Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Christmas Orders 2013!

Thank you for your warm and wonderful support. As of 4th November, we are sold out of the all the Christmas Cakes and pies that we intend to make. We look forward to a aroma-filled kitchen and delivering these to you over December. Have a family-filled and festive Christmas season!

We are in the process of preparing for our festive season and can't wait to be surrounded by the warm aromas of rum, fruit, nuts and vanilla! We'd like to share our Christmas cakes with you and have, as in previous years, put some of our cakes up for order. They are available to all, but unfortunately only for pick-up in Singapore. We are running out pretty quickly, so place your orders today and help us spread the word! 

Our belief is that baking should be done with quality ingredients and the ease of time and care. We want to put out products that smell as good as they taste and delight to us, is creating and being part of delicious, beautiful and nutritious meals and celebrations.  For our Christmas Cake, this means soaking good fruit for close to three months, toasting the nuts and folding the batter, good brandy and citrus peel into a rich, moist crumb. 

In addition, we have two other cakes, our Sour Cherry Pie has individually pitted (we think it is worth the trouble!) fresh black cherries and sour morello cherries stewed into a mellow sweetness, wrapped in crumbly, flaky lattice pastry and our Orange Sugee Cake. Our orange sugee cake is a lighter take on the traditional classic and has a fragrant, moist crumb, folded into a dense almond batter that's baked into a honey brown goodness. It goes really well with a late-night glass of port, after the kids and Santa have gone to bed!

The cakes are for collection on the 7th/8th and the 14th/15th weekend of December and are also available for the 24th/25th January weekend, right before Chinese New Year.  They are $50 for a 6x6 inch boxed square cake and $50 for the 8 inch pies.  Alternative pick up dates can be accommodated, please add a note and drop us a mail at with your order, contact number and preferred pick up date, which we will do our best to accomodate. Please note that your order is not confirmed until you hear back from us.

Please note the email above- after the last couple years, we’ve decided to roll our collective baking adventures into Monk’s Hill Bakery, named after the magical, cosy little black –and-white flat where we used to gather, bake and laugh. You see, where we used to live is a real Old Singapore place, which borders Winstedt Road and Clemenceau Road North, near where Newton Hawker Center is now. Before the 1950s, it was the site of a Chinese monastery, hence the name Monk's Hill. Most of the buildings named for the area, like Monk's Hill School, have moved away as the place gentrified, but it is still a beautiful patch of green, in the middle of the city, sloping uphill toward the back of the Istana, small roads where you can almost imagine the monks used to walk. 

While you can still contact us via the blog, we realized that to better monitor our orders, new bakes and custom cake and iced cookie requests, we need to centralize them into one place. We're also really excited to standardise the purchasing of ingredients and pretty-up our packaging, we have a beautiful idea in mind for this year's Christmas boxes and can't wait for you to see it! 

Thank you so much for your support in the past and have a glorious and meaningful festive season ahead. We look forward to hearing from you! 

Recipes: Soups with the Bamix

I was pretty excited this weekend about making some soups, as I had been craving broccoli soup for awhile. Why broccoli? I don't know, I don't even like broccoli. But something in Gordon Ramsey's broccoli soup demonstration had set off a sub-concious desire for the grassy, musky taste. Soups are another way of keeping very healthy and the perfect antidote to gluttony and sloth. Combined with a juice fast, they make for an excellent and filling, liquid diet. 

According to Gordon Ramsey, broccoli soup is as simple as blending broccoli, with the water they were boiled in, in a blender. I stewed 4 medium heads of broccoli with onions, pesto and pork bone stock, for about 15 minutes (yes I know, too long but the nutrients would still remain in the soup or so I hoped) then blended it with the Bamix attachment. The Bamix made good work of the florets and stems but the individual match-stick heads of broccoli were still remaining. It is really difficult, perhaps almost impossible to get a thoroughly smooth broccoli soup and using the whip attachment of the Bamix did allow it to be more aerated although the whipping function does not chop the pieces any finer. 

One of the concerns that I had with an immersion blender and it is the reason why I am trialing it with food that has some degree of husk and fibre (broccoli, tomato skins, chickpeas, corn) is because I wondered outloud if the blending function would be enough to puree food to an absolute smoothness (without overheating the motor, especially). I made some corn soup by stir frying corn pieces, together with a chopped white onion, spring onions and pork bone soup. I love how corn kernels plump up!

As you can see from the above, I really just pureed the corn kernels, onion and stock together, then added some milk (or you can use soy milk) to keep it viscous. I usually make my corn soup and corn gazpacho from putting the kernels through a Korean cold press juicer, known as the Hurom. The Hurom, instead of crushing (like the Phillips juicer), has a large internal screw that grinds out the pulp from the husk. This effectively presses out the juice, without leaving the skins of the husks in the soup. Although the Bamix did a pretty good job of blending up the soup, there were still pieces of corn husk it in, healthy and nutritious I know but for a cold, smooth gazpacho, I would probably still use a slow juicer. It did make short work of the onions and as a tool, the Bamix is very safe and nifty. It can be operated by a young child and the corn puree was judged very nutritious and got a warm reception from the babies we fed it to.

Any time that you can buy ripe Roma tomatoes for cheap it is worth it to do a roast tomato soup or even to puree and freeze them for your next batch of tomato sauce or bolognaise. You can see how red and ripe these tomatoes were- I simply roasted them with sea salt, thyme and rosemary without any oil, in the oven, for 20 minutes and then blended them in their own juices.

In a deeper pot, the Bamix blend and whip function made short work of the tomatoes. The Bamix was also able to go directly into the hot vegetables however after awhile, it does start to heat up. The lower part of the attachments in particular get really hot and I was concerned about that. The roasted tomato soup, garnished with black pepper, cream and Thai basil (chervil, lemongrass or cilantro also make a nice counterpoint) is shown below. You can still see some of the seeds from the tomato and I could also taste the skins of the tomato, which meant they had not been completely shredded.

This tomato puree can be used as a soup, it can also be evaporated over the stove to make a tomato puree over pasta, or else used to cook down bolognaise. It was easy to make as well- quick, wholesome and delicious. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Recipe: Hummus with the Bamix

* The following recipes were produced with a Bamix which has been on loan to us, it is not a paid advertorial but we did not pay to test the equipment.  

The Bamix is a Swiss consumer kitchen tool, a powerful immersion blender advertised most famously, by Gordon Ramsey. The chief advantages of the Bamix are that it has a much higher speed than most immersion blenders, it has several different head attachments and can be used directly into a hot stockpot, over the stove. 

It is advertised as being able to grind sugar, cereal, spices, crush ice, chop ginger, raw, cooked or frozen fruit and rasp and slice vegetables, legumes or cheese. I’ve never owned an immersion blender and have been performing the above functions with a processor, nut grinder and regular grater or mandolin, but the attraction of being able to do them all with one machine is compelling. However, my concern is that immersion blenders tend to be quite hard to control and was not clear that certain tasks, like the grating of nuts, can be done with the specificity that you can achieve with a hand grater, for example. 

The first dish that I attempted was a really simple one and driven by a simple reason also. Have you noticed that deli foods have become super expensive in Singapore? The price of hummus or spinach dip, seems to be directly proportional to the number of white expats in Singapore and both are reaching ridiculous proportions. Every centrally-located deli or bakery now sells them and I would too, because the profit margin must be huge. A thin little tub at the supermarket will cost you $5 but at a bakery, it can be $8 for a few smears on bread. Yes, I understand, it is for the ambience and the combination of prepared foods but not everyone has the means to live like that. 

To make it yourself, is simplicity itself. I had a can of chickpeas, leftover from when I had this idea that I would eat more legumes in salads- you can imagine what happened there. I researched some recipes, all of which seemed to call for roughly the same ingredients.

1 can of chickpeas (or 425grams of chickpeas that you've boiled)
A third of soaking water in the can (or else 1/3 cup of water)
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of tahini
1 tablespoon of minced garlic (or about three small cloves of garlic)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
A sprinkle of sea salt

Doesn't that sound basic (and cheap)? It took me about 5 minutes to make, probably less because the can had a pull top tab, I love it when cans have pull top taps, even though I've upgraded my can opener, I still hate screwing it around the can lid, with a passion. Tahini is a paste made from ground, hulled white sesame seeds and it's used primarily in North African, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine. It's served as a dip of its own or used as a major component of hummus, baba ghanoush and halva. It's hard for me to imagine, as tahini has a very strong taste of it's own.

I didn't have any tahini, so I substituted with a tablespoon and a half of liquid Japanese white sesame dipping sauce, the kind that I keep for steamboat. I think you can add any white sesame-derivative product really and I like to add a little less or keep it diluted, as I don't like too strong a sesame taste. Three cloves of garlic will produce a fairly spicy hummus, I like it that way, our 4-year old goddaughter did not. 

All the ingredients go into a bowl and were blended with the Bamix, then served with a topping of fresh yoghurt, sprinkling of paprika, thinly-sliced basil and some fresh sourdough crisps. This serving is probably about two thin tubs, or else $16 at retail prices, as versus the cost price, which is conservatively $3-4. 

As you can see from this photo, the spread isn't actually that smooth. This was one of the concerns that I had with an immersion blender and it is one reason why I will be trialing it with food that has some degree of husk and fibre (broccoli, tomato skins, chickpeas, corn). The Bamix of course, can be used to perform simpler functions like salad sauces, but to be honest, that only requires a spoon, so I chose hummus because you can't really smash chickpeas with a whisk or spoon. A chunkier hummus is fine with me, in fact I prefer it that way, but if you want a smoother paste, you would have to either use more liquid, blend it for longer or use the whip attachment on the Bamix (however, I suspect you would not be able to aerate/whip, without adding more liquid). The Bamix, however, did not get hot during the time that I was grinding the hummus and it is indeed more powerful than other immersion blenders, like the Kenwood. 

Another drawback of the immersion blender, not specific to the Bamix, is that it splatters. This is particularly true if you are grinding foods without enough liquid to immerse the rotating head of the blender and if the food is not mushy-soft. There were pieces of chickpea on the backsplash wall and depending on the size of your bowl, you may have to 'chase' your contents round and round. This could be solved with a regular processor, which has a blending cup to contain your ground bits- the Bamix SwissLine ($499 in Singapore) does come with a processor, coiled cordset and 1000ml beaker. The Bamix Magicwand, which I was using, doesn't have the beaker but has similar functions at a more entry level price.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Recipe: Pierre Herme's Chocolate Eclairs

I decided to make something just a little special this holiday weekend. There are a few things that I've been filing away and some foods that I really enjoy and would like to learn how to make for myself. Eclairs are definitely one of them, I grew up eating these, they were a special treat from bakeries like Sweet Secrets and they were my dad's and brother's favourites (as I got older, I realized how unhealthy they probably were and also stopped being such a fan of chocolate). Choux pastry is a light French pastry which utilises moisture to create an airy, hollow dough (remember those choux pastry swans?) and it's one of the first forms of pastry that you would learn in cooking school. I remember learning this in food and home economics classes when I was 14 and being fearful even then, of the vigorous cooking process required to produce a risen choux dough.  Most people quote Pierre Herme's recipe as is, but it is really the execution of the technique (maybe as with many Pierre Herme recipes) that is all-important. 

The recipe is as follows, there are three parts to the recipe, the choux pastry exterior, the chocolate pastry cream that is piped inside and then the chocolate glaze that goes onto the top of the eclairs. The choux pastry is by far the most difficult and time-consuming part. Choux pastry is really misleadingly simple, the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt are melted in a heavy bottomed saucepan and when the mixture is at a rolling boil, the flour is added all at once and then beaten with a wooden spoon around and around the base and sides of the pot until the mixture comes together into a smooth ball. This is transferred to a mixer with a paddle attachment, blended till cooled and then the eggs are added one at a time until the dough forms a smooth ribbon. 

Choux pastry:
½ cup (125g) whole milk
½ cup (125g) water1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) 
unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature

The real skill in choux pastry is the technique, how long you 'macronage' your dough for (which in our case, was too long, it should be about 3 minutes), how neatly you pipe and whether you use an egg wash to smooth over the surface (which we probably should have) and how accurate your baking time is. I've gone back to reading manuals that say that the baking time should be 45 minutes at 180 degrees in a pre-warmed oven. I don't really believe this as we did 17 minutes in a 170 degree oven and it did not seem quite enough to dry out the dough completely and prevent shrinkage, but the dough was starting to get really browned. Other tips were to bake it for 7 minutes, then slot a wooden spoon into the door, allowing the temperature to drop gradually while baking, for another 12 minutes, then to rotate and bake for another 8 minutes. Apparently these should be taken to the edge of brown, so that they do not collapse with internal un-wicked moisture, when finally removed from heat. 

The eclair shells are then cooled, sliced open with a serrated knife and dipped in ganache, then filled with cooled pastry cream. I prefer to slice open the eclairs, as opposed to filling them by piercing a few holes along the underside of the eclair body. The taste of the fresh choux, light, almost crispy, flavourful with that vanilla-eggy warmth and the richness of the Valronha chocolate, those are all good reasons to make your own eclairs. This recipe made and filled about 14 eclairs, each about 3-4 inches long. On other blogs, it apparently makes 24, but I don't really believe that. It's also important to eat the eclairs fresh or at most overnight, as the pasty does get soggy.

Chocolate pastry cream:
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp (75g) sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona Guanaja, melted
2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan. Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat). Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.
Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.

Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter gradually. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge- I find it useful to make this pastry cream a day before, as it stores well. 

Chocolate glaze:
3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream

Boil the cream and pour over chocolate, stirring till melted smooth. When slightly cooled, add the butter. The glaze should be used when slightly thickened and can be brought to a pouring consistency with the addition of more cream. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Miscellaneous: Pierre Herme's Montebello Macaron, Raspberry and Pistachio

It's been a long hiatus from macarons, so I attempted bi-coloured shells again. These pink and green shells are so pretty and the colour really masks that they were a slightly different height and width. I made the pistachio ganache - I typically don't like pistachio, but this ganache, made with PH's white chocolate recipe, is really tasty, fresh and mellow somehow, and then I buried raspberry gelees, made from fresh raspberry puree set with geletin and then cute into small cubes, into the pistachio paste. 

These are so delicious, I cannot even tell you. And as you can see, so very pretty to look at! 

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Miscellaneous: Barnyard Cake

This few weeks has been full of cake- first this lovely barnyard cake and then a large buttercream school bus cake. This was for a little girl Sonia and she loves animals. So I started shaping figurines like sheep and ducks and making carrots. 

When I completed my menagerie with a cow, pig, a basket of apples and a haystack, I decided to add some corn and flowers to fill in the spaces. It was starting to look pretty busy on it's 8 inch cake base! I was oddly, most proud of my apples, forming the little dimples and ridges characteristic of an apple shape, isn't actually that easy!

Rolling out the fondant for the cake wound up being the most challenging part. We chose a pale yellow colour, rather than an aqua blue, because we thought it would be a more cheerful colour and complement the busy surface of the cake. After a few false starts, the fondant started to split and show air holes, I'm not sure if this is due to the colouring having been liquid colouring, or whether it's because the texture of fondant changes as it's rolled out a few times. We also don't use any gum reagents with our fondant, which is usually what is added to keep it soft and pliable. I added a hand-painted, wood textured barn, a fence and hedges to the cake before assembling our barnyard. 

The cake was four layers of lemon-blueberry in an 8 inch size, almost 4 inches in height and sandwiched with lemon buttercream and lemon curd. We cut out patchwork blocks to spell out the birthday girl's name and attached it to the side of the cake. One day, I thought, I'd like to make a bizarre Rent-style birthday cake, you know, purple pigs and pink ducks, blue sheep, green eggs and ham. For a very special child. I was pretty proud of this cute cake, it was beautiful in its detail and required a fair bit of planning and thought. I hope she liked it too! 

Miscellaneous: School Bus Cake

We were tasked by P to make a school bus cake for her little boy, Elliot, who is mad about buses, trains and all manner of transport. Her brief was a tasty, full buttercream cake, which we were really excited about. The cake, lemon-blueberry, came out high and beautifully risen, I was so proud of it! As I sliced it up, I could see it was crystalline and crumbly. Carving a cake was actually a lot of fun, I had never done it before, but I've always been in love with shaped cake. Remember when you were a kid and we had those cakes in the shape of numbers, or animals?

The cake had four layers, which were sandwiched with a lemon-passionfruit-mango buttercream. The buttercream on the outside of the cake was a crusting buttercream but it crusts better with more shortening. As I don't like shortening, mine was somewhat soft and not as stiff as I would have liked. I can see though, why people like to use shortening, the smoothness of the application is quite awesome. I then piped on the details and used royal icing for the windows and doors. I wound up having to re-pipe the words in buttercream (the icing piping just didn't hold as well) and that also affected my once-smooth buttercream finish. 

This cake definitely made me smile. It isn't the most sophisticated of cakes but it was so darn cute, fun and innocent. And in terms of taste, I have to say this was possibly the fluffiest and most natural tasting cake, compared to the more finished fondant pieces. Happy Birthday Elliot and we wish you a most wonderful and blessed ride!