Carrot cake

I’m currently in a baking phase, taking a break from the steamed Chinese snacks I was experimenting with a couple of months ago, so this is American-style carrot cake from the book, Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America, not Chinese ‘carrot cake’ which is actually made from white radish/ 蘿蔔/daikon. The reason why the Chinese radish cake is called ‘carrot cake’ is because in Chinese, daikon is known as luobo 蘿蔔 and carrots are referred to as red luobo 紅蘿蔔.

I found this an interesting cake recipe as it uses bread flour. Most cakes use wheat flour of medium or low protein content. Specialised ‘cake flour’ has only 6%-8% protein, as compared to 10%-12% for all-purpose, medium-protein, flour. Low protein content gives a light, crumbly texture for cakes, whereas a high level of protein has more gluten and therefore produces the stretchy consistency desirable in bread.

Carrot Cake


2/3 cups sugar [reduced from 1&2/3 cups, i.e. I reduced from 5 parts to 2 parts]
[omitted 1/2 tsp salt]

1&2/3 cups bread flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder

3 large eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 cups grated carrots [coarsely grated carrot is more visible and gives a rustic texture; I finely grated half and coarsely grated the other half]
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts


1) Sift sugar (and salt, if using).

2) In separate bowl, sift flour, cinnamon, baking soda and baking powder. I was silly and forgot that I have wholemeal bread flour in stock (Waitrose is the only brand I have found in Singapore that produces wholemeal high-protein flour, a.k.a. bread flour, as I mentioned here), so I used white bread flour (unbleached, organic, 12% protein, from Origins Healthcare – it’s labelled as high-protein flour, but this could still be considered as medium-protein).

N.B.: I have since discovered that Origins Healthcare also produces a ‘peak performer’ 14% protein version. This is not reflected on their website and yesterday was the first time I’ve seen it being sold – at Just Organic Wellness located at Tan Tock Seng Hospital #01-06.

3) The first major process is to whip the eggs. Use an electric mixer to beat them at medium speed until thick, about 3 minutes. Increase to high speed and beat until ‘the eggs fall in thick ribbons from the whisk’, about 4 minutes.

It was my first time using this method of preparing the eggs and I noticed that while the mixture started out yellow, they ended up a pale cream colour. This colour change is what I couldn’t understand when I looked at the original recipe for this steamed Chinese sponge cake.

Gradually add the oil while continuing to whip until evenly blended.

4) Add the sifted flour mixture, beating on low speed until just blended. It’s important not to overbeat so that the air that has been incorporated is not beaten out of the batter.

5) Fold in carrots and walnuts by hand using a spatula.

6) Pour batter into greased 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan, or follow my standard practice of using silicone baking cups for handy single-serve portions which are also great for bento.

7) Bake in oven pre-heated to 175°C/ 350°F until a skewer comes out clean. 20 mins for cupcake size, or 45-50 mins for 10-inch tube pan.

8) Cool completely before icing and slicing. The cake can be served with custard sauce, cream cheese icing or cream. I simply spread sour cream on top just before eating.

Verdict: I love this cake!! It’s so moist and soft, beautiful texture, and incorporates so much vegetable (who needs Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious?!)! My family members agreed that it’s more than adequately sweet even with the much-reduced sugar content.

However, I tend to like my carrot cake with a coarse, rustic texture, which this cake certainly did not have. Will have to try out some other carrot cake recipes instead. I should also do more research on the different cake textures produced by different mixing methods – Joe Pastry has excellent explanations of baking basics, including different mixing methods and leavening methods.

17/3/08 update: I tried a different carrot cake recipe, read about it here.

7//04/08 update: Recently made this carrot cake recipe again, using wholemeal bread flour instead of plain bread flour. The texture was noticeably not as fine and smooth as with the white flour and had a distinctive (but not unpleasant) slightly gritty texture. As far as possible, I always use wholemeal flour as it’s healthier so I will probably stick to using it for this recipe, unless I’m baking for others who are not used to wholegrain foods.

Sour cream streussel pound cake

This cake is more rich than most of the recipes I’ve been writing about here, but it seemed like a fun (and delicious) thing to have a go at seeing as I happened to have all the ingredients on hand at home.

Streussel closeup

This simple cake is characterised by a layer of streussel filling, which comprises brown sugar, walnuts, chocolate, cocoa powder and cinnamon.

As usual, I made some adjustments to the original recipe, taken from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America.

Streussel Filling

1/3 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar [original calls for light brown sugar]
1/4 cup chopped toasted waluts
1/4 cup organic dark chocolate (Carrefour brand – the cheapest organic chocolate available!), chopped into small pieces [replaces ‘mini semisweet chocolate chips]
1 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Toss all ingredients together till evenly blended.

Cake ingredients

1 cup wholemeal flour + 1/2 cup cake flour [replaces 1 1/2 cups cake flour]
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
113g unsalted butter [= 1 stick = 8 Tbs] at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar [reduced from 3/4 cup]
[omitted 1/2 tsp salt]
1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

This cake is made with the familiar creaming method, and leavening power provided by an acid (sour cream) reacting with baking soda (I have written about both processes earlier here).

First sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, sugar (and salt, if using) until the mixture is smooth and light.

In another bowl, mix together the sour cream, eggs and vanilla extract.

Add the egg mixture to the butter mixture in three additions, alternating with the dry ingredients. Mix until just blended.

Pour half the batter into an 8 1/2 inch loaf pan which has been buttered. Scatter the streussel filling over the batter and put the remaining batter over the top and smoothen the top into an even layer. Alternatively, lightly swirl the streussel into the batter whilst in the bowl and pour all into the baking tin.

Bake in oven preheated to 175°C/ 350°F for 45 mins, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool on metal rack, release cake from pan and serve at room temperature.

The cake looked beautiful when it was done, with a beautifully cracked top, a lovely brown crust and the gorgeous streussel layer in the middle.

Streussel cross-section

The problem was that it was all too dry. I followed the instructions to bake for 50-55 mins but in retrospect, this was definitely too long.

Also, I don’t like making cakes in loaf tins because the long baking time sucks up a lot of electricity. As I mentioned here, it’s better to bake in smaller cupcakes shapes. However, for this cake the large size is essential to get the effect of the streussel layer or swirls.

I probably wouldn’t make this cake often, because it’s too rich with all that chocolate (except for a special treat) and actually it didn’t really taste all that amazing to me, so for a special occasion I would choose something else.

Fresh wasabi & Isetan shopping delights of the day

Given the paucity of bento gear outside of Daiso, I was impressed to see on sale in Isetan’s household section bread-slice-shaped sandwich cutters similar to the one used by Lunch in a Box. They’re hanging on a shelf with other fun-shaped cutters underneath a TV playing a promotional video of some Japanese kitchen gadget.

Isetan supermarket always has some kind of Japanese food promotion going on, and up till tomorrow, it’s a ‘Japanese Sweets Fair’ with various kinds of wagashi, such as steamed manju (饅頭) buns and demonstrations of dorayaki pancake making, and ‘teyaki tsugarugi senbei honpo’ (crackers with nuts).

Isetan sweets fair Click on picture for larger image of Isetan flyer.

It was also fun looking at the pre-packaged daifuku, warabi mochi and sakura mochi made from doumyoji as inspiration for future cooking projects ^_^.

However, what excited me the most was seeing fresh wasabi root on sale again! It’s not often they appear on the supermarket shelves in Singapore, which isn’t really surprising considering how difficult it is to grow wasabi, and even in Japan, only five percent of sushi shops use fresh wasabi root, with chefs paying up to ¥1,000 or more for a fresh wasabi root (read all about wasabi here)!

Wasabi rhizome

The last time I managed to buy fresh wasabi was when Isetan was having a Shizuoka promotion – Shizuoka being the home of wasabi-growing. The descriptions of wasabi growing in cold, clear mountain streams surrounded in gentle mist (see this photo) only help to enhance my infatuation with this rhizome.

The main reason, however, is the surprising delicate, yet complex, taste of fresh wasabi. A very pale green when grated, its hotness is tempered by a sharp bitter edge and a wonderful sweetness! Aside from using it as a sushi dip with soya sauce, I love wasabi with all kinds of meats, and in sandwiches it tastes so much nicer than powdered mustard which only made my food take on the aroma of rotten eggs :P. I’ve also eaten it smeared thinly over okonomiyaki. Here are my bento which have used wasabi in some way. Check out also this Shizuoka blog for suggestions on alternative ways to enjoy wasabi.

It should be no surprise that fresh grated wasabi tastes quite different from processed wasabi in tubes because the latter is actually made from a mixture with horseradish (a plant only introduced to Japan from Europe in the 19th century), colourings and flavourings etc. as this comprehensive list of ingredients shows. A much better alternative is the powdered wasabi from health food shops, such as Mitoku brand wasabi powder. While this powdered version may not be made from pure wasabi either (horseradish and mustard are commonly mixed in), at least it isn’t full of artificial additives and the unnatural lurid green colour of commercial supermarket powdered wasabi.

4/2/08 update : I experimented with eating wasabi in an alternative manner: by making very fine slices then frying them crisp and eating as topping on noodles. Well, I won’t be doing this again! They were rather bitter, no hint of characteristic wasabi hotness, and were more hard than crisp.

Muffin shapes and sizes

Muffin sizes

When I made those green tea, red bean and pine nuts muffins, I decided to try out different shapes and sizes, using the various types of silicone baking cups I’ve collected.

The square and diamond shapes remind me very much of the style of cake presentation from the Hong Kong-produced cookbook of tea cakes (i.e. sweet snacks to go with morning/afternoon tea), 輕食小茶餅. The book uses fairly standard western cake recipes but all are baked into individual servings, rather than large loafs or rounds and sliced. A variety of decorative moulds of different shapes are used and they struck me as very attractive. The book also showed me how to I can use my doughnut baking tray for other recipes :).

Silicone baking cups variety

Diamond and square-shaped silicone baking cups sold in packs of one dozen (only one shape in each pack) from City Super, Hong Kong. Note the line three-quarters of the way up the inside which tells you where to fill the batter up to – how clever!

I was also trying out mini baking cups for the first time. This is a perfect size to pop into a bento as a sweet dessert, and also excellent for sharing with friends. Because of my food sensitivities and hypoglycemia, I always carry my own box of snacks to parties, gatherings and meetings, and I try to bring some extra to share around so that it doesn’t seem so rude :), however, there’s also a high chance that my healthy snacks won’t go down well with others :P – so these tiny servings are a good solution.

Silicone baking cups round

Silicone baking cups: mini size from Daiso (S$2 for pack of 4) and standard size from Ecko brand, available at Singapore department stores, e.g. Tangs (S$11.60 for set of 12) and OG ($11.90 for set of 12). Daiso also has the standard size (S$2 for 2) but it’s almost always sold out!

Muffins: green tea, red beans and pine nuts

Inspired by the visual effect of this cake on Obachan’s Kitchen – the sliced black soya beans amidst the green cake, I decided that today’s rapid-baking session to fulfil urgent take-away snack needs would comprise my faithful muffin recipe, spiced up by matcha, azuki beans and pine nuts.

[N.B.: If you want to stick more strictly to anti-candida principles, then omit the pine nuts and replace dairy milk with alternatives, and perhaps avoid the green tea too. Guess that leaves you with a red bean muffin!]


Ingredients & baking notes:

1) 2 tsp matcha green tea powder for 2 cups of flour. This is the quantity I derived from making green tea glutinous rice balls. A very delicate matcha flavour and I think I could have used more in the muffins as wholemeal flour has a stronger taste compared to white flour so unless you are paying attention, the green tea flavours might just pass unnoticed. The brown colour of the muffin is from the wholemeal flour, no sign of green tea at all (no wonder so many commercial green tea products use colouring).

2) I cooked 1/2 cup dried red beans using this method. Cook till just soft and not disintegrated, and make sure they are dry enough to separate out into individual beans before mixing into the batter.

3) The pine nuts were roasted beforehand, by dry-frying in a skillet over very low heat.

4) Just over 1/4 cup of white sugar went in. I wasn’t sure what would be the appropriate amount to balance out the bitterness of the matcha and the bean taste. In the end, I think there wasn’t enough green tea taste and I could have used a little less sugar (or perhaps none at all, in which case everyone else in my family would be spitting this out at the first mouthful).

5) Decided to use butter instead of vegetable oil today.

Verdict: it was OK tastewise, but I think the main problem is that I don’t like the texture of this muffin recipe anymore. It seems too close-textured and sort of gummy. And they don’t rise enough to produce those enticing giant cracks on the top. [13/2/08 update: reheated the frozen muffin in microwave for a snack, and somehow they seem very nice today!?! The texture is crumbly and light – maybe they just needed a bit more cooking time? Useful to slightly underbake muffins that will all be frozen, so that the reheating won’t dry them out too much. The pine nuts and red beans are great but not enough green tea taste.]

I got rather sick of these muffins after a period where I was making a big batch of them once every week or every fortnight (in the days when the only food intolerance friendly snacks I made were muffins and scones). Today was the first time in many months that I’d made them but no, I’m still sick of them.

Looks like it’s time to be more adventurous with my basic muffin recipe. I used to avoid ones that use buttermilk because it’s so expensive, but now that I know some substitutes for buttermilk, there’s no excuse not to try them .

12/6/08 update: made these muffins again as I needed a sugar-free snack (omitted sugar this time) for bento. Increased the amount of green tea powder to 2 1/2 Tbsp and it was great. Also, the texture is definitely slightly gummy. A check on various troubleshooting websites suggests that there’s too much liquid. I also wonder if I have been over-mixing the batter…


Buckwheat cookies

Buckwheat cookies
It was hard to get the colours right in my digital photos. The real cookies are more of a dark grey than the warm hues in this picture.

After two rounds of buckwheat pancakes (here and here), it was time for something new to help me use up my just-expired bag of organic buckwheat flour.

I found this recipe in the New York Times by food writer, Melissa Clark. See her blog write-up which explains its Italian origins, and also The Wednesday Chef’s report of her go at the recipe.

My baking notes:

1) Replaced all-purpose flour with wholewheat flour.

2) Reduced sugar from 2/3 cup to 1/3 cup. Still too sweet – even my family thought so! Instead of experiencing the pure taste of the flours, the main thing that hits my taste buds is the sugar :(; distracts from the distinct buckwheat character, I think. I’m beginning to realise that a good rule of thumb when following sweet recipes is to reduce the sugar to 1/4 or 1/3 of the suggested amount.

3) Used demerara sugar, but I didn’t like the way the large grains remained distinct & crunchy inside the cookies.

4) Omitted salt. I find its taste in sweet recipes overpowering and distracting as I’m used to bland food.

5) It was hard to use the handheld mixer to incorporate the dry ingredients into the creamed butter, the mixture was extremely stiff. In the final result, the biscuits were of uneven texture; instead of being consistently sandy throughout, there were tiny clumps of dough. I suspect the mixing step might be the root of this issue.

6) I had dreams of gorgeous cookies coming out of my cookie press but this dough was simply too dry and too crumbly. I ended up using the same method as The Wednesday Chef and flattened balls of dough with a fork. I used a coffee powder measure from Daiso, which looks like a large melon-ball scoop, to measure out equal amounts of dough.

7) I wonder if my dough a tad too dry? I used the yolks of regular-sized eggs, which can be 10g less than large sized eggs. The end result was just fine though.

8) I only baked them for 15 mins initially but it was way too short a time. As the outsides were done but not the insides, I popped them back in the oven on a much lower temperature for approximately an additional 15 mins, which was a hassle because I had to keep checking them every 3-5 mins.

The final result was very satisfactory. I love the dense and sandy texture of these biscuits as they remind me so much of the shortcrust pastry biscuits I grew up on. Next time, I’ll cut back the sugar and try to mix the ingredients more evenly but without over-beating. Will also try to shape them into swirls using a piping bag as recommended in the original recipe.

P.S. Next time I might try Japanese buckwheat cookies instead, soba boro そばぼうろ – they use similar proportions of buckwheat and wheat flours, but no butter, only eggs. See recipes here and here.

Red bean agar with glutinous rice ball 白玉紅豆糕

This is from the Hong Kong-published wagashi recipe book, 日式和菓子, where it is called Shiratama Azuki Mizuyoukan 白玉紅豆糕.

As I was already making glutinous rice balls, I thought it would be convenient to try out this recipe at the same time.

Red bean shiratama agar

50g glutinous rice flour/ shiratamako
45 ml water

These are the quantities given in the recipe for 6-8 balls. My own recipe and tips for glutinous rice balls are here.

Before making the agar-agar, put one cooked glutinous rice ball into each mould. The recipe used small waterproof bags to create unevenly-shaped agar-agar for a unique appearance. However I wasn’t sure about pouring boiling agar-agar liquid into plastic bags so I went for some silicone baking cups instead.

80g red bean paste (already sweetened to taste or omit sugar if desired, my cooking instructions here)
4g agar-agar powder|
240ml water

The instructions in the book say: “Mix agar-agar powder with water in pot. Heat until agar-agar completely dissolves. Add in red bean paste.”

As usual I failed to follow instructions and started by mixing my chunky red bean paste with water, hoping to get a more even red bean liquid. (Yes, I should have used the food processor to make a smooth paste but I already had a disaster earlier in the day when I processed my red bean paste soon after it had been used to for chillies!! Hmmm, spicy red bean paste could be the beginnings of an entirely new food adventure…) So when the agar-agar powder entered the hot water, it immediately clumped up :P and I had to resort to much whisking to try and rectify the problem. Should have learnt my lesson after the water chestnut fritters experience.

In retrospect, I should have put the red bean paste and water in a blender (no chilli taste!) to get a smooth liquid. Then put the agar-agar powder into the room temperature red bean liquid before heating up the whole thing whilst stirring all the time.

Pour the agar-agar liquid into the moulds containing the glutinous rice balls. Put into refrigerator until hardened.

Makes 6 to 8 pieces.

The first thing I would say about this wagashi is – please eat immediately! The glutinous rice ball in the middle was a nice texture contrast to the agar-agar and like a special surprise inside. It was a bit harder than hot glutinous rice balls, but still nice and chewy. Later that day, the glutinous rice balls had turned too dry and hard in the centre whilst remaining gluey on the outside, and this became worse the next day and the day after. Serves me right for making 12 pieces instead of the 6 to 8 in the recipe!

Also, because my red bean was fairly solid, it separated out from the rest of the liquid whilst setting. You can see here the two clearly-demarcated layers. Which isn’t really a problem, simply a point to note; just depends on the effect you are trying to create.

red bean shiratama layers