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When life gets you down... Have a tart!

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Fruit Tarts never fail to cheer me up, not just by their bright colours, but also the flakey, buttery tart base contrasted with the smooth creaminess of the custard. I realised that I've been unable to resist fruit tarts lately when I need my sweet fix at the end of meals at local cafes. My favourites are lemon tart and strawberry tart, and I love trying to decipher the ingredients used to make the base. Sometimes it's really crumbly, sometimes it's got a nutty texture to it. I'm still on a hunt for the best tart base but I really like the ones incorporating almond meal. 

I recently borrowed a book from the library by Eric Kayser on Sweet and Savoury Tarts. Eric is a master french baker who churns out nothing less than mouthwatering pastries. Truthfully I don't know very much about him. All I can tell you is that flipping through the book can turn a bad day round just because everything looks so good. I wanted to try at least half the recipes inside. 

If only there was time... 

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My book is due back in the library this Sunday so I decided to try out one last recipe from it, a strawberry breton shortbread-tart recipe. This one gives you a relatively flat base, but one that is crumbly and buttery. Pairing it with a vanilla bean custard and cream mixture, the finished tart looks too good to be eaten. You can actually put any fruits on top of it, peaches, blueberries and all the lovely summer fruits.. It just gives it that additional burst of colour. 

This tart base is really soft, so it is recommended that the mixture be chilled for a day before baking. But because of the lack of time, it was only in my fridge for a couple of hours. Handling the dough was a sticky affair. 
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Breton Shortbread Pastry (makes 10 inch round tart base) adapted from Eric Kayser's "Sweet and Savoury Tarts"
90g unsalted butter
80g granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
120g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter. Add the sugar and salt, mix through. Incorporate the eggs, one by one, mixing constantly. Pour in the flour, baking powder and vanilla essence. Mix thoroughly. Form a ball with the dough, cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

Mould the dough into desired tart tin, bake for 30mins at 150 degrees C, or until golden brown. 

For the Custard Mixture also adapted from Eric Kayser's book
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk 
3 tablespoons cornflour/plain flour
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a saucepan, bring the milk to boil. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks together with the sugar and flour. Pour a little of the hot milk into this mixture and beat together. Pour it back into the saucepan. Scrape the vanilla bean into the mixture and bring it to boil again, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. When the mixture is completely cool, whip the cream and fold it into the custard. 

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Nutella, my everyday indulgence

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Yesterday I decided to whip up a batch of nutella banana muffins, a suggestion made by some friends while we were all really bored in class a couple of weeks ago. Nutella is one of my favourite spreads and I never grow sick of it, no matter how much I eat it. I can have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner even! You can make it and have it with anything, cookies, cakes, muffins, tarts, bread, crepes, pancakes... anything - as long as you're in need of a sugar high. Someday I'll try substituting my maple syrup for nutella with eggs. Now don't go "Ewww..", I'm sure this thought has crossed your mind before.

World Nutella day was on February 5th, it's the day that nutella lovers unite and share their love for nutella. Apparently some people even call it a "way of life". I'm a few weeks late for nutella day, but for me, every other day is nutella day! So I was in desperate need of some baking therapy yesterday and decided on nutella banana muffins.

This recipe gave me a really warm moist batch of muffins. I thought the banana taste was rather overpowering, in the good way, but then I kind of missed out on the Nutella flavour because of the bananas. Maybe I might try swirling in more Nutella next time, like some other recipes I've read. And throw on some streusel crumb topping for that added crunch - this always makes your muffins a winner!

Banana Nutella Muffins adapted from Sweet and Savory Tooth (makes about 12 regular sized muffins)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose floor
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (3 to 4 ripe bananas)
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 1/2 cup nutella

Heat oven to 180 degrees C. Line muffin pan with muffin/cupcake liners. In a medium bowl mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in center of mixture. In well, mix together butter, mashed bananas, eggs and vanilla. Stir to incorporate the mixture but be careful not to overmix. Divide the mixture even in the muffin pan. Swirl nutella in with the toothpick. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. 

Meet Velvet and Shortcake

Velvet and Shortcake are the two little birds you see in the middle, they're named after two of my favourite cakes. Pity I didn't buy orange felt or the last one will be called carrot. But really, I was pretty inspired for Valentine's Day this year.   

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Even though Valentine's Day is over, you can still try your hand at sewing these. They make great presents, and you get to brush up on your sewing skills.

Tutorial from Lolovie

"Barbie Inspired" Valentine's Cookies

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As Valentine’s Day draws near, the house is filled with the warm scent of baking once again. This time it is chocolate cookies, iced with bright royal icing in colours that Barbie herself would approve, which I admit was a mistake on my part - a case of having added a bit too much colouring in my excitement.


It was my first time trying out royal icing, a decent enough attempt I would say. One can turn a blind eye to the mildly ugly designs on the cookies because the cookies themselves are oh-so-yummy. That’s the secret you see – bake addictive cookies and people will just forget that it wasn’t very pretty in the first place. But I will get this perfect next time! But really I wanted to try something new for Valentine’s Day, I’ve exhausted all types of mailable yummy cookies. So this one is a twist on the usual.

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Royal icing is icing that is used for cakes, cookies, in short, to make any edible sweet thing look extra pretty, royal icing is the way to go. True to it’s name, when made and decorated to perfection, it is fit for royalty and a greater treat for us plain folks. It is a pure white icing that forms a hard, shiny, matte finish when left to dry and is made from egg whites or meringue powder, lemon juice and lots and lots of sugar! You can add colouring to it like I’ve done to make it more exiting! I love adding in colour and seeing the different shades swirling together in my bowl.

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All you really need is a good plain cookie recipe as your base like this one here:
This recipe produces really rich and chocolatey cookies, almost like my favourite Korova minus the chocolate chips.

Chocolate Sugar Cookie Dough

Adapted from Emily Baking for Good.com

Ingredients

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the   egg, water, and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes, until the mixture has lightened in color and texture. With the mixer on low, gently stir in the dry ingredients until just combined.
3. Turn 
the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and divide into two flattened disks. Wrap each disk separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours or overnight. The dough will be soft, so be sure that it’s been chilled before you roll it out.
4. 
Preheat oven to 160C/325F. Line a baking sheet (or 2 or 3 depending on how many cookies you’ll be making) with parchment paper and set aside.
5. 
Remove one of the disks from the fridge. Place a wide piece of plastic wrap on a clean work surface and dust it with flour. Place the unwrapped dough on the plastic wrap, sprinkle more flour on it, and place another wide piece of plastic wrap on top. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 1/8-inch thickness, and use a heart shaped cookie cutter to cut out hearts. Place the hearts on the prepared baking sheets about 1/2″ to 1″ apart. Reroll and recut remaining dough. Chill the hearts on the cookie sheets for 10 minutes before baking.
6. 
Bake the cookies for 16 to 18 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
7. Cool before icing your cookies!



Royal Icing

Adapted from Martha Stewart.com

Ingredients (Makes about 1 cup)
1 large egg white
2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
½ lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Directions
1. Beat the whites until stiff but not dry. Add sugar, vanilla essence and lemon juice, beat for 1 minute more. If icing is too thick, add more egg whites, if it is too thin, add more sugar.
2. Add colouring if desired and you're ready to have fun icing!

Cream Puffs to make your day

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I always thought that these were also known as profiteroles and would love to call them profiteroles because it sounds so unique and cool.. It's got a nicer ring to it than "cream puffs". But I found out that profiteroles, a french classic, are actually served not with whipped cream or pastry cream in the middle, but with ice cream, then drizzled with warm chocolate sauce. Now who wouldn't love that? 

I had an excess of egg yolks in my fridge and the best way to use up egg yolks is to whip up some creamy vanilla bean custard! So Cream Puffs or Choux Puffs it was, filled with vanilla bean pastry cream - you CANNOT skip the VANILLA BEAN. It's a crime if you do. Or well, if you're somewhere where it is almost impossible to get a bean and you have to pay an arm and a leg for it (like in Singapore), you are forgiven and allowed to substitute it with vanilla extract/essence. 

I used a Martha Stewart Recipe for this and it turned out to be quite a hit with my family and friends in school. These are nice and bite-sized, rather suitable for tea in the afternoon. 


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Ingredients
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
Directions 
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F or 180 degrees C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside. Combine butter, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan, and place over medium heat. Cook until butter is melted and the water just comes to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat, add flour, and stir rapidly. Return the pan to the heat, and cook mixture, stirring constantly, until it comes together and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan, about 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat, and let cool for 5 minutes.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, beating until they are completely incorporated and the pastry is smooth. Transfer the pastry to a bag fitted with a small coupler. Pipe about 1/2 tablespoon of the pastry into a mound on the prepared baking sheet; continue piping until all the pastry is used, spacing pastry about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until the puffs are golden brown all over, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely.

For Custard Filling/Pastry Cream:
Ingredients
1/2  vanilla bean
2 cups milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6 egg yolks
2 tablespoons flour (preferably rice flour for lightness)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream, softly whipped

Directions:
  1. Scrape seeds from the vanilla bean. In a heavy saucepan, combine milk, vanilla bean and seeds, and 1/2 cup sugar. Scald the mixture and immediately remove from heat.
  2. Beat egg yolks with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until thick. Sprinkle in flour and cornstarch and continue beating until mixed.
  3. Beat half of the hot milk into yolk mixture. Return this to the remaining hot milk and bring to a boil quickly, whisking very fast to prevent scorching. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl to cool. Stir in butter. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill completely. Immediately before using, gently fold in softly whipped cream with a spatula.
  4. Transfer pastry cream to a piping bag fitted with an 1/8-inch plain tip. Insert the tip into the opening of each pastry, and pipe to fill with pastry cream.
To finish, melt some chocolate in a double boiler and drizzle over cream puffs as desired. 

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