Monday, 23 April 2007

cake on request

Since S so sweetly requested a marbled cake, what else could I do but strap on my apron and start baking? It was the ideal occasion to use the cake mould my granny had given me recently. She had bought it aeons ago (the price label on the box is in Belgian francs – that long ago), only used it once and she knows I love baking so thought I would put it to better use than her.

The recipe I used is my family’s version of the classic quatre quarts, or pound cake, and is a complete doddle to make.

4 eggs (separated, whites whipped)
250g butter (softened)

250g sugar (including some vanilla sugar)

250g flour (self-raising or with baking powder)

Cream the butter with sugar, add egg yolks, fold in egg whites, add flour et voilà: basic cake dough. For a marbled cake, take a blob of dough and mix in some cocoa powder, until you’re happy with the cocoa-ness of it. Butter your cake mould, bung in a layer of plain dough, followed by a chocolate layer, another layer of plain dough and bake at 150˚C for about 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

The mould I used was smaller than the one I normally use, leaving me with quite a bit of leftover dough. Which mysteriously diminished every time S paid a visit to the kitchen. But still, there was enough left for me to finally try something with that unopened pack of matcha I’d had sitting in my pantry for so long and never got around to using. So I mixed a bit of matcha in the dough until the whole thing was sufficiently green, and baked it in rectangular mini moulds. The resulting mini cakes were deliciously moist, with a very subtle matcha taste – the bitterness of the tea nicely counterbalanced the sweetness of the cake.

Yummy though it was (even S approved), it did look a bit plain. So, in a vain effort to try and make it look a bit more professional and posh, I played around a bit with the presentation, plating it with strawberries, raspberry coulis and a dusting of icing sugar. The whole thing ended up looking as if the strawberries had been violently slaughtered on the cake, but the tart fruit and coulis nicely complemented the bitter matcha.

And the end result? I was happy I could finally used my ‘new’ baking mould and the matcha powder, and S was a very happy bunny indeed with his marbled cake. if only all happiness was as simple as a nice piece of cake…

Friday, 20 April 2007


no points for guessing where I've been...

Back at home, back at work and still ‘enjoying’ jet lag. With six long haul and three short haul flights in the past month, I’ve now done more than my bit to pollute the earth – maybe I should plant my back garden full of trees (but I’m not sure the neighbours would agree) or not use electricity for about a decade (but that would pose some serious problems involving ovens and baking, not to mention computers and my little blog). It feels strange being back after such a long time away. All that’s left now is memories. Oh, and a gazillion pictures to sort through.

a spread of Peranakan food (but not the home-cooked one)

Singapore was fun – I especially liked the notices in the MRT (the local underground) listing different fines for eating, drinking and smoking, plus a separate and huge fine for eating durian. S and I caught up with friends who introduced us to the different cuisines of Singapore: cheap ‘n cheerful hawker food, chilli crab, dinner at the Fullerton hotel (our friends know the chef there and he prepared something special for us). We also enjoyed an utterly delicious home-cooked Peranakan meal (prepared by a linguitst/writer/chef) for my friend W’s birthday. Thank you B and K for inviting us into your home and making our tummies so happy!

the Blue Mountains

In Australia we spent a lot of time with various friends, ate the most wonderful fish, seafood and tropical fruits, had too many cocktails, saw lots of funny-looking birds, cute geckos, big spiders, a teeny tiny croc in the wild and a cassowary. And I even managed to get a tan – yay! I also learned that ‘terrorism is un-Australian’, which I think is a great statement and every country in the world should adopt it. Not the ‘un-Australian’ bit, obviously, but un-‘whichever-country’.

a random surfer on Bondi Beach

We worked our way up the East Coast starting in Sydney, where we did touristy things such as walking around the city all day; taking pictures of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House (which is surprisingly beige in real life – it was built in the seventies after all – but in photos it strangely becomes bright white); spending a day at Bondi Beach (which is surprisingly small); and taking a day trip to the Blue Mountains (where you don’t want to get lost, apparently the whole national park is half the size of Belgium).

ugly but oh so yummy Moreton Bay bugs
(and my newly married friend A with his shiny new wedding ring)

In Noosa we had our first big get-together with friends and our first encounter with Moreton Bay Bugs. These ugly critters won’t win any beauty contests, but they are incredibly delicious. From Noosa we all moved on to Maleny for our friends’ wedding, which was beautiful and funny. Although it was a good thing we didn't know about all the funnel web spiders the owner of the place was killing while we were enjoying champagne at the courtyard reception. Of course we had to go to Australia Zoo – we couldn’t go to the area and not visit the zoo – so now we now exactly what to do when encountering a crocodile. And how to say ‘crikey’ like a native.

the incredibly beautiful Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island

After the wedding S and I spent a few days on Fraser Island before moving on to Port Douglas, where we rejoined our friends, took a daytrip to the Daintree Rainforest and went snorkeling and diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Even though I was terribly seasick all the way out to the reef, it was so worth it. Then we enjoyed one last day in Brisbane, where we met up with S’s former colleague D and his family for a lovely leisurely afternoon and a stunning meal at River Canteen (my eyes still glaze over when I think back at the pan-seared barramundi with twice baked sand crab soufflé, Sauternes crème and grilled asparagus, or the passionfruit soufflé with vanilla bean custard and passionfruit ice cream I had for dessert).

the Glasshouse Mountains, as seen from Maleny

Getting back home was a bit of a nightmare thanks to SingaPOOR airlines. First of all, they didn’t think it necessary to let us know they changed their schedule. We dragged ourselves out of bed at 5.30am and got to Brisbane airport at 7am for our morning flight, only to discover it didn’t exist any more and we were rebooked on the 3pm flight. Hanging around at an airport for half a day is not my idea of fun, especially since this delay meant I would miss (most of) my friend W’s birthday party in Singapore. The next day we got up at 5.30am again, went to Changi airport at 7am, only to be told that our flight was full and we couldn’t get on it. Eventually, we did manage to get on the flight after all, but, needless to say, I’m not in a hurry to fly SIA again any time soon. Having said that, once we did get on board, the entire service was impeccable. And the food not half bad for airline food (btw, check out this cute website about airline meals).

On another note, I got a comment from someone who is not related to me and not a personal friend – which means that someone is actually reading what I scribble down, wow. Thank you for the kind words, Helene. Now that I’m back home I cannot wait to start baking again and trying new recipes from the cookbooks and magazines I picked up in Singapore and Oz. Although they will have to wait just a bit longer, as my darling S has expressed a craving for marbled cake. And how could I refuse such a sweet and simple request...