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.

Moist Avocado Chocolate Loaf Cake

Hate it or love it, the ‘moist’ hopefully caught you off guard.

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(Apologies for the almost horrific slice cuts here, I have yet to get a serrated knife for my uni kitchen).

I feel like I’ve finally settled into January right when it has mostly ended. Not to say January wasn’t great, in fact it was amazing and I’ve already changed a few important (bad) habits, but I do feel as if my head’s been slightly all over the place, for no particular reason at all. It might be down to a waning self-confidence and general stress. For that, the solution is baking, the right amount of socialising, and deep work– I’ve caught myself too many a time staring at my phone screen as if it will give me the answers to all my burning, deep life questions.

A classic problem of the privileged 21st century life is not knowing what to do with a lot of ripe fruit. Ripe bananas are always tossed into a flurry of melted butter, sugar and flour to make pancakes or banana bread/cake. Avocados are left behind because they’re less lucky. Their hard shells of a coat don’t make it easy to spot when they’re ready, and sometimes it’s a little too late, so you smell the rotting brown flesh and toss it immediately.

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The first time I made this loaf it was a hit in my graduate dormitory, but a tad too dry. This time it turned out much more moist, which I definitely prefer. So bake it longer if you don’t fancy such a moist crumb (which you can clearly see below). The chocolate is optional but the bittersweet nature of some of the dark stuff goes a long way, piercing the creamy avocado crumb. You end up with a crusty top, creamy fluffy inside and melting dark chocolate.

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Avocado Chocolate Loaf Cake (makes 6 large slices)

Ingredients

1 large ripe avocado

190g (3/4 cup) butter at room temperature

2 tsp salt (use just 1 tsp if you are using salted butter)

200g (1 cup) sugar, I used a mix of raw cane and brown sugar

3 organic, free-range, medium eggs (use two if you have large eggs)

1 tsp vanilla extract

300g (almost 2.5 cups) flour, use plain flour or substitute half with buckwheat, which is what I did

2 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

60-80g chopped dark chocolate

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mash the ripe avocado. Add the room-temperature butter, sugar, salt and eggs and whisk those in well. In a separate bowl, add the flour, baking powder and chocolate and whisk together briefly. Tip this dry mix into the wet and mix well with a wooden spoon until everything comes together, but do not overmix. Your batter should be neither too wet nor dry, and should easily drop off your spoon if you give it a firm flick. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. A wooden skewer inserted into the middle after the baking time should emerge with moist crumbs clinging to it. Enjoy warm with a pat of butter or nut butter on top. Keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days, or freeze and reheat for a future midday snack.

Peanut Butter Olive Oil Cookies

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A new year, another classic with a twist. I thought this post would come online much earlier to be honest, but with everything that’s been happening here, and with the past year’s late festivities and jolly holiday obligations, it well and truly has slipped my mind. I actually thought I already uploaded this one, really. Clearly I need help. But HERE’S to a symmetrical-sounding 2020.

I’m all for resolutions and change, but only if there’s a feasible plan involved. Some of mine include:

  • to stretch daily. I used to do this religiously everyday for 10-15 minutes, but lately I’ve gotten more into the habit of just cracking my back (and ew, my neck).
  • to do one thing at a time. It does feel good to multitask (read: supertask), but being at work and at home has made me realise how much more deep, focussed and creative work and creative thinking can be accomplished when doing one thing at a time. Slowly but properly.
  • to do a weekly review on Sundays. Sundays still remain days of reflection for me. Starting off with pancakes, proceeding to movies, then reflecting on what good and bad has happened throughout the week. It’s good to generally not take everything too seriously, so I won’t bash myself for foregoing all the apples I bought for my chocolate brownies, but it’s better at least to be aware of certain bad habits that may be unhealthy.
  • work on my personal/passion project at least twice a week.
  • eat out a maximum of twice a week!! And indulge in a drink once a week (been pretty bad health-wise recently so these will hopefully bring me to my senses again).

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If you read my previous post, perhaps you can tell I’m on a cookie roll at the moment. The end of 2019 saw me making the cream-cheese filled cookies too many a time and the start of this year has heralded a new star– the one and only peanut butter olive oil cookie and the token chocolate studs for all-round appeal. I was skeptical about giving this one a go because I was worried the olive oil would be too strong against everything else happening, but the oil is not too pungent here and actually adds a moist and fragrant depth. Together with the liberal sea salt sprinkle and melting chocolate in the middle, this is quite a gluey, peanut buttery dream.

Peanut Butter Olive Oil Cookies (makes around 7 cookies)

Ingredients

120ml (0.5 cup) olive oil

120g (0.5 cup) chunky peanut butter

300g (1.5 cup) light brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs (vegan sub: use 3 flax eggs by mixing 3 tbsp of ground flaxseed with 7 tbsp water in a small bowl and let that gel for a couple minutes before using)

1 tsp baking powder

260g (2.25 cup) all-purpose flour

150g (a full bar) chopped chocolate

2 tsp salt

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line two baking trays with baking parchment. In a bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, egg, peanut butter (preferably chunky) and vanilla extract. Then briefly mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, chopped chocolate and salt in a separate bowl, then tip that into the wet mix and stir well until everything is just combined. Put golfball-sized pieces of batter onto your prepared baking trays, flatten them slightly with your hands and sprinkle on some Maldon salt (or regular salt) on top. Put them, one tray at a time, into the oven and bake for 15-17 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the middle of one cookie should come out with wet crumbs but the edges should be golden-brown and firm. Best enjoyed warm but can be kept for a few days in an airtight container, or freeze and reheat whenever you want (topped with vanilla ice cream!)

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.

Orange Chocolate Bars with Mascarpone and Honeycomb

This morning, my fork did all the talking, and I let it. Let’s get to the meat before I lose your attention.

The four main components here may sound frivolous, but get along like four great friends. Anyone else here like Terry’s chocolate oranges (insert happy girl with hands over her head emoji here)? If you do, I kid you not, these will satisfy you any time of day, and this batch makes quite a lot, so the satisfaction isn’t short-lived. Here we have a sweet and sticky baked citrus batter topped with a rich chocolate glaze (all delectable frozen goo and sludge), on a double butter crust, topped with mascarpone (no, I didn’t make this, ha), and honeycomb.

I want to call them tiger bars because that’s exactly what they ended up looking like, with the stripes and all. A most desirable marriage of chocolate and orange. As you can tell from the picture below, I was a bit too excited to cut everything up and slather stuff on, hence the slipshod effect. By the way, this double butter crust is bloody good. But bad. And messy. Either way it’s all good.

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Sweet on sweet on sweet, right? Well, not totally. The flavours here all meld into one another in a manner more sophisticated than what I expected, but I do think the mascarpone is necessary to soften excess cloy. This was my first time making honeycomb, and this batch turned out desirably sweet, light and crisp, like the chewier end bits of the inside of a Crunchie bar. Hopefully with time, I will master the art of thicker, ‘holier’ honeycomb. Slightly less deep in colour, less chew, more whimsical and airy-fairy. The golden shards offer a brighter mien to the whole dessert get-up. A sort of ‘ooh, what was that? YES’ kind of crunch. With the layers of texture and flavour established, the final addition of mascarpone cheese on top ties all the components together, like the ribbon on a present. A blander, but necessary note, a complementary creaminess.

Orange Chocolate Bars with Mascarpone and Honeycomb (makes 12 bars)

Ingredients

For the crust:

160g unsalted butter, cold and cut into small half-inch cubes

210g all-purpose flour (around 1 1/3 cups)

pinch salt

50g icing sugar, sifted (slightly less than a half cup)

For the orange filling:

zest and juice of 1.5 large oranges (120ml or half a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice)

juice of half a small lemon

230g (1 cup) white sugar

large pinch salt

50g all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

4 eggs

For the chocolate glaze:

1 tbsp water

15g unsalted butter

1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa

1 tbsp milk

50g (or more, this is according to taste) of sifted icing sugar

For the honeycomb (adapted from BBC good food’s traditional take):

180g white caster sugar

5 tbsp golden syrup

2 tsp baking soda

Directions

Preheat your oven to 177C (350F). In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pinch of salt and icing sugar. Rub the cold, cubed butter into this mix until you get coarse crumbs, and they are able to stick together in clumps when you squeeze the mix in your palm. Press this mixture into the bottom of a greased 9×13-inch pan, and then place into the preheated oven and bake for 11-13 minutes (I took mine out at 12).

Next, make the filling, which is the easiest bit!! In a large bowl, whisk together the juice of the oranges and one lemon, zest of the oranges, sugar and eggs. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and pinch of salt. Add this flour mix to the wet mix and mix well to combine. You will probably find little clumps of flour post-mixing, but they will go after whisking for a while. You should have a smooth, slightly viscous, wet mass of orange. Once the crust is done baking, remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes on the cooling tray. Pour the orange filling batter into the pan, then carefully (because the batter is predominantly liquid) place the pan back into the oven. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until you can see the top go a medium brown in colour. I took out my pan at 19 minutes, when there was a visible dark brown rim around the edges, and the surface was mottled with bits of brown. When you take out the pan, the inside will still be mostly wet, or moist at most. Leave to cool for 15 minutes, before placing in the fridge to allow it to fully set.

Make the chocolate glaze. Again, easy peasy stuff. In a medium microwave-safe bowl (I always use my handy Chinese porcelain dinner bowls, so convenient), add the butter (it can still be cold from the fridge), water and cocoa powder. Microwave this on high until you get a smooth chocolate mix, at least 30 seconds or so. At this point, at a tablespoon of milk, and then add 50g of sifted icing sugar. You might add more if you want a slightly sweeter chocolate glaze; 50g yields a deeper overall chocolate flavour. Drizzle this chocolate glaze all over the orange bars.

Time for the honeycomb. The recipe I used here is classically British, incorporating the use of golden syrup instead of light corn syrup. You can find a myriad different honeycomb recipes online, and though this is a nice, safe one to start with, don’t be afraid to try others out. I’m eyeing Joy the Baker’s one next! Grease a 9×9-inch baking pan and set aside near your stove and saucepan. In a medium saucepan, add the sugar and golden syrup. Melt everything together on a low heat, mixing briefly with a wooden spoon in the beginning, and wait until the sugar crystals have visibly dissolved. Don’t touch or stir it at this point. Try not to let the mixture boil because this will change the structure of the crystals before you have a chance to aerate everything with the baking soda. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat just a little and let simmer for 2-4 minutes, or until you can see that the mixture has turned slightly deeper in colour, a light amber shade. At this point, add the baking soda and quickly whisk it into the mixture. It will go thick, slightly paler and foamy (it’s beautiful), but slightly darker again once you whisk. Immediately pour the mix into the pan you greased, and then set your pan under cold running water in your sink to dissolve any caramel that might’ve stuck to the sides.

The mix will set after around an hour. Since it’s always so bloody hot here, I left mine at room temperature for half an hour, before placing in the fridge for another half hour. At this point, take out your pan and overturn it onto your counter. Hit the pan hard with your hand or a large spoon to release the honeycomb onto the counter, and this will simultaneously break it into large chunks. You may then proceed to break it up further into shards of whatever size you wish.

Assembly: Cut the orange bars into 12 with a sharp knife, cleaning the knife with a paper towel after each slice. Top with mascarpone and homemade honeycomb, and send yourself to heaven.