A Collaboration with Nilufer Tea, The Best Organic Tea (ft. recipe for the most ideal pairing)

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Title says it all. Bleary-eyed from 5 hours of sleep, a neatly wrapped bundle in the post set my mind and palate into gear for the day. It’s been ages since I last indulged in a cup of tea, breathing in a subtle fragrance, meditating on steam. Now that I’ve been back in Singapore for a while it hasn’t occurred to me to have anything hot; dinner is typically preceded by a frigid green juice or iced water. Nevertheless, tradition transcends change of climate, and so I settled down to a long lost habit. Sent so kindly by the folks behind Nilufer tea, an organic herbal tea brand I am so grateful to have become acquainted with the past week, I decided it was only appropriate to enjoy them with the chewiest, chocolate-pumped salted cookies, of which recipe I recently developed. The best organic herbal tea, I learned, is borne out of love, sweat, and quality. This is quality tea, I repeat, which uses non-pesticide herbs & flowers with premium dried fruits. How stunning is that.

Straight from the hands of independent Japanese tea farmers, Nilufer has put itself a head above the crowd of conventional tea brands by capitalising on ethical business, involving itself in every step of the tea-making process, from laboured harvest to artisan packaging. I was stunned by the simple array of complex flavours to choose from– red rooibos, chamomile, herbal fruit, rose and ginger rooibos tea. I absorbed its ethos in its entirety as I placed a delicate ginger rooibos teabag into my mug.

Going vegan, as I have mentioned before, is not just about the food, but a keen awareness. Of where I am, what I’m doing, what is happening all around–I am now sitting outside in our little garden, feeling the cushion beneath me, beige and smooth, still learning to live comfortably with the dense air, as if packed solid with noise that does not move, as Sebastian Faulks beautifully puts. That awareness naturally involves awareness of one’s use of resources, and so though I am not as tea-crazed as some of my English friends, with a cup of tea comes an appreciation of the here and now, instilling some sense of emotional granularity, and the lesser need to constantly compare oneself with everyone else, caught up and blind in the world of faster, bigger, better. Every second is your own. I was therefore excited to collaborate with a brand whose ethos resonates so well with this sentiment; Nilufer’s organic approach rooted in sustainability would similarly appeal to many other vegans in Singapore. Learn more about the best organic herbal tea before treating yourself. Revel in that rare authenticity.

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Their rose tea was alluring and fragrant, which, by the way, also restores female hormonal balance and peace of mind. Perfect after an insanely busy office day. A touch of hibiscus accentuates a heady floral aroma with a hint of strawberry. Chamomile, one of my long-time favourites, is mixed with orange, ginger and lemongrass in an exotic blend for a more revitalising, mid-work kick. Chamomile also stimulates the production of enzymes in the gut for efficient digestion, complementing my passion for a gut-friendly plant-based diet.

My personal favourite was the very first flavour I tried– ginger rooibos. Red rooibos and peppery ginger up the ante here with spice and tingling earthiness, red rooibos itself being a potent antioxidant to help fend off oxidative stress, burnishing your beauty routine with several minerals for rapid skin regeneration and hair growth. All sounds pretty wild, but after meditation on each flavour, I for one am more inclined to believe.

Scrolled starry-eyed through their website. Thorough health and beauty articles (on Nilufer Tea blog) are written to pad out their wellness ethos. Do also check them out on Nilufer Tea Instagram and Nilufer Tea Facebook.

Now for cookies. Which, in my opinion, are perfect with this tea. Before I went vegan I was hooked on one particular recipe, and I was swimming in the conviction that nothing, ever, could beat it.

Until I went vegan and developed this baby (haha).

The chew is what will get to you. The secret here is the resting time in the fridge and top quality chocolate. The idea is that this gives the sugar in the cookies time to mix into the other ingredients and so, upon baking the next day, the sugar caramelises more efficiently and you get a deeper caramel flavour and chewier texture. Your cookies also spread less because the chilled cookie would have more solidified that melted fat. That means making the batter the night before is most ideal if you want to wake up to a glorious, familiar wafting fragrance and cookies with the best shape, form and flavour. No need for any flax/chia egg or funny flour (though by all means play around with buckwheat spirulina charcoal flour if you feel inclined to). The ingredients shine through in their simplicity and natural affinity for each other. Salt and sweet. Each bite is chockfull of chocolate, of which varied size and thickness offers such complex mouthfeel. The middle is dense, dark and sinfully chewy.

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Chewy Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes 12 medium-sized cookies)

Ingredients

250g plain flour, or use half plain flour and half whole-wheat/oat flour

¾ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

200g good quality dark vegan chocolate (use Lindt’s 70% or another vegan brand), chopped into chunks

110g soft, dark brown sugar

100g white/coconut sugar

1 tsp salt

coarse salt for sprinkling (I use Maldon)

1 tsp vanilla extract

100ml plain vegetable/canola/sunflower oil

80ml hot water

 

Directions

Line two baking trays with parchment paper and set aside for the time-being. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the chopped chocolate. In a separate medium bowl, mix the oil, vanilla, water and two sugars together with a fork. Tip this into the dry mix and stir with a wooden spoon until everything is just combined.

Using an ice cream scoop for consistency, scoop your batter onto your lined baking trays. There should be 12-14 even balls. Press the balls down slightly with your fingers and liberally sprinkle salt over each one. Place the trays into the fridge to firm up for at least 10 hours or overnight (important, as stated before these instructions!!). The next morning, bake the cookies in an oven preheated to 180C (350F) for 12 minutes, no more and no less. There will be a little raw better on a wooden skewer stuck into a cookie- fret not, that’s what you want! The first time I did this I was sure it couldn’t be that raw, but the insides do firm up a little once you take the trays out of the oven and let the cookies cool completely

I’ll repeat that- let the cookies cool completely. The cookies may have a bit of rise but they will eventually deflate. The result? Inch-thick, ridiculously chewy, stretchy cookies, loved up with hand-chopped chocolate for an intense flavour and complex texture. These can be stored in an airtight container for a few days, though I promise they won’t last that long.

Coffee Meringue Pillow Pancakes

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In other words, a twist on the main star of CRUMBS, hoho. Time and time again, at least once every week or every other week, this is the baby that holds its name straight, waving the ‘pillow’ flag high. So high and bright. Receiving a little social media tag from someone who’s tried and loved the recipe I fiddled till perfection almost 2 years ago still tugs at my heart, pulling its strings and sending me into a fuzzy daze for a full 5 seconds. Saturday usually demands an experimental flair, but the past one was in need of a tried and true favourite, albeit with a little twist and flick.

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There’s something so seductive about a mile-high pillow pancake.

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Had some leftover meringue from my previous recipe (do check it out, just scroll a little) and decided none shall go to waste, and permeated my reliable pillow pancakes with that, and some espresso because I was in dire need of coffee and this was another excuse to get another jolt here.

Although the batter resides with the same format as the original, ratios and all, the addition of meringue gently folded in and the dash of coffee makes each pancake belly a little more moist and slightly chewy. I did end up with a slightly more liquid batter, though the retaining of some lumps is still quite crucial for the same extra-high result. The week has been speckled with more dire Trump news and lambasting and Crazy, so settling down to my pan and butter, batter at hand, was all it took to calm a couple rattled nerves.

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Coffee Meringue Pillow Pancakes (makes around 10-11 medium pancakes)

Ingredients (vegan subs included)

190g all-purpose flour

3 tbsp white sugar

generous pinch of salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 egg (sub: 60g vegan egg replacement, or one banana, or make a flax egg by mixing 1 tbsp flax with 2 tbsp water and letting sit for 5 minutes on the counter)

40g unsalted butter (sub: vegan butter such as Earth Balance)

1 tsp vanilla extract

240ml (1 cup) 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 (sub: almond milk or any other plant milk of choice)

1 tbsp coffee extract or shot of espresso

50g meringue, briefly crushed with a spoon or your hands (find the recipe here near the bottom; you won’t need all of it but hey the more the merrier)

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, crushed meringue 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), coffee extract/espresso shot 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 just combined, which means there will still be a few lumps, but no more streaks of flour.

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.

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.

 

Tahini Espresso Cheesecake Pie

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Layers. That’s what was about the past week. Even if it did just mean reminiscing the gone, the forsaken, or somehow lost, there was a patter of layering, of some serendipity and will, that saw me through, and maybe saw so many through. In life there are inevitably some circumstances, not necessarily life-threatening, but still make for confusion, like how cutting my carrots much nearer the heads would mean pounds of carrots saved a year, or how there’s still this sad idea that gluten is bad for you because it creates gut permeability and thus allows for the infiltration of foreign substances and consequent inflammation, despite no hard scientific backing for this or the real relevance for us always-evolving-and-adapting human beings (perhaps you watched Clean EatingThe Dirty Truth as well, and know exactly what I’m talking about).

There is always a tussle between loving reading about nutrition and creating things like this double-layered cheesecake, but that’s still what this blog will always be about– a joyous acceptance of conflict, this trust, that forms the greatest relief in this world of unknowing, guessing and playing.

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It’s a double-layered cheesecake. On the one hand that’s just it. On the other it’s got tahini weaved into its dense, firm, cheesy body, and the richest bottom layer of espresso, and I mean rich. To the point where you’re pretty grateful for the top, more normal bit, which still doesn’t scream total normalcy because of the tahini, the rich sesame paste doing much to enliven your normal dessert with a Mediterranean touch. I’m always constantly inspired by this young lady as well, who effortlessly incorporates such interesting flavours into her exotic new combinations and twists on classics!

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Espresso literally takes the cake here, and the process itself is quite the cakewalk, if I do say so myself.

An easily put-together crust, a potent layer of espresso, a little of that aforementioned normalcy for the second layer, optionally topped with gingernut biscuits to enhance the spice and flavour in the body. Each bite is a two-toned wonder, nothing too magnificent, but still boasts so much to enjoy.

The fact that this is a cheesecake pie ups the game a little, because it’s an excuse to not have all the sides perfectly covered with crust, there’s a lesser filling volume requirement, and both layers can be seen from top-down already, and I don’t know about you, but that made me all the more excited to tuck in when the time came.

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Tahini Espresso Cheesecake Pie (makes one 9-inch pie)

Ingredients

For the crust:

170g plain flour

20g sugar

pinch salt

85g unsalted butter (sub: vegan butter)

1 egg (sub: 1 flax egg, made by mixing 1 tbsp flax with 2 tbsp water and letting rest for 5 minutes on the counter)

 

For the filling:

405g cream cheese (sub: vegan cream cheese or tofu! Yes, try it and tell me how it goes, because I imagine it would be quite something, and very texturally pleasing)

100g confectioner’s (icing) sugar

half tsp vanilla extract

4 tbsp light tahini

2 tbsp coffee concentrate or extract

optional toppings: melted chocolate, tahini, coffee shortbread or gingernut biscuits

Directions

Preheat oven to 200C (400F) and prepare your cheesecake tin, preferably with a removable bottom.

Mix ingredients for the crust, then press into the bottom using your fingers or the bottom of a cup. Bake this for 15 minutes, then remove to let cool for a while. While it’s baking, make the filling.

To do so, mix together all ingredients for the filling except for the coffee concentrate or extract using a fork, in a large bowl. Split the mix in half, roughly or by weight, and add the coffee concentrate/extract to one. Mix well, then spread this half on top of the crust. Dollop the lighter layer on top and carefully spread that around, leaving a little border around the edges.

Slice and serve! Feel free to top with melted chocolate, more tahini, and some gingernut biscuits for crunch.

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.

 

London Eats: Friends Of Ours

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It’s official– my love and passion for french toast overrides that for so many other things in my life. It’s just not on. But at the same time, some flaws should be embraced. Hence my decision to do a conclusive write-up some time in the future on my favourite french toast places here in London!

Starting with the lovely little Friends of Ours. Goodness have I missed writing about these café adventures. Judgement will be based on:

  • that lovely saturation in the middle of sufficiently-thick bread slices
  • browning
  • usage and appropriateness of toppings

Though I won’t be able to write about every single place I try, the conclusive write-up will comprise my main favourites, so keep an eye out for that.

There’s something special about making a gala out of little trips like this. Yeah, there’s something special about making a very big deal out of your favourite food in the entire world.

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This little hideaway is adorable. Unpretentious, cosy, with service that can’t be beat. Fresh pastries and sandwiches adorn the counter, and though I’m no proper coffee expert, my affinity for long blacks has earned me some sort of coffee brew intelligent quotient, and the cuppa that greeted me seriously hit the spot.

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Organic brioche french toast, roasted pears with rosemary and vanilla, clotted cream and shortbread crumble– £8.50

Long black– £2.20

What. A pretty picture. A slice of perfect thickness. The eggy, nicely-browned crust and exterior made me envision the battered slice hitting the heat of the pan, cooking thoroughly and quickly. Would have preferred a slightly more saturated and moist middle, but that’s really only because I like the texture to reach the point whereby there’s no problem flaking off bites with a fork. Almost ‘raw’, one could say. The roasted pear was tender and flavourful, offering sweet tangy notes to the bready base. So much more impressive than that served at another café I visited recently (here was hardly any on the plate and what was served was so cooked down that ‘saccharine’ would be a severe understatement as a description).

That, the shortbread crumble and clotted cream are what made every bite truly indulgent. Creamy, crunchy, soft. The toast itself provided a good medium for all the flavours to work together well. If anything, a more citrusy option or additive to this french toast would propel it to greater heights. Looked at the menu again, and cursed myself for only having one stomach. I’m dying to return just for that coconut rice pudding (how good does that sound?) or eggs. More coffee, of course.

Made my way to Shoreditch, freezing and hopeful. What I had warmed my stomach and heart. Hurry down to try their gorgeous brunch fare and coffee, armed with a good read. The solo, well-spaced tables and chairs make it easy to lose yourself in your thoughts or focus on some work.

Friends of Ours

61 Pitfield St, London N1 6BU

Mon-Fri: 8am-5pm

Sat: 9am-5pm

Sun: 10am-5pm