My Favourite Thing This Week x Pumpkin Turmeric Scones

Fall is here and ready to take over. Over my mental and physical worlds and everything in between. The first week of school has come and gone instantly, as if the mind-bending philosophies we were taught and lengthy pauses of appreciation they induced, workshops and field trips were as transient as my last 5 inhalations and next few exhalations. Earlier this week we went on a tour of the beautiful Chelsea Physic Gardens in the heart of London, which showcased most magnificently the vast and (if I do say so myself) underrated variety of medicinal herbs, spices and other botanical wonders. No skipping the Asian and other ethnic varieties either, which was what impressed me most. Rice? Sake? They had it all. This is a gem of a place and do encourage anyone in London to give the place a visit.

This ‘favourite thing’ should be more of a thing. Weekly, perhaps? Favouritism aside, it allows for reflection on a lot of things that have happened the past week, letting this physical reality overlap with hardcore introspection.

I want to talk about Paperless Post, which represents everything I adore. The bibliophile and letter fiend that I am always hesitates to replace technology with traditional scrawling (I am still that one in lectures with a pad and pen, struggling to match speed of brain with that of the lecturer’s tongue) in any case, especially for the sake of convenience. But Paperless proves to intensify one’s creative streak with its thousands of templates and quotes, designed by world-famous artists and graphic designers.

I gave it a shot by sending a few trial birthday invitations to my family and a few friends over the weekend… even though my birthday is in November! Here’s the silly one I designed. The site essentially lets you choose and design your own virtual postcards, invitations and birthday cards for those closest to you. It’s so easy– just set up an account using your email address, then choose your design, customise it by adding different fonts, colours and backdrops, and use their smart online tools like RSVP tracking and guest messaging to ice the cake. Ok, how cool is that… Forget any other platform, this is all you need. Why use Facebook when you can send beautiful, personalised invitations to the lucky select few? Birthday or barbecue, the extra 5 minutes choosing a deliciously good-looking template that represents you and what your event is all about, is worth it.

I spent a good few guiltless hours on the weekend playing around with templates, and was thoroughly impressed with all the designs on offer. It saves time, effort and a little sanity. To cut it short, Paperless is stressless. Everyone who received my card was touched by the design and caption of the card, and all it took was 5-10 minutes! I personally love how you can add whatever pictures or photos you may already have on your computer to your invitation. To be clear, this post is published in partnership with them and Anagram Interactive, but I will continue using this platform to send thoughtful, meaningful cards and invitations to those nearest and dearest. Whatever your creative or aesthetic style, there is something for you. Click here if you’re interested!

Now. Second favourite thing the past week?

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I’d say ‘today it’s turmeric’, but really it should be an almost-everyday thing. Pumpkin is everywhere and in everyone every fall, so for tradition and comfort I incorporated it too, but turmeric is the real showgirl here. The impressive little kicker has proven anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, all thanks to its main component curcumin. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of its pungent, gingery flavour upon first trying it, but I’ve grown to love its warmth and pepper. It’s pretty simple to incorporate turmeric into anything, be it scones, or porridge, or a savoury curry, its grounding aroma doing much to calm all the senses. Just this time last week I thought scones would be the most welcoming fall treat, something ultra buttery, flaky and hearty. Simple, sleek, marginally sexy.

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With a special double glaze– plain classic and fiery turmeric. It’s this turmeric glaze that is worth the hype. The intense spicy drizzle carves dimension and excitement into the buttery formula of the plain, spiced scone. Any worry about the foreign and disconcerting pairing of this exotic spice with the traditional breakfast item will be alleviated. Just you try, and see.

 

Pumpkin Turmeric Scones (makes 8 medium-sized scones)

Ingredients 

240g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour

150g (1 cup) rye flour

35g (1/4 cup+ 2 tbsp) sugar (white or coconut)

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tbsp turmeric latte mix or 1tbsp turmeric+1/2 tsp cinnamon+1/2 tsp cardamom

100g (1/2 cup+2 tbsp) vegan butter (cold)

60ml (1/4 cup) soy or any other plant-based yoghurt. Alternatively, you could use applesauce

3 tbsp pumpkin purée

100ml (a little under a 1/2 cup) plant milk (I used almond)

1/2 tsp vinegar

For the turmeric glaze:

100g icing sugar

2 tsp turmeric latte mix, or just 1 tsp or ground turmeric

1.5 tbsp almond milk

For the plain glaze:

100g icing sugar

1 tbsp almond milk

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Mix the milk and vinegar in a bowl and set it aside to let curdle a little. Meanwhile, combine all the other ingredients except the yoghurt and pumpkin purée in a bowl. Use your hands to mush the butter into the flour, which is actually very easy if you use vegan butter (yay!). Then add the milk mix and yoghurt. The final mixture should be moist but firm.

Tip the mix onto a liberally floured surface and shape into a disc. Place on a lined baking sheet and cut into 8 equal pieces, as can be seen in the picture above. Brush the top with almond/any other plant-based milk and bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes. How easy was that?

Whilst it is baking, make the two glazes in separate bowls using a small fork as a whisk. Once the scones have finished baking, let them sit on the counter to cool for at least 10 minutes before drizzling with both glazes. Bon appetit, my fall friends!

Lemon Yoghurt Bars (classic, fast, easy)

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Sweet, tangy, gooey lemon yogurt bars with a dense and buttery base. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– nothing gets me like a good lemon dessert. Lemon bars in particular are my absolute favourite. I’d say lemon meringue pie too, but that does require the extra meringue component, and if you so wish for some lemony satisfaction at any point of time during the week, these do the trick in a wink without requiring you to whip out any fancy kitchen gadget.

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Adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery’s cookbook, so kindly purchased by my friend as a birthday present, I couldn’t resist trying these guys out. The recipe looked much to easy to pass up, and there’s never a time I’m not in the mood for lemon bars. With too much yoghurt on hand, I decided no harm would be done if a minor twist was made. Worth it, to say the least. The yoghurt adds a mild creaminess to the body of the lemon bars without subtracting any tang or sharpness.

Crust? Easy. Forget blind-baking and the works.

Filling? 2 minutes max, after weighing some 200g of sugar and squeezing a lemon, I guess. Zilch effort.

Term is winding down, coming to an end. There’s always so much to do here, and see, and enjoy. Friday night shenanigans balance all work-related stress and unrelenting fear of missing out or not knowing enough content. Despite the roller coaster, I must say that there are always the constants that get me through. Morning routines, cup of black in my hand, the oven hum, people with the brightest and most interesting personalities, House of Cards (which I just started and can’t get enough of)…. Missing home is a secondary emotion. Christmas and family and home are calling, but this already feels somewhat like home.

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Lemon Yoghurt Bars (makes 16-20 evenly-sized rectangular bars, adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook)

Ingredients

For the base: 

290g all-purpose plain flour

70g icing sugar

large pinch salt

220g unsalted butter, melted

 

For the filling:

200g white caster sugar

3 eggs

4 heaped tablespoons plain yoghurt (greek works fine too)

120ml (slightly less than half a cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice

half teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 170C (325F) and grease a 9×9-inch square pan.

Mix all ingredients for the base in a large bowl and press into the bottom of the pan– take your time here for it’s a bit sticky, but it gets easier after all the gloop actually unsticks from between your fingers. Bake for 20 minutes. In another bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the filling. Pour into the half-baked crust and bake another 15 minutes (at the same temperature, leave the oven on when you’re pouring in the filling). Once baked, leave to cool completely. You may place in the fridge to cool faster, but the bars will set up fine after an hour or so even at room temperature.

Cut into even bars and serve!

Lemon Curd Muffins

If there’s anything I’m a true sucker for, it’s lemon anything. No really. I love chocolate and a lot of other sweet things, but when it comes to citrus-based desserts, my salivary glands go haywire and my head fills with buttercups and sunshine.

Fluffy, white lemon muffins with a lemon curd belly, topped with a lemon curd-sugar coating

What do I like about these muffins? Well. You mix the wet ingredients together, you mix the dry ingredients together, pour one into the other and voila, you have perfect golden muffins in a matter of 15 minutes or less. I mean it’s really not any harder than perusing the morning paper or making a cup of coffee. If you can tie your shoelaces, these are a piece of cake (got that). Wake up, make your coffee, work, take a half-hour break, and maybe during that time you can make these without breaking a sweat. There is just no excuse now.

I had to satisfy the lemon fiend in me a couple of days ago, and did so well with these muffins. I had an incredibly hard time labelling this either a muffin or cupcake, because although this one ticks the boxes for all things which make a muffin, well, a muffin, the insides reminded me more of a cupcake than anything– light as air, pale, tender and not as dense as any muffin you might come across. It’s 80% muffin and 20% cupcake in technique, but 100% cupcake in texture. The crumb is neither robust or rigid, but holds up enough to provide the perfect amount of bite. Add this to the mix of half-molten lemon curd centre and sugar-crusted, sharp-tongued top and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Just for general info, muffins generally:

  • have a domed top (as is evident above)
  • a denser crumb
  • little if any frosting (usually a sugar coating such as this one)
  • require the wet and dry ingredients to be mixed separately before one is added to the other, instead of the typical creaming method utilised in the making of cupcakes.

Therefore, I present to you the cuffin.

Delight is a synonym for that wonderful lemon curd-sugar topping, which once again couldn’t be easier. Delight is also a synonym for the feeling you get when you bite into a soft, white, lemony bit of cake, rounded off with the sharp notes of homemade (or store-bought, that’s good too) lemon curd. Sharp on soft. White and black. It’s meant to be.

Lemon Curd Cupcakes (makes 10-12 cupcakes, adapted from here)

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

200g self-raising flour

100g white castor sugar

pinch salt

1 egg

75ml vegetable oil (canola/sunflower is good here)

zest of one lemon

juice of half a lemon

120ml whole milk

60ml (1/4 cup) lemon curd, homemade or store-bought

For the lemon curd topping:

60ml (1/4 cup) lemon curd

70g white sugar (granulated/castor)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 190C (375F) and grease a cupcake or muffin tin. In a large bowl  whisk together the whole milk, egg, oil, lemon zest and lemon juice. In a medium bowl, briefly whisk together the self-raising flour, sugar and salt. Pour the dry into the wet mix and mix everything together until just combined with a wooden spoon. Using a tablespoon, half fill a mould in the tin with some batter, then use 2 teaspoons to put a small dollop of lemon curd in the centre, then fill to the 3/4-mark of the mould or case with more batter. Repeat for the rest of the cupcake moulds. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes (mine took 13 minutes exactly). Check at the 12-minute mark; a wooden skewer inserted into the side (because the centre has lemon curd) of one should emerge clean. They should be nicely domed with a golden top, and no cracking on the surface.

Whilst these are baking, make the topping (YUM). In a small bowl, microwave the lemon curd until warm but not totally liquidy. Put the white sugar in a shallow dish and set these two aside until the cupcakes are done baking. Once they are fully baked, leave to cool for 5 minutes before rolling the tops in the lemon curd, then rolling again in sugar.

Devour, and know that life is good.

No-Bake Vanilla Bean Cheesecake For One with Black Sesame Brittle

Sweet, tangy vanilla cheesecake with a crumbly crust, topped with shards of black sesame brittle. 

So much goodness in a 4-inch tart pan. The addition of black sesame? Almost unprecedented, perfect.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of attacking a bought cheesecake in a jar, with a delightful crumbly crust, topped nicely with passionfruit. The first bite made me realise, and later lament, how much I adore cheesecake sometimes. It was my favourite sort of cake thing aged 5 upwards; hot, cold, plain or with something swirled in, I liked it all. The addiction pash waned a few years ago, but recent encounters with good, solid cheesecakes rekindled that familiar joy and pleasure.

Ah, speckles.

What I love about this is that it’s totally customisable, depending on the ingredients you have in stock. Save for the main component of cream cheese, of course. You see, the main base is cream cheese and icing sugar, but the ‘lightening’ components are needed for lift, volume and better distribution of flavours. Now these can be altered. I state whipped coconut cream as one component, but not many people have a can of coconut milk or cream lying around, so whipped cream (or whipped topping) would work just as well. A milder flavour suits the majority, too. And the vanilla bean? Well, life doesn’t end here. Vanilla extract would work as well, but if you’re the sort who doesn’t like to compromise on taste and scent, I strongly suggest going all out, and remember that these beans will always come in handy, for instance in your sugar and in a myriad desserts.

Vanilla bean and black sesame work like a dream together. The latter component is optional, but to spoon a bit of cheesecake onto a small shard of crisp, sweet brittle? Joie de vivre. The actual process of making the brittle isn’t half as hard as it sounds. I know, words like ‘brittle’ might as well be replaced with ‘croissant lamination’ or ‘flambée’. But the only hard thing about this is waiting, and perhaps spreading the brittle into a thin enough layer before it hardens completely. On a side note, things like sesame and flax have compounds called lignans which help to regulate metabolism and weight, and that’s always a plus, right?

No-Bake Cheesecake For One With Black Sesame Brittle

Ingredients

For the cheesecake:

25g biscuits (I used Nice biscuits, but you can use graham crackers/ oreo cookies/ anything you have on hand)

10g melted butter

70g cream cheese, at room temperature

20g icing sugar (no need to sift)

1 heaping tbsp nut butter such as peanut butter or almond butter/ tahini (I used tahini)

2 tbsp whipped coconut cream/ whipped cream

the insides of half a vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

pinch of salt

For the black sesame brittle:

200g (1 cup) white sugar

60ml (1/4 cup) water

4 tbsp black sesame seeds

30g (2 tbsp) unsalted butter

pinch salt

Directions

If you’re using coconut cream in your cheesecake base, then start prep the night before. Take a can of coconut milk/coconut cream (the label can be either) and place in the fridge overnight. The next morning you should have a thick, firm white cream. If you’re using normal whipped cream, whip up a batch the night before and let set in the fridge so it’s more stiff the next morning when ready to use.

Place your biscuits in a small ziploc bag and zip the top tightly. Take a rolling pin and bash the biscuits until you get fine crumbs. Pour in the melted butter and incorporate well with your fingers (on the outside of the ziploc bag, of course). Pour into a small tart (should be 3-4 inches wide), or a small jar/cup, and press into an even layer with your fingers. In a medium bowl and with a metal whisk, whisk together all the ingredients listed above needed for the cheesecake.  The bowl needn’t be anything larger than medium since there’s not much volume to work with anyway (hoorah for a cheesecake all to yourself!!). Scrape the mix into your tart/jar/cup and place in the fridge to firm up. It’s ready for consumption in just 30 minutes, but you can eat it whenever.

Black sesame brittle? Easier than it sounds. I based the recipe off Joanne Chang’s Flour recipe for cacao nib brittle, and though I would have preferred a thinner, lacier texture, this still worked fine by me and the rest of my family. Grease and line a large baking sheet and set aside (the top of the baking sheet should be well greased too). In a medium saucepan, add the sugar and water. Place on high heat and let come to a hard boil. Let the mixture continue to boil for 5-8 minutes, or until you get a light brown colour. At this point, pour in the black sesame seeds and swirl pan in a circular motion to distribute, or do so gently with a wooden spoon. Let mixture continue to boil until the colour deepens to a deeper, richer amber-gold colour. Then, whisk in the butter and salt. Take off the heat and pour onto the baking sheet and spread into a thin layer with a spatula or wooden spoon. Work quickly because the mixture hardens with time. A couple of minutes later you can break the layer of black sesame brittle into shards, or pieces as big or small as you like.

Stick shards into the cheesecake and eat both components together. I like to spoon the cheesecake onto the sharp, sweet bits chockfull of black sesame seeds. YUM.

Red Velvet Cake Bars

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Truly no frills.

And way too hard to mess up, to be perfectly honest. There are a few reasons why I’m in love with this red velvet cake recipe. Why? A list seems appropriate, yes. These cake bars (or mini circular-sort cakes, if you would like, those work too) are:

  1. The most moist, fluffy and tender red velvet cake bars your lips will ever meet.
  2. Have a deeper chocolate flavour than most red velvet cake recipes
  3. Have actual melted chocolate in the batter (!!)
  4. Cream cheese frosting. That is all.
  5. Thick, creamy, vanilla bean-ified frosting.
  6. Frosting.

Red velvet has gotten quite a bit of flak recently. Most everyone has tried these dainty red cakes slathered in cream cheese frosting. However, due to its perceived nature of artificiality and lack of distinct flavour thanks to too many a sticky-topped, mass-produced factory version, people have come to believe the one true hero of the eponymous red velvet is really just that cream cheese frosting… and not much else. If I may quote someone from my favourite TV series– red velvet is a lie!

The chocolate notes have been forgotten, abandoned, and what was once known (I remember the trend hitting hard around 2-3 years ago) for unbeatable moistness and tenderness has been passed off as that unnecessary trendy thing with too much red food dye. 

With this recipe, hopes have been revived.

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I found it in my mother’s huge collection of cake recipes (quite literally a huge grey file labelled ‘CAKES’), and modified it to taste and texture. The red velvet batter has the perfect hint of chocolate, and the cream cheese frosting is rich, cram-jammed with real vanilla bean and the right amount of tang. I could go on about this cake and how easy it is, but I don’t think I need to bore you with the details. Let’s get to it, because life is short and there’s no point wasting time wasting time.

Ingredients (makes enough for 3 batches of cake bars in an 8×8-inch pan, or 3 6-inch cake layers)

For the cake bars:

120g soft, unsalted butter

330g castor sugar

300g all-purpose flour

2 eggs

50g cocoa powder

1 heaped tablespoon red gel food colouring

1 tbsp vanilla bean paste (or substitute with the same amount of vanilla extract)

50g bittersweet chocolate, chopped (preferably from a bar, but chips are fine here too) and melted in 30-second increments in a microwave

250ml buttermilk (or mix 240ml whole milk with one tablespoon of white vinegar, and leave to rest for a while before using– the mixture should be slightly curdled)

pinch of salt

2 tbsp white vinegar

1 1/2 tsp baking soda (bicarb soda)

For the cream cheese frosting (enough for the tops of 3 batches; make double this amount if you wish to frost the sides as well):

42g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or sub with vanilla extract)

180g cream cheese, at room temperature

200g icing sugar

pinch of coarse salt

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and grease and line your cake pans, be it 8×8-inch square baking pan(s) or 3 6-inch round cake pans. Melt your chopped plain chocolate in the microwave and set aside for the time being. Take your cream cheese out from the fridge so it has time to come to room temperature. If you’re making your buttermilk (because you’re like me and can’t be bothered to run to the grocery store just to buy that packet of buttermilk), mix together the whole milk and white vinegar in a bowl and set aside as well.

In a large bowl and with an electrical whisk or Kitchenaid if you have one, beat together the softened, unsalted butter and white castor sugar. Beat until pale and fluffy, at least 30 seconds or so. Add the eggs one at a time and beat between each addition. Add the vanilla bean paste at this point, and then sieve in the cocoa powder. When sieving, I find it handy to place your bowl on a weighing scale and then sieving in the cocoa powder until you reach the 50g mark. Beat the vanilla bean paste, cocoa powder and your melted chocolate on a low speed until it’s all combined. You should have a thick, sticky, dark batter.

At this point, add your red gel food colouring. I used a heaped tablespoon, but you may want more or less depending on colour preference. Start with a teaspoonful of food colouring and then work from there. I find that a heaped tablespoon (I used a ‘Christmas Red’ hue) does the trick, producing a rich, deep, carnation red, nothing too pink or too dark.

In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and half a teaspoon (it’s part of the amount stated in the ingredients list above) of fine salt. This is the dry mix. Add half of this to the chocolate-butter mix you just put together, then add half of the buttermilk. Beat on low speed briefly, then add the rest of the flour and the rest of the buttermilk. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides and make sure all the batter is evenly mixed, folding from the bottom  and coming up through the sides and middle.

Now for the kinda magical bit, and what gives the batter a final kick and ridiculous level of moisture! In a small saucer, mix together the remaining 1 tsp of baking (bicarb) soda and 2 tsp of white vinegar. The mixture will fizz up. Immediately tip it into the batter and mix in thoroughly with a wooden spoon.

Pour the batter into your cake pans and bake in the preheated oven for 20-22 minutes. If you’re using 6-inch cake pans, check at the 20-minute mark– insert a wooden skewer into the middle of the cakes; if they emerge with wet red batter then bake for 5 more minutes. With an 8×8-inch cake pan, these will be done by 20 minutes, but every oven is different, and they may take 2 minutes more or less.

While the cakes are baking, make the cream cheese frosting. In a large bowl and with an electrical whisk, beat together your soft, unsalted butter and cream cheese. Then, beat in the vanilla bean paste, icing sugar and salt.

Once the cakes are baked, leave to cool on cooling racks for at least half an hour before removing from the pans and cutting off the tops (the cutting off part is unnecessary if you’re baking these in an 8×8-inch cake pan). If you’re using the square baking pan, spread on the cream cheese frosting, then cut into bars. If you are using 3 6-inch cake pans, spread on a large dollop of cream cheese frosting on one layer, then stack with the second layer, and repeat. If you’re making a cake this way and you’re done with the last layer, immediately let the cake set in the fridge, for the cream cheese frosting will start to melt all over the place otherwise. With the amounts stated above, I could make a stacked 2-tier cake and one 8×8-inch square cake (with lots of leftover cake from the tops!). These cakes can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.

Tender is the crumb.