Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tiny kitchen baking II: Birthday cake edition

The official reason for our recent trip to Korea was to celebrate my maternal grandfather's 80th birthday. Everybody thinks that their family's story is special and I'm no different. My mother's tales of growing up poor in Korea as it was racing towards developed world status is one of the most powerful connections I have with the country. Because I have always been interested in her stories I have learnt a lot about my grandparents, and their stories run parallel with that of Korea's modern history. The stories each have the makings of an epic or a tragedy but instead of a carthartic ending, I think they actually ended up living quite happily ever after. Bad things happened but everyone is still alive and pretty much well, we're all clothed and fed, we all have opportunities that they could not have dreamed of. 


Because my mother and her siblings are scattered around the world, the party was a rare opportunity for everyone to get together and have a blow-out feast. Despite the fact that Korea is the land of beautifully decorated cakes, I insisted on making one with a little convection oven that I borrowed, my dad's milkshake maker and one 20cm round cake tin.

I still can't believe it worked as an oven
I faced a couple of barriers to awesome cake:

1. The ingredients, Korean whipped cream was unnaturally white and contained something called 'cream flavour added to it' and the flour that I bought had a particularly strong raw flour taste/smell. To make up for these differences, I chose to flavour the cake with yuzu. It had the dual benefits of being easy to source (in the form of yuzu tea/marmalade) as well as being a fresh and vibrant flavour.

2. I was a bit worried about the whipped cream not being firm enough for frosting. I added 1/2c of mascarpone for added richness and stability, this worked very well and tasted amazing with a spoonful of yuzu tea for flavour.

3. Lack of hardware. Without my electric beater, any cake that required creaming butter was out. Luckily, a milkshake maker was perfect for whipping the cream for my new favourite whipped cream cake . Choosing this cake also allowed me to streamline my ingredients list, using whipped cream in both the cake and as frosting and forgoing butter completely.

4. Lack of hardware II. The oven had a tendency to cook the cake at a variable rate. When the edges were perfectly cooked, the centre was still paste-like in consistency. I ended up with slightly overbaked and dry-at-the edges cake. I brushed the cake with fruity syrup for added moisture and in conjunction with the fruit and cream frosting, the texture turned out just right.

5. Lack of hardware III. Without my flower garden, piping bags and tips I was severely limited in how I would decorate my cake. I was wandering aimlessly around the supermarket when I spotted some gorgeous and seasonal pomegranates, I realised that pomegranate seeds would work beautifully in the place of piped borders as long as I did my best to keep it neat. They were also the most fresh and tart pomegranates I have ever tasted. Along with alarmingly unseasonal strawberries and blueberries, this made for quite an impressive cake. The writing was done with melted chocolate and a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off, and some novelty candles from the local bakery completed the look.

The end result was a two-layer yuzu cake, filled with yuzu scented whipped cream-mascarpone and lightly sweetened fruit and topped with pomegranates and berries. I was pretty proud of myself.

Yuzu-mascarpone cream cake
makes a 2-layer, 20cm cake 
cake recipe adapted from

3c whipping cream
2c white sugar
4Tb yuzu tea/marmalade
4 eggs
3.5c plain flour
5tsp baking powder
1tsp salt

Filling and frosting
2.5c whipping cream
1/2c mascarpone
4Tb yuzu tea/marmalade
2 mandarin oranges (peeled, segmented and as much pith removed as possible)
1 pomegranate (seeds only)
1c of sliced strawberries
1/4c white sugar

blueberries and strawberries for topping
dark chocolate for writing with

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius, grease a 20cm round cake pan (or 2 if you have them!) and line the base with baking paper.
2. Whip the cream and sugar to stiff-peak stage, beat in the eggs and yuzu.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and fold gently into the cream mixture.
4. Divide between the cake pans and bake for about 25 minutes. Check with a toothpick for doneness.
5. Cool completely on a wire rack.

6. Combine the 1/4c sugar with 3/4c water and boil or heat in a microwave until the sugar has dissolved.
7. Add the sliced strawberries and mandarin oranges to this and leave to cool.
8. Once the fruit and syrup mixture has cooled, beat the remaining cream, yuzu and mascarpone together until you get a spreadable consistency.
9. Place the first cake layer on your plate cake board, brush generously with the fruit-syrup, add 1/3 of the whipped mascarpone cream and top with the syrup-soaked fruit and a handful of pomegranate seeds.
10. Top with the second cake layer and brush with syrup again. Cover the cake with the remaining cream and decorate with fruit and melted chocolate.

Best eaten within 1 day of assembling, although the leftovers were apparently quite good a couple of days later.

Everybody appreciates birthday flowers.

Monday, 19 January 2015

A trial of moderation: chocolate buckwheat cake


It's been about two weeks since I got back. I had been putting off baking because my mother has recently been flagged as having hypertension and hypercholesterolaemia (aka 2/3 of the metabolic syndrome) and we are trying to make some positive changes to our diet. This probably means a departure from the pastry cream-fest of 2014.

However, there's a significant different between no cake and the occasional slice. I thought that this particular recipe was a fitting place to start. It has a deep, grown-up chocolate flavour that is accentuated by the nutty buckwheat flour and relatively small amount of sugar. The use of almond and buckwheat flour (and lack of gluten) results in a dense, truffle-like texture that tastes much more extravagant than it actually is.
This is also an extremely therapeutic process

A little slice with a side of summer fruit is a delightful note on which to end a long summer day. Take a plate down to the garden with a glass of ice coffee and enjoy.

Chocolate buckwheat cake
from The Smitten Kitchen
makes one 20cm cake 

100g butter
100g dark chocolate (I used 72% dark chocolate)
100g cane sugar
4 eggs
1tsp vanilla
a pinch of salt
35g buckwheat flour
30g almond flour
icing sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Line the base of a 20cm cake tin with baking paper and grease lightly with a neutral flavoured oil.
2. Melt the butter and chocolate together - either in a bain marie or in short bursts in a microwave.
3. Beat the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla together with an electric beater until the ribbon stage is reached. This took me about 5 minutes but can take longer, depending on your beater or eggs.
4. Fold the eggs and chocolate together. Then sift in the two flours. Stir together gently.
5. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 20-30 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean.
6. Cool for 5 minutes before inverting the cake onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar before serving if you would like.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Tiny kitchen baking: peanut butter cookies

Taken at Itaewon 1.

This is what the sky looked like by the time I got around to baking 

Of my limited set of skills, baking is one that seems to make people happiest. So while I was in Korea with all of my beloved relatives and new friends, I had no choice but to eke out time to bake. I borrowed a little crockpot-like convention oven and picked a simple recipe to distribute far and wide. My other tools were a moderate-sized pot/mixing bowl, a measuring cup and a 20cm cake pan/baking tray. You can't get much simpler than a 3-ingredient, one bowl cookie recipe. After laboriously reading through the user comments, I was pretty confident that they would be a delicious.

Bad, bad lighting.

Due to popular demand, I ended up baking 3 jars of peanut butter worth of cookies (6 batches) in just under a week. Both sets of grandparents got a batch, a box went to the Sewol Camp at Gwanghwamun Plaza and I managed a little cookie swap with one of my cousins. I guess it runs in the family.

Cookies for adorable individually-wrapped brownies, not a bad deal.
These cookies are deeply peanut buttery without being overwhelmingly rich or sweet. They are soft and tender-crumbed, and remain so for several days. I made several simple adjustments according to the comments, this included:

1. Reduce the sugar from 1 cup to 1/2 or 3/4 cup - and use brown rather than white.
2. Add 1/2tsp baking powder
3. Add 3 Tb of plain flour.
4. Add 1tsp of vanilla extract
5. Add a pinch of salt.

Peanut butter cookies
makes about 15 small cookies

1c peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, but use a brand name rather than all-natural type)
1/2 to 3/4c brown sugar (3/4c makes for a moderately sweet cookie but my grandparents preferred the lower amount)
1 egg
1/2tsp baking powder
3Tb flour
1 pinch salt

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. 
3. Pinch off walnut-sized pieces of dough and place on the baking tray, about 2.5cm apart.
4. Flatten the cookies slightly, you can use a fork to make a criss-cross pattern if you like.
5. Bake for 6-8 minutes.
6. Leave on the tray for 2 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days. You could easily add 1/2 cup of chopped chocolate or peanuts to the dough for a twist on the original recipe.

Taken at Itaewon 2.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Other things from Korea: the food

My grandfather's birthday dinner, the early stages. There were about six more things added to the table later. Then cake, then fruit, then ddeok (rice cake). Then coffee. You don't turn 80 everyday.

I've only managed to post about the serious stuff that happened in Korea so far, however this trip was also the warmest and most fulfilling visit I have made there in as long as I can remember. And obviously I did eat, I even found time to bake a few things in my father's tiny kitchenette using a borrowed crockpot-like convection oven. This post is a visual guide of some of the my favourite food-related moments of the trip, with a couple of recipes to come in the following posts.

From the top left: peanut butter cookies, yuzu mascarpone cream cake and yuzu mascarpone cheesecake

The food in Korea, if you know where to go, is relatively cheap and unassumingly fantastic. This time around I was pescatarian which provided me with opportunities to eat at places that were slightly more interesting than Korean barbecue (which is great, just ubiquitous). In particular, I partook in a lot of traditional Korean food with a focus on my beloved namul. Being winter, the namul that were available were mostly dried or pickled, these tend to have an added depth of flavour and are something that I will definitely miss now that I'm back in NZ.

The jeon shop at the market near our house. The perfect accompaniment for a bottle of makgeolli.

Eleven different types of namul, swoon.

I will have dreams about this amazing selection of banchan.

We roasted oysters over an open fire while there was snow on the ground in Gangwondo.

The fish stall that my grandmother goes to.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Special post: Introducing Mr Kim Dong-soo

As I've mentioned before I have been doing some volunteer translation in aid of the Sewol families (which you can see here). During my trip to Korea I found a lot more work to do and this post is a completely non-food related result of this.

I had the opportunity to meet Mr Kim Dong-soo while I was in Korea. He was aboard the Sewol on the day of the accident and incredibly managed to rescue 20 students as the ship was sinking, armed with just a fire hose. I looked and looked but couldn't find any English-language articles about this amazing man but I felt that knowledge of his heroic feat (and the frustrating aftermath) needed to be more widely distributed. I asked one of the other Sewol volunteers to recommend an article that I could translate in order to introduce more people to Mr Kim's story.

The original article was published by news website Yachtpia, who of course hold all the copyrights to the article.

Below is my translated version, please have a read.

The Sewol Camp at Gwanghwamun Plaza, the Blue House in the distance

“The man in blue pants” – Kim Dong-soo, hero of the Sewol, life uprooted and falling into disarray
By Mun Hyo-sik (
Link to original article in Korean:

Mr Kim Dong-soo, photo from:

April 16 2014, the passenger ferry Sewol departed from Incheon Port International Passenger Terminal for Jeju Island, it sank near Byungpung-do, in the district of Jindo in Jeonnam Province.

Of the 476 passengers on board, 172 were rescued and more than 300 died or are missing, even if one considers it as a man-made disaster caused by the Republic of Korea’s poor safety precautions, it was a calamity that no one could have imagined.

In particular, 324 second year students from Danwon High School were aboard the Sewol on their class trip to Jeju Island, the loss of these lives that were still to bloom, came as shock and caused the entire nation to grieve.

After the disaster, video footage from both the victims and survivors emerged, featuring a man in blue pants who tied a fire hose around his body and rescued 20 students, and Mr. Kim Dong-soo, hero of the Sewol, found himself in the spotlight.

Despite this, his current life bears no resemblance to how a hero should be treated and instead he is ignored and his livelihood is at stake on a daily basis.

Mr. Kim lives on Jeju Island, is the father of a family and supports his family by driving a truck. Like any other day, he loaded up his truck, drove to Incheon Port International Passenger Terminal, loaded his truck aboard the Sewol in order to get to Jeju Island, then retired to the truck-drivers’ lounge area on the second floor of the ship.

At the time of the accident, as the ship started to tilt, rather than becoming disoriented or frightened he wondered, “Why is the ship tilting like this?” When the ship had tilted about 45 degrees, he decided that he needed to escape the ship and along with his colleagues he climbed up the ladder of the bunk bed and onto the nearby deck.

He recalled the situation at the time saying, “The room where the drivers were resting had ladders and other fixed furnishings that one could hold onto in order to climb onto the deck, however this would have been difficult in places like the lobby and the students’ rooms where many of the victims were found.”

The only assistance that the government has provided Mr Kim at this point is in the form of emergency living costs for a household of four, amounting to W1080,000 per month, not only is this due to stop soon, it is lower than the minimum living wage for a family of 4 according the government’s own 2014 figure of  W1630,000 – it is an inadequate amount of compensation to say the least. He goes on to say that it is a small comfort that the section of the draft Special Sewol Law regarding victim compensation and reimbursement for lost cargo has been extended to cover living cost compensation, following a public complaint made by the truck drivers to the Jeju City Council.

While rescuing the students, Mr Kim sustained dental trauma and myofascial muscle pain syndrome (an illness caused by sudden impact or extreme stress) and as a result, cannot comfortably use his left hand without the help of muscle relaxant injections. His psychological trauma is even more severe, he has developed a panic disorder and is unable to spend more than a short period of time in crowded places and has a high degree of anxiety, to the point where he has at times become disoriented. Recently, he experienced burning abdominal pain that was so severe that it kept him from sleeping and was admitted to hospital, however the hospital stated these symptoms had no direct association to the Sewol Disaster and the cost of the admission was placed squarely on Mr. Kim’s shoulders.

The government has extended the grace period that the victims of Sewol have for repaying loans but this is still due to end soon. The truck drivers have been provided with low-interest loans and the option of taking out W20,000,000 low-interest loans for the purpose of maintaining lifestyle stability, however due to poor health making it difficult to return to work and earn a living, these government initiatives are like dead wood and only serve to make one cringe.

At present, Mr Kim is experiencing severe symptoms that would be difficult to recover from even if he gave up work entirely and focused on receiving treatment. Living everyday like a sinner, the hero of the Sewol can be seen as another victim of this age.

“Hero, a righteous person – these words mean nothing to me. I just wish they were more concerned with making it possible for me to carry on with my life,” were Mr Kim’s closing remarks. “It’s a shame that the nation seems to be forgetting the Sewol so easily,” he said with a sigh.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Hello from Korea

From the Sewol Memorial in Ansan

I am abroad and without an oven at the moment, and having the most valuable time. It's all wintry and snowy in Korea and it is quite beautiful when it isn't bleak and smoggy. The day that I visited the May 18 Memorial Cemetary in Gwangju, at dusk, during a blizzard was particularly memorable.

I have been to Gwanghwamum Plaza (in the centre of Seoul) where fathers of the Sewol victims still eat and sleep, and to Ansan (where the majority of the Sewol victims are from) where the Memorial and healing centre (for the families and survivors) are. Being on the ground, it is clearer than ever that nothing has been done to figure out why so many people were left to die, and that the empty space left behind by the victims is immense.

From the Sewol camp in Gwanghwamun Plaza

But it is heartening to see that so many people are still working together towards uncovering the truth, and also collectively comforting those who are still grieving. And the opportunity to contribute towards that work is an honour and a comfort. I have met so many wonderful people over the last nine days, I am starting to think I should move here.

The healing centre in Ansan - a place for the families and survivors to get better

Between visits to the Sewol camp in Gwanghwamun, I have been supporting independent films by watching the documentaries Diving Bell and Quo Vadis at the nearby arthouse cinema Indiespace. I also got to meet my favourite Korean that I am not related to, Mr Kim Jedong, while attending one of his live shows. That alone probably made the trip worthwhile!

He still wears a yellow Sewol bracelet, bless him.
I had hoped that I would have more food related things to blog about on this trip. But with a few exceptions, the food has been been a bit of an afterthought so far. It is pretty difficult to get exceptional vegetarian food when everyone wants to take you to Korean barbecue for dinner. I will keep looking for deliciousness.

PS. If you would like to learn more about the Sewol Ferry Disaster, check out this site: . It also gives you an opportunity to sign a petition in support of a robust and effective investigation into the cause and mishandling of the disaster. Your interest is a huge comfort to the grieving families and recovering survivors.

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.