Thursday, March 26, 2015

My own little tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Photo from Vulcan Post & Chan Chun Sing

It's been a sombre week.

Mr Lee's chair sits empty today.

Around the world, many are feeling the weight of Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew's passing, keenly missing the man who impacted so many with his one singular life.

I too, feel tears welling up several times over the course of each day, as I cling furtively to reports and updates online and on TV, never feeling further from home even as I'm a stone's throw away living in Hong Kong.
> Signing the condolence book in Hong Kong

By no means is this meant to even match the gravity of losing one of the most courageous people to have existed; not by a long shot.

But in my own small way, as a baker, I'm remembering Mr Lee with a simple cake - his favorite, chocolate.
> Remembering the colorful Robin Williams

Celebrating a life worth respecting

I'm choosing to celebrate his life and acknowledge the impact and the good he's done. 
I take comfort in his reunion with his soulmate - his wife and tower of strength - Kwa Geok Choo.

With a little cake. 

An unfussy, to-the-point but memorable cake packing a punch. 
Like the indomitable Mr Lee.

Photo from The Straits Times

He valued highly the merits of hard work, and the environment had always been a key focus for him. He pioneered the amazing green powerhouse that tiny Singapore now is, even when the world told him it couldn't be done.

In keeping with his environmental emphasis, I will be making an extra effort to observe Earth Hour this Sat Mar 28, 8.30pm local time.
> Many other ways you can help beyond just observing the hour

I hope you will too.

Mr Lee's physical light might have gone out, but his legacy is an ever enduring sun that never sets.

And it's in our hands to keep it well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A pop of green... or four - St. Paddy's Day!

Time to Wear the Green, it's St. Patrick's Day!

Hong Kong had its first St. Patrick's festival over the weekend, and it's inspired me to share the love for green - an oddly strange choice of color that actually works on desserts.

What's St. Paddy's day without some chocolate and beer?
> Guinness Chocolate Cake
> Death by Chocolate
> Chocolate Pistachio Torte
> Deep Chocolate Ganache Cake
> Darkside Chocolate Cupcake

Reds, pinks, yellows, browns and oranges are naturals with cakes, they bring cheer and brighten desserts immediately.

Blues and peaches fall into my "hmm" category. Blue has been officially named the worst color to have in foods (not my words, it's those tests out there they've carried out!) - off-putting and not quite appealing. Peach is just kinda ho-hum to me, not much personality.

Greens and blacks are in that sweet spot: done right, they'll add pizzaz. Done wrong - and they'll look radioactive or depressed.

Color your treats:
> Color me happy!
> The colorful Robin Williams
> A summer carousel

So let's hustle up some green - good for the eyes, good for nutrition - just like veggies are ;) and get our green on!

Green Tea & White Chocolate Cookies

Green tea's a natural when you're talking green in desserts. They're more predominant in Asian desserts like chiffon cakes, and I used mine in bite-sized cookie poppers. The great thing about green tea bakes is they tend not to be overly sweet because of their natural bitter edge from the tea flavors, and have so much character so you don't want to drown them in sugar.

> Get the recipe here
> More Asia-inspired treats:

Minecraft Cake

Making cakes for kids often makes me the 'hip one' because they want their cakes in all the latest game and toys characters, and I rely on them to bring me up to speed on the hottest. I can say with 'authority' (ahem!) that Minecraft is in with the kids now, and I had so much fun building this cake for an 8 year old's birthday. 

I made the mistake of using the paint technique for the mosaic tiles - making long slabs of fondant, scoring them and hand-painting each square a different shade of green. It seemed a good idea when I researched the techniques, but this only works for much, much smaller cakes when just a couple of squares are painted. It takes all day to paint a cake this big, takes ages to dry and the long fondant panels break easily. So I was really better off making each individual mosaic square in different shades greens. 

You learn, and you learn to laugh about it - about many deranged hours ;)

Cartoons, characters and toys:
> Invasion of the Minions
> Who's Henry Hugglemonster?
> Elmo cake pops
> Rilakkuma cake pops

Lime Top Cupcake

I like contrasting colors so they don't all scream for attention, and this red velvet cupcake goes just beautifully with the pale green buttercream frosting. The colors were perfect for the Christmas season when I made them, and you should get creative and experiment with different flavors for the buttercream. We eat with our eyes as much as our tongue, so go with flavors associated with green - like mint, lime, basil, green tea - and they'll match visually.

Kermit-toned Cake Pops

Cake Pops are a ton of fun, you can pretty much do anything you want with swirls and designs, and something about little desserts on sticks makes them just irresistible. My cake pop idol Bakerella does an amazing job creating the most unexpected itty bitty balls of fun perched precariously on rainbow hued straws and sticks, she's da bomb.

Cake pop fun:

Happy St. Patrick's day, remember to load up on 'em greens!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Surviving the lunar new year - have your cookies and eat them!

The year of the Sheep / Goat / Ram - somewhat confusing, but all applicable for the lunar new year - is just two weeks off, time to get snacking!
> Treats for the arduous journey, happy 2015
> Color me happy, it's 2014!

Cookies and traditional desserts are a staple at every Chinese home - a way of welcoming visiting well-wishers, and feed festive once-a-year-gamblers that get hungrier as the stakes go up and coins change hands.

As a new generation (I would like to think!) Asian household, we've tried to do away with clutter.

Keeping things simple, cherishing the space.

There are however, a few very delectable (yes, all edible once again, a running theme I realise) key elements of the lunar new year that you just can't dispense with. The convivial spirit is never the same.

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1) Bak Kwa: barbecued sweet pork slices
No one understands the insane phenomenon of queuing for hours at the most popular stalls, paying double the usual prices - when bak kwa is there for the taking any other day of the year. But the craze continues, and the chinese new year festivity is all the rowdier and happier for it.

> Which bak kwa to get in Singapore?
> Not too many options in Hong Kong, but there's always good 'ol Bee Cheng Hiang

Image from Gallery Funny Game

2) Mandarin oranges
Like bak kwa, the mad scramble for mandarins takes some strategic planning (not too early, they'll rot before you get to give them out; not too late - none left for you!), and hefty muscles. Be smart and know what you're grabbing at the markets, not all oranges are created equal.
> Meet the oranges that wink

Image from

3) Lo Hei
Insanely messy, ridiculously rowdy and superbly delicious - tossing yu sheng is mandatory during the luar new year. Do you want to be the shmuck who misses out tossing in some good fortune? And be honest - no one actually knows the right phrases for each stage in spite of the collective brave shouting of unintelligible gibberish, as you try to outdo your neighbour tossing higher with each round. Here's an awesome guide to doing lo hei like a boss.

4) New Year cookies
Hands up anyone who's managed to NOT put on weight during the chinese new year. Yep, pretty much zero. I've always advocated balance - food, life, work, sports - everything. So balance is the way we're gonna take on the new year feasting, you can have your cookies and eat them! Toasted oats and nuts are the healthy way to go. Coupled with reduced sugar and butter, you've got yourself some pretty scrummy treats that taste fab and keep you fitting the same pair of pants you walked in with pre-cookies.

Make smart choices this lunar new year, gong xi fa cai everyone!

I'm joining Best Recipes for Everyone Jan & Feb 2015 Event Theme: My Homemake Cookies by Fion of XuanHom's Mom and co-hosted by Victoria Baking Into The Ether.

Link to "My Treasured Recipes #5 - Chinese New Year Goodies (Jan / Feb 2015)" hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House.

Also linking this post to "Cook & Celebrate: CNY 2015" event organized by Yen from Eat Your Heart Out, Diana from Domestic Goddess Wannabe and Zoe from Bake for Happy Kids.