. Remember not too thick [it might not get cooked through] or too thin [it might break while baking]. Lift into your pan, push into the edges of the pan, and trim off excess. Works the same either in a pie pan or a cake tin, only the latter is a little tricky and you have to use one with a removable bottom.

I always take the time to arrange the apple slices neatly. First, it gets much more apples into the pie, second, it looks much better, third, you won't get any empty spaces that the pie crust can collapse into. So now, layer your apple slices into the pie crust, as neatly as possible, filling every available space. Once done, simply cover the pie, right to the edges, with the crumble filling. Another advantage of this crust is that no egg wash is required! Then, put your beautiful creation into a preheated oven at 180 degree celsius, and bake until the pie leaves the side of the pan, a sign that the pastry is cooked. If the crumble starts to brown too much, pop a piece of foil over the top and continue baking. After 40 minutes or so, your delicious pie is ready =)

This has been an awfully long post, I'll leave you with a serving suggestion, my favourite way =D

Note on rubbing in:

Rubbing in is basically a way to incorporate fats [namely butter] into the flour by a rubbing motion. It sounds a little weird, but you just have to get your hands in there, grab some butter and flour and start rubbing. What happens is the butter gets rubbed into the flour, and the mixture starts to take on a pale golden colour, and most cookbooks will descript it as looking crumbly and sandy. It is also possible to use a pastry cutter on it, some even use scissors to cut it in, but I find a pastry cutter the most effective. This technique is most commonly used on shortcrust pastries to give it its flaky texture, and on crumble crusts of course, but sometimes also in cookies like rock buns =)

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Strike's OVER!!!! Show me the shows!!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A new twist to an old cookie

**First off, let me just say, the Australian Open Men's Single Finals was one hell of a game! Novak Rocks!! **

Chinese New Year is around the corner, and I absolutely luuuuuv this time of the year. Cheerful cheesy new year songs, fancy new year decorations everywhere, frantic shopping for new clothes, and best of all, preparations for the feast that spans from the eve of new year's day, to the 15th day of the lunar new year.

It is tradition for our extended family members to exchange gifts during new year, symbolising our well wishes and greetings. As the baker of the family, the task for the making of these gifts almost always lands in my lap. This year, I decided to come up with an ALMOND SHORTBREAD COOKIE, inspired by the traditional Chinese almond cookie.
While delicious, the traditional cookies are heavy and unbelievably troublesome to make, and so I came up with my own version.

This version of almond cookies are elegant, light, and a breeze to make as they are ice-box cookies. Did I mention that I love ice-box cookies? I really really do, mainly because I don't have to drop one-freaking-hundred lumps of cookie dough if I wanted to bake for my relatives. Also, you can make these before hand and bake it whenever you want. Only tricky part is the shaping of the cookie logs; mine tends to run a little too fat, and instead of nice coin-sized cookies, I get huge misshapened cookies. But they are still preferable over drop cookies, but that's just me. If you'll rather drop them, just skip the ice-box stage and do as you please.

Also, the basic dough is really a brown sugar shortbread dough, which is highly versatile, so feel free to bake it in any form you want, and add any nuts [or not] you like to it.


150g softened unsalted butter

63g brown sugar

2 heap tablespoon castor sugar

100g ground blanched almonds

2 heap tablespoon dessicated coconut

60g rice/corn flour

85g plain flour

2 teaspoon almond extract

GARNISH: 50g whole almonds with skin, chopped medium fine

The preparation for this cookie is a little more troublesome than most, but once that is done I promise the rest is a snap.

First, I would toast the whole almonds, but this is optional, though it would greatly improve the taste and textual of the cookie. Simply set it in a 100 degree celcius oven before you begin anything else, so that it's done by the time all the other ingredients are prepared, roughly an hour [or more, if you have the time]

Next, tip the almond ground and coconut into a pan and dry fry over low heat. Stir constantly, as they burn fast. This cookie is all about the aroma, and toasted almond ground and coconut will give off an incredible frangrance. Fry til it starts to brown, then take off heat and stir for another 5-10 minutes, until the pan has cooled down a little. Let stand and allow mixture to cool completely.

Then, cream the butter, sugar and almond extract til creamy. When using brown sugar, always follow up with a few tablespoons of castor sugar, as brown sugar is less sweet than granulated. Mix in the flours, almond and coconut, mixing with the mixer until it all comes together into a soft dough.

Once done, either over a clean flat surface or over a piece of baking paper, shape dough into logs of desired size. If dough is too wet to be shaped, mix in more flour into the dough until of desired consistency. Once the logs are shaped, roll them in the chopped almonds, then wrap in aluminium foil and place in the freezer. Some recipes say to wrap in cling wrap, but I find that foil holds the shape of the log much better.

Let chill for an hour, or until firm. Slice to desired thickness and bake at 180 degree celcius for around 10 minutes or until light brown. This cookie is meant to be pale in colour. Enjoy!