Sunday, February 27, 2011

Devil's Food Cake - Chocolate Overload


Alert, chocolate lovers! Behold the might of the sinful, glorious, dark and decadent Devil's Food Cake. Nothing beats a slice of cake comprising of layers of soft, moist chocolate sponge layers sandwiched and frosted with a rich fudgy irresistibly-bittersweet chocolate frosting. The aftermath? Lots of water needed to soothe the throat attributed to an overdose of cocoa - a precious, edible deep-brown powder known as the food of the gods. Warning, this cake is not recommended for the faint-hearted.

I am glad I revisited this Devil's Food Cake recipe again to reaffirm my verdict. The decision came just at the timely moment as a birthday cake for my buddy's girlfriend, a chocoholic.

Making any layer cake would mean hours of effort spent for preparation of ingredients; mixing and beating with my handheld beater; baking and waiting for the cake to cool; layering and frosting the cake and lastly lots of dreadful washing up which always seems endless.

It took five hours to witness the birth of this majestic giant chocolate cake sandwich, which is the time spent usually when I attempt any layer cakes. That goes to show how tedious it can be to bake cakes for special occasions. Time-consuming and sophisticated as it may sound, do not let it deter you from stepping out of your comfort zone to attempt one. Go ahead with your gut feelings and be adventurous for a while, go switch on your oven and start working on one.

Imagine the smile on the unsuspecting birthday chap or the satisfied grins of the people who have taken their first bite on the very cake that you have painstakingly assembled. Trust me, the returns are worth it. It is a joy seeing my friends tucking happily into their slice of Devil's Food Cake and giving the thumbs up. Good stuffs are meant to be shared. Two of my friends were so impressed they remarked I can start selling this cake but I quickly brushed the thought aside. Putting the idea of selling aside, from their comments, you can tell how much of a good stuff this cake is.

Once in a while for special occasions like this, it is harmless to be extravagant with quality ingredients. I used Valrhona cocoa powder which works like a charm every time and Callebaut dark chocolate for the very first time. The verdict? It is a breeze when melting Callebaut dark chocolate, perhaps due to the high cocoa butter content. Taste wise, it is smooth and intense. Pretty decent I must say. When working with chocolate confection, it is a good idea to incorporate liquers like Bailey's, Kahlua or Rum to heighten the flavour. Out of the three, Bailey's is my top choice. Its milky caramel undertone lends a nice depth to any chocolate bakes.

According to one of my friend, Callebaut chocolate, from Belgium, is a slightly inferior version of Valrhona chocolate which is favoured by many bakers I know. I have not used Valrhona chocolates myself, apart from the cocoa powder. Hence, there is no room for comparison at the moment. Inferior or not, it is up to one to decide as taste is a subjective matter. Afterall, one man's meat may well be another man's poison. One thing for sure, I do find Callebaut a brand of chocolate worth investing in.

Very often when choosing chocolate, price is a good indicator. This certainly is reflected in premium brands of chocolate such as Valrhona and Callebaut which are carried by certain baking supplies stores over here. In terms of price, the cost of Valrhona is nearly almost double that of Callebaut. Variety wise, there is not much of a selection to choose from in Singapore. How I wish I have the opportunity to work with with established brand names such as Guittard, Scharffen Berger and Michel Cluzel recommended by Lisa Yockelson and other authors.

Among baking ingredients, chocolate is highly temperamental to work with. Just to share, here are my encounters, knowledge and tips when dealing with chocolate:
  1. When melting chocolate, chop it into very tiny morsels. This will facilitate faster melting. For convenience, use/buy chocolate in button/pistole form.
  2. Chocolate tends to be heat sensitive and it can 'burn' when the heat is too high. When using a double-boiler, ensure the water is on a low simmer and stir the chocolate constantly to avoid burning it. If using the microwave, heat the chocolate in short bursts or else the chocolate may burn. I prefer using the double-boiler personally. Do not use direct heat to melt chocolates. When melting chocolate, any introduction of moisture will cause the chocolate to seize and become grainy, ruining the texture.  
  3. Personally, I find that dark chocolate is often the easiest to melt, followed by milk chocolate and then white chocolate. Among them, dark chocolate has the least tendency to 'burn' while white chocolate has the highest tendency to 'burn'. This is because dark chocolate has the highest melting point while white chocolate has the lowest melting point. When chocolate is 'burnt', it will refuse to melt properly and the result is a dry lump.
  4. I store my baking chocolates unrefrigerated in an airtight container in a cool place to prevent chocolate blooms. Opened and unused chocolate is wrapped with aluminium foil. Avoid storing them together with strong smelling food/spices as the chocolate absorbs odour easily.
  5. I find that chocolate frostings containing melted chocolate and/or cocoa powder has a tendency to separate when subjected to warm room temperature or under warm weather conditions. When piping such frostings with a piping bag, heat from both palms tends to melt the frosting that is in contact, causing it to 'melt' or separate. This may result the frosting from becoming an oily and unsightly mess that cannot be salvaged. Refrigerating the frosting and re-beating it may or may not save the frosting. 
  6. Chocolate ganache tends to become dull when refrigerated. Use a dryer to blow on low setting to regain the shine.
  7. When making ganache, pour boiled cream over finely chopped chocolate. Let the mixture sit for a while before stirring gently to combine. 
  8. The % of cocoa content will affect the sweetness/ amount of sugar needed in bakes. When using chocolates with higher % cocoa, more sugar may be required while for chocolates with lower % cocoa, less sugar is required when using the same recipe.
  9. Chocolate chips are not quite the same as block chocolates or chocolates in pistole/button form as they are of lower quality.
  10. Usually chocolates termed as couverture are used mainly for coating, moulding, dipping and for decorations. They are not the same as baking chocolates. However some bakers use couverture for baking. Valrhona chocolate is a couverture that is often used by many for baking. Personally, I use couverture chocolates as all-purpose chocolates. Note that Phoon huat's baking chocolates are labelled as couverture. They work fine for baking.
  11. Instant coffee/espresso, vanilla extract and liquers like Bailey's, Kahlua, Grand Marnier, Rum and Brandy adds depth of flavour to chocolate confections.
Devil's Food Cake (recipe adapted from Cake Temptations and Other Desserts by Su Chan)
Serving size: 10 to 12 slices
Taste and texture: Cake layers are soft and moist. Chocolate frosting is fudgy bittersweet and intensely rich.
Equipment and materials:
1) One/two 9 x 3 inch round pan
2) 10 inch round cake board
3) Cake leveller or palette/serrated knife longer than 9 inches
4) Balloon/wire whisk
5) Rubber spatula
6) Handheld beater/Stand beater
7) Baking paper
8) Wire rack
9) Toothpick/wooden skewer
10) Flour sieve
11) Mixing bowls
12) Cake turntable (optional)

Chocolate Sponge Cake (3 layers):
165g unsalted butter, softened
100g brown sugar
95g egg yolks, at room temperature
150g dark chocolate, melted and cooled (60-65% cocoa will be ideal)
60g sour cream, at room temperature
120ml water
195g egg whites, at room temperature
60g caster sugar
55g cocoa powder
165g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting:
55g cocoa powder
150ml water
95g icing sugar
165g unsalted butter, softened
400g dark chocolate, melted and cooled (60-65% will be ideal)
60g golden syrup (or use honey)
2-3 tbs Bailey's Irish Cream (optional)

Making the Chocolate Sponge Cake:
Prepare Oven - Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

Prepare dry ingredients - Sift flour, cocoa powder and baking soda in a large bowl and whisk well to combine.

Creaming butter and sugar - Cream butter and brown sugar on medium speed until mixture is pale, light and fluffy. Volume of butter mixture should increase noticeably

Adding yolks - Add in egg yolks to creamed butter mixture one at a time, beating well to combine on medium speed each time.

Adding chocolate and sour cream - Add in cooled melted chocolate and whisk to combine briefly. Pour in sour cream and mix well. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with spatula and fold briefly to incorporate loose ingredients.

Folding in water and dry ingredients - Fold in 1/3 of dry ingredients very briefly until just combined. Add in 1/2 the water and fold to combine as well. Repeat the adding and folding alternating with dry ingredients and water, starting and ending with dry ingredients. Lastly, fold mixture until well combined. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl as when necessary.

Beating egg whites -Next, whisk egg whites on low speed. Increase speed slowly to medium-high and beat until egg whites are at soft peaks. Add 60g of sugar gradually and beat until egg whites are almost stiff and still moist. This is when the beaters are lifted, the egg whites will form peaks that are upright and not drooping slightly. Egg whites will resemble glossy whipped cream. The entire bowl of whites will not drop out when the bowl is overturned. Do not beat until the egg whites are dry and clumpy.

Folding in egg whites - Using a balloon whisk, fold one third of beaten egg whites into egg yolk-butter-dry ingredient mixture gently to lighten and combine. Fold in another one-third of the egg whites. Lastly, add in the rest of the beaten whites to combine. Final batter should be uniform in colour with no streaks of egg white present. Folding egg whites gently using a balloon whisk will prevent egg whites from deflating too much. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl well and fold briefly to incorporate loose ingredients.

Baking the sponge cake - Pour batter into a greased and lined 9 x 3 inch round pan and bake at 180 degrees C for 55 -1 hr 10 minutes. Alternatively, divide batter into two tins equally and bake for about 30mins. Test doneness using a skewer or toothpick. When the cake is done, the inserted skewer will come out clean. Unmould sponge cake and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Preparing the Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting:
Mix cocoa powder and water. Heat over a double boiler and stir until mixture is smooth and cocoa powder has completely dissolved. Set aside and allow to cool

Cream icing sugar and butter until fluffy. Add in melted chocolate, cocoa liquid, golden syrup and Bailey's. Mix well to combine. Refrigerate frosting until firm. Beat frosting on medium high speed until it is spreadable before use.

Slicing sponge cake - Slice off the part that has domed. Using a cake leveller or long serrated/palette knife, slice sponge cake into 3 even layers if using one tin. There will be 2 layers if using two tins.
Preparing the layers - Using the removable base of a round tart tin or a round cake board, slide the tart tin removable base or cake board under a sponge layer and carefully transport the sponge layer onto a 10 inch round cake board. This is to prevent the sponge layer from breaking. Use this method to transfer all sponge layers.

Frosting the layers - Place 3 inch wide rectangular strips of baking/parchment paper underneathe the 1st sponge layer. This is to prevent making a mess when frosting. Dab 1/4 of the frosting onto the centre of the 1st layer. Gradually spread it outwards and frost the first layer evenly using a palette knife or spatula. Place a second sponge layer carefully over the frosted 1st layer and align it properly with the 1st layer. Repeat the frosting for the 2nd sponge layer.

Once the frosting is done for the first two sponge layers, add the 3rd sponge layer and align it well with the first two layers. For the 3rd sponge layer, dab 1/4 of the frosting onto the centre. Gradually spread it outwards and frost the 3rd layer evenly. Frost the sides with the remaining frosting, starting with dabbing a generous amount of frosting at a selected spot and spreading it around the perimeter. Smooth the sides and create swirls on the top of the cake using by swirling a spoon/ spatula in a circular manner. Alternatively, use the underneath of a spoon to create spikes by allowing the underneath to come into contact with the frosting and pulling the spoon upwards/outwards. Remove the rectangular strips of paper underneath the cake slowly and discard the papers. Keep cake in the refrigerator chilled.

If frosting two sponge layers - Repeat steps above and use 1/3 frosting for the 1st layer, 1/3 frosting for 2nd layer and 1/3 frosting for the sides.

1) Allow chilled cake to soften at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before serving.
2) Keep cake in an air-tight container after slicing to prevent the cake from drying out.
3) Use your favourite/ best quality chocolate ingredients for maximum pleasure.
4) For 54% dark choc, cut icing sugar down to 50g.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Love at first Sight, Friendship and a Chocolate Layer Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

She walked into my life in year 2000. Back then, I was having my December holidays and was waiting for my admission to Junior College. This girl spotted short black hair and she had the most vibrant smile that even the sun pales in comparision. It was love at first sight... Ten years have passed and she still holds a very special place in my heart. She loves music. In fact, she makes music. Her name is Stefanie Sun, an extraodinary girl who made a difference in my life and many others.

It has been a long wait and it is nearly 4 years since her last album. These 4 years seem like eternity... Now, she is finally back, with a upcoming brand new album which I am eagerly anticipating and I am sure that goes for her other fans out too. When her first hit single made its maiden debut on our local radio station, I could feel the nostalgia. It was a sense of familiarity. How I missed the times back then, when I would rush down to record stores to check if her albums has hit the shelves on the very first day of album release.

She is a good company and a great role model throughout all these years. I love her unpretentious attitude, her thoughtfulness, her kind-heartedness and her strength. Needless to say, I am infatuated with her music, her songs, and just everything about her. Thanks to her, I met a bunch of worthy, loyal and supportive friends over the years. We had our share of joy and sorrow, and shared memories we would foolishly laugh at upon recollection.

The bunch of us gathered for our usual Chinese New Year steamboat at J's place. I am not quite a fan of steamboat generally, but this dinner is one which I always look forward to, filled with endless dose of fun and laughter. I've been offically named 'Grandpa' among the bunch this year, adding another nickname along to my baking persona 'Bakertan'. For the occasion,I baked a chocolate layer cake with orange cream cheese frosting which was meant as a backup cake.

Originally, I had intended for a tiramisu layer cake. It fell short of expectations as the texture seemed grainy due to the gelatine solution setting prematurely causings lumps to form. Due to a lack of time, I decided to work on a layer cake which involved much less work and I think would at least turn out to be presentable. Hence, the chocolate layer cake with orange cream cheese frosting was born. Nevertheless, I brought both cakes along. This has to be the first time ever that I am doing 2 birthday cakes on the same day for the same person.

The chocolate layer cake with cream cheese frosting worked out great. If I were to fault it, it would be the height of the chocolate layers, for they are too short for the amount of frosting. With thicker layers, the chocolate cake would be perfect. Thankfully, the tiramisu didn't fare too badly and it wasn't noticeablely grainy.

I will be making this chocolate layer cake again with taller layers, hence I shall only be sharing the orange cream cheese frosting recipe, which is ridiculously simply and fuss free to put together but yields great results nonetheless. The best part about this frosting is that it has a lot less sugar compared to most frostings.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting ( recipe adapted from Chocolate Ephipany from Francois Payard)
Serving size: enough to frost one 3 layer cake
Taste and texture: citrusy and creamy
Equipment and materials:
1) Handheld/stand  mixer
2) Mixing bowl
3) Measuring scale

440g cream cheese, softened
140g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar
3 tbs orange juice (one tbs at a time)
zest from 2 oranges

Making the frosting:
In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter on medium high speed until it is no longer lumpy. Add in sugar and continue to beat until sugar is combined and mixture is light and fluffy. Next, add in orange juice (by the tablespoon to your desired consistency) and orange zest and continue beating until mixture is well combined.

1) Cream cheese frosting holds its shape well unrefrigerated.
2) Flavour can be varied using lemon, calamansi, grapefruit or yuzu instead of orange.
3) Grate the zest over the frosting to allow the orange oil to seep into the frosting.
4) Do not omit zest as it is imparts a great deal of citrus flavour.
5) When using it for any cake, let the frosted cake sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours if you have the time, the cake will become really moist. That's what happened to my chocolate cake when I let it sit for a few hours.
6) Add more icing sugar if required. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My 4th Bloggers Meetup

I was casually checking my e-mails when one particular one caught my attention. To my pleasant surprise, I was invited to a Bloggers Meetup by Jasmine. Jasmine had just joined the blogging scene a few months back and I must admire her courage in reaching out to us bloggers and organizing a meetup. So last Saturday evening, 8 of us met up at Edith’s place for a potluck party. The bloggers were:
  1. Jasmine from the sweetylicious
  2. Edith from Precious Moments
  3. Cathy from Cathy's Joy
  4. Jess from Jess's Kitchen
  5. Jean from Noms I Must
  6. Wendy from Wen's Delight
  7. Zhuoyuan (Me)
Maybe you wouldn't believe it, but I never had a potluck party until I attended my first Bloggers Meetup. Even if I was keen in the idea of a potluck party back then, I couldn't even bake or cook for nuts. Things are different now, for I have learnt to bake and churn out bakes presentable enough to bring to a potluck party.

Similar to my previous meetups, this is another potluck party where each of us bloggers would volunteer to cook and bake a dish or two. Sweet lovers would definitely find this potluck party particularly inviting as it promises a spectacular line-up of of sweet treats including mango swiss rolls, mango cheesecake, mango chiffon cake, brownies, lemon bars, lemon meringue tarts, macarons and three differently flavoured frosted cupcakes. As a sweets lover and a highly sweet-toothed guy, I am more than welcome to embrace them and satisfy my palate.

Chocolate macarons with lemon curd by Cathy

Dulce De Leche cupcakes by Cathy
Chocolate madeleines by Cathy

Lemon cream cheese cupcakes with honey lemon buttercream (Swiss meringue). Recipe for buttercream at end of post.

Rich fudgy brownies. I have to confess that this batch of brownies are less fudgy and firmer than the ones I previously made.

Mango cheesecake by Jasmine

Jelly heart cheesecake slice by Jasmine

Durian chiffon cake by Wendy

Durian swiss rolls by Wendy. Have I ever mentioned that I am a durian lover?

Lemon curd meringue tarts by Edith

Chocolate mayonnaise cupcakes with caramel butterscotch buttercream by Edith

Lemon bars by Jess

savoury meatballs by Jean

thai style pomelo salad by Josephine

Saturday evening was thus spent fulfillingly with a group of wonderful and talented ladies. With good food and the right company, what more can I ask for? Thanks to Jasmine for initiating and coordinating this meetup. I shall be looking forward to my next meetup. 

Honey Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream (recipe adapted from Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan) 
Serving size: enough to frost 15 small sized cupcakes
Taste and texture: sweet and tangy, velvety smooth
Equipment and Materials:
1) Handheld mixer/ Standing mixer
2) Heat proof bowl
3) Wire whisk

65g sugar
60g egg whites
150g unsalted butter, cubed and slightly softened but still cold
3 1/2 tbs fresh lemon juice, strained
honey, add to taste
1/2 tsp vanilla extact

Making the buttercream:
Dissolve sugar in egg whites - Place egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl sitting over a pan of slightly simmering water without the base of the bowl in contact with the water (double-boiler). Whisk the mixture constantly until the sugar dissolves completely. Rub the egg white mixture with your fingers to check if it is still gritty to test if the sugar has fully dissolved. Egg white mixture should be warm to the touch. Remove bowl from the heat.

Beating egg whites - Beat egg whites with an electric beater on medium high speed until whites are very stiff and glossy. Egg whites should form stiff upright peaks and will not budge when bowl is overturned. 

Incorporating butter - Add in butter to beaten egg whites in 3 additions and beat on medium speed. The mixture may become watery as butter is being incorporated. After the third addition, beat the mixture it becomes fluffy and firm, like creamed butter.   

Flavouring the buttercream - Add lemon juice and vanilla extract to buttercream and beat well to mix. Add in honey by the tablespoon to taste.  

1) When piping the buttercream for frosting, heat from your palms may cause the last portion of buttercream in the piping bag to soften and separate/ melt. Simply chill the softened/ separated buttercream and beat it until fluffy. 
2) Buttercream can hold its shape well unrefrigerated. 
3) Make sure water is on low simmer and stir constantly, else the egg may coagulate.   
4) Do not omit the vanilla in the buttercream. It adds a depth of flavour and contrasts the lemony tang.  
5) Make 2.5 x buttercream recipe to make enough for frosting a 3 layered cake.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Three Cheers to Friendship and Rich Chocolatey Gooey Fudgy Brownies

The air was filled with love just the day before. So, what was the special ocassion? It was Valentine's Day! For me, it was more of a frienship day. Afterall, friendship is the love between friends who share weal and woe. For the past 26 years, I am glad that my path crossed with individuals who started out as strangers in my life but ended up as my treasured friends. Thank you all for the invaluable friendship, my dear friends.

My friends have always been supportive all of me, especially so when they know how devoted I am to baking. To reward some of them, I decided to bake some brownies for last evening's dinner. Chocolate treats are ever so classic when it comes to sharing them with your loved ones and youcan almost never go wrong with them.

These rich chocolate treats from Linda Collister worked wonders when I first made them. Naturally, they became the choice of treat to give away to my friends for Valentine's Day. Biting into a piece of these brownies, one will realise that it is pure chocolate bliss. They are rich, chocolatey, moist and gooey-fudgy. When eaten at room temperature, they are soft and gooey but with some chilling, they turn firm and fudgy. I would say that they are totally perfect eaten on their own or accompanied with a dollop of ice-cream.


I figure I might be baking more of these brownies to pass to other friends and possibly for a gathering over the weekends. Happy belated Valentine's Day and three cheers to all the frienship out there!

Rich Chocolate Brownies ( recipe adapted from Brownies by Linda Collister)
Serving size: about 20 squares
Taste and Texture: Rich chocolatey, soft, moist and gooey-fudgy.
Equipment and Materials:
1) 8 x 8 square tin
2) Flour sieve
3) Weighing scale
4) Measuring bowls
5) Measuring spoon set
6) Wire whisk
7) Baking/Parchment paper
8) Standing/handheld mixer
9) Wire rack
10) spatula / wooden spoon

185g dark chocolate (55%-60%), melted and cooled
110g unsalted butter, softened
220g brown sugar
1/2-1 tsp vanilla (I forgot to add, but it still taste good)
200g whole eggs, lightly beaten
75g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
Making the brownie:
Preheat Oven - Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
Combine flour and cocoa - In a large mixing bowl, sift both plain flour and cocoa powder. Whisk well to distribute evenly.
Cream butter - Cream butter and sugar on medium speed for about 3-5 minutes. As there is a larger proportion of sugar to butter, the mixture will not end up being fluffy. Cream the butter until the volume increases noticeably.
Adding eggs to creamed butter - Slowly add in eggs by the tablespoon to the creamed butter, beating the mixture well before incorporating the next tablespoon.
Incorporating melted chocolate - Beat in melted chocolate and mix well. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often to ensure even mixing.
Adding dry ingredients - Stir in the dry ingredients with a spatula or wooden spoon to get a smooth batter.
Baking the brownies - Pour batter into a lined 8 x 8 inch square tin and level the surface. Bake for 23 -30 minutes at 180 degrees C. The top should be crusty and dull. When lightly pressed on the surface, the underneath feels semi-firm. Cool baked brownie in tin for 45mins before removing to cool on wire rack. Serve chilled or at room temperature as desired.
1) Chill to get a firm brownie or eat at room temperature if a soft brownie is desired.
2) Add 80g of chopped walnuts or pecans if desired.
3) This recipe yields fudgy gooey brownies easily due to the low proportion of flour used as compared to the large proportion of chocolate. Most other brownies need to be slightly underbaked to obtain a fudgy texture.
4) Start checking the firmness of the brownie at 20 minutes or when the brownie surface starts to become dull.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chinese New Year 2011 and Nice Homemade Pineapple Tarts

Chinese New Year marks the start of a new year in the lunar calendar. When it comes to Chinese New Year, it is a time of reunion with family, relatives and friends. This is one highly-regarded festive occasion that is widely celebrated by all Chinese worldwide. 

On Chinese New Year Eve ( 除夕夜), Chinese families gather for a feasting over dinner which symbolizes reunion. This is known as the reunion dinner. The reunion dinner usually includes a mouth-watering spread of dishes including roasted duck, steamed chicken, steamed fish with gravvy and other restaurant-style delicacies offering lots of meat and expensive seafood such as abalone and scallops. Some families may opt for a steamboat dinner instead which involves less preparation.

It sure was a lot of feasting for me as I had three reunion dinners in total: one at home on the sunday before week of Chinese New Year, one at my elder brother's place during New Year's Eve and the last dinner at my grandma's place (paternal side) following my 2nd reunion dinner. The feastings did not just include the reunion dinners. Since there is always an abundance of food for each reunion dinner, the leftovers are warmed up and taken for lunch or dinner the following day.

Apart from the rich dishes that are present during lunch or dinner, there is also a wide array of tidbits and cookies. There are some goodies which me and my younger brother consider a must-buy for Chinese New Year, namely: Julie's Chocolate Love Letters, Da Fa Fish Strips, Ferrero Rocher, Hello Panda Chocolate-filled Cookies and Pineapple Tarts.

This is the third year that I am making pineapple tarts (closed versions) and I decided to attempt to make the pineapple paste from scratch using Wendy's recipe and method. Her instructions were clear and the proportion of pineapples and sugar were just right. I was absolutely thrilled at how good my homemade paste turned out. However, I had to constantly observe if the bottom of my pan was charring since it was a non heavy based one. Each time the bottom of the pot charred, I had to remove the jam from the pot, wash the pot and scrub the charred spot/s clean. For the final bit, I had to resort to using the mircowave to dry my wet pineapple paste instead of constantly frying to reduce the risk of ending up with burnt pineapple paste.

I made two batches of pineapple paste using two different varieties of pineapples - Honey pineapples and S&W sweet pineapples. Honey pineapples are much sweeter and could do with lesser sugar. Over in Malaysia, Honey pineapples are known by their variety name instead. The S&W sweet pineapples were quite costly - $2.90 for each weighing 1.6kg. Even though these pineapples were steeply priced, I would gladly pay for them again since they produce a fragrant fruity sweet-tart pineapple paste as compared to the Honey pineapples. 

I decided to be a little adventurous and tried out a different tart pastry recipe. My efforts paid off and it yielded tarts that crumbled easily with a melt-in-the-mouth experience. Excellent! My pineapple tarts were churned out in two different batches using different homemade pineapple paste. I was extremely pleased with my first batch of tarts for the texture and taste but felt that the second batch could be better improved on. 

For the second batch, the honey pineapple paste was sweeter and a little too fibrous for my liking. Next time, I would process the pineapples longer to break up the fibres. I also made a mistake by measuring my paste and pastry by 1/2 teaspoonfuls instead of going by the teaspoon (I used the same baking time even though my pineapple balls were smaller), something which I only realized afterwards! No wonder I thought my pineapple tarts seemed to be smaller. Foolish me, haha...  As a result, the pastry turned out to be firmer and more crusty.

Pineapple Tarts (pastry recipe adapted from Delicious Nyonya Kuek & Desserts by Patricia Lee)
Serving size: about 70 tarts, fills two small sized CNY cookie containers.
Taste and Texture: Crumbly and moderately melt-in-the mouth texture with sweet-tart fruity pineapple paste filling.
Equipment and Materials:
1) Baking/Cookie pans
2) Flour sieve
3) weighing scale
4) Measuring bowls
5) Measuring spoon set
6) Pastry cutter/ two knives
7) Wire whisk
8) Baking/Parchement paper
9) Clingfilm

360g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbs icing sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
220g cold butter, cubed
2 1/2 tbs hot water
400g homemade pineapple paste (click on link to reveal recipe and method)
1 or 2 egg yolk/s for egg wash

Making the pastry:
Mix dry ingredients - Sift flour, baking powder, salt and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. Whisk well to combine and distribute evenly.

Rub butter into dry ingredients - Tip the cubed butter onto the dry ingredients. Use the pastry cutter to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Alternatively, use two knives in a scissor-like manner and cut the butter into the flour. Continue the process until the butter and dry ingredient mixture look like bread crumbs with a few large grains. If there is no pastry cutter or knives, you may use your hand to rub the butter into the flour mixture.

Adding yolks and vanilla - Beat egg yolks with 1 tsp vanilla extract. Add it to the butter-flour crumb mixture and stir gently with a folk.

Mix to a dough - Finally, add the hot water and stir gently until the mixture starts to come together. Knead with your hands gently to incoporate loose dough and bring everything together. Once the dough comes together, give it some further gentle kneading so that the dough is evenly coloured (there is presence of egg yolk). The kneading process should be as brief and as gentle as possible. Once the dough is done, wrap the dough with clingfilm and rest the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. 

Making the tarts:  
Portioning the pastry - Scoop out slightly heaped teaspoons of dough and roll into into round balls. Set aside.

Portioning the pineapple paste - Scoop out levelled teaspoons of pineapple paste and roll into into round balls. Set aside

Wrapping the pineapple paste - Flatten a ball of pastry and place a ball of pineapple paste onto the flattened pastry. Wrap the pastry over the pineapple paste evenly to get round pineapple tarts. You may need to add more pastry or remove excess pastry in order to get the desired thickness of pastry around the paste.

Baking the tarts - Preheat oven to 170 degrees C. Arrange wrapped pineapple tarts onto baking sheets spaced evenly. Brush a thin layer of egg yolk over each pineapple tart. Bake tarts for 20 minutes. Allow tarts to cool completely on wire rack before storing in airtight containers.

1) The pastry needs to be handled gently and minimally so that it will achieve the crumbly yet melt-in-the-mouth texture. Use a trusted brand of plain flour for the pastry.
2) Do not brush too much egg wash or the pastry will taste eggy. I brushed a lot of egg wash to achieve the golden effect but the taste is slightly compromised.
3) Do not overbake the tarts or the pastry will turn firm and crusty as opposed to being crumbly and melt-in-the-mouth.
4) Tart semi-ripe pineapples are preferred for the paste.
5) Do not discard core from pineapples. Use it making the paste.
6) You can control the wetness of the pineapple paste if it is homemade. Store bought paste tends to be chewy and dry.
7) The tarts will not turn out be yellowish like commercially available ones since there is no yellow colouring used. Instead the colour obtained for the baked tarts is slighlty cream/off-white.
8) Pastry recipe is for closed tarts. It may or may not work well for open tarts.
9) Chilled dough (30 mins chilling time) is relatively easy to handle since it is for closed tarts.
10) Try baking a few tarts as a test batch to get the desired baking time.
11) Use good quality butter for the pastry.

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