Salted Vanilla Crispy Custard Puffs

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Though I hate to be picky, I guess I still can be. Almost every week, my mother buys bolo buns, or ‘pineapple buns’, for my sisters. These are sweet buns filled with sticky red char siu (sweet barbecued meat) filling, covered in a yellow tortoiseshell of crackly sugary goodness. It’s those charming cracks, glistening coats of crisp comprising pull-apart little tiles on each little bun, that get to me, more so than any other part. As I picked childishly at the top once, I was reminded of my first try of choux au craquelin, or crispy cream puffs with a similar sort of topping. Remembering I had some leftover custard that I used to make salted custard lava french toast earlier on in the week, the idea of custard puffs ossified.

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Cutting into a crispy, sugary coat to be greeted by voluptuous spillage of vanilla-speckled, slightly salty custard is one of the most lascivious but gratifying actions one can do. Hear the crackle, wade deep. The salt plays up the sweet, giving the drag of thick and cream a bit of angle, an edge. The craquelin itself may have been enough to satisfy me, but it’s a bite that makes the experience whole.

The last time I played with choux was probably more than a year ago, and a repeat this time reminded me of the requisite care in perfecting the robust dough which is easy to let fall apart if you overlook the temperature and timing of each ingredient addition.

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Salted Vanilla Crispy Custard Puffs (makes 6-7 medium puffs)

Ingredients

For the choux buns:

75g plain flour

50g butter

2 eggs, beaten

120ml water

1/2 tsp salt

 

For the craquelin (crispy top):

85g butter, softened

100g white caster sugar

100g plain flour

 

For the salted vanilla custard:

110g white sugar

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp salt

4 egg yolks

beans of one vanilla pod or 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste

30g butter

720ml milk

 

Directions

First, make the custard. In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar, cornstarch, salt, egg yolks and milk to a boil. Add the vanilla, then let the mixture continue to boil for 15-18 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture occasionally. Take off the heat when you see that the custard has thickened and readily coats the back of your spoon. Add in the butter and stir to mix. Pour the custard into a bowl, cover with cling film and let this rest in the fridge while you make the remaining components.

Preheat your oven to 177C (350F) and prepare a baking tray lined with parchment paper for the choux buns. Make the craquelin: in a bowl, mix the ingredients for the craquelin together until you get a buttery dough. Roll the dough into a ball and put into  a plastic ziploc bag, sealing it. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out till it’s 2-3mm thick in the bag. Put this in the freezer.

Next, make the choux buns. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the butter, water and salt to a boil. Once you see that the butter has all melted, add the flour. Use a wooden spoon or whisk to incorporate until you get a dry-looking dough. Take off the heat and let the mixture rest for 2 minutes. Then, slowly whisk or beat in the eggs. It’s the eggs that provide the lift to the batter, readying it for the perfect little pocket in the middle. I like to do this in 3 additions. It’s important to keep whisking here and to do this slowly, as sudden contact between the hot dough and eggs and cause the eggs to scramble. The dough should be stiff enough to hold a peak when you lift up your spoon or whisk. Put the choux bun paste into a piping bag and pipe circles that are 3cm in diameter onto the baking tray, doing a little swirl at the top. Wet your finger with a little water and press down ever so slightly on top, so you get a more aesthetically pleasing puff.

Take your craquelin out of the freezer and cut out circles 3cm in diameter from the frozen, buttery block. Despite freezing, the slab is still relatively easy to break. You can use a metal cutter or knife to cut out the circles. Place the circles on the choux paste, and then bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes.

After baking, let the buns cool for 15 minutes on the tray. Take your cooled custard out of the fridge and put into a piping bag. Poke the tip of the piping nozzle into the bottom of a puff, and pipe until you feel some resistance at the point of contact between nozzle and puff. There is quite a bit of weight difference. Repeat for the other puffs. These buns can be stored in the fridge for 2 days or frozen for longer storage. If they have gone all soft after a while, you can re-crisp them in an oven, just bake them at 160C for 5 minutes.

 

Review: Paddy Hills

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Another day, another café. I’ve done a little review on Paddy Hills before, but I could not pass up the chance to visit again to sample a few items on their new menu. When I stepped through the entrance doors, I was reminded why, when I first visited more than a year ago, I kept telling myself, ‘come back, you gotta come back’. I haven’t done a review in aeons, but this place deserves one, and more to come.

Having been to many a ‘hip’ café before, safe to say that Paddy Hills lives up to its hyped name. A little off the beaten track at South Buona Vista, interior brimming with rustic majesty, flooded with wood and light. Tiles, the most beautiful navy wall, smiles. A close friend and I sat down excitedly, and were first served drinks.

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Iced Matcha. Creamy, thick, rich. This reminded me of Haagen Dazs’ green tea ice cream blended with a little milk. Perhaps just a little too sweet for a sustained sip, but refreshing nonetheless.

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Bubbly Yuzu. This fared well for the both of us. The bubbles added a lovely flair, but it was the perfect ratio of sparkle to sweet of the drink itself, combined with the textural difference of plum and grape jello, that really made this a special, whimsical drink.

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Berry Muffcakes! Complete with vanilla bean ice cream cubes, magic mango balls, a garden of berries, chocolate sauce and chocolate crumble. OK, these are not part of their new or limited-time-only menu, but I just have to throw these in because… I mean, can you not see the pictures above. It’s just ridiculous. After trying these the first time a while ago, I immediately started writing about them because I was so enamoured by its spot-on texture and toppings. I’ve had my fair share of hotcakes and this was by far the best I’ve tried. Friends, I do not joke. Crispy, robust edges, fluffy, pale yellow cakey belly, a firm, browned bottom. Not too sweet, either. There’s nothing more you can ask for.

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Winter Truffle Fries. Golden fries, shaved pecorino, and shaved black truffle. Some truffle aioli on the side, because what’s lush without sin? Truffle fries have a bit of a confusing rep because it’s true you can’t actually taste truffle; its expensive scent enhances the whole fry-eating experience. For a limited time only, I implore you all to get your hands on these absurdly crisp, golden strings of heaven. If you’re like me and enjoy crispy-only fries, as if they were fried through and through and then fried just once more, then get your foodie selves down to Paddy Hills stat (yeah, they definitely beat PS Café’s).

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Truffle Breakfast. House-cured salmon, soft scrambled eggs and shaved truffle on a bagel, with house-cured bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and arugula.

I don’t consume much meat, but I daresay the few bites I took were tender like none. The bagel was crisp and chewy; eggs silky, creamy and buttery without being cloying or gloopy. The milky, more earthy flavours of truffled egg and mushroom complemented the cured meats which cut through with a blaze trail of umami. A king-sized, well-balanced dish.

As the meal came to an end, it started to darken outside. The light all at once was harsh, then subdued. The sky gradient followed the rise and defeat of our appetites, as we looked despondently at our leftovers. Full, happy, done.

 

Paddy Hills

38 South Buona Vista Road

Weekdays:  10 30am-5pm, 6-10pm
Weekends: 9am-5pm, 6-10pm

6479 0800

 

 

Blueberry Danish+ exciting news

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New season of the Great British Bakeoff? Yeah, almost started sweating. Just so happened that the dawn of another exciting slew of episodes coincided with my mum’s genius decision to buy the ever-charismatic Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake cookbook. So there I was, eagerly thumbing through, and I finally settled on his recipe for raspberry danishes. Having never experimented with proper danish pastry before, I figured it only wise to follow his method step by step, in true apprentice fashion. Tweaked it a little to use the ripe, slightly tart blueberries I had instead, and dressed it up with homemade frangipane and a salted caramel glaze instead of the stated recipe’s citrus-based one. I now fully understand why people labour over laminated dough; all those hours folding, pressing and refrigerating are truly worth it in the end. The result proved to be gold– flaky, golden pastry, buttery and beautiful. Not much sugar needed, just let the dough do the talking. Anyone who’s keen on trying laminated dough, be it this/ croissants/ pain au chocolat etc, should definitely try this take (this is easier if you live in a cold country, but if not, please make sure that air-con is on full blast!)

Before I get on with the details and modifications, I want to share something pretty exciting with you. Ever since kindergarten I’ve always wanted to write a book, be it on something big or small, short or long, personal or informative. There’s something about holding a book– reading, absorbing, loving it, that beats few other physical and mental experiences. Having finished a recent research internship that served well to enhance this innate lust for creative and relatable matter, I was immediately compelled to start. Though I shan’t disclose any details, I do plan to include a few new surprise recipes in this personal project!

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Blueberry Danish with a Salted Caramel drizzle (makes about 25 pastries)

Ingredients

For the dough: 

one batch of Paul Hollywood’s Danish pastry dough 

 

For the frangipane (adapted from Martha Stewart’s ‘Bostock’ recipe):

50g (2/3 cup) whole, raw almonds

100g (1/2 cup) granulated white sugar

85g (6 tbsp) softened, unsalted butter

1 egg

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon vanilla

3/4 teaspoon salt

 

For the salted caramel drizzle:

50g (around a half cup) white sugar

47g salted (!!) butter

1 1/2 tsp fine salt

120ml (1/2 cup) heavy whipping cream (either single or double is fine)

 

Extras:

a punnet of fresh blueberries, to be used before and after baking.

4 heaping tbsp of marmalade

 

Directions

Make the dough according to Paul’s instructions (so perfect for beginner’s and what a wonderful result you’ll yield!). Top tip: make sure you’re in a cool environment, to prevent any of all that butter from melting. Preserve the future of your unbaked dough.

Modifications:

During the last fridge prove, preheat your oven to 200C and start on the frangipane and salted caramel for the drizzle. For the frangipane, process the almonds and sugar  together in a food processor until you get a texture close to coarse meal. Add the rest of the frangipane ingredients and blend until smooth.

For the salted caramel, heat sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon. Continue to do so until all the sugar melts into a pool of dark, glossy amber liquid. Once this stage is reached, add the salted butter. It’s a pretty vigorous reaction, this one. Stir with spoon to help the melting process. Once all the butter has melted, slowly add in heavy whipping cream. This part is even more vigorous that the previous one; it will spit and rise as it starts to boil. Let the mixture boil like this for another minute before taking the pan off the heat. Let cool for another couple minutes before stirring in the salt. For the icing, mix with enough icing sugar so you get a thin drizzling consistency.

Once the dough has finished proving in the fridge, ready around 3 baking pans and cut out some parchment paper to fit each. Remove the dough from the fridge, lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough till it’s about 7-8mm thick. With the help of a ruler, cut out squares measuring 7x7cm. At each corner, use a sharp knife to cut diagonally towards the centre, about 3cm in. You should get what looks like a box with 4 straight scores running from each of the 4 corners, without any of the lines overlapping since you don’t cross the middle. Take one corner and fold it towards the middle, then alternate with the remaining 7 corners, so you end up with a 4-segmented parcel. Put a teaspoon of frangipane on each pastry, then plop 2-3 fresh blueberries on top. Beat an egg and brush the exposed pastry with the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Once out, brush with warmed marmalade (simply warm the marmalade in the microwave for 20 seconds), then drizzle on the salted caramel icing. Add more fresh blueberries, and devour immediately or soon. These can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days, just remember to toast before consuming.

 

 

 

Hotcake For One

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As like every Saturday, I took a route less travelled. That morning was colour and fairytale light and a whimsical plate. The perfect respite welcomed me at Paddy Hills, one of my favourite local hideaways for moreish brunch fare, ambience (and not going to lie, the lighting is always perfect for photographs). The light. Almost as if the window behind me had the slightest blue filter. Why is it that I remember these things and not actual important things like the bus routes back home?

Every time I venture out alone in search of a particular foodthing or breakfast dish (for I’m the sort who wakes up way too early to wait for brunch, though that’s always welcome on the social agenda), I savour every little component that arrives at the table. Food is meditation. Every sit-down is an analysis, a reconnection with the humble plate. A cup of coffee is a bit of serendipity, its acidity meaning more than just caffeine. It precedes the awakening of senses; always a bit of displeasure before every reward. Just like my laboratory internship that started in July– each new theory or paper encountered is an adventure for the senses. Every moment is to be savoured, every experiment a full-on thrusting into the meat of the mind.

Having tried many a hotcake before, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for the one at Paddy Hills, but it’s by far the best one I’ve tried. Golden, crisp edges encased a cake-like, fluffy interior, leaning towards pound cake on the density spectrum. Its perfect texture was proven by the soft drag of my fork’s prongs along the edge, followed by the total lack of resistance as they sank into the domed surface. It was then that I decided I just had to recreate something similar at home, and that’s exactly what the following morning demanded. With the mother’s new stash of gluten-free coconut flour at home, I have also included a gluten-free version for any of you who swing that way for personal health reasons. It took a couple of tries to get as close as possible as I could to what I enjoyed. The original recipe I followed online included the unusual addition of Japanese mayonnaise, which apparently is what the Jap folk use in their sky-high, souffle-like pancakes. Unlike American mayonnaise, the Japanese version is typically made with apple or rice vinegar instead of distilled vinegar, and uses egg yolks instead of whole eggs. Perhaps its the chemical structure of the soy vegetable oil they use or the underlying sweetness that lends a hand to the delish result. It did turn out with a desirab;e ratio of texture and flavour, though next time I shall try it without the mayo and look out for the slightest of differences.

It must be taken into account that the size of your pan (mine is about 4.5 inches wide), as well as how close your pan is to the kiss of heat, affect the final result. There’s nothing more gratifying than a big, fat hotcake on your plate.

It was a Sunday morning and the café came to me instead. Here goes.

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Hotcake For One (adapted from this lovely lady)

Ingredients

1/4 cup cake flour

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (substitute with coconut flour for the gluten-free version, but take away 2 tbsp)

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

4 tbsp white sugar

2 tsp Japanese mayonnaise (substitute with American/homemade mayo if you have that on hand)

1 egg white

1/2 cup (180ml) milk or buttermilk

2 tbsp melted butter

splash of vanilla extract

whatever toppings you desire; I chose berries for a berry garden, mascarpone cheese, cashew butter and maple syrup

 

Directions

Preheat your pan on low heat and ready some butter for cooking. Make sure to have at least a healthy knob of butter for each hotcake you make, for this ensures the crispiest golden edges and ease in removing the cake from the pan. In a bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg white until it becomes white and frothy. Add the milk, vanilla extract, mayonnaise and melted butter. Pour the wet into the dry ingredients and mix until everything is just combined. Tip the mix, which should have a thick dropping consistency, into your preheated pan and let cook for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes or when you can see that the edges have hardened and there are small bubbles around the same area, flip the hotcake (carefully) and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the hotcake and serve with whatever you wish.

 

Black Sesame Cinnamon Rolls (easy, eggless)

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I never expected a single public holiday to represent such freedom. Quite loving this mind shift, this change of tide, in the sense that I now savour small things like this. Like a short breather in between a long-range marathon. After all this time, I still get excited about writing blog posts for you guys, and creating different, easy-to-make (usually) recipes on all things breakfast and sweets. So it feels good to finally getting round to blabbering a little bit more in the morning. Indeed, I wouldn’t mind some pipette work in the lab, mind to matter, but days away from its calming sterility call for things I love most– drawn-out bouts of journalling, reading, watching, feeling, thinking, loving. With lots of coffee and tea, of course.

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Back in my first term at college, I modified a recipe for eggless cinnamon rolls out of pure circumstance. I didn’t wish to make them specifically for a vegan friend, though these turn out to be quite the treat if you do wish to make it vegan (simply change the milk and butter you use), and one wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway. The crunch of the black sesame pressed into a cinnamon-sugary-sweet filling is heaven in this one. The dough itself is satin and fluff, easy to tear and almost melt-in-your-mouth.

Black sesame cinnamon rolls, stuffed with a cinnamon sugar sesame filling, topped with a classic cream cheese frosting. 

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I’ve talked about these already in my first post on the recipe, so do go check it out, especially for some side profile sass and another cute flavour approach. The black sesame in this one elevates the humble bun’s sophistication, and adds several health benefits to something that’s not exactly the most healthful breakfast (ha). Rich in iron, calcium, zinc and B vitamins, just a sprinkling of the seeds lends quite a boost to your day’s nutritional profile. I’m not trying to deceive myself or any of you into thinking these are actually good for you, but hey, the sprinkle is still something, and it’s intriguing and fun to think about, at least to me.

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Black Sesame Cinnamon Rolls (makes 9 mini rolls)

Ingredients

For the dough:

2 1/4 tsp instant yeast

1 cup (240ml) milk– I used a mix of almond and whole

45g (3.5 tbsp) butter

250g (around 1 3/4 cups) plain flour, plus more for sprinkling on counter before kneading

3 tbsp black sesame powder, which you can usually buy from your local oriental store

pinch of salt+1 tbsp sugar

Vegan version: use a plant-based milk (almond/rice/soy) in place of regular milk, and vegan butter (Earth Balance)

 

For the filling:

45g (3.5 tbsp) butter, softened to room temperature

3 tbsp black sesame powder

large handful black sesame seeds

7 tbsp sugar mixed with 2 tbsp ground cinnamon

 

For the glaze:

50g icing sugar, sifted

25g cream cheese, softened

2-3 tbsp cream

 

Directions

Dough: In a microwave-safe bowl or in a saucepan over low heat, heat together the milk and butter until the butter has melted and the mix is warm (not scalding) to touch. Pour the mix into a larger bowl, then sprinkle on the yeast on one side of the bowl, and the salt and sugar on the opposite side. Wait 5 minutes, then add a half cup of flour at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon between each addition, followed by the black sesame powder. Once the dough is too thick to stir, transfer to a lightly floured counter and knead for 2 minutes. The final result should be a smooth, rather taut ball of dough, so you may need slightly more or less than the aforementioned quantity of flour. Briefly grease the same bowl, pop the ball of dough in and let it rise until it doubles in size–around an hour. At this point, preheat your oven to 176C (350F) and liberally grease an 8×8-inch pan.

After the dough has risen, lightly flour your counter again and turn the dough out onto the counter. Roll it out into a half-inch thick rectangle. Brush on (I just used my hands here) the butter that’s softened to room temperature, then sprinkle on the cinnamon-sugar mix, black sesame powder and black sesame seeds. Tightly roll the dough from the long end, so you end up with a long, pale tube of dough. Place the roll seam side down, and using a serrated knife, cut your tube into 8-9 rolls, each around 1.5 inches thick. Place them into the greased square pan. Cover the pan with foil to avoid over-browning and place inside your preheated oven. Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes.

While they’re baking, mix together the ingredients for the glaze in a small bowl. Once the rolls have finished baking, leave to cool for 10 minutes, then go ahead and glaze the heck out of them. Sprinkle on some black sesame seeds to top. These rolls are best eaten immediately or at least the day they’re made, however you can keep them for the next day and microwave them to revive a bit of tenderness.