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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

One-bowl Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

Today's a very special day for me, because it's my mom's 50th birthday =D Happy Birthday Mummy - may you look younger as the days go by and have less worries because I'm going to start work soon and you'll have more pocket money (from me) soon hehe ;p

Although reaching the big five-oh is a pretty big deal, we didn't celebrate much, because it was a weekday and with one brother in the army and absent, and the other going to have exams and me having exams, we didn't really bother with a celebration. I also did not have the time to make anything (cake or otherwise) for my mom's birthday, because I'm in the midst of having exams (final exams in my life, before I begin work), and because these are really important exams, I banned myself from baking and excessive internet-usage during these two weeks. In fact, this blog post is the product of many 'short breaks' I took while studying, heh. However, that being said, I will endeavor to make something for my mom once my exam ends, just so I can play in the kitchen once more. 

Nevertheless, my brother's birthday is also around the corner, on 10 December, so we are definitely going to feast once my brother and mine exams end. I have some pretty grand ideas in mind, so hopefully I'll be able to execute them! 

I actually drafted those two paragraphs in the morning, but hey hey, things change and change they did! By a stroke of luck, my brother managed to get a day out from army, having done duty over a festive holiday; the other brother came home from school early; my dad took leave, and why - I took time out to make a cake for my mommy dearest =D

This is the photo I took, via instagram, hastily taken again, because we were all hungry and I was SO happy to see that the cake turned out so well. This is my first time making a 4-layered cake, and I must say that dreaming about it helps - it didn't turn out too bad. Yes I know the layers aren't equal and there are huge holes in my cake, but hey - it's my first try okay! In fact, for the first 2 layers, I used natural coloring (strawberry powder), and had to resort to red coloring only for the last two layers because the strawberry powder wasn't intense enough. And you know what's the most awesome part about the cake? It's made using my 3-ingredient sponge cake.

Yes, I'm not kidding you - I used just eggs, flour and sugar, with some coloring for this cake. And whipped cream of course. Hopefully I'll find time to blog about this cake soon-ish, because I completed the entire cake in less than 90 minutes. The cake layers take 15 minutes to bake each, so everything was chop-chop. And best thing of the day was, the cake was finished by everyone. Like how rare is that? I've mentioned previously that my brothers don't eat my cakes because they think they are horrible, but they finished this cake :] My mom had seconds and my dad too. WHEE :] And I'm the happiest person of all. I think my mom was pleasantly surprised because all her children are home and she got a double surprise birthday cake (it was an all-white cake and I told her that there's a surprise inside) hehe.


Now, onto these cupcakes. Over the past year, I have experimented with more than enough chocolate cupcake recipes - in fact, I think I have experimented with close to 20 different recipes! I have a few favorites, but I always forget to take photographs of the cupcakes, so the recipes are not posted yet. These cupcakes are the result of last week's experiment, and the recipe is in my top-three chocolate cupcake recipes. The original recipe received over 600 rave reviews, and having made it a few times (to experiment and for my cousin's baby shower), I have simplified the method to a one-bowl recipe. This is perfect, because the other recipes I have use the creaming method, and since I'm usually very lazy, one bowl is definitely the way to go. 

One-bowl Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes
Very loosely adapted from BBC Good Food’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake
Makes 6-9 standard cupcakes, depending on how much you fill the cupcake

50g     dark chocolate, of at least 50% cocoa solids
50g     unsalted butter, cubed
¼ tsp  instant coffee granules, dissolved in 25ml water
45g     all-purpose flour
½ tsp   baking powder
⅛ tsp   salt
⅛ tsp   baking soda
35g     soft brown sugar
40g     fine granulated sugar (or castor sugar)
7g       cocoa powder
1         egg
20ml   buttermilk


  1. Preheat the oven to 140°C (fan-forced) or 160°C (conventional).
  2.  Place the coffee granules in a large metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Add in the cold water to dissolve the coffee granules. Add in the chocolate pieces, together with the butter. Add in the cocoa powder to dissolve as well. Stir gently until everything is melted and well combined. Alternatively, you can microwave the mixture on low for about 3 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool. 
  3. Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugars. 
  4. Stir in the buttermilk into the melted chocolate mixture and mix well. Test the mixture to see if it is warm (should be slightly warm to your finger). Then, crack in the egg and mix well. The mixture should not be too hot otherwise the egg will cook. 
  5. Once the egg is fully incorporated, add in the dry ingredients and mix well. 
  6. Spoon the batter into prepared cupcake liners, filling to about half full only. Place in the oven for about 20 minutes, testing at the 18 minute mark with a cake skewer. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the tins for about 10 minutes before removing to cool on a wire rack. 
  7. Once the cupcakes have cooled, you can proceed to decorate them with a ganache or buttercream frosting. 

Janine's jots: 
  • Note: Do not worry if for the first 8 minutes you do not see the cupcakes rising. The cupcakes have a slow rise, but once they do, they go crazy. My less than half filled cupcakes gave me the results you see here. They all have domed tops. 
  • Taste: Just a tip, if your chocolate has a lesser cocoa content but you still want that bittersweetness to come through, increase the amount of cocoa powder to a maximum of 15g – this will mimic the bittersweet chocolate, but make sure your cocoa powder is of good quality. Also make sure you use good quality instant coffee, because the taste of coffee (very slight but is discernible) and chocolate will linger on in the mouth after eating the cupcake. 
  • Texture: The cupcakes are sufficiently moist, with a fine crumb. They are not too crumbly, which is what I prefer. 
  • Serving size: This is the quartered version of the original recipe, and I have tweaked the baking agents proportions to reflect that. I have tried this recipe and it works very well. Depending on how much you fill the cupcake liners, you can get a maximum of 10 cupcakes (filled about 40% each), with the cupcakes doming slightly above the cupcake liner, or if you want a huge naked cupcake, fill it to 75%, and you will get 6 huge domed cupcakes/muffins. 
  • Modifications: The original recipe called for buttermilk, but I didn’t have that, so I substituted it with milk and vinegar. I used the proportions of 18ml milk with 5ml vinegar, which is more vinegar than usual, but it worked well. I also drastically reduced the amounts of sugar required (50g each) to 35g and 40g. I tried this recipe another time, further reducing the sugar to a total of 60g and it was still okay for me, but some tasters (ie family members) thought that it should be a tad sweeter since the chocolate taste was rather intense. I originally used less water and milk in the recipe, but I have found after trying this a few times that you can use quite a large amount of liquid in this recipe – it is pretty forgiving – to get a more moist cupcake. I have used a total of 60ml liquid instead of the 45ml total. 
  • Storage: The cupcakes keep well at room temperature for a week, although the tops get a little sticky towards the end of the week. You can also keep them in an airtight container in the fridge, they do not dry out dramatically. 
  • Would I make this again?: Definitely! The reviewers and the title did not lie, it really is an 'ultimate chocolate cake' recipe. I made this for my cousin's baby shower and many people liked them, preferring them to the ordered cupcakes which had shortening frosting :X That being said, I still have another favorite chocolate cupcake recipe which I have yet to share. I prefer the texture of that recipe.  

Tiny dome from filling the cupcakes to 50%

Left: BBC; Right: Taste recipes

In this picture, you can see a comparison of yet another chocolate cupcake recipe I tried. It is meant to be a normal cake recipe, but I made them into cupcakes instead. There are very very slight differences to both recipes - even as I look at the photo above, I can't really tell which is which. As you will see, proportions are almost similar, with very slight variation, but as will be explained in my jots below, I preferred the ultimate recipe to this recipe below. 

Classic chocolate cupcakes
Very loosely adapted from, first sighted at Ju's
Makes 6 standard cupcakes

50g     all-purpose flour
¼ tsp   baking powder
⅛ tsp   salt
⅛ tsp   baking soda 
5g       cocoa powder 

50g     dark chocolate, of at least 50% cocoa solids
56g     unsalted butter, softened
55g     castor sugar
¼ tsp   vanilla extract
1         egg
32ml   milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. 
  2. Melt the chocolate over a bain marie or in a microwave oven and let it cool. 
  3. Sift the dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cocoa powder together. Set aside. 
  4. Beat the softened butter together with the sugar, until creamy and fluffy. Add in the vanilla extract, followed by the egg. 
  5. Add in the cooled melted chocolate. Next, add in half of the dry ingredients, making sure to incorporate all the dry ingredients before adding in half of the milk. Add in half of the remaining dry ingredients (25% of the total), alternating with the final half of the milk and ending with the addition of dry ingredients. Beat until everything is well incorporated. 
  6. Spoon the batter into prepared cupcake liners and bake for 18-25 minutes, checking at the 20th minute to see if the cupcakes are done. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the tins for about 10 minutes before removing to cool on a wire rack. 
  7. Once the cupcakes have cooled, you can proceed to decorate them with a ganache or buttercream frosting. 

Janine's jots: 
  • Note: For both recipes, I used the exact same butter, chocolate and cocoa powder, as well as weight of eggs and other dry ingredients. This was to make sure that this mini taste test would be a fair one. 
  • Taste: I felt that the chocolate taste was not as strong in this recipe, perhaps because there was no coffee to enhance the flavor of the chocolate and because there was 2g less cocoa in this recipe. I thought the addition of brown sugar in the BBC recipe helped enhance the chocolate flavor as well, bringing a slight maltiness which is very slightly discernible (I used Muscavado). 
  • Texture: I thought that this recipe was slightly more crumbly than the BBC's one, which I didn't like. The cupcakes did not rise as much as the BBC ones as well, probably because of the smaller amount of baking powder used. 
  • Would I make this again?: Not really, because I far prefer BBC's recipe. Also, although crumb might be finer for this recipe, this recipe is troublesome if you consider that you can get equivalent or better results with a one-bowl recipe. I don't have to wash extra beaters ;p Nevertheless, this is not a bad tasting recipe, but I would definitely use homemade buttermilk, and add coffee to the recipe the next time, to up the flavors a little. 

I'll be submitting these two recipes to Min for Aspiring Bakers #13: Enjoy Cupcakes! (November 2011). If you do try these recipes, do drop me a comment and let me know how you like them! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hokkaido Chiffon Cupcakes (北海道戚風蛋糕), and how to get to JB

I've had a number of emails asking me about how to go to JB, or specifically, how to get to certain baking shops in JB. As much as I love Malaysia, I must admit that public transport options in JB are pretty sucky, and taking buses to these baking shops I've listed can be quite a feat/hassle - since the bus stops are not exactly near those places (you have to walk across roads, etc) and there are no proper bus stops (you might know what I mean if you've seen Malaysian buses stop at the weirdest points on the road). I had initially wanted to list down a number of transport options to get to JB, seeing how qualified I am to do so - before my family decided to stay in Singapore, I travelled to and fro JB and Singapore every single day (yes, every day no joke) for over a decade. Whenever I tell people of how much time I took to commute every day (4 hours to and fro), people go, "Wow - how did you manage to do well in school while spending so much time traveling?" Well, I've to admit that I've no idea - even I feel amazed that I managed to find time to study and have a number of CCAs (after-school activities for those who are unfamiliar with the Singaporean love for acronyms). So yes, I am more than qualified to tell you how to get to JB. Back then, there were only a few buses plying the Singapore-JB route - meaning you had to wait really really long if there was a traffic jam. Today, so many buses - CW1, CW2, 160, 170, 950, TS2, etc ply the route and stop at so many more stops in Singapore and JB, making things much more convenient.

If you want more information on travel options to Johor Bahru (JB), do look at this Wikitravel entry on JB - it is really very informative and saves me from having to explain.

I also wanted to clarify certain misconceptions that readers might have got from the list of shops:

  1. Although some of the shops have addresses listed as 'Larkin' - these are not at the Larkin Bus Terminal that some JB-SG buses stop at. They are quite a distance away and I wouldn't advise walking there!
  2. For Ng Ming Huat, you can try taking a bus there - it is next to Crowne Hotel and relatively near to Pelangi Mall and Holiday Plaza and KSL City, but for the life of me, I have no idea which buses stop near it because I have never taken a bus there myself. 
  3. For the shop Perling Indah - it is NOT near Taman Bukit Indah at all. Taman Bukit Indah is another terminal for the buses CW3 and CW6. Perling Indah is actually in the row of shops next to Perling Mall, which is the mall that you might see when exiting the Second Link at the Taman Perling exit. Perling Indah is the second last shop and is next to a 24-hours Indian Muslim eatery Sayed. For the intrepid, you can choose to take CW3 and tell the bus driver "Perling Mall" - this will deposit you on the road across Perling Mall, after which you have to jaywalk across two two-lane road with a rather huge drain separating them. (The pedestrian crossing at one end of the road doesn't really work and I wouldn't advise you trying to cross there because most cars ignore the red light anyway, making it really dangerous to attempt crossing at the pedestrian crossing. Ironic yes?) Then, you still have to cross another small two-lane road (with little traffic) before getting to Perling Mall, then walking the width of the mall before reaching that row of shops that Perling Indah is on. Note that the Perling Mall stop does not have a bus stop, but there is a makeshift 'terminal' for the CW3 buses which head to Bukit Indah first before heading to Second Link via Bukit Indah and then terminates at Jurong East. Pretty confusing so yup - only for the courageous!  

Causeway link
Like I've mentioned previously, I seriously do not advise traveling around JB by bus - it is difficult and a waste of time. Either go by car or taxi if you wish to head to these places. I hope this helps those who have been wondering! For your information, the CW3 and CW6 I'm talking about is this bright yellow bus on the right. I have linked up the buses which head to Singapore in the hyperlink underneath.


Alright, now that I've said my piece, it's onto the post proper. I'm making Hokkaido Chiffon Cupcakes (北海道戚風蛋糕) today :]

I know quite a few people have raved about it, and I don't want to be a wet blanket, but this recipe really is in fact a chiffon cake recipe, albeit made into cupcakes. I actually don't get the Hokkaido in the title, but like SD - I reckon that it's probably because of the Hokkaido cream or milk used in the filling of the cupcake (which I've omitted here). And to be a bigger wet blanket, this recipe actually resembles most of the chiffon cake recipes I've seen and yes, I've also used this recipe in a chiffon cake tin and the cake turns out fine - without the falling and wrinkly top. In fact, I've actually tweaked this recipe to make it pandan flavored as well as reduced the amount of egg whites used (which is my mom's chiffon cake recipe) and it works fine. So erm, sorry but there's nothing much to rave about BUT I caveat this to say that it is still quite a good recipe, albeit a little on the not-so-sweet side (which is suitable for me but not people with sweeter preferences). It also kinda cheats on the usual chiffon recipe because baking powder is used (the real authentic/old school chiffon cake recipes (or at least my mom's) don't use baking powder), which explains the extra lift. 

Hokkaido Chiffon Cupcakes (北海道戚風蛋糕)
Adapted from Jessie who got it from the book 不用模型做点心
Makes 12-14 tall cupcakes 

4 egg yolks (about 80g)
70g castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
80ml fresh milk 
60ml odorless oil

135g all-purpose flour (or cake flour if you prefer)
4g (1 tsp) baking powder

6 egg whites (about 180g)
50g castor sugar

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C.
  2. Place the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk them together with the 70g of sugar until yolks turn a pale yellow. Add the vanilla extract, followed by the milk and oil. Whisk well to combine. 
  3. Next, sieve in the flour and baking powder, making sure to incorporate all the flour into the mixture. 
  4. In another bowl, beat the egg whites on high for about 30 seconds until foamy, before adding the remaining 50g of castor sugar. Beat the egg whites until firm peaks are achieved (but not overly stiff). 
  5. Take a third of the egg whites and fold it into the egg yolk mixture to lighten it. You don't need to be overly gently with this one-third portion of egg whites. Continue folding in the remaining egg whites, making sure to fold all the whites gently until you get a very pale yellow batter. Fill the cupcake liners until about 70%, making sure not to over-fill the liners as the batter will rise quite a bit before falling when cooling. 
  6. Bake the cupcakes for about 20 minutes, or until the tops turn a golden brown and a cake skewer comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the tin before removing it onto a cooling rack to cool. The cupcakes will fall and wrinkle, but that's normal - you can top it with a dollop of cream or sieve icing sugar on it to cover the 'wrinkles' up. 

Janine's jots: 
  • Taste: As mentioned by Rima in her post, this cupcake is a little on the not-so-sweet side (perfect for me) but not so for someone look for that sugar hit. I'd definitely advise increasing the sugar amounts by at least 10% if you want something sweeter, or just top the cupcake off with a dollop of whipped cream or fill it with curd for that little something extra. 
  • Texture: It's almost as if you are 'eating clouds' actually - it is very light, (even though I used all-purpose flour and not cake flour), and each cupcake is easily consumed in three bites or less, without that 'heavy' gelat filling you get after eating a slice of pound cake. You can probably finish two or three of these at a go! Also, I prefer to bake these a little browner so that I get the 'crust' but if you want an overall soft chiffon, do bake it for a shorter time (start checking at 15 minutes), and once you get a golden color, you can remove the cupcakes! 
  • Serving size: I made about 14 cupcakes with the full recipe and 8 cupcakes with the halved recipe - probably because I filled the cups slightly less the second time around. 
  • Modifications: I have also made a halved portion of this recipe and it works fine. You can also bake this recipe in a normal 23-cm chiffon cake tin. 
  • Storage: The cupcakes stored well for a day or two (beyond that I've no idea because they were gone) but I'd presume that they should keep well in the fridge for at least a week. 
  • Would I make this again?: Definitely - it is a rather standard chiffon cake recipe which I turn to once in a while anyway :]
  • Note: I would advise using slightly higher cupcake liners to enable the cake to rise (it looks visually more appealing too). However, normal liners are fine too!

In pictures: 

PS: That crusty golden brown part is actually my favorite part of the cake. I ate a few of those tops and left the bottoms for my family...which led my mom to exclaim, "Which rat bit the cupcakes?" --> Of course she knew I ate them - I've this weird habit where I like to eat crusts - I like the last slice of the bread because it's the crust, same for the ends of the spring roll, etc... you get my drift. 

Oops the white balance is a little off here :/ 
As you can see, the inside of the cupcake still remains soft and fluffy, with a nice golden brown crusty exterior :] Since this is a chiffon cake in a cup, I'll be submitting this to Min for Aspiring Bakers #13: Enjoy Cupcakes! (November 2011)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Low-fat Carrot Cupcakes using Homemade Applesauce

I'm sorry I haven't been posting this week and last - I'm not sure if I've mentioned it, but I'm supposed to be studying for my final exams (really final final exams since I'll be starting work right after these exams) and at the same time, I'm in Sydney. Strange? Well, I'm supposed to be studying in Sydney, and visiting Jon at the same time, so it works out to be a holiday-and-study-and-visit trip? In any case, I haven't had the urge to blog, although I've been baking like a mad woman these days - I love it when I have guinea pigs to try recipes on, so I've been baking cupcake recipes (complete with frosting since Aussies love sweet things) and asking Jon to bring them for his friends every day. The only bad thing is that his friends are too nice, and don't really give me the criticism that I'm seeking - I want pure unadulterated criticism - i.e., how can the cupcakes be improved, but I usually get comments like "quite nice" or "they finished everything" instead.  -__-" Not too helpful, but hey, I'll take whatever I can get :]

Anyway, I don't usually bake frosted cupcakes, because my family isn't too fond of frosting, and any frosting I do is usually hidden in between the cake layers such that it is a very thin layer - hence my frosting techniques definitely need more work! Just look at the photographs - my attempts at proper swirls and roses kinda failed. BUT I am in part blaming it on the tools - I have been hunting for the Wilton 1M tip for ages, but the staff at the Phoon Huat outlet I visit tells me that this tip has been out of stock even at Wilton itself, so no stock has been coming in. I took the staff's recommendation with a 823 tip, but the tip just isn't big enough to give the classic 'rose' swirl that I'm looking for - sigh. Guess I'll just have to wait for the tip to come back in stock! 

Nicest-frosted cupcake of the lot - it almost looks like the rose I was trying to achieve? 

In any case, I bought a huge bag of Aussie carrots for A$1.10, which was on offer at Coles and decided that I should make carrot cupcakes with them. I usually make a carrot sheet cake, but here in Sydney, I don't exactly have a sheet pan and I only have a 6-hole muffin pan, so cupcakes it was! So I decided to  check out a new carrot cake recipe - particularly Veronica's (Quay Po) carrot cake recipe which has been raved by  Sonia, among others. I actually have my own to-go-to carrot cake recipe, which I derived after many rounds of tasting and testing last year (also when I had a huge craving for cream cheese and carrot cake),  so I was pleasantly surprised after I compared Veronica's recipe and realized that mine and hers were pretty similar! I guess this shows that my testing was really quite successful? ;p The only difference was in the types of sugar used (I like a use a combination of white and brown), and I tend to use less vegetable oil and no nuts or raisins in the recipe since I prefer the nuts on the outside with the frosting. 

As such, I decided to stick to my own recipe, but spicing things up a little by adding a little nutmeg which Veronica called for and substituting some of the fat with applesauce (thus making it low fat!) :] For those of you who might not have heard of this substitution before, applesauce is actually a very common substitute for vegetable oil in a recipe - as such, it is usually used in muffin recipes which tend to use vegetable oil. It sort of adds moisture to the recipe, mimicking to an extent what fat does in a recipe. You can substitute applesauce for vegetable oil on a one-for-one basis, i.e., if the recipe calls for one cup of oil, substitute it with one cup of applesauce. However, I would advise against such a substitution, because the cake or baked good will turn out a little gummy and not as flavorful (plus the apple taste will be quite obvious and strong). Instead, substitute half of the oil with applesauce, and you can accordingly reduce the sugar by about 5-10% since the applesauce is naturally sweet. Do note however that the taste of apples can be quite evident, so keep that in mind when doing substitutions! On top of applesauce, you can actually use other fruit purees, such as banana and pumpkin, both of which I have tried using in other recipes (but note that these have stronger 'tastes' than applesauce). 

You can see the tiny chunk of apple which I didn't mash properly on the right of the cupcake. And yes, I'm stingy with frosting since I don't like overly sweet things. And sorry I had to use flash - the table was black and it was dark when I took this. 

Carrot Cupcakes 
This is my own recipe after much testing, which was originally very loosely adapted from an allrecipes recipe.  
Makes 6 large cupcakes 

80g all-purpose flour 
⅛ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp nutmeg 
1 egg
30g odorless oil (I used sunflower oil)
30g homemade unsweetened applesauce (see recipe below)
40g brown sugar
30g white granulated sugar 
100g shredded (or grated) carrots 

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. 
  2. Sift the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg) together. Add in both brown and white sugars and mix well.  
  3. In another bowl, combine the egg, oil and applesauce together, mixing well. 
  4. Gradually pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring briefly until just combined. Then, stir in the shredded carrots. It is okay to have slight traces of flour in the batter. 
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake tins and bake for about 18-20 minutes, until the tops are brown and a cake tester comes out clean with few crumbs sticking to it. 

Cream cheese frosting 
Adapted from Sonia

150g cream cheese, at room temperature
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
70g icing sugar, sifted 

  1. Note: I didn't have a mixer so I manually beat the butter and cream cheese. 
  2. Using a wooden spoon, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and creamy. 
  3. Add in the icing sugar in two portions, until all the icing sugar is incorporated. Test the frosting at this point in time to check the sweetness. Add more icing sugar if desired. 
  4. Place the mixture into a piping bag and begin piping. If the mixture is too soft (especially if you beat by hand and have contributed too much body heat to the bowl), refrigerate the frosting (in the piping bag) for half an hour before piping onto the cooled cupcakes. 

Homemade unsweetened applesauce recipe
There is not much of a recipe for the applesauce, but more of directions. 
You will need 

    • A combination of apples (or you can just use a single variety)
    • Some drinking water
    • Spices, if desired.
    • A large pot (with a lid) to cook the apples
    • A wooden spoon 
    • A potato masher/blender
    • Airtight container 

  1. Take any combination of apples you desire - I used one each of Fuji, Red Delicious and Sundown apples. Peel, core and chop the apples. 
  2. Place the diced apples in a pot and fill the pot with about an inch of water. Put the lid on the pot and turn the heat to high to boil the apples. After about 5 minutes, remove the lid and turn down the heat to medium, letting the mixture simmer and allowing the water to evaporate. 
  3. Stir the mixture occasionally. Depending on the type of apples, the apples will start to disintegrate. The apples have a high water content, so your mixture will appear more liquid. My mixture took about 15-20 minutes to soften. You can then mash up the apples using a potato masher or with a handheld blender. You can also season the applesauce with cinnamon (or other spices) but I chose to leave it as it is since I wanted to use it in my baking. 
  4. Let the mixture cool before storing in an airtight container in the fridge until ready for use. The applesauce will keep well in the fridge for about a week or two. Do freeze it if you don't plan to use it anytime soon. 
Swirling from the outside-in (bottom) and inside-out (top cupcake) does give you very different results. 

Janine's jots: 
  • Taste: The taste of applesauce is evident, but not overpowering. In fact, some of whom tasted the cupcakes didn't realize that there was applesauce in it. I would definitely up the spices again the next time, seeing that I prefer a very spicy carrot cake but this amount of spices worked fine as well. The cream cheese frosting was also sufficiently sweet, although some commented that they prefer it slightly sweeter (since my cake was already not too sweet). 
  • Texture: I think I shredded my carrots a little too finely this time, because I didn't get the usual 'bite' from the carrots this time. Otherwise, the cupcakes were moist (less moist than usual since I used applesauce) but sufficiently moist, especially after consuming them with frosting. 
  • Serving size: Makes 6 cupcakes nicely, however I filled my cupcake liners to about half-full, and managed to get an extra one cupcake. This is why the cupcakes appear slightly shorter than normal. Do fill the cupcake liners to three-quarters if you want a normal-height cupcake. 
  • Modifications: I used a heaping ½ tsp of baking soda because applesauce is acidic and requires a tad more baking soda. If using just plain oil, use a normal level ½ tsp. I doubled the cinnamon as well to 1tsp, because I like a 'spicier' carrot cake, and also because since there is less oil in the recipe (fat acts as a flavor carrier in cake recipes), I amended that by using more cinnamon to ensure the cake remained equally tasty. I'll also try using a tad more carrots the next time, grated a little coarser for more 'bite'. 
  • Storage: Unfrosted, the cupcakes store well at room temperature for a few days. However, I would advise storing them in an airtight container in the fridge so that they can last longer. In any case, this recipe only produces 6 cupcakes, so it really isn't that hard to finish them all :] 
  • Would I make this again?: Definitely! It is my to-go-to carrot cupcake recipe for a good reason ;p

And as you can see, I've been using the same three cupcakes in all the photos because the other two were even more horribly frosted than this and the rest were in my tummy by the time I remembered to take photographs heh. Anyway, I'll be submitting this to Min for Aspiring Bakers #13: Enjoy Cupcakes! (November 2011). Hopefully I have time to upload the photographs of the other cupcakes I've tried making. I've done a strawberry cupcake comparison (between Martha's strawberry cupcakes, Deb's pink lady cake and Stef's foolproof strawberry cupcake recipes) whose results I'm dying to share, but as usual, forgot to take photos and the only few photos are still on the camera!

Final gratuitous photo of the cupcake :]

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Arugula, Basil, Cherry Tomatoes, Feta and Fig Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

You might realize that savory dishes are few and far between on this blog. The reason being that I live with my parents, so my mom cooks for me when I'm at home, and either I'm far too lazy to whip something up for myself, or I'm way too hungry to even take out a camera.

So on a rainy day when my mom wasn't home and there was nothing in the house - no pasta or day-old rice for me to fry, and absolutely nothing to eat besides vegetables, I decided to throw together this fig salad. These figs made a brief appearance in our supermarkets a few weeks ago, and knowing how short the season for figs were, I grabbed a few of them, intending to use them in anything I could think of. After using these figs in a tart and a pizza, as well as eating them as they are, I was left with a couple of figs left, and they were fast turning soft. On that rainy day, I decided to make myself some fig salad coupled with all the other veggies I had in the fridge. I happened to be lucky and had fresh basil and rocket/arugula as well as cherry tomatoes in the fridge - leftovers from a pizza-making session the day before. 

Together with some crumbled feta, a drizzle of honey and a mixture of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, my lunch was settled. Like I said, I seldom have posts on such 'dishes', but I decided that the weather (post-rain) had really good light and I should definitely take a few photos of them figs, because I didn't take any photos of the other things I made with them >.< and figs are really pretty when photographed. I have to say that these hastily taken photos of the salad do look pretty mouthwatering, even though I'm typing now after a full meal of Vietnamese pho. 

There is no fixed recipe for this salad, and neither was this taken from any particular source, but I was inspired by a fig, goat cheese and arugula flatbread by Melissa (I made this during my pizza-making session and it was so yummy that there's no photographic evidence of it left heh).


Fig Salad with Arugula, Basil, Cherry Tomatoes and Feta, with Balsamic Vinaigrette
There is no fixed recipe for this, but these are the portions I used for a single serving for lunch. 

1 fig, quartered or sliced
Bunch of arugula
Bunch of basil, roughly chopped
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons of feta, crumbled

2 parts balsamic vinegar to 1 part extra virgin olive oil
Drizzle of honey, if you want it sweet
Salt and pepper to taste

Method (in photos): 

Wash all your veggies/fruits well before cutting them :]

Combine the extra virgin olive oil together with balsamic vinegar, adding some salt and pepper to taste. Throw in the chiffonaded basil and combine.

After slicing and dicing the tomatoes and arugula, throw them into the vinaigrette and mix well.

Add in the figs (try not to toss the salad too much since figs are quite fragile) and crumble the feta cheese on top before consuming. Bon appetit! 

Janine's jots: 
  • Taste: I tend to prefer my balsamic vinaigrette more balsamic-vinegary, hence the 2:1 ratio. Do stick to equal parts balsamic vinegar and EVOO for a more balanced vinaigrette. I especially loved how the sour feta cheese went together with the sweet balsamic vinegar (make sure to get a good bottle - balsamic vinegar should be more sweet than vinegary), and matched with the sweetness of the figs. I felt that the basil played an important role in adding more 'zest' to the salad too. The peppery arugula was a plus!
  • Texture: Absolutely loved the different textures - the softness of the figs, the crunch from the tomatoes, coupled with the arugula - YUM!
  • Serving size: I wasn't too hungry - so the portions were enough for myself. I would think this salad will go well with a flatbread or as a delicious, tasty side to any meat dish. 
  • Modifications: You can use goat's cheese instead of feta, or any strong-tasting cheese to match the balsamic vinegar and honey. Any other salad vegetables would go well too!
  • Would I make this again?: Definitely! Like Donna Hay would say, fast, fresh and simple! :]

PS: Call me dumb/swakoo but I never knew that figs were known as 无花果 in Mandarin. Even though I knew that 无花果s had a seedy interior, the ones the Chinese ever eat (and the ones I ever saw) were the dried ones - small brown round things, about the size of a walnut. Which was why I was super shocked when my mom told me that figs are the very same as 无花果 (when I was lamenting the fact that figs are so rare and I've never seen them in Singapore ever). Of course, the dried ones and the fresh ones are of different species - one is the common fig, and the other probably black mission but hey, it's always interesting to learn something new everyday :]

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Naked Blueberry Lemon Cupcakes or Blueberry Lemon Muffins [creaming method]

This month's Aspiring Bakers could not have come at a better time - this month I've got relatives getting married, cousins celebrating birthdays, my mom's big half-a-century-old birthday - all opportunities for making beautiful cupcakes :]

After the success of my blueberry-lemon muffins earlier, I decided to take on another recipe muffin recipe. I thus tried this bookmarked recipe - an extremely popular muffin recipe on all recipes. I tried it with the original muffin mixing method - combining the wet and dry separately and briefly combining them before baking. However, I didn't like the texture of those muffins. I found the crumb to be too coarse and the muffins not as tasty because they used regular oil. Truth to be told, I prefer the tight crumbs that are typical of a cupcake. I thus decided to adapt that recipe to a creaming method, at the same time using butter instead of oil. I thus renamed this "cupcakes" because of the method used, although I'd think that in truth, this combination of flavors is typically found in morning muffins. Heck, even most muffins nowadays use the creaming method, so what exactly demarcates a muffin or cupcake is dubious even.

Ps you will realize that all three photos are of the same muffin, albeit from different perspectives. Well, this was cos it was the only muffin left when I realized that I forgotten to take photos. Admittedly not the nicest and most flattering photo, but it'll do. The blueberries were very fresh, and hence 'bled' a lot. 

Blueberry-Lemon Cupcakes (or originally Muffins)
Adapted from the most highly rated blueberry muffin recipe on all recipes (>5000 reviews!)
Makes 12 medium or 8 large muffins

70 g      unsalted butter, softened
100 g    castor sugar
190 g    all-purpose flour
½ tsp    salt
2 tsp     baking powder (9g)
1 large  egg (about 60g)
150g     milk 
1 tsp     lemon zest
120 g    blueberries

  1. Preheat oven to 170°C.
  2. Sift together the all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. 
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter for a minute before adding in the sugar, beating until pale and fluffy. 
  4. Add in the egg, beating until it is fully incorporated. Add in the lemon zest. The mixture may appear a little curdled but it is okay. 
  5. Beat in one half of the dry ingredients until just incorporated. Next, beat in half of the milk. Beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients (a quarter of the total) following by the remaining half of the milk. Complete by beating in the remaining dry ingredients. Be careful to beat until just incorporated - you should not take more than a few seconds in between each addition. 
  6. Fold in the blueberries and distribute the batter equally among the muffin cups. 
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the tops are dry to touch and golden brown. Set on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Janine's jots: 
  • Note: If you want to frost/ice it like a normal cupcake, do fill the cupcake liners to about half full, so that you get a smooth top. This cupcake rises a lot because of the large amount of baking powder used, and I filled the batter to more than three-quarters each, because I wanted the distinctive hump for a muffin (as you can see in the photo above). 
  • Taste: I actually preferred the taste of my previous blueberry-lemon muffins better, mainly because that recipe used yogurt and tasted richer. 
  • Texture: I like the tight crumb from the creaming method far better than the muffin (dry-wet) method, but if you're in a rush to make this for breakfast, the muffin method works fine as well. 
  • Modifications: None, this recipe is already greatly modified to suit my preferences. 
  • Storage: The cupcake stores well at room temperature for 3 days, but the top will be a little sticky at the end of three days. Best to keep in the fridge and microwave it when you want to have it :]
  • Would I make this again?: Not unless I don't have yogurt. Like I said previously - I like my other blueberry-lemon muffins better. 

I'll be submitting this to Min for Aspiring Bakers #13: Enjoy Cupcakes! (November 2011). I've a couple more 'naked' cupcakes coming up, because I was trying out various recipes for vanilla and chocolate cupcakes and I've done quite an extensive taste test comparison with quite a number of recipes - ranging from Rose Levy Beranbaum to Cooks Illustrated to Deb of Smitten Kitchen to Magnolia's famous cupcakes. Can't wait to get those posts done up soon :]
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