Cook Italian workshop


Last week was hectic-a birthday, an anniversary and a workshop. For most of the week, dinner was simple Italian because I was preparing for the Italian workshop. I had calls from folks who wanted to know if it was going to be the baked cheesy kind of food. I like baked cheesy kind of food but what I was going to demonstrate was the healthier kind. With home made pasta.

Homemade fettuccine with pesto
Garlic bread

Linguine with salsa pomodori

Cherry cheese pie

The second part of the workshop is on October 27th.

Mushroom and two cheese calzone, gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce, spinach cannelloni and an apple butterscotch pie.

Mamma mia!

Pepper, parmesan and herb loaf


Ahh! The joys of blogging! October 16th was World Bread Day (I didn't know there was such a day till I became a regular on Facebook). One of the groups I'm a member of had invited people to bake bread, any bread.

I almost gave it a miss because of my crazy schedule but then decided that since I like bread so much, I should at least try to get one done.

But what? So many had baked focaccia, some had baked pull apart rolls, many had done twisted loaves. Flipping through books and the Internet didn't help, not when you're under a bit of pressure and the 1 hour scheduled power cut at 3 pm was drawing nearer...

Oh! Got it! There was a nice picture of a loaf that had herbs and parmesan cheese.  OK! Quick, measure the flour, the yeast... wait a minute, wait a minute! Why follow the same recipe?

And so this recipe was born. I was intrigued by the parmesan cheese. What would the loaf taste like? Umami? Or would the rosemary mask that taste? How much could I use to allow the flavour of both cheese and herbs come through?

In the meantime, the cake was ready to go into the oven. Yes, in the middle of all this, I had to bake a cake. I was aiming to finish baking the cake and then popping the bread into the oven and have it all be done by 3 pm. Alas, that was not to be.

The flour was weighed out, along with all the other dry ingredients. Herbs were chopped, cheese grated, the processor made short work of kneading and then the dough was ensconced in a glass bowl for proofing. The cake was still baking and half an hour before the dreaded power cut, I decided that there was no point in shaping the loaf and leaving it to proof for more than an hour.

The dough was through with the first rising so I pushed out all the air and bunged both dough and bowl in the fridge.

Half an hour before the end of the power cut, I brought out the bowl. The dough has risen beautifully but from past experience, I knew that the bread wouldn't necessarily look pretty.

I shaped the dough into 2 loaves. Scored the tops and by then, the power was back. Just my luck- the voltage was low and by the time the thermostat climbed to the required temperature, the dough had over proofed.

But the loaf tasted really nice. Freshly baked, the flavour of the herbs shone through. Could have done with a little more thyme. But a couple of hours later, the herbs had toned down and the umami flavour was beginning to wake up. With little nips from the pepper. Ooh, nice.

Pepper, parmesan and herb loaf

500 gm flour
1 tsp gluten
1 tsp bread improver
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
40 gm soft butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 gm fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
85 gm grated parmesan cheese
225 gm warm water

Sift flour, gluten, improver (both optional) and salt together onto a worktop.
Mix through the yeast and sugar.
Make a well in the centre, pour in most of the water and combine into a dough.
Mix in butter, pepper, herbs and the cheese.
Knead well till the dough is soft, smooth and springy. Add more water if necessary to get to this consistency.
(In case you are using a bread maker or a processor, follow the instructions till you reach this step.)
Place dough in a big greased bowl, cover the top with clingfilm and leave to rise for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or till the dough has doubled in size.
Remove the clingfilm, punch down the dough to release the trapped air.
Place the dough on a lightly floured worktop, knead lightly for about half a minute.
Divide dough into 2, dust a little more flour on the worktop and roll each dough into a 10" log.
Place on a baking tray. Score the tops lightly and leave to prove for about 20 minutes or till doubled.
Spray a little water over the loaves, sprinkle a little flour over the tops and bake at 200°C for about 20 minutes or till the loaves have baked to a golden colour.
Take the loaves out of the oven.
With mittened hands, turn them over and tap the base. It should sound hollow, indicating they are done.

Pandan chiffon cake


I always have a pot of pandan growing in my balcony. The plant is easy to grow, looks a little untidy but is an essential for a Singaporean kitchen. The dark green sword like leaves look pretty unremarkable; when they are added into a pot of Basmati rice, the flavour the rice takes on is amazing.

Pandan leaves

Making a pandan chiffon cake is another way of using this leaf. Here, the leaf is used for both colour and flavour. To extract the juice, you'll need about 5 leaves. Wash them well, cut them into small bits after removing the central vein, then put them in a blender with very little water. Pulse it till the leaves are ground, then strain it through a piece of muslin. Ready to use pandan paste which has both the flavour and colour is also available in stores in Singapore.

My recipe for pandan chiffon cake uses oil and coconut milk.
You can use canned coconut milk but if you prefer making your own, grate half a coconut, add a little warm water to it and blitz it in a blender for a couple of seconds. Pass it through a piece of muslin and squeeze out all the liquid. It should measure about 200 ml.

The cake is unbelievably soft and light. Pandan is of course an acquired taste and one can get used to its taste soon enough.

Left: stiffly beaten egg whites. Right: foamy egg yolks 

I use 7 eggs for this recipe, they need to be separated and to save washing up, I whip up the whites with half the sugar first, also adding the cream of tartar. Then the yolks are beaten with the remaining sugar, a little more cream of tartar, oil, pandan juice, vanilla essence and coconut milk. At this stage, a little green colouring can be added.

The flour and baking powder are gently folded into the yolk mixture, then the stiffly beaten egg whites are folded in.

The batter is poured into an ungreased tube pan and baked. If you don't have a tube pan, you can use a ring pan but of course it won't look like a chiffon cake.

After the cake is baked, the tube pan is turned over a wire rack and the cake left to cool.

This supersoft cake can be stored at room temperature for a day, after which it has to be refrigerated.

Pandan chiffon cake

150 gm flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

7 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
100 gm sugar

7 egg yolks
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
100 gm sugar

60 gm vegetable oil
3 tbsp fresh pandan juice or about 1/2 tsp pandan flavouring
1 tsp vanilla essence
200 ml thick coconut milk
A little green food colour (optional)

Sieve together the flour and baking powder, keep aside.
Put the egg whites, cream of tartar and sugar into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric beater till stiff.
In another bowl, place the egg yolks, cream of tartar and sugar and beat till light and foamy.
Add in the oil, pandan juice or flavouring, vanilla essence, coconut milk and the food colour. Stir it in well into the yolk foam, then gently blend in the sifted flour.
Pour into an ungreased 9" tube pan and bake at 175°C for about 50 minutes. The top of the cake should be firm to the touch.
Turn the tube pan over a wire rack and let the cake cool to room temperature.
Run a thin blade or a firm strip of plastic all around the edge of the pan to loosen it from the pan.
Slice with a serrated knife.

  • Bake Tales © 2012