Éclair Cake

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The virus has swiftly shifted, uprooted, the entire the world. It came so suddenly, and I was whisked back home before my hair had a chance to get greasy. It’s been a while since my last post, but my suitcase is still half-open, propped up  near my bed, waiting for me to pack it again…  I honestly think we’re going to come out of all this better, in the sense that we’ll be more self-aware: keenly in tune with our emotions, how to work well from home, and with a better understanding of who we prioritise as regular contacts in our lives, or in other words, whose familiar presence, online or not, is gratifying and exciting in a rather ungratifying and unexciting period of our lives.

Below are some journal excerpts and other cool things I’ve learnt recently. I put these here not as a random gesture but rather to embrace the non-sequitur, the random ebbs and flows in everyday life, just like the onset of the coronavirus. The quotation marks are a reminder to myself and whoever reads this that this is coming straight out of my journal:

09/04: “neophobia= the fear of trying new foods. I used to try and learn a few every week and am trying to make that a habit again” and “consumption of fructose favours lipid biosynthesis in the liver”

11/04: “In the heat of the moment, be it conflict with family or self-frustration or feeling behind in anything or everything, it’s okay to try and love yourself”

12/04: “riposte: a retaliatory action”

13/04: “trying to control a disturbing emotion is a bad strategy: it teaches our brain that we can’t handle that emotion, and our distress intensifies-A.A.Gill’ By the way, I highly recommend Gill’s autobiography Pour Me, which was an intense, fun, unputdownable read”

16/04: “There was plenty anger inside me last night. Couldn’t control my tears and lashed out at the smallest thing. It was probably a lot of suppressed anxiety and anger that exploded at a bad time. Need to walk and walk and walk. That always helps. With a mask.”

17/04:”Scientific American: Remdesivir is a popular antiviral known for treating Ebola, and inhibits the enzyme RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, which RNA viruses including SARS-CoV2 uses to replicate their genetic material. Compassionate use of Remdesivir in 53 severe Covid-19 patients found that 63% of those taking it improved, although this wasn’t an RCT”

18/04: “The morning feels peaceful and there is fresh light pouring from my window. Covid-19 or not, Nature reigns supreme. Nature knows no pandemic. It just IS. Existing. Still standing. Feeling lucky to be alive. But I miss Oxford and seeing friends in cafés so terribly much (picture below)!!”

Of course there’s plenty I don’t share from this journal, which is a messy mishmash of science bits and food bits and personal bits.

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Pretty gardens around my college

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This cake was one random, impetuous adventure. It’s not a prissy élan sort of cake made up of little éclairs, rather one which has components reminiscent of parts of an éclair. It has a creamy batter and chewy edges, which reminded me of the milky éclair middle and the chewy choux its encased by respectively, in a typical éclair. Of course, the signature chocolate ganache top. Eaten with yoghurt, sour cream or anything mildly tangy, the chocolatey top and wobbly, chewy middle, it’s unusually perfect. Look at the inside– it’s dense without being tough or chewy, except the edges. I added some homemade salted caramel because I felt that extra posh but of course there’s no need, although I do recommend adding a little more salt on top of the ganache before serving.

Another one-bowl affair. Another sweet moment, and a time to pause.

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Éclair Cake (Makes one dense cake in a 9×5-inch loaf pan, around 6-7 slices)

Ingredients

160g (1.25 cups) flour

1 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

0.5 tsp salt

2 eggs (vegan sub: vegan flax eggs made by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a small bowl and setting that aside for a while to gel up)

225g (1 cup) butter, softened to room temperature (vegan sub: vegan butter/ margarine)

100g (0.5 cup) sugar

1 tbsp maple syrup mixed with 240ml (1 cup) milk of your choice (I used whole but feel free to use a vegan substitute)

120ml (0.5 cup) double cream (vegan sub: vegan double cream)

1 cup dark or semisweet chocolate chips

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 175C (350F) and then butter or line a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Line the pan by cutting a piece of parchment paper that has two sides the same length as the loaf pan itself, and the other two sides a little longer than the pan’s breadth so it will be easy to take out at the end. In a large bowl, whisk together the soft butter, salt and sugar, then add the eggs and whisk well until nicely incorporated. Then add the milk-maple mixture and mix well.

In a separate bowl, briefly whisk the flour, baking powder and baking soda together. Tip into the wet mix and use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix everything together until just incorporated. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes. Check at the 45-minute mark- a wooden skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean. While it’s baking, make the ganache by putting the cream and chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high in 30-second increments until melted together. Mix with a spoon after each increment to encourage the melting. It will look like a lovely, glossy pool of thick melted chocolate.

When the cake has cooled for around 20 minutes, slowly pour the ganache on top. You may have some left over, which you can use to spoon on top of ice cream or your PB&J toast because anything in this life, in your life, is possible. Serve a slice with sour cream or whipped cream, and homemade salted caramel

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!)

Cream Cheese-filled Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Well. There’s something about the cold air today. Fall transitioning into Winter. Apple pie, hot ciders, and pumpkin everything. All of which I love, but the one thing I felt like making, in fact my very first bake in my graduate dorm kitchen, was something that had nothing to do with apples or pumpkins. It’s something I really wanted to dig into straightaway, That’s it. Simplicity in the form of divine, ooey gooey, dense, filled chocolate chip cookies. Simplicity because it’s been made too many times to count the past week, to the point where it almost becomes automatic, a habit, and you want to make it way more than what real life warrants as necessary. That, my friend, is when simplicity becomes extravagance. It feels like home, and home can be extravagant.

I sit here in my new laboratory office space writing, because it hasn’t occurred to me to try blending my two main habits– food and science, together. I’m sure this can work, especially if I have to wait for something to finish running in the lab. Makes my life that much easier, and I can’t be sitting around in cafés all the time…

Speaking of habit, lately I’ve been re-thinking my presence on social media. I’ve always had this love-hate relationship with Instagram (like most people I’m sure), but for the whole of last week I cut it out totally just to focus on the work I should be doing here and also to see if I would feel any differently during or after the experience. My takeaways: I had no urge to open the app during that week, only to reply someone who I couldn’t reach on Facebook Messenger either. I had an urge to see where everyone was going and eating in London, but resolved that by a few Google searches and actually checking my emails from London press companies properly. Secondly, after re-installing and opening the Instagram app after that little break, I felt almost completely indifferent to the feed. I pressed on a few story circles just to see what a few people were up to, stayed for a grand total of 2 minutes, then closed the app again. I actually started reading more, and the days have stretched longer. It’s a strange, surreal feeling, since for most of my teen years I remember being addicted, sadly, to the feeling I got when a photo got a certain number of likes or when someone commented on how delicious something looks. Which is fine, the whole point of Instagram for me is to find the best and newest places to eat, and to share my passion for baking, to show how easy it is to whip up something simple and delicious in the kitchen, but it was the external validation I became addicted to that I started to loathe. Everything grew into a fixation on numbers– how many followers and likes do you have? Because clearly this shows how credible you are as whatever creative artist you may be. I’m already lucky enough to have met some amazing people on the platform, and even still somehow get invited to tastings, but it was that tedious scrolling, the fixation on numbers, as well as the recent discovery that someone who I really admired on the platform blocked me for no apparent reason… yeah, that really got to me, when it shouldn’t have. Truthfully, my skin is not thick enough for me to be healthy and happy and maintain a strong presence on the platform, and that’s when I decided a break was not just an option, but something necessary. Now I do feel much less inclined to post about little mundane things about my life, and I’m less scared of posting less and less. It feels good, because Instagram isn’t real life, My main passion has been this blog, what you, dear reader, if you’ve gotten this far, are reading right now. This is the product of my passion, where I can write long-form and not worry about how many characters I write because Instagram isn’t for captions, it’s made for visual artists, Which is why food bloggers can gain a lot of ground there, but I like to write (blabber), too, and why should I feel guilty about that? Anyways, I’m not missing out on anything if I’m not exposed to it, and I’m happy with how much time I’ve been saving, too. Amazing. I can now post and do what I want whenever I want, no pressure. In a sense I am very glad my whole livelihood isn’t reliant on a social media presence, and my main goal is to use science to help humanity in a bigger way. Food will be weaved into that too, but baking doesn’t have to become my sole identity.

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One thing I realise Instagram made me do sometimes was to make things, experiment with combinations, that I myself may not necessarily have tried of my own accord. I would eat a raspberry sumac scone any day of the week but sometimes, at any one time, it may not really be something to make. However, by virtue of how pleasing it sounds, how sophisticated and exotic, I would do it anyway. These cookies, much like most of my blondie recipes, on the other hand, are something I will make again and again until the day I die. A one bowl wonder, once again. Adapted from my usual  cookie recipe, but I slightly reduced the amount of flour just to let the thickness and flavour of pure peanut butter shine through. I’m also starting to prefer dissolving salt in the wet ingredients first instead of whisking it into the dry ingredients. The final yield of cookies is the perfect mix of sweet, savoury and creamy. I hope that this can put a smile on your face one day.

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Cream cheese filled chocolate chip cookies (makes 4 filled cookies)

Ingredients

205g (1 2/3 cup) flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp cornflour

2 tsp salt

1 egg (sub: 1 vegan flax egg made by mixing 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water)

5 tbsp white sugar

5 tbsp brown sugar

150g butter, room temperature (sub: vegan butter)

3 heaped tablespoons cream cheese (I used Philadelphia brand but any will do; sub: vegan cream cheese)

3 tbsp icing sugar

100g chocolate, chopped (I used a mix of dark and white chocolate, you can use any combination)

Directions

Preheat your oven to 175C (350F) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the cream cheese and icing sugar in a small bowl and then put in the freezer to set while you make the cookie batter.

In a bowl, whisk together the butter, sugars and egg. Add the salt and whisk it in. In a separate bowl, briefly mix together the flour, cornflour, chopped chocolate and baking powder with a fork, then tip it into the butter mixture and use a spoon to mix everything together well. Use your hands once it looks a little dry, once you get in there you’ll realise that it just takes a minute to let the warmth of your hands bring everything together nicely. You should have a thick, soft dough. To assemble, first take the cream cheese mixture out of the freezer. Then take a golf ball-sized chunk of batter, roll it up and put it on the lined pan. Slightly flatten this piece of dough and use a finger to make a mild dent in the middle, then put a teaspoon of the cream cheese mix into the centre and cover it with another chunk of dough. You only have to use enough to cover the cream cheese. Repeat until the rest of the dough is finished, you should have 4-5 large filled cookies on the baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, no more and no less. When you take them out, the edges will be a soft golden-brown and the tops will still look quite soft, but they will set a little more once out of the oven.

 

Banana bread cream cheese blondies with salted brown butter frosting

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Today is a Wednesday, but I am trying to frame today as a new start to the week, considering the mess of yesterday. Tuesday started off on an incredibly tired note, as I hauled myself to places where I had to be at but where my heart wasn’t. A revival was needed, I thought, when I collapsed on the couch yesterday afternoon. It tends to be during moments of stress and tiredness that I am weak of mind, giving in too much to the simplest pleasures without thinking (processed, sugary food), which leaves me feeling even more tired and disgusting, and I simply am totally unproductive and useless to talk to for the rest of the day. I wish a break in routine did not have to be so tiresome or intrusive, but that’s the reality of it.

A ‘revival’ to different people can mean different things, and most are valid- entertainment, learning, education, a walk, reading, something good. For me, it’s long walks and nourishing food, or playing around with new ingredients to create something. I recently discovered a beautiful block of salted butter in my local gourmet grocer (which you can find here), somehow so soft and creamy even right out of the fridge, when I pressed it. I came home and cooked some vegetables in a generous pat of the stuff, discovering the beauty of salt crystals from the North of France– truly a work of wonder. How have I not had the pleasure of biting into a salt crystal in a piece of butter spread on sourdough toast (or anything) before? I had to make some good use of it. With ripe banana, a new beautiful block of butter and leftover cream cheese, these delightful squares, an extravagant combination of tang and luxury, were born. Banana bread and cream cheese sounds very, um, American, since anything involving cream cheese is very typically USA, no? Anyways, I could talk for days about this recipe, but best to keep it brief.

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The use of salted butter in general here is paramount to the success in making this good salted browned butter frosting. It was magical to watch the salt crystals separating while melting the salted butter. The frosting is optional but really something special, and I literally squealed upon my first bite, which was chewy, fudgy, brimming with a natural banana flavour without being too sweet, even with the frosting on top. The cream cheese is almost a necessary component to enjoy all dimensions of this dessert, as its mild sourness offering a creamy cut-through the layers of different degrees of sweetness, from simple banana bread to rich salted frosting. It was all a simple matter of mixing a few things in different bowls and assembling the components before and after baking the blondies.

I definitely felt better about making these, by the end of the day. Still tired, but better. Creating and playing, these are the free blessings we all have.

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Banana bread cream cheese blondies with salted brown butter frosting

Ingredients (makes one 8×8 or 9×9-inch pan, or 16 medium-sized blondies)

KEY:

For the blondies:

120g (1/2 cup+ 2 tbsp) salted butter, melted

¼ cup tahini (can also use yoghurt or apple sauce)

1+1/2 bananas

200g (1 cup) brown sugar

80g (3/4 cup) almond flour (ground almonds)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

70g (1/2 cup) plain flour

1 egg

220g cream cheese (or 1 standard 8oz tub) cream cheese

90g (1/3 cup) icing sugar

For the frosting:

60g (1/4 cup) salted butter

60g (1/4 cup) brown sugar

100g (slightly less than 1 cup) icing sugar

3 tbsp heavy cream

 

General notes:

  • Use all plain flour instead of half flour and half almond flour if you wish. Would be equally delicious, just a little less kind on the gut.
  • I baked mine for 22 minutes for a fudgy centre, but bake for longer if you like a more cake-like consistency.
  • If you don’t have salted butter, add a teaspoon of salt to the dry ingredients.

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F), then grease and line your 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch pan. In a medium bowl, mash your banana and then whisk in the melted butter and brown sugar. Then whisk in the egg If you just melted the butter before mixing the sugar, make sure to wait a minute after mixing in the egg so that you don’t unintentionally scramble the egg, unless that’s your kind of thing. Then add the flour, cinnamon, and a teaspoon of salt if you did not use salted butter in the beginning. Mix everything together. The batter should appear quite sticky and not too thick, easily dropped off a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl, make the cream cheese middle by mixing the cream cheese with icing sugar.

Pour half of the blondie batter into your greased and lined pan, then add the cream cheese frosting and spread it in a thin even layer on top of the batter. I find that it helps to put 9 equal dollops of the filling on the batter and then using a knife or your finger to spread it out to fill the gaps. Then pour over the rest of the blondie batter and smooth it out into an even layer. Place your pan into the preheated oven and bake for 22-23 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with moist crumbs (not dry!).

For the frosting, melt the salted butter in a pan on medium heat, until it goes an amber colour and you can see the milk solids separate from a darker, browned liquid. This will be clear to see after 4-5 minutes of heating on the oven Skim off some of white bits so most of the darker liquid is left. Once the butter is browned and there’s a waft of something toffee-like and nutty in your kitchen, add the brown sugar and heavy cream bring the liquid to a boil. Once bubbling, set aside to cool down for 5 minutes, before adding the powdered sugar. The frosting may not look like a lot but is pretty rich, enough for all 16 blondies.

Once the blondies are baked, take the pan out and leave to cool on a heatproof surface for at least 10-15 minutes. Spread on the frosting and cut into squares. These are best eaten on the same day but will keep for the next 3 days.