Sunday, 25 December 2011

Easy chocolate cake

Chocolate cake...who doesn't love them?  From fudgey dense ones to light airy mousse creations.  Everyone has their favourites and their favourite recipes.  I've had my fair share of trials with different recipes.  My colleague generously shared her recipe.  This version gives a moist dense-looking cake, yet is pretty light when you bite into it.  If you skip the frosting, it's less rich and just as yummy.  As a plus point, making this couldn't be easier - no creaming, no folding.  I'm not a good baker - sponges and chiffons defy me with all that airy lightness. 

After a good round of thumbs-up from the first one, I thought I'd bake one out for a Christmas party.  And because it's for a party, it had better be all tarted up ie frosted.  The photos show both versions - the stay-at-home cake vs the paint-the-town-red cake.

This is my very first attempt at icing and decorating a cake.  Until now, all my cakes have been naked cakes.  After reading up on different creams and their performance in heat and humidity (KL weather), I decide to chicken out and do a simpler ganache.   No need to OTT on the 'make-up'.   Lacking the confidence to pour the ganache on, I decided to spread it instead - more control, less dripping and less mess to clean up.  You can see that I need to work on the cake decorating skill :)  Should have halved the strawberries instead of plopping them on whole. 

Have a merry Christmas and happy holidays.

stay-at-home plain jane

all tarted up to paint the town red

There should be extra ganache left over.  Apparently you can freeze this for later use and heat it up using a water bath or double boil.  Or make truffles.  I'll have a go at this later.

Makes an 8 inch round tray
Ingredients for cake:

2 cups plain flour
1 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

3 eggs
2 cups caster sugar (note: I reduced it to 1 1/4 cup)
250gm butter, melted (note: 1 reduced this to 200gm)
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup warm water

1.  Mix the dry ingredients - flour, cocoa, leavening agents - and sift it to remove any lumps.  Set aside.
2.  Mix the eggs and sugar together.  Give it a light beating.
3.  Pour melted butter into the egg-sugar mixture.  Beat slowly for about 3 minutes just to incorporate the fat with the eggs. 
4.  Stir in the evaporated milk, then the water.  Mixture is quite runny at this stage.  Don't worry.

5.  Stir in the sifted dry ingredients, and your mix should come together and thicken.

6.  Pour into pan and bake at 160C oven for 45 - 50 minutes, depending on your oven.  It's safe to check at 40 minutes.  Mine took 55 minutes.
7.  Remove from oven, leave in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool.
8.  If intending to frost the cake, make sure cake is completely cool otherwise icing will just run off.

For ganache:
200ml whipping or heavy cream (35% - 40% fat)
200gm dark chocolate

1.  Chop the chocolate into smaller pieces to melt easier.
2.  Heat up the cream until just before boil.
3.  Pour the hot cream into the chocolate, wait about 3 minutes, then use a spatula to stir the melting chocolate.
4.  Keep stirring until you get a smooth glossy mixture.
5.  Cool to room temperature before using - about 20 minutes.  it should thicken slightly.  If you want to pour it on the cake, you can do it now.  If you prefer to spread it, then cool the ganache in the fridge, until you get a spreadable consistency.  I left mine for about 1 hour in the fridge.

you can see how shiny and glossy the ganache is

frosting work in progress
1.  You'll notice that the both cakes cracked at the top.  I think it's because the oven thermostat is acting up and it was hotter than 160C.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Borough Market, London

I love going to markets when I'm overseas. The likes of Victoria market in Melbourne, and Borough Market in London. For some reason, these are nothing like the wet, smelly pasar that we have despite selling fresh produce, meat and seafood too.  One of my favourite markets is Borough Market and I make it a point to visit it whenever I'm in London.  It's a foodies food market haven with stalls selling almost artisanal products.  I say almost artisanal, because Borough Market has becomed more commercialised, having jumped on the toursit trail with throngs of camera totting tourists descending on it on Saturday mornings. Okay, shouldn't comment so much on that since I'm part of the throng.

When it comes to cooked food, the variety is mind-boggling.  Stalls selling Spanish, Middle eastern, vegetarian, English, German, Turkish cuisines - heck I even spotted Malaysian chicken curry in a previous visit!  This time it was Thai green curry.  Grills are popular here - burgers with exotic meats, sausages, kebabs...

Then there are all the stalls selling cheese, cheese and more cheese, breads, cakes, spices, sweets, deli meats and fat juicy sausages, salamis and large joints of ham.

Not forgetting what's a market if it doesn't have fresh fruits, vegetables, the butchers and fishmongers?  The buzz is really something else and the onslaught of colours and smell can bring about a sensory overload.

clockwise from top left - giant scallops, a butcher, a fishmonger, kangaroo meat patties

Some of my favourites ...
A must-stop each visit is Cafe Brood for the paella.  Humongous pans filled with steaming paella, piping hot stew, chorizo sizzling on the griddle greet you at the entrance.  There's a choice of plain paella, or upsized with chorizos or prawns.  The stew looked great, but after chowing down a paella, it's tough to order a stew unless you have a stomach of steel.  With Southwark Cathedral next door, you may hear church bells ringing and organ recitals while you eat.

Brindisa is a Spanish grocer next to Ginger Pig.  This is where you can stock up on spices, spanish sausages, and serrano and Iberican hams.  The hams are priced according to their age - like wine, the aged ones will cost more.  My favourite chorizo supply comes from here - semi air-cured picante chorizo.

I couldn't find the Flour Power stall that sells the brownie slices anymore.  They must have moved out.  But I did find an equally good brownie here at the Bread Ahead Bakery.  If you head down towards the late afternoon, you'll find the bakery stalls discounting their products to clear.

meringues, cakes and brownies from cake stalls

Our shopping haul from the market:
1.  air-dried pork fillet
2.  3 types of sausages - lamb, venison, wild boar
3.  2 types of cheese - Croation manchego, Italian parmigiano-reggano
4.  1 pork pie
5.  1 lamb sausage roll
6.  brownies
7.  fresh produce - asparagus spears, raspberries, assorted capsicums
Mind you, these were on top of what we had stuffed our faces with at the market - coffee & croissants, paella, soup, grilled sausages.  Suffice to say, it was a very satisfying day out at the market.  Who would have thought a market would be this fun?

Take the Undergound and get off at London Bridge.  There are directional signs to Borough Market.
Avoid Saturdays if you want to browse peacefully and avoid the inevitable queues.
Most traders are happy to let you sample before you purchase - just ask them.
There are restaurants around the market if you want to sit down and get a cuppa - but they will be crowded.
Bring a shopping bag for your goodies and happy shopping :)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Ladies who lunch at maze by Gordon Ramsay

I've been meaning to post this for some time now, but was caught out by my recent trip which had me packing light ie no laptop ergo no posts.

As you can tell, I belong to the worker ant class, thus on the rare occassions that arise, I'll leap at the chance to do the 'ladies who lunch' thingamabob.  Having a day to kill with nothing more taxing than packing to fly back to KL, my friend Y and I decided we'll do our ladies of leisure impersonation and indulge in a long leisurely lunch, scattered with alcohol-fuelled sparkling conversation and observations ;p 

So off to Maze we went.  The restaurant is under the Gordon Ramsay brand and located at the swanky area of Pearl-Qatar, specifically at Porto Arabica. It boasts of an European-Asian influenced menu (hah! must mean fusion) and has fantastic views of the West Bay from the open terrace.  Although it was too hot to dine alfresco, there were a couple of diners working on their tans and lunch - and probably frying their brains too!

They only offer a set menu at lunch, so that took away difficult decisions - useful for ladies who lunch.
The menu stayed quite true to its claims of Asian influence - it included at most 1 Asian ingredient which played a mainly supporting role.  I gathered that the menu gets refreshed frequently.

 My plan was to go for the non-familiar and be more adventurous with selections.  I started off with the compressed watermelon, feta cheese mousse, walnut rocket salad with black sesame dressing, while Y had the seared tuna nicoise salad, olive powder, confit potato and kenya beans.  To me, watermelon and feta is an odd-sounding combination - a juicy wet fruit and salty cheese?  I must say after tasting this, I was won over.  The watermelon was very chilled, and its icy sweetness complemented the feta cheese mousse for a very refreshing summery salad.  The rocket salad  was lightly dressed in olive oil sprinkled with black sesame seeds (the Asian touch), and clearly was in a supporting role.  There was no mistaking the watermelon-cum-feta as the main stars of the dish.  Y was very happy with her selection and you can see how pretty it looked.

clockwise from top - watermelon and feta salad, seared tuna nicoise salad, pan-fried snapper, beetroot and goat cheese risotto

For mains, it was beetroot and goat cheese risotto, zaatar, roasted pine nuts and parsley crisp.  Clearly, beetroot risotto was something different.  Y chose to go for the pan-fried snapper, chickpea fries, tomato butter sauce and crushed peas.  The risotto came in all its violent purple glory, topped with crumbled goat's cheese.   Not a dish for the faint-hearted, the risotto had the sweetness from the beetroot cut by the faintly redolent cheese.  If parmesan puts you into a coma, forget about goat cheese.  I absolutely loved this dish for its flavours, and the zaatar added just a little spice to zing up the risotto.  Just a little.  The snapper was a nice safe choice, with the fish still juicy and sweet.  The chickpea fries was mashed chickpeas shaped into fingers and fried.  The crushed peas were more like mushy peas, but full of taste and sweetness.  A healthier variation to fish and chips, perhaps??

clockwise from top left - nougat glacee with raspberry sorbet, macaroon with creme chiboust, apple compote & apple sorbet, hummus & olives, turkish delight & chocolate chip cookies

I'd had enough of cheese by then, so that effectively removed the cheese platter choice from desserts.  I went along with the nougat glacee, lemon frangipane and raspberry sorbet.  Y chose the macaroon, creme chiboust, apple compote and apple sorbet.  We couldn't figure out where the Asian was in the desserts, but at that point we were beyond caring and just anticipating the goodies.  And boy, did they live up to expectations!  I have no idea what a glacee is, and  I would describe it as an ice-cream of sorts on a bed of frangipane.  The flavours were more or less from the same family ie berries and not too contrasting.  Y thought the macaroons were fine and again the flavours were kept very much together with apples as the theme.

Even though we declared ourselves stuffed to the ears by then, we still found some space for the complimentary turkish delight and chocolate chip cookies - which was a nice touch to end the meal.  Bread, hummus and olives were also complimentary at the start. 

All in all, we declared lunch a huge success - good times, great tastes, even better company!  Service while not overly friendly, was courteous and efficient.  Yes, it's rather pricey at QR140 per person without drinks, but the food, its quality and ambience all serve to make this a worthwhile treat on occasions.

the maze by Gordon Ramsay
Porto Arabica at Pearl-Doha

Be right back....

Dear readers, just a short note to say that I've been travelling and unable to post as usual.  Do keep a look out as I'm back and will post about my journeys by the end of this week.
cheerio - sugarplum.

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