Salted Vanilla Crispy Custard Puffs

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Though I hate to be picky, I guess I still can be. Almost every week, my mother buys bolo buns, or ‘pineapple buns’, for my sisters. These are sweet buns filled with sticky red char siu (sweet barbecued meat) filling, covered in a yellow tortoiseshell of crackly sugary goodness. It’s those charming cracks, glistening coats of crisp comprising pull-apart little tiles on each little bun, that get to me, more so than any other part. As I picked childishly at the top once, I was reminded of my first try of choux au craquelin, or crispy cream puffs with a similar sort of topping. Remembering I had some leftover custard that I used to make salted custard lava french toast earlier on in the week, the idea of custard puffs ossified.

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Cutting into a crispy, sugary coat to be greeted by voluptuous spillage of vanilla-speckled, slightly salty custard is one of the most lascivious but gratifying actions one can do. Hear the crackle, wade deep. The salt plays up the sweet, giving the drag of thick and cream a bit of angle, an edge. The craquelin itself may have been enough to satisfy me, but it’s a bite that makes the experience whole.

The last time I played with choux was probably more than a year ago, and a repeat this time reminded me of the requisite care in perfecting the robust dough which is easy to let fall apart if you overlook the temperature and timing of each ingredient addition.

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Salted Vanilla Crispy Custard Puffs (makes 6-7 medium puffs)

Ingredients

For the choux buns:

75g plain flour

50g butter

2 eggs, beaten

120ml water

1/2 tsp salt

 

For the craquelin (crispy top):

85g butter, softened

100g white caster sugar

100g plain flour

 

For the salted vanilla custard:

110g white sugar

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp salt

4 egg yolks

beans of one vanilla pod or 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste

30g butter

720ml milk

 

Directions

First, make the custard. In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar, cornstarch, salt, egg yolks and milk to a boil. Add the vanilla, then let the mixture continue to boil for 15-18 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture occasionally. Take off the heat when you see that the custard has thickened and readily coats the back of your spoon. Add in the butter and stir to mix. Pour the custard into a bowl, cover with cling film and let this rest in the fridge while you make the remaining components.

Preheat your oven to 177C (350F) and prepare a baking tray lined with parchment paper for the choux buns. Make the craquelin: in a bowl, mix the ingredients for the craquelin together until you get a buttery dough. Roll the dough into a ball and put into  a plastic ziploc bag, sealing it. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out till it’s 2-3mm thick in the bag. Put this in the freezer.

Next, make the choux buns. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the butter, water and salt to a boil. Once you see that the butter has all melted, add the flour. Use a wooden spoon or whisk to incorporate until you get a dry-looking dough. Take off the heat and let the mixture rest for 2 minutes. Then, slowly whisk or beat in the eggs. It’s the eggs that provide the lift to the batter, readying it for the perfect little pocket in the middle. I like to do this in 3 additions. It’s important to keep whisking here and to do this slowly, as sudden contact between the hot dough and eggs and cause the eggs to scramble. The dough should be stiff enough to hold a peak when you lift up your spoon or whisk. Put the choux bun paste into a piping bag and pipe circles that are 3cm in diameter onto the baking tray, doing a little swirl at the top. Wet your finger with a little water and press down ever so slightly on top, so you get a more aesthetically pleasing puff.

Take your craquelin out of the freezer and cut out circles 3cm in diameter from the frozen, buttery block. Despite freezing, the slab is still relatively easy to break. You can use a metal cutter or knife to cut out the circles. Place the circles on the choux paste, and then bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes.

After baking, let the buns cool for 15 minutes on the tray. Take your cooled custard out of the fridge and put into a piping bag. Poke the tip of the piping nozzle into the bottom of a puff, and pipe until you feel some resistance at the point of contact between nozzle and puff. There is quite a bit of weight difference. Repeat for the other puffs. These buns can be stored in the fridge for 2 days or frozen for longer storage. If they have gone all soft after a while, you can re-crisp them in an oven, just bake them at 160C for 5 minutes.

 

Review: Paddy Hills

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

 

Paddy Hills

38 South Buona Vista Road

Weekdays:  10 30am-5pm, 6-10pm
Weekends: 9am-5pm, 6-10pm

6479 0800

 

 

Black Sesame Cinnamon Rolls (easy, eggless)

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I never expected a single public holiday to represent such freedom. Quite loving this mind shift, this change of tide, in the sense that I now savour small things like this. Like a short breather in between a long-range marathon. After all this time, I still get excited about writing blog posts for you guys, and creating different, easy-to-make (usually) recipes on all things breakfast and sweets. So it feels good to finally getting round to blabbering a little bit more in the morning. Indeed, I wouldn’t mind some pipette work in the lab, mind to matter, but days away from its calming sterility call for things I love most– drawn-out bouts of journalling, reading, watching, feeling, thinking, loving. With lots of coffee and tea, of course.

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Back in my first term at college, I modified a recipe for eggless cinnamon rolls out of pure circumstance. I didn’t wish to make them specifically for a vegan friend, though these turn out to be quite the treat if you do wish to make it vegan (simply change the milk and butter you use), and one wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway. The crunch of the black sesame pressed into a cinnamon-sugary-sweet filling is heaven in this one. The dough itself is satin and fluff, easy to tear and almost melt-in-your-mouth.

Black sesame cinnamon rolls, stuffed with a cinnamon sugar sesame filling, topped with a classic cream cheese frosting. 

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I’ve talked about these already in my first post on the recipe, so do go check it out, especially for some side profile sass and another cute flavour approach. The black sesame in this one elevates the humble bun’s sophistication, and adds several health benefits to something that’s not exactly the most healthful breakfast (ha). Rich in iron, calcium, zinc and B vitamins, just a sprinkling of the seeds lends quite a boost to your day’s nutritional profile. I’m not trying to deceive myself or any of you into thinking these are actually good for you, but hey, the sprinkle is still something, and it’s intriguing and fun to think about, at least to me.

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Black Sesame Cinnamon Rolls (makes 9 mini rolls)

Ingredients

For the dough:

2 1/4 tsp instant yeast

1 cup (240ml) milk– I used a mix of almond and whole

45g (3.5 tbsp) butter

250g (around 1 3/4 cups) plain flour, plus more for sprinkling on counter before kneading

3 tbsp black sesame powder, which you can usually buy from your local oriental store

pinch of salt+1 tbsp sugar

Vegan version: use a plant-based milk (almond/rice/soy) in place of regular milk, and vegan butter (Earth Balance)

 

For the filling:

45g (3.5 tbsp) butter, softened to room temperature

3 tbsp black sesame powder

large handful black sesame seeds

7 tbsp sugar mixed with 2 tbsp ground cinnamon

 

For the glaze:

50g icing sugar, sifted

25g cream cheese, softened

2-3 tbsp cream

 

Directions

Dough: In a microwave-safe bowl or in a saucepan over low heat, heat together the milk and butter until the butter has melted and the mix is warm (not scalding) to touch. Pour the mix into a larger bowl, then sprinkle on the yeast on one side of the bowl, and the salt and sugar on the opposite side. Wait 5 minutes, then add a half cup of flour at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon between each addition, followed by the black sesame powder. Once the dough is too thick to stir, transfer to a lightly floured counter and knead for 2 minutes. The final result should be a smooth, rather taut ball of dough, so you may need slightly more or less than the aforementioned quantity of flour. Briefly grease the same bowl, pop the ball of dough in and let it rise until it doubles in size–around an hour. At this point, preheat your oven to 176C (350F) and liberally grease an 8×8-inch pan.

After the dough has risen, lightly flour your counter again and turn the dough out onto the counter. Roll it out into a half-inch thick rectangle. Brush on (I just used my hands here) the butter that’s softened to room temperature, then sprinkle on the cinnamon-sugar mix, black sesame powder and black sesame seeds. Tightly roll the dough from the long end, so you end up with a long, pale tube of dough. Place the roll seam side down, and using a serrated knife, cut your tube into 8-9 rolls, each around 1.5 inches thick. Place them into the greased square pan. Cover the pan with foil to avoid over-browning and place inside your preheated oven. Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes.

While they’re baking, mix together the ingredients for the glaze in a small bowl. Once the rolls have finished baking, leave to cool for 10 minutes, then go ahead and glaze the heck out of them. Sprinkle on some black sesame seeds to top. These rolls are best eaten immediately or at least the day they’re made, however you can keep them for the next day and microwave them to revive a bit of tenderness.

Chocolate Orange Pillow Pancakes

A little twist goes a long way in adding nuanced distinctions to established flavour profiles. I’ve always loved the classic combination of chocolate and orange, so I thought, why not try it in my all-time favourite fluffy pillow pancake recipe?

I remember finalising the recipe for this more than a year ago, and it still hits all heart strings every time I make them. No longer am I caught in the ugly morning mire of doubt and indecision. I love making new things and experimenting with different simple techniques, but what’s the use of a whole stack of badly-risen or bland pancakes when you know there’s one that’s always got your back?

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Made with real, fresh orange juice, speckled with chopped up bits of dark chocolate. Saturday respite never did look or taste so good. The tang is subtle and almost sophisticated when paired with more grown-up type chocolate.

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Chocolate Orange Pillow Pancakes (makes around 10, adapted from my classic pillow pancake recipe)

Ingredients

190g all-purpose flour

3 tbsp white sugar

generous pinch of salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 egg

50g unsalted butter (slightly less than 4 tbsp)

1 tsp vanilla extract or the insides of half a plump vanilla bean (or a skinny meek one)

120ml (1/2 cup) whole milk/ buttermilk; use store-bought or make your own by mixing 230ml whole milk with 1 tbsp white vinegar, and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes before using).

30g chopped dark chocolate (I used a bar of 70% cocoa content)

120ml (1/2 cup) freshly-squeezed orange juice; about one medium orange

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt and leavening agents). In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter in a microwave and set it aside, letting it cool. In another medium bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, orange juice, vanilla and melted butter. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix and mix briefly with a wooden spoon or a normal dinner spoon. Continue to mix until everything is justt combined, which means there will still be a few lumps, but no more streaks of flour. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy.

Preheat your pan on medium heat and ready some butter. You know the pan is hot enough when you flick a little water onto its surface and there’s a clear sizzle. At that point, generously butter the pan and ladle tablespoonfuls of batter. I didn’t have to wait for bubbles to pop before flipping; the batter is thicker than usual and there’s no need to wait. Flip the pancakes when you notice the edges stiffening a little, or when you can slide your spatula whole underneath the bottom of the pancake. It will rise a little upon flipping, as if that action gives it life, and hence, breath. The surface should have a brown mosaic thanks to the hot butter. Once the second side is done (will take no more than 20 seconds), let cool on a paper towel. As mentioned above, these freeze wonderfully, so you can make a whole batch, have a small stack and stash the rest in a ziploc bag in the freezer. Easy!

 

 

 

Pandan Waffles

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Really a pretty great thing.

After a long day at the lab (currently participating in a long but fascinating internship involving incredibly novel anticancer research, and I couldn’t be more grateful at this point in time), I relished a wholesome family dinner, then tried to resist a nighttime urge to bake, or do anything at all in the kitchen. As usual, I failed miserably.

I don’t like to stick to a certain theme more than once or twice at a go, but after making kaya mochi just a few days ago, there lingered the odd inclination to play around with one of my favourite childhood spreads once again. Kaya, if you don’t know already, is the most delicious South East Asian coconut pandan spread, which to me is right on par with drippy, sweet, delicious almond butter or a lovingly homemade marmalade– yes it’s that sublime. Pandan is the tropical leaf from which kaya is made from. Earthy, sticky, sweet. There are lots of made-for-toast spreads out there that I adore, but kaya is childhood, kaya is rich nonchalance. What I spread on my burnt toast with butter, each bite a sticky mess of equal parts green and white (from unmelted butter).

This recipe is based on one of my favourite personal recipes– soda water waffles! Clickidy click that link for a classic version, or if you don’t really have a thing for kaya/anything pandan-flavoured. It’s the soda water that breathes life into the batter, added just before the kiss of heat, making the final result as light and airy as ever. Another perk? Made using sweet potato flour as a rather haphazard and weird experiment, it’s entirely gluten-free. Haphazard because this is my first time experimenting with sweet potato flour, which is one of the finest, almost delicate flours I’ve come across. Everything made with it will be of a relatively thin consistency, permeated with an au natural chew. Definitely looking into using it more, for what I’m not sure just yet; I’m only excited to incorporate more gluten-free options to accommodate any of you coeliacs out there. Of course, you can substitute this with normal flour, and this will yield a slightly less chewy and probably more refined-looking waffle. Indeed, this isn’t the prettiest of waffles, but goodness the outside crisp is outrageous. The chew on this is also slightly ridiculous, and funnily enough reminds me of that kaya mochi I made not too long ago. An eerie similarity resulting from subconscious fashioning of the past. Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Pandan waffles (makes 6-7 thin Swedish waffles, modified from here)

Ingredients

240g sweet potato flour (substitute with 200g all-purpose flour)

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch salt

2 tbsp coconut sugar (or brown sugar)

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk of choice (I used almond)

3 heaping tbsp store-bought or homemade kaya

1 drop pandan extract (bought at your local oriental store)

80g melted, unsalted butter

1 cup soda water

 

Directions

Preheat your waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients– flour, leavening agents, salt and sugar. Add the egg, milk, pandan extract, melted butter, kaya, and lastly, the soda water. Cook in the preheated iron according to the iron’s instructions. In my Sevren waffle maker, it took 4-5 minutes before the edges went crisp and golden.

These freeze wonderfully. Let the waffles cool on a cooling rack, before layering them with pieces of parchment between each waffle so they don’t stick together when you take them out the next morning. The next morning, take them out, microwave for 20 seconds, then stick in the toaster until golden and crisp again. Go wonderfully with banana, anything coconut-themed (I used coconut sugar), and peanut butter!