Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pineapple Carrot Cake with Pineapple Icing


Do you feel sometimes that you express better in writing than in person? I never realized up until recently that I have a hard time expressing how I feel. I prefer letting my fingers do all the talking. We all encountered misunderstandings or communication problems throughout our life, many times dispute can be pointless if both sides don't understand each other situation. The best way to mediate this situation is through writing. Writing never gets old to get the message through. I got this idea when I watched this TedTalk, it works quite effectively.

You must be tired of having three chocolate recipes in a row, it might be too indulgent for some of you viewers. Let's put the chocolate aside for a while and focus on the moist fruity cake. I wanted to make the healthiest, fruitiest and moistest cake possible through what I know up until now about baking. A while back, I published about the science of making a moist cake in my chocolate cake post. I applied some of the science in this recipe. Many recipes require some kind of fat to make the cake moist such a heavy cream and yoghurt. You can substitute these ingredients for apple sauce. 

This recipe is easy to whip up. It has been an absolute favourite in bake sales. Just the name Pineapple Carrot Cake without the Pineapple Icing sounds already healthy. Maybe people are now more and more health-conscious? The cake is moist and fruity, the perfect snack when your hunger strikes you down.

Makes one 13''x9'' cake
Preparation Time: 20 mins
Baking Time: 45 mins
Cooling Time: 15 mins
Printable Recipe

Ingredients

Cake
1 can crushed pineapple, liquid reserved
3 eggs
¾ cup white sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
⅓ cup apple sauce
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon (and/or ground cloves)
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 pinch salt
2 ¼ cup grated carrots
Handful of raisins, soaked in the reserved pineapple juice

Pineapple Icing
1 ½ cups icing sugar
3 tbsps reserved pineapple juice

Procedure

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly oil a 13’’x9’’ baking pan, lay a parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and sugar until pale.

3. Stir in vegetable oil, applesauce, and vanilla.


4. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, cinnamon, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.

5. Stir in egg mixture until just moist (don’t mix too much to avoid developping the gluten)


6. Stir in pineapple, carrots and raisins.


7. Transfer batter to the prepared baking pan. Bake for 45 mins.


8. Afterwards, cool for 15 mins.


9. For the icing, mix icing sugar with pineapple juice.


10. Spread it on the cake. (Don’t spread the icing while the cake is hot)


11. Serve.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Chocolate Sushi with Coconut Rice


I considered myself as an autodidact. I learn things through peers, reading articles and numerous trials and errors. School has the tendency to prevent self-development, prevent us to evolve as a person. It seems our success depends strongly on how well we perform in school. Ever since I started graduate school, I have the freedom to explore new horizons - areas that are unknown to me, things that I always wanted to learn that are outside of my field of expertise (nanotechnology).

Being creative in cooking is all about applying your past experiences to create something original. Inspirations come from my travels to the UK, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and within Canada. Inspirations also come from learning through friends where we gather together for cooking. Finally, inspirations come from numerous successes and failures in the kitchen. These experiences are both instructive and a source of inspiration for others.

Mango and Coconut Rice Sushi. Photo Credit: Hossein Ghayoor
A while back, sushi was the cooking theme. More than 20 people participated in this event. This cooking party was different from our usual events. Instead of paying big bucks for a how-to-make-sushi course, people had to bring their own fillings and make their own sushi through the guidance of other more-or-less experienced sushi makers. The hosts made over 12 cups of sushi rice. You can't imagine how many sushi was made throughout the evening.

Photo Credit: Hossein Ghayoor
Here is my take on sushi: I see a piece of sushi which can be broken down into three fundamental parts - a dark pliable outer layer, white rice and some colourful fillings. As long I have all these three components, it can be considered as a sushi. My wildest attempt is to make a dessert sushi. I came up with a chocolate sushi filled with sweet coconut rice, figs, and strawberries. The chocolate 'seaweed' is the modelling chocolate, often used in wedding cakes for making designs. It's pliable and simple to make, requires only 2 ingredients. Modelling chocolate has a similar texture to play-d'oh. The coconut rice is an inspiration from my trip to Singapore where coconut milk and rice seems to be an inseparable duo. Finally, strawberries and figs marry well with the chocolate. Grab a bite of this chocolate sushi, it's simply irresistible, every flavour from each individual ingredient is distinguishable in this one bite - a one-bite wonder.

Photo Credit: Hossein Ghayoor
Chocolate Sushi with Coconut Rice
Makes about 30 chocolate sushi
Preparation Time: 30 mins
Cooking Time: 30 mins
Cooling Time: 2 hours + overnight
Printable Recipe

Ingredients

Modelling Chocolate
14 oz. chocolate pellets
5 oz. light or dark corn syrup

Coconut Rice
3/4 cup jasmine rice
1 can  (400mL) coconut milk
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Fillings
2 figs, thinly sliced
2 strawberries, thinly sliced

Procedure

1. In a double boiler, melt chocolate pellets over medium heat.


2. Add in corn syrup and stir until thick. The mixture should not coat your finger. 



3. Divide mixture into two, wrap it in a plastic bag. Cool at room temperature for 2 hours.


4. Meanwhile, prepare the coconut rice. Triple wash rice with cold water until the water becomes clear.

5. In a medium pot, combine rice, coconut milk, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 30 mins until rice becomes tender and sticky. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature.

6. For the modelling chocolate, transfer onto wax paper. Roll it into a rectangle (about 13'' x 6'') - it should be at least 2mm thick to avoid breaking the dough.


7. Spread half of the coconut rice onto the chocolate modelling chocolate. Leaving about 1/2-inch both upper and lower end of the chocolate uncovered. Place slices of figs and strawberries on top, near the bottom edge of the coconut rice.


8. To roll, lift the wax paper near you and fold it over the fillings. As you roll and the wax paper reaches the surface of the chocolate, pull back the edge of the paper and continue to roll tightly until the roll id completed. Repeat steps 6 to 8 for the other modelling chocolate.


9. Cool both rolls in the fridge on a flat surface overnight to let the modelling chocolate set.


10. Cut chocolate sushi with a sharp knife.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Homemade Chocolate Pudding


Have you ever wondered, when you go to a supermarket, if a product can be homemade? My parents used to buy lots of chocolate pudding when we were child and we tried like different brand of pudding. With time and with a more refined palate, I feel that the store-bought chocolate pudding has a weird after taste and  depending on the brand, some puddings do not taste like real chocolate... What's your take on chocolate pudding?

I made this recipe several times during the holidays with some variations. I experimented with high quality cocoa powder, real Cadbury chocolate pellets, cheaper quality chocolate. It is interesting how each pudding taste different from one to another. I guess this is why it is enjoyable to make desserts homemade.


Question: Do you know how to make chocolate sweeter? Our first educative guess is to add more sugar. Well... in fact, this is wrong. You just need to add a pinch of salt. Try it yourself, take two pieces of chocolate, sprinkle one with sugar and the other with salt. See which is sweeter. When you add salt in any food, it enhances the flavour. It can make sweet things sweeter and cut down bitterness like eggplants. 

These chocolate pudding are indulgent, and easy to make. It requires only pantry ingredients. How could you say 'no' to chocolate?

Fills 6 ramekins
Preparation Time: 5 mins
Cooking Time: 15 mins
Can be served cold or warm

Ingredients
With cocoa powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tbsps cocoa powder
3 tbsps cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 3/4 cups milk

OR

With chocolate pellets
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tbsps cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups milk
about 6 oz. dark chocolate

Procedure

Recipe with cocoa powder
1. In a double boiler, sift cocoa powder and cornstarch. Mix it with brown sugar. Add in milk while whisking until all dissolved. Boil and then bring to a simmer for 15 mins until the pudding thickens. Stir occasionally. Transfer pudding to ramekin.

Recipe with chocolate pellets
1. In a double boiler, sift cornstarch. Mix it with brown sugar.


2. Add in milk while whisking until all dissolved. Boil and then bring to a simmer. Add in chocolate pellets.


3. Simmer for 15 mins until thickens. Stir occasionally.


4. Transfer pudding to ramekins.


5. If serve cold, place a plastic film directly on the pudding to prevent from forming skin. If you like pudding skin, just cover it without contact.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dark Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream - The Science behind a Moist Cake


Not blogging for months does not mean that I lost my passion for food. Oh no! Not in a million of years. In fact, I have been a bit more active on my second blog, Montreal Food Pictures, launched at the beginning of this year. Since a lot of restaurant food pictures are piling up on my laptop, I might as well showcase those too. Here is a glance of pictures of my new website.


As a scientist, I enjoy analysing, I enjoy breaking down problems into smaller pieces, understanding each part individually and solving them. I also do the same for recipes. Have you ever ask yourself why a recipe uses these ingredients, or are all these ingredients necessarily for this recipe? How about... why do you have to mix these ingredients in this order? What happened if you mix up the order? I do ask myself these questions, and sometimes I can tell if the recipe will turn out to be a disaster by simply reading it... Maybe because of my cooking experience and my knowledge in food science that I know...or simply instincts...

A few months back, I wanted to produce the moistest cake ever for my good friend Jorge. I have bake several cakes in the past for my friends' birthday although I always desired a moister cake. Now, I'm quite confident that this is THE moistest cake that I have ever made. How? Let me go through with you the secrets behind this chocolate cake recipe. Once you grasp them, you can apply these little tips to any other cake recipes. Don't be afraid to tweak any cake recipe, even mine!

It is all about knowing your ingredients, what is the central role for each ingredient? Also, it is important to know your basics. Have a look at the list of ingredients for this chocolate cake recipe below, three components are key to make a cake moist:

1. Fats like butter, yoghurt and oil are considered as tenderizers. They coat the proteins of the flour to prevent them from binding with water to form gluten. Developing a gluten network leads to a bread-like texture. A weak gluten network is the trick to make the cake soft.

2. Cake flour is a key ingredient, it has less proteins than all-purpose flour, and less gluten forms when mixing with the batter. You can make your own cake flour by mixing 7 parts all-purpose flour with 1 part cornstarch.

3. Cream of tartar and baking soda is a killer combination. Baking soda requires an acid for its activation. Any acid such as cream of tartar, buttermilk, vinegar, chocolate, honey, and/or molasses would do the job. The reaction forms bubbles of carbon dioxide in the batter making the cake lighter and puffier.

Make sense? The next time that you make a cake, consider applying all these tips. Let me know how it turns out.

Makes 2 11-inch cake
Preparation Time: 20 mins
Baking Time: 25 mins

Ingredients

Génoise
2 cups boiling water
1 cup cocoa powder
2 3/4 cups cake flour
2 tsps baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/4 cups white sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Buttercream Icing
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 3/4 cup icing sugar
1/3 cup milk

Procedure

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Grease 2 11-inch round cake pans.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk cocoa powder with boiling water until smooth. Let mixture cool.


4. Sift together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Set aside.

5. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (like a whipping cream texture). Beat in one egg at a time, then add in vanilla.



6. Incorporate flour mix with cocoa mixture alternatively into the butter mix.



7. Spread batter evenly between two pans. Bake for 25 mins.



8. Meanwhile, prepare the Chocolate Buttercream Icing. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and cocoa butter until creamy. Whisk in milk and icing sugar alternatively until it reaches a frosting consistency.


9. Remove cake from oven. Cool completely before releasing the cake. Frost génoise with chocolate buttercream.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Flapjack - Granola Bars


Granola bars... such a healthy snack which provides a good boost of energy to make it through the morning. Granola bars are so addictively delicious that it doesn't feel right to eat just one. Still the price of these healthy snacks are outrageously expensive, don't you think? For quite a long time, my brother and I were searching for the perfect granola recipe. The granola that one wants to mix with a spoonful of rich and creamy Greek yoghurt for breakfast.


During my travel in the UK, I came across this little treat called flapjack which is simply an oat bar. Interestingly, these bars require only three pantry ingredients to bind the oats: butter, muscovado sugar and dark corn syrup. 


Using the concepts of flapjack as source of inspiration, I made my own Canadian twist to these flapjacks. I added some nutritious ingredients like pecans, wheat germs, cinnamon, and flax seed for its health and nutritional benefits.These granola bars are so easy to make that I made it eight times now, tweaking the recipe until perfect. 

Do you have a favourite granola recipe? Feel free to post your recipe link in the comment section.

Preparation Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 5 mins
Baking Time: 20-25 mins
Printable Recipe

Ingredients

Dry ingredients
2 1/2 cups large or quick rolled oats
1/3 cup cranberries/raisins
100g pecans, roughly chopped
1 tbsp flax seed
1 tbsp wheat germ

Syrup
1/3 cup margarine (or butter)
2/3 cup brown sugar (or muscovado sugar)
4 tbsps maple syrup (or dark corn syrup)
2 cinnamon sticks

Procedure

1. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients.


2. Turn stove top to medium heat. In a small saucepan, melt margarine and incorporate the brown sugar, maple syrup and cinnamon stickes. Stir mixture until sugar has melted. Cook syrup for 5 mins. DO NOT BOIL THE SYRUP.


3. Remove cinnamon sticks. With a spatula, incorporate syrup to the dry ingredients.


4. Preheat oven to 350F.

5. Lightly oil bottom of a 8-inch square baking pan. Line a parchment paper. 

6. Transfer granola mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 20 mins.


7. Take pan out from the oven...

  7.1 For granolas, let it cool for 20 mins, spoon some of the warm granolas, serve over Greek yoghurt.


  7.2 For granola bars, cut into rectangles after 20 mins of cooling, let it cool completely about 1 1/2 hours.



Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lemon Bars with Sweet Pie Crust


The art of making pie crusts seem to be a tedious job among many home cooks. One would rather buy the frozen one instead of making it from scratch to save up time. I recalled the moment that I opened my first cookbook, the first thing that I wanted to do is to make pie crusts from scratch. Still a newbie in baking, I basically winged the recipe hopefully it turns out okay. At that time, I didn't know why butter must be very cold, why use less than 1 tablespoon of cold water to assemble the dough, why the dough must not be overworked. Unfortunately, I didn't follow properly the recipe, and the crust was hard as rock. After a few more attempts, I decided to give myself a break and get back to it when I have more confidence in my baking skills.

With time, I found out about other types of pastry crusts which does not require such meticulous care likepâte sablée and sweet pastry crust (pâte sucrée). These crust can be made all in one bowl with an electrical mixer. The end result is a sweet, buttery and tender crust, ready to be used for any creamy and fruity pies.


What gotten me in baking desserts as well as the launch of this blog is the success of my first ever baked dessert - lemon bars. The combination of the tartness and tanginess of the lemons and the buttery pastry crust makes it so irresistible. This recipe is much simpler than the one previously published and also has less fat. To get the most flavours out of the lemon, consider adding lemon zest, a tip that I learned when I competed in Recipe to Riches with my Blueberry-Lemon Crisp recipe.

Makes about 12-16 bars
Crust recipe adapted from Joy of Baking
Preparation Time: 30 mins
Refrigeration Time: 30 mins
Baking Time: 35 mins
Chilling Time: 1 hour
Printable Recipe

Ingredients

Sweet Pastry Crust
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup white sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 cups flour, sifted
1 pinch salt

Filling
5 eggs
5 lemons, juiced with 2 tsp of zest
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup plain yoghurt or sour cream

Icing sugar

Procedure

1. In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add in sugar and beat until light and fluffy.


2. Gradually incorporate beaten egg while whisking. Add in the flour and salt, beat until it forms a dough-like texture.

3. Flatten dough and wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 30 mins until firm.


4. Preheat oven to 400F.

5. Transfer dough to lightly butter and flour 13'' x 9'' baking pan. Press dough onto bottom and up the sides of the baking pan, about 1/4-inch up. Prick bottom dough with a fork.


6. Bake for 5 mins. Reduce oven temperature to 350F for 15 mins until golden brown. Remove from oven, let it cool.


7. Meanwhile, prepare filling. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, lemon juice, zest, sugar and yoghurt.


8. Pour filling to the baked dough.

9. Bake for 15 mins until firm. Do not overbake as the filling may crack. Cool completely and refrigerate until well chilled.


10. Sprinkle with icing sugar and cut into bar sizes. Serve.


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