Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thank you and Orange Sugee Cake for Chinese New Year sale!

We hope you all had the most wonderful Christmas and New Year! We definitely had a big season of baking this year. As you know, in previous years, we have always put some of our own Christmas and seasonal baking up for sale. As home bakers, we are very fastidious about the quality and consistency with which we bake. As a person who appreciates and writes about food, I have become increasingly concerned about the safety, quality and source of our ingredients, whether they are single origin, whether they are produced by people who similarly care about the taste and nutrition of what we are eating.
I think it is fair to say that I have become more particular and also more careful about how much and what I consume, because it's one of the only ways to moderate against my love for food generally. Where possible, we try to cut out the sugar levels, salt levels and artificial flavourings that otherwise make dessert particularly unsustainable and heavy instead of light and delicious.

We really believe that baking should be about fun but also about really great ingredients, good recipes, freshness, dedication and being special to the occasion. We believe in simple product that tastes and looks good. With the increasing price of ingredients and inflation in Singapore, you know this is not an easy task and one thing that we found really helpful was to buy direct from suppliers.
This enabled us to get quality French butters (if you bake, you know how much yellow artificial colouring seeps out of many commercial butters), Madagascan vanilla pods, Portugese pears, rum, fruit and nuts, fresh black cherries and so on. Buying in bulk is efficient, but only if you can bake all of it, so we started to put up some of our baking, for sale, to make up the numbers.  

In truth, it has also allowed us to better enjoy the process of baking our Christmas cakes for the festive season and I can't tell you how good the warm aromas of rum, fruit, nuts and vanilla, smell. We spent the weekends baking the Christmas fruit that had been soaked for over three months in rum.
Even the glace cherries become a tan-gold colour after all the soaking, so being the traditionalist that I am, I chopped and soaked another batch of green and red glace cherries and candied peel. It is hugely therapeutic, the weighing out the butter, sugar, flour, toasting the nuts and folding the batter and citrus peel into a rich, moist crumb, and building up a stack of honey-brown, brandy-brushed cakes.

This year, we made more changes to try to get our friends to try different products that we ourselves enjoy. All the products we offered were items that we love too and which we have for Christmas, especially the sour cherry pie. This pie is absolutely superb, and I am quite picky about pies. The crust is an American all-butter crust into which we add pistachios for a nice crunch and flavour. The filling consists of two kinds of cherries, the prunus avium is the sweet, black cherry, while the prunus cerasus is the sour cherry.

The red morello sour cherry is less sweet, firmer and is one of the superfoods, the black cherries have to be freshly pitted, fruit by fruit. Yes, you heard me right, imagine sitting there, pitting your way through a couple hundred cherries- it is absolutely a labour of love (and wayy tedious) but we believe it really makes a huge difference to the texture and bite of the filling. Then there is pleating the lattice, while the dough is in between various states of being frozen and chilled, trust me, you do not want to make this pie yourself.

Another really fun addition this year, was to have specific cake and pie boxes, in a sturdy kraft cardboard. Apart from making really beautiful product, we also wanted to have a proper packaging that was, like our mantra about baking, simple, straightforward, evergreen and effective. We had our packaging stickers made like a picture on an old chalkboard door and we called our efforts 'Monk's Hill Bakery', which seemed fitting, given it was where we first baked together and shared laughs.
Monk's Hill is actually a really old place in Singapore and we liked this reference to our local history. It is the stretch of green, hilly, windy, and now very urban space, which borders Cairnhill and Clemenceau Avenue North, which turns into the back of Paragon, and Newton where Newton Hawker Center is. It was named for the old Chinese cemetary that sat on the hill that now leads upward to Anglo Chinese School, but the monastery and school that bore the same name, have long since ceased to exist.
In the evenings, as you walk up the quiet and green lanes, flanked by the old black and white colonial flats and townhouses, sometimes it's misty and you can imagine what you would have been like- a really beautiful, contemplative place. 
One of the old products we decided to put on the menu this year, was our Caramelized Pumpkin Pie. This is no wishy-washy, gently smooth pumpkin pie- the addition of caramel, port and spices to the traditional recipe adds a lot of punch and a deep jazzy depth that is smooth but strong in each mouthful. It contrasts really well with the decorative border of freshly whipped cream and it's one of my sentimental, seasonal favourites.
Although Christmas is just over, we are already thinking of new products to offer next Christmas and at different points across the year. Over the last year, we have been making celebration cakes, customized children's birthday cakes, seasonal cakes like our Triple Lemon Bluberry stacked cake and our many flavours of Macarons, when we can and when the ingredients are in season.  Our hope is that by agglomerating all our bakes into Monk's Hill Bakery, we will have a more coherant way to manage the custom orders and seasonal bakes that we do- feel free to email us at monkshillbakery@yahoo.com anytime, if you have a custom cake in mind. 

The truth is, these pictures make the entire process look beautiful and festive, don't they? They were taken by our dear friend Melvin. He should really be a professional but he has too many talents to make this his main line of work. He was generous enough to give us some of his time and he really makes the cakes and pies look out-of-this-world good. There were so many people who have really made our baking experience fun and fulfilling, so we would really like to thank you all for your support. It made Christmas special to meet each and every one of you and we hope the eating was as good for you, as it was for us. 

In the background of the picture, you can kind of see the batter for this cake and you can see how inlaid with pear it is. These are pears that have been seared with brandy, which causes the caramelisation of the cake itself, in the foreground. It is an absolutely intoxicating cake, with a rich, dense crumb and smooth fruit finish, true to it's provenance, it goes really well with port.

We've tried this cake with all kinds of different fruit and pears, and it is only the Portugese Rocha Pear which makes it sublime. We love Portugal, it's beautiful towns, rich agrarian produce, sea-side fresh food, with their sharp flavours of cilantro, fresh octopus, chorizo and crates of farm citrus and we are happy to support their exports, especially to Singapore. This season for Rocha Pears was really short, so it caused us some anxiety to be doing these cakes for Christmas, but it all worked out well in the end and we hope to keep it on as a seasonal offering .

This last cake is one, and the only one, we will be offering for Chinese New Year. This is because CNY this year, falls rather close to the end-of-year festivities. This cake is our Orange Sugee Cake and comes topped with an organic flaked almond icing drizzle. I particularly like our version of sugee cake because it is not as dense, oily and yet dry, as the regular Eurasian version. The texture is lighter and more aerated, with fresh orange zest that really brightens up each slice.
It goes wonderfully with tea for your New Year guests, so if you would like to have some, please drop us a line to order at monkshillbakery@yahoo.com with your contact details. Each cake costs $50 and comes as a boxed 6 inch square. The cakes will be ready for self-collection on the 25th of January, the Saturday before Chinese New Year and visiting begins.   
Have a wonderful and blessed New Year, we wish you good health, good luck and good eating!

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