The thought of baking used to intimidate Ms Janet Lim. The 39-year-old public relations consultant was also not fond of sweets nor following recipes to the letter.
But she had always been an avid cook, from her undergraduate days in Britain experimenting with recipes and making meals for herself. She thought she would always be resigned to whipping up savoury feasts.
About 11/2 years ago, her third sister taught her how to bake an orange chiffon cake and that opened up her culinary world.
Ms Lim, the youngest of six siblings, says: "I forced myself to bake so that I could serve complete meals to people and not just savoury dishes."
She used to hate measuring out ingredients and setting the timer, but now finds it "therapeutic".
She says: "I used to think baking was very restrictive. I now realise that it can be creative too. It is all about formula and flavour combination, and understanding the ingredients to perfect the recipe.
"I can get very obsessive, so I will do a recipe 20 times just to get it right. I'll change the proportions or use different flours or sugars."
Her experiment with chiffon cake flavours has expanded from pandan to include kaffir lime and lemongrass, passionfruit and green tea.
Likewise for hummingbird cake, which usually includes pineapple, bananas, cinnamon and pecans as key ingredients. Her variations include apple crumble as well as pear and chocolate.
She shares her recipe for a version with a local spin.
Instead of bananas, she uses fresh pineapple chunks, grated coconut and coconut milk. She omits cinnamon as her family does not like the spice.
She also uses a mix of gula melaka and brown sugar - with extra gula melaka chunks inserted into the batter before baking - for that extra smoky caramel pop.
Do not expect the flavours and texture of a buttery pound cake, says Ms Lim. Her cake has a dense yet moist crumb, with coconut and pineapple mixed in, along with the crunch of walnuts.
The cake is already delicious on its own, but she takes it to another level by mixing the juice and zest of calamansi limes as well as torch ginger into the cream cheese frosting.
"This cake combines Asian flavours I feel go well together. If anything goes wrong, just serve it with a scoop of ice cream and it's fixed," she says with a chuckle.
Her latest obsession is bread-making, after phases of churning out pound cakes and Nonya kueh. For Chinese New Year, she baked batches of pineapple tarts and kueh lapis for her friends and family.
She now hopes to perfect madeleines, profiteroles and maca-rons.
"The problem is, I have to eat everything I make or give them away," says Ms Lim, who is single. "To me, feeding others is how I show affection."
ASIAN-STYLE HUMMINGBIRD CAKE
For the gula melaka coconut topping
- 80g gula melaka, chopped into chunks
- 1 Tbs water
- 5g unsalted butter
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 80g grated coconut
- 30g walnuts, toasted
- For the cake batter
- 130g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 80g gula melaka, chopped
- 100g dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp rum extract
- 3g fine salt
- 4 eggs (60g to 65g each), room temperature
- 200ml coconut milk
- 430g cake flour
- 21/2 tsp baking powder
- 200g pineapple (fresh or canned), chopped in chunks
- 30g gula melaka, in chunks (to press into the batter)
For the frosting
- 50g cream cheese, softened
- 25g unsalted butter
- 80g icing sugar
- 3 to 4 calamansi limes
- 1/4 piece of torch ginger, shredded
1. Preheat the oven to 160 deg C.
2. Grease two loaf tins and line with parchment paper, with sides hanging out.
3. For the gula melaka coconut topping: Heat a small non-stick pot on medium heat and add the gula melaka, water, butter and salt. Stir to form a sauce.
4. Mix in the coconut and walnuts. Cook for one minute, then scoop into a dish. Leave to cool.
5. For the cake batter: Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, gula melaka, dark brown sugar, vanilla extract, rum extract and salt on medium speed for three to four minutes till pale brown and creamy.
6. Beat the eggs in. Mix in the coconut milk.
7. In a separate bowl, sift the flour with baking powder.
8. Mix the flour into the butter mixture on low speed. 9. Using a spatula, fold in the pineapple and half of the gula melaka coconut topping.
10. Scoop the batter into the baking tins, about 750g each portion.
11. Press the chunks of gula melaka into the batter.
12. Sprinkle the remainder of the gula melaka coconut topping over the batter. Pat down lightly so that the mixture adheres to the batter.
13. Bake the cakes for 35 to 40 minutes. Insert a skewer into the middle of each cake. If it comes out clean, then the cakes are ready. If not, bake for another three minutes and test again.
14. Leave the tins to cool for 10 minutes. Then remove the cakes from the tins, peel off the parchment paper and place on a rack to cool the cakes.
15. For the frosting: Using a hand-held mixer, mix the cream cheese and butter at medium speed until light and creamy. Add the icing sugar in three parts, mixing well each time.
16. Zest all the limes and juice two of them.
17. Add half the portions of shredded torch ginger and lime zest, as well as the lime juice to the cream cheese mixture. Cream till you get a smooth frosting.
18. Spread the frosting over each loaf. Sprinkle the remaining torch ginger and lime zest over the frosting.
19. Cut into thick slices and serve. Keep cakes (without frosting) in the freezer. Toast before eating.
Makes two cakes
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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