24

Living through the last week of being 23 feels like waiting for a chapter that’s meant to close. Those were the exact words I told a close friend recently. 

The past few months have seen the world turned upside down. The enforced solitude, which I have grown to mostly enjoy by implementing a good routine and rewards to look forward to, has forced myself to uncover the roots of some of the biggest problems we face as a global community now, as well as some problems within myself that I have neglected. A few old demons, namely shades of anxiety and depression, may have arisen during the past month, but I’ve grown a lot by attempting to process emotions, past events, my relationships and academic endeavours. Bushy-tailed as I was when I matriculated at Oxford last year to start my PhD, I couldn’t help but feel rather lost and aimless when the virus abruptly took hold of the world, and I hazard a jab at saying that it has impacted most others in the world, too.

I could say I have learnt a few things this year:

  1. Learning a new language is hard, but fun. The more effort I put into it, the more enjoyable the process becomes. Having a strong reason as to why you want to learn makes it all the more worthwhile. 
  2. My relationship with social media has changed, and probably for the better. I find myself easily bored with many platforms now, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, mainly because its constant stimulation has finally dwindled the dopamine rush I get from it. I will take another long break from Instagram soon, I think, because this period of abstinence is akin to a rebirth, while birthing more time into my day, to invest in other priorities such as learning, reading, and actually writing more lengthy posts on this blog. I personally still read blogs, but I feel less inclined to properly read lengthy articles after long bouts of social media usage- it’s just not as fun or stimulating. Yet I know that such an attitude is harmful in the long-term due to the way in which social media rewires the brain, as Cal Newport will also readily say. As much as I love the ability to share my life and engage in things my friends are doing, real life has so much to offer outside of my various blue screens. And real relationships, for me at least, lie in long conversations, over video chat or real life, hearing someone’s voice, so much more profound than the pings of hearts and emojis. Reduced social media usage has allowed me to shape my own opinion on things without forcing Facebook or Insta ads down my throat first, and I can walk around without a phone and just think, and enjoy plain, clean air. I also want to be able to read books in the evenings again, with candles and wine, instead of scrolling through various comments on what other people think about someone else’s boyfriend etc. I could go on and on about the hazards of shamelessly, constantly putting out a highlight reel for the world, but I think my point has been made. 
  3. Relationships have clarified and I am really grateful to those close to me, who constantly inspire, motivate and challenge me. 
  4. Oh my goodness, cooking is really fun. It’s become something I look forward to most nights. I typically have gotten into the routine of cooking a small batch of something 2-3 times a week, because cooking something fresh for one person every night is a little more than necessary, and I find this amount is just right. Very grateful for a freezer, I must say. Lately I’ve been making a lot of this and malai kofta from my friend’s new food blog– she does lots of vegan Indian recipes so do check it out!!

November’s orders for London are still up and running as usual, and you can email me at alimyun@protonmail.com for more details and questions. The stars are nut butter-stuffed brownie cupcakes and PB&J blondies (pictured just above here), and a box contains 4 cupcakes and 2 large blondies. Have received good feedback for both and it truly means a lot to me, even if it’s just coming from one person!

Biscoff Oreo Brownies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

90g butter*

100g dark chocolate, chopped

1 egg*

½ tsp salt

120g sugar

150g Biscoff spread (crunchy/smooth)

45g all-purpose flour

25g cocoa powder

5-6 oreo cookies

Coarse salt for sprinkling on top

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

Directions

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

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

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

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

1 tsp fine salt

140g white sugar

1 egg (*vegan sub)

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

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

1 tsp baking powder

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

Coarse salt (such as Maldon) for sprinkling

 

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

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

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

 

Directions

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

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

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

 

Milk and Cream Cheese Roll

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetAnother week coming to a close, another surreal reality coming into focus, continuously playing.

Random things/journal excerpts:

07/05: This has been a foundation of salve and is keeping me sane throughout all the hours of each day and each night. Grateful.

08/05: Stop half-assing things. Full-ass everything. And remember there’s a whole world out there for me (and you) to discover.  Also, drew up a relatively simple Mother’s Day menu of tomato bruschetta, mini avocado toasts, banana-egg pancakes, vegetarian frittata…!

11/05: I have a Pinterest board now for French fashion and pretty interiors and it is making me so very calm and happy. For many years I’ve forgotten how much I love old, moody things. When I was a teen my own Instagram account started out as a more aesthetic page; the food existed as an aesthetic branch too but the reining theme was still wispy, old, pretty things. The delicate heel of a suede ankle boot, my favourite red lipstick smeared on a tissue paper, an elegant striped tee, an unusual floor tile, a messy strand of pasta on the edge of my plate. Coming back to that is very nostalgic in the best possible way.

And now for this sublime thing!

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Words can’t express how stunned I was by how light and fluffy this roll turned out. I got inspiration from a Youtube video and ended up changing most of its recipe so I thought I could make a blogpost out of this little experiment. A weightless sponge just about holding onto a whipped cream cheese filling. I have not played with a gluten-free version of this but that would be fun to experiment with, if you have a gluten-free flour blend or something like almond flour on hand.

It was so satisfying to make the sponge, like handling a bouncy cloud from a faraway dream. I can’t believe this is a sponge, I kept saying to myself as I spread the air-light batter onto the baking tin. The first time I made this there was too much cream cheese, which ended up weighing down the sponge and cracking it far too early. Tasted delicious but wasn’t as pretty. So if you’re not too bothered by that then feel free to add a little more cream cheese to the filling mixture.

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Milk and Cream Cheese Roll (makes one roll, serves 6-7)

Ingredients

For the sponge:

30g (2 tbsp) room temperature butter/melted butter (or flavourless oil)

1 tbsp condensed milk (tried this with ‘sweetened creamer’ too and it worked fine, so use that if you have that instead)

60ml (1/4 cup) milk of your choice

0.5 tsp salt

5 egg whites (vegan sub: use the equivalent in aquafaba, or the liquid from 1 can of chickpease. If using normal eggs, save the yolks for a soufflé pancake, devilled eggs or mayonnaise)

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

75g (3/4 cup) white sugar

60g (1/2 cup) cake flour

2 tsp milk powder (sub: vegan milk powder)

2 tsp cornstarch

 

For the filling:

100g (half a standard package) cream cheese (vegan sub: vegan cream cheese)

150ml whipping cream/double cream (vegan whipped or whipping cream)

2 tbsp sugar

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 160C (320F). Line a standard baking tin/cookie tray with parchment paper. With a small whisk, whisk together the condensed milk, milk and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave this for 30 seconds. In a separate bowl, briefly whisk together the cake flour, milk powder and cornstarch. Tip this into the wet mix and whisk well. Whisk in the salt. You should have a thick, beige batter that drops off relatively easily off the whisk. In a large, clean bowl, tip in your egg whites and cream of tartar. If using the aquafaba, it will take longer to whip up, around 5 minutes.

Whip the egg whites using an electrical whisk for a minute until frothy. Add half of the sugar and continue whipping until you get soft peaks that easily drop off the whisk. Add the rest of the sugar and continue whipping until you get relatively stiff peaks. Take 2 tbsp of this whipped egg white and add it to your first mixture of milk, condensed milk and butter. Mix this together well with a whisk or spatula until smooth and homogenous. Add this to the rest of the whipped egg whites/ aquafaba and fold until everything is just incorporated. Tip this glorious, whipped mixture onto the baking tin, spread into an even layer and bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes.

While that’s baking, make the filling by whipping the whipping cream and 2 tbsp sugar  in a separate clean bowl until stiff. Tip in the cream cheese and fold it in well. Leave the mixture in the fridge until ready to use. Once the sponge is done, it will look slightly brown on top. Take it out and leave it to cool for 5 minutes on a cooling tray or heatproof mat, but not too long otherwise the sponge will crack when you roll it. Cut a piece of parchment paper that’s slighter larger than your cake and put it on top of the sponge. After 5 minutes, flip the sponge using the tray as a support. Remove the tray and peel off the layer of parchment that was originally underneath. Add the whipped cream cheese filling to the centre of the sponge and gently spread it evenly over the sponge. Using the parchment as a support, gently and slowly roll the sponge onto the filling. It should be a single, neat roll. Leave to cool in the fridge before cutting into 6-7 rolls with a serrated knife. Best enjoyed with coffee and a dainty fork because you need dainty cutlery for soft, fairylike, dainty desserts like this.

 

 

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.