apricot almond brown butter Hamantaschen

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I know, the name is a mouthful, and so if was a mouthful that I stuffed into my mouth as soon as these came out of the oven, possibly causing an ulcer or two.

Phew, I’ve been procrastinating again, haven’t I? How is it that the last time was just beginning of the semester and here I am, freaking out about seeing my first ever patient next week? Let’s hope the next time I post isn’t when I graduate *shifty eyes*.

I’ve made quite a few things – cupcakes, hot cross buns, etc. in the meantime, but just didn’t bother chronicling them, I suppose. I’ve still got the photos so could still post them one of these days, but I thought that I should go with today’s fresh bake instead.

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These smelled downright illegal from the beginning when the butter starts to brown to the final baking. Traditionally, hazelnuts are more often paired with apricot but almonds are still pretty damn delicious (how can it not be? the filling is basically frangipane). The enveloping cookie is very crisp, met with the soft, fragrant filling with a sweet fruity surprise in the centre – perfect way to start the Easter break.

 

Apricot almond brown butter Hamantaschen (makes ~41)

For the brown butter dough:
114g unsalted butter
120g sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
290g flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

For the almond brown butter filling:
85g toasted slivered almonds/almond meal
1 tsp flour
pinch of salt
40g icing sugar
60g of the browned butter from above
1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla

~80g apricot jam

First brown some butter. Place the unsalted butter in a saucepan on medium heat until the butter starts to melt, then bubble violently, then turn brown with a butterscotch aroma. At this point take it off the heat immediately and set aside to cool completely. Measure out 60g of the browned butter and place in a different container to chill until solid, this will be used in the filling.

Once the browned butter in the pot has cooled, whisk in the sugar, followed by the eggs and vanilla. Sift in the dry ingredients and stir until no more flour is visible. Turn out onto some clingfilm, pat the dough flat and chill in the fridge while you make the filling.

In a food processor, pulse the dry ingredients together until the almonds turn into powder. Add in the solid browned butter and pulse until it disappears, at which point add in the remaining ingredients and process until a thick paste is formed. Cover and chill until ready to use.

Working with about a quarter of the dough at a time, roll out on a lightly floured surface to 3mm uniform thickness. Take a circle cutter that is roughly 7-8cm in diameter, cut out the dough and place them on a lined baking sheet, spaced slightly apart. Scoop about 1/2 tsp each of the almond filling and apricot jam into the centre of each circle. Lift up the sides and pinch into a triangular shape, making sure to seal the edges. Continue to roll out dough and remaining scraps until there is no more dough or filling. Chill for at least 20 minutes before baking in a 180C oven for about 15 minutes or golden. Let cool in the pan for a minute then transfer to a wire rack to crispen up.

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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?

brown butter banana bread

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I could present this without comment. And I really should, as nothing I write will ever live up to, and is bound to only undermine the perfect simplicity that is this banana bread.

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But you know I’m still going to harp on and proclaim my love for the humble yet majestic banana bread. It was the first baking effort I truly nailed, way back when I was first attracted to baking. 5-6 years ago (I really thought it’d be longer than that) my mum bought me a ‘Baking for Beginners’ cookbook, one of those all-encompassing, baking for dummies instruction manuals. I no longer reach for it as my appetite has expanded beyond the basics, but it’ll always have that special place on my bookshelf. The banana bread recipe was the first of many recipes I tried from that book, and as amateurish as I was then, it satisfied me that it was so simple yet always produced a consistent result – clean, simple, fragrant banana bread.

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wrong choice of bowl size.

Flash forward to now, it’s still the most requested bake as we always have bananas around. Dad simply cannot survive one day without eating one – he calls it his nerve-calming food. Sometimes it almost seems boring and ‘not enough of a challenge’ when someone mentions I should make banana bread again, but as I venture out every time to find yet another new recipe (because you can never try too many) the excitement is reignited.

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As alluded to in the brown butter pear loaf post, I’m in an affair with brown butter as it adds such depth of flavour and fragrance to anything it touches. It is no exception in this recipe – it simply surpasses bread made with regular butter or oil by leaps and bounds. That said, I have no problem whatsoever with healthier versions made with oil, whole wheat flour and natural sugars (which I’m sure I’ll post about one day); but sometimes none other than the full-on, unadulterated, ultimate version will do, you know?

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What makes this my absolute favourite? It’s due to the fact that every single component just comes together in a harmonious way, some of which include:

  • the banana flavour: everyone knows that you have to use ripe bananas in baking. Honestly, you can get away with a little less ripeness with adjustments in sugar, but nothing will come close to a disgustingly-black, ripe-to-the-max banana in terms of fruity sweetness. Nowadays I like to store overripe bananas in the freezer – which turn coal-black – then roasting them in the oven or microwaving them if I’m in a pinch before use. Concentrated. Banana. Puree.
  • the fat: brown butter, duh. It’s almost like banana fosters cake with the toffee-like character it lends.
  • the sugar: as I use the absolute ripest bananas possible, this bread is just the right sweetness with less than 1/2 cup of added sugar. Experiment with different sugars, too. I used raw sugar and molasses this time but brown sugar would be wonderful as well.
  • the dairy: many recipes call for milk or buttermilk. As we don’t tend to keep the latter around, I use a combination of cream/milk and Greek yogurt. The acidity and the baking soda help with rising as well as the self-raising flour.
  • mix-ins? This obviously comes down to personal preference. I’m not one to shy away from adding dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips etc. to my batter. However this time I went for a pure batter with almond and coconut topping.
  • spices? Many a times have I sprinkled in a little cinnamon into my batter, even a chai-inspired mix of spices. It does add certain warmth in the same vein as comfort food. I find they go more hand-in-hand with oil-based recipes though, as they tend to overwhelm the buttery flavour. That said, I pretty much add earl grey to everything and anything.

With that rant out of the way, here’s my favourite (for now, the experimenting never ends) recipe for the purest and softest banana bread a.k.a. BBBB. It’s perfect for breakfast with tea, even a sneaky during-class snack.


The glorious BBBB
(makes one large 9″ loaf)

100g unsalted butter, browned and cooled
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp molasses (omit if using brown sugar)
125g sugar
30g milk/cream + 30g full-fat plain yogurt / 60g buttermilk
3 medium ripe-to-death bananas or ~300g peeled, mashed
250g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

Optional:
1/4-1/2 tsp spices e.g. nutmeg, cinnamon, loose leaf tea
up to 1/2 cup mix-ins

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Prepare a loaf tin by buttering and flouring the sides, and lining the bottom.

Whisk together the eggs, sugar, molasses and sugar until thoroughly mixed. Add in dairy and the mashed bananas and mix till combined. Add browned butter and stir to homogenise.

Sift the remaining dry ingredients together and fold into wet mixture. Pour batter into prepared tin and sprinkle on topping if so desired. Don’t pre-toast your nuts if you’re putting them on top as they’ll toast further in the oven. Bake for approx. 35 mins or until the top springs back when lightly pressed.

Best served warm.


Couldn’t work out a subtle way to include this disclaimer, but the new blog logo/graphic is very much inspired by Tom Hovey’s work for the GBBO. I used it as a reference and drew it myself, then – wait for it – coloured in in Paint. Paint. That is the extent of my artistic skills. Actually moderately pleased with it if I ignore that the blue strokes are obscuring the black lines.

*First exam is done! Super knackered, more from the heat than actual energy depletion. Slightly less awful photo quality this time as I got up early to make this in time for breakfast as opposed to staying up late.

apple cinnamon layer cake w/ pear compote

I made a nice cake today.

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It’s the time of year where our favourite fruit – mangoes are starting to come in, other fruits will have to make do while we impatiently await its peak when we can buy them by the tray. In fact, we’re so obsessed that one year my sister requested sliced mangoes on a plate instead of cake; and one time we used the power cut as an excuse to scarf down 5+ refrigerated mangoes before they would supposedly go bad: electricity was back in a mere hour. I imagine there’ll be plenty of opportunity to profess my love for the amazing goodness that is mangoes, but today belongs to the classic apple.

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The idea of apple crisps came from the ever-inspiring Poires au Chocolat. Slow-baked apple thins sprinkled with raw sugar and cinnamon – Emma brushed hers with sugar water but I a) was too lazy and b) thought the larger crystals of raw sugar would add crunch. The sugar, of course, dissolved into the apples – the slightly more complex flavour was the consolation prize.

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I wasn’t too keen on the frosting masking the brown-buttery fruitiness, but still wanted to balance the sweet compote with creaminess in the form of the last of the homemade mascarpone. Speaking of compote, the tender chunks of vanilla-infused pear add a layer of depth texture-wise, contrasted with the grated apple in the cake.

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I don’t know if there’s a discernible difference in the pictures today ̶c̶o̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶y̶ ̶a̶l̶l̶ ̶l̶o̶o̶k̶ ̶s̶h̶i̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶m̶e̶ , but I did actually use a real camera today. A 10+ y.o. Olympus, but still.

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More than often I’m struck with sonder – the realisation that every passerby has a life as complicated, full and real as mine, revolving around countless people and memories special to themselves. It’s the kind of deep stuff I think to myself when stuck in traffic on the bus for 40+ mins – that happened on Thursday.

One of my favourite people who I’m lucky enough to be friends with has commissioned me to make their birthday cake. I was completely ecstatic and honoured, and I still am, but still have a very hazy idea of what it’s going to be. The specifications were only: vanilla, chocolate and caramel with no frosting on the sides. Good thing I still have a month to brainstorm, but any ideas would be really appreciated.


Apple cinnamon layer cake w/ pear compote
(makes a teeny 5″ 3-layer cake)

For the brown butter apple cake:
60g unsalted butter
20g coconut oil (or other lightly flavoured vegetable oil)
80g brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
78g whole eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
75g plain flour
35g cake flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
50g buttermilk (or 25g milk + 25g plain yogurt)
120g grated apple (~1 huge apple or 2 small)

For the cinnamon mascarpone frosting:
100g mascarpone
1 tsp lemon juice
10g icing sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon, to taste

For the caramel pear compote:
1 heaped tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 medium/large pear, cut into small 1cm chunks
pinch of cardamom
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste

Prepare the apple crisps so they can bake while they oven’s preheating and the batter is being mixed. Place slice of apple (no more than 3mm) on a baking tray and lightly sprinkle with raw sugar and cinnamon on top. Put in the oven at 130C/265F and bake until dry and crisp, about 30 mins. Flip the crisps halfway and sprinkle the other half with cinnamon too. Pull the tray out and turn up to 180C/350F.

As with any great cake, start by browning the butter in a pot large enough for the entire batter. Melt butter over medium heat, cover with lid and let it turn brown on medium heat. It’s ready when it’s turned a deep golden colour and stopped splattering. Add the oil, sugar and salt while still hot. Let cool down and add the eggs (to weigh partial eggs, crack and beat 2 eggs until homogenous first) and vanilla. Sift in the flour, baking powder and soda, stir just until no more flour is visible. Stir in the buttermilk, and lastly the grated apple (with most of the juice squeezed out).

Pour batter into a lined 5″ tin and bake in the preheated oven for about 25 mins or until done. Cool completely before assembling.

To make the frosting, stir the mascarpone with lemon juice until smooth, then sift in the icing sugar and cinnamon and stir until combined. Keep in the fridge until assembly.

For the compote, heat the butter on medium heat until melted and bubbly. Add the pear and let caramelise slightly, then stir and add the sugar and vanilla and cardamom. Let the pear soften (only one way to test it) until tender but not falling apart, about 8 mins. Let it cool completely.

To assemble, slice the cake into however many layers you like (2 to 4 for my pan size). Spread on 1/2, 1/3 or 1/4 of the frosting on the bottom layer, depending on the number of cake layers. Distribute the frosting so that it forms a rim on the outside so that the inside can contain the pear compote. Repeat up to the top layer, where instead of compote, arrange apple crisps prettily.

brown butter + orange madeleines w/ caramel

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Apparently madeleines are one of those things that the non-French picture the French to be snacking on all day long. Like Camembert and snails and whatever else. However it is one of the innumerous pastries I’ve only had the inauthentic renditions of (meaning, I made it or a local bakery that doesn’t give a shit about honouring tradition did) and would pay to learn how to make properly.

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I have great love for these dainty, slightly pretentious little treats. But they tend to be on the dry side once cool. So I thought, if I’m going to re-warm one later (yeah I know they’re best fresh, but it’s the second best alternative and I don’t have to heat up the entire oven again), it might as well have hot caramel sauce oozing out of it.

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Not exactly what a purist would applaud, but actually when it comes to finding the best recipe I will not rest easy knowing there’s a better/more traditional recipe/method out there. I can end up looking for hours for the one I’m looking for, the one that’s more proven, that more have tried, the one created and used by pros. So when I headed to my usual trusted sources for such recipes for the real French madeleines and ended up with 3 slightly different recipes and very different methods, I was torn. Some called for the batter to be chilled before adding the butter, some after, some required one hour and some one day. Eventually I settled on what worked best faster, since I only have one pan: chill an hour before adding butter and freeze half an hour in the pan just before baking.

And of course I had to brown the butter.

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Brown butter orange madeleines with caramel sauce (makes 18 medium-sized ones)

For the madeleines:
2 eggs (115g)
75g granulated sugar
zest of 1 orange
145g self-raising flour
110g unsalted butter

For the caramel:
100g granulated sugar
20g water
40g cream
heaped teaspoon of butter
pinch of salt

Prepare a madeleine pan by lightly greasing (no big chunks of butter in the grooves) and flouring it.

Rub the zest and sugar together until moist and fragrant. Add to the eggs and beat until paler in colour, about 3 minutes if using an electric whisk. Gently fold in the sifted flour. Cover and chill in the fridge for an hour.

Close to the hour mark, start browning the butter. When it’s warm and not hot, drizzle into the chilled batter, folding at the same time to incorporate. Scoop the batter into the holes about what you imagine would fill 3/4 when spread out, but don’t spread it (or about 1 tbsp). If you can wait, freeze for half and hour. If not, bake in an 260C/500F oven for 5 minutes, then a further 7 minutes at 180C/350F.

For the caramel, melt sugar with water over medium-high heat in a deep pot. Occasionally brush down the sides with a wet pastry brush, or alternatively, put a lid down and let the condensation drip down the sides. In the meantime, warm up the cream until almost boiling and set aside. Once the sugar has turned golden, swirl the pot a bit to distribute the colour. When it’s amber all over, very carefully pour in the hot cream, and the butter, and stir until homogenous. Add salt to taste.

When the caramel has cooled enough to touch but not too viscous, pipe into the madeleines. Or drizzle it on. I even tried blobbing it onto the batter before baking. You can’t go wrong with caramel. Just remember to brush your teeth after smothering your whole face with it.

brown butter pear loaf

Brown butter. That stuff is like crack, man. The smell alone is enough to make me wanna swirl it through lotion and rub it all over my face. Yesterday morning it was destined to be made into banana bread; today a pear loaf (with bonus chocolate, of course). The decision-making process of how I arrived at the flavour was a simple one: the 2 Bosc pears I bought are desperately vying for my attention + there is leftover pear cider in the fridge = cake.

Is there anything better than a pre-swim bake on a Sunday afternoon? Only the feeling during the eating of it comes close. High on post-exercise endorphins and the rest of the cider, I surprised myself by breaking personal barriers, all over some period jokes.

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I cut down the sugar quite dramatically from the original recipe as it’s just right for my moderately sweet tooth. That and the fact that my lecturers’ judgemental faces inevitably come to mind whenever I reach for sugar.

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Brown butter pear loaf
(adapted from Fish, chips & gelato)

80g butter
pinch of salt
125g sugar (I used raw)
2 eggs
1 tbsp Greek yogurt/sour cream
20g pear cider (or other preferred liquid, such as milk)
250g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
up to 1tsp ground spices (I used loose leaf earl grey)
2 medium-sized pears (I used firm but ripe Bosc)
50g chopped dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F and grease & flour or line a 9″ loaf pan with baking paper.

Brown the butter. Heat it on medium-high in a pot large enough for the entire batter. After a few minutes it will start to boil so I put a lid on until the violent spluttering and splattering have subsided. You’ll know it’s ready when it smells amazing and starts turning brown with burnt bits at the bottom. Add in the salt and sugar, stir to dissolve and leave the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Once cool, whisk in the eggs one at a time. The mixture will now look glossy and no longer grainy. Add the yogurt and cider.

Sift the flour, baking soda and spice together and add to the pot. Fold until just combined, then add the pear (cut to whatever size you fancy, mine were about 1.5cm cubes). Sprinkle the top with chocolate for good luck.

Bake for roughly 30 minutes or until moist crumbs cling to a toothpick stabbed into the centre. (My chocolate threatened to burn so I put some foil on top.)

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