Friday, February 22, 2013

Less sinful Brownie Cheesecake

      I regularly make brownies since I discovered the awesome recipe to a fudge brownie that uses only cocoa powder and no chocolate. This time, I wanted something more than just brownies. I wanted a brownie cheesecake. It's not all that easy to get proper cheesecake here in the Netherlands. There is a cafe in Den Haag that sells American-style cheesecakes. Cheesecake is also sold in Starbucks and some cafes. But it's not like I can pick one up from a supermarket or any old neighbourhood cafe. So I get left to my own devices if I am craving cheesecake. Either that, or take a trip down to Den Haag to buy some.  It's not far...30 minutes away by tram...but still....

     Cheesecakes are not something that I bake regularly. I have made a really delicious raspberry cheesecake in the past. I have also fiddled with making low-fat quark cheesecakes, but they don't hit the spot. Since I just have to 'healthify' almost any recipe that I find, this brownie cheesecake is a lower fat version of the fudgy brownie mentioned earlier combined with an almost full-fat cheesecake layer.

     The result? Brownie cheesecake at less than 250 calories per slice! That has got to be one of the best things I have ever made! Okay, so 250 calories is still quite a bit if you're on a calorie-controlled diet. However, considering that a slice of similar cheesecake is usually more than 400 calories, you can appreciate how 250 calories isn't all that bad. Here's the money-shot:

Can you believe it's only 250 calories per slice?

     Even while being lower in fat, the brownie layer is still dense and chocolatey. The cheesecake layer is light and almost mousse-like. This is definitely a good treat even after a big dinner because it won't make you feel 'heavy' like most other cheesecakes.

Brownie Cheesecake
makes one 9-inch cake (8 slices)

For the brownie:
80g light margarine spread (such as Flora Light)
1/3 cup plus 1 TBSP cocoa powder
1/3 plus 1 TBSP caster sugar*
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder

*Add 1 to 2 TBSP sugar or Splenda if you like sweeter cakes

For the cheesecake:
120g cream cheese (not low- fat)
1 large egg
1/2 pot plain low-fat yogurt (55g)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

*Add 1 to 2 TBSP sugar or Splenda if you like sweeter cakes

1. Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease a loose-bottomed 8 or 9-inch cake pan.
2. In a bain marie, or a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the margarine with the sugar and cocoa powder. Stir every minute until smooth. This should take less than 5 minutes.
3. Leave to cool while preparing the cheesecake mixture.
4. For the cheesecake, gently whisk all the ingredients together until no lumps remain. You can do this by hand or use a mixer.
5. Now back to the brownie. Sift flour and baking powder together. Add the egg and vanilla extract to the butter/cocoa powder mixture and mix well. Fold in the flour.
6. Pour the brownie mixture evenly into the prepared cake pan, reserving 2 TBSP of mixture if you want to create a brownie swirl.
7. Slowly spoon the cheesecake mixture onto the brownie mixture and smooth the surface to cover as much of the brownie layer as possible.
8. Drop the remaining brownie mixture randomly on the cheesecake mixture and use a butter knife to create swirl patterns.
9. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes, until the cheesecake is slightly puffed and not wobbly when you shake the pan.
10. Cool at room temperature then transfer to the fridge to chill.

Keeps for up to 3 days covered in the fridge.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Individual Beef Wellingtons

      Beef wellingtons are traditionally joints of beef wrapped in paté, mushroom duxelles, and puff pastry. A beef wellington is a rather impressive centrepiece for a dinner. It looks fancy and tastes good. But when you live with just one other person and don't entertain guests regularly, opportunities to make an impressive beef wellington don't always come up. That's where individual beef wellingtons come in.

     Beef wellington, which is very English, can be considered a variation of boeuf en croute, which is French. More variations of wellingtons exist. Salmon, vegetarian, chicken....

      The mushroom duxelles is vital to making a beef wellington...well...a beef wellington. If you are not a fan of mushrooms (really?!) you can use caramelised onions or look up other alternatives. As for the paté, I never liked anything made of liver. My mother used to cook curries with bits of liver in it and I always picked the liver out and complained that it tasted weird. I have not outgrown this dislike for liver so I chose to omit the paté.

     Some chefs wrap the beef in a pancake before wrapping it in puff pastry. I felt that this would be an unnecessary fuss when cooking for two. I can see the merits of wrapping the beef in a pancake: it helps the wellington keep a better shape.  However, parma ham can be used to this same effect. I did not use any parma ham, though in future I will because my beef wellingtons did not hold their shape very well after they were sliced. I have to say that it takes quite a bit of time to make this dish. Be ready to spend at least an hour preparing it.

      This is not a traditional beef wellington with traditional mushroom duxelles. There is no wine, vermouth or any alcohol used to deglaze the pan like in most other recipes. I did not even brush the pastry with an egg wash to give it a gloss. I used some milk instead. This is a slightly simpler version which delivers the essence of a beef wellington. This is a special dish which doesn't not require a special occasion to justify making it.

This was a meal that my husband and I enjoyed. It was extremely filling so I am glad I did not prepare any fancy dessert because we were almost too full to eat our fruit salad after dinner. If you feel like making a special meal for your partner, try this simplified version of a traditional dish.

Individual Beef Wellingtons
serves 2
can be made up to 4 hours in advance

2x 150g chunks of beef 
(cylindrical shape)
salt & pepper
Approx 150g ready-rolled puff pastry 
(depends on the size of the beef)
1 tsp butter
250g closed-cup mushrooms
4 TBSP minced shallot
(or onion)
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 TBSP dijon mustard
some milk

optional: parma ham

* Start at least 2 hours before serving
1. Leave the beef at room temperature for 20 minutes before cooking. Season the beef on all sides with salt and pepper.
2. Spray a frying pan with cooking spray or drizzle with olive oil. Turn the stove on to high heat and let the pan get very hot, almost till it starts smoking. 
3. Sear the beef quickly on all sides then drop the heat to medium and brown the beef for 30 seconds on each side.

4. Transfer the beef to a plate to cool. Start making the mushroom duxelles.
5. Chop the mushrooms as finely as possible, or use a food processor to process the mushrooms to the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs.
6. Tip the chopped mushrooms onto a large piece of kitchen towel. Lightly wrap the kitchen towel over the mushrooms and press to absorb excess moisture from the mushrooms.
7. In the same pan that was used for the beef, heat 1 tsp of butter.
8. Add the mushrooms, shallot, garlic, thyme and black pepper to the pan.
9. On medium-low heat, cook the mushrooms till almost dry. This should take about 10 to 15 minutes.
10. Leave the mushroom mixture to cool.

* At least 1 hour before serving, start assembling the wellingtons 

11. Cut the puff pastry sheets into 2 pieces and lay them on cling wrap.
12. Lay pieces of parma ham (if using) on the puff pastry, leaving a 1cm border
13. Spread 1 TBSP of dijon mustard on each piece of pastry (or on the parma ham), leaving a 1 cm border.
14. Scoop tablespoons of the mushroom duxelles onto the mustard and press with your fingers to form a 0.5cm thick layer (leaving a 1.5cm border).
15. Place the beef on the mushroom mixture and using the cling film to prevent sticking, roll the pastry over the beef to enclose it.

*Any leftover duxelles can be stored in the fridge to eat on crostini, brushetta or toast!

16. Cut off any excess pastry and brush the ends of the pastry with milk then lightly pinch or fold to seal the ends. 
It's just like wrapping a present!

17. Wrap the parcels in cling film and place in the fridge until ready to bake.
18. Preheat oven to 200°C, brush some milk on the beef wellingtons.
19. Bake the parcels in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180°C and bake for a
further 15 to 20 minutes until the pastry is lightly browned.
20. Remove from oven and serve immediately!

Served with spinach & potato mash, gravy and some boiled carrots

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Savoury Chocolate Chicken

      I'm back! Well, I never disappeared. I just haven't been cooking anything inspiring enough to write about. Yesterday, however, I tried a recipe for chocolate chicken. It is similar to chicken mole, which is a Mexican dish prepared with a few types of chillies, spices and chocolate.

      It wouldn't take a genius to figure out that I am pretty-much addicted to chocolate. Maybe it's the sugar, maybe it's the endorphins that it releases. Whatever it is, I thought I should finally try a savoury dish that includes chocolate. I based my version of the dish on this recipe and made some adjustments to the ingredients and method. It is, of course, low in fat (as are most of my main dish recipes).

      I must say that though the results were far from disappointing, this chicken dish might be an acquired taste. After all, the description by the author of the original recipe above is that it tastes like a cross between rendang and satay sauce. That's really not far from how I would personally describe it. It's like a curry, but not a curry. It is hard to describe in definite terms, but be forewarned that my husband wasn't a huge fan of this dish. He didn't feel that the flavours worked together harmoniously. I, on the other hand, rather enjoyed the texture and exotic flavour! I served this with mashed potatoes, though in hindsight, rice would have been a better option.

      If you are looking for something different to cook for a poultry main dish and bear in mind that some people will love this dish while others might not, have yourself a kitchen adventure by trying this recipe!

Savoury Chocolate Chicken
serves 4 (easily halved)

Cooking spray or vegetable oil
700g chicken breast

1 chicken stock cube
1 cup hot water

40g almonds (or almond meal)
20g white sesame seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp black pepper

2 small or 1 big onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 TBSP tomato puree
1 tsp dried chilli flakes

25g dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp cocoa powder

1. Crumble the stock cube into the hot water, stir to dissolve then leave aside to cool.
2. Blend the almonds and sesame seeds together till crumbly and almost powdery. Stir in the cinnamon, ground coriander and pepper.
3. Blend the tomatoes, garlic, ginger and tomato puree together till it is a smooth mixture. Mix the chilli flakes into the tomato mixture.
4. Heat a sauté pan and brown the chicken using oil or cooking spray. You might have to do this in 2 batches.
5. While the chicken is browning, stir the cornflour and cocoa powder into the cooled chicken stock mixture.
6. Remove the browned chicken from the pan and pour the blended tomato mixture into the hot pan.
7. When the mixture has come to the boil, add the chicken stock mixture and bring to the boil again.
8. Now add the ground almond, sesame and spice mixture into the pan and stir, then add the chopped chocolate.
9. When the chocolate has melted, add the browned chicken to the pan and coat with the sauce.
10. Put a lid on the pan and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring periodically.
When chicken is cooked through and sauce is thickened to your liking, turn off the heat and serve!

Served with boiled or steamed rice and a side of vegetables, this makes a very hearty meal!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Resume in the New Year

      Hi. If you have been wondering why I haven't been posting any recipes lately, it's because I haven't been baking much. I have been cooking dinner but have not made anything worth mentioning. I seem to have gotten a little sick of cooking. However Christmas is in 2 weeks and I will be heading to the UK for a week to spend Christmas with my in-laws. That should give me a break from the monotony of my weekly routine and hopefully put the spark back into my kitchen adventures.

     So look out for more recipes in the new year! Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Roasted Vegetable, Feta & Cottage Cheese Tart

     A friend made a roasted vegetable tart for afternoon tea at her house a few fortnight ago. I have been thinking of making something similar since then because I enjoyed that tart very much. Feta is a cheese that I like but I hardly buy it because I honestly forget about it when I'm at the shops. It's saltiness and texture lends itself well to salads and savoury tarts. Cottage cheese is also something I like and I tend to have a tub of it in my fridge on most days. I stir cottage cheese into baked beans, have it on toast for lunch, or on crispbread for a snack. I also use cottage cheese as an omelette filling.

      This tart was so easy to make and I didn't need a recipe for it. I looked at several recipes then decided that I can 'guestimate' the amounts of ingredients that I used. Well, it worked! This tart turned out wonderfully!

      I used a 9x7" roasting tin to bake the tart, but any similar-sized square or rectangular pan or dish will work. The base consists of ready-rolled puff pastry. The pastry has to be blind-baked before filling.   The vegetables take around 30 minutes to roast. There was no need for me to add much salt to the filling because the salt in the feta was plenty enough.

Roasted Vegetable, Feta & Cottage Cheese Tart
serves 4

2 cups courgettes, cubed
1 red pepper, cubed
2 small onions, diced
6 button mushrooms, quartered
2 tsp olive oil
sea salt

Puff pastry sheet (I used 200g)

1/4 cup cottage cheese
3 TBSP sour cream
100g feta, crumbled
1 egg
1/2 tsp paprika powder
1 tsp dried rosemary
parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 190°C
2. Toss the chopped vegetables with the olive oil and place on a baking tray.
3. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the vegetables and put in the preheated oven to roast.
4. After 10 minutes, remove the mushrooms from the oven and put aside.
5. Return the rest of the vegetables to the oven to roast for another 20 minutes.

6. Line a shallow baking dish with the puff pastry sheet, making sure the pastry comes up the sides of the dish. Fold down or cut off any overhanging pastry.
7. Blind bake the pastry for 10 minutes then remove from the oven. 
Reduce oven heat to 180°C.

9. Mix the cottage cheese, sour cream, feta and egg in a large bowl. Stir in the paprika then add the roasted vegetables and mushrooms to the bowl.
10. Stir to coat the vegetables with the filling.
11. Pour the filling into the baked puff pastry and spread evenly.
*Cover the rim of the puff pastry with foil if you are worried about it burning
12. Sprinkle the rosemary and some pepper (and parmesan) over the filling.
13. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the filling looks set.

     This can be eaten hot or cold, whichever you prefer. That makes it a versatile dish for any time of the year and for entertaining guests as well.

My Oven

     My oven is used frequently, and not just for baking sweet treats. I do make pies, roast meat and such in my oven. Why wouldn't I? Have you seen my oven? It's one of those sizeable standalone dual fuel cookers with 6 gas hobs and a single combi oven, grill. Since it is an important part of my life, I decided that my oven deserves some recognition here.

       The presence of an existing oven was a major requirement when my husband and I were apartment-hunting a year ago. This might seem like a simple requirement. However, apartment-living is the norm in the Netherlands and the Dutch have become adept at squeezing as many rooms into an apartment as possible. As a result, the size of the kitchens are usually compromised. Finding an apartment fitted with the kind of oven we have is not very common. Most Dutch use (gasp!) microwave ovens.

     At this point I do have to say that I don't know when I turned into an 'oven snob'. After all, I started baking using a microwave oven. That was what my family had in Singapore. Since I started baking at 13 year- old till I left Singapore at 22 years-old, my baking was always done in the trusty microwave oven. Now, I have a microwave oven AND a proper oven at home. I hate the microwave oven for baking because it is lousy as an oven. Countless times I have tried to bake a small pie or something in the microwave oven, only to find that after 20 minutes the pie looks completely unbaked. I do however, use the microwave on a daily basis for cooking my oatmeal and reheating things.
     So, what do you use? A microwave oven or a gas/electric oven?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Mixed Nut Pie with Natural Pie Crust

     I was craving for pecan pie some days ago. I have seen it sold in an upscale supermarket here in the Netherlands, but I couldn't be bothered to go around hunting for it. My love for pecan pie started when I was in Singapore. My parents and I would sometimes go to a barbecue/grill restaurant not far from our home. On the dessert menu, there was pecan pie with ice cream. Since I tried it the first time, I have gone back to that restaurant just to have the dessert.
      However pecan pie, or any dessert pie, is often an unhealthy affair with the use of high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and butter for the crust and filling. Since I couldn't be bothered to hunt for a shop that sells pecan pie here, I raided my kitchen for ingredients and came up with a healthier mixed nut pie complete with a good-for-you pie crust. Both the pie crust and the filling are adaptations of recipes that I found online. The pie crust is naturally sweetened. I used mixed nuts instead of pecans for the pie filling because that's all I had in my kitchen, but feel free to use whatever nuts you like (except peanuts, that just doesn't work very well).

     Surprisingly, my husband enjoyed this nut pie. I never thought that he would like it. He took a bite and I swear he said "OH YEAH! This is gooooood! Yeah!" When I told him that the photo of the pie was disappointing and I was wondering if I should post the photo and recipe here, he said that hopefully the readers don't judge by the photo.

      This photo of the nut pie may not look very appetising. I blame the poor natural winter lighting for the less than satisfactory picture. But hey, look beyond the bad picture and give this pie a try. Don't knock it till you try it!

      I made this in a mini-springform pan that is 6" in diameter. It made a nut pie that is about an inch-thick. You can double the recipe for a bigger or thicker pie. You can even make this in an appropriately sized loaf tin. 

      The crust is an adaptation of a recipe from, which is a pretty amazing website. The pie filling is one that is posted on and I liked the fact that there's no corn syrup in it.

Natural Pie Crust
makes one 6" pie base

1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup desiccated coconut
4 small dates, pitted
2 TBSP dried cranberries
1 to 2 TBSP water

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line and grease the base of a springform pan.
2. Place all the ingredients, EXCEPT WATER, in a food processor or the dry mill of your blender.
3. Blend until everything is the texture of coarse breadcrumbs.
4. SLOWLY add a little water to the mixture to make a thick paste.
5. Spoon the paste out into the prepared pan and use a spatula or your fingers to press the paste evenly onto the bottom of the pan.
6. Bake in the preheated for 10 minutes, then remove pan from oven and leave to cool.

Mixed Nut Pie Filling
makes one 6" pie

1 egg
40g light margarine or butter, melted
(I used Flora Light)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 TBSP self-raising flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup nuts, broken 
(almonds, macadamia, walnuts, pecans etc)

1. Preheat oven to 190°C
2. Beat the egg till foamy, then add the melted margarine.
3. Lightly whisk in the brown sugar and the flour.
4. Lastly, add the vanilla extract and stir the nuts in.
5. Pour into springform pan and bake at 190°C for 10 minutes, then drop the heat down to 175°C and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Remove from oven and leave to cool before removing the pie form the pan.

* The pie should have risen and look puffy and brown. It will sink as it cools.
If you are doubling the recipe, add 10 minutes to the baking time.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bakewell Slice

    A few days ago, my darling husband suddenly said, "You know what I fancy right now? Mr Kipling's Bakewell Slices." My response to that was "Awwww, I don't know if we can get that here." 
Later that day, we happened to be in a neighbourhood that has an expat shop. We looked for the bakewell slices there, but to no avail. The shop had Mr Kipling Bakewell Tarts, but that wasn't what the dear man wanted. 
What the husband wanted
       I felt a heavy feeling on my shoulders. My husband doesn't usually crave for particular things. Yet here he was wanting the bakewell slices. I asked him if he would like me to make him some. After all, I bake. He actually said no to that because I told him that if I make bakewell slices, I won't put any icing on them. That is because they are not meant to have icing on them. Two days later I asked him "Are you sure you don't want me to make bakewell slices for you? I have all the ingredients on hand." His answer? "Yeah, why not?" My husband is not a very enthusiasiatic man.
       For the uninitiated, bakewell slices consist of a buttery shortcrust pastry base spread with jam, with a layer of frangipane over the jam. It is one of those British things that may be rather unheard of outside of the UK. It is sometimes made with a filling that is similar to a sponge cake, but I decided to go with the 'proper' version.
      Frangipane is a versatile pastry/filling made with butter, flour, sugar and ground almonds although some recipes omit the ground almonds and use almond extract instead. 
It has a delightfully mild flavour with a light but rich texture. Frangipane can be used to fill sweet pies and tarts and sometimes even savoury dishes.

        So I baked a batch of bakewell slices. I must say that it is not on my list of favourite cakes and bakes because I find it too buttery for my liking. I do like it in small doses. I am not a huge fan of anything that tastes very buttery. But that's just me. If you have never tried this, go on and give it a shot!

         This recipe makes an 8x8" tray of bakewell slices. Each slice is approximately 1" thick. Please note that the frangipane filling should be spread over the jam carefully because the jam will tend to get pushed to the sides of the pan, resulting in bubbled over edges. You can also bake this in a round tin.

Bakewell Slices
makes an 8x8" tray (12 slices)

For the shortcrust:
1 cup plain flour
1 TBSP caster sugar
90g butter, cold

150g jam (2/3 to 3/4 cup)
(any berry jam or plum jam)

90g butter, softened (6 TBSP)
1/2 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup plain flour
1 cup ground almonds (almond meal)

1/4 cup sliced or flaked almonds

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line and lightly grease an 8x8inch pan, leaving some extra length of baking paper on the sides for easy removal after baking.
2. Put the ingredients for the shortcrust pastry into a bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. 
Alternatively, use a food processor. 

3. Press the shortcrust mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until the edges of the pastry is very lightly browned and pulls away from the edge of the pan.
Leave to cool while preparing the filling (at least 10 minutes).
Unbaked                   -                        Baked
5. Beat the remaining sugar, butter and eggs until light and creamy.
6. Add in the flour and ground almonds and mix till combined.
*The batter will be a bit lumpy

7. Now spread the jam evenly on the shortcrust pastry base.

8. Pour or spoon the frangipane filling onto the jam. It is better to pour the filling onto several spots rather than in one pile in the middle of the pan.
9. Using a spatula, carefully spread the frangipane as evenly as possible. Some of the jam might get pushed to the sides of the pan. Try to cover all the jam with the frangipane.
10. Scatter the sliced or slivered almonds over the frangipane.
You can see a spot of jam on the bottom left of the picture
11. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.
12. Place the pan on a cooling rack and leave till completely cool.
13. When cool, cut into slices.

This is great with a cup of coffee or strong tea!
This can be stored in the fridge for a 5 days and can also be wrapped in cling film then frozen. To thaw from frozen, put the slices in the fridge for at least 4 hours.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Indian Sugee cookies

      Today marks Deepavali in Singapore. Deepavali, or Diwali, is a Hindu celebration. You can Google it to find out the customs and traditions surrounding this day but in my memory, Deepavali is the biggest celebration of the year. My family celebrated Christmas on a small scale but Deepavali was the one day that we prepared for every year. Of course the festivities dwindled down as my brother and I got older, but it still brings back fond memories. We would 'spring-clean' the house, buy new Indian clothes, cookies and goodies leading up to Deepavali and visit relatives' houses on the day.
      There would always be food in the houses that we visited, lots and lots of food. There was also lots of biscuits. Some were traditional, some weren't. It was customary to leave an assortment of cookies on the coffee table for visiting guests to help themselves. We would also give some cookies to some of our neighbours to share the good spirit of the occasion.
      One cookie that I always loved is called Sugee Cookies. 'Sugee' (or 'sugi') is used to refer to semolina in North India. In South India, this is more commonly referred to as 'rava' or 'rawa'. Semolina is used in some recipes for this type of cookie but I opted for a recipe that uses only wheat flour. Sugee cookies are balls of buttery goodness that crumble and melt in your mouth. Some people make it too crispy, which results in an almost non-existent 'melty' mouthfeel. That just spoils the beauty of these cookies. They are meant to be like a pale, crumbly shortbread. They have characteristic cracks on the tops, which are caused by the addition of baking soda in the dough.

      I have missed Deepavali in Singapore for 2 years. Naturally, I missed Sugee Cookies. I tried looking for the essential ingredient here in The Netherlands last year but had no success. Through the year, I found several shops selling this ingredient so I told myself I would bake these cookies these year. And I did. EVERY SINGLE PERSON who has tried these cookies that I baked has been wowed. 

      Anyway, what's this essential ingredient? Ghee, also known as clarified butter. This is sold in metal tins from Asian or Indian grocery stores. It is used widely in the preparation of a dizzying number of Indian dishes ranging from curries to desserts. Ghee does not smell very appealing in the tin, but releases a wonderful aroma and flavour when heated. It might look weird to you, but the flavour of it is very rich even in tiny amounts. The fact that I am saying this is not to be taken lightly because I am a person who uses as little fat as I can get away with when I'm cooking. It also has a higher smoking point than butter so it can be used at higher heat ranges.

     So, if you want to make these cookies you will have to hunt for Ghee. Without ghee, you might as well just bake a plain 'ol English shortbread cookie. This is an easy recipe with only a few ingredients so it's hard to go wrong. The golden rule of Sugee Cookies is that they have to be pale-coloured, not browned. If they are browned, they become crispy instead of crumbly. I have provided a scaled-down recipe here. However since there are no eggs used, it is easy to double, triple, or quadruple the recipe!

Sugee Cookies
makes approximately 50

135g ghee
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour (all purpose)
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
85g powdered sugar (icing sugar)
1/3 tsp fine salt
food colouring (optional)

1. Scoop the ghee into a bowl

2. Melt the ghee on your stovetop or microwave. If using a microwave, check the ghee every 30 seconds to prevent splattering.

3. Leave the ghee to cool for a while then add the vanilla essence to the ghee.

4. Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt into a bowl.

5. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture, then pour the ghee in.

*You can use the remaining melted ghee in the bowl to grease your baking tray
6. Mix and knead to form a soft dough. The dough will be slightly crumbly.

7. Split the dough between two bowls so that you can work with a small amount of dough each time.

8. Place the bowls in the fridge to chill the dough for 20 to 30 minutes. This will make it easier to shape the balls of cookies.

9. Preheat your oven to 170°C. Line and lightly grease a baking sheet.

10. Now take one bowl of dough out of the fridge and shape into small balls. Each ball should be no bigger than 2cm in diameter. Use the other bowl of dough when you have finished working with the first bowl.

*I have found that the best way to shape the balls is to pinch a small portion off the crumbly dough, place the portion on the palm of my left hand, then use my right hand to pinch the dough into one piece, and lastly, roll it between both palms to make a ball. Sounds tedious but it really isn't!

11. You can use the back of a toothpick to put little dots of food colouring on the middle of each cookie. Just dip the end of the toothpick in the food colouring and gently dot the colour onto the cookie. This is purely aesthetic, so it is completely optional.

12. Place the little balls, spaced apart, on your baking sheet. Bake for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. This depends on your oven. But the cookies are meant to look milky and pale, not brown.

13. Remove from the oven, leave to cool then store in airtight containers for up to 3 weeks.

      Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy! Now enjoy your addictive, melt-in-mouth cookies!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Italian Tortano with ham & cheese

   Italian food. Ahhhhh. I can't think of anyone who doesn't like Italian food (maybe except my dad, who doesn't eat cheese, mushrooms, ham etc). To me, the best thing about Italian food is that you can easily cook it at home because once you have the commonly-used herbs in your cupboard, you're pretty much set up for any dish. I go through jars of oregano, basil and mixed italian herbs more than anybody else I know.

     This tortano is the result of a recipe that I chanced upon. I thought that it looked so pretty. Even though all the ingredients required for the recipe are items that I always have on hand, I didn't try making the tortano until 2 weeks after chancing upon the recipe. This is partly because I have a slight aversion to baking breads. I am no stranger to bread-making and used to make bagels regularly. However, I never seem to have success with baking simple fluffy white loafs. I am also sceptical of certain dry yeasts because I have bought packets of yeast that seemed useless. I woke up one morning and decided that I would finally give this a try. After some searching, I found packets of yeast in a Dutch supermarket. Hooray!

      I looked at the amount of flour needed for the recipe and wondered if I should halve the recipe. Something told me that I shouldn't. So I didn't. And, boy, am I glad I didn't! I cannot imagine the tortano turning out as well as it did if I had halved the recipe. So people, DON'T HALVE THE RECIPE. If you are cooking for 2 people like I was, just freeze the unsliced leftovers.

      So a tortano is a filled and rolled bread. You can fill it with mozzarella, olives, capers, prosciutto, cheese, mushrooms, ham etc. I guess you can fill it with most pizza topping-type ingredients. I opted for a simple ham and cheese filling.  This is a substantial loaf so I would suggest serving it with something light for a main meal or as a tapas for a party. I chose to serve my tortano with a simple tomato and basil soup. It takes some time to make this, as does most bread, but is not a whole lot of work.

Tortano with Ham & Cheese
makes enough for 4 to 6 people

7g instant yeast
300ml lukewarm water
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP honey
1 TBSP salt
250g bread flour
180g wholemeal flour
4 large slices of ham (approx. 100g)
50 to 75g grated cheese (choose a strong cheese)

1. Combine the water, oil, honey and yeast in a cup/bowl. Stir to combine. Leave to sit for a few minutes.
2. Combine the flours in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flours and pour the water/oil/honey/yeast mixture in. 
3. Stir with a sturdy spoon until most of the flour is wet, then use your hands to continue the mixing process.
4. Keep kneading the dough to thoroughly combine the wet and dry ingredients.
5. Lightly flour a work surface and continue to knead the dough until it becomes elastic.
*This will take about 10 minutes of kneading. You might have to add more flour to the dough. If necessary, do so 1 TBSp at a time. You want an elastic dough, not a dry dough so don't add too much flour unless your dough is too wet.
6. Oil a clean glass bowl with olive oil and shape the bread dough into a ball. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place. 

*I put my microwave on for 1 minute then turn it off and quickly put the bowl in the warm microwave.
7. In about 45 minutes, the dough should have risen to double its size. You can now prepare your filling ingredients.
8. Put the dough ball on a well-floured surface and pull/stretch the dough to form a 1cm-thick rectangle, with the long edge (length) facing you. Resist the temptation to use a rolling pin or to knead the dough because that will knock too much air out of it.
9. Making sure to leave a border around the edges, arrange the ham slices on the dough and sprinkle the cheese.

10. Starting from the long edge closest to you, roll the dough Swiss-roll style as tightly as you can, pinching the dough to length when you have finished rolling.
11. Now bend the roll into a wreath, leaving a fist-sized hole in the middle and pinch the ends to seal them together.
12. Leave to rise for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 250°C.

13. After the dough has risen for 30 minutes, knock the oven temperature down to 200°C and put the bread in the oven.
14. Bake it for 30 to 35 minutes, then remove from the oven to cool on a rack.
15. Slice as thick or thin as you want, then serve!