French Toast Pudding

No, it’s not Christmas. But I was reminded of a favourite french toast bake while writing up my list of curated recipes. You need not use panettone, but gosh, yes, this fluffy Italian bread is perfect for dunking into french toast custard and then baking. You can use any soft bread like brioche or challah really, but you would need to soak these slightly denser breads a little longer in the custard batter.

Soft, eggy threads of sweet dough.

You get the rich flavour of panettone fixed in a homogenous, sweet, eggy batter similar to that of a firm bread pudding. I looked through previous recipes for panettone french toast and casseroles, and most of them use cream, but I personally don’t think you need the cream in the custard, and you let the flavours of the panettone and everything it’s studded with shine. Once again, a one-bowl wonder with everything done (and maybe consumed) in less than an hour. What I love about french toast bakes is that it takes little to no effort, as you chuck everything into the oven without having to fry each piece of bread separately, no matter how large a griddle or pan you have.

Mine here just had chocolate chips, but there’s usually some dried fruit in there too, and I added some chopped pecans on top for crunch. The french toast pudding bakes very fast because the voluminous, airy bread allows the custard to quickly seep into and bake into every crevice.

French toast pudding (6 servings)

Ingredients

Half a whole panettone (500g) or about 5 cups of challah/brioche, cut into large 2-inch cubes

3 eggs

240ml milk of choice

4 tbsp sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp fine salt

optional: chopped nuts and extra chocolate chips, around 1/3 cup in volume

optional: coarse sugar (like demerara) for sprinkling, and fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream for serving

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F), no fan setting. Take a little cube of butter and rub it along the bottom, corners and and edges of a 9×11-inch casserole dish, or you could also squeeze it into a 9×9-inch brownie pan. Cut the half of a panettone into 1 inch thick slices. This will be easy if you’re using traditional uncut panettone, because then you can simply cut it as how you would a cake. If you’re using challah or brioche, or another type of light and fluffy bread, cut the bread into 2-inch cubes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, milk, cinnamon and salt well.

Take each panettone slice and dunk each side in the custard for at least 3-4 seconds on each side, then lay the slices down in the prepared tin, each slice slightly overlapping one another. If you’re using other bread, just dunk each cube into the batter for 3-4 seconds before positioning the cubes in a relatively geometrical arrangement in the baking tin. Once the bread slices/cubes are arranged, pour the rest of the custard evenly all over the top, and if using, the chopped nuts and chocolate. Sprinkle the optional demerara sugar on top, then place the tin into the preheated oven.

Bake the french toast pudding for 15 minutes, take it out and serve immediately. Best eaten with fresh fruit, a la mode!

Maxi Coffee Bar

A small space with a well-lit interior with a couple of chairs, and a bench outside. Come here to read a book or work for a while on a weekday.

If you didn’t know, I was really into reviewing cafés before I knew about a lot of other life things, like doing the dishes properly and folding clothes neatly. I just read this one and couldn’t believe how much time I devoted to these. I stopped doing these reviews years ago due to time constraints and it’s impossible to keep up with changing menus and me flitting between England, Singapore and Germany… Nevertheless, after visiting quite a few special/hole-in-the-wall ones recently, and now that I no longer use Instagram, I feel that it is time for a review comeback. It’s a way of documenting these experiences in greater detail, making them more special and less fleeting.

Iced cereal milk latte ($7.50), the star here (ignore the dry nails)

In brief, if I would come back for anything, it would be this iced cereal milk latte and the canelé (shown below). The foamy, sweet brew is still reminiscent of an actual caffeine drink with a smooth and mildly bitter espresso, and the twist of salt takes the whole thing to the next level.

That canelé must be consumed with the latté together for the real deal. A moment of crunchy sweetness, washed down with a refreshing milky brew. The outside of the pastry is beautifully crisp without a weird burnt taste, the inside bouncy, sticky and moist. Not too sweet, not plain and painfully dry like many others I have tried. I can’t remember the price ($5?) but it was so reasonable for its size and quality. They also have a range of sweet and savoury toast options, all made in-house.

Yup, I’ll be back.

Maxi Coffee Bar
6 Ann Siang Hill
Hours: Tues-Fri 8am – 5pm, Weekends 9pm – 5pm, closed on Mondays

Biscoff Oreo Brownies

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This deserves to be recipe of the year. For me, at least. I’ll keep it short and sweet for everyone’s convenience today. Brownies are overdone and the combinations one can experiment with seem to be endless. The brownie category in every baking blog is usually a saturated one– basic fudgy, basic chewy, Nutella, jam-bellied, the works. You would think I’d be tired of reading or trying out any new brownie recipe at this point. BUT NO. This particular recipe features angles of child’s play, a three-stranded braid of chocolate, biscoff and oreo. I usually do a ‘Notes’ section just above the recipe itself for clarity and guidance, but the ease of this recipe needs no additional guidance aside from the simple steps stated below. The whole process of putting the brownie together and baking it takes around half an hour. Anyone can do it, during any point of the week. I guess my one note would be that, for maturity’s sake, the addition of salt both in and top of the batter is quite necessary.

I like recipes that make me feel like a 5 year-old at a birthday party, and this is the epitome of that. These brownies makes me feel all kinds of things that I hope you feel too- sunshine, sticky fingers, making reckless decisions that make for the best memories.

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When I was vegan one of my more sinful home staples was Biscoff, or lotus biscuit spread. I think I put it on apples, in place of peanut butter, which I also love but didn’t quite hit the spot in that moment. As a child I never thought much of the cinnamon, crumbly biscuits themselves, almost always served alongside a piping-hot cup of green tea at the hairdresser’s, but I did enjoy the spread miles more. The crunchy one specifically made my heart sing. Came across the spread here in Germany and felt a wave of nostalgia flood through my system. These are by far one of the best brownies I have ever toyed with. They are:

  • extremely fudgy in the middle
  • quite chewy all around the edges
  • layered with oreo biscuits

The swirling of the biscoff spread into the batter ensures that the crunch and notes of cinnamon of the spread melts into the brownies themselves as they bake in the oven and doesn’t simply exist as an isolated layer in the brownies. I recommend the crunchy stuff because I simply prefer the added crunch, but do smooth if that’s what you prefer, or if you think the crunch of the oreo cookies will suffice.

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Biscoff Oreo Brownies (makes 8 brownies in a loaf tin)

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that will be mentioned below the recipe

Ingredients

90g butter*

100g dark chocolate, chopped

1 egg*

½ tsp salt

120g sugar

150g Biscoff spread (crunchy/smooth)

45g all-purpose flour

25g cocoa powder

5-6 oreo cookies

Coarse salt for sprinkling on top

*vegan sub: use the same amount of vegan butter or margarine in place of the butter. For the egg, use 2 flax eggs: make this by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a small bowl, and let that gel for a while before you use it

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a loaf tin with parchment paper. You can also do this in an 8×8-inch square tin. Put the chocolate and butter into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second increments on high until everything has melted together well. Let this cool for about 3 minutes before using- dip your finger into the chocolate-butter mixture to make sure it’s more or less at room temperature. It’s fine if it is still a little bit warm.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg (or vegan flax eggs) and sugar together well, until foamy. Then add the chocolate-butter mixture, salt, flour and cocoa powder. Whisk well until everything comes together and the batter seems to pull away from the edges. Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Put dollops of biscoff spread onto random parts of the brownie batter and use a knife to swirl it through the chocolatey batter. Then put 5-6 whole oreo cookies on top of the batter and press them down into the batter. The batter will be pushed up between the cookies; use the back of a spoon to spread these parts over the cookies. Sprinkle the top with coarse salt before putting the tin in the oven.

Bake for 25 minutes. Check at the 20-minute mark, if a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with wet crumbs then you can take it out already. If it is still very gloopy and wet, leave it in for a few more minutes. If you’re baking this in a square pan, you will only need half the baking time. Leave the brownies to cool at room temperature on a cooling rack or heatproof surface for half an hour before cutting and serving. They are perfect on their own, but also good with ice cream or a scoop of crème fraiche on top.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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It feels good to settle into routine in another country. The air is clean and fresh here, the experiences full. There are so many things that I easily take for granted on a daily basis, like walking in the public gardens nearby, or having access to clean water and delicious food at any moment. As much as I love the UK, Germany is beautiful, quaint and interesting in its own ways. Some things I’ve really been enjoying have been:

  • Grocery shopping in Germany. There’s always high-quality food at decent prices, even at the more ‘upmarket’ stores.
  • Evening reading with a drink
  • Of course, the bakeries here. Nussecken and Rosinenschnecken are a couple of my favourites, alongside the classic franzbrötchen.
  • The app Freedom which has (finally) allowed me to melt into phases of deep work on a daily basis, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
  • This movie and this movie. I’ve learnt and remembered so much during each.
  • Making a page each, every month, for ‘Memories’, ‘Gratitude’ and ‘Recipes to Try/Recipes I loved’ in my bullet journal. They’re simple pages, lined at the border with the dates, 1-30/31, and it’s so fun to fill them in every day, even if there’s nothing or not much to write at all. The very act of putting it in the bullet journal is still fulfilling since it makes me want to fill up each day with something anyway. For the Recipes one so far this month, I currently have my boyfriend’s zucchini lemon pasta and these cookies on it…!

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It’s a classic peanut butter chocolate party. I’ve played with many variations of this tight-knit couple over the years which you can find over at the recipe index. I have a lot to say about this cookie and I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s because I felt like a child making and eating it, with the simple use of white sugar and milk chocolate, no frills and no special ingredients. I didn’t even have baking soda, for goodness sake. But there I was standing in the middle of the kitchen, suddenly five again, happy to have made something delicious yet deceivingly simple.

My first bite was linked to this thought: wow, chewy reached a whole new level. Call me stupid or childish but breaking into one of these cookies was tantamount to tears-of-joy-ecstasy. I couldn’t explain it while standing there in a kitchen so I’ll just babble here. Made a small batch first to test and it came out beautifully, albeit one minor flaw, and I knew I had to share the recipe this week. Puddles of melted chocolate, a gooey, saturated, buttery centre, crisp and chewy edges. I originally planned to make something totally different, but I was craving and wanted to test this successful cookie again months after making them, and the happiness these cookies brought me sent me over the edge, so these are taking the cake this week.

The original recipe I wrote up uses brown sugar and olive oil, the latter of which I used for a more interesting depth of flavour. They’re less crisp around the edges and more of a dense, fudgy cookie, whereas these are slightly lighter with its use of the classic duo- butter and white sugar. The use of white sugar makes for a very craggy surface, which is both aesthetically pleasing and fun to bite into. In most of my recipes I like to use both white and brown sugar for flavour and a dense texture, but the use of solely white sugar here did not compromise on anything since the flavour focus falls on the peanut butter anyway. Try and use that natural, grainy, unsweetened peanut butter; the processed stuff would work well too but try and make sure it’s unsweetened. White sugar may be replaced with cane sugar and brown sugar, but you will end up with a less texturally complex cookie that’s less chewy overall. Finally, as with all good chocolate chip cookie recipes, coarsely chopping the chocolate will make for a more pleasurable eating experience, and the unevenly sized pockets of melted chocolate on a craggy white surface are a visual wonder to behold.

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one of the cookies, warmed up, with tahini, honey and mixed frozen berries, wow

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes 6 medium cookies, can be scaled up as needed)

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that is mentioned below the recipe

Ingredients

60g (1/3 cup) butter, unsalted (*vegan sub)

1 tsp fine salt

140g white sugar

1 egg (*vegan sub)

70g (1/4 cup) peanut butter (I used smooth, but you can use whatever texture you prefer)

130g (1 cup) all-purpose flour (*gf sub)

1 tsp baking powder

80g (almost a whole bar) milk chocolate, coarsely chopped (substitute with dark chocolate here if you prefer)

Coarse salt (such as Maldon) for sprinkling

 

*vegan sub: instead of regular butter use the same amount of vegan butter or margarine

*vegan sub: 1 flax egg: make this by mixing 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 3 tbsp water in a small bowl, and let that gel for a while before you use it

*gluten-free sub: substitute the all-purpose flour for the same amount of gluten-free flour blend or 250g of almond flour (I don’t recommend using coconut flour here)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter on high heat for 30 seconds, or until melted. Let that cool for 2 minutes. Then tip the melted butter into a larger bowl, add the sugar and salt and mix well with a whisk. Add the egg and whisk that in well too.

In a separate medium bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking powder and chopped chocolate, then tip that into the wet mix. Stir well with a spatula or wooden spoon until everything is just combined. You should have a sticky, thick, but soft and pliable consistency.

Use your hands or a large spoon to scoop batter into golf ball-sized pieces and place them onto the prepared baking tray. You should get 6 cookies exactly. Flatten the cookies slightly and sprinkle with coarse salt. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 12 minutes exactly. The cookies should still look soft when you take them out of the oven, but the edges should look slightly darker- that’s when you know they’re done. If not, bake for 1 minute longer. Leave them to cool for at least 10 minutes before digging in. These are of course best enjoyed warm but can be kept for a few days in an airtight container or freeze and reheat whenever you want.

 

Tahini Chocolate Chip Nut Bars

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A few things I want to say after the past few weeks. Just as a side note, I’ve actually been meaning to put this up for quite a while but as usual, a lot of things regarding work and travel got in the way, and I also did not want to put something of a sensitive topic up too soon.

  • Constantly reposting images and Instagram stories makes good for collective awareness but is not as important as action and effort.
  • In the past I never had the courage to challenge racism if and where I identify it, and I’d like to think I am getting better at it. This will probably involve more difficult conversations with loved ones and friends. Not necessarily in a defensive way, but rather constructive. I usually struggle with challenging friends more so than just family (with whom we usually have no filter) in this manner sometimes, but it’s about trying.
  • Racism is like a defence mechanism against insecurity and anxiety. If someone is secure in his or her own identity then there’s no need to put others down, but the truth is that the person experiencing this suffers chronically and deeply, and may have to feel like he or she always has to prove oneself, or that he’s never good enough to do anything, acting like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs place physiological needs (food, water, shelter) as the most basic needs we must have established before the needs of, in this order specifically: safety, feeling loved, having good self-esteem, and finally that of self-actualisation, which would propel us towards our highest goals and help us achieve them. Without the basic need of love and support fulfilled, and with many black people already suffering a lack of the most basic needs on a global basis, I think it’s fair to say that it is insensitive and ignorant if we dismiss their plight.
  • And finally, on a slightly unrelated but also very important note, although this oil is everywhere, any small step to try and reduce its usage would benefit our planet and its inhabitants many years into the future.

I was actually thinking about these points while baking the bars (don’t worry there’s a recipe at the end of all this), and now that I’m reflecting upon them I’m once again reminded of how good of a meditation baking is. I’d love to know if anyone else experiences this sort of calm and peace while kneading dough or simply mixing things together in a bowl.

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I haven’t been baking all that much lately because of stress and bouts of anxiety that crop up every now and then, which tend to prevent me from being at my productive best, but these tahini chocolate chip nut bars were some sort of magic the last weekend. I noticed my boyfriend’s pantry had a bounty of unused nuts so I thought it would be fun to play around with my usual tahini chocolate combination but this time with a sprinkling of various nuts. Now that I’m living in a house with him and many more people, it feels more justified to bake and share the goods and of course get feedback!

The sesame in tahini itself already screams wonderful earthy, nutty tones so I thought pairing it couldn’t turn out all that bad. After the first test I knew I hit a jackpot. The combination of everything together made for this chewy bar with a classically fudgy, chocolatey middle. The best part was receiving the positive reviews from three flatmates, which were thankfully in line with my own expectations. It’s been a while since I could bake and share what I made with people– I still get nervous letting my own family try my experiments let alone folk I only just met! So that of all things really warmed my heart. I had to try again the second time, and second time was the charm. Not the prettiest of desserts but simple and easy to eat. Nothing could be better.

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One last note: you can opt to swap the milk chocolate for dark if you want, I just personally prefer a sweeter chocolate for a more delicate opposition to all the earthiness and nuttiness going on.

Tahini chocolate chip nut bars

Ingredients

170g flour (gf sub: use 160g of gluten-free flour mix, or more ground almonds)

½ tsp baking powder

50g ground almonds

3 tbsp chopped pine nuts

150g milk chocolate (vegan sub: vegan milk or dark chocolate)

80g butter, melted (vegan sub: vegan butter or margarine)

½ tsp salt

100g white sugar

75g brown sugar

1 egg (vegan sub: use a flax egg- mix 1 heaped tbsp of ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water in a small bowl and let that gel to thicken up for a couple of minutes before using)

85g tahini

1 tbsp course salt (e.g. Maldon) for sprinkling

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a square 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminium foil. Alternatively, you can also use a loaf tin and bake just half the batter first if you want to test a smaller batch.

Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl in a microwave on a high power for 30 seconds, and set that aside to cool for a few minutes before using. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, chopped pine nuts and milk chocolate. In a separate and slightly larger bowl, mix together the melted butter, ½ tsp salt, sugars, egg and tahini. Add the dry mix to the wet one and mix until everything comes together- the mix should look pretty thick and rather doughy. Scrape the mix into the prepared tin, use your hands to press the batter into an even layer in the tin, and bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes. When 12 minutes is up, use a wooden skewer to poke the middle of the pan. If it comes out with moist crumbs, take it out and leave to cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes or so. If it comes out clearly wet with batter, leave it in the oven to bake a little longer for a couple of minutes. Once the bars are done baking, leave to cool completely on a wire rack or heatproof surface, sprinkle with coarse salt and cut into bars however big you want after at least 10 minutes of cooling. Enjoy with ice cream or simply on their own.