Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A new trick

I learnt how to make a new type of cake recently. The swiss roll/sponge roll/ roll cake. I had attempted it once before as part of making a buche de noel but the whole process was so involved, with making little meringue mushrooms and two types of frosting and having my cake crack while rolling it, that I had never thought to make more casual version for everyday consumption. I just assumed roll cakes and I were not meant to be and left it at that.
It was still delicious and the mushrooms were adorable

However, like a lot of my adventures in baking, it was a request from someone close that caused me to have another go at getting it right. My mother mentioned that she had seen a roll cake on TV that was rolled into a circle and was filled with large volumes of whipped cream and fruit and asked for one of the same. I did a bit more research about the right recipe to use, and came across one that was so exacting that it had to be good. I carefully measured and sifted and mixed as directed and ended up with an impressively pliable and light sponge cake that rolled like a dream. Filled with ripe, in-season strawberries and lightly sweetened, whipped cream, it is the kind of dessert that fills you with mad joy about the arrival of summer.

I was so pleased with the recipe the first time I made it, that I immediately made another one with tiramisu flavours - 1tsp of instant coffee granules dissolved in 2tsp of hot water added with the vanilla, and filled with sweetened mascarpone cheese and dark chocolate shavings. It was exactly as delicious as you would expect.

Another version with whipped cream and raspberries macerated in a little sugar
Roll cake with fruit and whipped cream

140g egg whites
60g sugar
60g egg yolks
40g cake flour
a pinch of salt
1 tsp of vanilla
60g oil - the original recipe stated corn oil but we didn't have any so I used melted coconut oil (it seemed to work fine)

200g whipping cream
1-2Tb of icing sugar 
1/2tsp vanilla extract
10 medium-sized strawberries (washed, hulled and sliced) or another soft fruit of your choosing

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a swiss roll pan (36 by 28cm) with baking paper.
2. Place the egg whites in a large bowl and whisk at medium speed until a thick foam forms. Increase the speed to high and gradually add the sugar. Once you reach soft-peak stage, reduce the speed to low and continue to to whisk until stiff-peak stage. (Here is a visual guide).
3. While whisking at a low speed, add the yolks one by one.
4. Sift and stir in the flour in two batches, followed by the vanilla and salt. Add the oil and fold it gently into the batter.
5. Spread the batter evenly into the swill roll pan and tap on the counter a couple of times to get rid of big air bubbles. Bake for 9-10 minutes, the centre should spring back when gently pushed.
6. Unmould the cake onto a wire rack and peel the baking paper off the sides. Cool completely.
7. Remove the baking paper completely. Place a fresh piece of baking paper on the counter and put the cake on top of it, with a long edge closest to you. Whip the cream to stiff peaks and spread evenly over the cake. Arrange the strawberries/fruit in the centre of the cake.
8. Use the baking paper to help lift the long edge of the cake (that is closest to you) and roll.
9. Rest the cake in the fridge for a couple of hours for the best flavour. If you can't bear to wait, it still tastes pretty good eaten immediately.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Daydreaming in the kitchen

The roses are blooming ferociously, which means that the end of the year is imminent and everyone is rushed off their feet. December is the month of preparing for the Christmas-New Years summer break. My life is no exception and there have been deadlines and meetings and such that have taken up some of my sitting, contemplating and writing time. However, I always find that if I go too long without giving myself adequate time to recharge, everything starts to become a bit meaningless. 

It reminds me of the line from a famous film short called, 'The Perfect Human' where the subject says, "Today, too, I had an experience that I hope I shall understand in a few days' time." It takes time to process and understand the most important things that happen and without that time, life becomes confusion. 

For me, baking for the sake of baking has always been a repository of quiet time. While beating together sugar and butter, while sitting in front of the warmth of the oven, I find the time to think about things. The fact that baking also results in something delicious is often a happy coincidence.

The tastiest sweet treat I have made in awhile are these strawberry milk cupcakes. They are the result of combining a bunch of recipes that I had been wanting to try. I got the idea of flavouring cake with strawberry milk powder from another recipe which didn't work for me, the whipped cream cake base was one I had bookmarked for ages, as was the cooked flour frosting. 

When put together, they create a cupcake that can only be described as dainty and delightful. The cake is light and cloud-soft, it rises like a souffle over the rim of the paper liner. The frosting is creamy and flavourful without being as sweet or rich as buttercream. 

Strawberry milk cupcakes
makes 10

Cake recipe adapted from:
Frosting recipe adapted from:

3/4c whipping cream
1/2c sugar
3Tb strawberry milk powder
1tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/4tsp salt
3/4c plus 1Tb plain flour
1+1/4tsp baking powder

2.5Tb flour
1/2c milk
4Tb strawberry milk powder
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1/4-1/3c castor sugar (I found regular sugar doesn't completely dissolve into the frosting)
1/2c butter

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius and place 10 paper liners into a muffin tray.
2. Whip the cream, sugar, vanilla and strawberry milk powder to stiff peaks.
3. Stir in the egg, sift in the remaining ingredients and fold to combine.
4. Fill the paper liners about 2/3 full and bake for 15-17 minutes.
5. Cool completely before frosting.

6. Place the flour, strawberry milk powder and milk for the frosting in a small pot over a medium-low heat. Stir constantly until it is thickened, remove from the heat and cool completely.
7. Beat the remaining frosting ingredients together until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour mixture until you get a smooth frosting.
8. Frost the cupcakes!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Lateral thinking

In keeping with one of the post-election promises I made to myself, I have been volunteering with a local organisation, namely De Paul House that works with families who are temporarily homeless. They provide a short-term home and also work with families to help them get back on their feet. One part of this process is related to discussions and education around health and well-being, and involves a coffee club style forum for the mothers. For the last couple of months I have been coming along to some of these meetings and taking part in discussions of whichever health-related topics the group wanted to talk about. It's been great fun so far, and it is humbling to see people coming back to the meetings each fortnight.

For the last session of the year, I was given an interesting challenge -  to give advice on how to cook healthy meals with canned food. Canned food is often cheaper than fresh, and is part of the parcels that some of the families receive but requires a bit of creativity to make delicious and nutritious meals out of. 

Initially I found the idea of having to cook food that is cheap, healthy, filling and easily put together quite daunting. I spent the best part of two weeks searching for ideas online and thinking about what to make before realising that some of my favourite go-to recipes fulfilled all the necessary criteria. A little bit of creativity was required to design and modify recipes, but I realised that I needed to think laterally to stop myself from assuming that this project was somehow about deprivation or making do with less. It is always a bit embarrassing to discover such embedded prejudices but such a relief to let them go.

Here is what I came up with:

1. Bean dip/hummus using this recipe as a template

My bastardised version: Place a 400g can of tomatoes, a diced up onion and 2.5Tb butter into a small pot and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the onions are tender. Break up any big chunks of tomato and season with salt, pepper and sugar before serving on top of pasta. (Serves 2-3 lunch-sized portions)

3. Bean salad
Drain and rinse a can of plain mixed beans. Add 1/4c of finely diced onion, 2tsp olive oil, 1tsp wine or cider vinegar and salt and pepper. Stir together and serve. Tastes better after chilling overnight in the fridge. Add canned sweetcorn or beetroot and adjust the seasoning if you wish. A handful of chopped, fresh herbs would work well here too.

4. Corn fritters

This is the only recipe that requires some explanation. From my internet research, it appears the term 'corn fritters' describes different things depending on where you are. In New Zealand they resemble a smallish savoury pancake that is often served for lunch with a salad and relish on the side, whereas in some parts of North America corn fritters are a sweet snack made by deep-frying corn-studded dough. Both sound delicious, but the savoury kind was what I had a go at making.

Satisfyingly savoury, touched with the moreish sweetness of corn - these corn fritters are an easy lunch hot or cold, packed alongside a relish or chutney and a little green salad.

Corn fritters
serves 4 as a light lunch

1 can of cream-style corn (400g)
1/2 an onion, finely diced
1 egg
3/4c plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
1/4tsp pepper

oil for frying

1. Combine all the ingredients apart from the oil in a medium-sized bowl.
2. Place a frying pan over medium-high heat and heat up the oil. When the pan is ready, a drop of water hitting the pan should sizzle loudly. Turn down the heat to medium.
3. Drop tablespoon-sized dollops of batter onto the pan and flatten them slightly as they cook, to about 1cm high mounds. 
4. When the undersides are golden-brown, turn the fritters over and cook for about another minute.
5. Serve immediately or cool on a wire rack, store in an airtight container and eat within a day of making.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Exceptional cake

You can tell this cake was exceptional because this fragment is all that was left for me to photograph. I actually made this about two weeks ago but due to a busy spell with my studies, have only just got around to writing about it. I am behind on my translations for too. For some reason I have just been managing to keep up with the world's demands, rather than exceeding them and finding time for the things I like to do. It's a bit unsettling how quickly and how much we retreat on important things when it seems like there is too much going on. Tomorrow, I will do a bit better.

Back to this cake, the fluffiest of yellow cakes topped with caramel and toasted almonds. We demolished it while it was still a bit uncomfortably hot from the oven and it was mad-delicious. The piece pictured was all that was left after five people had eaten their fill.

So in conclusion, make this cake. The caramel doesn't require a candy thermometer and the cake is one of the best yellow cake recipes I have come across. This cake will make you and your household smell like caramel. This cake will make all subsequent endeavours significantly more enjoyable. Make this cake.

Toscakaka (Swedish almond cake with caramel and vanilla)
adapted very slightly from Domestic Gothess

75g yogurt
75g butter
3 eggs
150g sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/4tsp sea salt

150g flaked almonds
125g butter
125g light brown sugar
50mL whole milk
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1/4tsp sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line a 20cm square cake tin with baking paper, leaving excess paper hanging over the sides. These ends will be used later to handle the cake.
2. Place a small pot over medium heat and toast the almonds. Watch them constantly and stir frequently as they burn fast. Once they are golden and smell delicious, pour the almonds into a bowl and leave to cool.
3. Place the 75g of butter into the pot and melt. Take off the heat and set aside.
4. Whisk eggs, 150g sugar and 1tsp of vanilla extract in a large bowl and whisk with an electric beater until it is tripled in volume, pale and mousse-like.
5. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add 1/3 of it to the egg mixture and fold in gently, followed by half the yogurt. Repeat until the flour and yogurt are used up. Finally, fold in the melted butter.
6. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for 25-30min (the cake will be golden and spring back when pressed).
7. When the cake has been baking for about 15 minutes, prepare the topping. Place all the remaining ingredients into the pot that was used to melt the butter. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Simmer for a total of 3-4 minutes, it should thicken slightly.
8. Remove the cake from the oven and increase the heat to 220 degrees Celsius. Pour the topping onto the cake and return it to the oven 5-10 minutes.
9. Cool the cake in the tin for 10 minutes before lifting it out using the baking paper. Place on a rack to finish cooling, or alternatively eat as soon as the caramel has cooled below molten lava temperatures.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Tea breaks and workers' rights

This Monday was Labour Day in New Zealand. Labour Day celebrates the achievements of the labour union movements - in particular the 8 hour working day. 

At the moment in New Zealand, the newly strengthened ruling National Party, with a little help from it's coalition partner, the Act Party (with 1 member in parliament) are expected to pass legislation that significantly weakens the rights of employers. The legislation was put on hold prior to the general election because at that point, the National Party didn't have the numbers to pass it. Now that they can, the power of employees to bargain with their employers is set to be significantly reduced. 

The tea breaks, and the loss of them, have come to symbolise the issue. 


Before I started studying again, while I was working, I was a member of my respective union and as long as all the members keep the union in check, I think that they hold great potential to equalise the huge imbalance of power between employees and employers. My line of work (medicine) does not have protected breaks because patient safety trumps them. However, I know how difficult this can be after having spent too many days walking out of the hospital and realising that I hadn't taken a single bathroom break, or trying to work a ten hour shift without breakfast, lunch or dinner. In jobs where breaks can safely be protected, they very well should be.

To stand in solidarity with the workers whose rights are in jeopardy, I had a tea break. Not just any tea break but an all-out T.A.R.D.I.S teapot, good china cups and saucers tea break.

To accompany the tea, I made a duo of sables. Lemon-cornmeal and chocolate ones to be specific. They had a nice synergy because the lemon ones used two yolks and the chocolate, two whites. The lemon ones were a bit too imperfect to share here but the chocolate ones were delicious and beautiful to boot. Despite being squeezed through a piping bag, the cookies are light and when you bite into them, it is as if the crumbs were only held together by the weakest forces. The cocoa, sugar and butter are mixed in exactly the right proportions to create a rich, chocolatey, not-too-sweet mouthful. It is no surprise that they were created by Pierre Herme, a master of all sweet things.

Pierre Herme's Viennese chocolate sables
very gently adapted Butter and Brioche
makes about 20 cookies

40g cocoa powder, sifted
250g flour
1/2tsp sea salt
250g butter, cubed and at room temperature
100g icing sugar
2 egg whites (3-4Tb)
flaky salt for sprinkling on top of the cookies

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
2. Place the butter in a large bowl and beat until it is creamy and becomes lighter in colour. 
3. Add icing sugar and beat again until pale and well-combined. Add egg whites and beat again.
4. Stir in the flour, cocoa and sea salt and stir. I found that I needed extra egg white to achieve dough with a pipe-able consistency.
5. Using any large piping tip, pipe cookies onto the prepared trays. I piped rosettes that were about 3.5cm in diameter. Sprinkle with a little flaky salt.
6. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through that time.
7. Cool the cookies on the trays, they will harden as they cool.

The cookies should keep for 4-5 days in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sunday, 26 October 2014


무서운 것이 내게는 없소
누구에게 감사받은 생각없이 
나는 나에게 황홀을 느낄뿐이오 
나는 하늘을 찌를 때까지 자랄려고 하오 
무성한 가지와 그늘을 펼려하오 

There is nothing that frightens me
Not interested in anyone's gratitude
I merely feel rapture within myself
I want to grow until I touch the sky
To unfurl limitless branches and shade 
-Kim Kwang Seok (나무 [Tree])

I am learning that a sense of fulfillment comes from within. Every time I catch myself becoming unbalanced by external events, I remind myself to see the problem as it actually is in the greatest context. Then it all seems small. Everyone has problems and needs a helping hand sometimes but the knowledge that strength comes from within eventually makes us better able to withstand our trials. 

These are all things that I am gradually realising for myself and struggling with myself. My greatest happiness at the moment comes from doing volunteer work. Last week I helped sort and pack medical supplies to be sent to a rest home in North Korea and this week I started a regular meeting with a local community outreach group. Between these activities and the translation work that I'm doing for <> I am very happy indeed.

And to top it all off, a cup of tea, a biscuit and the time to enjoy them. Of course, not everyday is this peaceful but this peace is something that I am seeking out more and more. Today's recipe is for classic gingernuts, gently spiced and crispy rather than concrete-like in texture, they are a great biscuit to mull over.

I got exactly 17 biscuits
from New Zealand Woman's Weekly

120g flour
1tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp baking soda
1tsp baking powder
60g cold butter, cubed
1/4c caster sugar
2Tb golden syrup

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.
2. Place all the ingredients except for the syrup in a medium-sized bowl and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it comes together as a sandy mixture.
3. Add the syrup and mix the dough into a thick paste.
4. You can form the dough into a 3cm diameter log and slice into 0.5cm slices or just form it into walnut-sized balls and flatten onto the baking tray. Leave at least 1.5cm between biscuits.
5. Bake for 15min and cool the cookies on the trays.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

In which I am convinced it's a good idea after all

Food traditions are an important cultural legacy. As someone who is probably a bit too interested in food, I find the food traditions of all cultures fascinating. As myself, I consider the food traditions of my own culture to be something that I should try to uphold and cherish. This is why I am trying to make my own tofu and why I am so glad that my mum makes her own kimchi and can teach me how to make it. This is why I disregarded all travel safety advice and tried ceviche in Peru and tried to eat exclusively on the the street in Vietnam.

And of course, my stint as a bún thịt nướng vendor
For these reasons, I have always been biased against inauthentic 'food hacks' where people try to make semi-homemade food that is meant to be reminiscent of that of another culture. Examples of this include 'recipes' for turning instant noodles into faux-pho, the terrible renditions of 'Western' food like pizza and hamburgers that you encounter in many Asian countries and the 'Chinese' food that they sell in takeaway stores in New Zealand. Or when a recipe for pad thai includes tomato ketchup. Nobody wins.

One practice that I have always found particularly offensive is when recipes claiming to be 'Asian-inspired' use peanut butter. I always felt uneasy with the idea of incorporating a breakfast spread into the proud culinary tradition of another culture. However, with the rise of additive-free, natural peanut butter options I have come to see it as a much more viable option as a cooking ingredient. They're just peanuts right?

So I finally decided to try out an Asian-inspired recipe with peanut butter. It was delicious. I swapped out sweet chili paste for a spoonful of my ingredient of the moment, gochujang. Combined with peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame and a bit of lemon juice, the resulting sauce was complex, flavourful and all-round amazing. It was actually reminiscent of ssamjang which is a derivative of doenjang and gochujang that often has nuts and seeds added to it. 

When combined with buckwheat noodles (매밀면, memil myun) and a variety of crunchy vegetables, you get the most satisfying of noodle salads. The gochujang has a deep, slow-burning spice that pairs well with the nuttiness of sesame and peanut. This salad is a hearty vegan main rather than a side dish, and will be a go-to lunch or dinner option throughout the coming summer months.

Spicy sesame-peanut noodle salad
adapted from Nigella Lawson
serves 2 as a main meal 

200g of buckwheat noodles

For the dressing
1Tb of sesame oil
1/2Tb soy sauce
1Tb of gochujang
2Tb of smooth peanut butter 
2Tb of lemon juice
1/2tsp sugar
1Tb of sesame seeds, I used black ones

2c of crunchy vegetables, cut into thin strips if necessary (carrots, cucumbers, beansprouts, snow peas, radishes at the like)
2Tb of spring onions, thinly sliced
extra sesame seeds for garnish

1. Cook the noodles as directed on the packet. Rinse with cold water and leave to drain in a colander.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the dressing ingredients into a paste. Taste and adjust as required.
3. Add noodles and crunchy vegetables to the bowl and stir to coat everything with the dressing.
4. Transfer to a serving dish and scatter spring onions and extra sesame seeds over the top.