Homemade Oreos!

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STILL loving my new cookbook: Flour by Joanna Chang. She is my new idol. And her recipes are soooo good. The Homemade Oreos recipe has been calling to me since I got the book. Who would choose bought Oreos after tasting these! And you can make them as big or small, round or shaped as you wanted them. The only problem is making enough of them to last until you can take photos. I didn’t have to change anything about her recipe apart from halving it so here it is, in it’s original form:

Homemade Oreos (makes 16-18 sandwich cookies)
1 cup (228g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup (200g) semisweet chocolate (I used dark Ghana chocolate), melted and cooled slightly
1 egg
1 1/2 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (90g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda]

Vanilla Cream Filling
1/2 cup (114g) unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cup (230g) icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk
pinch of salt

In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter and granulated sugar until well combined. Whisk in the vanilla and chocolate. Add the egg and whisk until thoroughly incorporated.

In another medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt until well mixed. Using a wooden spoon, stir the flour into the chocolate mixture. The dough will start to seem too floury and you will find it easiest to switch to mixing it with your hands until it comes together. It will have the consistency of play-dough. Let the dough sit at room temperature for one hour to firm up.

Transfer the dough to a 15-inch square sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Using your hands, shape the dough into a log about 10 inches long and about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Place the log at the edge of the sheet of parchment and roll the parchment around the log. With the log fully encased in parchment, roll it into a smoother log, keeping it at 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until firm. The log may settle and sink in the fridge so re-roll it every 15 minutes or so to keep the round shape. (At this point you can wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for up to one month. If the dough is frozen, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding.)

Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 165 degrees Celsius. Butter a baking sheet or line it with baking paper.

Cut the log into quarter inch thick slices and place about an inch apart on the sheet.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until firm to the touch when poked in the middle. You can’t judge by colour as they are black from the start. Cool to room temperature before filling.

To make the filling: While the cookies are cooling, use a stand mixer or handheld mixer to beat the butter on low speed for about 30 seconds until smooth and soft. Add the icing sugar and vanilla and beat until mixture is perfectly smooth. Add the milk and salt and again beat until smooth. You should have about 1 cup. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.

Scoop about one rounded teaspoon onto the bottom of one cookie and then sandwich another cookie on top, pressing down until mixture spreads to the edges.

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Flour and Flowers

Chunky Lola Cookies

I was all set to go a a big picnic in a beautiful garden under the newly blooming cherry trees at Osaka Castle with lots of friends. And then the rain started. Then then the lightening and then the thunder. At 10am I had to admit that there was no picnicking or cherry blossom viewing going to happen that day.

But all was not lost. Bakers secretly love rainy days because it gives us the perfect excuse to stay inside in our warm kitchens and bake to our heart’s content and that’s exactly what I planned to do. I was particularly excited as I had a brand new cookbook that I had been itching to delve into.

Flour, by Joanna Chang was everything I liked in a cookbook. It was big (hence lots of yummy recipes), it had great photographs but not too many, meaning food porn but more space for more yummy recipes. And the best thing of all was that it was dedicated to baking. Yum, yum, and yum.

My first dilemma was what to bake first? Each recipe in Flour has a story and I ended up choosing a recipe whose story appealed to me the most – the Chunky Lola cookies. The name grabs you, huh? Flour (Joanna Chang’s bakery and cafe in Boston) had a competition to name it’s new cookie creation – a mixture of all the chef’s favourites: chocolate, rolled oats, coconut and pecans. The winner was Lola but no one knows who or what Lola is. I like to think she was the secret crush of the entry-writer.

Anyway, cookies have always been my baker’s Archilles Heel. I never seem to get them right. If they are supposed to be crisp, they go soggy. If they are suppsed to be small and round, they spread likle crazy. I’ve tried tweaking recipes, changing the oven temperature, reducing the butter. But still the perfectionist in me was yet to produce the perfect cookie. So I hoped Flour’s detailed recipes and tips might help.

And finally, after three batches and filling my kitchen with an aroma that I’m sure was laden with as many calories as the cookies themselves, I did it! These are chewy in the middle but crisp on the edges, chunky with big pieces of dark chocolate but the rolled oats also trick you into thinking they are somewhat healthy too. Thank you, Joanna Chang, for the perfect cookie. And thank you Lola, whoever you are.

 

 

Girls just wanna have…cake!

One of my friends once told me she thought I had children simply so I can post funny things about them on the Internet. This is quite possibly true as I realised that having a girl (she’s just turned one) has opened up all sorts of blogging topics and possibilities in the kitchen too, including my first attempt at a cake for Hinamatsuri, or Girl’s Day. This is a doll festival celebrated on March the 3rd where girls display dolls that are modelled on members of the royal family.
A friend had a party for Girl’s Day and I was asked to make a cake. Luckily, someone else was making a baby friendly cake for the little ones so that means I can make a cake more for the adults. I couldn’t find a recipe that really suited me so I ended up making my own creation – a French Vanilla cake filled with strawberries and cream and covered with buttercream and then Marshmallow fondant. I used strawberries to make cherry-blossom shaped decorations, in the middle of which I put a prince and princess. I managed to find some ready-made ones which saved me making them out of fondant.
For the cake I like a moist but high rising base so I usually use my go-to White Velvet Cake recipe although in a pinch or if I’m short on time, a sneaky box of Betty Crocker French Vanilla mix does the trick quite nicely. Both mixtures make 2 nice high, round cakes, perfect for sandwiching together with a filling of your choice. If you’re having to leave the cake for a while before you serve it you may want to fill with buttercream instead of whipped cream and fresh fruit like I did.

The mixture and one finshed cake fresh from the oven.
The mixture and one finshed cake fresh from the oven.

The next step is to fill and squish. That means piping whipped cream into the middle, layering some sliced strawberries on top and then sandwiching the two cakes together. If the top of your cake is not flat enough you can level it with a sharp knife. It’s tempting to spread the cream around a lot but actually I find that it will naturally spread to the edges when you press the other cake on top so avoid too much spreading or you may just end up with a lot of cream oozing out the sides. If you use buttercream, however, you will need to use a smooth edged knife or palette knife dipped in hot water to spread the buttercream to the edges.
Now spead a crumb layer of buttercream all over the cake. Try to keep the layer thin as if it’s too thick this will cause your fondant to look lumpy when you place it on top.
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Now for the tricky part. I’m still very much an amatuer when it comes to fondant but making this cake reinforced an important rule: work quickly and DUST DUST DUST! As soon as you let fondant, especially marshmallow fondant like I used here, sit around, it will start to stick. And as soon as it starts to stick to your work surface it’s really impossible to fix so you have to go back to square one. So I tried to get into a steady rhythm of roll, turn and dust with icing sugar. Roll, turn and dust. Roll turn and dust.
Acrobatic trick number 2: get the fondant onto the cake. This also is all in the wrist. If you’re covering a decent-sized cake, you would have rolled out the fondant to a fairly big circle and the idea of getting it onto the cake with only two hands and sheer luck will be daunting. The trick is to put your rolling pin in the middle, flip one side of the fondant over the pin and then slide your other hand under the other side. Take a deep breathe, lift and lay over the cake. Again, dust your hands with icing sugar and then smooth down the sides of the cake(think Demi Moore in Ghost) and trim away any extra fondant. I spotted a couple of little holes in my fondant at this point and decided to get creative with the extra fondant and cut out some hearts to decorate the sides of the cake (and cover the holes).
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Okay, now the hard slog was over and it was time to have a little fun decorating. I cut a little notch out of the tip of some sliced strawberries so they resembled cherry blossom petals and arranged them into 2 flowers. In the middle of each flower I placed the prince and princess candies. I added a chocolate message plate with Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival) on it and a couple of extra fondant decorations. Tip: dab the strawberries with paper towels before sticking onto the cake with a little buttercream and try to do it at the last minute as they will start to leak liquid over time.
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And yay, it was finished! I thought I could sit back and relax when I got to the party until I realised that people expected ME to cut the cake. Um…I was really glad I made a round cake and didn’t have to do any tricky math but carving up decorations fairly with lots of toddler eyes watching you is quite scary.
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Fun with winter veg!

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I have lived in Japan over ten years now but somehow there are still some vegetables that I have yet to cook with and some that downright mystify me. Turnips are the former so I was happy to find a tray of three big turnips marked down in the supermarket, brought them home and then thought…now what?

At the same time I found a bag of very cheap carrots. There were about ten of them and it wasn’t til I got them home that I realised why they were so cheap. The Japanese love uniform, clear-skinned bright shiny fruit and veg and these carrots were like the Montgomery Burns’ of the vegetable world. But their hairy knobbly exteriors only said to me: ‘Make people out of us!’ So I cajoled one of the turnips into participating and with the help of some markers, set to work. Oh and if you’re wondering what happens next in the story, don’t worry. One of the carrots gets the girl. Actually they end up having a menage-a-tois in a frypan with a lemon.

So now I had turnips and carrots and some advice from my inlaws on what to do with them. First, I pickled 2 of the turnips. I sliced them very thinly, salted and left them for half a day then immersed them in a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar and mirin. My father in law likes to add a splash of konbucha (kelp tea) for an added kick of umami, that Japanese flavour that makes everything taste better. Try not to touch them for at least two days to get a nice full flavour and the longer you can leave them the better they will get but I suspect they won’t last long as they are so crunchy and tangy.
Turnip pickles

But I couldn’t wait two days for turnipy goodness so I found a great little recipe from cookpad for carrots and turnips sauted with lemon.
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This was super easy and the slow cooking over a medium heat made the turnips go crispy and browned on the outside but gooey in the middle – delish! Be careful not to cut the carrots too chunky as there is no par-boiling so they may remain too firm. I found sticks of about 2cm in width about right.

But alas, that only used one carrot. My old men carrots weren’t getting any younger. It was time to send them to the oven. And indulge my sweet tooth at the same time. Two words: Carrot Cake. I used Annabel Langbein’s Carrot Cake recipe from The Best of Annbel Langbein as a base and tweaked it a little – I made mine into muffins and toned down the spices a little for the younger tasters in the house. And I finally found a use for those random carrot lollies I bought on my last trip home. They made perfect toppers.
carrot muffins
Here’s the recipe: I used a blender rather than a food processor so transferred the mixture to a large bowl and mixed by hand in the second part of the process. Mixing by hand is fine as long as you don’t overmix, just fold in the ingredients gently until there aren’t any big patches of flour left.

Carrot Muffins with Cream Cheese Icing

Preheat oven to 160 degrees. In a food processor or blender place one cup of vegetable oil, 2 cups of raw or white sugar and 4 small eggs. Blitz to combine.
Add 1 cup each of wholewheat flour and plain flour, 1/4 tsp salt and 1 tsp each of cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Add 3 cups of grated carrot. Blitz again to combine.
Fold in 2tsp baking soda dissolved in 1tbsp of orange juice.
Bake in a round cake tin for a whole cake for 55 minutes, or in muffin tins for 25-30 minutes.

Cream Cheese Icing
60g butter, softened
200g cream cheese (don’t use spreadable type)
juice and finely grated rind of 1 lemon
3 cups icing sugar
Mix all ingredients in a food processor or beat with electric beaters until smooth. (It’s easier if you add the icing sugar in 3 batches). Spead over or pipe onto muffins.
Carrot Muffin (1)

Great shop for baking supplies!

main_1401_valentineGreat shop for baking supplies!

Thanks to a friend and fellow baker I recently discovered a Tomizawa branch in Takashimaya Department Store in Namba. And now I have found that they have an online store! Could be very handy… The great thing about Tomizawa is not only the huge range of ingredients, different flours, etc that they carry but the varying sizes and amounts that they carry things in. If you make cakes for events like me, 1kg bags of icing sugar are a godsend!

Old habits and new customs: Ginger Kisses and Kinkan

It’s cold. Is it the coldest winter Osaka has seen for a while or am I just getting old and feeling it more? Whatever the reason, I find myself staying indoors under the kotatsu (foot warmer) and only occasionally getting out to make myself something warm and comforting to eat.

Recently I’ve been devouring crystallised ginger by the bagfull. I order from Fruiteya, a Japanese online store associated with Rakuten and specialising in dried fruits and nuts. They have the biggest, chunkiest pieces of ginger – not for the faint hearted but so warming and just the right combination of spicy and sweet. As happy as I would be to just eat it straight from the bag I force myself to bake with at least some of it. I’ve been feeling nostalgic for home and all the yummy baking that kiwis are good at and found myself craving Ginger Kisses.

ginger kisses

For the uninitiated ginger kisses, or any type of kiss, are soft cookies (often made with spices) that are then sandwiched together with creamy icing. My particular recipe makes slightly crispier kisses and the icing has, of course, chunks of crystalised ginger in it.

I made one batch and my son (4) was so depressed when they rapidly disappeared within the day that I had to quickly make another batch.

Happiness was restored to the Kodama household with the second batch which lasted only marginally longer than the first.

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I’ve learnt that the key to achieving a nicely-shaped, puffy kiss and to them not all running together is two-fold. I reduced the amount of butter from 115g to about 90g and also put them straight in the oven, making sure they didn’t sit around after being put on the tray. The mixture makes two trays so the second tray I put in the fridge until I needed it. Less  butter and chilled mixture resulted in puffier, more uniform kisses. Because nobody likes a big flat kiss.

Recipe for Ginger Kisses (From Ladies a Plate)

125g flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ginger

1tsp cinnamon

90g butter, softened

85g caster sugar

1 egg, at room temperature

2 tsp golden syrup, warmed slightly

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp hot water

Filling

30g butter, softened

120g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp boiling water

1 tbsp finely choped crystallised/preserved ginger

125g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
115g butter, softened
85g caster sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
2 tsp golden syrup, warmed slightly
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp hot water
30g butter
120g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
2 Tbsp boiling water
1 Tbsp preserved ginger, finely chopped
1. Heat oven to 180deg. Line two baking trays with baking paper.

2. Sift  together the flour, baking powder and spices.

3. Cream the butter and sugar  until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg, followed by the golden  syrup.

4. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients.

5. Dissolve the baking soda in  the hot water and add to the mix.

6. Put small teaspoonfuls of the mixture  on the trays. Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

Finishing:

1. Make the filling by beating the butter, icing sugar and  vanilla together with an electric beater, then adding the boiling water a  little at a time. Continue beating until the mixture is very light and  creamy.

2. Fold in the preserved ginger. Pair up the ginger kisses,  matching sizes, then put a small teaspoon of filling on each lower half  and stick them together.

Having satiated my need for some good old kiwi baking, my next craving arose when I was at my favorite temple market. Shitennoji is one of the biggest and most important temple complexes in the Kansai region and on the 21st of every month (and for a whole week in March and September!) it is the setting for a huge antique market. It may technically be an antique market but there’s not much you can’t find at Shitennoji. religious artifacts, decorative details from temples and old houses, household wares, retro toys, kimono fabric, old tools, wooden kokeshi dolls, musical instruments…you name it. And to my growing delight – a big food element – especially in recent years. As well as the usual food stalls found at any event in Japan like Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki and kasutera (Castella), there are local specialties like dotenyaki and konyaku balls and a myriad of stalls selling dried foods or preserves. But the one stall I never leave empty-handed is a fruit and veg stall, selling big bowls of lovely looking pears, apples, mandarins, etc at ridiculously low prices. Yesterday I came home with a big bag of kinkan for 300yen. Kinkan are a small round citrus fruit, called clementines in English. We don’t have them in New Zealand so they were a novelty to me before I came to Japan although I think they are common in the States.

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Following a simple recipe learnt from my mother in law’s family in Kagoshima a few years back I got them home, removed the small top with a toothpick, cut them in half and flicked out the pips with a cake fork. Tedious but worth it.

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Then they went into a pot with water to cover and about a cup of sugar. 20 minutes of simmering later: soft syrupy clementines, perfect for spooning over ice-cream for dessert or eating as is for breakfast the next day.

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