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Growing up in a tropical country, a white Christmas was my childhood’s dream. Even though “snow” in many window display in Malaysia’s shopping malls were made from styrofoam, white spray paint and white cotton, I believed that there was something magical in this season of the year.
I experienced my first white Christmas when I was doing a student exchange program in Canada about ten years ago. My friend, Sabrina, invited me to join her family for Christmas in Sudbury.
It was the coldest month, everything was covered by REAL thick white snow. She was surprised that I never had a white Christmas. “You never take a photo with Santa Claus?” I shook my head. So she brought me to Santa and we took a photo. “You don’t know how to make a snow angel?” We lied on the ground and swept our limbs back and forth. And then, holding a shovel in the hand, she said “now the hard task. We need to shovel the snow”. I responded with excitement, “SURE! Show me how to do it!”It must be hard for her to believe that I was truly enjoying doing this painstaking chore. I had certainly spent a memorable Christmas with Sabrina and her family. Her hospitality let me felt warmth at heart, yet during the Christmas Eve dinner, I was missing my family back home.
Now, years have passed, I am back in Kuala Lumpur, running my cake shop, Pastry Union. The complex feeling that I have experienced in Canada inspires me to come up with Winter, the new cake for Pastry Union. On the outside, it captures a serene snowscape made by white chocolate and cream cheese but inside the cake, it’s a flourless chocolate cake with surprising splendour of berries that deliver wonderful flavours of summer. Wish you will enjoy this delightful infusion that brings the best of both seasons, and have a berry, merry Christmas!
A customer once asked, “Among the three signature cakes of Pastry Union, which one is your personal favourite?”
Devil is wicked, Mooo is a Gemini, and Garden is poetic. Hmm… this is a tough question, as if asking a mom to choose the son or daughter she loves most. In fact, the birth of Mooo is my answer to the debate between chocolate cake and cheesecake.
Mooo has layer of chocolate cake sandwiching a baked cheesecake which is then coated with cream cheese mousse. When indulging the Mooo, sometimes you will get velvety melt-in-the-mouth cheesecake, sometimes you will enjoy the hint of bitterness from the chocolate and your mood may sway from moment to moment. Chocolate and cheese are both super rich foods; each has its own character, yet like twins, they blend together so well.
Since we have cows to thank for the creation of Mooo, it’s justifiable to let lovely cows made from dark bitter chocolate to roam the creamy pasture. And the cow goes Mooo.
I was in the midst of designing and developing cakes in Pastry Union kitchen. It was one of those dog days. Not only the chocolate was melting, but also the sketches with cake ideas. Nothing seemed to give me the “Eureka a-ha” inspiration. Well, not until the rain falls.
I smell the scents of rain on dry earth. I feel a breeze of freshness thread through the air. It’s a moment to capture and I wish to share this experience through my medium — cake. I can start sculpting tree, flowers, birds with fondant and coloring, but this cake is about celebrating the beauty of nature. Loading a cake with more sugar and artificial coloring is not the way things work in Pastry Union. More cake sketches, more research, more mock-ups, more trial and errors.
A frequently heard advice is to go with something you love. Chocolate cake (What else?). Cranberries come next. They are simply too good, why should I have to wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas to enjoy them? So I have chunks of flourless chocolate cake with cranberries-infused chocolate Chantilly, and to the breath of new life: fresh wholesome nuts (seeds) emerge and dot the landscape.
Presenting the Garden – Can you feel the wafts of petrichor?
The day I decided to start Pastry Union, I decided that chocolate cake will be the signature cake. It’s easy to decide on starting with chocolate cake, since chocolate can always give me the energy kick when I’m feeling down. Yet, there is endless possibilities with chocolate cake. Where should I start?
Many of my friends wonder: as a pastry chef, with all the desserts luring you everyday, how could you resist the temptations? Usually, I would reply “I taste. Not eat”. Yet, frankly, my friend, if I would describe my relationship status with cakes on Facebook, it will always be “it’s complicated”. Like a seesaw, the crave for great cakes and the weight-calories warning is constantly playing in this love-hate relationship. There’s a little devil in me, and in many cake lovers, looking for chances to strike and eventually, the “rational” surrenders.
Let’s make a Devil cake then. A moist and rich chocolaty cake dedicated to all chocolate lovers. A cake to indulge in each and every bite, not to fill up the stomach. Will a chocolate layer cake suffice to experience the wonders of chocolate? Probably not. So, here you go, a Devil cake, lovingly made from: Chocolate sponge with velvety chantilly cream; enveloped in rich mousse and ganache. Horn: dark bitter chocolate (70% cocoa solids) fused with a dose of wickedness.
“I don’t mind going to the gym after tasting your cake,” said a customer. The Devil grins.
I have one off day per week. Only one precious off day. I’m going to give myself a treat. To be more precise, a date.
It’s a quiet and lazy afternoon. There are a bunch of things on my to-do-list but let’s put them aside for a while. When I was working in London, I’d prepared afternoon tea delights for noble customers. It’s too luxurious for me to have cream tea like the British with cucumber sandwiches, scones and clotted cream, delightful little pastries and cakes. By the time I get everything in place, the sun has set.
Just keep it simple, shall we? A slice of cake and a cup of tea.
For tea, it will be mulberry tea from my lovely cousin sister. She plucked mulberry leaves from her garden and pan dried them her own. My oh my, couldn’t get any better than this. For cake, I opt for a date cake with subtle soy goodness. No fancy cream or icings, just apricot kernels to give some bites. Here goes the recipe:
No Nonsense Date Cake
110g unsalted butter, soften
90g castor sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
150g cake/all purpose flour
a pinch of cinnamon powder
a pinch of salt
120g soy milk (unsweetened)
80g chopped dates
40g apricot kernel (lightly coated with flour)
1. Sieve all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon powder, salt) together.
2. Cream together butter and sugar till light and fluffy.
3. Add egg gradually.
4. Add in sifted dry ingredients and mix gently till even.
5. Add soymilk, follow by chopped date.
6. Pour the mixture into a lightly greased and floured baking tin (I used a 12cm*24cm rectangular tin), sprinkle apricot kernels on top (the flour coating on the kernels will prevent it from sinking to the bottom).
7. Bake at 175°C for around 30 minutes till the top of the cake turns golden in colour. Insert a toothpick in the middle of the cake, if it comes out clean, it’s done.
I enjoy the company with my date at the most comfortable place called home. Where will you bring your date? A family picnic with cheerful sun and green grass? A catch-up chat with friends? A morning breakfast with your favourite cuppa and newspaper? A leisurely do-nothing afternoon with a good book and some music? Wherever it is, wish you have a great one.
If you walk past Ottolenghi restaurant in London, you certainly won’t fail to notice two big bowls of meringue by the window. I’m not a super fan for meringue (not on its own), but the combination of meringue, cream and fruit leads to many wonderful possibilities. Pavlova from Australia/New Zealand, Vacherin from France and Eton Mess from U.K all celebrates the contrast of a light crunchy meringue with soft cream. Top it up with fresh fruits, you get a delectable dessert.
Which nation favourites to go for? Let’s go to the market and see what I could get. Perhaps making a tropical dessert is a wise choice. Start with coconut meringue. Meringue is sweet; the tartness of passion fruit will balance it up nicely. Make a passion fruit curd. Deal. And finally, fresh fruits to top it all up: kiwi and papaya are chosen for their vibrant colours and lovely flavours. Shall we begin?
60g egg whites
60g castor sugar
60g icing sugar
- Beat egg whites till foamy. Add castor sugar gradually and whisk till glossy firm peak.
- Gradually fold in the icing sugar till combine.
- Pipe into disk of circles and sprinkle desiccated coconut on top.
- Bake in a 100°C oven for around one hour till the meringue is dry and crispy.
- Preferably, switch off the oven and let the meringue sit overnight to let it dry out thoroughly.
Passion fruit curd
60g passion fruit pulp
5g lime juice
- Bring a pan of water to the boil and turn the heat down to medium heat.
- Set a bowl over the pan of water, add butter and sugar to the bowl and stir to melt them.
- Mix together passion fruit pulp, lime juice and eggs in a separate mixing bowl.
- Add the melted butter sugar mixture to the fruit-egg mixture, whisking all the time.
- Bring everything back to the bowl set over the pan of water and stir continuously until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Let cool and store in the fridge.
To serve, place a spoonful of passion fruit curd on a serving cup, top with diced papaya and kiwi, and finish with a coconut meringue.
Finger food is always a great hit during parties or informal gathering. As a guest, finger food is convenient to snack on. As a host, you cut down the need for washing utensils. Be it a guest or a host, party or gathering is about spending time getting together and have fun.
I read about a designer creating mini utensils in which you can fit your finger into it at design boom. It’s a good idea but not in the case of eating finger food. Finger food is meant to be eaten with your fingers. It is indeed a sensual experience eating with fingers. You feel the texture and temperature of the food. Your fingers are the most flexible utensil. So use them.
I like cheeses. Cheese likes fruits. Greece has a popular snacks called bourekakia, a type of cheese-filled pastry, usually with spinach and feta cheese filling. Feta cheese is a soft, crumbly cheese, originally made in Greece. Instead of spinach, I added some chopped dried fruits and nuts. I don’t have phyllo pastry at hand, so I substitute with Chinese spring roll wrappers. Are these bourekakia? Are these spring rolls? I called them feta apricot scrolls.
Feta apricot scrolls
180g feta cheese, finely crumbled
30g plain yogurt
20g dried apricots, chopped
15g dried cranberry, chopped
15g apricot kernels, chopped
20-25 spring rolls wrappers (egg roll skin), five inches square each
extra egg for sealing
- Mix everything together in a bowl until well combined.
- Put around two teaspoonful of the mixture in the corner of spring rolls skin.
- Tuck in the sides, roll it up like a cigarette and finally seal with a little bit of egg.
- Continue to make more rolls till you have used up all the filling. Keep the spring rolls wrappers covered with a slightly damp cloth to prevent it dries out.
- Bake the spring rolls in a 180°C oven for around 20 minutes till light golden in colour. Serve warm.
*The spring rolls wrappers are not the translucent rice paper used for Vietnamese spring rolls. If you can’t find it, phyllo pastry will be fine.
*You can make the spring rolls ahead of time and freeze them. Just thaw in the fridge before baking them.
* If you are in a rush, deep fry the spring rolls till golden brown. Drain on paper towel to remove excess oil.