For anyone who doesn’t know, I was vegan for almost two years, not too long ago now. During that time, I discovered the versatility of the humble sesame paste. I stopped using it so much after moving to Oxford, but rediscovered how beautifully it blends into bakes just yesterday when I trialled these cookies for a third time. The taste just doesn’t fade, unlike a lot of other things like maple syrup, matcha or honey, of which you can end up using quite a bit of because the flavour is easily lost while baking. Anyway, this cookie…! It got all my flatmates’ seals of approval, much to my surprise, since tahini can very much be a love/hate thing.
The café near me actually does these amazing tahini chocolate cookies, which inspired me to make use of the stuff again. I have done tahini chocolate cookies before, but thought I would do a little twist with another earthy and grounding element- nuts. The result: fabulous. Definitely my favourite bake of June so far.
These cookies are light, chewy, not too sweet, and most importantly, the tahini is the main character of the show.
Tahini cashew cookies (makes 8-10 medium cookies)
100g butter, soft and at room temperature
160g white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
100g light tahini
150g plain flour (optional: substitute half with whole-wheat flour)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
50g cashews, chopped
Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. If you only have aluminium foil that works too, but bake the cookies for 5 minutes shorter. In a medium bowl, whisk together the soft butter, sugar and salt. Add the egg and tahini and whisk those in well too.
In a separate bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and chopped cashews, then tip that into the wet mix and use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to mix everything together well. The batter should be quite sticky, not dry at all. Take heaped tablespoonfuls of batter and shape them into balls. If you want to get real precise, each medium cookie will be 52g. I did this and the yield was around 10 medium cookies.
Bake for 18 minutes but check at the 15-minute mark to see if the edges have browned slightly; once this has happened remove the tray from the oven and let them cool and set. The insides will be very chewy as they set, the edges nicely browned without being burnt.
Enjoy warm dipped into more tahini or with ice cream on top!
My first Oxford review must be dedicated to Hamblin. Not by choice, but by instinct. As I smuggled bites of their cardamom bun into my mouth while walking all that way home, I knew I found quite a gem. The long walk there from home seemed contrary to the desire to make this a regular haunt, but honestly all that fitness just fosters a more reasonable state of mind to pick and choose the baked goods, while upping the excitement along the way.
My top pick here must be the cardamom buns. They also do a whole range of other buns, including cinnamon and custard (below), but this remains top of the list for me. The edges are perfectly browned and crispy without being flaky, characteristic of a traditional cardamom bun. The cardamom flavour itself holds its own.
Leftover or stale cardamom buns are also used to make this cardamom bread pudding which is both genius and delicious. A harder, sugary crumb crowns the slab of soft, squidgy deliciousness.
This very simple cookie is chewy all the way through to the edges. This is the perfect chocolate chip cookie to me- a cute and manageable size, not too sweet, rough chunks of dark chocolate, a hearty mouthfeel with the fresh, locally-milled flour, and doesn’t leave you feeling sick, either. Speaking of flour, their infamous sourdough (below) is all the rage for all the right reasons. The crumb is thick, robust and tender, slightly stiff but never dry. The terrain is perfect for spreading on soft, salted butter.
The potato pasty sounds like an unnecessary carb-on-carb affair but I see why it’s so popular. The sizeable chunks of potato are never mushy or mixed with a bunch of random, weird herbs.
I do miss London with all her cafés, but places like this bring her right back to Oxford. There are so many hardworking, independent café owners that know exactly what they’re doing with the magic they offer day-to-day, and I’m living to promote it.
As I myself hate anything long-winded, overly-positive or excitable, I will try to keep this short, sweet and informative. After some thinking, I have decided to monetise a few documents which I have been working hard on, and will soon put together properly. The reasons will be elaborated a little more in my newsletter, so if you have not already, definitely sign up for updates and details, including date of release (sign-up link is stuck to the top of the blog).
I hesitated for a long time to monetise anything on here. As many of my long-time readers know, the only things I did monetise were my mini local catering business which I was forced to suspend during the ongoing pandemic, and a thin book I published years ago. That said, after years of blogging, dabbling in recipe creation, photography and now balancing academia with other facets of life, I feel it would be crazy to continue blogging without sharing any of the invaluable information about things I learned during my PhD (on the link between gut health and mental health) and life in general, alongside some recipes I have never disclosed before, that have contributed to the optimisation of my work-life balance and health, despite the occasional depressive or anxious episode. I say this after helping an Oxford friend and even someone at home in Singapore with my recommendations, too.
I used to receive messages on my (now-inactive) Instagram account, about how I stay ‘fit, slim and healthy’ despite my love for baking. I responded with eat in moderation and enjoy sweets once in a while, but I knew deep down that there is so much more to it than just that. It also slightly saddens me that most of us still equate health with very specific formulas and sizes. Now, I feel ready to share my story of health-related ups and downs, tips, as well as additional insider recipes which have stuck with me through years of blogging.
How will it work?
You simply have to click on the tab in the side menu entitled ‘curated recipes and holistic guide‘. There will be 3 documents I will share (as of now):
A guide to a balanced lifestyle and my signature recipes outside my baking hobby, including some personal and specific tips which have helped me tremendously over the years, for balance and overall wellbeing despite loving my sugar. I will include tips and tricks derived from my own self-help experimentation and personal epiphanies*
A curated selection of 10 of my go-to simple breakfast and brunch recipes, with vegan substitutions
A curated selection of 10 fusion recipes, which will also have vegan substitutions
*To make clear, this is not a definitive health guide. This little guide will contain some tips which work well for me and have done so for others, but nothing is restricted and no rules are advocated. You also get recipes and fun stuff inside, not a boring book on how often to eat a doughnut.
And why are these documents special? How are the recipes different from the ones on your blog?
More information about what will be included in the guide will be shared via my newsletter, including some personal health routines I stick to and what is the ideal drink to go with this particular french toast.
Despite being in the health sciences, I will not share anything too specifically health or science-related, because there are too many similar eBooks and such out there, and I acknowledge my current role as a doctorate student who is not warranted to give out any professional advice like a doctor or ‘life coach’ is able to. I provide something a little more all-encompassing, criss-crossed with some specific ideas and personal tidbits that I have never shared online before.
If you have been following this blog for a while, you would know I am always willing to offer recipes for free. Yet, some of the curated recipes I will share are veiled with a hint of secrecy and history, the sort my mum will tell me ‘not to share’, but now seem ready to show themselves. Further, the holistic guide includes some personal anecdotes which I have never shared online before, not even on my previous Instagram account or newsletter, derived from my own experience and research. Every free alexcrumb recipe, blogpost and newsletter is a product of my own experimentation, my heart and soul, so any support will be appreciated. There is also a donate button in the menu, if you like!
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:
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.
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.
Relationships have clarified and I am really grateful to those close to me, who constantly inspire, motivate and challenge me.
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 email@example.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!
Having woken up from a deep heady nap that lasted all of 1 hour, I finally feel motivated to share this. Sometimes I get ideas that I know may have been attempted before or seem too simple to write about, but even these should never be left behind, especially if they taste this good. I struggle to remember that it’s not about whether your idea has been attempted before, it’s about how well you do it.
I recently read an article about why people with anxiety or depression should not be eating processed, inflammatory foods so as not to increase inflammation in the body- one of the root causes underlying the mechanisms of neurological disease is inflammation. I have always known this, and would not stir at the accusation of me being something of a hypocrite, waxing lyrical the good fortune of nutrition and a plant-based diet, while I myself write lengthy blogposts about sugar. I understand, I do, but having experienced the terrifying nature of what restricting entire food groups can do to my own health (orthorexic tendencies, heightened anxiety in social situations centred around a meal), and trying to cut out sugar entirely many times, I know that such drastic measures do not cut it, at least for me. Which is why I promote these recipes not to promote diabetes, but rather a sense of moderation, to let people know that yes, it’s ok to have this cookie once in a while, and you won’t die. And of course you can whip out the stevia or trivia as substitutions if that suits you better…
Sandwich time. Speaking specifically about toasties, I ate these regularly in primary school, and was relieved to not have to pack lunch in high school because God forbid I got another one. Only kids eat these anyway, right? Yet, squidged between my regular Asian lunches of mixed economy rice, I found myself buying the occasional (tuna mayo) sandwich. Then university rolled round. One of my close friends offered to share his delicious-smelling toastie with me. I reluctantly tried the deceivingly simple concoction of cheese and tomato, and could not help the wave of nostalgia rippling through my body as I sunk my teeth into the pressed, golden bread, glossy on the underside with the perfect hit of mayonnaise, and I do feel that mayonnaise is the underdog in a lot of classic favourites. Here I replicate something similar for the sweet tooth- you can do this in a toastie maker of course, but I decided to do it on a stovetop for adaptability.
Ah, an unreal crisp. Golden, buttery bread giving way to a soft, goo-on-goo inside. Once again, so simple, such child’s play. And yet, so satisfying. Given the pandemic and all the political nonsense in the world now, it feels good and right to return to what grounded us as children- a safe and familiar haven. As humans we like to seek out patterns and familiarity, to some degree. This may be an element of that. Little things like making toasties and sharing them with coffee may even help us rewire our brains for positivity and excitement.
Note: you can use bread that is not white of course, but white toasting bread is usually the optimal shape for toastie making, readily absorbing the melted butter that you brush on top and letting the heat penetrate its pores when the toastie maker is ready.
Peanut butter Marshmallow Toastie
*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that will be mentioned below the recipe
2 thick slices of white bread*
1 tbsp butter*
2 tbsp peanut butter
half a banana, sliced
handful of marshmallows, each sliced in half*
*vegan sub: use vegan butter or vegetable oil instead of butter (I suggest staying away from avocado oil as the flavour is too strong and will overwhelm the rest of the flavours). Use vegan marshmallows instead of regular marshmallows.
*gluten-free sub: use gluten-free bread
Take one slice of bread and spread one side with butter. Repeat with the other slice of bread (around 0.5 tbsp butter on each slice). If you’re using a toastie maker, use slightly less butter. Make sure your butter is soft before spreading. Then spread 1 tbsp of peanut butter on the other side of each slice of bread. Now have your two slices facing you with the peanut butter sides facing upwards. Put the banana slices on one slice of bread and the cut marshmallows on the other. Then sandwich the bread slices so that the banana and marshmallows face each other on the inside of the sandwich.
Heat your pan on medium heat and press the sandwich down. Use a spatula to press it. After around 4 minutes check the underside of the sandwich with your spatula- it should be golden-brown and the marshmallows should look melty. Flip the sandwich over and press down again. Cook for another two minutes. The banana should be soft and the peanut butter and marshmallows should be soft and melty. Cut whichever way you want and enjoy alone or with a strong coffee.