Monday, 31 August 2009

Chunky Chocolate Brownies

*Also available for purchase ready made To Order

Adapted from Mary Berry's excellent Ultimate Cake Book, these decadent chunk-filled goodies are the single most popular item in my baking repertoire. Some people like warm gooey brownies, but I personally prefer dense ones like these which get a lot more intense and chocolatey when left to go cold and stored in a container overnight. More like indulgent slabs of pure chocolate than cake if you will :)

Chunky Chocolate Brownies

Melt together and let cool:
350g (12oz) dark chocolate (I generally use those with cocoa content around the 50%-60% mark)
225g (8oz) butter

Whisk together until pale and frothy, and beat into chocolate mixture:
3 eggs, beaten
225g (8oz) sugar (I use half white half brown usually)
A few drops coffee essence (or 2 tsp instant coffee, diluted in 2 tbsp water)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Fold in:
3 tbsp self-raising flour
225g (8oz) dark chocolate, chopped into chunks

Pour into a lined 12"x 9" shallow baking tray.

Bake at 190 C (0r 170C fan-assisted) for about 45 mins until firm to touch with a dull crust. Leave to cool in tin.

Cut only when completely cold and store in a container (chocolate flavour intensifies if left overnight).

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Perfect Crunchy Butter Caramel Popcorn

*This recipe was originally posted on 8 July 2009, but has now been revised to include the extra step of baking which turns caramel popcorn CRAZY crunchy*

Serves 2 or 3, or 1 if you are a greedy popcorn glutton

Let me preface this by saying that unless you run a cinema chain or concession stand of some kind, there is absolutely no sense in buying a popcorn machine. A stove, a regular saucepan and a handful of kernels gets you a mountain of perfect popcorn in minutes, and once you've stove-popped your own you will never comprehend why you used to pay for pre-packed or microwaveable bags either.

If you like popcorn and have never homemade it before, start now; it is by far the cheapest, fastest, tastiest and easiest way of eating this most moreish and addictive of snacks. Skip the calorific toppings and it becomes the healthiest too- pillowy wholegrain bundles with not an additive, flavouring, preservative or extra calorie in sight.

Of course if you're like me, then full-fat caramel popcorn is the only way to go hence the recipe below :) Baking gives it an excellent crunch, but if you don't own an oven or are too lazy then just toss the caramel with the corn to coat and leave to cool (it should harden once cold, though the crunch won't be as impressive).

In any case, whether you're a sweet, savoury or low-cal type person, the topping possibilities are absolutely endless- chocolate, honey, melted butter, flavoured salt, Parmesan cheese, Tabasco sauce, garlic oil, chilli oil, curry powder/cumin/paprika/cinnamon/ rosemary/ every other herb and spice imaginable... some hardcore popcorn lovers even use lard or duck fat to pop the kernels for apparently unbeatable flavour!

Making the Popcorn-A Step by Step Guide

1) Heat 2 tbsp oil and bit of salt on medium-high heat in a large heavy-based pot or saucepan. Add a few popping corn kernels and put the lid on. Wait until they pop.

2) Add 100g kernels, ensuring they are spread in a single even layer. Don't be tempted to add more- it looks like very little but turns into a huge amount once popped! Cover, take the pan off the heat and wait for about half a minute (this is to make sure all the kernels can heat up evenly without getting burnt).

3)Return the pan to heat- when the brisk popping starts, shake the pan back and forth so all the kernels get popped. Keep the pan covered but with a slight gap so steam can escape (prevents sogginess).

4)Remove quickly from heat once the popping dies down, pour into a large bowl and stir in topping of choice (or if making the baked version below, pour into a large lined baking tray and keep warm in the preheating oven (120 C) while making butter caramel topping).

Butter Caramel Topping

Combine and bring to a boil:
100g condensed milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp butter

Lower the heat and simmer about 5 minutes or until golden, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Be careful as hot boiling caramel can cause a nasty burn.

Remove from heat and quickly stir in about 1/8 tsp baking soda (the mixture will foam up). Pour over warm popcorn in the tray and toss quickly with two spoons to coat evenly.

Bake for 30-40 mins at 120 C, tossing occassionally to prevent sticking together. Once out of the oven, break apart with spoons/your hands and leave to cool.

Put on a movie and enjoy! :)

*Washing up tip- to get rid of hardened caramel on your pans, soak in or run under boiling water and then give it a good scrub with soap while hot. It should all melt off quite easily.

*Easier but more time consuming caramel tip- apparently you can just submerge an unopened tin of condensed milk in water and boil for 4 hours, and it will turn into a good golden caramel. I have not tried this myself, but if you do make sure to be very careful- keep topping up the water, never let the pan boil dry (or your tin will explode!) and let the can cool completely before opening.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Adobong Manok/ Chicken Adobo (Filipino Vinegar & Garlic Stew)

I first tried this utterly delectable dish when it was home-cooked by my beautiful Filipino friends in the King & I cast, and since then I have been addicted. Vinegar. Sour punchy flavourful vinegar. Who knew it was so lip-smackingly life-changing?

Adobo is the national dish of the Philippines and rightly so- salty, tangy, garlicky and succulent, it is testament to the fact that if there's one thing Asians know how to do right, it's food.

Typically it is made with pork, chicken or a combination of both, and the process could not be easier- throw everything into a pot and stew. The recipe below is a pretty basic traditional version, although I've been told there are all sorts of variations including adding coconut milk, hard boiled eggs, vegetables or even pineapple and liver pate!

Adobong Manok/ Chicken Adobo *Serves 3-4*
(If desired, combine all ingredients and marinate overnight before cooking to improve flavour. The dish also keeps well and can be made a few days in advance)

Saute lightly until fragrant:5 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or more, up to a whole head if desired)1 onion, sliced into strips

Add and fry briefly until browned:
8 large chicken thighs/drumsticks, or 1 kg chicken cut into pieces
(for a different variation use half chicken half pork, cut into cubes)

Add, cover and simmer 30 minutes (longer for pork) until sauce is thickened:
1/2 to 1 cup vinegar of choice (put more or less depending on how tart you want it. I've tried white, malt, cider and rice vinegar, all other kinds should work too).
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1 tsp black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
*Some insist it is important not to stir at ALL whilst it simmers- I haven't been able to resist but if you can, try it and let me know if it makes a difference!*

I never bother with this, but if desired remove meat once cooked and fry briefly in a separate pan to crisp skins (but watch out for oil splatter).

Serve with hot rice and lots of gravy.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Malaysian Pandan Chiffon Cake

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*14 June 2010- The original recipe below contained 100ml of oil- I have since amended that to only 50ml as I've found it produces a lighter, fluffier sponge. If you prefer an even drier and less moist cake, try omitting one yolk or reducing the amount of sugar slightly.

Coconut milk and pandan (screwpine leaves) essence make this a light, spongey and deliciously aromatic Malaysian classic. The secret to its characteristic fluffy yet moist texture comes from whipping the egg whites very well and inverting the pan immediately onto its three "legs" once removed from the oven, so the sponge can stretch and retain its airy volume whilst cooling upside down. Don't worry, the cake will stick and not fall out :)

I use pandan paste (a mix of essence and green colouring) which is easily available in any Asian shop- if you can be bothered, feel free to blend fresh pandan leaves with water and extract the natural juice.

You MUST use a chiffon/angel food cake tube pan (pictured below) and not a regular tin- the hollow tube in the centre is essential for the correct circulation of heat.

Malaysian Pandan Chiffon Cake
* fits a 10" or 22cm pan or larger*

Whisk together until thick in a large bowl:
6 egg yolks
170g sugar

Stir in until evenly green:
50ml vegetable oil
50ml thick coconut cream (or use 100ml thinner coconut milk and omit the 50ml water used to dilute the pandan paste below)
1 tsp pandan paste, diluted in 50 ml water (or 50 ml pandan juice)

Sift into the pandan mixture and fold until well-mixed:
190g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Using a separate bowl and electric whisk that are completely dry, clean and grease-free, beat the following on maximum speed for a good 5-8 minutes until a thick white meringue is formed:
6 egg whites (there must be no traces of yolk)
90g sugar
Few drops lemon juice

How the meringue mixture should look after beating- stiff enough to leave trails
on your whisk and form soft peaks

Fold two tablespoons of the meringue into the pandan batter. Add the rest and fold thoroughly until well-combined. Pour into a dry ungreased chiffon pan and bake at 180 C (160 C fan-assisted) for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven and invert immediately (if your pan comes without the protuding tabs to support it upside down, invert the pan and insert the neck of a bottle or a metal funnel into the inner tube to balance). Leave to cool in this position and do not unmould cake until completely cold.

To remove, scrape all around the sides with a thin spatula and let the cake slip out gently of the pan. Scrape the bottom to remove the base/tube.

*To make sure it has a completely flat surface to sit on, I cheat and cut the tops off my cakes if they are rounded before unmoulding :)*

Slice and enjoy!