Millionaire’s Shortbread

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21/03: How weird it feels to be somewhat stranded in my own home, wearing a mask and maintaining distance from my own family members. Weirder still to know there is potentially something incredibly deadly I’m harbouring in my own body, because ‘statistically speaking, there was definitely someone with Covid on that plane…’, in the parlance of my friend!  Day 1 of my quarantine started at 8pm last night, after a groggy long flight home. I remember the very sudden, very sad decision I had to make back in Oxford just a couple of days ago, to come home. Mostly to appease family, to at least be (nearer) them during such a strange and curious time. Anyway, walking around the city centre was not the same anymore, this virus which has manifested itself as the anomie of the new decade turning every city we know and love into practical ghost towns.

Maybe you’ve all have seen the statistics, but it’s still worrying to know that despite Italy’s early efforts to contain the virus by shutting down many of its schools and quarantining a dozen towns in its northern regions, 600 people died by 10 March, up from just 100 on 4 March. It’s clear to see how Covid-19’s course has put us all on a trajectory of uncertainty and stress. As imprisoning as it felt to sign the 14-day quarantine form, it was pretty relieving to face the familiar, vigilant, Singaporean healthcare system, knowing I’ll be able to walk and visit cafés (as you do), and see dear friends afterwards. More than 12 hours in and feeling fine, and hopefully some planning and scheduling of distracting yet enjoyable hobbies, together with some mind-ticking activities, will dampen the stress and anxiety that has yet to build up over the course of the next few days. I am lucky enough to have a space at home large enough to see me through hours of sleeping, exercising and writing, with the occasional trip to kitchen because these baking fingers won’t calm down by themselves. These things help. Baking, can help.

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A close friend mentioned his penchant for Millionaire’s Shortbread, something I have only tried once on a whim from a corner store, and only ever seen in the UK (although it’s apparently Australian). It seemed too simple not to try, with its pleasing three layers of crumbly, buttery shortbread, caramel and milk chocolate, in that very order from base to top. I toyed around with a few recipes and utilise a very handy microwavable caramel, an experiment which arose from a combination of laziness and curiosity. And it’s during times like these that that very combination can be so rewarding.

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Easy Millionaire’s Shortbread (makes 16 squares)

Ingredients

For the shortbread:

226g (1 cup) salted butter (add a half teaspoon of salt to the flour if your butter is unsalted), at room temperature

100g (0.5 cup) white sugar

250g (2 cups) plain flour

 

For the caramel:

113g (0.5 cup) salted butter

1 tsp extra salt

300ml (1.25 cup) heavy/double cream

350g (1.75 cup) brown sugar

 

For the chocolate layer:

200g (2 thin bars) milk chocolate

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C and line an 8×8 or 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment, with two longer sides to help you lift the squares out of the pan easily later on. In a medium bowl, cream together the room-temperature butter and sugar with a fork or whisk. The butter should either be a little too cold or just about room temperature, not melting. Add the flour (and salt if you did not use salted butter) and mix everything together with a spoon until it all just about comes together. You should have a crumbly mixture that holds together when you squeeze it with your hands. Tip this mixture into your baking pan and press down until you get an even layer of shortbread. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until you see the edges go a very light golden.

While that is baking, make the caramel. Melt the butter by putting it in a microwave-safe bowl and microwaving it for 30 seconds or until just melted. Then add the salt, cream and brown sugar and mix everything together until well combined. Microwave this on high for 3 minutes, then take it out. The mixture will be very hot and bubbly so just be careful here. Stir the caramel briefly, then microwave it on high for another minute. Open the microwave door and leave the caramel to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Once the shortbread is done, take it out of the oven (you don’t need the oven anymore at this point so you can turn it off) and leave it to cool for half an hour before pouring on the cooled caramel.

Now for the easiest part of all the easy parts: Break up your milk chocolate into another microwave-safe bowl and microwave it for 1 minute on high. Take out the bowl and use a fork to mix the chocolate to spread out the heat which will continue to melt the remaining chunks of hard milk chocolate. Leave the chocolate to cool for 10 minutes or until it’s just warm to the touch, before pouring it on the caramel layer. This is an important step because pouring on too-hot chocolate will melt the hardened caramel layer and the chocolate and caramel will merge into one homogenous mess. Not that it won’t taste good, but you want the three separate layers for taste and visual impact.

Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

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It’s getting cold here, and there’s a lot on my mind. Had a rather therapeutic and somewhat emotional talk with a stranger this morning. It’s hard to admit that one needs therapy, let alone talk to others about it. Nevertheless, it was oddly, strangely therapeutic. I’m even thinking of starting some sort of online blog to chart progress. It’s mostly to do with a great deal of self-doubt and esteem issues, possibly stemming from some stuff that happened in the past. I don’t know who reads my blog, as old as it is now, but it does help to type things out, because although the daily journal does help a great deal too, sometimes my brain runs too fast and it’s just a tad more gratifying to see everything immediately leap from brain to post. It’s also juicier stuff that I can instantly plop onto here, too, for my (hopefully more regular) blogposts. And if it helps just one person today, then that will be all the more rewarding.

Before me: French Toast. So let me describe it to you. The crusty, almost too-hard outside is deceiving, there is a world of golden softness within. The right degree of egged saturation, not too soggy, although that would still be better than stiff or overdone. A pile of whipped cream and melted berries. Some fresh, some frozen, all warmed up to let a bounty of juices seep out. French toast is like a person. You don’t know what he/she is really like until they open up. It’s been a while since I’ve had a nice, big breakfast like this. Some days I forget to have proper meals and it all ends up being a big mess of sugary snacks all the way through the day, which I know sounds like child’s play but sadly it’s true, at the grand age of 22 (coming on to 23). You’d think I’d have at least a healthy side to me… Not to say it’s non-existent, but it could definitely be 3.5x better. It’s a bit disappointing; sometimes I imagine my younger self thinking about the woman I would be now in 2019, and although I’m not too far off, I do wish some bad habits which I currently harbour were not so etched into my sense of self that the sense of self is, ultimately, warped, half-false.

In times like these, when I feel out of control, I always have to remember to come back to my element. That meditation on the sweet, can help one see the sweet things in life. But there should be a careful line drawn between allowance (of the sweet stuff) and dependence (on the sweet stuff). I can’t classify my love for sugar as a sickness, but it would do me good to be mindful, and not always have the French toast at every café I visit (ok who am I kidding). It is only a distraction if you let it be that way. Some fleeting thoughts that I’m not sure may resonate with any of you:

  • Fresher’s week here at Oxford a couple of weeks ago was overwhelming but I met a good number of incredibly interesting individuals. It does seem therapeutic to engage in conversations with these people, it’s a nice peek into the grander problems of the world, and I’m whisked away into the real world, that of heavy issues that I can be part of a solution to, away from the trivialities of my own head. I do tend to get stuck in my head a lot, forget about the big picture. Why I’m here, why I love it here, why I love doing what I do.
  • I met people who I really got on with, but many are here just for a year. I’m trying to figure out who I can truly connect with over my 3 years doing a PhD here.
  • Talking about PhD, I still don’t quite know what I’ve gotten myself into, ha.
  • Looking at babies makes me happy. Oh, the innocence and bluntness.
  • I hate the way nails split or crack at the most undesirable places.

Today isn’t a recipe for French toast, but that for an olive oil chocolate cake. Yes, olive oil and chocolate. I had this wonderful olive oil cake with my friend Zoe back when I was still living in London, at the famous Towpath café overlooking the lanky swishing river. I wanted to recreate such a cake, airy and flavourful without feeling like you’re just glugging down tablespoons of pure olive oil. More flavour, less grease, I guess you could say. I had a half mind to leave out the chocolate entirely, but 1. Everyone loves a chocolate surprise and 2. The olive oil taste here is pretty strong so the chocolate addition is actually complementary, if not necessary. It’s dense and sticky, so if you prefer a more cake-like cake then add slightly more flour and reduce the volume of olive oil.

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An easy process of mixing, in a single bowl. Almost an hour in the oven yes, but it’s worth it, especially when paired with something dairy or dairy-like, such as vanilla ice cream or coconut yoghurt. Eat this warm while looking outside, crisp air heralding the new season. My favourite season.

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Olive oil chocolate cake (makes one 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

100g dark chocolate, chopped roughly

240ml (1 cup) olive oil)

2 tsp salt

240g (1.75 cups) sugar

250g flour

½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda

3 eggs

120ml milk (of your choice, such as oat, almond etc)

80ml yoghurt

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C. Grease and line a 8 or 9-inch cake tin. In a bowl and with a metal whisk, whisk together all the ingredients except the flour, chocolate, baking powder and baking soda. Then add the remaining ingredients and fold in until you get a rather wet batter. Pour into your prepared pan and bake for 55 minutes in the preheated oven. After baking, leave to rest for 10 minutes before cutting in and serving with yoghurt or ice cream.

Cornflake-crusted Stuffed French Toast

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Well, hi guys, it’s been a while. With everything seeming to happen at the same time, it feels almost strange to be typing on this platform again about things closest to my heart (aka sugar, spice and all things nice).

Above all, and most importantly, let there be french toast. The one food I will gladly eat every day three times a day. The one thing I love so much that I have a whole section in my recipe page dedicated to it.

There have been pockets of time in the past few weeks which have granted me access to memories only of the sweetest kind. I’ve tried making all sorts of fancy french toast get-ups, usually never with any regret (hello bagel french toast and black sesame french toast), although I have to say this childish cornflake-crusted banana-stuffed one is  not only a weekend winner, but a fanciful play on all things childhood-sweet. It’s any golden childhood memory on a plate– swinging through falling leaves on a swing, drinking hot chocolate by a fire.

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I understand that french toast isn’t considered french toast unless made with real, proper egg, so perhaps me going plant-based (it’s been over a year now) has put, on a subconscious level, the idea of good weekend french toast aside. But coming across multiple mouth-watering french toasts on Instagram and elsewhere on the www has made me determined to recreate a vegan version that’s just as good, and possibly better, than what most of us may find out there in the cafe-sphere. So if you’re quite the purist, go ahead and use real or vegan egg. But perhaps just once, try this combination of mashed banana, cinnamon and milk, which saturates your soft bread to the most ideal degree, resulting in french toast that’s neither too soggy nor rubbery. Oh, rubbery is the worst, isn’t it?

As human beings we require simple sustenance. But sometimes the simplest matters turn out to be the most delicious, and the smallest twist using something as ubiquitous and childish as cornflakes makes all the difference. Making a most delicious french toast right in your own kitchen is truly the most rewarding thing. Not much fuss, no wallet-burning, and a 100% goodness guarantee. So you can make this, and get back to whatever you’re doing the rest of the day, all the while knowing you’ve done something terribly good for yourself.

Quote of the day: ‘We are human beings, not human doings’

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Cornflake-crusted Cinnamon Banana French Toast (serves 1)

Ingredients

2 slices vegan brioche/ any soft bread of your choice

2 bananas, one mashed, and one sliced thickly at a slight angle.

60ml (1/4 cup) almond milk

1 tsp ground cinnamon

handful of cornflakes

3 tbsp brown sugar

vegan butter for caramelising

handful of frozen berries (optional)

icing sugar (optional, for decoration)

Directions

Place the cornflakes in a bowl and use your (clean, hopefully) hands to crush them into chunks. Pour the cornflakes into a shallow dish. Don’t worry if you are left with quite a few larger chunks– this will only give more texture to your french toast. In another bowl, use a fork to briefly mix together your french toast batter– the mashed banana, almond milk and cinnamon. Don’t worry about little chunks of banana in there. Add a pat of vegan butter or oil to a medium nonstick pan to start making the caramelised banana.

Once the pan is hot, add a little more vegan butter to the pan, together with the brown sugar. Add the sliced banana to the hot pan and let it caramelise for a minute. Once the side facing down is a nice caramelised golden colour, use a spatula to flip the banana slices and cook the other side. Once the bananas are nicely soft and caramelised, set them aside in a bowl while you make the french toast. Leave the pan on medium heat.

Dip both sides of one of the bread slices into the mashed banana mixture, then dip one side into the crushed cornflakes. Repeat for the other bread slice. Place the cornflake-side of one bread slice onto the hot pan to cook, add the caramelised bananas on the side facing up. Add the handful of berries if you wish– I think it adds a lovely tang to cut through all that sweet chimerical flavour. Then close your french toast sandwich with the other slice of bread. Once the side facing down has been cooking for a minute or so, use your spatula to check if that side is golden-crisp and cooked. If it is, flip the sandwich over and cook the second side.

Once finished, cut your french toast sandwich on the diagonal, then top with any leftover caramelised banana you have, and a sprinkling of icing sugar. Serve with more berries and a splosh of yoghurt. HELLO Saturday.

Chocolate-stuffed Pillow Pancakes for One

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And it’s back to the pancake grind. Does anyone else think pancakes are just beyond magical? I mean really, think back to when you had one really good pancake, and all the suffering it may have alleviated. I’m not saying one must be dependent on pancakes (or good food) alone to be relieved of anything depressing or sad, because that in itself isn’t a case for good health. Good health need not mean a good pancake, but good health certainly leaves room for a damn good pancake.

My signature pillow pancakes have been my (and your) long-standing favourite recipe since I started posting recipes on this blog. Though it seemed initially banal to re-write a recipe which I’ve done too many times to count, it behoves me to re-write it for your benefit, just this once, because chocolate-stuffed pancakes do take these to a whole new level, and because it’s ‘for one’, you need not share, or worry about tidying up and freezing leftovers. Further, it’s the perfect way to use up any leftover chocolate frosting you may have from a cake or tart experiment. This is no pabulum or stupidity (the latter you may witness, though, in the current issue surrounding the new American immigration policy; I am both heartbroken and angered by such hoo-ha).

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A firm warning from yours truly– these pancakes will make you productive the entire morning. I topped mine with a homemade pumpkin spread and some granola given to me by my dearest Charlie, although these toppings are optional (and honestly, gave the photography shoot bit a nice bit of pop and fun). You’re good with some maple and extra chopped dark chocolate, and I imagine some good, thick coconut yoghurt would work so well.

I’ll dial the excitement down a shade, and leave you to it. The past week has been rife with friendly gatherings and good food, and I hope this does not stop for a long, long while.

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Chocolate-Stuffed Pancakes for One

Ingredients

For the pancakes:

80g plain flour, or use half plain and half whole-wheat

1 tbsp ground flax (optional)

1 tbsp coconut/white/brown sugar

1/2 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda

pinch of salt

2 tsp melted butter (normal/vegan) or coconut oil

100ml milk or mylk (I like almond or soy)

For the chocolate middle:

10g cocoa powder

30g icing sugar

splash of milk or mylk almond/soy)

 

Directions

The night before you make the pancakes, whisk the cocoa powder and icing sugar together, Drizzle in the milk/mylk drop by drop until you get the consistency of a smooth and thick chocolate icing. Put the icing on a plate, spread it out and put it in the freezer to set. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour(s), flax (if using), sugar, salt and leavening agents). Pour the rest of the ingredients 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-high 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, add a little pat of butter, let it melt, and add a heaping tablespoon of pancake batter for your first pancake. Then take your frozen chocolate disc and place it in the centre of your first pancake. Add a little more batter to cover the disc. Wait for the pancake to cook through, or once you notice one or two bubbles forming on its surface. Flip the pancake and let it cook for at least 30 more seconds. Let this cool on a paper towel while you do the same for the next pancake.

Serve with butter and maple syrup, or whatever you want. They’re wonderful with banana and more chopped chocolate, its moist sweetness adjoining arms with the maple. What a Sunday.

 

Kaya Bundt With Dark Chocolate Frosting

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Things have been taken a step up. In thought, and in action. From trying out crazy buffet restaurants, to understanding which camera is the most accurate (iPhone, Snapchat, Instagram or something else? Help, which tells the truth?) and why, to Kim and Trump having negotiations just this morning, in a luxury hotel right here on our little red dot Singapore. Why not do the same in the kitchen? Like this, like now.

Making my own kaya was an intrepid effort, but by no means terribly intimidating. Kaya has always been one of my favourite spreads ever. Simply spreading the stuff on my toasted, buttered crumpet this morning was some beautiful nostalgia. I just had to recreate a vegan version. A few years ago, with so many amazing nonya kayas out there, I never felt the need to make my own. Although this vegan recipe, which I adapted from an online source, needs a little tweaking, the final product turned out more than fine, with the right gloopy texture, a strong coconut taste, perfect for soaking into crevices, into the porous, crusty craters of white toast, on a crumpet (this morning’s gala).

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So you’ve got the kaya. Then it’s simply a matter of mixing wet with dry, the kaya going into a smooth homogenous mixture of butter and sugar all nicely creamed together, some flax eggs (or normal eggs, whatever floats your goat), and added coconut extract for punch and pizzaz. Once that’s done, you make a damn good, deep and dark chocolate frosting to literally ice the cake in flavour, texture, and colour. Experiment with the baking time too– mine needed 45 minutes in total although you may only need 40 or so minutes. I even used some edible flowers to decorate but I’m posh that way (ok no, I’m supporting a sustainable urban farming movement. The owner propagates edible flowers and breeding pollinators in the middle of bustling Orchard Road here in Singapore… how cool is that??).

The cake is dense, moist yet fluffy. Behold some robust coconut breath in each sturdy bite. The icing stays strong even in this terrifying heat and humidity, so you can be well assured you don’t have to worry about a schmozzle when you drizzle it on your beautiful bundt.

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Kaya bundt cake with chocolate drizzle (makes one medium bundt)

Ingredients

For the kaya bundt cake:

400g kaya, homemade or store-bought (make your vegan version, I found a good recipe here– mine turned out tasting a little too much of soy due to all that tofu, but the texture and taste was still nonetheless on point)

350g cake flour, or plain flour if you don’t have cake flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp coconut extract (optional, I added it for amplified flavour)

200g each of vegan butter (room temperature) and sugar (sub: normal butter if you’re not vegan)

2 flax eggs (sub: whole eggs), made by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp room temperature water)

For the frosting:

40g icing sugar

10g cocoa powder

1 tbsp tahini (optional, I added for creaminess and a hint of sesame flavour)

5-6 tbsp almond milk

60g dark chocolate

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Make your flax eggs by combining the ground flaxseed with water and setting it aside to gel up. Grease and flour a bundt pan. I coated the inside of my pan with coconut oil, then floured it by adding a tablespoon of flour into the pan and then jiggling the pan around so the flour is mostly coating the oiled inner surface.

In a large bowl and with a spatula, cream the room temperature butter with the sugar. I find a spatula makes it nice and easy. Cream together until the mixture is homogenous, pale and fluffy. Add the flax eggs, coconut extract and kaya, and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.

In a separate medium bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Tip this into the large bowl containing your wet ingredients, then mix all together gently, until everything is smooth and evenly incorporated. Spoon dollops of batter into the greased and floured pan, continuing to do this until all batter is used up. Bake the bundt in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre comes out with a few moist crumbs.

While the bundt is baking, make the frosting. Chop up the dark chocolate, tip into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave until the chocolate is all melted. In a separate bowl, sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder together, then add the tahini (optional) and milk. Add the melted chocolate and mix until you get a thick but runny consistency. Once the bundt is done, let it cool down (don’t tip it!) on a wire rack for at least a half hour. Drizzle the chocolate frosting over the top and sprinkle with sesame seeds for decoration.