Friday, December 21, 2007

Mocha Shortbread

I can't believe Christmas is here once again. Last year I was in HK with my family, jostling with the crowd and street shopping endlessly from one lane to the next. This year will be one spent quietly over dinner and drinks with friends in Sydney. Though of course I still wish my family and besties were by my side, I'm more than content for having friends here to spend my holidays with. Yep, they are the people who make time here fly just that little bit faster, not to mention sweeten it by making it so fun!

So, to wrap up the year, I wanted to do something special for them to just show them how much they mean to me. I'm kind of a emo-idiot, if you can call it that way. I get stuck often a time when trying to verbalize or show my emotions physically even though I want to, probably a result of a traditional Asian upbringing. Whatever it is,, I decided to do what I do best next - write & bake of course. :)

I ended up making two batches of cookies - one batch of candycane cookies (in my last post) that were probably cuter to look at than eat, and another batch of mocha shortbread. I just adore the texture of shortbread and how it starts off all crumbly and then melts so beautifully in your mouth. These shortbread fingers were all that and more - dark, chocolately and intensely flavoured with coffee; definitely one for the grown ups. There's just one catch: if you aren't the owner of an electric mixer like me, be prepared to get your heart rate up for a good workout. Even with all that dragonboat training, this was tough for me. LOL.
Hope you enjoy this. Happy Holidays! :)

Mocha Shortbread
Note: For this recipe, I reduced the flour to 2 cups and substituted 6 tbsps flour for 3 tbsps cornstarch since I didn't have any cornstarch on hand.
1 1/2 cups confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour + 6 tbsps (or 3 tbsps cornstarch)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) pure
vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (8 grams) instant espresso powder

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Lightly butter (or spray with Pam) a 15 x 10 inch (38 x 25 cm) baking pan.
In a small bowl, sift the confectioners sugar with the cocoa powder. Set aside.
In another bowl, sift the flour, salt (and cornstarch if you're using it) together. Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter until smooth (about one minute). Add the sugar and cocoa mixture and beat until fully incorporated (about 2 minutes). Add the vanilla and espresso powder and beat until incorporated. Then add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until the dough just comes together.
Spread the dough over the bottom of the prepared pan and gently press the dough, with your fingertips or the back of a spoon, to form an even layer. Then, with a sharp knife, score the top of the shortbread into approximately 3 inch x 1 inch (7 x 2.54 cm) fingers. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the top is dry and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. While the shortbread is still warm, re-cut the shortbread into fingers. Cool completely before removing from pan.
Adapted from Joy of Baking

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Vanilla Scented Granola

Mmm. If you ever need one reason to wake up early in morning, it's gotta be homemade granola. I love museli for brekkie and I lurrvveee granola clusters even more, but nothing irks me more than having to shell out 7 bucks for a small pack of those cheery little clusters. Feeling kinda cheated and not terribly satisfied with having to settle for the cheaper alternatives, I did what any self-respecting granola-nut would do - make my own. Duh.

I can't believe it took me this long to do this. Rolled oats, walnuts and slivers of dried coconut were tossed and held together by lashings of honey and slowly roasted to a golden crunch. Spiked with vanilla and chunks of dried apricots and dates, it was comforting and heartbreakingly delicious. I personally love it soaked in milk, but it's great on its own when you get the munchies too - I just had to help myself to a couple of handfuls before running out the door for training today. If you're a cereal lover like myself, I suggest you try this out! Enjoy!

Vanilla spiked Granola (Bon Appetit) (makes 8 cups)
4 cups rolled oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
5 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup oil
4 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1 cup chopped walnuts
1-2 cups dried fruits of your choice (I used apricots and dates)

Toss together rolled oats, dried coconut, walnuts, sugar and cinnamon.
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring to boil the honey and oil. Remove from heat and add vanilla essence. Pour the hot honey/oil over the oats mixture and mix well (use your hands if you have to).
On a baking tray lined with parchment paper, lay the prepared oats, pressing down with your hand to compact it a little. Bake it in the oven for approximately 30 mins at 400degF or until golden brown.
Remove from oven, let it cool down and break it into chunks. Toss in chopped dates and apricot and store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Apricots, mascarpone and walnuts

Oh bliss. Just 2 minutes to put together and 1 minute to enjoy. Best of all, it's au naturel and chock full of fibre, calcium and natural fatty acids. What more could you ask for?

Apricots, mascarpone and walnuts (noix)
Slit dried apricots into half, but not all the way such that it remains a whole piece (sort of like butterfly-ing a fillet).
Using a teaspoon, fill the apricot with chilled mascarpone cheese. Gently press a piece of walnut into the cheese.
In one smooth motion, pop it into your mouth and enjoy the sweet, tangy, nutty and creamy goodness all at once.
Lick your lips and happily repeat the above steps.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Singapore Chili Crab

Twas a weekend of fulfilled promises. I got to try out sailing, and he got to try Singapore chili crab. On his part of the promise, I had the time of my life on the water and it was 100% PURE fun! Seriously can't wait to do it again!!! The most stressful part was probably making sure that we kept our heads way out reach of the boom.We took a smaller boat thus it was heaps more dynamic and only served to add to the thrill. The post-sailing theory session soon transpired into a leisurely Saturday afternoon with friends over aperitifs, snacks and Dutch goodies (Bolletje, which is a sort of spicy, gingerbready cookie and Amandelstaaf, an almond-meal based pastry very much similar to the french epiphany tart). Spices apparently were expensive in the older days and had to be shipped all the way from Indonesia, thus it was a rare treat and they use it extensively in their holiday cookies. This time, it was Sint Nicolaas. (Erm, something to do with Saint Nick I think) Splendid.

Took an impromptu tour of the HMS Endeavour at the Maritime Museum today after DB training. It was on the way to Chinatown where I wanted to get the ingredients for the chilli crab. The ship's really quite impressive. I found nothing to complain about on a taser after seeing the number of ropes they had on this ship. You see, they have like a different name for everything on the boat. This was for practical reasons too - in cases of storms etc, you can't be yelling "Grab that rope" cos it'll probably just elicit the inevitable response of "WHICH rope?!"

Will you just check out how quaint and lovely the officer's mess was? It's even nicer than my kitchen!!!

OK now on to my promise. I've never cooked chilli crab in my life and it was a tad worrying attempting this dish cos everyone who's been to Singapore raves nonstop about it. I looked up various recipes online, and there was one ingredient that was ubiquitous in quite a few recipes which had me stumped - tomato ketchup. Erm, that sounds so non-Asian or authentic for that matter. But after chewing on that thought for a bit and thinking about the taste of Jumbo chili crab, it actually started to sound plausible. I used the original maggi chili sauce in place of ketchup since it was also sweet but had that little bit of spicy kick.

The next worrying issue was dealing with the crab. But that task was swiftly left to the Asian grocerer who took care of the mud crab away from all the guilty eyes. Whew. No chopsticks up the crab's a*s and other such violent acts in the kitchen.

I used a combination of recipes and kind of went with trial and error towards the end. The crab flesh was springy, sweet and soft, and the sauce, tangy and spicy and deliciously flavoured with the ample crab juice. The hot, steaming, brioche-y mantous mopped up the eggy broth and was oh-so-satisfying. Heh. I feel like a true blue Singapore-lang now! ;p
Singapore Chili Crab
1 mud crab, chopped and cracked (~500g)
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
5 tbsps of maggi chili sauce
tamarind juice (tamarind paste soaked in hot water)
2-3 tbsps crushed dried chilies
1 egg
1 cup water
1 tbsp brown sugar
1-2 tsp cornstarch
soy sauce to taste

Fry the ginger, garlic and chilli until fragrant. Add the chili crab and water and bring to boil for 2-3 mins. Add the tamarind juice (without pulp), sugar, soy sauce and chili sauce to taste. Add cornstach. Combine well with the crab and cook til the crab shell turns red. Beat one egg and add it in, stirring slowly. The sauce should take on a thick, almost custard-like consistency.
Serve with steamed or deep-fried plain mantous (available in the Asian supermarkets)

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Light, fluffy, airy, crispy. Mmmm. This is my first attempt at choux pastry of any sort and what emerged from the oven was absolutely delightful - crackly golden mounds of lip smackingly delicious chouquettes. And the best bit? It took only 5 minutes to put the pate a choux together and another 25 minutes to bake it to perfection. I was rather skeptical initially when my 'dough' looked more like a thick batter after adding the eggs, so I plonked myself down in front of the oven and watched with hawk-like scrutiny, all doubts put to rest when they started fluffing up obediently like little balloons. Good little chouquettes.

The only step I missed out in the recipe is the turning off the oven bit and waiting 10 minutes, which could explain why it didn't work too well when I tried making normal palm-sized puffs. Gargh - this is a lesson to read the recipe more thoroughly next time! Nonetheless, they were still very tasty and are just perfect to pop into your mouth. I stuffed half of the chouquettes with coin-sized dark chocolate semis as soon as they were cool enough to handle. Splendid.

Chouquettes for two (Chocolate and Zucchini)
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp brown sugar (or normal sugar)
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup self-raising flour
2 eggs

Bring butter, water and sugar to boil with a pinch of salt. Remove from heat and add flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon until a wettish dough is formed.

Wait for dough to cool a bit, then add the 2 eggs, one at a time, and combine well. It should have a somewhat thick batter-like consistency.

Scoop little teaspoonfuls of dough onto a tray lined with baking paper, leaving a bit of space in between each mound. Top with coarse sugar (or in my case, more brown sugar) and bake in the oven for 25 mins or until risen and golden brown. Turn off the oven and wait 10 minutes before popping them out to cool.

Enjoy immediately or stuff little chocolate chips like I did inside!