Strawberry Cheesecake French Toast

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Surreal. There’s no other way to describe it.

Yeah I’m talking about the french toast, but more so the fact that a whole term, just like that, in the scary blink of an eye, has come, passed, loved, and gone. Well, almost, with the imminent hurdle of exams, that glint of mild doom, but it’s always worth trying to look at the glass half full, and contemplate a rising, not falling.

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Breakfast is served, everyone. A soft, fluffy french toast sandwich stuffed with strawberries and a yoghurt-based cream cheese batter, topped with a digestive biscuit crumble. 

Was pondering this article earlier, acknowledging the benefits of not forcing oneself or others to eat breakfast in the morning. Many studies finally show that there is indeed no point thrusting yourself into routine if your gut is not up for that rude awakening at 7 30am. It once again points to the rather misleading nature of nutrition and health research; there are too little trials with too many variables to control.

Having always been an advocate of breakfast, both on a nutritional and creative level, I’ve extrapolated this idea to the fact that it’s actually ok to eat things like strawberry cheesecake french toast once every while. It’s alright to be unhealthy once a week, perhaps once a day. It’s a cut in the system, but breaking out of self-serving routine (e.g. the morning ‘kale juice fuel’ mindset categorising breakfast as something to always be healthy and the same thing every day) could well be good for just practicing day-today flexibility. Less rigidity, more creativity, more quiet time. Just you and breakfast (or no breakfast at all, which is perfectly fine). I noticed and was stunned by a slight reluctance on my part when I was thinking of what to make with fresh, in-season strawberries my aunt handed me earlier on in the week– I used to be more inclined to ideas letting them take over the mornings, let the flow take hold, creativity carving some scaffold of structure and stability for the rest of the day.

It struck me that rigidity, despite the calmness of its structure and how it makes more brain space for more things to worry about in the mornings, also can be a barrier in succumbing yourself to little joys in life, like finding a pocket of cheesecake batter-covered strawberry in the soft, fluffy insides of a well-made french toast sandwich, or finding a quote in a book (the one I’m reading now is The Diet Myth by Benedict Carey– fantastic so far and I’m just eating it up!) that you can really relate to. It’s the little things that spark glee, and let you look out for other little cute or glee-inducing things later on in the day, that perhaps inject a little more hope and happiness into other aspects of your life.

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Strawberry Cheesecake French Toast (serves 1)

Ingredients

2 slices challah/brioche bread

large handful fresh strawberries

2 heaping tablespoonfuls of cream cheese (softened)

2 tbsp icing sugar

60ml (1/4 cup) greek yoghurt

1 egg

splash of milk of choice

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp butter (for cooking)

*optional topping: 1 crumbled digestive biscuit, mixed with a teaspoon of melted butter

mandatory topping: maple syrup

 

Directions

Preheat your pan on medium heat and ready a paper towel on your plate to place your french toast on afterwards. In a bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and cinnamon, and set aside.

In another smaller bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, icing sugar and yoghurt. The mix should be thick and spreadable, which is why greek yogurt is preferable in this case. Chop your strawberries lengthwise. Spread half of the cream cheese mix on one slice of the bread, and the rest on the other slice. Layer the strawberries on top, then sandwich the 2 slices together.

Add the tablespoon of butter to your pan and let sizzle. The butter should not burn or turn brown; turn down the heat if that’s the case. Dip one side of the sandwich into the french toast batter and let it soak for half a minute, then flip it over and do the same for the other side.

Fry each side in the hot pan for half a minute– you don’t want a full cook all the way through as this will result in a more rubbery, less soft and forkable final texture. Top with the digestive biscuit crumble, more yoghurt, strawberries and maple syrup.

 

Chocolate Tiramisu Pancakes with Mascarpone Lemon Curd Cream

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There is a special eating method for this one, but you’re gonna have to scroll right down to the bottom to find out!

Well. This morning. A coffee cup, orange juice glass and water glass. All empty. My father gulps it all down every morning, a robotic ritual. Like me, he’s a man of routine (yes I’m female but you get the point). I love how we both wake up early. I also love how I can ask him absolutely anything and he’ll probably know the answer, like what paraesthesia is or the difference between arthritis and gout. Anyways, it feels good to have settled into a workable routine, each day glistening with fun and possibility. It all sounds very childish but the good thing is that it’s all very true. Routine means allowing yourself time for everything without too much compromise, and I love early mornings when it’s just simple and quiet. Like Sundays with pancakes and the papers, instead of a meaningless spray of pixels on my phone or laptop. Just being, just living. All the Instagram posting, as much as I love this social media platform in all its filtered wonder, usually comes much later.

But. I hate that part of the morning when my cup of coffee is done, is no longer young, and I want another, but ultimately I give up embarking on another 1-metre trek to the espresso machine because I know the jitters will come on just a tad too strong later on. I’m no weakling, but I am pretty sensitive (will usually wait till after lunch before I have another)! A while ago, I thought of making pancakes which incorporated just a little bit of coffee, because I still wanted my sisters to try them and wholeheartedly believe in their wondrousness. I thought of doing the whole coffee and chocolate thing because a little coffee always brings out the flavour of cocoa. These chocolate tiramisu pancakes with the most perfect complementary cream were born.

If my honey and vanilla buttermilk pancakes are the fluffiest, then these are the most tender. After a little more flavour experimentation, and the proportions seemed just about right, I could sit down one Sunday morning and indulge in a mini stack. Indeed, that morning was made all the more fine. I would think the highlight of everything is the tenderness of the baby pancakes studded with chopped chocolate, with the most divine mascarpone lemon curd cream stuffed between each little pancake. I love those moments when you cut in with your fork and the prongs are smothered in gooey bits of chocolate. You’ll get the subtle hint of coffee. Ok, I know lemon curd isn’t really on the tiramisu ingredient checklist, but trust me on this one. You will adore this delightful amalgamation of sweet and tangy and creamy.

These need your attention.

Chocolate Tiramisu Pancakes with Mascarpone Lemon Curd Cream (makes 16 small pancakes)

Ingredients

For the pancakes:

190g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

generous pinch salt

1 tbsp white sugar

60g chocolate, chopped into small pieces (you can do the same with chocolate chips if you don’t have a bar; just be sure to use the dark sort for optimal flavour)

1 egg

35g unsalted butter

180ml (3/4 cup) buttermilk, or make your own by placing a tablespoonful of vinegar (any sort; I usually use apple cider vinegar) in the bottom of your measuring jug or cup, then fill to the required volume mark with whole milk

2 tbsp strong espresso

1 tbsp honey

For the mascarpone lemon curd cream:

115g mascarpone

generous pinch of salt

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp lemon curd

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients– flour, sugar, salt, chopped chocolate and leavening agents. In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter in a microwave and set it aside, letting it cool. In another medium bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, espresso and honey. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and mix briefly with a wooden spoon. Before it’s all combined, pour in the melted butter. Continue to mix until everything is justt combined, which means there will still be a few lumps, but no more streaks of flour. The batter should be of medium-thick consistency.

Preheat your pan or griddle on medium heat and ready some butter. You know the pan is hot enough when you flick a little water onto its surface and there’s a clear sizzle. At that point, generously butter the pan and ladle tablespoonfuls of batter into the pan. Once you see a few bubbles, take a spatula and give every pancake a flip. The next side always takes much shorter; less than a minute or so. Once the second sides are done, let cool on a paper towel or in a warm oven. These freeze well, so you can make a whole batch, have one or a couple and stash the rest in a ziploc bag in the freezer.

The cream!! In other words, the super moreish bit. In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients needed for the cream with a fork. This makes enough for half the number of pancakes in total, so adjust proportions accordingly. Leftover cream can be stored in the fridge. To serve, place a small pancake on a plate, dollop on some of the cream, then place another pancake on top. Repeat until you have a mini stack of 2 or 3. Top with more cream or maple syrup if you wish, and more chopped chocolate.

OK. Now for the fun bit. When eating, try dunking your pancake in iced coffee for the full tiramisu effect. This is the way to eat your tiramisu pancakes. The pancakes are the lady fingers, and they need that little soak. So get to work. Dessert for breakfast. You will feel so proud.

London Breakfast Diary

After a week with the family in London, I spent almost 4 whole days traipsing around town with a good friend searching out breakfast and brunch spots. Though we didn’t manage to eat our way through the city entirely, I was satisfied after each little adventure, assured of accomplishment, eager for new sunlight to signal another stomach-filling session.

Ozone Coffee Roasters' flat white and gluten-free orange almond cake
Ozone Coffee Roasters’ flat white and gluten-free orange almond cake

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A personal favourite. Sitting in the corner of the wood-tiled, pseudo-industrial interior, I sipped on a delicious, creamy flat white, and nibbled on an unexpectedly pleasing orange and almond cake, grainless at that, although the white frosting got a little sickening after a while. Expect only the hippest coffee customers here, and ready your laptop or a good book.

Granger and Co's ricotta hot cakes
Granger and Co’s ricotta hot cakes and bircher muesli

Only the fluffiest in London, with pockets of ricotta, honeycomb butter and lashings of maple syrup to make it all the more carnal. My flat white was on the more bland and milky side, and it’s hard to hear yourself sometimes, with a few tables nuzzled up against one another. It might even be a little hard to call over a waiter, what with the gazillion Hermes bags swishing everywhere, dangled off the thin arms of the blonde and beautiful. But these pancakes, right?? Come on. They’ve got heart and soul and rhythm. This bircher muesli was also a star in its own right– sweet, tangy, and creamy.

SUNDAY Café: Foreground– French toast with bruleed  banana, creme fraiche and caramel Background– Portobello and poached egg on homemade sourdough
SUNDAY Café: Foreground– French toast with bruleed banana, creme fraiche and caramel
Background– Portobello mushroom and poached egg on homemade sourdough

Sunday is one of those places which you just don’t want to leave because it’s so darn pretty, with the cosiest outdoor garden dining area and a lush, warm interior. The cook on everything was sublime, although I have had better French toast; this one wasn’t sufficiently saturated and the caramel was rendered glass-like and brittle. That aside, I can definitely see myself here a lot in the future, because the staff make it feel like you’ve known them long before, and their cakes (we tried the lemon iced pound cake) are stupendous. They’re the sort of the people you want to see, and the sort you want to see improve, if need be the case.

Piccolo and the best ever lemon pistachio cake from APPESTAT Café in Islington
Piccolo and the best ever lemon pistachio cake from APPESTAT Café in Islington

Ah, Appestat. And how fitting a name, because it did readily whet my appetite. The white nook full of surprises, and thankfully where you will most probably get a space to think, with lovely artisan brews and produce. I was stunned by the lemon pistachio cake we had, which was bursting with a full, dense pistachio flavour, pardon the lack of lemon tang. They may be excused. The most perfect accompaniment ever to a well-made cuppa joe (P.S. They stock nut butters and tahini!).

Flat white and raspberry custard tart from Shoreditch Grind
Flat white and raspberry custard tart from Shoreditch Grind

My second last stop was Shoreditch Grind, a stand-alone café where I had probably the best flat white, and a crusty, flake-to-bits custard tart, smaller than my palm but moreish all the same. Read, write, lose yourself a little.

Kinako french toast with matcha soft serve; aka the best french toast you will have in your life, from Bone Daddies at Shackfuyu
Kinako french toast with matcha soft serve; aka the best french toast you will have in your life, from Bone Daddies at Shackfuyu

Because I’ve tried too many french toasts to lift your hopes up for no good reason. Soft, slightly spongy and perfectly saturated in the middle. Eggy, sweet matcha batter. The crust will make your heart melt, and the matcha soft serve makes everything a dreamworld. Your senses will thank you. Un-be-lie-va-ble.

Bread Ahead's salted caramel and honeycomb doughnut
Bread Ahead’s salted caramel and honeycomb doughnut
Duck and waffle; bruleed banana with ice cream from Duck and Waffle
Duck and waffle; bruleed banana with ice cream from Duck and Waffle

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Other notable spots:

– TAP Coffee No. 193

– Kaffeine

– Timberyard Seven Dials

– Prufrock Coffee

– The Breakfast Club

I have yet to travel the entire of Europe, to learn more and grow in so many ways, but London has and always will be my second home. I remember prancing around town when I used to live there as a little girl, some sort of flaky pastry in one hand, my mother’s fingers in the other. Cold winter streets and cobblestones. There’s something irreplaceable about its erratic weather, everyone’s eccentric outfits and the anticipation of something, anything, the feeling of exciting possibility.

Review: Tolido’s Espresso Nook

A long black please ($5.50), oh and that stack of devilish banana buttermilk pancakes. $9, you say? Aw, that’s not too bad at all. I mean, I can make my own buttermilk pancakes, but sometimes I need a step out of the humble abode, a new perspective, fresh insight into a worn classic. I forgot how good it feels to be at a café, alone with my thoughts, senses honed in on words, aromas, textures, flavour.

My penchant for anything sweet with nourishing kicks (think oatmeal with almond butter and honey, or this divine cheesecake) is let down a little once a week, when I hop around in search for something, anything, impressive on this tiny island, be it a sinful plate of crisp, endearing waffles or crazy lush French toast. Yolks oozing, crusts squealing at the first prick of my fork. Letting go can feel good. Almost necessary.

Tuesday’s situation. Ploughing through science writings, a double (upon request; they typically do three but I personally can’t stomach that) stack of RIDICULOUSLY thick and soft buttermilk pancakes topped with torched caramelised bananas, whipped cream and caramel, at the one café I’ve been meaning to visit for the longest while yet. I would’ve come sooner if it weren’t for my mistaken impression of this ‘nook’, something about the mounds of whipped cream I saw on Instagram and chimerical flavour titles on gaudy menus put me on edge; although it all sounded so whimsical and somewhat enticing, an air of off-the-beaten-and-maybe-slightly-greasy-track offset the appeal. I repeat: mistaken impression. One enters the wooden cove and is immediately bathed in a warm glow, some unuttered warmth. Smiling, tall baristas. The large sofa on my left had ‘come hither’ written all over, draped with a tassled beige cloth, resting against a wall filled with mini framed portraits. All the tables were elongated, wooden hexagons. The whole scene was akin to a teen clique’s secret hip hideout, complete with rough indie hits and large, flat spaces for ‘studying’. The nook lives up to its name. IMG_1056 IMG_1059

Delight.

Of course, the de rigueur sips of harsh black coffee. It’s always this or a capp for me whenever I’m in that pretentious assessing mood; the iced blacks typically mask bean quality, not that I’m anywhere near professional, and the smoothest latte (milk in Italian) still may not reveal much. Opted for the stuff straight-up, piping hot in a full 5-ouncer. They have a ‘sea salt caramel latte’ here too, and although I have an unrelenting sweet tooth, I dare not be lured into the lurid albeit enticing half-gimmicks. That being said, I shall allow my penchant for that classic sweet-salty combo to take the driver’s seat if ever I come back, and will be sure to give it a shot (maybe with an extra shot for good measure).

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Pillows. I loathe these for the carnal pleasure they bestowed.

A full centimetre high, impeccably well-risen, so much so that if I were to cut into one horizontally I would get 2 thin carpets of hole-studded pale batter, cooked to perfect doneness. Kid-soft. Ridged, air-punctured edges, just a tad firmer than the middles. At least 4 inches wide in diameter, good God. So perfectly reminiscent of typical American-diner-style pancakes. It’s a standard now, the desired standard for the experienced New Yorker. There were even little bits of banana in the batter. Crack into the elegant banana boats on top and you get a heart-stopping crème brûlée effect. Deep crackle, the break of glass, then the soft grunt of caramelised, almost burnt sugar top giving way to the creamy, ripe banana body. Pause– relish that detail.

Every chew got a little gummier as I went along, mouthfuls of white, sweet stodge. The stocky pancake was quickly reduced to sludge, but that’s alright. I just want everyone to try this. Is that too much to ask?

Rating: 4.5/5

Tolido’s Espresso Nook

462 Crawford Lane

6648 0178

Closed on Mondays

Tues-Thurs: 0930-1900

Friday-Sat: 0930-2200

Sun: 0900-1830

The Thickest, Fluffiest Pancakes You Will Make

‘A happy man has no past, whilst an unhappy man has nothing else.”

This is but one of the few memorable quotes I came across in my latest favourite read– The Narrow Road To the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which won the Man Booker Prize last year. You know those books which leave you craving for more and more after each chapter, and the flipping action is speedy and excited? Yeah, this is one of them. War and Love are classic, usually overlapping literary themes, and Flanagan expertly weaves the two with arousing and intimate prose. Sometimes, I forget how mind-altering and rejuvenating fiction can be. It awakens, stirs something much deeper in the human soul.

Something else pretty mind-altering are…. These pancakes.

These, dear reader! By far the thickest, fluffiest ones I have ever made, and I sure as hell have made a lot of pancakes. Alright, before I proceed, I do wish to address the fact that I missed last week’s second post. Truth was that an unexpected outing stole the day’s limelight, and I hadn’t the time to do a write-up since then. Hopefully, this lazy-sunday-morning-recipe will make up for that. Goodness I’m excited, because trust me, they’re worth it. Definitely worth skipping a café line for.

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Now it’s your turn.

Thick, ridiculous, sweet and slightly spongy. I feel as if a drab ‘fluffy’ will take the fun out of this adjective scrambling, but heck, they are. Unbelievably fluffy, light, soft. A slightly lighter version of the Mickey Dees stuff. You get the jam.

I’ve tried these twice– once with almond butter and maple syrup, the other time as if I were at a traditional American diner, with butter, maple syrup, and a whole lot of family.

Can I have them with anything? So fluffy I could die!! My sisters chimed and beamed and scarfed down two each in less the time it takes for me to politely do a knife-and-fork job with one.

Since these freeze so well, I kept a couple stashed away. When I went to look for them the next morning, they were gone. I don’t blame them.

Honey and buttermilk provide an extra layer of moisture without added weight. The first two I made received a little extra char (as you can see above!!) because I was fiddling with the toppings and wasn’t paying as much attention to the stove, but the dark, crusty edges played a good texture game with the warm, melting butter and maple syrup later on. Mmmmm. Happy mistakes. And look at how thick these guys are. I kid you not, each pancake is at least an inch thick. Tender fluff. Pillow fluff. Press on a hot one and you’ll leave a finger mark that disappears almost immediately.

Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Pancakes (serves 4-5, makes around 11-12 medium pancakes)

*vegan substitution

Ingredients

188g all-purpose flour

3 tbsp white sugar

generous pinch of salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 egg (*one banana)

40 unsalted butter (slightly less than 4 tbsp, *vegan butter)

1 tsp vanilla extract or the insides of half a plump vanilla bean (or a skinny meek one)

240ml whole milk/ buttermilk; use store-bought or make your own by mixing 230ml whole milk with 1 tbsp white vinegar, and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes before using (*almond milk or any other plant-based milk)

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt and leavening agents). In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter in a microwave and set it aside, letting it cool. In another medium bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, vanilla (or insides of a vanilla bean) and melted butter. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and mix briefly with a wooden spoon or a normal dinner spoon. Continue to mix until everything is justt combined, which means there will still be a few lumps, but no more streaks of flour. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy.

Preheat your pan on medium heat and ready some butter. You know the pan is hot enough when you flick a little water onto its surface and there’s a clear sizzle. At that point, generously butter the pan and ladle tablespoonfuls of batter. I didn’t have to wait for bubbles to pop before flipping; the batter is thicker than usual and there’s no need to wait. Flip the pancakes when you notice the edges stiffening a little, or when you can slide your spatula whole underneath the bottom of the pancake. It will rise a little upon flipping, as if that action gives it life, and hence, breath. The surface should have a brown mosaic thanks to the hot butter. Once the second side is done (will take no more than 20 seconds), let cool on a paper towel. As mentioned above, these freeze wonderfully, so you can make a whole batch, have a small stack and stash the rest in a ziploc bag in the freezer. Easy!

Serve with butter and maple syrup, or whatever you want. I particularly like them with banana, its moist sweetness adjoining arms with the maple. What a Sunday.