Apple Strudel

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Things to be grateful for the past week:

  • Billie Holiday. Happy belated, you star.
  • Extended periods of concentration
  • My mum’s lipstick (oops).
  • Discovering new, creative inspiration all around me, in the air, sights, people (Instagram aside, of course).
  • Daily yoga practice. Still trying to get better at certain inversions and balances. Nothing else truly grounds and invigorates me.
  • Love. Everywhere. Phone calls or video calls. Precious and genuine.
  • Making mistakes, and distinct feelings of unease. And then letting the right balance of stoicism and determination kick in. Feel, embrace, face obstacles, before trying to untangle and change them.
  • Coming across the cutest café (named Moreish) near the Wellcome Collection full of delicious vegan options, including vegan gelato!!
  • Coming up with more easy, AMAZING new recipes which I am so excited to release week after week! And just refining some sweet (literally) cult classics whenever I can. Snickerdoodles, red velvet cake, carrot cake, fudgy brownies galore. These things just can’t go wrong.My most recent experiment was particularly exciting and got me squealing on my knees at 10pm last night. Seriously.

Over the Easter weekend I was privileged enough to be hosted by my boyfriend’s family in Austria. On the plane ride back, my hands were itching to start playing with the Austrian cult classic– yes, the one and only apple strudel. I remember my first encounter with the traditional Austrian pastry before I went vegan so distinctly, The first bite was an explosion of thick-cut chunks of tender, stewed, cinnamony apple, enveloped in light-as-air, flaky pastry. Drenched in vanilla sauce (you usually douse your pastry in either this or vanilla ice cream if you have it), each vanilla speckle visible in pure, vivid ivory, if ivory could be so vivid. It’s the perfectly flaky pastry encasing soft apple, firm yet two steps away from being mush upon the pressure of your spoon, that I wished to replicate the past weekend.

And that I did.

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This easy vegan apple strudel is about an hour away from you if you feel like buying some filo tonight. Seriously, it’s so darn easy and delicious I can’t possibly think of what is stopping you. Since I was only making this for me and my uncle last weekend, the strudel I ended up with was a rather small thing of a sausage, but nevertheless satisfying in portion. Double the ingredients if you wish to make this for a larger party or, say, 5 or more friends who are more cautious than carefree when it comes to dessert after a hefty dinner of pot stickers and the likes on a Saturday night. I personally enjoy any dessert a la mode, as opposed to drenching it in custard or vanilla sauce. Ice cream any day for me, who’s with me?? I also drizzled over some of my homemade salted caramel sauce of extra pizzaz, though any sauce is of course optional, if you’re the sort who also hates stuff like sweet chilli sauce. Is that even possible?

Filo pastry actually comes in so handy for these types of dessert– I like to chuck mine in the freezer and let it thaw for at least 3 hours or overnight in the fridge to be used the next day.

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Apple Strudel (makes one 4×8-inch strudel. enough for 2-3 people)

Ingredients

2 large apples, diced

juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

2 and a half sheets of filo pastry, with the 2 larger ones cut in the middle along the longer edge, so you end up with 5 halves. If you’re using frozen filo pastry

A handful, or about 30g of chopped nuts (or buckwheat groats, as I used in my case since I didn’t have many nuts lying around– sacrilege!), and some extra for sprinkling later on

4 tbsp vegan butter, melted in the microwave

4 tbsp brown or coconut sugar

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350C). In a bowl, mix together the chopped apple, cinnamon, lemon and nuts. If you don’t have any nuts or buckwheat groats, granola or any trailer mix sort of thing works well too. Set the bowl aside.

Place a piece of parchment paper that fits a standard baking tray, and place the paper on the tray. Flour the parchment and lay down one sheet of filo pastry. Carefully (filo pastry is quite delicate) brush on some vegan butter, then sprinkle on a tablespoon of brown or coconut sugar, then some of your finely chopped nuts/granola/something crunchy basically! Then lay down your second piece of pastry and repeat. Repeat until all five sheets are used up. Place the filling in the middle of the pastry, leaving a border of an inch from the shorter edge (breadth) and 2 inches from the longer edge (length). Refer to the pictures above for a clearer idea of what I’m saying. Using a sharp knife, roughly cut lines going from the edge of your filling to the length of the pastry, spaced 2 cm away from each other and parallel to each other. The lines should match up to each other on both sides of the filling.

Carefully fold the strips of pastry towards the middle, using the extra melted butter to stick any overlapping bits together. Continue doing this along the length of the strudel until you reach the bottom. Brush the top of the pastry with more melted butter, sprinkle on some brown sugar, and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. The pastry should not be dark, but crispy all the same. Serve with a healthy dollop of vegan vanilla ice cream, and more nuts for crunch. This can be kept in the fridge for a few days

 

Double Chocolate Coffee Cookies (gluten-free)

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Bossa nova, and then Elvis in the background. At a new café in London (Abuelo) in the heart of Covent Garden, enjoying the serenity of solitude. Peaceitude. Hopefully there will be a vegan mud pie for me soon, to complement this matcha latte velvet. Despite my need for solitude, this heart is full with emptiness after a full 2 weeks of living and enjoying life to the fullest with my favourite human being over the Easter break. The past few weeks taught me that sometimes, all that’s needed is frugality and acceptance of what is. A fresh page in my diary for a fresh day. The simple, dense crumb of a freshly-baked loaf (missing the cheap and delicious bread from Germany so much!). The still invigoration of a short morning yoga flow, which pervades the air you breathe every second of every day with a keen alertness, curiosity and beauty. Nothing more sleek or necessary.

Success need not be about ticking off the 100 things on your to-do list, rather it could be absolute mindfulness. The absolute mindfulness of a cheeky bite of a chewy-edged, gluten-free chocolate chip cookie, which I made for my boyfriend’s dad who is extremely sensitive to gluten.

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These cookies have double the chocolate than your average cookie. In other words, they’re double the fun and flavour. Each break and pull yields strands and streams of melting dark chocolate (or stuff in some vegan milk chocolate if you wish, go on). The best part is of course the coffee, which brings out the flavour of the chocolate while illuminating a hint of morning smokiness. Using just buckwheat flour will make the cookies sandier in texture, but this is somewhat offset but the chewy edges, gooey middles and countless pools of melted chocolate. YUM.

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Gluten-free Double Chocolate Coffee Cookies (makes 6-8 medium-large cookies)

Ingredients

180g (1.5 cups) buckwheat flour (or use half buckwheat and half whole wheat/ plain flour)

100g chopped dark chocolate, or use a mix of dark and milk vegan chocolate if you prefer slightly sweeter cookies

100g vegan butter, at room temperature. Alternatively, you can use coconut oil.

140g brown/coconut sugar

1/2 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda

1 tsp espresso powder

1 tbsp vanilla extract

120ml (a half cup) plant milk of choice

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C and line two baking trays with baking parchment. In a bowl and with a fork or whisk, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the baking powder, baking soda, espresso powder, vanilla and plant milk. Mix everything together well. Add the buckwheat flour and chopped chocolate, and mix together until batter is well incorporated. It should look relatively thick and clumpy.

Dollop heaped tablespoons of batter onto your lined sheets, and press down on the cookies a little to flatten them. Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes exactly. They should be really soft, in fact a little too soft to fiddle with once right out of the oven. Wait 10 minutes for them to firm up a little, before taking them off the tray and eating them (ideally with a cold glass of almond milk!).

Fudgy Brownies (and a special frosting)

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‘Rituals are not natural– we make them, and adapt them to our present requirement… Therein lies our freedom’– Margaret Visser, Rituals of Dinner.

Dissertation research has led me to uncover some incredibly fascinating, worthwhile reads, just like Rituals of Dinner. It has also made me realise that the title of any book may provide a hint of its scope, but never the insightful overlaps with other academic fields. It’s the most amazing feeling to be able to link a myriad different fields of interests to your own, or use their words to fit original insight. It’s actually been really rather fun to start archival research for the first time ever, poring over monstrously lengthy bits of letters and records to suss out their meat. Scour, amend, learn, watch. At the age of 21, it feels as if the world is at your feet. Just recently I had a small and bad mango. Lips puckered and I scowled. It was so full of potential, plucked too early. One shall not be like that mango.

Over the weekend I thought I’d go back to my roots and re-visit a personal favourite recipe of mine– my fudgy brownie squares. This time, I thought I’d amp them up a little with a special icing, made with mushy deglet noor dates (though use Medjool if you have them) and coconut milk. There are so many frosting options out there but this one is special with the bits left in. You know, bits. The stuff that keeps Ben&Jerry’s running, and people on their toes. What is Phish food without the phish? Speaking of which, I really hope they come out with a vegan version of that, soon. There is a smooth, innocent feel to elements left untouched and pure in flavour, such as a perfect scoop of pistachio ice cream. But couple that with textural contrast, say, the crisp shatter of the waffle cone underneath, and you’re 10 times better off.  Salted caramel with crispy bits? Ummm yes. Perhaps that is just the greed in me, though it does depend on mood. Sometimes, an innocent scoop of plain vanilla, or a plain, smooth brownie after your loyal avocad itoast, is the perfect treat.

My old brownie recipe is reliable and definitely can be veganised, but I modified these to be especially squishy (or squidgy, I’ve really been loving that word recently) and chockfull of lush dark chocolate. The old method of whisking until the batter pulls away from the sides of the bowl is not necessary here, but they still end up having chewy edges (best!) and a thick, ooey and gooey centre. This recipe takes half the time, and is thus double the fun.

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Fudgy Brownies with a date-coconut caramel frosting (makes 9 brownies in a 9×9-inch pan)

Ingredients

For the brownies:

250g (2 cups) plain flour (you could also consider using half whole wheat and half plain)

420g (a little less than 2 cups) sugar (I use a mix of granulated and coconut sugar)

80g cocoa powder

1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

150g chopped vegan chocolate (I love Green and Black’s 70%, but use whatever you want! Lindt’s is wonderful too)

1 flax egg, made my mixing 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

480ml (2 cups) non-dairy milk (I used almond)

40g (around ¼ cup) melted coconut oil or vegan butter (I used vegan butter and just melted it in the microwave)

For the caramel:

Handful of chopped dates– soak them in some hot water first for around a minute if they are not soft Medjool dates or something similar

Half a can of full-fat coconut milk

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350F (180C) and line a square 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper. First, make the flax egg by mixing the ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl and set it aside. In a bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the chopped chocolate. Then add everything else- the flax egg, melted coconut oil/butter, vanilla and milk, and mix well until everything is just combined. The batter should be smooth, not too sticky, and slightly wet. Place in the oven for 25 minutes. While it is baking, blitz the dates and coconut milk in a blender until the dates are broken up. Make sure the coconut milk has at least half of the solid top you see when you open the can. Leave some of the bits of dates in there for texture, but if you prefer, you could blend them all the way to make a smooth and thick frosting.

Let the brownies cool for 10 minutes before slathering on the frosting and cutting into squares.

Banana Bread Oatmeal and Little Lessons

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Having just finished Buddha Brain by Rick Hanson, it’s come to my attention how disengaged and out of focus we tend to be in our stimulated environments, especially in fast-paced cities such as London. Somehow we are always trying to do more in less and less time, and this has potentially devastating lifelong consequences. It’s blind attention. Some days we go through the motions and feel rewarded or successful upon ticking off multiple checkboxes. But life isn’t a checklist, and isn’t supposed to be. How crazy are we to think we can be both productive and happy going about life in this robotic, stress-fuelled way?

This audiobook sort of links to the one I’m reading now– Whole, by one of my idols T. Colin Campbell. All this stress increases risk of certain diseases and accelerates ageing. Food of all things is so underrated in its effects on our mental and physical health, as well as the way we behave towards and learn from others. How could we use food to help us live better lives?

There are a few strategies about both food and lifestyle that I have included in the past few years, each starting at different points in my life, but all practiced towards the same degree. For example, I have done yoga and meditation for 2 years now, but only started mindful eating a few months ago. Naturally I am a rather indecisive person (4-5 delicious Gail’s vegan muffins or a manicure kit? Help??), but these techniques put the minute decisions into the broader context of life better, helping me achieve a better, more logical state of mind.

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The most incredible vegan sorbets and ice cream (coconut, deep and rich dark chocolate, raspberry and lemon basil) at Ballabeni in Munich!

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  • Make eating a meditation. Eat slowly, and savour every mealtime. Put your fork down between each bite, don’t have blazing screens on for at least 2 out of 3 of your meals, talk to a friend or loved one. Think about where each ingredient on your plate came from. This process clears your head, refreshes the mind. You know you are putting good things into your body. The pictures above are from my recent trip to Munich to see my boyfriend and his family. Every morning welcomed me with fresh bread and jam. Each bite was more alluring than the last, a chunk of fresh hope and energy for the day’s next few steps. Even if it’s a slice of cake, remember where that cake came from, each sweet mouthful airing your body with life and energy. It may not be the slow sustained energy you get from your daily bowl of oatmeal, but it’s food to savour and enjoy all the same, and by practicing mindfulness, you’ll get used to treating your body better, and crave cake a few times a week, not twice a day. And on that note…
  • Include some source of protein and fat at at least 2 of your meals. This way, you are satiated and don’t mindlessly snack on sugary foods throughout the day (I have had enough experience with this, ugh). I bake once a week and indulge in whatever experiment that day holds, but my diet is primarily a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) one, and I testify to moderation as salvation  Having had a turbulent relationship with food in the past, particularly my early and mid-teens, WFPB has healed me from the inside-out. Nothing else is more satisfying, refreshing and nurturing. Best part? You can be incredibly creative with any WFPB food! Flax in your baking, carrots in your cake, rich cocoa in your hot chocolate… go mad.
  • Immerse yourself in nature once in a while, and move your body. This is especially important if you live in an urban area like London. In Munich, the forest and her sharp air was particularly surreal despite the stroll’s brevity.  Sometimes, there is nothing more beautiful or necessary. Exercise is equally as important to keep the mind fresh and strong.

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So here is a little breakfast bowl that I made last week. It’s not your traditional bowl of oatmeal, but it’s just as wholesome and only a tad more fancy. It’s the perfect way to start a mindful day. This was further jazzed up with a matcha bar bite I bought at a café, but that;s optional. The focus here is the natural sweetness of the banana and the thick, almost rich flavour it lends to the oatmeal. Watery business begone. Back to basics, the best way.

Banana bread oatmeal (serves 1)

Ingredients

45-50g (about a half cup) oats (I use a mix of porridge and whole rolled oats for texture)

1 banana, half of it mashed, the other half chopped into coins

120ml (half a cup) each of plant milk of choice (I use almond and oat), and water

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

some crumbled banana bread

2 tsp each of almond butter and maple syrup

Directions

In a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl, mix the oats, salt, mashed banana, milk, water and cinnamon together. If you’re using a saucepan, bring the mix to a boil, then lower the heat a little and stir until you get a thick and only slightly gloopy consistency. If you’re using a microwave, microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Take it out in between (after 1.5 minutes) just to stir it and make sure nothing bubbles over, because that may happen if your microwave is especially strong.

In a pan heated on medium heat, lightly oil the base and place your banana coins in the pan. after 30 seconds on medium heat, flip over to check if they’re nice and brown. Heat them a little longer if they’re not. Flip and caramelise the other sides. Place the banana coins on your hot bowl of oatmeal, top with the crumbled banana bread, almond butter, maple syrup, and if you want, a splash more plant milk. The cold milk seeping into the thick and gooey, hot oatmeal is divine.

Red (Adzuki) Bean Hand Pies

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So I brought these little hand pies to my mum and two friends for a taste test, and we were all floored. One of my friends, who doesn’t have the biggest sweet tooth, started off with an ‘omg, these are incredible’, before pausing and commencing to talk specifically about the balance in texture and flavour of his delicate, puffed-up pie. ‘I like how it’s mildly sweet and soft in the middle, and crazy crisp everywhere else. Not too sweet either. Whoa.’ I couldn’t agree more. As my mum and I shared one, a tingling warmth rippled through my being. There is nothing like sharing a delicious treat with those you love.

London’s cold spell was brief and impactful. Harsh winds and cancelled train rides aside, the most beguiling thing was to watch my gloved hand traverse the page in my diary, just this time last week. Not once did I ever have to write in my diary with a shivering hand.

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And so comfort had to be in tow. No question about it. Tinker tinker, tinker tinker. A brief encounter with the adzuki bean reminded me how powerful it can be in conjuring up such profound memories and nostalgia. Native to the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, it is especially common in Japan, where it is used in a variety of different desserts. Red bean mochi and red beans scattered in my ice kachang were some of my favourite desserts as a child, ones I appreciate now more than ever in London, where Asian desserts are still rather uncommon. If one is so lucky to find them, they still tend to bear ridiculous prices. Another reason to make these yourself at home!

The best thing about these hand pies, cute filling aside, is the delicious, outrageously crisp crust. Complementing it is the just-right sweetness of red bean paste, smooth and sticky. You could customise the filling by adding things like soft dates (deglet/medjool) and nuts for some interesting dimension and a different mouthfeel.

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Red Bean Hand Pies (makes 10-12 little hand pies)

Ingredients 

For the red bean paste:

200g (1 cup) adzuki beans

240ml (1 cup) water

pinch of salt

200g (1 cup) granulated sugar

 

For the puff pastry:

280g (about 2 and 1/4 cups) plain flour, and have a little bowl with some extra flour set aside for sprinkling later on (sub: half white and half whole-wheat, or use a gluten-free flour such as coconut or rice)

120ml (1/2 cup) vegan butter (sub: coconut oil)

120ml (1/2 cup) cold water

pinch of salt

1 tbsp sugar

 

Directions

The night before you make the pies, soak the adzuki beans in the water. In the morning, drain the beans, place them into a saucepan. Add fresh water to the saucepan until there is about an inch of water covering the beans. Turn on the heat and let the beans come to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook the beans for about 45 minutes. During this time, start making the pastry. You could use a food processor but I prefer using my hands in a bowl to get a good feel of the dough. In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter/coconut oil and squeeze it into the flour until you get floury clumps. You don’t have to make sure everything comes into clumps, you should just have a relatively dry and crumbly mixture. Add a quarter cup of water to start, then add the rest slowly until the dough just comes together in a large clump. The mixture will be quite dry. Add more or less water until you get to this point. Put the dough in a bowl and place this in the fridge.

After 45 minutes of cooking the beans (give them a stir every once in a while), add half of the sugar and salt. Continue cooking for 15 minutes. Squeeze one of the beans– if it breaks easily then you’re on the right track. If not, never mind, just continue cooking until most of the beans are easily smushed (I LOVE that word). Continue cooking until most water is evaporated. Add the rest of the sugar and cook for another 5 minutes before taking the pan off the heat. Use a fork to smush the beans more into a paste. Leave the beans to cool in the fridge; this is also when the paste (termed anko in Japanese) will thicken.

Preheat your oven to 190C. Lightly flour a work surface and, using a rolling pin, roll out your dough until about half a centimetre thick. Using the edges of a glass cup, cutters or a measuring cup, cut 5-inch circles in the dough, starting from the edges to save space. Take your bean paste from the fridge and place a heaped teaspoon of the paste in the centre of one circle. Wet your finger to draw a thin layer of water along the borders of the circle surrounding the paste, then place another circle of dough on top. Pinch the pie along its sides to seal the pie. Using a fork, make little fork marks (or claw marks, as I like to call them) around the edges, then flip the pie and do the same on the other side. Repeat until dough is finished. And now for the important part!! Brush the tops of the pies with water– this will make the tops super crisp once out of the oven. Then sprinkle some sugar on the tops, and place the pies in the preheated oven. Bake them for at least half an hour. Check on them at 25 minutes– if they are already golden-brown take them out, but mine took 30 or so minutes.