A Very Alcoholic Cherry Almond Cake

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I’d recently discovered some really nice dried cherries in Carrefour that don’t quite cost the sky (just an arm and a leg). It allowed me to finally try out Nigella’s recipe for a cherry cake. Her version involved natural glace cherries. I haven’t seen natural glace cherries anywhere in this corner of the world before and I thoroughly detest the typical bright scarlet ones, so I upped the decadence level by soaking the dried cherries for some hours in a mixture of kirsch and rum. It worked out beautifully, tasting a little like christmas fruit cake. It gets even better the next morning as the alcohol from the cherries infuses the cake. I’d imagine it’ll do wonderfully with extra dark rum scattered over the cake and left to age for a week before serving.

Before we get to the recipe, a few tips on prep work. First, soak the cherries overnight in a mixture of kirsch and rum. I ran out of kirsch, so topped up the alcohol with dark rum to cover the cherries in a bowl. Use brandy, whisky or vodka if you don’t have either the above. Next, halve your cherries or chop them very roughly  as I think the cherried alcohol infuses better in the cake that way. Last word on flour: I don’t really like the hassle of stocking both plain and self-raising flour and also keeping track of my baking powder to make sure that it’s not expired yet. What I do instead is to make up my own baking powder by using cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda. If you’d like to tailor your own recipes, halve the amount of baking powder to find out how much cream of tartar to use, and halve the amount of cream of tartar for how much bicarbonate of soda to add.

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Ingredients:

200g dried cherries, soaked overnight in alcohol mix and then halved
250g flour
1½tsp cream of tartar
¾tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g butter
120g sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 drops almond essence
100g ground almonds
about 3 tbsp milk

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Butter and line a loaf cake tin.
  2. Drain the cherries, reserving the soaking liquid
  3. Cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy, then add eggs and almond essence.
  4. Fold in flour and ground almonds.
  5. Make up the cherry soaking liquid to 6 tbsp with the milk and fold into the cake mixture.
  6. Fold in the cherries and scrape out into tin.
  7. Bake for 1 hour or so until a satay stick comes out clean.
  8. Let cool completely before removing from tin.

Makes about 12 slices.

Minang Nasi Padang: Best Beef Rendang Ever

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Shinta and I were in the Arab Street area so we had to drop by Minang Nasi Padang for lunch. DC had raved about it before (he’s now raving about another place, but more about that in a later post). As usual, we ordered too much. Between the two of us we had beef rendang, curry chicken, squid in its own ink, begedil and sweet potato leaves cooked in coconut milk.

It was all very good quality, with the tender, well-spiced chicken and the richly gravied potato leaves being above average. The  dry-style beef rendang, however, stole the show. Its incredibly depth of flavour and smokiness blew me away. They spiced the dish incredibly well and toasted the spices so well that the slightly tough texture of the meat actually added to its allure. Upon further chewing, the meat yielded more flavour. Despite the lack of tenderness, it’s my favourite beef rendang thus far.

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Minang Nasi Padang
18 & 18A Kandahar St
Tel: 9457 7384

Sticky Snail Buns

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These sticky snail buns are always a big hit. As Mum prefers non-chocolatey things and DC’s mum likes nuts, these were a natural choice for Mother’s Day last week. They’re so good that I caught Mum chewing on something as she snuck out of the kitchen. True enough, there was one less on the rack! These gooey, crunchy spiced buns are quite irresistible both fresh out of the oven and also the next day cold from the fridge. Somehow keeping it cold keeps the syrupy bits crackly and crunchy. I can never stop at one.

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Packed into a pretty box, these little buns beckon so glisteningly and enticingly, it’s no wonder Nigella urges in her Schnecken recipe to “apply to face” as soon as cool! Now I’ve made loads of modifications to her recipe to suit my taste and sense of practicality. I replaced golden syrup and maple syrup with honey because it’s easier to find and I have no idea what to do with leftover golden syrup. Plus I find that the fragrant honey I use gives a lovely aroma to the buns. Also, I find  the recommended amount of 150g sugar for the filling a bit excessive and have cut it down tremendously. Feel free to scale up the sugar if you have an especially sweet tooth! Lastly, I find that this recipe makes quite a lot of dough, so make sure that the buns don’t sit too long in the proving stage. Either that or halve the amount of dough and make 18 instead of 24. That would mean less dough and more syrup, so leave to prove for as long as you like instead of hawkishly watching them to make sure they don’t fill up the muffin tin too easily.

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Ingredients:

dough
3 eggs
150ml plus 1tbsp milk
75g unsalted butter
500g bread flour
40g sugar
¼tsp ground cloves
½tsp salt
1½tsp yeast

syrup
125g unsalted butter
4 tbsp brown sugar (or equal proportions of white sugar and dark brown sugar)
5 tbsp honey

150g pecan halves

filling
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated

Method:

  1. Beat the eggs. In a separate bowl, combine 1 tbsp of the beaten egg with 1 tbsp milk and set aside the mixture to glaze the buns later.
  2. Melt the butter, then combine with the eggs and 150 ml milk.
  3. Into a bowl, stir the flour, sugar, cloves, salt and yeast together and then pour in the liquid ingredients above. Using the dough hook of a cake mixer, knead for 5 minutes on high. Alternatively, knead by hand for 10 minutes.
  4. Form into a ball, oil the bottom of the mixing bowl and drop into the bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for about an hour or till doubled in size.
  5. In the mean time, prepare the syrup. Melt the butter in the microwave (medium for 1-2 minutes), then whisk in the sugar and honey. I don’t know how it works, but this magically turns it into a thick syrup. Spoon about 1 tbsp of syrup into each cup in two 12-bun muffin tins.
  6. Top with the pecans, making sure that each pecan half faces down. About four halves go into each muffin cup.
  7. When the dough is ready, knock it back, knead once or twice and halve the dough. On a flat surface (I normally use a long piece of aluminium foil), spread out half the dough with your fingers to form a rectangle about 15 cm long and 30 cm wide. Glaze the surface of the dough so it’s damp and sprinkle on a thin layer of sugar. Sprinkle on half the cinnamon and half the nutmeg, or just grate the nutmeg directly onto the dough.
  8. Roll up the bun from the long side and push it gently but firmly away from you till you have a sausage seam side down. Don’t worry if the dough is a bit sticky, with careful handling, it shouldn’t go too pear-shaped! Using a sharp knife, cut the dough sausage into 12 even pieces. I normally halve and halve it again to get four logs, then cut each into three. Take each swirly piece and lay into the muffin cup so the swirly part lies on the syrupy-nut mixture.
  9. Repeat with the other half of the dough mixture.
  10. Leave to prove for 20 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  11. When the 20 minutes is over, or the buns are risen and puffy, bake for 20 minutes. You’ll probably want to swap the trays at the 10-minute mark so they brown evenly. They’ll come out brown and gooey and the syrup is likely to bubble over, so make sure there’s a pan on the bottom of your oven to catch drips.
  12. Carefully loosen each bun with a knife and place a roasting tin over the muffin tin. Invert carefully and the sticky buns should pop out into the roasting tin. Carefully replace any fallen nuts and transfer any leftover syrup in the muffin cups onto the buns.
  13. Leave to cool and either eat as soon as possible or keep in the fridge overnight.

Makes 24.

Ice Cream Round Up

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It’s great that there’s plenty of good ice cream around, especially with so many local ice cream makers around. Tom’s Palette is one of the lesser known yet one of the better ones. I like their inventive flavours and sheer variety. Each time I go, there’s an interesting flavour to try out. Over the Chinese New Year period, they  not only had the usual “surprising” pineapple tart flavour, but also had stuff like tau sar piah flavour.

I also like their generous portions. In this picture there’s ba bao cha (eight treasure tea) sorbet and my favourite salted caramel cheesecake. The ba bao cha flavour wa a flavoured ice, nothing particularly special except it being served as sorbet. Now the salted caramel cheesecake is something else altogether: incredibly rich and cheesy, with bits of crumbled cookie base and the most luscious salty caramel flavour. Other flavours of note are the wasabi lime (a combination that works amazingly well, but not in too large a dose!) and passionfruit sake for the clean flavours.

Tom’s Palette
100 Beach Road #01-25
Shaw Leisure Gallery
Tel: 6296 5239

Galta Gelato at Parco Marina Bay is pretty decent too. The fridge is a funky cylindrical contraption with the ice cream laid out in a turn table of sorts.

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The gelato is very smooth and drippy. The fior di latte (milk) flavour was a bit too sweet for my taste, a pity. On the other hand, the ciocolate flavour was intense and unctuous, very excellent stuff especially considering that I’m not a big fan of chocolate ice cream. Try the other flavours and let me know whether they’re good!

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Galta Gelato Italiano Artigianale
P1-08 Parco Marina Bay

Last on the list is what DC think is the grandaddy of local ice cream: Daily Scoop. Their ice cream is always very smooth with the finest crystals, favourite flavours being coconut and butterscotch (I wonder what a combination of the two would be like!). We were delighted to find out that they served desserts and found that the brownie went amazingly well with the Salted Mr Brown. Somehow the salted creaminess worked a charm against the foil of warm chocolate. The butterscotch was buttery and caramelly and lovely with the brownie too, but far lovelier on its own. Bliss!

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Daily Scoop
41 Sunset Way
Tel: 6463 3365

Fried Laksa

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One of Mum’s friends once made a dry version of laksa for a potluck. It made so much sense to do it without the liquid for easy luggability. It was really yummy, so I had to recreate a version so that DC could try it. It was incredibly easy, although it requires quite a bit of effort in chopping everything up. The picture didn’t come out so good partly because I was trying out a new camera and partly because I lost patience with the chopping. Get some help with the cutting if you can. If not, don’t worry, it tastes much better than it looks!

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Ingredients:

2 tbsp dried shrimp, soaked in water
1 piece belachan, about the size of two 50 cent coins, toasted
6 shallots
1 clove garlic
5 stalks laksa leaves
3 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp dried shrimp (keep dry, do not wash)
2 lemongrass stalks, sliced
2 thick slices galangal
1 packet laksa paste (I use Dancing Chef brand)
good squirt of coconut milk, approx 10 tbsp
6 taupok, cut into squares
400g beansprouts (40 cents from my market), picked over and washed
1 kg thick beehoon ($1 from my market)

Sides:
20 poached prawns, shelled
1 big fish cake, shredded
2 chicken breasts, poached and shredded
3 eggs, hard boiled and sliced

Garnish:
1 cucumber, peeled, cored and shredded
large handful laksa leaves, shredded

Method:

  1. Pound the soaked shrimp using a mortar and pestle together with the belachan, shallots, garlic and a handful of laksa leaves.
  2. Fry the dried shrimp in hot oil till crisp, taking care to put them all in at the same time. Remove promptly from the oil as the shrimp burn easily. Set aside on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
  3. In the same oil, fry the pounded paste of shrimp, belachan, shallots and garlic with the lemongrass and galangal slices till fragrant, about 2 minutes on low. Pour in the laksa paste and fry till fragrant or till you start choking from the pungent chilli smell (whichever comes first). Remember to turn on the fan extractor if you have one. Still, it’s pretty much guaranteed that your whole house will reek of laksa for days.
  4. Remove the lemongrass and galangal, discard.
  5. Add the coconut milk and stir till you get a thick but fairly runny paste.
  6. Stir in the taupok and beansprouts, making sure to incorporate fully before adding in the next ingredient, then finally the noodles.
  7. Check the seasoning, adding fish sauce to taste. Garnish with cucumber shreds, chopped laksa leaves and crispy dried shrimp.
  8. Serve with fish cake, prawns, chicken and boiled egg slices on the side for everyone to help themselves.

Enough for 6.

Giant Spiced Apple Cupcake Surprise

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I was a little tired of the typical twee cupcake thickly coated with icing everyone scrapes off and throws out. (Dudes, icing sugar is expensive yo.) Instead, I went the other way and made giant cupcakes. The good thing is that this method cuts down on the bother of filling a zillion neverending cupcake cases. I made five in this recipe instead of the usual 15 or so. To make things a little special, I soaked some dried cherries in kirsch and filled the cupcakes with these little surprises.

The recipe itself is the same as the Orange Clove Cake, just that I added two grated apples to the cake mix for a fruitier, slightly denser and moister cake.

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Ingredients:

240g plain flour
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp cream of tartar
½tsp salt
¼tsp ground cloves
170g butter
200g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 egg whites
½cup milk
2 red apples, grated

big handful cherries, at least 30
good splash of kirsch or vodka

Method:

  1. The night before, soak the cherries in the kirsch. They should be plump and juicy when ready.
  2. Preheat oven to 160°C.
  3. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar, salt and ground cloves.
  4. Beat butter and sugar till creamy. Add in the eggs one by one, beating in between each addition, followed by the egg whites and vanilla extract. Beat till light and creamy.
  5. Fold in the flour mixture and milk alternately till you get a thick batter. Stir in the grated apple.
  6. Fill up each giant cupcake case halfway, fill with a generous spoonful of cherries, then top with remaining batter till about ¾ full.
  7. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or till a skewer comes out clean.

Makes 5.

Orange Clove Cake

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It was a good thing sis-in-law borrowed my usual baking book. I had to dig out my folder of recipes printed off the net, most untried and some 10 years old even. This one came off epicurious.com and I’ve done the usual modification to my own taste. The cake turned out surprisingly good. Somehow the clove brought out the freshness of the orange zest and lifted the flavour very well. This is a great recipe also because it uses up egg whites, the bane of kitchen leftovers.

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I served it with yogurt, honey and orange slices for breakfast and it made for a faintly indulgent yet not too sinful start to the day.

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Ingredients:

240g plain flour
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp cream of tartar
½tsp salt
¼tsp ground cloves
170g butter
200g sugar
zest from 1½ oranges
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 egg whites
½cup milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Line and butter a loaf pan.
  2. Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar, salt and ground cloves.
  3. Beat butter, sugar and orange zest till creamy. Add in the eggs one by one, beating in between each addition, followed by the egg whites and vanilla extract. Beat till light and creamy.
  4. Fold in the flour mixture and milk alternately till you get a thick batter.
  5. Smooth into loaf pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a satay stick comes out clean. Let cool in pan and slice when cold.

Makes 1 large loaf, approx 12 thick slices.