Sunday, 28 October 2012

Home-Cooked: Whole Wheat Pancakes

This is starting to become a little more of a food blog than anything else. :P But what can I say - nowadays the main highlights of my week happen to be the weekends when I get to bake/cook and leisurely/lovingly take some photos. This next two weeks is meant to be revision weeks for me but that also means (I hope!) a slightly more flexible schedule. First thing I did was plan out a bunch of meals that I want to make for myself from breakfasts/lunches/dinners to desserts. And since Friday was a public holiday, it was the perfect day to get started. :)) What better way to start off the day than with home-made pancakes? And since I've got a little health-conscious streak in me (I do! I really do!!), I decided to try making whole wheat ones at that.

This was my first time making pancakes and boy, it was NOT AS EASY as I'd envisioned! The main problem I had was flipping the pancakes. I'd totally forgotten about this step. But when faced with the bubbling pancake batter on the pan all those American diner scenes in movies that I'd watched before came rushing back into my mind and that's when I realized - oh yeah, this is the part when I give a fanciful flick of the wrist and send the pancake soaring into the air to land perfectly back on the pan on the opposite side. And next thing of course was the thought - DANG. I had to flip them with the spatula which was not easy either! They kept folding over in half instead of flipping right over entirely. After this experience, I've come to realize this fact of life:

The key to making pretty pancakes is to make SMALL ones using the biggest spatula you've got. >:)

Agreed? It's pretty common sense right? But took me my first batch of large wobbly pancakes to realize that.

Here was the first batch:

And then the second time round:


To tell you the truth, though the smaller pancakes look prettier to me, I still prefer the large ones. More traditional. And there's nothing like needing to use a knife to cut out sections of a huge pancake to slowly chew on and savor.

Whole Wheat Pancakes 

(Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker and Skinny Taste) (yeahhh I tried to make it a little more healthy ;p)

-2 eggs
-1 cup of whole wheat flour
-1 cup of plain/all-purpose flour
-2 tablespoons sugar
-2 teaspoons baking powder
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1 teaspoon salt
-2 cups buttermilk
-4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
-½ teaspoon vanilla extract
-Oil or cooking spray (for cooking)
(I think I need to get myself some cooking spray. It's not ideal trying to wipe bits of butter onto the frying pan each time. But I didn't feel like using cooking oil since I thought it might mess a bit with the taste.)

#1: In a large bowl beat eggs. Add buttermilk, butter and vanilla and mix well. Then add your two types of flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well until mostly smooth.

#2: Heat griddle or pan over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of oil to the pan or spray with cooking spray.

#3: Use a ladle to pour out batter onto the griddle. You can use 2 tablespoons or if you'd like really small ones like the ones I made the second time round, I sort of used only 1 tablespoon of batter each time.

#4: Cook on the first side until bubbles form across the surface and start to pop. Check occasionally to make sure the bottom is not overcooking by gently lifting up the sides. It also helps to loosen the pancake for the flipping part. Flip the pancake over with a spatula and cook until golden brown.

This batter makes quite a lot of pancakes! I'd say if you've only got 2-3 people with Asian appetites ;p it's better to halve the batter. If you have unfinished batter just keep it refrigerated for the next day.

For the blueberry syrup, I decided to make use of the maple syrup that I'd brought back all the way from Montreal those months ago. Finally! I've been meaning to check out maple syrup recipes but never quite got around to doing so. This was the perfect opportunity.

Blueberry-Maple Syrup

-1 cup of blueberries
-1/2 cup of Maple Syrup
-1 tsp of cornstarch
-1 tsp of lemon juice

 #1: In small saucepan, bring blueberries and maple syrup to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until berries break up, about 5 minutes.

: Stir in the lemon juice and corn starch to let it thicken slightly.
And you're done! :)

Kinda happy with the way these turned out. :) Seriously, whenever something I cook/bake turns out edible I'm still pleasantly surprised deep down inside. Cheap thrill, I know, but I like feeling happy about the stuff I cook! I'm thinking of trying out waffles next...Or what else is a typical breakfast/brunch dish? 


Sunday, 14 October 2012

Home-cooked: Japanese Milk Bread

One of the best things I've learnt to bake over the past couple of months (of rather zealous weekend baking stints if I might say so myself) is this - Japanese milk bread! :) The best thing about this, apart from the fact that it's incredibly light, fluffy, and browns beautifully on the outside, is that the variations to this basic bread are endless. I baked this plain/basic version about two weeks back and since then I've already attempted a couple of variations - adding raisins to them, making a Matcha and Azuki Swirl pattern, and just today, I did a walnut and raisin braided version which tastes even better that the raisin one alone. :) And it's just the beginning. I've already seen recipes for Custard fillings and there are probably tons more out there that I've yet to discover or think up for myself.

The secret to this Japanese Milk Bread lies in what's known as the Tang Zhong Method, something which I've only recently learnt about as well. It's something that has been written about by a Japanese author, Yvonne C., in her book, 65°C 汤种面包 (or 65°C Tang Zhong Bread), and is basically a Water-Roux (or starchy paste that is formed from milk/water and flour) that is the secret ingredient to making soft and fluffy bread. (Read more about it here !) I've always thought that Japanese bread (or Asian bread for that matter, and by that I guess I'm just thinking of breads that are sold in local bakeries) had a very soft, fluffy, slightly sweet taste to it and have always wondered why it's so different from the Western forms. So I suppose this is the first secret ingredient. :)

This is how my very first bread loaf looked like. I know it's somewhat strange since the individual loaves are in an elliptical form, but this is me, not realizing that all I had to do was shape them into round balls to place in the pan to get the typical bread loaf appearance. ;p The things we learn every day. 

Japanese Milk Bread 
Recipe adapted from Noshings (adapted in my own words) 
(check out her site because it's chock-a-block full of recipes and delicious looking goodies!! I've gotten inspiration for so many recipes that I want to try out)

For Tangzhong mixture,
- 1/3 cup flour (all purpose/bread flour)
- 1 cup milk

- 1/2 cup warm milk
- 2 tsp. yeast
- 3 Tbs. sugar
- 2 and 3/4 cup flour (all purpose/bread flour)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbs. powdered milk 
- 2 Tbs. softened butter 

1. To make the Tang zhong mixture, whisk together 1/3 cup of flour in a saucepan and heat the mixture over medium heat until it thickens (don't bring it to a full boil!). Whisk the mixture while it's being heated up and after a few minutes, almost magically, it'll start to thicken until it resembles a white paste. When that happens, switch off the heat, and let your Tang Zhong mixture cool by the side.


Here's what it more or less looks like when the Tang Zhong mixture is done! 

2. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of warm milk, 2 tsp of yeast and 3 Tbs of sugar (I used normal white caster sugar). Whisk it together and set it aside for a few minutes to let the yeast start.

(One thing I'd recommend you do is wait until you see bubbles forming on the surface of the yeast mixture, indicating that the yeast is working! Today I ended up having a batch of dough that didn't rise probably because something had happened to the yeast. :( I can only assume it was because the milk I had added in was too hot and had killed off the yeast inadvertently but I could've saved a whole batch of dough if I had only waited a little longer to confirm that the yeast mixture was bubbling and hence working before mixing it into the rest of the dry ingredients! So it's my tip to you.) 

3. In a large bowl, combine 2 and 3/4 cups of flour, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 Tbs powdered milk. Stir to mix. Once the Tang Zhong mixture is cooled off so that it doesn't hurt the yeast, measure out about 120g of it (almost exactly half of the mixture). Add it to your yeast mixture along with 1 large egg. Mix together then pour it over the dry ingredients in a large bowl. (You can create a well in the center of your dry ingredients and pour the yeast mixture in for easier mixing.)


4. When the wet and dry ingredients have more or less come together to form a dough, add in the 2 Tbs. of softened butter. Continue mixing it in. If the dough looks shaggy, you can add in some flour until it doesn't cling to the sides of the bowl any more. 

(If you're using a mixer, let the dough knead for about 5 - 8 minutes till it becomes elastic.) 

5. Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface and knead it by hand till it becomes less sticky. Since I don't have a mixer, I just kneaded it for about 5 - 8 minutes (or until I got tired ;p), adding some flour whenever the dough became a bit too sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and let it rise in a well-oiled bowl for about 1 hour or until it has doubled. 
6. Once the dough has risen, divide it into 4 pieces. Form each piece into a ball shape, then flatten each one out into a round disc shape about 6 inches across. Roll the discs up cinnamon-roll style (starting at one end and rolling over like a log to the other end!). Shape each one into a ball and place into a well-greased pan. Repeat for the other discs. (The original recipe called for an 8" round cake pan)


See, unfortunately I didn't have the sense to shape each rolled up disc into a ball and instead I merely laid each rolled-up disc flat, parallel to each other. ;p I mean it really doesn't make a difference to the taste or the end product, just that you don't get the typical bread loaf appearance. 

7. Let the dough proof a second time under a plastic cling-wrap for about 45 min - 1 hour. Carefully brush the surfaces with a beaten egg then bake at 180 deg Celsius or 350 deg Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes. At the 20 minute mark when the surface starts to get very brown, place a piece of aluminium foil gently over the top to keep the bread from overbrowning. (This is a really great tip in my opinion! :D Works for all breads/pastries you want to bake in the future too. Whenever it gets too brown and you're worried about the top over-browning/burning, the piece of foil saves the day.) 

Ta-dah! Don't you love the gorgeous shade of brown with its lovely sheen? And trust me, it tastes SO good as a plain loaf of bread. Definitely not on the sweet side so it goes really well with jam.


And something that my mum really liked was the bread sliced up thinly and then re-toasted in the toaster oven. Do that for about 1.5 minutes (make sure you watch the bread at about that time to make sure it doesn't burn!) and then you'll get a really crispy slice of Japanese Milk Bread. Pretty darn awesome especially if you like crispy food. 

It's definitely not the easiest bread to make because of all the steps and different things you have to do at the start but after a few attempts, you'll get used to it and really, you'll want to keep baking and eating it over and over again because it tastes so good. :) 

Today I made a walnut and raisin braided version which I like even more than the plain one. Will share that with you soon. 


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Montreal Streetsnaps: Vieux Montreal

Since there are still a gazillion Montreal photos left to share, I'll continue with them. :) These were taken over the weekends spent there - ambling along the streets, huddled in my winterwear, camera in tow. I love how people there all seem to be so relaxed. Most of the time it seemed like a quiet, laid-back city (it must mean something when the store that opens the latest on a weekday is Urban Outfitters which closes at 8pm and I'm one of the few customers there at that hour) but that's also probably because it was the awkward transition period from Winter to Spring. I would love to be there in the Summer when apparently the entire city springs to life, with people staying out late at night to eat, drink, be merry, on the terraces that sprawl out to the sidewalks and stores open till much later at night. 


On weekends, a perfect place to spend the afternoon is Vieux-Montreal or the Old Port. At Place Jacques-Cartier there's an open area where buskers entertain crowds and mind you, these are no ordinary buskers! The one I saw was extremely gregarious and humorous (albeit in a slightly lewd but thoroughly entertaining way). AND, like so many other Montreallers, spoke in a perfect blend of English and French. I mean it's one thing to be effectively bilingual but it's another to have a grasp of the language to the extent that you're able to crack jokes - and successful ones at that.


And just a little ways up along the hill, another busker attempting a magic trick. 



Photobucket There's no doubt about it - Montreallers do know how to enjoy themselves during the weekends. What could be better than just sitting at a park bench/lounging on a grass patch enjoying the company of friends? And when they get hungry, there are those million and one boulangeries that they can stroll into and pick up the most delicious almond croissant in. (THAT, in my opinion, has to come from Olive et Gourmando, my absolute favorite bakery in Montreal that I promise I'll feature really soon!)


Yet another look at the Hôtel de Ville de Montréal, a.k.a. the City Hall building. Aren't the architectural details just beautiful?


What did you spend this weekend doing? :) Last night for me was spent at Sentosa celebrating a friend's birthday belatedly - and believe it or not, it involved us staging a very elaborate (or so we'd like to think) 'kidnapping' of the birthday boy, only to realize that he'd just gone for a 10km run and was so sweaty none of the designated driver-kidnappers wanted him in their cars. Thus we ended up waiting while he dutifully went back to his place for a shower. At least he allowed us to put a paper bag over his head for the drive to Sentosa. Yeah, the things we do when we need some excitement in our lives.

I'm so happy tomorrow's Sunday!~~~

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Home-cooked: Matcha Shortbread Cookies

Here's presenting to you... my attempt at Matcha Shortbread Cookies! :) 


Recently I've gotten into a bit of a Matcha craze. I've always loved green tea (especially with soy milk!) but my love for it was catapulted to a whole new level after I visited Nana's Green Tea Cafe at JCube and had probably the best Green Tea Latte in my life. It was probably a combination of factors that made that drink so perfect. Firstly, I noticed that the owner of the cafe was Japanese, which automatically makes all of the green tea drinks legit by association ;). Next, the green tea latte that came out had just the right amount of bitterness. I hate drinks that are overly sweet/sweetened so this one was just right. Added to the fact that it was a quiet cafe in the late afternoon with a really cozy ambiance and that each sip of warm latte was lifting layers of worry and anxiety ('s new? just a lame bunch of first world problems) off my back, I came to the conclusion that it was a perfect cup of green tea latte that was perfect for the occasion. 


(Here's my little Instagram shot.)

Nana's Green Tea Cafe is at JCube (really near Franc Franc! 2 good reasons to go there even though it's all the way in the West ;p) and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you check it out. It has such a huge array of Green Tea drinks and desserts that are absolutely mouth-watering. They are a little on the pricey side but for some good quality Japanese tea and desserts, I'd say it's well worth the splurge. (Hopefully I'll do a proper post about that place soon.)

So back to the post proper, I decided to try baking some Matcha Shortbread Cookies or Sablés. I got the recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini , another cooking site that I'm eager to trawl through over the next few weeks. It's easy enough to make and I like how they turned out with the flower shaped cookie cutters. :D

Slightly adapted recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini
Matcha Shortbread Cookies (Very slight changes made here!)

- 100 grams of good-quality butter, softened (add 1/4 teaspoon of salt if you use unsalted butter) 

- 50 grams (6 tablespoons) of confectioner's sugar 
- 1 egg yolk 
- 90 grams (3/4 cup) flour 
- 40 grams (6 tablespoons) finely ground almonds 
- 2 teaspoons matcha powder (I bought mine at NTUC and it's called Uji Matcha. You can check out Evan's Kitchen Ramblings for more info about where to buy matcha powder in SG. :) 
- 2 tablespoons sugar, preferably an unrefined cane sugar in coarse crystals, such as turbinado or demerara

1. In a medium mixing-bowl, cream together the butter and confectioner's sugar with a spatula. Add the egg yolk and mix it in thoroughly.

(I actually prefer using an electric mixer to cream the butter and confectioner's sugar together! When I used a wooden spoon the first time round, there were chunks of sugar that ended up unmixed which I only discovered at the end when I was shaping the dough. Bit late then. It's probably because confectioner's sugar tends to clump together by nature of its texture so it also needs a fair bit of sifting to separate the grains out.)


2. In another bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds, and matcha, and stir with a whisk to remove any lump. Add to the first bowl and stir it in until the mixture comes together to form a ball; don't overwork the dough. Lightly shape the dough into a ball. Wrap in cling film and place in the freezer to firm up for 40 minutes (or in the fridge for 2 hours).


At this point, the mixture was really kind of moist so I'm not too sure how you're supposed to roll it into a log without adding a decent amount of flour to it. What I did was that I just placed the moist ball into cling wrap and let it harden in the fridge for about 1 hour. After that, I still needed to add about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of flour for ease of rolling it out.


3. Preheat the oven to 180° C (360° F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface till about 1/4 inch thick (it's easier to remove from the cookie cutter if it's thicker), adding flour to firm up the dough when necessary. Cut out your cookies with desired cookie cutter and place on parchment paper, about 1 inch apart.


For me, instead of rolling it into a log and cut using a knife as in the original recipe, I decided to roll it flat and use cookie cutters. Perhaps it has to do with Singapore being an extremely humid place, because after awhile the dough started getting awfully soft and moist, making it difficult to cut out with the cookie cutters. I ended up having to chill the dough a bit longer in the fridge. So I guess just go by whatever is easier for you - you can chill it longer or add more flour to make it less moist.


For extra crunch and added sweetness, I sprinkled the sugar on top of the cookies. They definitely help to offset the slight bitterness of the matcha flavor if you decide to add more matcha powder.

4. Slip into the oven and bake for 12 minutes, or until the cookies just begin to turn golden at the edges. Let rest for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a rack to cool completely.


Ta-dah! :) I love how these turned out. Slightly brown at the edges and a nice pale shade of green in the center. Perfect with some actual green tea too, as my friends rightly pointed out. I'm so glad these turned out really tasty because they're the perfect treats for green tea lovers. Give them a go? And let me know how they turn out if you do.