My Love Affair with Disney

I grew up with Disney cartoons. And I had a wonderful childhood growing up away from my parents under the care of my beloved granny (and only went home to them during the weekends). Things were much simpler back then without supplementary lessons that many children nowadays are expected to take up. So long as I finished my homework and took my naps, I was allowed to sit in front of the television set and wait patiently for the cartoons to commence.

Being somewhat an unruly and impish kid who loved to tear around the neighbourhood with my cousins, I would always prefer to be outdoors having fun rather than being cooped up in the house with granny. But come 6.30 pm, I would, like clockwork, proceed home to wash up and wait for my cartoons. Life was simple and I was an easily contented kid, like all kids of my time.

I don’t watch cartoons much any more. But my love for the Disney characters never dwindled, and where practicable, I would still be indulging in my childhood fantasies like regularly visiting Tokyo Disneyland and buying any merchandise associated with Pooh Bear and his gang.

About half a decade back, cookie cutters in the shape of the more famous Disney characters produced by a Japanese company took the Asian baking world by storm. The cookie cutters were so cute most couldn’t resist buying them to either bake cookies for their children, or to satisfy the inner child in them. Guess it was a no-brainer that I must lay my hands on these adorable cookie cutters.

They were not easy to locate, and impossible to find in Singapore (back then). My first two sets of these cookie cutters (Mickey-Minnie, and Pooh-Piglet) were found in a extremely-difficult-to-locate bakery supplies shop in Taipei. Subsequently I added more sets to my collection and every time I visited Tokyo, I would make it a point to check out Tokyu Hands in case they came up with other designs. At last count, I have 5 (or 6?) sets of cookie cutters. I’m a hoarder, I know.

Recipe: Simple Butter Cookies

Ingredients

  • 180g cake flour
  • 20g corn flour
  • 100g butter, room temperature
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 1 egg yolk

Instructions

  1. Sift together the flours in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, add the sugar to the butter in 3 additions. Beat till light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in egg until combined.
  4. Add in the dry ingredients in 3 additions. Stir with a spatula to form a soft dough.
  5. Double-wrap the dough in cling wrap, flatten with a rolling pin and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 150°C.
  7. Line a baking sheet with baking paper or silpat.
  8. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll it out on a slightly floured working surface.
  9. Cut out dough with slightly-floured cookie cutters.
  10. Bake for 18-20 minutes, one tray at a time.
  11. Cool on baking sheet for 1 minute, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: 25 cookies

I swear by this simple butter cookie recipe because it is so simple the dough could be prepared by anyone, even a child, under supervision. Another important reason for my love of this recipe is the step of chilling the dough prior to cutting it out. I have warm palms so most roll-and-cut cookie doughs are usually not very manageable for me to handle. Not for long anyway.

To maximise the output vs. effort, I usually double or triple the recipe whenever I bake these butter cookies. Instead of stirring by hand, my trusty KitchenAid will complete the deed on my behalf so there really is not much extra effort required on my part.

Of course, any other cookie cutter would work fine with this recipe. However, given my partiality towards Disney, I like coupling this recipe with my Disney cookie cutters. The partnership churns out the most adorable of cookies, don’t you think?

Restart

Again, another unintended and unplanned fresh start.

So. This is another great opportunity to start afresh, except there really isn’t much to rebuild, since I was rather inactive on the previous version of this site anyway. Suffice to say that this site has not been receiving the attention it deserved for the past 4 years or so. At some point in time, it did ever cross my mind to shut it down for good – not because it costs a lot (in every sense) to maintain, but more so because a blog without new posts is as good as dead.

That was until a very dear friend asked me one day if I would resume regular blogging – she said that she missed seeing new photos of my bakes for she loved looking at them when she needed some cheering up.

Her comment gave me pause. I didn’t know my blog had that effect on her, or for that matter, perhaps other readers as well. You see, getting nothing but requests for recipes from some passerby readers could become quite tiresome.

I decided to put things into perspective instead. Not everyone who visited my site wanted to push my buttons and test my boundaries. Through the blog, I met several like-minded bloggers and also had a regular group of readers which I had unfortunately lost after an absence of 4 years. I enjoyed the interaction and the writing. More importantly, I really do enjoy the baking and photographing.

All previous posts and comments are completely gone. Forever. I didn’t back-up. Rather, I chose not to back-up although I did save all the posts in pdf format for reference. In retrospect, it was less painful than I thought.

I don’t intend to re-use the old posts much, in fact, none if I could help it, so it might take a while to rebuild the site again. If you were a faithful reader from the blog of my previous ‘era’, you would already have a glimpse into my personal blogging style. If you had liked it, then I would like to invite you to stay tuned for more.

To my new readers, let me extend a warm welcome to you! To start off, you may wish to begin with some house rules first.

Is It Halloween Yet?

If you, like me, have the unfortunate honour of owning a dog with a relatively weak stomach, you would probably have already found out about the wonders of feeding him/her steamed pumpkin during the latest bout. We of course learnt it the hard way. Although Sugar had a weak stomach, she could always recover on her own after a couple of days on a boiled rice diet. Belle the 2 year-old is a different monster altogether. For no apparent reason, her delicate tummy starts acting up even with food she has been on for months. Trips to the vet’s had proven futile since they could only conclude that she has a hyper-sensitive stomach and should be put on an hypoallergenic diet after she recovers from the latest bout of diarrhea. We heeded the advice and put her on one for several months, but it was seriously burning a hole in our pockets (it costs 4 times more than the premium brand we are feeding the girls).

Slowly, we weaned Belle back into the old diet after feeding her pumpkin with boiled rice for several days, taking care to observe her closely. She seems to be doing well on it now (could be a case of outgrowing the sensitivity) but her poop is never really firm like Paris’. I have been on the search for a long-term sustainable solution and this pumpkin dog biscuits recipe is like god-sent!

I have taken the liberty to ‘localise’ the recipe posted by Marilyn (I hope you don’t mind!) because canned pumpkin and brown rice flour are not easily found off the supermarket shelves. Also, I prefer to work with more precise measurements. I could always purée the mashed pumpkin after it cooled down but I prefer to work with the un-puréed version for these dog biscuits.

It’s weird how the furkids always seem to know that I’m cooking/baking food for them. Perhaps the fact that I do not chase them out of the kitchen was already a huge hint. Here’s my reworked version of Cleo’s Pumpkin Dog Biscuits:

Recipe: Pumpkin Dog Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 350g all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons milk powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 130g steamed, mashed and cooled pumpkin

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper or silpat and set aside.
  3. Sift together the flour, milk powder and sea salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and pumpkin to smooth.
  5. Add in the sifted dry ingredient gradually, combining with spatula or hands to form a stiff, dry dough.
  6. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and if dough is still rough, briefly knead and press to combine.
  7. Roll dough about 1/2″ thick (depending on your dog’s chew preferences) and use cookie cutter to punch shapes, gathering and re-rolling scraps as you go.
  8. Place shapes on baking sheet. If desired, press fork pattern on biscuits before baking, a quick up-and-down movement with fork, lightly pressing down halfway through dough.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully turn biscuits over, then bake additional 20 minutes.
  10. Remove baking sheet from oven. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before storing in an airtight container.

Yield: 18 9-cm length bone-shaped biscuits
[credits: Marilyn @ Simmer Till Done]

When I was at Step 5 of the instructions, I suddenly decided that the dough portion was too small and not worth my time. I stopped my KA, went to check if I still had enough flour for another portion. And guess what, I did! Without wasting another second, I weighed out the ingredients for a second portion of dough, removed the first set of dough from the KA bowl temporarily and started working on the second batch. Towards the end, I combined both doughs in the KA to mix well.

This is a very forgiving recipe: it didn’t matter that I made the dough sit around for too long, over-mixed or stopped halfway, and decided to double the portion. Just take note that the dough does become very sticky after mixing, and my KA was grunting and groaning as double portions of the dough stuck to the paddle attachment. A lesser mixer would have fallen apart.

The two furkids went completely ballistic when the biscuits were baking away in the oven. Nothing I did would distract them away from the kitchen. And as I was finishing up with this post in the study, the younger furkid was running to and fro the study and kitchen, as if reminding me not to forget about her biscuits baking in the oven. It was a rather funny sight watching them like that and I missed it, because it’s been a while since I baked for them. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever baked for Belle. Do note that I know for certain my two furkids are not allergic to wheat (they have eaten commercially-produced dog biscuits) hence the decision to use all-purpose flour. However, feel free to change to a more wholesome option if necessary. And if you are scrutinising the thickness of my biscuits, you would realise I had been rather care-less.  Well, I have 2 adult golden retrievers with very hearty appetites so I’m not worried about wasting food at all.

You could see how Belle was not amused with my taunting them with a biscuit, and cheerful Paris with her messy fur (if only someone could tell me how to keep a younger furkid from messing up her elder sibling’s fur). I have been rather emotionally detached from these two younger furkids ever since the oldest passed on last year. Suffice it to say that these two are in dire need of some serious pampering. And they are getting it daily, albeit in small doses, for the next ten days!

P/S.  For some reason or another, these cookies don’t  last. It could be the way the hubby handled them (e.g with his hands wet). He discovered this morning that the cookies have turned bad, 7 days after they were baked.

Ethereal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pierre Hermé’s, that is. I know I have been missing from action for close to a year when I promised to bake more often after giving this space a total revamp. Thing is, I have been travelling quite a bit the past few months after finally getting over a furkid’s untimely and tragic departure (that rendered me quite incapable of daily functions for a couple of months). And you know how it works, the longer you are away from performing a certain task, the more the inertia builds up.

But now, there is a perfect opportunity for me to return to the kitchen for baking –  a niece was recently hospitalised for an ailment, and what better way to give her cheer than via a box of chocolate cookies? I mean, all children love chocolate cookies, right? Incidentally, the PH Pastries book that I ordered online several weeks ago finally arrived on the day I decided to bake something. What luck!

Recipe: PH’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

  • 120g pecan/macadamia nuts
  • 225g all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 240g Valrhona Guanaja chocolate
  • 150g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel de Guérande
  • 240g soft brown sugar
  • 75g egg (about 1.5 egg)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 170°C.
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper or silpat and set aside.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  4. Using a rolling pin, coarsely break the pecan or macadamia nuts into pieces. Chop the chocolate into pieces.
  5. Cut the butter into pieces and process it until creamy.
  6. Add in the fleur de sel and soft brown sugar. Cream until smooth.
  7. Incorporate the eggs and cream for about 3 minutes.
  8. Add in the sifted dry ingredients, coarsely choppted nuts and chocolate pieces. Beat for about 2 minutes.
  9. Divide dough into about 30g each. Shape the mounds of dough and arrange them on the baking sheets, leaving generous spaces between them. Bake for about 12 minutes.
  10. Remove baking sheet from oven. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before storing in an airtight container.

Yield: 30 5-cm diameter cookies
[credits: Pierre Hermé PASTRIES]

This chocolate cookie recipe is rather unlike other chocolate cookie recipes I’d come across, or even baked. First of all, no cocoa powder was used at all. And then it uses soft brown sugar instead of the usual caster or granulated sugar. I’ve read several reviews on this particular recipe, and all were good. Hence, in spite of the fact that I am no fan of both chocolates and cookies, I decided to try baking some of these.

The cookies smelled great even before they were sent into the oven, I kid you not. Even the raw dough smelled different from the others I’ve baked. And while the first batch was happily baking away in the oven, my two furkids were going absolutely bersek in the living room just by inhaling the aroma.

I love Pierre Hermé first and foremost for his ethereal macarons, especially the Ispahan. But this chocolate cookie of his, is simply in a class of its own. I doubt I will bake chocolate cookies using any other recipe ever again.

I predict there may be questions on the ingredients used, so I shall address them here first. I used macadamia nuts, and followed the recipe closely because I happened to have all the ingredients at hand. You could use any other fine sea salt other than fleur de sel de Guérande, and any types of chocolates you could find at your local supermarket. The cookies will still turn out decent, but they will be different from what PH intended them to be. Just so you know.

If there are any changes I would like to make to the recipe, it’s the Guanaja used. Since Guanaja uses 70% of cocoa content, it is a little bitter to most people. I might tweak it a little and use Caraïbe (66%) instead.

Blessed Christmas

We are currently freezing our asses off vacationing in Europe – Munich, to be exact – busking in the magical atmosphere of a White Christmas. Let’s hope I find time to bake more often in 2012!

Fudgy Chocolate Cake for a Father

It’s Father’s Day today but the family has decided ahead to defer our celebration till next week or so. It’s always a little tricky come June every year because little sis’ birthday will be a week before Father’s Day, and mine a week or so after. To complicate matters, mum’s birthday is 2 weeks after mine. If we abide strictly to celebrating every family event in June/July, we would be indulging every weekend and that’s very bad for our waistlines, not to mention our health. And in any case, the parents have a social event to attend this evening so we didn’t have to fret very long to arrive at our eventual decision.

A formal family celebration aside, this day cannot go by without a lesser form of acknowledgement (or my rather sensitive dad might feel under-appreciated). I started planning to bake several miniature cakes earlier this week, and consulted mum and little sis for ideas. Unfortunately, my family have very boring palate – we finally settled for the very safe choice of a chocolate cake. Well yes, the non-chocolate fancier has to bake yet another chocolate cake.

So there you have it, a two-layer chocolate fudge cake cut into miniatures with creamy chocolate fudge frosting slapped in between layers and at the top. And because this is for the dad who is the antithesis of ‘loud’, I placed some Varlhona crunchy pearls as the simple final touches. No elaborate creaming, no loud colours. Not the prettiest of cakes, but that’s not an issue since the dad eats almost anything. I most resemble him in this respect, apart from our inane need to tidy all wire/cable bundles.

A friend jokingly posted a status update on his Facebook account, exclaiming that today is a day to celebrate the failure of all fathers. I wondered why he feels so but this friend of ours has always been known to be a little wacky. And I somewhat disagree with him. I can’t speak for all dads, but my dad was ahead of his peers even when he was a brand new father. He believed that the responsbility of bringing up children falls on the shoulders of both parents, not just the mum. Needless to say, the dad was very involved during our growing up years. Thank you daddy.

Happy Father’s Day!

Perfect Strangers

Perfect strangers they once were, but they are now buddies, and my very able assistants in my little kitchen! I’m sure they need no further introduction…

My trusty 4-year old KitchenAid has served me very well. This is the single most expensive big-ticket item I’ve invested in. At least for my baking escapades, it is. Readers who followed me since the old blog would know that my KA is not in white, I chose the pink one because part of the proceeds were donated towards the fight against breast cancer. A noble cause it is.

Once in a while, I do dream of owning a white KA instead. The thing with KA is that, it is so hardy I might not find the need to replace this current one in my lifetime. Oh well… I could always consider painting it white. Or leaving it alone.

And this second item – iPad2 – also does not require any introduction. Thanks to a good friend, I manage to land my hands on a 64GB wifi-version of the white iPad2 on 29 Apr 2011, the very first day it was launched in Singapore. While sharing in my joy, you must be wondering how an iPad could become my assistant in the kitchen. You see, I’ve started saving all my recipes as PDF files so effectively, my iPad has become my portable recipe book! Not only that, it has also become my portable piano and violin book since I do buy some scores over the internet. And I must say flipping the pages while playing on the piano and violin has never been easier!

Most importantly, I help save some trees!

Let me know if you have some creative ways of utilising your iPad ya?

Chocolate Fancy

I’m not a big fan of chocolates – never was, and possibly never will be.  The irony is, I married someone who is one.  Whenever I feel like baking for him, his choice is invariably something to do with chocolates – chocolate cake, chocolate cupcakes, chocolate cookies etc.  And it really gets to me sometimes because while I don’t mind, I’d rather not waste calories on dessert I don’t fancy much.

This is with the exception of the chocolate cupcakes, which recipe is posted below.  The cupcakes are moist and soft, with a hint of milky-chocolate flavour in them.  I never get sick of eating them.  And they really taste the best fresh out of the oven, after a cooling time of about 10 minutes.  That texture and heavenly taste… I’m at a loss for words to describe.

Recipe: Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallows

Ingredients

  • 160g caster sugar
  • 70g all-purpose flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 100g milk
  • 50g vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g boiling water
  • some nutella (for frosting)
  • some mini marshmallows (for dressing)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Prepare 12 cupcake liners on 1 baking sheet.
  3. Sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl. Mix these together until evenly combined. Set aside.
  4. In a separate large bowl or jug, whisk together the egg, milk, oil, and vanilla.
  5. Add the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and whisk by hand, taking care to scrape down the sides of the bowl until well-mixed. Add boiling water and whisk well to combine.
  6. Fill each cupcake liner 2/3 full with cake batter. As the consistency of the batter is very thin like thick liquid, it might be easier to pour the batter into the cupcake liners.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes or till a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  8. Let cupcakes cool completely on a wire rack before storing or frosting.

Yield: 12 regular-sized cupcakes
[credits: Tessa @ Handle the Heat]

In light of the recent spate of consecutive losses my family was faced with, the little sis requested to have a quiet birthday with no fanfare.  Well… not that my family likes having elaborate birthday celebrations, but I got what she meant.  So, no birthday cake for her.  Just some pretty cupcakes to commemorate the occasion.  Happy birthday, little sis!

I admit I’m as lazy as a home baker could get.  Visually it might have been a lot more pleasant to the eyes if I had used a white-coloured frosting or icing before placing the marshmallows on but I’m too lazy for that.  Conveniently I have a half-finished jar of nutella lying around in the kitchen, and there you have it, the fastest way to dress up a cupcake.  The fininshing touches of the mini marshmallows and ribbon, I have to give credit to another home baker (whose cupcakes were featured in the local newspapers some time ago) for the inspiration.

The little sis was very happy when she received her birthday cupcakes.  I hope she liked them even better after tasting them!

Get Shorty!

Not the mobster movie starring John Travolta and Gene Hackman but the buttery, melt-in-the-mouth Scottish confection that is the shortbread cookies. Apparently shortbread cookies were once only served during Christmas and the Scottish New Year’s Eve. I am glad this is no longer the case and that shortbread cookies are easily available all year round.

I was first introduced to shortbread cookies through my mum, who has a sweet tooth (yours truly inherited that trait from her, amongst other things). When I was younger, she loved to procure her favourite All Butter Shortbread Fingers from Marks and Spencer from time to time, and these cookies were reserved as a very special treat or reward whenever I pleased her i.e. did well in school. Nowadays, she is consciously cutting down on sweet stuff in her diet as age catches up. But I know she will never reject shortbread when offered, especially if they are hand-baked by me.

Recipe: Very Short Shortbread

Ingredients

  • 255g all-purpose flour
  • 75g corn flour
  • 255g unsalted butter, cubed and softened
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 110g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 150°C.
  2. Prepare a 9×9 inch pan by greasing with softened unsalted butter.
  3. Sift the flours into a medium bowl. Set aside.
  4. Cream the cubed unsalted butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and cream at medium speed for about 1 minute.
  5. Add the icing sugar and cream for another 2-3 minutes.
  6. Add the vanilla extract. Beat the mixture until well combined.
  7. Gradually add in the sifted flours until combined.
  8. Press the dough firmly into the pan (I use a flat-bottomed glass to help complete the deed). Prick the surface of the dough lightly with a fork at regular 1-inch intervals.
  9. Bake for 35-40 minutes on a rack in the lower half of the oven, until lightly browned.
  10. Let cool in the pan set on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert onto a cutting board and cut into squares or fingers whilst still warm. Cool completely on the wire rack before storing.

Yield: 27 1×3 inch fingers
[credits: Joycleyn Shu @ KUIDAORE]

This recipe was generously shared by Joycelyn on her online blog. She rightfully pointed out that the secret behind sensational shortbread lies in 2 main ingredients – the butter and corn flour – so it pays to use premium butter. I like Lurpak and Elle & Vire butters over the more commonly available SCS butter.

One additional tip if you like your shortbread fingers to cut more neatly after baking: score the dough lightly before putting it into the oven. In fact, I would perform this before pricking the surface with a fork. Makes the task of cutting it easier although it means that you would have to ‘double-invert’ the baked dough to get the right side up. But if you find the dough a little too soft to manage, just stick it in the freezer for a couple of minutes before scoring and pricking.

Mum loved it, as did the whole family. This simple recipe is a gem and a definite keeper!

The Biscuits of Prato

Otherwise known as ‘Biscotti di Prato’, or simply Biscotti (literally means ‘twice-baked’ in Italian). These long and hard cookies which originated from the City of Prato in Italy are very dry and are traditionally served with a drink, into which they may be dunked. I prefer to have my biscotti neat. You would too, if you follow the recipe below. It is too tasty to be dunked in coffee or any other beverage.

Recipe: Cinnamon Hazelnut Biscotti

Ingredients

  • 165 g all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/8 tsp fine salt
  • 80g butter, melted and cooled
  • 100g white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 60g hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Instructions

  1. Sift together the flour, ground cinnamon and baking powder in a medium bowl. Mix well and set aside.
  2. Whisk the eggs and salt together in a large mixing bowl with a handheld whisk until well-mixed.
  3. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Whisk in the melted and cooled butter.
  4. Fold in the dry ingredients with a spatula and mix until smooth.
  5. Fold in the hazelnuts and stir with a spatula until well distributed.
  6. Using a plastic bag (cut open save for one length), shape the dough on a tray or baking sheet into a rectangular strip to any desirous dimension. Place the tray or baking sheet to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  7. Preheat oven to 175°C.
  8. Remove the plastic bag from the chilled dough and place the dough in the centre of a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or baking paper.
  9. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the center is firm. Remove baking sheet from oven to cool on a wire rack. When loaf is cool enough to handle, use a serrated knife to slice the loaves diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices. Return the slices to the baking sheet.
  10. Bake for an additional 10 minutes, turning over once. Cool completely, and store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield : 18-20 slices

I have not been making time for baking in quite a while, and a group of friends who had once tasted my biscotti lamented about how they missed them. I took the opportunity to prepare several batches in advance and froze them till the day I needed to bake them. We had a dinner appointment but it was cancelled at the 11th hour because of a family emergency. Nevertheless I was able to present them each with a box of biscotti to bring home to enjoy.

Just a word of caution: don’t indulge too much in the biscotti. After all, they are baked twice and are thus what Chinese would term as ‘heaty’. Eating too much of them at one sitting would most likely result in a sore throat or a heaty constitution. Well, perhaps dunking them in some hot beverage isn’t half that bad an idea after all. And in any case, the biscotti keep for at least a week in an air-tight container at room temperature.

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