These patches of bright light on my desk are rare, taking on sharp edges, hurting and twisting against the grim dark wall that is my computer screen shadow. A rare occasion, this sunlight. Its splendour screams safe but isn’t as unassuming and comforting as the 8am spillover of soft winter light, which funnily enough I do miss. Soft and unassuming. Just like the pot of homemade kaya sent all the way from Singapore. I can imagine my grandmother churning away with those pandan leaves on the weekend, thinking about how I would find her new recipe, sugar ratios in tow.
With school inevitably comes times of doubt and stress. I carefully pulled apart the bubble wrap neatly taped around the large tub of green. The smell of home propped my spirit on an invisible high horse and sent me straight to her kitchen thousands of miles away for a good 30 seconds. School didn’t exist for a good 30 seconds, too. Just standing there, one could believe nothing more than the present and past. Let the worries fade, let the senses of Now take over, and bake a cake.
There would seem to be a worrying mildness about kaya, yet when put together in a sea of cake batter and soft apple, its head pops out above the rest, an unmistakable coconutty hit serving well to blunt this seed of nonchalance.
A soft, cinnamony kaya apple cake, sandwiched with kaya, to be eaten only with something deliciously cold and creamy, as per pretty much everything I make.
This is an incredibly soft cake, more so than any of my other previous recipes. I suggest upping the amount of sugar by a few tablespoons for a more robust edge and crust, and feel free to use any sort of kaya; it need not be your traditional green kaya, for I envision the brown Hainanese sort works just as well, tailing along a more honeyed depth of sweet. And of course, the raisins are not de rigueur..
As usual, all substitutions are optional and vegan.
Kaya Apple Cake (makes one 9 inch cake)
200g plain flour
60g butter (sub: flavourless oil or vegan butter)
100g kaya+ 100g for the fun sandwiching bit
1 egg (sub: one banana)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda (eliminate if using self-raising flour)
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g raisins (optional)
190g chopped apple, peeled and cored (around 1 1/2 apples)
Preheat your oven to 177C and grease a 9-inch pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, sugar and salt. In a separate heat-safe bowl, heat the applesauce and butter together, either in a microwave or on a stove. Whisk in the egg, 100g of kaya and vanilla. Tip your raisins and chopped apple into the dry mix, before tipping in the wet applesauce mix. Mix everything together until just combined, then pour into your pan and bake for 35 minutes.
Once out, let cool for at least 10 minutes and ready the extra kaya. Cut the cake down the middle of the pan. Spread the remaining kaya onto the first half, sandwich with the second half, then cut everything into bars. Serve á la mode!
The day before the big 20, it was the 16th of the 16th. That’s nice. American Psycho (by Bret Easton Ellis) kept me up well, and Ellis knows how to write with exhilarating speed and menace. He zooms and I go with him. The night was full of speed slowed down. Memories of 19, last year in my small little dorm room, faces everywhere showering me with ‘whoa, 19’, and now fast forward just a little, and all a 20 year old can do to console him or herself is to chuck in the reminder that it’s really the beginning, not the end of, a decade.
How do I feel? Still alive, still an inexperienced student, still a hopelessly romantic dreamer, still tremendously excited about making cakes like this. I was honestly worried about constructing something that was vegan and still appeal to everyone, because everyone still has this idea that anything without eggs or dairy will ultimately taste like crap, but no I was so determined, and this pumpkin berry cake which I adapted from one of my all-time favourite blogs turned out to be beyond my dreams, and I’m pretty sure I dreamt up something similar on the night of the 16th.
‘Holy shit, this is vegan? Ummmm… No. No.’
‘Wait, but it really isn’t, I mean it doesn’t taste like it’s those vegan raw things I’ve tried at those cafés, so are you sure?’
During a little picnic that Thursday night, I sprinkled everyone with a bit of surprise.
Yes it is all vegan (not raw though), and of course you can completely unveganise it with the substitutions I put in the recipe below, however this cake was more fluff and fire than drab and dense.
I made this cake as I rebelliously ignored all the Facebook notifications. Putting it together, I could feel my heart hardening. The year of 20 is no mistake. Old to some, young to most. Whisk, plonk, poof. So much expectation, so much trying-to-prove. But you come home to the easy comfort of good-hearted people and the dim light which holds the promise of new things to learn and love the next day, and you sigh and realise life is so full and promising. Cake calls, too. Slice it, savour it. With this one, you make an easy pumpkiny berry-y (?) batter for two cakes, sandwich them with this divine cream ‘cheese’ frosting, then smear the sides with the stuff to make a naked frosting, the first layer weighing down on the second making this bit easier than you might initially envision.
Assembly. Treasures lie in the smallest details and the cake breathes love. Karen Carpenter knows how I feel when she bellows such a feeling’s comin’ over me…
Now I sit here typing, already 20 but heaving with the juvenile stains of life. Soon the sun will properly be up, and I’ll heat up some pancakes I saved from Sunday, which I shared with someone I love. I will top them with whatever I fancy, because 20 allows that. Other thoughts? Well, I can’t find my lunch box cover, which is deeply disconcerting, and I realised damp hair shouldn’t be put in a bun too soon else the curl effect will quickly vanish the following morning. Important things.
Pumpkin Berry Cake with a Cinnamon Frosting and ‘Cream Cheese’ Glaze (makes one large 8-inch double-layer cake, though you can halve the ingredients for a single cake! Adapted from this beautiful Cinnamon Bun Cake)
For the cake:
600g all-purpose flour (subs: gluten-free/ half white and half whole wheat)
4 tsp baking powder
540g sugar, half white and half brown
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
large pinch salt
260g pumpkin purée
200g vegan butter (sub: normal butter), softened at room temperature
2 flax eggs made by mixing 2 tbsp flax with 10 tbsp water and letting sit for 10 minutes before using (sub: normal eggs)
Preheat your oven to 177C (350F) and grease 2 8-inch cake pans, then sprinkle the bottoms and sides with a mix of granulated sugar and breadcrumbs (or just sugar if you don’t have the breadcrumbs). This will give the cake a nice sweet crust once baked. Tap the pans so that the mix is evenly spread.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon and baking powder. In another bowl, beat together, either using sole arm strength and a whisk or an electrical beater, the sugar, butter, flax eggs, pumpkin purée, vanilla extract and salt. Add the dry to the wet mix and mix until everything is just combined. Put roughly a quarter of the mix into one of the pans, then sprinkle half of the berries all over. Dollop another quarter (so now you have half of the batter left for the second cake) on top. Do the same in the second pan. Bake the cakes for 50-60 minutes (mine took 60 minutes exactly).
While they are baking, make the cinnamon butter frosting and cream cheese glaze. Beat together the ingredients for the frosting in a bowl using an electrical beater, then place in fridge to set a little. In another bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the cream cheese glaze and set aside.
Once the cakes are done, leave to cool in the pans for a half hour before over turning and putting on a cooling rack. Using a serrated knife, level one of the cakes to prep it for the frosting that will sandwich the two cakes together. Put the frosting in the middle of the cake, then put the second cake on top, letting its weight spread the frosting out to the sides. There might be some frosting that spills a little too much onto the sides of the bottom layer, but that’s ok; you need this bit of extra frosting for the naked frosting effect. Using a palette knife, spread the excess hanging bits of frosting along the sides of the whole cake, so you get the effect seen in that third last picture. Dollop the cream cheese glaze on the top layer, and sprinkle the top with chopped chocolate, more fresh berries if you like, and cinnamon. The dashes of cinnamon give a beautiful, rustic yet polished final effect.
Slice, serve, enjoy. This cake can be kept at room temperature for 2-3 days.
Another day, another café. I’ve done a little review on Paddy Hills before, but I could not pass up the chance to visit again to sample a few items on their new menu. When I stepped through the entrance doors, I was reminded why, when I first visited more than a year ago, I kept telling myself, ‘come back, you gotta come back’. I haven’t done a review in aeons, but this place deserves one, and more to come.
Having been to many a ‘hip’ café before, safe to say that Paddy Hills lives up to its hyped name. A little off the beaten track at South Buona Vista, interior brimming with rustic majesty, flooded with wood and light. Tiles, the most beautiful navy wall, smiles. A close friend and I sat down excitedly, and were first served drinks.
Iced Matcha. Creamy, thick, rich. This reminded me of Haagen Dazs’ green tea ice cream blended with a little milk. Perhaps just a little too sweet for a sustained sip, but refreshing nonetheless.
Bubbly Yuzu. This fared well for the both of us. The bubbles added a lovely flair, but it was the perfect ratio of sparkle to sweet of the drink itself, combined with the textural difference of plum and grape jello, that really made this a special, whimsical drink.
Berry Muffcakes! Complete with vanilla bean ice cream cubes, magic mango balls, a garden of berries, chocolate sauce and chocolate crumble. OK, these are not part of their new or limited-time-only menu, but I just have to throw these in because… I mean, can you not see the pictures above. It’s just ridiculous. After trying these the first time a while ago, I immediately started writing about them because I was so enamoured by its spot-on texture and toppings. I’ve had my fair share of hotcakes and this was by far the best I’ve tried. Friends, I do not joke. Crispy, robust edges, fluffy, pale yellow cakey belly, a firm, browned bottom. Not too sweet, either. There’s nothing more you can ask for.
Winter Truffle Fries. Golden fries, shaved pecorino, and shaved black truffle. Some truffle aioli on the side, because what’s lush without sin? Truffle fries have a bit of a confusing rep because it’s true you can’t actually taste truffle; its expensive scent enhances the whole fry-eating experience. For a limited time only, I implore you all to get your hands on these absurdly crisp, golden strings of heaven. If you’re like me and enjoy crispy-only fries, as if they were fried through and through and then fried just once more, then get your foodie selves down to Paddy Hills stat (yeah, they definitely beat PS Café’s).
Truffle Breakfast. House-cured salmon, soft scrambled eggs and shaved truffle on a bagel, with house-cured bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and arugula.
I don’t consume much meat, but I daresay the few bites I took were tender like none. The bagel was crisp and chewy; eggs silky, creamy and buttery without being cloying or gloopy. The milky, more earthy flavours of truffled egg and mushroom complemented the cured meats which cut through with a blaze trail of umami. A king-sized, well-balanced dish.
As the meal came to an end, it started to darken outside. The light all at once was harsh, then subdued. The sky gradient followed the rise and defeat of our appetites, as we looked despondently at our leftovers. Full, happy, done.