No-bake Strawberry Cheesecake

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Rain, outside. Currently listening to Millie Vernon’s That Old Feeling, and feeling swingy. I haven’t given enough verbal weight to the importance of smooth jazz to my creations. Its silky notes have a way of churning the cogs up there. The rain is helping, too.

Cheesecake, cheesecake! Inspired by none other than my favourite Ben&Jerry’s ice cream flavour as a child. Am I the only one who thought it was better than every other flavour they had? Phish food was fine, Cherry Garcia was an atrocity only because I had no appetite for cherries in any form at that age, the banana thing was a no. It was a picky phase, I could only stick to solid chocolate and cheese sort of flavours, and anything nutty or fruity was sacrilege. Except for strawberry cheesecake.

I approach most vegan cheesecake recipes with caution. Cashews and coconut? The furthest things from that signature dairy taste? I think not. But this one proved me (and will hopefully do the same to you) wrong. A good soak of your cashews will yield a fine, smooth texture, similar to your typical New York cheesecake, I promise. I kept this one base-less to keep the focus on the pure filling, but you can use this crust if you wish. That crust is also featured in my recipe for a classic vegan cheesecake, if you wish to try a proper baked one instead. It’s good to remind oneself of why it’s important to use more plant-based foods and proteins in anything you cook and bake. Just look at the power of cashews, the main star of this event:

  • They are almost a quarter total protein
  • 62% of its fats are monounsaturated, and have less fat than most other nuts
  • They are brimming with a sort of flavonol that starves cancer tumours
  • They help manufacture enzymes involved in the formation of haemoglobin and collagen, and are therefore key in skin and hair health
  • I keep forgetting that full stops don’t belong in bullet points

So you see, I guess this whole cashews-not-milk-plus-save-cow-exploitation sort of headspace isn’t so bad. The better you blend all this up, the better your result. You really want it to be as smooth and creamy as possible. What’s great about this recipe is also that i’s no-bake, which means it satisfies all you lazy bakers (me included sometimes).

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Ingredients

250g raw cashews, soaked overnight or for a couple of hours in lukewarm water, and drained. You can leave the cashews in the fridge or on the counter. Alternatively, you can add boiling water to the cashews and let this sit for half an hour before using.

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp fine salt

120ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed from about 3-4 lemons

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

80ml maple syrup

60ml vegetable oil (sub: melted vegan butter/melted coconut oil)

3 heaped tbsp coconut yoghurt or any yoghurt you like (sub: applesauce or milk)

3 heaped tbsp strawberry jam

Directions

Blend all ingredients except for the jam in a high-speed, powerful blender. Continue to blend until you get a smooth, pale consistency. It should be thick and runny. Pour the filling into a bowl, add the strawberry jam and then use a spatula to fold the jam in, creating a ripple effect. Tip this into a 8 or 9-inch cheesecake pan with a removable bottom and place it into the freezer to set.

*To create the swirly effect as you can see above, take the cheesecake out of the freezer after 30 minutes, and run a small knife or spatula in the formation of a spiral from the outside to the inside. You may get this all messy the first time, especially as the cheesecake starts to thaw, but don’t worry, the fact that the cheesecake thaws easily means it’s also easy to scrap whatever pattern you’ve done and start again. You can also put the cheesecake back in the freezer and take it out 10 minutes later to re-mold whatever pattern you want. Enjoy with coconut yogurt and strawberry jam.

Blackberry Orange Sweet Rolls

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‘Too often, we do something for the sake of reward. But usually there is a delay between action and reward… If you can make the process of making an effort your primary source of happiness, then you have succeeded in the most important challenge of your life.”– Ken Mogi

On that note, why not dance or sing with no one to hear you? Why not bake when there’s no one to bake for? Like this blackberry orange sweet cinnamon roll, ready for you like nothing else in the world, sometimes. There’s something pretty magical about the way two dimensions of tart marry perfectly with each other. Can we just talk about blackberries for a second?

With summer comes berries. Let there be berries. Frozen berries are, and always will be, my kryptonite. I haven’t lived through a day without frozen berries for quite a few years now. Aside from their health benefits, they just taste amazing no matter what time of year. I’m also quite in love for how thawing frozen berries adds a sorbet-like quality to anything. So why not chuck this magic into a classic cinnamon roll recipe? Blackberries in particular are so underrated. Blueberries and raspberries seem to garner all the attention, all the time. You can go right ahead and use those as substitutes in this recipe, although I do think this power-packed berry is a special one, with a flavour all its own. Tucked in folds of brioche-like bread, this roll is simple goodness at its finest.

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Think messy, sticky, sweet fingers. Bursting, warm sweet berries elevate your classic cinnamon roll, mushing into cinnamon-coated innards of each fluffy roll.

There’s no reason to shudder at the word ‘yeast’. I have a few no yeast recipes in the archives, but I tell you now, using yeast this time won’t do you any harm with luck or time, or both. It’s a simple matter of chucking instant yeast into the dry mix, mixing in the wet ingredients, kneading, and letting nature get to work on its own. Sometimes shortcuts make life less of a hassle, it’s true, but instant yeast does make this whole thing a breeze.

Just like how best part about eating granola is the sweet milk after letting the milk soak into every surface and crevice of the granola, the best part, to me at least, of eating a cinnamon roll is tearing apart a fresh and warm one, letting the tear end wherever the brioche fails to stop seizing under pressure, unveiling the speckles of cinnamon, filling spilling everywhere. Rich, superior filling with an interesting salty top. I like to have a part of this as a snack since it is quite rich, best enjoyed with a cup of hot black coffee.

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Ingredients

For the dough:

450g plain flour (sub: use half whole-wheat and half plain for something a little more wholesome, although the buns will not turn out as fluffy)

65g (around 1/4 cup) cane/coconut/white sugar

7g instant yeast

1 tsp fine salt

zest of one orange

240ml (1 cup) unsweetened almond milk

50g (1/4 cup) coconut oil (sub: the same weight of melted vegan butter)

 

For the filling: 

250-280g frozen blackberries

1 tsp ground cinnamon mixed with 2 tsp white/cane/coconut sugar

 

For the salted vanilla icing:

160g icing sugar, sifted

1 tsp fine salt

1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste

5 tbsp almond milk

1 tbsp orange juice

 

Directions

First, make the dough. In a large bowl, tip in the flour, then put the salt, yeast and sugar on opposite sides of the bowl. Mix briefly, then pour in the milk and coconut oil. Add the orange zest. Using a wooden spoon, mix everything together until you get a taut, firm dough. Flour your hands and work surface and knead the dough for around 5 minutes. Alternatively, you could actually leave the dough in the bowl and use the spoon to ‘knead’ (I like to call this spoon kneading, kill me if you wish) the dough by mimicking the same movement you would do with hands with the spoon. This technique means less dough on your hands and more left in the bowl for you to enjoy…. duh! You just have to make sure that you’re thorough and not complacent with the kneading. It gets tiring, but it’s worth it. Just 5 minutes, you know.

Cover the bowl with a towel and leave it in a warm place (skip this if you’re in Singapore currently, ha) for 1.5 hours. Leave for longer, or up to 2 hours, if your surrounding temperature is under 25C. During the time you have to wait, take your frozen blackberries out to thaw, and mix the ground cinnamon with the sugar in a small bowl. Line a baking tray with a piece of baking parchment and set this aside.

After 2 hours, tip the ball of dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and then roll this out into a relatively large rectangle of 20x30cm. Sprinkle on the cinnamon sugar, then put on as many berries as you can fit, leaving the juice behind. Alternatively, you can use fresh blackberries microwaved for a minute. Leave a border of about an inch on each side of the rectangle. Mash the berries a little using a fork. Roll the rectangle lengthwise (along its length, not the breadth), keeping each roll tight and rolling gently and carefully the whole way. Cut the roll using a serrated knife or piece of dental floss into 6-7 smaller rolls along its length, or 3-4 cm apart each time. As you cut, some of the filling will spill out, and that’s ok. The side at which you cut may have more berry stains– simply lay this side of the roll down on the parchment. Lay all the rolls out on the piece of parchment and leave them to rise and puff out a little more for an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180C (350F).

An hour later, place your rolls in the oven for 25 minutes. As they bake, make the icing by mixing all the icing ingredients in a medium bowl. You should have a thick, runny and opaque white icing. Add the liquid ingredients little by little and stop once you reach the thick, runny consistency you need. Once the rolls are baked, leave to cool for 5-6 minutes before drizzling on the icing. These rolls are best eaten within 3 days of making them. Store them in an airtight container, or in the freezer, where they will last for months!

Kaya Bundt With Dark Chocolate Frosting

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Things have been taken a step up. In thought, and in action. From trying out crazy buffet restaurants, to understanding which camera is the most accurate (iPhone, Snapchat, Instagram or something else? Help, which tells the truth?) and why, to Kim and Trump having negotiations just this morning, in a luxury hotel right here on our little red dot Singapore. Why not do the same in the kitchen? Like this, like now.

Making my own kaya was an intrepid effort, but by no means terribly intimidating. Kaya has always been one of my favourite spreads ever. Simply spreading the stuff on my toasted, buttered crumpet this morning was some beautiful nostalgia. I just had to recreate a vegan version. A few years ago, with so many amazing nonya kayas out there, I never felt the need to make my own. Although this vegan recipe, which I adapted from an online source, needs a little tweaking, the final product turned out more than fine, with the right gloopy texture, a strong coconut taste, perfect for soaking into crevices, into the porous, crusty craters of white toast, on a crumpet (this morning’s gala).

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So you’ve got the kaya. Then it’s simply a matter of mixing wet with dry, the kaya going into a smooth homogenous mixture of butter and sugar all nicely creamed together, some flax eggs (or normal eggs, whatever floats your goat), and added coconut extract for punch and pizzaz. Once that’s done, you make a damn good, deep and dark chocolate frosting to literally ice the cake in flavour, texture, and colour. Experiment with the baking time too– mine needed 45 minutes in total although you may only need 40 or so minutes. I even used some edible flowers to decorate but I’m posh that way (ok no, I’m supporting a sustainable urban farming movement. The owner propagates edible flowers and breeding pollinators in the middle of bustling Orchard Road here in Singapore… how cool is that??).

The cake is dense, moist yet fluffy. Behold some robust coconut breath in each sturdy bite. The icing stays strong even in this terrifying heat and humidity, so you can be well assured you don’t have to worry about a schmozzle when you drizzle it on your beautiful bundt.

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Kaya bundt cake with chocolate drizzle (makes one medium bundt)

Ingredients

For the kaya bundt cake:

400g kaya, homemade or store-bought (make your vegan version, I found a good recipe here– mine turned out tasting a little too much of soy due to all that tofu, but the texture and taste was still nonetheless on point)

350g cake flour, or plain flour if you don’t have cake flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp coconut extract (optional, I added it for amplified flavour)

200g each of vegan butter (room temperature) and sugar (sub: normal butter if you’re not vegan)

2 flax eggs (sub: whole eggs), made by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp room temperature water)

For the frosting:

40g icing sugar

10g cocoa powder

1 tbsp tahini (optional, I added for creaminess and a hint of sesame flavour)

5-6 tbsp almond milk

60g dark chocolate

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Make your flax eggs by combining the ground flaxseed with water and setting it aside to gel up. Grease and flour a bundt pan. I coated the inside of my pan with coconut oil, then floured it by adding a tablespoon of flour into the pan and then jiggling the pan around so the flour is mostly coating the oiled inner surface.

In a large bowl and with a spatula, cream the room temperature butter with the sugar. I find a spatula makes it nice and easy. Cream together until the mixture is homogenous, pale and fluffy. Add the flax eggs, coconut extract and kaya, and mix with a wooden spoon until combined.

In a separate medium bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Tip this into the large bowl containing your wet ingredients, then mix all together gently, until everything is smooth and evenly incorporated. Spoon dollops of batter into the greased and floured pan, continuing to do this until all batter is used up. Bake the bundt in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre comes out with a few moist crumbs.

While the bundt is baking, make the frosting. Chop up the dark chocolate, tip into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave until the chocolate is all melted. In a separate bowl, sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder together, then add the tahini (optional) and milk. Add the melted chocolate and mix until you get a thick but runny consistency. Once the bundt is done, let it cool down (don’t tip it!) on a wire rack for at least a half hour. Drizzle the chocolate frosting over the top and sprinkle with sesame seeds for decoration.

 

 

 

Goreng Pisang on Toast

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There are too many things, upon my arrival in the homeland, this special little red dot, that I was much too eager to get into again (jet lag came, stole all my energy and enthusiasm. But now that that’s gone, each day seems a refreshing beam of light, a hopeful promise). But yes. Café hopping, family and friends aside, it’s all about food. Old flavours, fun memories, revisited. That’s what I missed. There’s always something to be aware of, to be curious and excited about. Right now I’m deeply appreciating, here in Singapore, access to good food at much cheaper prices, and the cool and quirky Asian/pan-Asian delights one can find anywhere, in the basement of any big mall (my favourite is the Takashimaya one, for the record).

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A recent tea party I had with my dear friend Charlie at an Airbnb café– how cool are these? They specially made vegan chocolate avocado mousse for me, and the accompanying chai tea was sublime. 
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My favourite place for good sourdough– The Bakery by Woodlands Sourdough at Bukit Timah. Thick almond butter and honey on thick, crusty toast. The sort of thing I actually will pay for once in a while, it’s that good.

It’s a time to revisit, guiltlessly, all the sweet flavours I missed. Black sesame, durian, matcha galore. Endless. Gorgeous! One of my favourite food thingys that I used to have on a regular basis, aside from durian puffs and dark chocolate taiyakis, was goring pisang (fried banana). My grandmother still occasionally buys them from the hawker centre, and are too, too perfect with a cold dollop of vanilla bean ice cream, or just on their own as they are.

It feels downright weird to be back. With no dissertation to complete, I am officially a graduate (ok not entirely, the graduation is in October, but still). Now, there’s a space in my head, one that need not necessarily be filled all the time. A space to feel, to think, to scroll through all the emotions that have been mashed together for too long in the days leading up to some exam, or assignment, or thesis. Because sometimes scrolling through emotions means putting rationality on the back-burner. This feels so free. This feels like a good, long, abdominal breath. And true enough, it is important to take time, intentionally, to do this daily, or at least weekly. But it’s also good to get away from it all entirely, take a break even from blogging, as I did the past two weeks. Routine, a good one, is a conscientious way of re-organizing one’s priorities. But sometimes a little break from routine allows for reflection on the meaning of the routine itself, instead of being on autopilot all the time. It’s sort of like atoms in a certain structure. The bits that make up the structure may be strong and sturdy, but breaking away and re-organizing them in a smarter and more efficient manner may leave you with a structure even stronger than before).

Now let’s go bananas. It’s all about the right banana and the right batter. The two must complement each other– too ripe a banana will leave you with mushy bits of nothing, while the batter should comprise ice-cold water, rice flour and corn starch for the perfect degree of crispiness. Then everything is fried, and I don’t think you can go wrong by either shallow or deep-frying, because it’s still a fried banana, and you can’t go wrong with that, can you?

Traditionally, these golden beauties are eaten with ice cream or with a custard, but that Monday I decided to bung it on some toast layered with fresh, thick coconut yoghurt, peanut butter and jam, and my taste buds were on absolute fire. The combination of the creamy yoghurt, tangy and sweet with peanut butter and jam, cradled the crisp, wispy outer layer of goring pisang batter. You think about it, and the whole thing seems or sounds a little silly. I mean, fried anything can’t really go wrong. Or just leave the poor banana alone, for goodness sake. Why coat it, why ruin it? But that’s the fun of experimentation, is it not? I’ll breathe down the back of the traditionalist for as long as I can, challenging the norm. If we can fry bananas, or mars bars, or friggin’ tea bags, then why not put them on something and call it a meal? Like your usual pb&j toast. The coconut yoghurt really is just for fun. The whole thing is just fun and delicious, so let’s just leave it at that.

 

Ingredients

2-3 ripe (but not too ripe!) bananas, sliced in half (along the breadth, not down the long centre)

40g plain flour

2 tbsp each of rice flour and cornflour

¼ tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

5 tbsp ice-cold water

vegetable oil for deep frying, of which a tablespoon you will mix into the batter

*optional accompaniments: bread slices (use whatever bread you like but whole-wheat or sourdough is preferable), coconut/soy yoghurt, peanut butter, jam

 

Directions

Mix all batter ingredients (everything listed above except for the bananas) in a shallow bowl. The batter should be smooth, without any lumps. This can be done by adding the water slowly, in thirds, and whisking well in between. The batter should not be all that thick– if it is, add a little more water to thin it out.

Add your cut bananas to the batter and coat them well with the help of a fork or spoon. Meanwhile, heat 1.5-2 inches of vegetable oil in a wok/frying pan. Add enough so that the bananas will be just covered. You can also save some oil by using less oil and turning the bananas halfway through. Once the oil temperature has reached 180C (320F), and you can do this with any candy thermometer, add the coated bananas and fry until they are visibly golden-yellow. 2-3 bananas are perfect for this recipe because too many will make the temperature of the oil drop a little. Once visibly golden and crispy, take the bananas out with a pair of tongs and place them on a paper towel to drain the excess oil. Be careful this whole time, the oil may spit and hurt you. These are best eaten immediately or at least the same day they are made. For this twist, toast your bread slices, then add a tablespoon each of coconut yoghurt, peanut butter, and finally the jam. I like strawberry jam, but that bit’s up to you. Then cut your fried bananas in half lengthwise, then put them on the piece (or pieces) of toast. Take a bite. Savour that. Love that.

Banana Coconut Mini Cakes

B800FD1A-BAE0-4A7F-BCCB-B5CC5DC7A546The hardest part of self-actualisation is that of  discerning what to accept and what to reject– of the world and of  ourselves– as we build the architecture of our character and stake out our stance in relation to our aims and obstacles’– Camus

Recently I’ve been thinking about habits. Today’s mantra shall be this: kicking old habits is just as important as incorporating new, good ones. We all have our good and bad habits, but sometimes the balance just isn’t there. I, for one, may see a scatter of crumbs late at night on the kitchen floor but oh god, it’s late, and I can do it tomorrow morning. It’s not the most serious crime, but little things do add up to be a lot. Doing things like making my bed and preparing my clothes the night before does wonders for saving time, space and maintaining cleanliness throughout the week, day by day. That’s the miracle of habits. Little actions that change routine that change you for the better. Currently working on bettering myself, to be better around others, too. It’s hard, but worth it, I feel. We are capable. And keep being grateful.

So here’s what I wrote last week in my diary about this cake: “Banana coconut cake with miso frosting! So moist and cute and tender. Might have to change the frosting a tad but I’m happy-dappy for now. There’s a flow to it, it’s enticing and dreamy and moody. Happy-dappy”.

Well firstly, wow I sound quite silly whenever I write about how excited I am about some new experiment in my personal diary. Did I really write ‘happy-dappy’ twice? Secondly, wow this cake is good. Like, really darn good, and I can’t wait for you to experience this banana-ful love all over again, from my kitchen and oven to yours.

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Simple, really. You start off traditionally, mixing the wet and dry ingredients separately. Once everything is incorporated, and you pop the thing in the oven and make the frosting. Everything is cooled, then the frosting begins.

I didn’t mean to put miso in there (as is the case for so many random ingredients in my other bakes), but this is what gives the lift, the interest. Banana and miso?? Yes, it works. Please try it. Ingredients of the earth. All from nature. What is so wonderful about baking from home is that you know exactly what you’re putting in it, be it a simple or more complex bake. No chemicals, pesticides or what have you. Flour, sugar, plants… plants! It’s so wonderful, don’t you think.

I was listening to the podcast ‘On Being’ the other night (highly recommend, by the way), and there’s one part which talks about how there’s a link between being in awe of nature and altruism. Just witnessing the greatness of this universe perhaps makes us feel more like we should help one another along in society, keep us afloat in the raging seas, the beautiful yet turbulent grandeur of Mother Earth.

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Banana Coconut Mini Cakes with Miso coconut frosting (makes 4 mini cakes or 1 large 8 or 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

1 and a half bananas, mashed

45g dark/light brown sugar

30g white/coconut sugar

30ml (25g) vegetable oil

1 tbsp vanilla bean paste, or sub with vanilla extract

60ml plant milk of choice (I like using oat or rice milk

145g (little more than a cup) plain flour, or use half spelt/whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

30g desiccated coconut

 

For the frosting:

130g butter

5g miso paste

150g icing sugar

handful of desiccated coconut

 

For the layering (optional):

a sliced banana

more desiccated coconut, the amount here is up to you

 

Directions

Grease an 8 or 9-inch springform pan and preheat your oven to 180C. In a large bowl, mix together the banana, sugars, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla paste/extract. In a separate, medium bowl, briefly whisk together the dry ingredients– flour, salt, coconut and leavening agents. Tip this into the wet mix and stir everything together until all is just about incorporated. Bake this in the oven for 25 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted comes out clean.

While the cake bakes, make the frosting by beating the butter and miso together with an electric whisk, then slowly add the icing sugar until you get a smooth and thick frosting with bits of miso strewn throughout. Add the coconut and mix briefly. Place the frosting in the fridge until ready to use.

Once the cake is totally cool, or about a half hour later, use the lip of a glass cup to stamp out circles in the cake. You will get about 4 circles, so two mini cakes. Once the cakes are stamped out, add a dollop of frosting onto one cake, then add a few banana coins and a sprinkling of desiccated coconut on top. Place the second layer on top, then frost the top and add more desiccated coconut to decorate. Alternatively, you can leave the cake as is and frost it right there and then, or just frost the 4 circles individually without layering them, to get 4 separate open-faced cakes. These cakes will last 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge. If you’re just making the cake by itself, you can store it at room temperature for the same amount of time and in the same way.