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


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, softened
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 3/4 cup icing sugar
1/3 cup milk


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


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

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


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


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

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

Icing sugar


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.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Turnip Cake - Lo Bak Go

Chinese New Year is one of these holidays that my family celebrates religiously in which we adopt Chinese traditions and superstitions. This is the holiday where I look forward to share with you my mother's recipes. I have to admit that I still haven't perfected the art of making Chinese New Year sweet treats or savoury cakes. This is also the time of the year where I have sweet treats with my colleagues, especially my Chinese friends who either of their parents can't make traditional home-cooked dishes or can't afford to go back home to see their parents. I'm quite fortunate to spend quality time with my family.

Days before the New Year, it is somewhat a tradition to exchange sweet baked goods with family friends. These sweet foods symbolize sweet life for the New Year. You are welcome to have a look at my past Chinese New Year recipes like Fa Gao (Prosperity Cake) and Nian Gao (Chinese New Year cake). We have received quite an abundant amount of baked goods this year, here are a few Chinese treats that I haven't shared with you in the past:

Pai Char/Qiao Guo -  Flattened and twisted deep fried bean curd dough with black sesame seeds.

You Jiao - Deep fried sweet dumplings commonly stuffed with coconut and peanuts, these resembles like a purse which means fortune.

Turnip cake or daikon cake is one of the first dishes that most people would associate with Chinese New Year. This is my all-time favourite savoury cakes. Once cooked, they are soft filled with a generous amount of julienned turnip with a bit of dried shrimp and Chinese sausage to add a hint of saltiness. With the leftovers, we pan fried them until golden to give a slight crunch on the outside but still soft in the middle.

As usual, my mother never gives me the exact quantity to her recipes. She mostly eyeballs her recipes. One tip for a good turnip cake is the ratio of turnip to rice flour must be 6 to 1. For every pound of rice flour, one must use about 6 lbs of turnip.

Makes 2 8-inch sized cakes
Preparation Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 10 mins
Steaming Time: 25 mins

1 long turnip (about 1 1/2 lbs), julienned
1/4 lb ground pork or pork loin, thinly cubed 
1/4 cup dried shrimp
1/2 cup pickled cabbage
2 celery stalks
2 Chinese sausages

Flour Mixture
1 pack (1 lb) plain rice flour
about 5 cups warm water
1 tsp salt

Chopped green onions for garnish


1. Thinly chopped dried shrimp, pickled cabbage, celery stalks, and Chinese sausages.

2. In a skillet, add julienned turnip and 1/2 cup of water, enough water to cover the bottom of the skillet. Heat over medium-high heat, cook turnip until soft, about 5 mins.

3. Add in pork, chopped dried shrimp, pickled cabbage, celery stalks, Chinese sausages. Cook for 5 mins until pork is fully cooked.

4. Meanwhile, prepare flour mixture. Combine rice flour with warm water. Add in salt. The mixture should be liquid, not thick or gooey. It should thinly coat the back of a spoon similar to a custard or a thin béchamel sauce. Add in 1/2 cup of water if necessary.

5. Transfer turnip filling with its liquid to the flour mixture, mix until combined. Lightly oil two 9-inch round cake pans. Fill batter to the cake pans.

6. Steam for 25 minutes or until firm. Garnish with green onions.

7. Slice cake into rectangles. Serve warm. 

Gung Hay Fat Choy! 
Gong Xi Fa Cai! 
Bonne année lunaire! 
Happy Chinese New Year! 
May the year of the Dragon brings you and your family good health, wealth, happiness and prosperity.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nutella Chestnut Brownies - A 3-Ingredient Recipe

A while back, I wrote my experience about Deepavali. After publising that post, I have been told that some members of the Malaysian and Singaporean Student's Association are addicted to brownies and printed all my brownie recipes. I was trying to recall when was the last time I published my last brownie recipe. In fact, there are only two brownie recipes on this blog: Macadia Nut Brownies and Butterscotch-glazed Brownies. Both were published in 2009.

I was figuring out if brownies can be made with a minimal number of ingredients in case I received a last minute dinner party invitation or days that I just don't feel like baking, and cleaning the dishes afterwards. Making these Nutella brownies require only 5 mins of your time and three ingredients only. Well, four ingredients if you add some crunch to your brownies like walnuts or chestnuts. All you need is one bowl, one parchment paper, and a baking pan.  

These brownies are dense, chewy and chocolatey. Whip up a batch of these brownies in no time for your next party dinner. You won't be disappointed.

Update 04/01/2013: The recipe was retested several times to optimize the final result. To ensure the brownie to be moist, add in one egg at a time and incorporate flour with a rubber spatula. 

Makes 12 brownies
Preparation Time: 5 mins
Baking Time: 12-15 mins


1 cup Nutella
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour, sifted
1/2 cup roasted chestnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Align parchment paper on lightly oil 8''x8'' baking pan. 

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk Nutella and add in one egg at a time until smooth.

3. With a rubber spatual, slowly incorporate flour. Mix in chestnuts.

4. Transfer mixture to prepared baking pan. Bake for 12-15 mins until it passes the toothpick test.

5. Let it cool. Cut into squares. Serve.


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