Category Archives: Pure Indulgence

MAD ABOUT HALVA

Halva-with-Pistachio

halva

I’ve fallen in love. Oh….yes! I’m in love with halva. I’ve had my first taste of halva when I was a teen but its intoxicating sweetness brought back my cravings for it last year when I was offered a morsel of it containing chocolate. Then I had this sensuous interplay of the palate again with my beloved halva last Saturday. It seemed we were fated to meet. You guessed it right. I stumbled head over heals with it. This time it was even better. It has a dark chocolate center that oozes out of its creamy tahini body and is peppered with almonds and pecans.

The surprising thing was I wasn’t looking for it. I stumbled upon it – at Sonia’s International Foods at Willoughby. I entered the shop and let my eyes feast on all things exotic – nuts, spices, halva and such. It was like being in Alladin’s cave where were goodies stacked on every shelf. I was flipping over boxes of commercially made halvas of all sorts when the fairy god mother, the shop assistant, asked what I was looking for and beckoned me to the counter when I couldn’t decide. There…low and behold was the biggest halva I had ever seen. It was like one enormous cake. The lady cut a small chunk and urged me to try. The result….ohhhhhhhh that melt-in-the-mouth feeling. The sweetness and creaminess of the tahini blended well with that melting dark chocolate. The crunchiness of the nuts added texture and richness to the whole halva eating experience. It felt like being transported to an exotic land, where honey oozed from honey combs and nuts could be picked from the ground.

I’ve got a slice left and hope to savour the halva bit by bit while it lasts. I’ve discovered it is actually quite simple to prepare a halva, a chocolate centered halva with nuts to be precise. It’s main ingredient is hulled tahini or sesame seed paste. The rest is sugar or honey and nuts. I will try my hands at preparing it in April, I hope. So stay tuned. Meanwhile, allow me break my halva slice and bite into a chunk, slowly savouring the sweetness and letting it linger on my tongue. Oh…forget about chocolate or cake for awhile. My deliciously divine halva will satisfy my sweet cravings for now.

 

FLOURLESS ORANGE CHOCOLATE CAKE

orange choc cake 2V2

orange choc cake

Happy New Year to all my readers! 2016 will be a fresh new beginning, a year of hope and positive outcomes despite all the challenges in life. To kick start the new year, I’d like to share with you a special cake I’ve baked a few weeks ago.  I got the recipe from one of my favourite celebrity cooks, Nigela Lawson. So thanks to Nigela, I managed to bake a wonderful cake for my family at Christmas. 

In this recipe, I’ve used almond meal. So why almond meal instead of self-raising flour, you may ask. The good thing about almond meal is that it doesn’t contain any gluten. As we know, gluten is the stretchy protein in flour that helps to bind the mixture together. The other thing is, almond meal is moist and dense, due to the oil in the almonds. So this means that the cake you bake will not end up dry and crumbly. Thank goodness for almond meal.

orange_V2

To add a personal touch to my cake, I have tweaked the measurements and created my own frosting and decorations. So if you are keen to try, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

2 small thin-skinned oranges

6 eggs

5g butter for greasing

1 tsp baking powder or bicarbonate of soda

300g almond meal (or 2 cups)

250g (or 1 and 1/2 cups) caster sugar

50 g Cadbury cocoa

orange peel for decoration

2 bars of dark chocolate (one for baking and the other for frosting)

 

Method

  1. Put 2 whole oranges in a pan with some cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours or until soft. 
  2. Drain the water and cool the oranges. Cut the oranges in halves and remove any pips.
  3. Pulp everything in a food processor and transfer to a huge mixing bowl.
  4. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. 
  5. Grease cooking tin with butter. 
  6. Melt a bar of dark chocolate in a bowl over steaming hot water. 
  7. Add almond meal, baking powder, sugar, cocoa, melted chocolate and eggs to the orange pulp.
  8. Mix well with a spatula.
  9. Pour the mixture into the cooking tin and bake for an hour or until cake is thoroughly baked.
  10. Let the cake cool on a rack.
  11. Melt another bar of chocolate over hot steaming water.
  12. Spread the melted chocolate over the top of the cake and use a butter knife to spread the chocolate evenly.
  13. Decorate the top with sugar-coated orange peels. 

Best served with a dollop or two of vanilla ice cream on each slice and cherries or strawberry on the side. Enjoy!!!

As an afterthought, the cake was quite easy and fuss-free to bake. However, boiling the oranges take a huge chunk of time. White sugary residue got stuck to the edges of the pot and cleaning it off took some effort. I used navel oranges for its sweetness and soft skin. The trick is to ensure that the oranges you use are sweet enough.    

To cover the slight cracks on top of the cake, I used dark chocolate frosting and garnished the top with sugary orange peel. The sugar measurement is just right for my liking. If you prefer a cake that’s sweeter, feel free to add a bit more sugar or substitute the dark chocolate bars with milk chocolate instead. To all gluten intolerant chocolate lovers out there, this cake may take your fancy. Each slice is best served warm (20s in the microwave) before adding that sinful dollop of ice cream. Oh heavenly! 

SCRUMPTIOUS MASHED POTATO PUFFS

mashed potato puffs

mashed potato puffs

Think baked potato, think wholesome and crunchy. If you’re thinking of potato jackets, you’re wrong. Potato puffs are the answer. Draw your minds away from plain potatoes. Bring in some saltiness and tang. If that makes your mouth water, wait till you bite into each puff. Bring on the mashed potato puffs. 

In this recipe, I used shaved smoked salmon and Dijon mustard. They enhanced the flavour of the puffs, guaranteeing second or third helpings. For the cheese, I’d recommend sharp vintage cheddar cheese for the kick.  

Ingredients 

6 potatoes, mashed

2 eggs

1 1/2 cup grated cheese

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

10g melted butter

150g shaved smoked salmon, chopped

1/2 cup chives, chopped

pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven at 180 degree Celsius. 
  2. Grease muffin trays with melted butter. 
  3. Boil potatoes and mashed. 
  4. Add eggs to mashed potatoes. 
  5. Add 1 cup grated cheese, leaving the rest for topping. 
  6. Add Dijon mustard, pepper, chives and smoked salmon. 
  7. Stir well. 
  8. Add spoonfuls of mixture into each mold of muffin tray. 
  9. Top each potato mixture with one spoonful of grated cheese that has been set aside. 
  10. Bake the potato mixture in the oven for 25 mins or till brown. 
  11. Enjoy them while they are hot. 

mashed potato puffs

 

For tastier potatoes, use kipfler. They are creamier and have more body.  These scrumptious potato puffs can be enjoyed for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea. They also make good party finger good. You’ll enjoy an explosion of flavours – the cheesy taste, salty smoked salmon and tangy mustard. Oh….need I say more? 

DELICIOUS BAKED MACARONI CHEESE

baked macaroni_2

baked macaroni

 

Macaroni cheese is a great meal to cook for the family in winter. The generous amount of baked cheese that top the dish gives off a crunchy contrast to the creamy and soft macaroni as you dig deep into the dish. This version is the best I’ve baked so far as I’ve added a further twist to the dish which I’ll reveal later. So without further ado…

 

Ingredients

2 cups macaroni

2 tbsp butter  

2 tbsp plain flour

 2 cups milk

1 cup grated vintage cheddar cheese

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese for layering and topping

pepper

cayenne pepper

1 onion, sliced

 2 tomatoes, diced

1 sprig parsley, chopped

baked macaroni_2

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees Celsius.

2. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water till al dente. Drain pasta and set aside to cool.

3. In the meantime cook onions till caramalised. Set them aside.

4. Melt butter in a separate pot over low heat.

5. Add flour and whisk the mixture for 1 min while it is cooking.

6. Add grated vintage cheese and parsley to the mixture and continue to whisk.

7. Remove the pot from the heat, add and whisk milk.

8. Add pepper to taste.

9.  Return the pot to heat the mixture and increase the heat slightly. Continue to whisk the mixture till it thickens and boils. Remove the mixture from the heat and set it aside.

10.  Layer onions, tomatoes and macaroni one on top of each other in a greased baking dish. A tip to note is to add shredded cheese to separate each macaroni layer so that the cheese penetrates into the dish.

11. Pour the sauce evenly into the layers.

12. Top with a layer of shredded cheese and sprinkle cayenne pepper for added taste.

13. Place the dish in the oven for 50 minutes.

baked macaroni_3

 

Serve while it’s hot and fresh from the oven. The grated vintage cheese and parsley added to the sauce has given an extra flavour to the dish – fresh and cheesy at the same time. That’s the secret to baking good old macaroni cheese with some creativity. And layering cheese with the macaroni works well too. For some crispy crunch with zest, cayenne pepper sprinkled on the cheese topping works best. Oh la lah….enjoy!!!!

 

SAVOURY FUSHION CHEESE CAKE

savoury cheese cake

SAVOURY FUSHION CHEESE CAKE

A few  days ago, I was tempted to try baking Japanese cheese cake. I love the lightness and fluffiness of the cake which I had tasted several years ago. The craving pangs of the delicious light cheese cake that melts in the mouth were so intense that decided to go for it one night. I had all the ingredients and equipment except for a water bath. I had never used the water bath technique in my baking exploits prior to this attempt but was adamant that I achieved my baking goal. I resorted to using a grill tray for that purpose. As it turned out, the cake was not light and fluffy but dense and creamy like that of the English cheese cake sans the biscuit crust base. Hence the title of my recipe ‘Savoury Fushion Cheese Cake’.  It was savoury as a result of the three types of cheeses added. I guess using just ricotta would be too limiting and bland. 

cheese cake mixture

Ingredients 

1 cup caster sugar

5 egg white

5 egg yolks

1/4 tsp baking soda

50g melted butter

250g ricotta cheese

1/2 cup grated Vintage cheddar 

1 cup ready-to-use shredded cheddar 

100 ml fresh milk

half lemon juice

60 g plain flour 

1/4 tsp salt

whisking the egg whites

Method

1. Melt ricotta cheese, grated Vintage cheddar, shredded cheddar, butter and milk in a saucepan over a fire until it forms a smooth mixture. Cool the mixture. 

2. Sieve flour into a big bowl and add salt, egg yolks, lemon juice. Mix well. 

3. Fold in the flour mixture (2) into the cheese mixture (1) forming the cake mixture.  

4. Make a meringue by whisking egg whites with baking soda till foamy. 

5. Add sugar and continue to whisk until soft. 

6. Take 1/3 of the meringue mixture and fold into the cake mixture. 

7. Fold in another 1/3 of the meringue mixture until it blends well.

8. Fold in the remaining 1/3 meringue mixture.  

9. Pour the mixture into a greased cake pan. 

10. Bake in water bath for 1h 20 mins at 160 degrees. 

cheese cake mixture in the pan

After thought

Don’t be daunted by the preparation described in the recipe. It is doable despite a series of folding in flour and egg white. This should be done gently. The real challenge lies in using the water bath. A deep roasting pan that fits the oven nicely will serve the purpose. Ensure that the water covers half of the cake pan. This is so that the top of the cake doesn’t darken and crack. The top of my cake hardened and turned dark brown because I hadn’t used a proper water bath. The top also ended up in a deep crack.

Check to see if the cake is thoroughly baked after 1 h 10 mins. Reduce the heat to 150 degrees if it is too hot. You can gauge this by using the colour of the cake as an indicator. It should be very light brown in colour and shouldn’t harden.

If you have a sweet tooth and prefer to have a sweeter cake, add another 1/2 cup of sugar. I like my cheese cake savoury and cheesy and prefer not to let the sweetness numb my taste buds.

Reducing the amount of cheese will also change the texture from dense to fluffy. I recommend using 100 g ricotta, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar and 1/2 cup grated cheddar if you prefer the lighter version.   

smooth savoury cheese cake

Let the cake cool on a cooling rack. Once cooled, put it in the fridge. It is best eaten the next day. The flavour will tend to integrate and the texture will smooth out. 

I hope to bake this cake again. I mean, the fluffy version of it. Let’s see…till next time.

CRUNCHY PEANUT BUTTER BISCUITS

peanut butter biscuits

 

 

 

peanut butter

If you love peanut butter, think outside the box. You can use peanut butter in almost any dessert including cake, pudding and biscuits. No one can deny the addictive saltiness and nuttiness of the spread. It is indeed finger licking good. So, get ready for this phenomenal peanut butter biscuit recipe to try at home on a laidback Sunday.  

Ingredients

1 cup smooth peanut butter

3 tbsp. honey

125g butter  

1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1/2 cup milk

1/2 baking soda

1 cup coarsely chopped  roasted peanuts

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius

2. Grease tray with butter.

3. Place peanut butter, butter, honey and brown sugar in the bowl and stir vigourously for about 2 minutes until pale and fluffy.

4. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined.

5.  Add in the sifted flour and soda, then add the chopped peanuts and stir through.

6. Add milk to moisten the mixture.

7.  Flour your hands and roll the mixture into medium-sized balls.

8. Place each ball on the baking tray, allowing room to spread, and flatten slightly with a fork.

9. Bake for 10 minutes until cooked and lightly golden.

10. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

 

These biscuits are a treat during a weekend family get together.  They are simple to prepare and simply crunchy and delicious.

SAVOURY CHEESE AND SPINACH FILO

savoury ceese and spinach filo

savoury cheese and spinach filo

For savoury lovers out there, here is a recipe you’d like to try. It uses puff pastry which you can prepare in the comfort of your kitchen or if you prefer the more convenient method, the most practical way is to buy the sheets. Preparation time is one hour and a bit more if you are preparing more than 4 pastries. So, if you intend to serve the pastries to guests, ensure that you have ample time for preparation, which includes thawing the filo sheets. I would recommend aged vintage cheddar cheese for that rich cheesy flavour in comparison to ricotta or mild or medium cheddar which is rather mild and hence, unexciting to the palate.

Ingredients

2 tbsp cooking oil

4 sheets puff pastry

1 big onion, sliced

50g fresh baby spinach

200g vintage cheddar cheese, grated

2 tsp sweet paprika

pepper

50g butter

savoury cheese filo filling

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

2. Thaw 4 filo sheets and cut them into 16 squares.

3. Grate cheese in a bowl.

4. Melt butter and grease tray for baking. Leave some for glazing.

5. Heat oil in a pan.

6. Fry onions till caramelised.

7. Add paprika and mix well. Remove and set aside.

8. Dry fry baby spinach till wilted. Add pepper to taste.

8. Place onions, spinach and cheese one on top of another on each square filo.

9. Brush the sides with melted butter.

10. Cover the topping with another filo square.

11. Fold in the sides and press with fork to seal securely.

12. Brush the top of each covered filo with melted butter.

13. Bake for 20 minutes.

savoury cheese filos

The verdict is that this finger food is suitable for breakfast, as opposed to the banana filled one which is more appropriate for afternoon tea. The fried banana filled filo is more moist on the outside compared to the ones which have been baked. I would propose frying the filo if you’d like to minimise the flaky texture of the pastry as the texture is dry. Use low cholesterol oil such as canola or grape seed oil for frying. The cheesy filling with the paprika caramelised onions is seriously rich and savoury. It is nicely balanced with the mildly seasoned baby spinach which tantalises your tastebuds at every bite. Enjoy!

TASTY CROQUE MADAME WITH A TWIST

croc madamme2

 

croc madamme

I was inspired by Rachel Khoo’s muffin Croque Madame from the cooking program entitled ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’. In a particular cooking series of the mentioned title, Rachel creatively used muffin molds to prepare her Croque Madame. I bought a loaf of white bread on Monday and left it untouched till this morning when I finally decided to brace myself for this new breakfast meal. The truth is that I greased the muffin molds in an attempt to follow Rachel’s style. However, the stale bread broke into pieces. There you go…rule number 1 – do not ever use stale bread for this recipe. I then had to resort to the conventional way of preparing Croque Madame, that is, by using slices of bread.

So muffin style Croque Madames cast aside, I went ahead to prepare my special croques with a twist. This means using mash potatoes in the Croques and adding cayenne pepper to the Bechamel Sauce. Ok, I know you can’t wait to try. So be prepared for the mess in the kitchen and here it is:

Ingredients

Bechamel Sauce

1/4 cup plain flour

2 tbsp. butter

3/4 cup milk

1/4 Gruyere cheese, grated

dash of cayenne pepper

salt

ground pepper

Croque Madame

8 slices of white bread

50g of butter for greasing and lightly slathering on bread slices

4 eggs

pepper

Gruyere cheese

Mashed Potatoes

3 potatoes, mashed

1/3 milk

pepper to taste

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Method

Bechamel Sauce

1. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a pan over medium heat.

2. Pour in flour and stir.

3. Add milk a little at a time while stirring until the mixture thickens.

4. Add Gruyere cheese and mix.

5. Add salt and pepper to taste and a dash of cayenne pepper.

6. Put pan aside once mixture’s consistency is similar to that of tomato sauce.

Mash Potatoes

1. Peel potatoes and cook them in the microwave for about 6 mins or until cooked and soft.

2. Drain excess water and mash potatoes with a masher.

3. Add milk, Dijon mustard and pepper.

4. Mix thoroughly.

Croque Madame

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees C.

2. Grease tray with melted butter.

3. Flatter 4 slices of bread with a rolling pin.

4. Lightly butter the slices of bread on both sides.

5. For each Croque Madame, spread Bechamel Sauce on one slice of bread.

6. Spread mash potatoes on top of the sauce.

7. Make a little depression in the middle of the bread slice to keep the egg in.

8. Crack an egg and slide it in the depression.

9. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese.

10. Add a dash of pepper.

11. Bake the Croque Madame in the over for 20 mins.

12. Enjoy.

croc madamme2

Rule number 2…You’d need to bake the croques for an extra 5 mins by lowering the temperature of the oven to 180 degrees C after 20 mins to ensure that the eggs are well done and that the toast doesn’t burn. Serve the Croques with coffee and enjoy! The combination of savoury Bechamel Sauce and mashed potatoes tantalises the taste buds, making your morning worth it just by trying this recipe with a twist.

Yes, it’s decadent and what an indulgence with all that butter, egg and potatoes. One has to pamper oneself sometimes…

SPECIAL MELT-IN-THE MOUTH CHOCOLATE CAKE

Special Chocolate Cake with Frosting

Who could resist chocolate, especially home-made chocolate cake? I baked a special chocolate cake that proved to be a hit during the holiday festivities. This is a recipe that has been perfected and made original through several attempts at baking. Without further ado, let me present the recipe:

Special Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups self-raising flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

115g butter 1 cup caster sugar

2 eggs 1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 tsp baking powder

250g  lite sour cream

3/4 cup milk

3 tsp ricotta cheese

1/2 cup crushed walnuts

1/2 to 3/4 cup blueberries

1 bar of dark cooking chocolate 70% cocoa, melted

 

Method

1. Preheat oven at 175 degrees Celsius

2. Grease baking tin with melted butter

3. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa and baking powder

4. In a pan, heat butter

5. Add cooking chocolate in the butter till it melts

6. Add sugar to the mixture and whisk together.

7. Add eggs one at a time and beat well into the mixture

8. Pour the mixture into the medium bowl in step no. 3

9. Beat sour cream and ricotta cheese into the bowl

10. Add vanilla extract and milk and mix well

11. Pour in the blueberries last and mix them well into the mixture ensuring they don’t get squished

12. Pour in the batter into the greased baking tin

13. Bake for 50-55 mins  

 

Frosting  Ingredients

4 tbsp butter

2/3 cup cocoa

1 to 1 1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup ricotta cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

Method

1. Melt butter in a saucepan

2. Add cocoa, sugar, ricotta cheese and vanilla extract and mix well

3. Pour the mixture over the top of cake after it has been cooled

4. Use a butter knife to even out the mixture on the surface of the cake as well as on the sides

5. Garnish with chopped walnuts and strawberries or halve cherries for colour  

Each slice is best heated up in the microwave for about 15 seconds and served with scoop of vanilla ice cream.  

SAVOURY CHEESE MUFFINS

cheese muffins

 

Thinking of what to have for breakfast? Leave aside boring omelette and toast and think out of the box. Muffins make good breakfast treats for the whole family. Here again. Think out of the box. Stray away from ordinary plain muffins and think of fruit, choc chips and cheese. My addiction with My Kitchen Rules Australia has prompted me to think out of the box and create ordinary meals using new ingredients, hence transforming a normal dish to something original and signature.

So, the secret for making good cheese muffins is this. Use strong cheese. And I mean really strong tasting aged cheese. I’d recommend cheddar as this type of cheese works well with muffins. To be precise I’d use Mainland Epicure of Vintage Cheddar, aged up to 36 and 24 months respectively. Another secret is to add sufficient sugar, not too much to prevent the sweetness from overpowering the savoury cheese.

Ingredients

2 ½ cup self-raising flour

½ cup sugar

1 cup milk

1 egg

¾ cup grated cheese

50g butter

 

Method

  1. Pre-set the oven to 190 degrees.
  2. Grease tray with butter.
  3. Sieve flour into bowl.
  4. Add sugar.
  5. Make a well in the middle and add whisked egg.
  6. Add milk, grated cheese and melted butter.
  7. Mix mixture thoroughly.
  8. Spoon in mixture in every mould in tray. Ensure that each mould is half filled so the mixture doesn’t over rise.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes.

Since Mainland cheese is region specific, widely available in Australia and New Zealand, readers from outside the mentioned countries can use this cheese or any other good strong cheese.

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