japanese cheesecake sandwich

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More often than not, I just can’t make a pretty cake to save my life. Whether it’s underbaking, water leaking, over soufflé-ing, overbrowning, etc., I have yet to make a cake whose appearance I am truly 100% happy with. The same goes for my ongoing mission to perfect the look of my Japanese cheesecakes; I even took extra precautions to make sure it comes out looking perfect this time, like greasing and lining the tin, sieving the batter, baking low and slow… all for it to bake perfectly for the initial 20 minutes or so, followed by an exponential growth in the vertical direction. It puffed up majorly, which a soufflé is bound to do, but simultaneously formed crevices the size you’d fine in Antarctica on the top – there goes my post title ‘picture perfect Japanese cheesecake’.

So I tried to make up in taste where looks fail, and did what is rarely done, which is to fill a cheesecake. It kind of makes sense, as this style of cheesecake is light as a sponge cake and so is much easier to handle than if you were to try and fill a traditional baked cheesecake. Also I have to say that this recipe is probably the best out of, I don’t know, ten that I’ve tried; there’s not one single pocket of unmixed meringue or any lumps, and is satisfyingly fluffy with a mild tang of the cream cheese. Why line up for an Uncle Tetsu when homemade cheesecakes easily rival it?
Japanese soufflé cheesecake sandwich (6″)

For the cheesecake:
110g cream cheese
60g whole milk
20g unsalted butter
2 yolks
20g cake flour
15g corn flour
2 whites
54g white sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice or pinch of cream of tartar

For the filling:
50g heavy cream
1/2 tsp icing sugar
2 tbsp jam

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 6″ round tin and place it on top of a towel inside a larger tray, and fill the larger tray with an inch of cold water (the towel just stops the tin sliding around). If using a loose bottomed/springform pan wrap foil around the pan securely, though I find that water still manages to seep through so I use a one piece tin.

Gently melt the cream cheese, milk and butter together in a double boiler/bain marie or hot water bath and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the yolks, doing it quickly to avoid scrambling. Add the sifted flours and whisk till smooth. Beat the whites and sugar together by hand (I find it easiest to control the stability of the meringue that way) on top of the double boiler from earlier, whisk constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat and add the lemon juice/cream of tartar and beat until glossy and still droopy, closer to medium peaks than firm.

Pour the batter into the prepared in from a height, then tap the tin a few times to release air bubbles. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes at 180C, or until the top of the cake starts browning, then turn it down to 150C and bake for a further 40-45mins or until slightly jiggly in the middle when shaken. Cool in the oven with the door slightly ajar until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove from tin and cool completely, then transfer to the fridge to chill at least 4 hours before cutting/eating.

If filling, whisk the cream and sugar together until stiff peaks. Add vanilla here if desired. Cut the chilled cake in half and spread the whipped cream in an even layer. Spoon on blobs of jam, and swirl into the cream. Replace the top of the cake, chill a bit to firm up the filling before slicing.

super banana-ry chiffon + yoghurt whipped cream

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It still feels surreal that the recent earthquake in Tainan, my hometown, was of such a scale that it made international news. There we were, sleeping soundly at 4 in the morning, violently awakened by the most dramatic of shakes (I had to hold onto the headboard to keep from bouncing off the bed). After a full minute, I was able to go back to sleep after a bit of online checking that my friends here were okay; but many weren’t so lucky. Apart from a massive loss of lives from the collapsed building, it so happened to take major water pipes along with it, which led to nearly 10 days without water in our district. Fortunately for us, the temporary supply stop was but across the road, and we must’ve crossed it dozens of times in the past few days. Minimal showers we could deal with, but washing dishes, flushing toilets and the like were a pain. Which leads me to my point that I haven’t really bean able to bake for a good while *sigh*.

When the news came that water was finally back, guess what I was most excited about doing apart from having a long hot bath? I’d longed to make a lighter banana cake without any compromise in the intensity of banana flavour, which tends to be lacking in banana chiffon cake recipes out there. I was compelled to find a way to maximise and concentrate the bananary-ness, and recalled America’s Test Kitchen’s way of microwaving bananas to extract the juices, along with some others. I settled on ChefSteps’ technique of pressure cooking the bananas while caramelising them – and I have to say that it’s genius. It smelled downright addictive, not unlike banana fosters. I then pureed the caramelised bananas, as well as added some of that butter it’s been cooking in for an extra punch. To take it even further, a sprinkling of chopped up whole dried bananas was applied, taking things to a ban-tastic level.

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To balance out the intense sweetness of the nuggets of dried bananas in the cake, I thought it’d be nice to complement it with a light frosting in the form of yoghurt whipped cream. SO GOOD. (I have no shame).

 

Intensified banana chiffon cake + yoghurt whipped cream
(makes 1 20cm-long, 4-layered cake)

For the banana chiffon:
5 yolks + 1 whole egg
26g sugar
25g banana oil (leftover from the pressure cooker)
145g pressure-cooked banana puree
1/2 tsp vanilla80g cake flour
1 whole dried banana, chopped small (optional)
5 whites
26g sugar + pinch of cream of tartar (latter optional)

For the yoghurt whipped cream:
150g heavy cream
1 tsp ~ 1 tbsp caster sugar
75g plain yoghurt

Start by pressuring cooking some bananas. Take 2 medium to large bananas and chop them into 3cm pieces, and place them in a pressure cooker. Add to the bananas 35g of butter cut into small pieces, 18g water, 18g sugar, a pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Cook for 15mins, turn the bananas over and cook for another 15mins. Fish out the banana pieces once they’re cool, and puree them. Keep the melted butter in the pot for later.

Preheat the oven to 160C and prepare a tin (mine is about 20x30cm) by greasing the sides and bottom, and lining the bottom with parchment.

Whisk yolks plus one egg with the first amount of sugar until the volume has increased and the mixture appears paler. Stream in the banana butter from earlier while whisking, followed by the puree and vanilla. Take out about 1 tbsp of the flour in the recipe to coat the dried banana pieces, then whisk in the sifted flour, followed by the floury dried bananas.

Start whipping the whites on low speed, then gradually add the sugar and cream of tartar and increase the speed and continue whipping until medium-stiff peaks are reached. A third at a time, slowly but surely incorporate the whites into the yolk mixture and fold until just combined. Poor the batter into the prepared tin, tap to release big bubbles and level out the top. Bake for approx. an hour or more, check doneness by pressing the middle of the cake to see if it bounces back. Remove from the oven, unmold and place on a cooling rack.

For the yoghurt whipped cream, simply combine all the ingredients and whip to stiff peaks.

To assemble the layer cake, slice the cake into 4 equally-sized strips, and layer them with a quarter of the whipped cream per layer. For the top, lay down a thin layer of cream, then pipe rows of cream with a round tip. (If desired, increase the recipe for the cream and cover the sides as well).

nectarine & brown butter brioche buns

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I’m feeling not like myself recently. Just negative upon negative thought, all enwrapped in bitterness and jealousy. The worst thing is, I know why it is and what action can be taken, instead of being the sulky person that I’m mostly not. Being the only female in the household for the time being, I feel suddenly burdened by the responsibility that is usually carried by the mother figure – looking after younger siblings, shopping for groceries, cooking, doing all the chores and not being acknowledged for any of it. Even a little cast aside and ignored, with no one to talk to. Of course, most of it is in my head, I know that, but it doesn’t stop me from retreating into myself.

Fortunately, a 3-day trip to the East coast has been of great help in alleviating my boredom, which is easily confused with depression. Six hours of train ride each way and not an ugly scene in sight, but sunny beaches, crashing waves, fishermen on rocks and untouched wilderness.

 

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Once again, I’ve succumbed to hintofvanilla‘s food porn. The allure of a baked brown butter pudding in the centre of each rich, soft brioche bun, topped with fresh peach instantly seduced me. The dough rose so beautifully and unified with the filling and topping – this’ll not be the last time I’ll be making these, that’s for certain. I’m neither a pastry chef nor good at presentation, therefore I highly recommend visiting her blog for stunning photography and wonderfully detailed instructions on how to make these delightful treats. After all, who cares about the high butter content and caloric intake when it’s Chinese New Year’s, right?

cherry & pistachio frangipane tart

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Hypothetically, if someone asked me what my favourite ingredient to bake with was – and it’s hypothetical because it’s one of those things only I would ask myself pretending to be a famous pastry chef being interviewed – the answer would be ground almonds without hesitation. It’s super versatile, you can use it to replace flour in gluten-free recipes, make macarons, pâte sucrée and of course frangipane to go inside said pâte.

Once again I borrowed a very promising recipe from hint of vanilla and the results surpassed my almond-filled fantasies. The tart finished baking just as my dad was coming home, and he said he could smell it before even coming in the door. I won’t be posting the recipe since I followed it verbatim, except I made one 22cm tart instead of 4 minis, and used my own roasted almond tart dough that was previously made.

Please make this. I’m currently fighting the urge to make another one.

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chocolate orange chiffon cake

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When it comes to chocolate cakes, I belong to the rich & dark camp. My favourite kind of chocolate cake is one made wholly with high percentage dark chocolate, but without the dense structure of say a mud cake, I prefer a light soufflé texture almost to juxtapose with the deep, adult flavour.

I’ve been making a particular chocolate fallen cake for years, which I’m still in love with and tastes even better chilled when it becomes denser. Today I made it slightly differently, in the form of a chiffon cake with orange undercurrents from the orange zest, juice and diced peel which help cut through the sophisticated yet generally bitter chocolate.

 

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Since I had just enough leftover lemon buttercream, I sandwiched it in the middle to further enhance the citrus flavour which in my opinion, is a perfect marriage with the chocolate.

 

chocolate orange chiffon cake

40g dark chocolate (approx. 70%)
38g heavy cream
3 egg yolks
42g sugar
36g mild-flavoured vegetable oil
juice of 1/2 an orange + plain yogurt = 60g
33g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
1 tsp orange zest
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
3 egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar/drop of lemon juice (optional)
small handful of diced candied orange peel, to taste
Preheat the oven to 180C and line the bottom of a cake tin if it isn’t loose-bottomed, without greasing the tin at all. Coat the orange peel with about a tablespoon of the flour in the recipe.
Melt the chocolate with the cream under gentle heat (bain marie/water bath/microwave on low power) and set aside to cool slightly. Beat the yolks with half the amount of sugar until the sugar granules dissolve and the mixture thickens and pales in colour. Slowly stream in the oil while whisking to emulsify. Add the cooled but still liquid chocolate cream into the yolk mixture, followed by the juice and yogurt. Sift in all the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
To make the meringue, start whisking the whites on medium speed, then increase the speed as bubbles start to foam. Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice if using, and the remaining half of sugar a little at a time. Continue whisking until medium-stiff peak is reached.
Fold 1/3 of the meringue into the yolk batter to incorporate, followed by orange peel and the rest of the meringue in batches. Pour into the tin, smooth the top and bake for approx. 30-40 minutes until the top bounces back when pressed.

raisin bread

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I read a book the other day about how to make small talk, and on the very cover was the blatant statement that it should never start with the weather. I imagine that it probably applies to any kind of conversation, including a blogger to their reader. But you know what, life’s too short for me not to shitpost.

So I’ve been chasing wind and loving it. It breaks my heart that there’s only three weeks left before my beloved bike separates with me, even more than being separated from family, however horrible that sounds. I love the freedom and the pure thrill of riding right next to the railroad and pedaling as fast as I can to keep up with the trains flying past.
Oh, you’re just here for the food? Well this bread came about as an effort, frankly, to use up my raisin sourdough starter that I’ll have to separate with as well when my holidays are up. Raisin toast is absolutely everywhere in Australia for some reason, most frequently seen on the chalkboards outside coffee shops, but I’ve always found it too dry and lacking in depth of texture. That’s why I adapted one of my favourite sandwich bread recipes, which happens to be surprisingly straightforward as it requires no cooking and chilling of water-roux but still makes the softest stringy toast with dairy flavour undertones.

 

raisin bread (one 450g loaf)

300g bread flour
20g sugar
4g salt
2g active dry yeast
18g fed and active sourdough starter (or replace with more yeast)
15g unsalted butter
70g whole milk, scalded and cooled body temp.
135g lukewarm water
80g rum soaked raisins (or raisins)

Drain the raisins and set aside. Mix the yeast in the lukewarm milk and wait for it to foam up. Combine the yeasty milk, dry ingredients and 105g of the water and mix on low speed. Add the remaining water if needed; the final dough should be tacky but not sticking to your hands. Add the butter and mix until the dough can be stretched thin enough to be translucent. Add the raisins and mix briefly so they don’t break up.

Oil the bowl, form the dough into a ball and put it inside, spray the surface of the dough with a little water, cover and proof for an hour in a warm place. At the end of proofing the dough should be doubled in size and not bounce back when poked with a floured finger.

Take out the dough and punch the air out of it. Divide it equally in two and form each portion into a ball. Cover and rest for 15-20mins.

Roll each portion of the dough flat into a rough rectangle and roll them up from the short side. Cover and rest again for 15-20mins. Roll the dough flat, turn it over, roll it up from the short side and place the two rolls open side towards the long sides of the loaf tin. Spray the top with water, cover and let rise until the dough fills up to 90% of the tin. 10 minutes before done proofing, preheat the oven to 175C, then bake for 30 minutes. Loosen from tin and let cool for 20+ minutes before slicing.

chestnut pull-apart bread

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This bread came about when I stumbled upon a Korean sweet bread involving chestnuts that resembled monkey bread, except not as sticky-looking. Just as well, as we’re not too fond of excessive sugar in our breakfast foods. So I thought it an excellent opportunity to use up sweet roasted chestnuts and have my first go at a pull-apart style bread.
chestnut pull-apart bread

For the water-roux/tangzhong:
18g bread flour
88g water

For the dough:
44g unsalted butter, room temp.
40g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg, room temp.
116g bread flour
116g all-purpose flour
68g milk, lukewarm
4g instant dry yeast
all of the water-roux/tangzhong

For the caramel chestnut paste:
200g peeled roasted chestnuts
50g granulated sugar
pinch of salt
180g water

For the sticky sauce:
20g unsalted butter
20g brown sugar
pinch of salt

The directions to make the main dough are identical to that for the soft fluffy cinnamon rolls.

To make the chestnut paste, add the chestnuts and sugar into a saucepan on medium heat. Gently shake the pan once in a while but don’t stir. After a while the chestnuts will begin to toast and the sugar liquefy, continue to cook until the sugar turns into a rich amber colour. Add half of the water to start, stir the contents occasionally and cook until the chestnuts are tender and mashable, and the liquid reduces to a thick syrup (add some of the remaining water at a time if syrup is very thick but the chestnuts aren’t soft yet). Cool completely. Place the chestnuts with about half of the syrup into a food processor/blender and process until the desired consistency is reached (mine was semi-chunky). Add more syrup if it looks too dry to spread.

After the first rise (of the dough), punch down the dough and roll it out into a thinner rectangle. Divide the dough into 16 pieces, keeping the rest covered while you work with one. Fill each piece of dough with a teaspoon to a tablespoon of the chestnut paste, pinch together the dough and roll it into a ball. Repeat with the rest.

Make the sticky sauce by boiling the ingredients together until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.

In a greased and/or lined ovenproof container, arrange the 16 balls as indicated:

8 stretched and flattened pieces around the sides, 8 more in the centre. As an optional step, I also stuffed some of the remaining paste into the gaps. I also poured in half of the sauce into the bottom.

Cover and let rise for a second time until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 175C. In the meantime, re-warm the sauce and pour over the top. Bake for about 35 minutes, you may need to cover the top with foil in the last 10 minutes to avoid overbrowning.