Thursday, 19 March 2015

Another quiet classic



In my mind, no baked good is as representative of Australia and New Zealand as the ANZAC biscuit. If I wanted to read to much into the cookie's significance, I would go on about how its unassuming appearance, wholesome ingredients and quiet flavoursome nature were a reflection of the characteristics of the two countries. That might be an interesting point to discuss when I am feeling a bit more verbose.

The biscuits are of historical significance, still popular and ridiculously easy to make. Oats, coconut and golden syrup, along with plenty of butter come together and bake up into a crisp and substantial accompaniment to a cup of tea. The biscuits can also keep (when stored properly) for an impressive length of time - 2-3 weeks, making them perfect for cookie jars everywhere. 

ANZAC biscuits are also ideal for sending in care packages, like the tin of cookies I sent (via my mother) to the Sewol Camp in Gwanghwamun Plaza. I don't put together care packages often but it is a very enjoyable task, and one that I hope to do again soon. Although the Wikipedia page I linked to states that these biscuits weren't actually baked by mothers and wives to send to their men in the trenches, it was with that frame of mind that I made my cookies and packed them into the tin for transport. Like I discussed (sounding very young indeed) in an earlier blog, baking for another person is an act of love and elevates it far above mere kitchen drugdery. 

Photo taken in Gwanghwamun by one of the petition tent volunteers. Clockwise from the top: peanut butter cookies, speculaas, ANZAC biscuits.
The biscuits survived the flight to Korea and drive to Gwanghwamun Plaza and hopefully they will be enjoyed by the families and volunteers who are out there right now, still trying to do right by the victims of the disaster. 

Care package experience 4 out of 4 stars, would care again.

ANZAC biscuits
from It's easier than you think by Jo Seager
26 biscuits

125g butter
2Tb cold water
2Tb golden syrup
1tsp baking soda
1c rolled oats
1c dessicated coconut
1c flour, plus 1-2Tb extra if needed
1c brown sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray with baking paper.
2. Heat the butter, water and syrup in a small pot over a moderate heat. Once the butter is melted, bring the mixture to a boil.
3. Take the pan off the heat, quickly stir in baking soda followed by the remaining ingredients. Mix well, adding extra flour if the mixture is not coming together due to excess butter.
4. Roll into walnut-sized balls and place on the baking sheet, leaving 5cm between cookies. Gently flatten the balls with the back of a spoon.
5. Baking for 15-18 minutes and cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Will keep in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Coffee

I like my coffee fair-trade. Other than that, it all depends on how I am feeling at the time but I rarely refuse a cup of it. During the summer, cold-brew is our beverage of choice at home. Not at all a purist, my discovery of ca phe sua chua (drip coffee with condensed milk yogurt) in Vietnam was also life-changing.

Ca phe sua chua in Hanoi (I drank one straight after the other)

So when one of my close friends grew a baby, one thing I could definitely feel empathy towards her about was not being able to drink coffee for upwards of nine months. Understandably, when I asked her what I should bring on my first visit with her and the baby, she asked for something with lots of coffee.

That was enough to send me off on a tangent of brainstorming about flavour combinations. Although coffee-chocolate, coffee-walnut and coffee-cream are all lovely, I wanted to come up with a more unique flavour combination. After a week or so of pondering, I ended up with coffee, caramel and cream cheese - slightly different but not jarringly so.

The flavours came together thusly:
-coffee sponge cake
-coffee-vanilla syrup
-cream cheese frosting
-coffee-caramel glaze
-maple-seed granola sprinkle

I made two two-layer cakes


The end result was pretty and delicious, whipped cream sponge cake ensured a light and delicate cake, paired with the lushness of cream cheese and caramel, it is a combination that I day cream about weeks later. It does have quite a few components to it but because I considered it a special project, it was really a pleasure to make.

Oh and the baby was lovely too of course.


Coffee-caramel layer cake
makes 1 20cm two-layer cake

cake adapted from allrecipes.com
granola from here, substituting maple syrup and seeds in place of honey and hazelnuts
caramel adapted from Lotte + Doof

Cake 
1 3/4c plain flour
2 1/2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
1 1/2c cream
1 1/4c sugar
2 eggs
1Tb instant coffee dissolved in 1Tb of hot water

Caramel glaze
1/2c cream
1/4c brown sugar
1/2Tb corn syrup
1tsp instant coffee dissolved in a small amount of hot water
pinch of salt

Whipped cream cheese frosting
125g cream cheese (softened)
1c cream
3Tb-1/4c sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

Coffee syrup
1Tb instant coffee
2Tb sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2c water

1/2c granola (from the recipe above or whatever you like)

Cake
1. Butter and line the base of 2x 20cm round cake tins with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
2. Whip the cream and sugar to soft peaks. Beat in the eggs and coffee-water.
3. Sift the dry ingredients together and mix into the cream in 3 additions.
4. Divide the mixture into the two pans and bake for 20-25 minutes.
5. Check with a toothpick for doneness and transfer cakes to wire racks to cool.

Caramel glaze
1. Place all the ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 100 degrees Celsius on a sugar thermometer.
2. Cool to room temperature before glazing.

Whipped cream cheese frosting
1. Beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add the remaining ingredients and beat again. Adjust amount of sugar to taste.

Coffee syrup
1. Combine all ingredients in a small pot and heat over a low heat until the sugar is melted.

Assembly
1. Place the first cake on the serving plate, brush with syrup, top with half the frosting and drizzle with glaze.
2. Top with the second cake and repeat. Sprinkle the granola on top to finish.


Saturday, 14 February 2015

Success


Recently I took part in an interview for a friend who is studying how people define success. During the course of the interview I was asked what I consider to be a sign of failure. This is actually something that I have been thinking about recently, there are some days that make you smile like the Cheshire cat and others that feel very much wasted.

On reviewing the days on which I feel like I had wasted my time, I found a two common characteristics:

1. Days that I had lived only for myself
2. Days where I didn't create or learn anything

There's a lot I could say about that, but for the purposes of this blog, I realised that this was probably why cooking and baking appeal to me so much. Cooking and baking is all about sharing and feeding others, and there is creativity involved in a flurry of icing sugar or the placement of sprigs of parsley. Success is a day when, just by baking up some scones and you get the privilege of brightening someone's day.

This recipe is one I kind of made up in response to a request. The request was for blueberry scones and after studying a few recipes, it looked like it would be very easy to adapt it to be vegan (which I am not but enjoy dabbling in). I also picked up a technique to circumvent the need for a 'light hand' when making scones. Instead of making a thick dough, rolling it out, shaping it, and getting little baked rocks, you make a loose dough, pack it into a cake tin, chill it, cut it and bake up tender little clouds.

This is as close to a fool-proof scone recipe as I have ever come across and the addition of blueberries, coconut oil and cream and lemon zest makes for a delicious and delicately flavoured tea-time treat.

Vegan coconut-blueberry scones
makes 8 large scones
adapted from The Taranaki Daily News

2 1/3c plain flour
4tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt
3Tb sugar (we only use this sugar at home)
zest of 1/2 a lemon
4Tb solid coconut oil
1tsp vanilla extract
300mL coconut cream and extra for brushing
1c blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1. Grease a 20cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Alternatively you can use a ring mold or a springform pan with the base removed. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
2. In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until fragrant. Sift in the remaining dry ingredients and stir to combine.
3. Cut the coconut oil into the dry ingredients using a fork or pastry cutter until the mixture looks like sand.
4. Add the vanilla and coconut cream and stir briefly to combine.
5. Spoon 1/3 of the dough into the pan/mold, then scatter 1/3 of the blueberries. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
6. Cover the dough and place in the freezer until it is firm enough to cut - about 40-60min.
7. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Remove the dough from the pan/mold, place it on the lined tray and cut into 8 wedges. Rest the dough for about 10 minutes.
8. Brush tops of the scones with coconut cream and sprinkle with a bit of extra sugar.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops spring back when pushed. Cool on a wire rack.
10. Sprinkle if icing sugar if you want, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Best eaten within a day of making.

Monday, 9 February 2015

300 days

300 days since the Sewol Ferry Disaster and we still don't know why it happened. Show solidarity with the families, sign the petition at <sewoltruth.com> and send your prayers their way.
"Remember 16/04/2014
We will never forget Sewol.
Today is the 300th day since the Sewol Disaster."

If you understand Korean, the official website is: http://416family.org/ which I am very slowly helping translate at the moment.

Seen at a local Japanese restaurant

It's easy to get disheartened and feel that everyone has forgotten that 304 people were needlessly killed without explanation. However, as a Facebook friend wrote recently, the people have not forgotten, only the media has. And given how most major news sources no longer possess any journalistic integrity, that doesn't count for much at all.

Godspeed everyone.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Summer: a love story

I find each season uniquely delightful, the bracing cold of winter is in its own way, as enjoyable as the amniotic warmth of summer. Dry and icy Korean winter was a treat, as is balmy summer in New Zealand. One doesn't have to do anything to achieve happiness when the weather is as nice as it has been. The breeze is refreshing and carries all sorts of floral, grassy scents and the ocean somehow feels like it is closer to us. 

Red bean ice block plus my braided Sewol bracelet.

Summer is the season during which one barely needs to cook. Slice some tomatoes, grill some vegetables, salt, pepper, olive oil and eat. Freeze fruit, then consume. This is basically how we have been eating so far, and I haven't really been keeping notes or working on recipes. Despite feeling like I haven't been cooking, I have concocted many summer-appropriate and oven-avoiding treats:

Endless berry smoothies

Raw, vegan cherry chocolate truffles

Cordials, 오미자 (omija, Schisandra chinensis) on the left and 구가지 (goji) on the right

My favourite cooling summer concoction has to be a variation on banana ice cream. It's just frozen bananas blended until they become creamy and custard-like. Apparently it's a phenomenon that occurs due to their high pectin content. Many raw cooking techniques require the use of a heavy duty and expensive food processor or blender, but I have found that this ice cream can be made using the humble stick blender too. I just add a little coconut milk at the beginning and gradually incorporate the banana and other add-ins. You can add cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, peanut butter, frozen fruit, avocado, coconut or caramel. The banana flavour can be complemented in any number of ways.

Below is my method for making banana, mango, coconut 'ice-cream.' You need to freeze the banana overnight before making the ice cream.

A sprinkle of cocoa nibs for taste and texture

Banana, coconut and mango ice cream
makes 3 servings, lasts for 3 days in the freezer in an airtight container

2 bananas, sliced and frozen overnight
150mL coconut milk
1c frozen mango chunks
cocoa nibs for garnish

1. Place milk in the blender bowl, along with about a quarter of the banana and blend. Continue to add quarter portions of banana.
2. Stir the mixture and blend again until there are no noticeable lumps of banana.
3. Blend in the mango in 3 additions, then stir and blend once more.
4. Serve immediately or freeze for 2-3 hours for a firmer ice cream.
5. Sprinkle with cocoa nibs before serving.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

200 days in Gwanghwamun



Today marks the 200th day since the the Sewol Camp was started in Gwanghwamun Plaza. I wrote a post about what I learnt during my time there on the other blog.

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. 

Feast

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 allrecipes.com

Cake
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.