Gin-roasted stuffed pears with yoghurt

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I call it a grand break. A super grand one. I don’t want to sound hubristic, but damn this was one irresistible breakfast.

I like sticking with familiarity on most days– oats, toast, my beloved french toast. The classic stuff. But sometimes change awakens and broadens your horizons, and what oftentimes seems like an alarming shock to the system turns out to be inspiriting.

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So you buy a pear. That’s the first step. The first step in this magical process.

Take a knife, cut it in half. Then take a melon baller and core it, or be like Alex and not actually have one of those, and use a knife instead to cut out little half=spheres from each half. Chop up some almonds and dark chocolate (because chocolate and pears! Unfortunately the picture above was before the chocolate stuffing bit), then stuff the middles with the mix.

Then you roast it with gin, cinnamon and honey. After some research, I found that roasting something for 15 minutes retains the most (around 40% of whatever you’re using) alcohol, so I tested it, and it turned out sublime.

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Then you eat this lump of caramelised, tender deliciousness with thick Greek yoghurt, drizzled with whatever you want. That day in particular necessitated honey, a little almond butter and this divine mango chutney that a friend recently purchased for me (hi Claire!!).

The warm, firm yet soft pear complements the creaminess and sourness of the yoghurt just perfectly. Nuts provide crunch, the cocoa and cinnamon add a sultry dimension, one of apt luxury.

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Gin-roasted stuffed pears with yoghurt (serves 1, but can be scaled up or down)

Ingredients

1 firm pear (Bartlett/ Concorde)

4 tbsp unflavoured or flavoured gin (I used gooseberry which is sweeter, so you might need less with something unflavoured/stronger)

small handful (around 1 oz or 28g in total) of chopped almonds and dark chocolate

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp honey

80-100g yoghurt (of course this bit is completely up to you, but this ratio works well)

topping options: honey, maple syrup, berries, more nuts

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Cut and core your pear (or, as I said earlier, be like me and forgo the melon baller, instead using the same knife to just cut half-spheres in each pear half).

Add one tablespoon of gin to each ‘hole’, and leave for around 30 seconds to let the pear soak it up. Then add your mix of chopped almonds and chocolate to each half. After filling, add one tablespoon of gin to each half again, drizzling all over the pear. Sprinkle on the cinnamon and drizzle the pear with honey.

Place in the preheated oven and roast for 15 minutes, no more and no less. If your pears don’t lie flat, use a knife to cut a little bit off the backs of the pear halves so that they do.

Remove from oven and serve with yoghurt, together with whatever toppings you want!

 

Beetroot Raspberry Porridge

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There was a sort of comfortable weirdness when I woke up and powered through a few weekdays, one of which I had to endure after 3 or so hours of sleep. It’s nice to trick oneself into thinking one is being productive burning the midnight oil, disastrously accompanied by bad snacks and waking up much earlier than everyone else, but the truth is that there’s always some form of give and take. So although I relish the time when no one else in halls is awake, it just doesn’t permit copious reckless nights. Yeah, you can’t have everything. Funny though, the routine has instilled within me a sense of adventure, a branching out of my little cocoon. The familiarity of routine does the same too, and has been proven to inherently generate creativity let alone being almost enlightening on certain occasions, but its disruption has so far proven to be worth it.

Late nights aside, sometimes random events re-instill that keen sense of belonging in the world. Almost self-regenerating. There are pockets of insight, creativity and adventure in every new street I wander, every friend I have over (hi Ruru!), every new café I visit, every baking adventure, every book I open. Do check the link out– Eagleman is an expert in his field and in the art of writing.

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The gorgeous Ruru, who may here be observed drinking green juice like the true Cali girl she is

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Just a little update on my french toast series– the french toast scene has been seriously overwhelming!! It’s what I’ve been getting up to when I’m not trying to memorise various facts on the Biology of Integrated Systems. I won’t reveal specific details or my personal opinion on the dishes for the sake of a comprehensive bird’s-eye view of everything in the future. So that’s that.

Going back to what I was referring to in the first paragraph on sleep cycles, there’s nary a fixed opinion on whether it’s best to be up much earlier or much later. I’m always up incredibly early, and one of my fallback breakfasts before the full light of day chucks me into the reality of (thankfully enjoyable) lectures, tutorials and lots of cold, is porridge. Usually toast, sometimes porridge, but when I do make the latter, it’s the most warm and delicious satisfying bowl of goodness. London always seems to be awake, but somehow there’s a sacred, solid peace just before the sun rises, usually between 7 and 7 30am.

This is when I hit the stove or microwave with my new favourite porridge oats, which I know sounds like child’s play but there’s simultaneously such satisfaction in a simple bowl of ready-made porridge, and what with having to travel with Charing Cross now and then, there’s less time to hover over the stove with totally unprocessed oats on the hob. This recipe is a simple twist on my favourite oatmeal recipe since forever, which utilises mashed banana and a simple method for optimum flavour and texture. Click on that link if you wish to try a classic oatmeal recipe that won’t fail your morning tastebuds.

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Beetroot raspberry porridge (serves 1)

If using a microwave:

Mash half a banana with a fork in a microwave-safe bowl, then add a half cup (40-50g) of porridge oats or rolled oats, half a cup (120ml) of milk of choice (I used almond here), and half a cup of water. Add a teaspoon of beetroot powder, or if you don’t have that on hand, a tablespoon of beet juice works just as well. Add a handful of fresh raspberries, then briefly stir everything together so the beet powder dissolves into the liquid. Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes; check after 3 minutes and stir a while, if it doesn’t thicken up as much then chuck it back into the microwave and heat for another 30 seconds, or until you get your desired consistency.

If you prefer the hob:

Do the same as above, except have all ingredients in the saucepan. Bring everything to a boil on high heat first, then when the bubbling gets rather vigorous, bring the heat down to medium and continue stirring until you reach your desired consistency.

Serve with chocolate, more berries and maple syrup. The pairing of chocolate with berries and beetroot is marvellous, I tell you.

Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Pancakes

In other words, sin.

Pockets of sweet fudge, buttery, mildly sweet batter, the familiar mosaic on each side of a perfectly cooked, risen pancake.

Each forkful is effortless, tender.

Can’t wait any more. I know I have a well-stashed ‘Babbles’ category, but sometimes there’s no time for babbling. Especially with as straightforward and delicious a recipe like this. Stocked the praise in the main post which you can find in the directions below, but I felt the need to dedicate a separate post to this chocolate version. Ugh, stuffed silly with chocolate. You can’t not like chocolate. Or these. On a Sunday, with the birds chirping and the world is glistening.

Directions

Make the pancakes according to the instructions in my previous post for my favourite buttermilk pancakes herebut add 85g (a large handful) of chocolate chips (I love Ghirardelli’s or Nestle’s mini milk or semi-sweet chips for this, which make for the perfect little pockets of goo) to the dry mix before adding the wet mix.

And that’s it! Top with maple syrup or whatever you want. I added tahini for a slight savoury, creamy punch. You don’t need much when chocolate’s in the picture.

Chocolate Truffle Maple Syrup Cake

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Describe the taste of maple syrup.

Research informed me that it depends on the degree of roasting flavour. Typical notes are coffee, chocolate and chicory, and for the strong roasting flavour, you get hints of burnt sugar and smoke. Whatever the degree, there’s something incredibly enticing about this ingredient in particular. I use it several times a week without fail, almost always on toast and always on the occasional Sunday pancake session, yet it only recently occurred to me how deeply embedded it is in my kitchen system. It sits there day after day, use after use, so giving, so heartwarming. I love maple syrup, and there are few things I like more than chocolate and maple syrup. The sophistication of a rich, dark truffle stuck in honey-coloured, maple-flavoured fluffy cake is a welcome picture.

With so many truffles lying around the house, I thought I might as well put them to good use. The sort I use here are 60% cocoa; your standard, powdered, melt-at-room-temperature truffles. My hands were an absolute mess working with them, but the mess only enhanced the pleasure of the whole process, even as I witnessed some smaller bits melt a little into the batter before anything even hit the heat of the oven.

Your fork dives in. Zero resistance as it goes right through the pale, tender, moist body, and then maybe just a little once you hit a pocket of slightly stiffened chocolate goo. Break the cake apart. It’s a mess of black and white, a welcome juxtaposition of soft, fluffy crumbs and dangerous dark hotpockets. Sin trapped in something all too normal, all done before. No truffles? That’s ok, just use broken up bits of your dark chocolate bar. The effect won’t quite be the same with the whimsical shape irregularities and molten middles, but I would think it would be almost as delicious.

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Chocolate Truffle Maple Syrup Cake (makes 16 squares, heavily adapted from my cinnamon coffee cake)

Ingredients

165g all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

55g (less than 1/4 cup) white sugar

115g unsalted butter at room temperature (or microwave cold butter in 15-second increments until it’s a little warmer and soft to touch)

120ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk, or make your own by putting half a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar into your measuring cup or jug and filling it up to the mark with whole milk (let this mix sit for 5 minutes at room temperature before using).

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

100ml (1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon) maple syrup, and more for drizzling

9-11 medium-sized (around 2 inches wide) chocolate truffles, a few broken up into smaller pieces, or if you don’t have truffles, just broken up bits of a good quality dark chocolate bar.

Directions

Preheat your oven to 177C (350F), and butter and line an 8×8-inch square baking pan. What I like to do is butter the pan liberally, before placing down a piece of parchment that has 2 sides which are 8 inches, and the other 2 slightly longer so that it’s easy to pull out the bars once cool. Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt) except for the sugar in a medium bowl.

Beat together the butter, maple syrup and sugar in a separate bowl. In a smaller bowl (yes there are 3 bowls here, but the washing up is not much pain, promise), whisk or beat together the egg, buttermilk and vanilla extract. Add half of the dry ingredient mix and half of the egg-buttermilk mix to the butter and maple syrup mix, and then beat to mix. Then add the rest and gently mix everything together, starting with a wooden spoon, and then switching to a rubber spatula to make the job easier.

Into your buttered and lined pan, add half of the batter, which should be smooth and slightly thick, and then dot the batter with chocolate truffles. Add the rest of the batter on top and smooth it out. Bake in the preheated oven for 33-35 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre emerges clean. The top should be slightly darker than when you first put it in, and brown around the edges. Enjoy this with vanilla ice cream or whipped and sweetened mascarpone (as in the pictures above) and a drizzle more of pure maple syrup.

Review: Tolido’s Espresso Nook

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

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

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

Delight.

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5/5

Tolido’s Espresso Nook

462 Crawford Lane

6648 0178

Closed on Mondays

Tues-Thurs: 0930-1900

Friday-Sat: 0930-2200

Sun: 0900-1830