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!

Monday, December 30, 2013

An Ombre Children's Birthday Cake, Redux

It's nice to ring in the New Year with a sweet little cake for a barely one-year old. This is one we made for P's daughter, D on her first birthday and while she won't remember it, it's a bit metaphorical of how a New Year has all the potential in the world.

D's mum, clever woman that she is, requested a non-fondant, delicious cake, so we made a blueberry lemon cake and started stacking it with buttercream and home-made lemon curd. This kind of cake, is rather a labour of love, it has to be made fresh, whole and is just beautiful inside and out. When you slice through those even layers of cream, curd and cake... ooh, it gives me shivers just thinking about it. 

This is the cake all beautifully stacked and ready to go. It was very even, before the frosting was even applied, always a good sign and just studded through with blueberries. It was crumb coated and then the ombre buttercream was carefully swirled on. 

As they say, practice makes perfect when it comes to colouring and frosting. I think I learnt a lot from my previous ombre cakes and I love how this turned out, with the waves of colour graduating upward. We put the sprinkles on, the fondant ducks and that's it- as fresh and clean as a cake can be. 

Happy Birthday little D! We hope you and your family enjoyed your cake and we wish you all the blessings in the world.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Quick and Easy Christmas Meal

For those of you who are on the hook for Christmas meals and New Year's, here are some really simple dishes to throw together. I really enjoy making these because they practically cook themselves and leave you plenty of time to get the dishes done before hand, as well as be out of the kitchen and enjoying the company of guests.

I'm not going to go into desserts, as there are ample recipes that we've done over the year and unless you insist on a creme brulee or souffle of some kind (wow, you really are masochistic!), most desserts can be, indeed have to be, prepared beforehand and at the most, warmed up before serving. There are also some like eclairs, or cake or trifle which are served cold. We did a dark fruit trifle of blackberry, strawberry and cherries this year, primarily because I had a round of pound cake, some cherries and strawberries left after making a previous stacked cake.

For a vegetable and a change from a cold salad, I like to make this simple dish of roasted brussel sprouts and corn. I had shown this salad in an earlier post but it is a very good one for large crowds particularly. It is both healthy and easy to make- I assemble the four ingredients ahead of time, bacon, which I slice and freeze for use, corn kernels which I slice off the cob, store in a tupperware and which can also be frozen, the brussel sprouts which I wash and slice before, storing in a zip lock and the cilantro, which can be chopped and put in a bowl or zip lock.

Assembly is simplicity itself, I just line a oven tray in foil and pour the brussel sprouts, corn and bacon in, give it a toss and roast it in an 180C oven for 20 minutes. When it comes out, allow it to cool and toss in the cilantro. The wonderful thing about this recipe is that it can be assembled pretty much anytime before your dinner and it can also be roasted before the dinner, as it does not need to be served hot. It also doesn't require any oil or butter (you can add these but it tastes just fine without them.

Another easy veg is a sliced potato and caramelized onion cake, as adapted from Jamie Oliver. You simply slice the baby potatoes and par boil them, which takes very little time when they are so thin. Arrange them in a dish, sandwich two layers of potatoes with the caramelized onions and toss them into the oven (at the same time with the brussel sprouts if you wish) and they come out golden brown. The only part that requires a bit more work is the caramelized onions but these can be done ahead of time, stored in tupperware and frozen for ease of use. Simply slice three red onions, cook them in a saucepan, add two tablespoons of white sugar when they soften and then three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and continue to cook until they are limp.

If this is too much work for you, simply line another roasting tray, spread the quartered, uncooked potatoes with some cauliflower florets, drizzle with oil, herbs and sprinkle with salt and roast together with the brussel sprouts. I love recipes that can all be cooked together, it saves energy and time to be able to roast both together in the oven and I often even add a third tray on top, of thinly sliced bread for bruschetta!

The other part that is really easy to do is a quick carbohydrate, instead of doing a pasta, which requires you to boil pasta right before guests arrive- there is little way to prepare a pasta in advance, I have taken to doing a rice pilaf or a rice dish with basmati rice, enriched with some veg and protein. This is my Christmas take on a salmon kedgeree- you might think that dry-frying is a very Asian technique but apparently (judging by the recipes of Nigella and just about everyone who has a kedgeree something), it isn't.

What I do is fry a tablespoon of minced ginger, garlic and shallots in a little oil (I use a little sesame oil for the effect) and then add 3 cups of washed and drained basmati rice. Fry the rice and then add a cup of diced white onion. Continue to fry till the rice is fairly dry, then push it all into a rice cooker and steam the rice till cooked. Halfway through the steaming, I open the lid and stir in a teaspoon of parika, a handful of peas, cranberries, fried shallots and chopped dill. It smells just heavenly!

Again, this recipe is so simple and the steaming process means both that it can be done ahead of time and it will keep warm. I smoke my salmon piece on a cedar plank but you can just roast it in the oven, or poach it, anything that you prefer. In this instance, I flaked the salmon over the rice but you can also just serve it as a large piece of salmon lying atop the rice. The juices from the salmon seep into the rice and the whole thing is just potently delicious. It is a dish that is equally acceptable to older people, as well as to younger children, which suits parties.

The last thing we do is make a meat, now this can be seafood, if that your preference, or a bird, or lamb leg or a steak or a traditional roast. My vote would actually be for a traditional roast, becuase it is the easiest to do, simply marinade, sear, roast in the oven and then pull out and carve before or as the guests arrive. It's just one piece of meat and it has to rest, which gives you ample time to get ready and mingle with your guests.

It's also hard to mess up a roast, if you start with a quality piece of meat and it doesn't require too much fussing about or stuffing, just the oven or BBQ grill doing it's work. In our house though, it was steaks and lobsers this year, hot, crusty and juicy soft off the smoker.

Bon appetit!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Recipe: Butter Cake

Dear readers, Merry Christmas! We hope your December and New Year's are filled with warmth, charity and loved ones. This year, like most others has been a mixed bag of some good and some bad and while we look forward to better times and new adventures ahead, we also reflect on how lucky we are and how fortunate we continue to be, not least because we have shared and had your support and encouragement from the first day till today. We really appreciate that and we hope your life too, continues to be full of the excitement, contentment and blessings of good food and good meals. 


This was one of the first recipes I ever made and continues to be one of the most applicable, a simple and tasty butter cake. The strength of this cake is it's plainess, which lends itself to the best ingredients and a moist crumb, if you are patient and thorough. It can also be flavoured with orange peel and juice for an orange cake, or stir half the batter with dark cocoa powder for a marble cake.

250g butter unsalted
250g white sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence or seeds from a vanilla pod
250g self-raising flour
1 Tbsp brandy
For orange cake, add 2 Tbsp orange juice and rind of an orange, for a marble cake, mix a third of the batter with 2 Tbsp dark chocolate cocoa powder.


1. This is known as the simplest of recipes, essentially creaming together an equal quantity of fat, sugar and flour. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy and light coloured. The key to this recipe is really vigourously creaming the butter and then adding the sugar, whipping both until sufficient air is incorporated to make it light and crumbly.

2. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure that the creaming in between is enough to really mix in the egg. Add the vanilla or orange if you are using it.

3. Fold in the flour gently, so as not to deflate the air you've so carefully introduced, and the brandy.

4. Pour into a 8 inch square tin and bake at 150 degrees C for 1 hour. You can use a larger tin and make a flatter sheet cake, or else spoon it into cupcake moulds and bake the cupcakes for 40 min at the same temperature.

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!