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.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

5051011 Processed with VSCO with e3 presetNothing quite beats a café with ‘70s-‘80s music blaring everywhere. I do suck energy from my surroundings. A dearth of atmosphere, a tinge of something exciting, is sure to drain me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a deathly quiet, but I also like looking up from my screen sometimes, examine faces and bodies so different and unique, or sip a coffee without bothering the librarian. Here in London, the sun is shining. Yesterday it was pouring like every cloud was trying to squeeze out its last drops for all of eternity.

Diary excerpts:

9/6: Always looking for an excuse to start anew. But why not now? Why not on a Sunday? Isn’t Sunday the first day of the week in many parts of the world anyway?// dark turquoise is my new favourite colour.

10/6: Why does coffee everywhere in London have to be so expensive? Never mind, it’s worth it for all the café ambiences I soak myself in everyday// researchers can now use single-cell sequencing to detect differences in RNA expression in cells, thus showing when they decide to progress from neural crest cells to something more specialized.

After watching Chris Morocco speak sweet nothings in his video demonstration of Bon Appetit’s ‘best’ chocolate chip cookie, I decided to give it a go. The way he talked about the beauty of the mosaic made when ripples of unevenly chopped heap of chocolate melt and bake in a creamy batter, the way something as simple as a cookie is transformed upon a simple, short cook of butter… it was all too tempting. Having not made anything with browned butter in ages, I took the risk (I still tend to burn things, so yes this was considered a risk) and set to work. He states in this particular recipe to brown just half a cup of the butter first before adding the rest in, but I went ahead and browned all of it at once, which yielded (perhaps) not an identical result to Chris’, but nevertheless retained the toffee-like, smoldering notes of butter cooked down to an almost clear brown liquid.

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Secondly, the recipe specifies that one large egg and 2 egg yolks be used, but with exactly 2 eggs left in the fridge, I used that instead. Due to that alone, I was afraid of the cookies not turning out as dense and chewy as demonstrated, but I was proven wrong with my final, accidental amendment: So, Chris used dark brown sugar, and so did I. But unlike what I saw in the video, mine was dark. As in, straight-up camp molasses. Almost. It was therefore much harder to incorporate when mixing with the butter, because of how much stickier and clumped together it was. But that exact density and stickiness, although they did make the cookies darker in colour, also let them retain a most tempting, delicious density and chewiness all throughout its body.

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Brown butter chocolate chip cookies (inspired by BA’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies– makes 16 cookies)

*= vegan substitution

Ingredients

200g (1.5 cups) plain flour

1 tsp fine salt (leave out if you’re using salted butter)

1 tsp baking soda

170g (0.75 cups) butter (*vegan butter or margarine)

50g (0.25 cups) sugar

200g (1 cup) dark brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs (*2 vegan eggs, made by mixing 2 heaped tbsp. ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a small bowl, and letting that gel up for a minute)

170g dark chocolate, chopped

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Place your butter into a saucepan and, on medium heat, melt the butter and continue to let it cook until it turns a toffee brown and looks almost clear. There will be some frothy, lighter bits on top. Swirl the pan occasionally while the butter melts. Once it is browned, set it aside for a while to cool. In a small bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, salt, chocolate and baking soda. Add the brown and white sugar to the browned butter and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Make sure there are no lumps. Add the eggs (or vegan eggs) and whisk to incorporate everything well, and you get a smooth, lump-free batter.

Add the dry mix containing the chocolate to the wet egg mixture. You should get a moist batter that still drops off a wooden spoon relatively easily.

Using an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, place dollops of equally-sized batter on your lined sheets, making sure there’s at least 2 inches of space between each circle of batter. As the original recipe states, let the flour hydrate by letting the batter sit for a while on the trays for 5 minutes. Then bake the cookies (one tray before the other, or both at the same time), for 8 minutes. Let them sit for a while before eating up. Alternatively these can be made and frozen ahead of a time you want to consume them.

White Chocolate Kladdkaka

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The sun is streaming in bright and warm in this café. The shot of soy milk in my iced Americano is a weak ivory, colour and taste slowly being watered down by all that ice. As ivory as the white chocolate that was the death of me the past weekend.

So a word or two about white chocolate. The ‘low-grade, ‘fake’, the stuff that will never live up to the heady lusciousness of her dark and milk sisters. If white chocolate has no quality of chocolate to offer (cocoa solids, caffeine maybe), perhaps it should not even be called chocolate. But it’s still a chocolate derivative– cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, and the process and pleasure involved in consuming chocolate, dark or white or in between, is nevertheless the same. A silky richness, a smooth going-down.

And now for kladdkaka, a simple Swedish cake, and very much more of a brownie in its own right. Typically made with dark chocolate, or a mix of dark and milk. White chocolate? The Swedish may dislike this, but with some white chocolate Easter eggs lying around, why not, I thought. The prevailing thought: why not. It’s as fudgy as fudge gets, moist, and most importantly, sticky, especially in the middle. That’s what makes it pretty unique. I took a risk baking this jussst until set at the 20-minute mark, but that was perfect, and set up just as well as I had hoped, as it continued to cool after baking.

Last week consisted of more work, feeling more strongly upon seeing people than I anticipated, almost as if totally out of control, leading to dreams similarly on this same level of bewilderment, too vivid for me to process as not real, to the point where I woke up and literally said, oh shit, that wasn’t real at all, out loud. I guess we all have those days. Making this cake was a sweet, sensible end to all the incomprehension the past week, incomprehension borne out of my own incapability of teasing out my own emotions about a variety of things in work and in relationships. It’s not that I don’t know at least a little bit why I feel this way, but I wonder if my mind is playing up, or if I’m simply someone who becomes too emotionally attached to everything and everyone too easily, making myself think I’m ok with doing things which a lot of other people get away with, with no consequence. I wonder what other people do when they don’t know how or what to feel.

I’ve also finished watching Osmosis and Dark, two short but intense series on Netflix, which probably made me feel a lot of things and contributed to that lack of self-comprehension on a subconscious level. In any case, and after all that blabber, I highly recommend both series.

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In the original recipe I referred to, the eggs and sugar were beat together for 7 minutes, although I found my mixture to reach a pale and fluffy consistency at the 5-minute mark with aquafaba, so play around with 5-7 minutes. An electrical whisk/beater is crucial here. You don’t want too-tired arms getting in the way of the fun of the whole process, and the speed and efficiency of an electrical whisk will get your egg-sugar mixture to where you need it to be in no time. You want it to be quite a bit more voluminous than what you see when you first start whisking the mixture. Same goes for the aquafaba, the stuff I used, which takes quite a while to whip up anyway.

I’m not sure if people have strong opinions on using salted butter in their recipes, but since I always have salted butter in my fridge, I almost always end up using it to bake anyway. It adds a nice dispersed flavour of salt, without ever making your final product actually taste salty. Also saves you the hassle of going out to buy a new block. The easy incorporation balances the heady sweetness of white chocolate. Look at that squidge, below, right there, in the centre, and tell me you don’t want to make this.

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White Chocolate Kladdkaka (makes 1 9-inch cake, modified from this recipe)

Ingredients

150g salted butter (if not salted, add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the dry mix later on)

150g good quality white chocolate (vegan/normal)

150g plain flour

1 tsp vanilla extract

150g white sugar

6 tbsp aquafaba (the egg-white looking liquid left after draining a can of chickpeas), or 2 whole eggs

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and grease a 9-inch cake pan. I used one with a removable bottom (like for cheesecakes) just so it’s easy to take out, and I’m lazy when it comes to greasing and lining things just like other humans sometimes.

Melt the butter and white chocolate together in a saucepan on medium heat, or in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl. If microwaving, take out every minute to stir, and so the chocolate doesn’t catch and cook too fast in the middle. Set aside this melted mixture aside for now while you put together the rest of the cake.

In a bowl, and using an electrical whisk, beat together the aquafaba/eggs and sugar for at least 5 minutes, until light, fluffy, and more voluminous than when you first started. Then add the white chocolate-butter mixture, vanilla extract, and flour (and salt if you did not use salted butter). Pour the thick but droppy batter into your greased tin and bake for 20-22 minutes. A wooden skewer inserted will come out pretty wet, but this is normal. The cake will continue to cook when you take it out to set. Once you’ve left it to cool for around 10 minutes, dust on some icing sugar, then eat plain, or with yoghurt and berries. Simply divine.

Classic Crepes (gluten-free option)

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Fall, friends! It’s here, and I don’t know about you but I’m ready. Hello, excessive amounts of anything with pumpkin and apple pies. Hello, my favourite season.

The term has once again started, and with it comes a sense of both excitement and dread. To be intellectually stimulated is one thing, but it’s important to not let the intimidation of new, bright faces obfuscate any goal, be it professional or personal.

Enough with my obsession with pancakes. I let crepes take over this time. Sometimes a change of breakfast routine is all you need to feel excited about a new season, a new beginning, a new.. anything. These crepes can be made with any flour you wish, however buckwheat or spelt does result in a fluffier crepe with a more interesting flavour dimension. I never was a buckwheat gal, but decided to experiment with the rather wholesome-looking grain after a friend of mine whipped up a delicious buckwheat veggie dish for me last year, and since it’s free of gluten, it’s worth a try for my increasing number of gluten-free peeps. What’s more, more buckwheat, barley, brown rice and basically anything not scarily white is a good way of reducing intake of refined sugar and carbohydrate, for as much as I (and most of us) love the stuff, it does nothing for the brain or body, and can possibly trigger terrible eating habits.  Furthermore, it’s exciting just knowing that buckwheat:

  • is full of the bioflavonoid rutin, which contains quercetin (also abundant in apples), and is thus of higher nutritional value than many other grains. Rutin helps with blood circulation and lowers cholesterol, to name just a few things.
  • is full of magnesium (supports respiratory health and helps restore normal sleep patterns), copper (helps the body absorb iron), and manganese (can improve bone health and reduce inflammation)

Makes it all a bit more exciting to put together. So you just whisk a few ingredients together, smack a quarter-cup of batter each time onto a hot pan, spread it out a little, flip to cook the other side for a short while, and there you have it– incredibly soft, tender crepes. The uniqueness of this dangerously delicious breakfast lies in its versatility– there’s a lightly toasted nutty flavour that can be combined with almost any flavour topping, although my personal favourite is coconut yoghurt and plenty of frozen but thawing summer berries on top.

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Crepes (makes 4-6, enough for one hungry person, scale up as necessary)

Ingredients

65g buckwheat flour (sub: plain or spelt flour)

pinch of salt

200ml plant milk of choice (I used oat)

1/2 tbsp ground flaxseed

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp vegetable oil/melted vegan butter (sub: normal butter)

Directions

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients well. The batter should be pourable but not too wet, so if it seems too thick, add a tablespoon of milk, and if it seems too thin, add a little more flour. Heat your pan (add a little oil if it’s not a nonstick pan) on medium heat. Flick a splash of water on it to see if it sizzles, to check if the pan is hot enough to use. Once it is hot enough, add a quarter-cup of batter to the pan and use the back of the cup measurement to spread the batter out into a thin circle. Be careful here– you don’t want the batter to be too thin, as this will lead to easy breakage afterwards when you try and flip the crepe.  Cook the first side until you see the edges of the crepe firm up, then slide your spatula carefully underneath and flip the crepe. Cook the second side for a little shorter, about a minute or so. Place the cooked crepe on a paper towel and roll it up before placing on a serving plate. Continue to do this for the remaining amount of batter. Serve with thick coconut yoghurt, tahini, berries and maple syrup!

 

Earl Grey Chocolate Chip Spelt Waffles

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Back home in London again, after a long summer. The past few months have truly been something, and as my thoughts spin faster than I type, perhaps just jotting down a few highlights would be slightly more comprehensive.

Highlights of summer:

  • meeting old friends in Singapore and eating all the good, cheap Asian dishes of my childhood!
  • travelling alone to New York for the first time, for my first science conference. Then, going there again with family for a cute fam holiday because all. The. Food. Once again. My favourite things were pistachio halva at Seed and Mill,  the ravioli, lasagna and french toast– goodness that ravioli had my whole family screaming– at Blossom Vegan restaurant, and the ice cream from van Leeuwen. Thick, stretchy ice cream. New York was essentially one big blur of food ecstasy.
  • travelling all over Italy (Padua, Modena, Bologna, Bonassola, with my boyfriend and spending time with his family, too. It was weeks of less internet connection and more real connectivity, something I’ve found more and more necessary in an up-and-going, busy city such as London. Ignorance is truly bliss, sometimes. Padua, our first stop, is a gem with her cheap aperols and tramezzinis, and so is Modena with her divine food (pretty sure we saw Massimo Bottura on a bike) and pretty streets. Those two areas were probably my favourites, and to visit again would be a blessing.

Things I’ve learnt after returning to London:

  • always clean your waffle iron really well after each use; you don’t want gross black burnt bits of waffle from two months ago left behind on that thing…
  • spend enough quality time with both yourself and the people who mean the most to you
  • short naps are underrated
  • London is amazing, period– I always forget how vibrant, diverse and fun it is here. I also have yet to find elsewhere with an architectural scene as unique as it is here, and yes, I like the cold, the grey, the soft sun and tender clouds, I like it all. Further, there’s something for everyone here, anytime, anyplace. Want some fun? Head straight to Shoreditch or somewhere in Central London for a drink or delicious bite. Feel too overwhelmed? Escape to the outskirts or have a solo picnic in Hyde Park. Or stay home and make…

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Well, waffles. Of course.

Not just any plain old American-style waffle (although there will always be a case for that, and one will always be partial to that classic combination of butter and maple syrup), no. It’s a waffle with class, with taste, but all in good measure, not stuffy in the slightest. The earl grey lends a note of sophistication to the sultry blend of spelt and chocolate. Who knew spelt made such a good case for your Sunday stack? Not I, not I for too long a time. The nutty, almost sweet angle to spelt has made it popular in more and more dishes, both sweet and savoury, recently. Although it’s not gluten-free, its relatively low in gluten, making it easy on the abdomen for the more gluten-sensitive of you. It is incredibly rich in many B vitamins such as niacin (like mushrooms!), protein and minerals, and even used to brew beer in Belgium and Bavaria. If you’re not convinced by its versatility, then check out these waffles. They’re perfect in every sense of the word in waffle world– soft and chewy all the way through, and golden-crisp around the edges.

These are truly one of the best waffle recipes I’ve developed. I have always wanted to experiment with spelt, but the combination of earl grey, chocolate and fluff makes for something so wonderfully extravagant yet humble in the simple shape of a waffle. Easy to make, and take no time at all to cook. Compared to my other waffle recipes, these take less than a minute to cook fully– how sublime is that when you’re cold and starving on a weekend morning?

They pair magically with coconut yogurt, more chopped chocolate and strawberry jam. Maple syrup isn’t necessary since the waffles themselves are relatively sweet, but go for it if you wish– I understand than some liquescent element is necessary for it to feel like a Sunday sometimes.

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Ingredients (makes 5-6 mini waffles and serves 1-2 people, double or triple the quantities if necessary)

130g spelt flour (use plain if you wish, but spelt will make your waffles softer and chewier)

1 heaped tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

80ml milk of your choice (I used almond)

half tbsp apple cider vinegar/ white vinegar

1 tsp vanilla extract

50g agave syrup/ maple syrup/ honey

90g yoghurt of choice (I used coconut)

2 tbsp oil (any type such as vegetable/ rapeseed/ coconut/ sunflower)

2-3 tbsp earl grey tea, made by steeping your favourite earl grey tea (loose/teabag) in hot or boiling water for a couple of minutes

40g chopped dark chocolate (use whatever chocolate you want but dark is preferable– I used Lindt’s 70% for a strong and true flavour)

Directions

Preheat your waffle iron according to its instructions. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Then add the rest of the ingredients, the chopped chocolate going in last. Mix until everything is evenly incorporated, but don’t overmix the batter as this will result in rubbery waffles.

Liberally grease your waffle iron and place two heaped tablespoons of batter on the hot surface. Press the lid of the iron down and let the waffles cook for 30-40 seconds. Check if they’re golden and crisp on the outside by carefully lifting the lid. If not, let them continue to cook until golden-brown. There should be melting or cooked bits of chocolate all around the edges… yum.

Carefully remove the waffles (use your hands if you’re daring, and a fork if you’re not stupid) from the iron and place on a paper towel to let them cool while you handle the rest of the batter. Serve with coconut yoghurt, fruity jam and a little extra chopped dark chocolate.