Thursday, 20 February 2014

Cheesecake Brownies

*Also available made-to-order at $20 (25 bitesize pieces) or $30 (50 bitesize pieces) 

Let's get real now. Why force yourself to choose between a cheesecake and a brownie, when you can do this? :)

For those gluten-free foodies out there, the cherry on the cake is that this recipe contains so little flour (and so much cheese and chocolate and all that good stuff), that you can easily use cornstarch/ground almonds instead without impacting the decadent intensity.

Do it. You won't regret it (though your waistline might).

Cheesecake Brownies
Makes one 13" x 9” pan

*Some tips: 
-Take your eggs and cream cheese out of the fridge in advance to reach room temperature. Hard cream cheese is a real pain to beat!

-Melt your chocolate, then while it's cooling whisk your cheese mix together, then go back and beat the chocolate when it's cold. That saves time, and you don't have to wash your whisk in between (traces of cream cheese in the chocolate won't matter).

-Brownies are a lot more forgiving than cakes so don't stress if you use a bit more or less of anything.

Preheat the oven to 350F/180CMake the two separate batters.

  • The chocolate mix
In a dry bowl (water makes chocolate seize), melt together while stirring until glossy:
150g butter
1 1/2 cups (240g) semi-sweet chocolate chunks

*I melt by microwave: 15-20 second intervals several times, stirring well in between. DO NOT OVERHEAT- stop microwaving as soon as you have only small chunks left and just keep stirring until they dissolve. If you prefer the traditional bain-marie method, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until dissolved.

Allow to cool completely. You can get started on your cheese mix while waiting.

Beat together for 2 mins until frothy, then stir into chocolate butter mix:
2 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
Few drops vanilla extract
2 small drops coffee essence or diluted instant coffee (this is just to enhance the cocoa flavor, not to make it taste of coffee. If you don't have any on hand you can omit it.)

Fold in:
2 tbsp flour (or cornstarch/ground almonds for gluten-free)
1 cup (160g) semi-sweet chocolate chunks

  • The cheese mix
Stick this all in a bowl and beat together with an electric whisk until smooth:
2 packs (1 lb oz/454g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature*
1/2 cup (about 100g) sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp flour (or cornstarch)

Pinch of salt

*In the UK cream cheese is called full-fat soft cheese, and tends to come in 300g packs. I usually just chuck the whole lot in.

Line the pan with baking/wax/greaseproof paper (if using a Pyrex baking dish, you can skip this step). Dollop the chocolate and cheese mixes randomly, and swirl with the edge of spatula to make a marbled effect.

Swirly-whirly :)
(This picture depicts a small 9" pan, half this recipe)

Bake for 35 minutes or until set at 350F/180C. Let cool in the pan totally, then refrigerate until chilled to intensify the flavors. Slice with a sharp knife only when completely cold.

Exercise self control.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Nyonya Acar Awak (Malaysian Spicy Vegetable Pickle)

Visually vibrant to the eye and refreshingly piquant to the taste, acar awak is a traditional cold Malaysian pickle bursting with a lip-smacking blend of sweetness, tang and spice as well as a spectrum of textures and crunch levels. A joyride for your tongue, if you will, especially when served alongside hot rice and as an accompaniment to cut through heavier curries.

Some recipes omit the pineapple; I personally find it adds a juicy, succulent sweetness that really elevates this dish. The blending of the paste takes a bit of work, so feel free to double or triple the quantities and make a large batch at one go. Be sure to top liberally with more chopped peanuts and roasted sesame seeds just before serving.

Nyonya Acar Awak (Spicy Mixed Vegetable Pickle)

Serves 12 as a small side

Chop the following into 2” sticks:
1 medium-large cucumber (about 300g), pulp removed
1 medium carrot (100g), peeled
A handful long green beans/French beans (100g)
¼ of a white cabbage (150g)

*You can also use cauliflower or other crunchy vegetables. Measurements are approximate, adjust to taste

Stir in 1 tbsp salt.

Slice 200g pineapple into small chunks.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels and spread everything except the pineapple onto it. Bake on very low heat (about 100C) for about 25 mins to dry out (or if you live in Malaysia/somewhere very hot, feel free to lay it out in the sun for a few hours!)

  • Spice paste:
Grind the following together and fry in oil over medium heat for 10 mins until fragrant:
5 shallots/1 large cooking onion
5 cloves garlic
5 dried chillies, deseeded and soaked
2 candlenuts
1 tsp turmeric powder (or 1” fresh turmeric )- if you are multiplying this recipe, do not increase turmeric quantity too much as it can taste bitter. Just add a bit more than 1 tsp.
1 stick lemongrass, white part only
1” galangal
Optional for non-vegetarians: a bit of belacan, dried shrimp

Stir in and bring to a boil:
¼ cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar

Stir in and immediately turn off heat:
Prepared vegetables
2 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup (about 50g) roasted ground peanuts

Allow to cool completely and refrigerate in a glass jar overnight (or for up to 4 weeks) so flavours can intensify. 

Before serving, leave at room temperature for a short while (so it's not stone cold) and top with extra ground peanuts and sesame seeds. 

Devour with hot steamed rice!