Tuesday, May 25, 2010

brown sugar pound cake: on being happy

You know how sometimes you just have one of those days when nothing seems to be going right? Well it was kind of like that for me a couple of days ago when I tried out some recipes from a new cookbook and none of them seemed to turn out like they should have. That’s when you start to wonder if it’s you or the book to blame. Probably a bit of both, but it still really bothers me when things don’t work out as well as they should. That’s when I have to take a deep breath, relax and tell myself that I’ve at least learned something for the next time.
And that usually does always seem to be the case; I always learn something new, so I guess it wasn’t a waste after all. I always try to not have any regrets in life because something can be learnt from every situation that goes awry. It’s also good way to make yourself stay focused the next time you find yourself in a less-than-pleasant situation. I truly feel that life is a balancing act, always full of ups and downs. The great thing about being down though, is that things can only go up from then on.
And that’s when you find yourself eating a delicious, and deliciously simple, brown sugar pound cake. I know I made a pound cake not too long ago, but I couldn’t help trying this one out. Pound cakes are a staple in my house. They’re perfect as a little snack with afternoon tea or for picnics in the park. I decided to add a little extra something sweet by pouring a maple syrup glaze. It’s really the perfect touch of sweetness to an all-around beautifully aromatic cake.
Brown Sugar Pound Cake
If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use either one of two substitutes: sour cream or plain yoghurt. In either case, you would use the same amount required for buttermilk. You can also freeze one of the cakes for another occasion.
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
Yields two 8 ½ by 4 ½ -inch loaves
For the cakes:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 ¼ cups packed light-brown sugar
5 large eggs
¾ cup buttermilk (I used sour cream)
For the glaze (for both cakes, or half for one):
1/3 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
Preheat oven to 325oF. Grease two 8 ½ by 4 ½ -inch loaf pans and line with parchment paper with overhangs for easy removal. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add flour mixture in batches alternating with the buttermilk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat only until just combined – do not overmix. Divide batter between loaf pans and smooth the tops. Bake for about 1 hour until cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted comes out clean. Rotate the pans halfway through baking for even browning. Transfer to a wire rack to cool then remove the cakes from pans to cool completely. Keep in a cake dome at room temperature up to 4 days.
For the glaze, combine the icing sugar and maple syrup and mix until smooth. Add more maple syrup if desired and drizzle over cakes.

Monday, May 10, 2010

best cocoa brownies: delightful temptations

It’s funny how sometimes the simplest things in life can bring you the most joy. A simple hello from a friend, getting a postcard in the mail or discovering some old trinkets from your childhood.

As I was slowly getting ready for the move a few days ago, I decided to start going through my things and sorted out whatever I wouldn’t be taking along with me. That’s when I discovered how much stuff I had kept over the years. The thing about me is that, on the one hand, I love simplicity and order, but on the other hand, I can’t seem to let go of things. At the time, that object feels sentimental but usually over time, I won’t even remember where I had gotten it from so I’ll throw it out. But in most cases, I’ll just feel bad about throwing out something that I had kept for so long. All those rocks or tiny little toys that I had collected as a child were kept in my closet but they were in a sense, completely useless. Why did I decide to keep those piles of magazines from over a decade ago? Am I really going to look over them again? Or maybe it’s just a reminder as to who I was back then and who I’ve become now (although I usually prefer to not look back on those extremely awkward teen years).

I think we all have difficulty letting go of things that were once important to us. But there’s something to be said about clearing out clutter. It makes me feel like I’ve shed so many pounds and gotten rid of things that are no longer of use to me. It may seem hard at first to let go, but you’ll realise that the memories will always remain. That’s why I like to keep things simple, that way you can really appreciate the things you have for what they are. (That, or just put everything in a box and stuff it in your parents’ basement :p )

These brownies are pretty much as simple as they come, but the taste and texture are incredible. Using no actual chocolate, they are made with cocoa powder. When I first saw them on foodbeam, I was also skeptical that they wouldn't be chocolatey enough, but the result is a wonderfully fudgy and chewy delight!

Cocoa Brownies

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet (discovered on Foodbeam)
Yields 16 big or 25 small slices


1 1/4 sticks (140 g) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (280 g) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (80 g) cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (65 g) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)


Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and line an 8x8” pan with parchment paper and leave overhangs for easy removal. Melt the butter in a heat-proof bowl over a simmering bain-marie and add the sugar, cocoa and salt, and cook, stirring until it forms a smooth mixture and feels hot to the touch when you stick your finger in it.

Leave aside to cool down slightly (until it’s only warm, not hot) then mix in the eggs one at a time, using a whisk and stir vigorously for a good minute after each one so the eggs don’t curdle. Fold in the flour (and add vanilla if you want, but it’s not a must, and any nuts if desired) and spread the batter evenly into the prepared tin.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until barely set and a toothpick comes out slightly moist with batter (the top should have formed a shiny crust). Cool on a wire rack about 30 minutes and cut into slices (you can also put them in the fridge or freezer for a bit to cool down and cut clean lines). I don’t know how long these last for because frankly, they’ll get eaten up faster than you can say Yo-Yo Ma!

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