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Category: Recipes (page 2 of 9)

Eat your fruits: apple crumble

I don’t like to eat “common” fruits. I am not trying to be a difficult eater. My theory is that there are so many different types of fruits, why are we restricting ourselves to just apples, pears and oranges (my definition of common fruits in my part of the world). In addition, my parents fed me with these fruits for a good decade – I am sick of them.

However on a rare occasion, I will hit jackpot and discover a variety of apples or oranges that I have yet to try. I was shopping for the ingredients for my apple crumble that I uncovered Italian Modi® apples*.

I almost gave this apple a miss as it looks exactly like a Red Delicious (which by the way is the worst apple on Earth). I gave the apple a sniff and it smell good. While some people pinch and poke fruits to test its freshness, for me is smell. If the fruit exudes a strong fruity smell, I know it will be good. Modi apples are a cross breed between Liberty and Gala apples. Hence they are sweet, crisp and juicy which are the traits of Liberty and Gala. The flesh of Modi apple startled me – it is yellow. I always associate yellow flesh with mushiness. But it was not mushy at all. And I quite like the sweet and subtle tart flavour. I thought this will be a great addition to my apple crumble.

For my apple crumble, I like to use a combination of eating and cooking (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious) apples. In this way, you get bits of soft fruits yet with a bite.  Furthermore cooking apples tend to be really sharp so adding apples like Modi helps to counter-balance the tartness. The beauty of the crumble is that you can use any leftover fruits (aka the forgotten fruits in that dark corner of your fridge), and you can prep the ingredients and bake when it is time to serve.

The end result is you will get juicy plump fruits topped with crisp crumble. Depending on the fruits you used, you will also a hint of sourness to cut through the richness of the brown sugar caramel. Making apple crumble is also a great way to get kids or adults who don’t like fruits to include them in their diets.

Apple crumble
I like to add nuts like walnuts, pecans in my crumble for crunch and flavour. If you have nuts allergic, you can easily omit them. It will not impact the flavour greatly.

Serves 4 people

Apple filling
1)      450g-488g apples (This is about 3 apples. I used the ratio of 2:1 – 2 Granny Smith apples to 1 Modi apple; you can use Golden Delicious but I find them at times mushy and expensive.)
2)      1 tablespoon lemon juice (slightly less than half a lemon)
3)      30ml apple cider/ apple juice (2 tablespoons)
4)      15g unsalted butter, melted
5)      20g all-purpose flour
6)      30g brown sugar
7)      ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
8)      A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
9)      A pinch of (kosher) salt (table salt is fine)

1)      60g old fashioned rolled oats (not the quick cooking ones)
2)      40g walnuts or pecans, roasted and chopped (¼ cup)
3)      30g all-purpose flour
4)      ¼ teaspoon (kosher) salt (table salt is fine)
5)      ¼ baking powder
6)      30g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
7)      30g brown sugar

Apple filling
-        In a medium-sized bowl, mix in the dry ingredients – flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg (if using) and salt, and set aside.
-        In a large bowl, pour in the lemon juice and set aside.
-        Prep the apples – peel, core, quarter and halve each quarter in wedges. Chopped the wedges into 0.5” chunks. Put the chunks of apple into the bowl of lemon juice. This will prevent the oxidation of the apples.
-        Add in the melted butter, apple cider (or apple juice) and the dry ingredients mix in the large bowl of chopped apples, and mix well. Make sure every piece of the chopped apple is coated with the thick brown sugar syrup. Once this is done, cover it with a tea towel or cling film, and put the bowl in the fridge to rest while you prepare the crumble.

-        Preheat the oven to 180oC.
-        In a large bowl, except the butter, add in all the ingredients and mix well. Once mixed, add in the butter.
-        Using either your fingers (make sure they are clean and dry) or pastry blender, rub the butter in the dry ingredients. I like to use my fingers as I can break down any lumps by rubbing it against both hands. It is important not to overwork the mix as it may clump up especially when the butter starts to soften.
-        Once the butter is rubbed in, set the crumble aside. Don’t be overly concern if you have small bits of lumps.

-        Butter a 7” baking loaf pan** – in my case, I used a 7” oval-shaped casserole dish. You can use any oven proof pan – you just need to make sure it can contain the apple crumble and fill it to the brim.
-        Remove the apple filling from the fridge and give it a good mix. Add the apple filling into the casserole dish, make sure to pack the apples as tightly as you can. Remember to add in any remaining syrup in the bowl into the casserole dish.
-        Once the apple filling is added in, sprinkle the crumble evenly on top of the apple filling. If you spot any gaps in between the apples, fill it with the crumble. Make sure the crumble is packed tightly – you may want to gently pat it down. An important note – you need to ensure the sides of the casserole dish are sealed with crumble – this is to prevent any liquid from bubbling to the surface and leave you with a soggy crumble.
-        Place the casserole dish in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes – the crumble should be golden brown and crisp.
-        Once done, remove from the oven to cool slightly. Serve warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or custard.

*Modi apple is pretty pricey. When I bought it from Cold Storage, it was $0.95 an apple. This apple is only available from September to May, so go grab some.
**A little trick – I used my casserole dish to melt the butter needed for the apple filling (in the oven over the low temperature of 100oC). After you have poured the melted butter in the filling, there is always a bit of leftover in the dish. Using a paper towel or hand (make sure the dish is cooled), wipe the leftover melted butter all over the dish. In this way, you do not need to wash an additional pan and you get to butter your dish.

Potluck favourite – potato dauphinois

Over the holidays, I have attended a few potluck parties. When it comes to bringing the appropriate food, it is always a bit tricky. It must be a dish that can withstand time (not everyone will arrive at the party on time), ability to keep warm and hopefully not require any heating up (not every house has an oven or an available stove) and most importantly easy to transport from your home to the host’s house.

Potato dauphinois is one dish that fits all the three requirements. It is essentially potato and cream with a hint of garlic. Seriously what’s not to love about potato and cream? This French dish is not terribly difficult to prepare and the ingredients are very easy to obtain. In addition, this dish can feed around 10 people as starter. It is also a great complement to any meat or fish dishes.

Besides being a starter, you can also prepare potato dauphinois as a meal, serving it with salad. If you like, you can add in protein to give it a bit more substance. However I don’t think this dish needs any cheese as the cream provides sufficient richness.

Potato dauphinois
(Adapted from Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen)
I am not very particular about the choice of potatoes – waxy (the potatoes will hope their shape, giving the dish a bite) vs. floury (the potatoes break down easily so you get a creamier gratin). In Singapore, the potatoes are not labelled but most of them are floury. If you like your potatoes to hold their shapes, cut down the cooking time in the pot.

1)      1kg potatoes of your choice
2)      300ml milk (and a bit more)
3)      300ml thickened cream (I used Bulla’s)
4)      A pinch of nutmeg (I prefer to use freshly grated nutmeg)
5)      1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6)      1 teaspoon (kosher) salt (Table salt is fine)
7)      1 clove of garlic, halve
8)      A knob of soft, unsalted butter
9)      Chopped parsley or dill (optional)

-        Prep the potatoes – peel (with a vegetable peeler) and slice them into 3mm-thickness. I like to use the mandolin for this as you will get a consistent result. If you do not have a mandolin, I would strongly urge you to get one. If not, take your time to slice the potatoes. Similar thickness will ensure even cooking.
-        In a large pot, pour in the milk, thickened cream, salt, nutmeg and mustard and give it a quick stir. Add in the sliced potatoes in the liquid mixture and put the pot on a stove and let it simmer for 10 minutes. If you like your potatoes to hold their shapes, you can cut down the cooking time to 7 minutes. In addition, if I am bringing this dish to a party, I tend to add in a bit more milk to prevent the potatoes from drying out during transportation and while sitting on the dining table.
-        While the potatoes are cooking (you can leave them alone to cook, there is no need to stir them; just make sure the cream don’t boil over.), preheat the oven to 200oC.
-        Using the cut side of the halved garlic, rub it around the inside of the baking dish. With the knob of unsalted butter, grease the inside of the baking dish. You can use any baking dish that will fit 1kg of potatoes and 600ml of liquid.
-        After the potatoes are cooked, place the potatoes and cream mixture in the baking tray. At this stage, I will pick the slices that are not broken and set aside. These pieces will be used to decorate the top of the dish.
-        Once the potatoes are placed evenly in the dish, you can put the picked slices of potatoes on top of the dish. It is not necessary for you to do this – I just like to present a pretty dish.
-        Bake the gratin for 35-40 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Be careful not to overcook as the cream will curdle. Once again, if you plan to bring this dish to a party, under-bake it (around 25 minutes) – the residual heat will cook the dish.
-        Serve hot with a sprinkle of chopped parsley or dill.

Happy New Year …( and yes, this post is rather late)

I hope that everyone is still half-drunk, tummy aching from the stuffed stomach, and most importantly, you still can’t form a coherent sentence. This holiday season had been crazy for me. To add to the chaos, my aunty and cousin from Vancouver came and visited us at the last minute.

oink’s pancake mix

Every year, I would bake cookies for my friends as Christmas presents. However for this year, since I will be cooking Christmas dinner for them, I decided to stay away from baking. Instead, I concoct little jars of pancake mix which they can bring home after dinner and prepare it for breakfast. I also gave my friends a lemon, whisk and cooking instruction so all of them are well equipped and ready to cook.

And yes I did this foolish thing and decided to cook everyone dinner. It is safe to say it will be the first and last time I do such thing. The good thing was I got Christmas’ eve off so this left me time to buy and prep all the ingredients. Some of the dishes I have prepped the night before so all I need to was to warm up and they are good to go.

Menu for the night

These are the dishes that I made for Christmas:



These are Dorie Greenspan’s recipe. I made them a couple of days before the dinner. They keep very well in the freezer. All I did was pop them in the oven to cook and warm them up again when the guests arrived. They were the crowd’s favourite – warm, cheesy and savoury.

Green salad with lemon vinaigrette

This was only the vegetable/ vegetarian dish that I had. I bought a pack of “normal” salad and a pack of arugula, and combined them in a bowl. I love arugula – the peppery and sharp arugula goes very well with the lemon vinaigrette which is basically lemon juice and olive oil (and a bit of black pepper). I also found some neglected cherry tomatoes which I promptly added in. I was very surprised to find an almost empty salad bowl at the end of the dinner. Simple is good.

oink’s seafood marinière

This dish was inspired by Rachel Khoo’s moules marinières which I saw on TV. Instead of white wine, I used Somersby’s pear cider. My friends thought I have slaved hours over the pot of marinière. The truth is this was done in 20 minutes. I am still tweaking the recipe, once that is done, it will be shared with all.

I made a wreath out of laksa leaves

Laksa pesto pasta

Since I posted a picture of my laksa pesto pasta, it was one of the most requested dishes that my friends asked me to make. I made the pesto the night before, a layer of olive oil was added to prevent the pesto from turning brown and stored it in the fridge. I was not used to cooking 1.5kg of pasta so I was glad my friend Clara was around to help me.

Rosemary and garlic grilled chicken

I saw Jamie Oliver cooking this dish in his latest series – 15-Minute Meal. I love the simplicity and I don’t even need to marinade the chicken overnight. However what made this dish special was the garlic that I added in the pan. Everyone devours them with gusto.

Potatoes dauphinois

I got the recipe from Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen. At the last minute, I decided to make this dish as it was a success at another Christmas’ lunch and I have more people joining the dinner. This is a very simple dish to make. And cream and potatoes will always be a crowd pleaser.

Fusilli with chicken sausage and carbonara sauce

This was the least successful dish as I scrambled the sauce. Still the kids love it.

For dessert, my friends brought lava cake, fruits and drinks. My friend Kelly also made some delicious nachos for us too. The kids cannot stop eating the nachos. Though we didn’t stay awake for Christmas to arrive (we are boring old farts), I was glad everyone enjoy the food. Happy new year everyone!

Chicken empanada with chorizo

I made ‘ang moh” curry puff! Once again I succumbed to greediness and made empanadas. As you know how much I love making pastries, thanks to Clara who posted a picture of a huge box of empanadas. This caused me to have an equally huge craving for them.

oink’s lunch – a sandwich

Working in the Central Business District (CBD) area can be quite scary for someone who don’t like crowd (read: ME). I am not used to the sheer number of people that can be compact in one place. Though there are some great eats around CBD, I am unwilling to queue or be squashed in one place. There is a few solutions to this problem. I can do takeaways or have my lunch at odd times. Of course, I choose to torture myself by bringing my own lunch to work.

By preparing my own food, I eliminate the problem of deciding what to eat for lunch. The other benefits also include saving money and feeding my tummy with healthy food. I do not bring my own lunch every day – I try to do it at least twice a week (if possible). In addition, I do my best not to bring leftovers – chances are there is not much nutrients and flavours in them.

Depending on what I am preparing, I would wake up half an hour to an hour earlier and start cooking my lunch. If I am on a time crunch, a sandwich is definitely the way to go.

I am not a fan of just slapping ham and lettuce in two slices of bread. I like my sandwich to have some “body” – I want it to be packed with flavour, and it must be fresh too. I like my bread to be more substantial – partly to fill my stomach and partly to prevent the sandwich from getting soggy. Ciabatta or baguette is often my choice of bread.

Besides choosing the right bread, there is a few ways to ensure you don’t get yourself a “wet” sandwich. One way is to spread butter or condiments such as mustard on the bread. This will become a protective layer, preventing any watery filling from penetrating into the bread. Next is the way you prep and layer the fillings. If tomato is involved, you might want to deseed it so it doesn’t get watery and mushy. And they should be placed in the middle to avoid any contact with the bread. Fillings like ham, lettuce, cheese can be placed on top or bottom of the sandwich as they have low water content.

This particular sandwich I made comprised of cured meat (that I bought from Perth), Gouda cheese, tomato, alfalfa sprouts and mustard. The sharpness from the mustard and sprouts went very well with the smoky cured meat. The cheese and tomato bring that bit of creaminess to the sandwich. When I was preparing the sandwich, I thought it look pretty small. But it was very filling. It kept me full throughout the day and I didn’t reach out for a snack.

King Arthur Flour’s berry cream tart

I hate pies and tarts. Rather I hate making them. I do love the process of getting the crust done – the rubbing of butter into the flour (oh and it’s good for your skin too), getting the dough together. However I drag when it is time to roll the dough. Firstly, I don’t have a huge workspace to roll out the dough (size of a chopping board). And the weather in Singapore is not helping – the kitchen tends to be humid which is nightmare when rolling out high fat content dough. The final process of placing the rolled out dough into the pan is nerve wrecking. I always make sure I have some leftover dough so I can do some patchwork.

When my food stylist friend B gave me punnets of fresh berries, I needed to figure out what to do with them. The berries were juicy and sweet – I could just pop them in my mouth non-stop. But she has given me so much and I need to use them fast (raspberries and blackberries really don’t last long in the fridge). I don’t want to make jam. So my only solution – a tart.

I flipped through a couple of cookbooks – some of the recipes just scared me. And finally, I settled on King Arthur Flour’s berry cream tart. I am a huge fan of KAF – the day I found out that Singapore is selling KAF’s flour could be the happiest day of my life. King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Companion is also my best friend. This is one cookbook I can rely on for easy to follow recipes – savoury or sweet.

I am not going to kid you that making this tart was easy. I was glad it didn’t give me a heart attack. There were moments where I thought this tart was not going to make it. After I blind baked the tart, part of the parchment paper was stuck on it (I might have gone overzealous with my pie weight), and I needed to do some “emergency” patchwork (note: always keep the leftover dough). And when I remove the tart tin, and my crust was intact, I almost cry (the trick is be brave and be swift in removing the tin). This was one scary tart.

However as I started to assemble the tart – spreading the pastry cream, putting the berries on top and seeing how pretty the tart is – my risen blood pressure just went down. When I brought the tart to my friends’ office, everyone was going “wow” and everything was demolished. No crumbs no cream was left.

King Arthur Flour’s berry cream tart
(Adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Companion)
There are two major component to this tart – pâte sucrée (which is a sweet pastry that falls between a piecrust and a cookie) and pastry cream. I would suggest that you make pâte sucrée first as the dough needs some time to rest. While it is resting, you can work on the pastry cream. I believed the key to making a good pie or tart is courage. It is not about whether you have the skills to roll out the dough in that perfect round shape. It is about taking that first step to make everything from scratch, and brave enough to attempt.

Make one 9”-10” tart

Pâte Sucrée
1)      150g pastry or all-purpose flour (I like to use half and half – pastry flour helps to achieve that crumbly texture)
2)      1 teaspoon malt milk powder (Horlicks) (optional)
3)      40g caster sugar
4)      ¼ teaspoon salt
5)      115g cold, unsalted butter, cubed
6)      1 large egg yolk
7)      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8)      1 tablespoon of (iced) water

-        In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour, malt milk powder, sugar and salt together. Rub in the cubed butter till you almost achieve a sandy texture.  At this stage, I don’t want my mixture to be too sandy – I actually quite like it if there are some lumps of butter.
-        In a measuring cup or a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and water together.
-        Add in the vanilla extract into the flour mixture – you can either mix it with your hand or with a fork.
-        Slowly pour in the water and egg mixture into the flour mixture. Do not add everything into the mixture. You might not need that much liquid. The dough should be crumbly yet hold together when squeezed tightly.
-        Wrap the finished dough in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for an hour before you roll the dough out.
-        Once rested, remove the dough from fridge and let it set to the room temperature for a few minutes before you roll it out.
-        Preheat the oven to 190oC.
-        Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough ensuring that it is able to cover the tart pan. Once the pan is covered with the dough, roll out or cut off the excess dough. Do not throw away the excess dough, you might need to cover up any patches.
-        Prick the pie crust all over with a fork.
-        To prepare a blind-baked, ready to fill crust, weigh down the pie crust by lining it with parchment paper and fill it with pie weights.
-        Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the crust is set.
-        Gently remove the weights and parchment paper, and return to the oven to bake for another 6-8 minutes, until golden brown. If you are as careless as me (yay), and some of the pie crust is stuck to the parchment, use some of the excess dough, flatten it as thin as possible and patch up any holes.
-        Remove the tart from the oven and cool before releasing the tin and filling it with cream.

Berry cream tart
Pastry cream filling
1)      40g granulated sugar
2)      1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3)      2 teaspoon cornstarch
4)      ¼ teaspoon salt
5)      1 large egg
6)      1 cup milk
7)      42g unsalted butter, softened
8)      ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

1)      570g of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries (you can also use sliced strawberries)

1)      ½ cup apricot jam, melted and strained

Pastry cream
-        In a heatproof bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt and egg together.
-        In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture, whisking continually to make everything smooth.
-        Pour the liquid back into the saucepan, return to heat and bring back to a boil.
-        Stir constantly with your whisk – the mixture will thicken quickly and whisking will help to prevent it from getting lumpy.
-        Once the pastry cream boil in the centre or what I like to call burp in the middle of the saucepan, remove it from the heat, and stir in the butter and vanilla extract.
-        Pour the pastry cream in a bowl and place a plastic wrap on the surface to prevent skin from forming, refrigerate and use when needed. If you like, before you pour the cream into the bowl, you can pass it through a sieve. This will help to ensure a smoother pastry cream (and get rid any “scrambled egg”).
-        Once the tart is ready, pour the pastry cream into the tart shell. Using an offset spatula or a knife, gently smooth the surface of the tart.
-        Place the berries neatly on the tart. I did a few rows of blueberries, then a row of raspberries and a row of blackberries. Though I love a rustic tart, this is the one time I feel the need to be orderly and neat.
-        If you are not going to serve the tart immediately, add the glaze to keep the berries looking their best.

-        Melt the apricot jam, thinning it with a little water if necessary. Strain or scoop out any solids.
-        Brush the glaze over the berries to seal the top of the tart.

Eggplant parmesan

What do you do when you have some leftover tomato sauce and odd knobs of cheese? Well, some of you may be thinking about pasta or some sort of weird tomato cheese soup. I made a quick dash to my nearby wet market for some inspiration. Nothing really captured my attention until I spotted the really shiny eggplant. The fate of the eggplant (and the tomato sauce and cheese) was sealed – eggplant parmesan.

Roasted eggplant

I didn’t refer to any recipes – I built this dish based on what I know about eggplant parmesan, and what I have in the fridge. A lot of the traditional cooking treatment and ingredients to this dish is kind of “ignored” by me. Supposedly, mozzarella cheese is used in eggplant parmesan to give it that chewiness. As I don’t have that on hand, I substituted it with Gruyere and Parmesan. I also did not bother to pan-fry the eggplant (to prevent it from becoming soggy) – I didn’t want to wash another pan.

All I use was the oven and whatever the fridge has gifted me. Recipes are great but don’t be afraid to give it your own spin. Unless you are feeding it to your nonna, as long as the dish is delicious, I am sure it will keep many bellies happy.

Eggplant parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan
When I made this dish, I did not make the effort to measure any of the ingredients. This was created based on leftovers. I strongly encourage you to think about what’s already in your fridge and build a dish. This way, we would prevent wastage of food and also boost your creativity. You do not need to cook an entire dish on leftovers – like me, think about what you have and grab one key ingredient (in this case eggplant).

Serve one

1)      1 small eggplant
2)      ½ cup of tomato sauce
3)      Odd knobs of Gruyere and Parmesan, grated
4)      Panko crumbs
5)      Olive oil, salt and black pepper
6)      Puttanesca mix (optional)
7)      Thyme (optional)

-        Preheat your oven to 220oC.
-        Wash and cut the eggplant into ¼ inch thick slices.
-        On a baking tray, pour some olive oil and sprinkle some salt and black pepper. Place the sliced eggplant on the baking tray and coat each piece with the oil, salt and black pepper.
-        Put the baking tray in the oven and let it bake for about 15 minutes (you can rotate the tray after 8 minutes; but I usually leave it alone).
-        Once done, remove the tray from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 200oC.
-        In a small baking dish (I got mine from Daiso), layer it with about ¼ cup of tomato sauce or just enough to cover the base. If you have it on hand, you can add in a teaspoon of the puttanesca mix, and mix it with the tomato sauce.
-        Place the baked sliced eggplant on top of the sauce and sprinkled both cheeses – make sure you put enough to cover the eggplant.
-        For the second layer, repeat – tomato sauce (no puttanesca mix; the mix is actually pretty strong and salty, hence use it for one layer is good enough), eggplant and cheese.
-        To finish, cover the dish with panko crumbs and if you must, finely grated parmesan (Of course, I add in the extra cheese).
-        Bake for 10 minutes in the oven, and switch to grill/ broiler setting and bake it for another 5-8 minutes or until the top turned golden brown.
-        Sprinkle some thyme leaves (or basil) and serve it warm.
-        You can have this dish on its own, or serve it with some mix salad.

Dorie Greenspan’s gougeres

I have been wanting to make gougeres for the longest time. I have this phobia of making choux pastry, fearing my roux would burn, the mixture becoming lumpy and so on. Since I was in the “French” mood, I brave up and attempted to make some gougeres.

Oh man, gougeres were so easy to make. My roux didn’t burn and everything was taken care by the mixer. The only tedious work that need to be done was grating of cheese. And silly me who got so scared about gougeres.

The wonderful thing about making gougeres is that you can prepare extra and freeze them, and bake them when needed. Dorie Greenspan’s version uses Gruyere cheese which is salty and delicious. You can also use other cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan, Comte and so on.

I like gougeres when they are fresh out of the oven – they are crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. I brought them to my friends’ office and served as breakfast – they actually don’t mind them at room temperature. Still, I think they are best consumed while warm.

Dorie Greenspan’s Gougeres

(Adapted from Around my French Table)

Makes about 36 gougeres

1)      120ml (½ cup) whole milk
2)      120ml (½ cup) water
3)      120g unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
4)      ½ teaspoon salt
5)      120g all purpose flour
6)      5 large eggs (280g without shell), at room temperature*
7)      170g coarsely grated cheese (Gruyere or cheddar)**
8)      Pinch of black pepper (optional)***

-        Preheat the oven to 220oC. Line two baking sheets with silicon baking sheets or parchment paper.
-        Add the milk, water, butter and salt in a saucepan and place it on the stove (At this stage, you should also standby your wooden spoon). Over high heat, bring the mixture to a rapid boil.
-        Add the flour all at once and reduce the heat to medium low. With your wooden spoon, quickly stir the mixture. A dough will be formed and a light crust might develop. Just keep stirring vigorously for 1-2 minutes to dry out the dough. You should end up with a smooth dough.
-        Remove the pot from the heat and place the dough in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment (you can also use a hand mixer. If you are using a wooden spoon, you need to work fast).
-        Let the dough sit for a minute – I would usually turn the mixer on a low speed and spin the dough a couple of rounds to release the heat.
-        On medium speed, slowly add the eggs one by one until everything is incorporated and the dough is thick and shiny. If the dough separates while you are adding the egg, do not panic. Everything will come together when the last egg is added.
-        Once all the eggs are added, you can beat in the grated cheese and season with a pinch of black pepper (if you are doing so).
-        The dough needs to be spooned out immediately.
-        I like to use an ice cream scoop (about 1 tablespoon size) to spoon the dough – this way I will get even-sized gougeres and I don’t have to worry about the dough sticking onto the spoon. If you do not have an ice cream scoop, you can use 2 spoons – one to scoop the dough and the other to push and drop the dough. Drop the dough onto the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches of space in between.
-        If you do not wish to bake all the gougeres, once you have spooned the dough onto the baking sheet, put the sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, you should be able to lift the gougeres off the sheet easily and pack them in ziplock****.
-        Place the baking sheets in the oven and immediately drop the temperature to 190oC. Bake for 12 minutes, rotate the baking sheets, from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the gougeres turned golden brown and formed a crust. They should also puff up at this stage. This will take about 12-15 minutes.
-        Once the gougeres are done, you can serve them immediately. If not, transfer them to rack to cool. They are best eaten on the day you made them.

The inside

*The size of the egg is quite important for this recipe. Do not use those extra large eggs – too much egg will cause the gougeres to collapse. If you want, you can actually measure the amount of egg as stated above (A large egg is around 56g without shell).
**In Singapore, not every supermarket stocks Gruyere cheese. If you spotted Gruyere cheese, make sure it is AOC certified – you would be able to see the Le Gruyere Switzerland branding on the cheese rind.
***Beside black pepper, you can even try out freshly grated nutmeg, chilli flakes and so on.
****You can bake the frozen gougeres straight from the freezer (no need to defrost). You might just need to bake about 1-2 minutes longer.

St John’s afternoon buns

A couple of days ago, my friend Betti asked me if I could share with her my favourite bread recipe. Of course I said yes.

Hello dough!

Over the years, my favourite bread recipe kind of changes according to my mood and the time I have. There was a period of time I was madly in love with this recipe. And then another recipe came along – started well but the more I made, the worse it became (don’t ask me why. I have zero clues). If I wanted something more decadent (read: arteries clogging), I would opt for a brioche. However this year, St John’s afternoon buns just stole my heart.

These afternoon buns are served at the famed St John’s Hotel, London during tea time. They have three different flavoured buns – anchovies, prune and chocolate. However I made them plain and discovered they were absolutely delicious.

St John’s afternoon bun

The plain buns also became my “multi-purpose” buns. I served them with oeuf en cocotte. I stuffed them with tuna, anchovies, olives and capers. I even used them as hamburger buns. So I think it is safe to say these babies are my favourites for the year.

St John’s Afternoon Buns
(Barely adapted from Jamie, Issue 27, March/ April 2012)

Makes 24 buns

1)      600g strong white flour or bread flour
2)      2 teaspoon salt
3)      40g caster sugar
4)      330ml water (I like to use lukewarm water, temperature around 46oC)
5)      10g dried yeast or instant yeast
6)      1 large egg
7)      50g butter, cubed and softened
8)      Egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with milk) for brushing

Chocolate Filling
1)      8 squares of 70% cocoa chocolate
2)      Cocoa Powder for dusting

Prune Filling
1)      8 prunes

Anchovy Filling
1)      3 garlic cloves
2)      25g tinned anchovies in oil, drained
3)      1-2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4)      1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

-        Combine the flour, salt, sugar, yeast and egg (excluding the egg wash’s egg) in the bowl of the stand mixer. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on a medium speed. Slowly add in the water and continue mixing for about 6-8 minutes, or until the dough is coming away from the sides. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
-        Start the mixer up again on a medium speed and slowly add in the cubed butter bit by bit to the dough. You might need to scrap the side to ensure all the butter is incorporated into the dough.
-        Once incorporated, increase the speed to high and mix for another minute. At the end, you should be able to get a smooth and shiny dough. I like to “pull and fold” my dough before I let it rest. I think it looks pretty (like a baby butt) and helps to make the rise smoother.
-        Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave the mix to relax for 10 minutes. At this stage, you can leave the dough to relax for up to an hour. There are times I do forget to check on my dough.
-        Line a baking sheet with parchment (or using a non-stick baking tray). Turn the dough out on a work surface, and divide into 24 pieces. What I would usually do is weigh the dough and divide the weight accordingly. In this way, I am guaranteed to have equal size buns.
-        You can roll the dough into balls. Or I prefer the “pull and fold” method. I pull the sides of the dough and fold it in.
-        For the chocolate and prune buns, push a piece of the chocolate/ prune into the centre of each ball, pulling the dough around it so that it is completely enclosed, and reshape the dough into a ball.
-        Move all the buns to the baking tray, leaving room for them to spread and ensuring you know which is which.
-        Using a spray bottle (or pastry brush), lightly spray a thin layer of water and leave them in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until doubled in size*. What I like to is I would warm up the oven at 100oC for 15 minutes and switched it off and I will leave the tray of dough inside. And 10 minutes before baking time, I will remove them from the oven.
-        Meanwhile, you can start on the anchovy filling. Blend the garlic and a pinch of black pepper to a fine puree in a food processor or with a pestle and mortar. Add the anchovies and blend/ bash until they break down. Gradually add enough oil to make a thick paste, then stir in the vinegar. Check seasoning and set aside.
-        10 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 200oC. Because this is a bread recipe, it is very important to make sure the oven is hot enough. This is why I always stick an oven thermometer to check on the temperature.
-        Brush the egg wash over the buns. Dust the chocolate buns with cocoa powder as well. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.
-        Slice the anchovy (or plain) buns in half while warm, spread with the filling and sandwich together. Eat warm.
-        These buns will keep for 2 days in an airtight container.

*The original recipe actually suggested covering the dough with a damp tea towel. When I did that, the dough raised and stuck onto the towel. Hence I decided to use a spray bottle so that the dough will not dry out.

A simple lunch

Recently I had this insane craving for asparagus. Perhaps it was all the tweets about spring time and the abundance of asparagus. Or maybe it was all these recipes on this gorgeous vegetable.

Asparagus is one of the easiest vegetables to cook and there is almost no prep work needed. All you need to do is trim or snap off the woody ends and they are ready to be cooked. Before I start to cook asparagus, I like to blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds. This process turns them into a brighter green.

For lunch, I pan-fried some homemade chorizo. While the sausage was almost done, I threw in the (blanched) asparagus for a quick stir-fry. In this way, the asparagus will be coated with some of the oil from the chorizo.

A simple lunch – asparagus and chorizo

To serve, I placed some alfalfa sprouts on the plate, topped it with the asparagus and chorizo. I finished off with spoonful of cottage cheese and a bit of Colman’s English mustard. If I had crème fraiche in my fridge, I would mix it with a bit of mustard, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice, and you get this sharp and creamy dressing.

This lunch is quick and easy to prepare and great on a bloody hot day.

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