June 24th, 2010

Stupendously easy homemade butter & fun buttermilk pancake

Coco&Me - Homemade butter in a shape of a bear (molded) - www.cocoandme.com(Bear cub – Homemade butter cut out with cookie cutter.)
Coco&Me - Buttermilk Pancake recipe with step-by-step pictures of the process - heart motif - www.cocoandme.com(Heart shape buttermilk pancake)
About time for some recipes from yours truly. xx
First, I would like to write about how easy it is to make butter in your very own home. Not just any butter, but a deliciously creamy one, quite unlike any that you’ve had before, I promise. And all from JUST one ingredient; double cream (& salt to taste), which you JUST over-whip until the liquid has separated & leaves you with the semi-solid, which is the butter (more precisely, butterfat). Stupendously easy right? Told you!! ^^
And here’s the revelation. The left over liquid is, guess what? Buttermilk!!!! So don’t throw it away because we are using it for our pancakes later.

Coco&Me - Homemade butter & buttermilk pancake recipe - www.cocoandme.com(Buttermilk extracted from double cream!!)
Here’s what you’ll need to make butter:

  • Double cream
  • Mixing bowl & hand-mixer (or Food processor)
  • Salt (try adding 0.5% of total butter to start with, & add more if you prefer)

And to make it:

  • 1. Start whisking the double cream in a deep-walled mixing bowl. (… deep walled bowl is better as the liquid will spit like mad!)
  • 2. At first it will look like chantilly cream you’d use for cake decorating. Continue whisking.
  • 3. A while later it’ll start to curdle (looking like cottage cheese). Soon after, it will start oozing liquid.
  • 4. Whisk until it has broken in to two components, solid & liquid. The solid is very fresh butter & liquid, buttermilk.
  • 5. Collect the buttermilk for later use. Then whip the butter more to extract as much liquid.
  • 6. Weigh how heavy your lump of butter is, and calculate how much salt you’d like to incorporate.
  • 7. Vigorously work in the salt to the butter to ensure even distribution.

Coco&Me - Homemade butter & buttermilk pancake recipe - www.cocoandme.com
To store, you can just scoop it in a Tupperware & refrigerate, or, if you like, you can roll it to 1.5cm thickness or more in-between greaseproof paper like the picture below, then freeze it for a while (1-2 hours) to make it hard to cut shapes using cookie cutters!!! (… it is best to use simple shapes that don’t have intricate corners. Also, you might want to use a cooks’ blow torch to ease them out of the mold.)
Coco&Me - Homemade butter & buttermilk pancake recipe - www.cocoandme.com
Guide notes:

  • The double cream has to be fresh, not UHT or vegetable oil substitute.
  • Some recipes will say to ‘wash the butter’ at the end. It is done to wash out any residual buttermilk so that the butter keeps for longer. I have skipped this step because it’s an extra work that takes the fun away, but please feel free to do so.
  • Make sure to salt the butter AFTER you have collected the buttermilk. You wouldn’t want to flavour the buttermilk right?
  • Butter yield: From 600ml of double cream, I ended up with 324g of butter & 235ml of buttermilk.
  • This butter has a ‘cleaner’ note to the taste than shop-bought ones. And perhaps less yellow.
  • The science: Cream contains tiny globules of butterfat surrounded by membranes. By agitating the cream by whipping, the membranes of these globules break & the loosened butterfat chain together to form a solid mass = butter. For more information, please check out this website.

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Next, let’s make some fun looking pancakes!
In the recipe below, I have used silicone egg rings to make shapely pancakes. And also had some fun drawing on them. Ofcourse, you can approach this the usual/ easier/ quicker way by just freehand scooping & pouring! – And as for the recipe itself, it produces very moist pancakes that is very (very) moreish, I can assure you it’ll disappear from your plate in nooooo time… Ever since I made this recipe, we always have buttermilk in our fridge for a quick fix up!
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Buttermilk pancake recipe:

  • Plain flour… 120g
  • Sugar… 40g
  • Baking powder… 5g
  • Baking soda… 3g
  • Egg… 1
  • Buttermilk… 200ml
  • Vanilla extract… a dash
  • Melted salted butter… 40g
  • Cocoa powder… roughly a teaspoon

You’ll need the following things:

  • Mixing bowl
  • Silicone egg rings
  • See-through lid that covers your frying pan
  • Optional: Maple syrup or icing sugar to serve


  • 1. First we prepare two separate bowls of ingredients;
    – – a: sifted dry ingredients: flour, baking powder & baking soda.
    – – b: mixed wet ingredients: egg, buttermilk, vanilla extract, but minus the melted salted butter which we will incorporate in step 3.
  • 2. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients & GRADUALLY pour in the wet ingredients, whisking all the time.
  • 3. When you have whisked the batter until it is not clumpy, pour in the melted butter & whisk it in.
  • 4. Next, pour some of the mixture in another small bowl, then add cocoa powder to colour it brown.
  • 5. Put the cocoa batter in a piping bag.
  • 6. Heat the pan on low.
  • 7. Grease the pan thinly with melted salted butter. (…using folded kitchen paper to smear it across is my choice of method.)
  • 8. Place the silicone egg ring on the pan.
  • 9. Pipe a simple design quickly using your cocoa batter.
  • 10. When the cocoa design has dried, pour the pancake batter in the egg-ring (…here, make sure it is just under half the height of your mold, as anything higher, the batter will flood out when frying).
  • 11. Place the lid on (…a glass lid would be best so that you can keep an eye on how the pancakes are doing).
  • 12. Wait until you start to see bubbles appear on the surface & the edges slightly cooked.
  • 13. Flip the pancake with the egg-ring still attached (…I find that flipping together with the mold ‘spill-free’).
  • 14. Fry until it browns (about under a minute).

Coco&Me - Buttermilk Pancake recipe with step-by-step pictures of the process - www.cocoandme.com
Guide notes:

  • This recipe does not work with milk as substitute for buttermilk. I tried & it came out edible, but not nearly as tasty as the proper buttermilk version. – I also did a test-run with milk that has been soured with lemon. It was much better than the ‘milk-only’ version, but nothing beats the real thing.
  • If you are using the silicone mold straight again, just give it a quick wipe with the kitchen towel to get rid of any residue.
  • Use the batter straight away. Never rest it. The reason for this has to do with the two leavening agents in this recipe:
    – Baking powder reacts to moisture & enlarges the carbon dioxide (air) within the batter. It expands upwards.
    – As for the baking soda, which expands sideways, primarily reacts with acidic components (such as buttermilk) to give off carbon dioxide that expand under temperature. For both agents, the reaction is immediate after being incorporated, so please don’t rest the batter or the carbon dioxide will start to dissipate, & it won’t rise so well.
    – Another point worth mentioning about these leavening agents is that you should not use aged stuff that’s been lying around in your store cupboard, as it won’t be as reactive, it’ll have a bitter taste, & you’d get a disappointing result.
  • I like using salted butter for this recipe. Salt is known for enhancing the flavours of the other ingredients, especially sweetness. I also like to grease the pan with the salted butter.
  • Silicone molds are the best. I tried metallic shapes such as standard cookie cutters, greasing the sides with butter then flouring, but the pancake sticks now & again & it does not give you consistent results. Also, complicated shapes should be avoided as they are finickity.

Some more designs:
This one is an evolving message on a pancake as they eat! The surprise is right at the bottom!
Coco&Me - Buttermilk Pancake recipe with step-by-step pictures of the process - hidden message - www.cocoandme.comCoco&Me - Buttermilk Pancake recipe with step-by-step pictures of the process - hidden message - www.cocoandme.com(… With car-shaped butter!) You have to pipe the letters mirrored – which can get confusing!! (notice the ‘Y’ in ‘today’?)
And there’s the three bears:Coco&Me - Buttermilk Pancake recipe with step-by-step pictures of the process - bear motif - www.cocoandme.com.
This one, I used my stencil to dust a bit of icing.Coco&Me - Buttermilk Pancake recipe with step-by-step pictures of the process - icing pattern - www.cocoandme.comCoco&Me - Buttermilk Pancake recipe with step-by-step pictures of the process - icing pattern - www.cocoandme.com.
More playing around…
Coco&Me - Buttermilk Pancake recipe with step-by-step pictures of the process - heart & star motif - www.cocoandme.com.
And finally, a picture of a squirrel butter, which ends my longest ever recipe post!!!!Coco&Me - Homemade butter in a shape of a squirrel (molded) - www.cocoandme.com

January 15th, 2010

Baked cheesecake with embossed pattern

(with step-by-step with pictures)


www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Baked Cheese cake biscuit base recipe with making process pictures/ images - with embossed pattern of unicorn & squirrel(…with unicorn pattern embossed)


www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Baked Cheese cake biscuit base recipe with making process pictures/ images - with embossed pattern of unicorn & squirrel(It is ultra c r e a m y & the texture is melt-in-your mouth like a soufflé!)


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This must be one of the most easiest of cake recipes!

  • It doesn’t involve separating eggs.
  • Nor whisking any time-delicate meringues, so you can take as much time leisurely making it.
  • There’s minimal washing-up to do too, as all the mixing happens in one bowl.
  • As for the biscuit base, you can further avoid washing-up by simply massaging the store-bought biscuits & butter in a food bag! Of course you can do it the usual way by using bare hands, but do it my way, you’d also avoid getting unpleasant biscuit-mash in your nails & your fingers buttery.^^ On that same note, I also suggest cling-filming the 3 middle fingers when pressing down the biscuit to the base.
  • There is no adventurous water-bath method to contend! (Some cheesecake recipes use the water-bath method to cook it gently so that it doesn’t crack, but I for one have a long hate-relationship with the method ever since the water seeped in to my cakes via the removable bottom in many occasions in the past…)


The texture of the cheesecake is creeeeeamy! I managed this by tweaking the balance of the ingredients so that it uses tons of double cream/ sour cream/ cream cheese, but as little as possible of flour (… flour creates the ‘structural pillar’ that holds the cake in the inflated spongier shape – please read my blog-entry on flour for explanation of this).

I sell my cheesecakes down at the market. And I’m happy to say that it’s been a hit no problem. It’ll always definitely be in my line-up because it has acquired a bit of a following ^^

– Like the lady who said: “I used to buy your flour-less chocolate cake all the time, but now I converted to always buying the cheesecake!” And the spectacled-man who’d get disappointed if it’s sold-out. There’s also my favorite tomato-seller girl who’ve been buying the whole cake for 4 weeks in a row, but says she never gets to eat as much as she’d like to because her boyfriend & her family loves it too!


The pattern:

When I first started selling the cheesecake, it had no pattern on top. Although I was perfectly confident with the taste, I felt the presentation needed ‘Something’. Y’know, that ‘Something special’ for the wow factor & for the customer to justify their purchase. For a long while I was thinking of a solution to this; & I was enquiring around to see if I could get an iron stamp that I could heat & emboss/ burn a pattern with. But, one, it is difficult to get hold of, & secondly it’s never in a pretty pattern!

– So next I thought what about stenciling with cocoa powder? But maybe not. It’ll be too smudgy…

– Then it occurred to me while I was embossing my chocolate bird tart. Ah! Just invert it! Cocoa powder & cookie cutter! Simply dab cocoa powder on the blunt end of the cookie cutter, then tap off the excess & stamp the cake!

www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Baked Cheese cake biscuit base recipe with making process pictures/ images - with embossed pattern of unicorn & squirrel(I get asked A LOT at the market on how I do it!)

www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Baked Cheese cake biscuit base recipe with making process pictures/ images - with embossed pattern of unicorn & squirrel(My favorite stamp! – I love unicorns…)

  • I mixed together oat biscuits to the plain digestives to add interest in flavour. It also gives you a different sort of crunch compared to the pap the digestives can become.
  • Resting the pressed biscuit base in the refrigerator while you make the filling firms the butter within.
  • Sour cream tenderizes the cake, as well as enhancing the tang of the cream cheese.
  • Excessively tapping away the air bubbles is the key to avoiding cracks on the surface that is the oh-so-common pitfall of baking a cheesecake.
  • Lining the sides of the pan with baking paper also helps to avoid cracked surface. The common problem with the cheesecake is that it tends to stick to the side of the pan, but as it cools it tries to pull away from the wall. This tension ends up with a cracked surface. Whereas if you line it with baking paper, the paper will agreeably pull away with the cake too…
  • The only down-side about this cake (if there is one) is that you have to keep your mitts off & leave it to mature over-night!


So here it is! (Finally!) My baked cheesecake recipe.


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The Baked Cheesecake Recipe:


For the biscuit base:

      70g Oat biscuits

(…Obviously it depends on brands, but for me it was 4 ½ biscuits)

      85g Digestive biscuits

(…Obviously it depends on brands, but for me it was 5 ½ biscuits)

      70g unsalted butter


For the filling:

      70g unsalted butter


      90g castor sugar


      330g cream cheese


      90 ml sour cream


      100g whole eggs (approximately 2 eggs)


      100 ml double cream


      25g flour


    12 ml lemon juice


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  • 1. First begin by greasing a 8″ round spring-form cake pan with butter. Then line both the base & the sides with greaseproof baking paper.
  • 2. Now on to making the biscuit base. First measure your biscuits (70 grams Oat biscuits + 85 grams Digestive) in a food bag.
  • 3. Crush them by hand or bash it with wooden rolling pin. Leave some chunky for interesting texture.
  • 4. Melt 70 grams of butter. Put it in the food bag.
  • 5. Massage the food bag to combine.
  • 6. Empty the mixture in a greased & lined pan.
  • 7. Press the biscuit mixture firmly to the base. I like to do the edges & work to the middle. (Optional: cling-film the three middle fingers for hygiene & to avoid buttery fingers!)
  • 8. Refrigerate the pressed biscuit base while you make the filling.
  • 9. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade.
  • 10. Next, in a mixing bowl whisk the 70 grams of butter until very soft & creamy.
  • 11. Add in the 90 grams of sugar. Whisk & combine.
  • 12. Add 330 grams of cream cheese. Whisk & combine.
  • 13. Add 90ml of sour cream. Whisk & combine.
  • 14. Add 100 grams of whole eggs. Whisk & combine.
  • 15. Add 100ml double cream. Whisk & combine.
  • 16. Add 25 grams of flour. Whisk & combine.
  • 17. Add 12ml Lemon juice. Whisk & combine.
  • 18. TAP the bowl MULTIPLE times on the work surface to let the air bubble out. (take your time doing this as this is the key to avoiding cracked surface!)
  • 19. Slowly pour the mix in to the cake pan. Tap it some more on the work surface.
  • 20. Place the pan on top of a baking tray, & pop it in the oven. (You need the baking tray to collect the small amount of butter that seeps out from the bottom of the cake pan)
  • 21. Bake for 30 minutes first.
  • 22. Have a look. If it looks like it is starting to brown too much on top, cover loosely with foil.
  • 23. Bake for another 10 minutes.
  • 24. Skewer test. I like it when it isn’t thoroughly cooked. (But obviously not raw!) If there’s a tiny bit of curdle on the skewer still, it’s fine, take it out.
  • 25. Leave aside – still in the cake tin – overnight to mature.

www.cocoandme.com - Coco&Me - Baked Cheese cake biscuit base recipe with making process pictures/ images - with embossed pattern of unicorn & squirrel

April 11th, 2009

Lemon drizzle cake with lemon icing

www.cocoandme.com - lemon drizzle cake with recipe

(For the extra glossy icing, I put the iced cake back in to a pre-heated oven of 230 degrees for just under 1 minute. – By doing this, the moisture evaporates a little & the icing becomes slightly crystalized, & shinier!)



I’m the type that take cook books to read in bed. I have piles of them by the bedside.
I read through these books like a bible. And when I find recipes that are worth careful reading, I imagine every step in my mind… – I imagine what it must taste like. – And when it’s a “really” good recipe, I close my eyes & start to add or change the recipe here & there, think of how to serve them, & to whom, at what kind of occasion.


Imagining about food, (especially with sugary content ^^) is my all-time stress-buster. Must admit, it HAS been known to have the dis-advantage of me hoping out of bed to raid my food cupboard at times (!), but the best thing about this imagination-game is when, sometimes, my trail of thought affects the contents of the dream I am to have that night.


Whilst in my dream world, the said recipe gets wilder and wilder, & the story surrounding it most certainly strange, a bit like Alice in Wonderland actually. So far there was a nice guest appearance from Monsieur Hermè, who was slurping fizzy cola from a paper cup with some faces I knew from 15 years ago (that I thought I had forgotten about), critiquing the recipe in question! At a food court in a mall of all places! Lol…

The other night I read a recipe book in bed as usual.


And I got very much fixated on carrot cakes. I like ’em moist. The cream cheese frosting, a must. No raisins, but lots of walnuts. Easy on the spices.


By now, I was hoping to dream more about it in my dream, but my dream story must have had a twist, – because when I woke up the next morning, as odd as it may sound, my fixation was not CARROT cake anymore but LEMON cake instead.


When I woke up, I was like: – So that’s it. Here I am totally fixated on lemon cakes. Gotta bake it. Like, now. – But what kind of lemon cake? Should it have lemon juice &/or just zest? Which cake tin? Round? Square? How should it be garnished? Lemon Icing? Drizzled? What’s the best lemon/ sugar ratio for lemon syrup? … Hmm! It’s like trying to solve a good puzzle! I Love it.

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So here it is, my lemon cake recipe after numerous test-bakes & sacrificial loosened belts for the cause.

It is super moist thanks to the drizzle, & the sponge is flavoursome because some of the plain flour has been replaced with almond powder. It also keeps exceedingly well. Please take note, there’s lemony notes everywhere, what with the zest & the juice in the cake batter, the lemony-sugar syrup drizzle, aswell as more juice in the crunchy icing top. There’s the optional candied lemon strips for the garnish too. – IT’S pretty LEMON-MAD (but not in a OTT way).

What does sour cream do to the cake?

As well as contributing a fresh & tangy flavour that’s just a perfect addition for a lemon cake, sour cream, being an acidic ingredient, tenderizes the gluten formed in the cake batter, which in effect, results in a finer, dense & moist sponge.

Why clarify the butter in the cake recipe?

When you gently melt the butter, the 15% water content evaporates & you are left with three layers, separated by density. The top layer is fine foam of whey proteins that floated up, the middle is clear highly purified liquid, & the bottom is cloudy white residue of more milk solids.

The middle layer is the “clarified butter”. It’s unique points are:

  • It has a higher smoke point. It can be heated to 200 centigrade before burning (for example this is perfect for pan-frying, & for making pale coloured crepes!). This is because we’ve removed the milk solids which burns easily.
  • The highly purified butter gives the cake a concentrated butter flavour. Also slightly nutty fragrance. Typically financiers, madeleines & genoise sponge uses clarified butter.
  • It won’t get rancid as quickly as un-clarified butter, since the water content & the impurities had been removed.
  • The cake becomes moist & tender because the butter relaxes the gluten in the flour.

To make the clarified butter:

First work out how much to melt. You should melt 130%+ of what the recipe calls for. (My lemon cake requires 100g of clarified butter, so I’ll be melting 130g.)

  • 1. Melt butter in a saucepan or microwave.
  • 2. Skim the foam/ froth (whey proteins) that surface with a spoon. The best way to skim efficiently is to use the back of a spoon to gently push the froth to one side of pan & then spoon it out.
  • 3. Leave aside a little to let it settle in the pan.
  • 4. Finally gently spoon out the clarified layer, leaving the milky residue still in the pan.

The star tip here is to have it warmer than body temperature when time comes to use it. The warm liquid will be runnier to mix better with the batter (just like how oil is gloopier when cold, but watery when heated up). Melting & separating the layers is a little extra work to do, but it will make a difference!


Another mundane but important tip is that you really will be better off if you weigh out all the ingredients beforehand.

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Lemon Drizzle Cake with Lemon Icing Recipe:

(8″ cake = 7 to 8 slices)



(quantities for 8″ round baking tin or something similar)

200g eggs (about 4 eggs)
240g sugar
a pinch of salt (3g)
135ml sour cream
20ml of lemon juice
190g plain flour
40g almond powder
5g baking powder
100g of clarified unsalted butter (have prepared 130g to skim from)
zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

For the lemon syrup to drizzle:

50ml lemon juice
60g castor sugar

For the lemon icing:

35ml lemon juice
200g icing sugar

For the garnish:

skin of 1 unwaxed lemon
50g sugar
roughly chopped “extra green” pistachio


Things to prepare beforehand:

  • Line the bottom of the baking tin with baking paper.
  • Butter the baking tin sides. Then move around some flour in it so that it clings to the sides. Tap out excess flour, & store the prepared tin in the refrigerator until needed.
  • Grate 1 large unwaxed lemon & mix it with a teaspoon of sugar & leave aside ( = the sugar enhances the lemony quality/ essence). Remember, don’t grate the white pith under the yellow skin. It’s too bitter.
  • Melt 130g of unsalted butter. Weigh out 100g of the clarified liquid.
  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.


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  • 1. In a large steel mixing bowl, loosely whisk 200g of eggs.
  • 2. Put the mixing bowl above a pot with simmering hot water (bain marie).
  • 3. Whisk the eggs with 220g sugar (added in three go’es) until light cream in colour, & thick in textureIt should be so thick that it dollops off the whisk. You’d be whisking for 5 to 10 minutes. The egg mixture would look like it tripled in quantity.
  • 4. Put together 135ml sour cream + 20ml of lemon juice + lemon zest + 3g salt in a seperate bowl, then whisk it in to the egg foam. The lemon juice loosens the gloopy consistency of sour cream, & makes life a little easier to mix it on to the batter!
  • 5. Sift & then fold in the 190g plain flour + 40g almond powder + 5g baking powder.
  • 6. Warm the prepared 100g clarified butter to just above body temperature. Warm clarified butter is much more fluid than cold. It will merge with the cake batter better.
  • 7. Take a little of the cake batter & mix it in to the butter dish. This technique will ensure that the butter mixes in evenly & quickly.
  • 8. Now fold in the butter + batter mixture to the rest of the batter. Make sure it is thoroughly folded in to the batter from the bottom of your bowl, as butter is heavier than the batter, it sinks to the bottom & you’d have a weird hard layer on the bottom of your cake!
  • 9. Pour the batter in to the prepared cake tin.
  • 10. Pop it in the preheated 180 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it passes the skewer test. Use a metal skewer & pierce the middle of the sponge. If it comes out clean & the tip is hot to the touch, then it is done.
  • 11. While the cake is in the oven, make the lemon drizzle syrup. Simply heat 60g castor sugar with 50g lemon juice in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved & melted completely. (Beware! The liquid easily boils over if you’re not watchful!)
  • 12. When the cake has baked, quickly de-mold from the tin & place upside down on an oven tray. The bottom will be the top of the cake. This way, you’ll get a level top surface perfect for achieving flat icing.
  • 13. Place the cake-tin wall back around the sponge. This trick will keep the hot lemon syrup from spilling everywhere.
  • 14. Skewer the sponge & spoon the hot syrup over it & let it soak in to the hot sponge.
  • 15. (Optional) While the cake is cooling, make the lemon garnish:
    – Peel the lemon skin. Make sure there’s no bitter white piths attached to the underside.
    – Cut it in to thin short strips.
    – Boil it in hot water for 3 minutes. Then drain.
    – Put it back in a pan with 50g sugar & just enough water to cover it.
    – Boil it for 6 minutes.
    – Leave to cool in the sugar liquid until you need it.
  • 16. Now make the lemon icing:
    – Place 200g icing sugar in a small bowl.
    – Pour in 35ml lemon juice & make the paste.
  • 17. Place (upside down) cake on a level surface. Pour the white icing in the middle, all in one go. Let some (but not all) drip to the sides.
  • 18. While the icing is still wet, garnish the top with the lemon strips &/ or chopped green pistachio.
  • 19. For the extra glossy icing, put the cake back in a pre-heated oven (230 degrees) for under 1 minute. The moisture evaporates & the icing becomes slightly crystalized. This step also changes the mouth-feel of the icing from gooey to somewhat sharper.
  • 20. Wait for the icing to harden. Never try to move the cake while the icing is soft as that will crack the icing surface.
  • 21. Slice with a sharp knife. Wipe knife after every slice for the clean cut.

Coco&Me : Lemon Drizzle Cake with Lemon Icing Recipe : www.cocoandme.com

May 31st, 2008

Homemade vanilla extract

Homemade vanilla extract Recipe - Coco&Me(I made three bottles – with vodka, brandy & rum to experiment. In 5 weeks time I’ll know which one came out best!)
Homemade vanilla extract Recipe

(I used clear glass jars despite the “instructable” suggesting to use dark glass to protect the extract from direct sun exposure. I’ll put them in a dark cupboard instead!)
Do you have half-consumed bottles of vodka (or brandy or rum) sitting in your cupboard that’s been long forgotten about? Well, here’s an idea. You can infuse them with vanilla pods to concoct yourself a superior homemade vanilla extract.
Y’see, now that I’m walking around the house with a baby sling instead of partying like an animal (!?), I decided that I might aswell turn these forgotten alcoholic beverages to good use, by baking it in to cakes & stuff. Much more useful – having a boozy vanilla extract instead…

The supermarket price VS the cost to home-make:

A bottle of bog standard vanilla extract off the supermarket shelf can be pricey at around £4.00 for a measly 100ml. As for purchasing just ONE pod, it ranges from £1.44 for the cheapest to an extortionate £2.26.


I figured out that this project could turn out a tad expensive. The recipe requires 30g of pods (8 to 10 pods) to 250ml. Thats hell-of-a-lot of pods… If you buy pods off-the-shelf for this, it’s like over 14 pounds for the pods, then you gotta think of how much the alcohol would cost on top of that!

Luckily, my homemade brew costs a lot less in comparison, as my vanilla pods are cheap (I got mine from a wholesaler at £75 for 1kg), & as for the alcohol, I worked out that it costs just over £1 for 100ml. To make a 250ml, it’ll probably cost me just under 3 pounds.
For the recipe, I followed the “instructable” & its author’s website it links to. (“Instructable” is a website where passionate people share what they do & how they do it, & learn from others. – I love whiling away my time browsing the often bizarre & original food ‘instructables’. The recent ‘I-wish-I-came-up-with-that-idea’ I found was to use a playdough extruder to make long square rods of cookie dough to make pixel patterned cookies!!)
The instructable goes to great lengths to document the recipe for vanilla extract, & I’m not even gonna try to emulate.


But here’s the RECIPE, nut-shell version:

Homemade vanilla extract Recipe

  • 1. Sterilize the bottle(s) by boiling them for 10 minutes.
  • 2. Work out how many pods you need. It’s 30 grams (8-10 beans) per 250 ml of 40% alcohol.
  • 3. Split the pod lengthways, scrape the beans & put both pod-skin & beans in to the bottle. Here, it’s best to chop the pod-skin in to fourths so it stays submerged in the alcohol.
  • 4. Fill with alcohol (vodka most recommended, else, brandy or rum).
  • 5. Tightly shut the lid & vigorously shake the bottle.
  • 6. Shake everyday for the first week. And in weeks 2, 3 & 4, shake the bottle a few times a week.
  • 7. Week 5: Ta-daaa! You’re now a proud owner of alot of vanilla extract!

Note: Shake the bottle if you want the seeds/ beans in your recipe. And top-up with more alcohol if the pod-skin gets exposed. After 6 months you can take the pod-skins out as the extraction has finished by then.


UPDATE 17.07.08

using vodka for the extraction was best. The rum/ brandy, the distinct smell of the alcohol overpowered the delicate vanilla scent. Read the results of the vanilla extract experiment here.

May 15th, 2008

Egg, dairy & nut free chocolate cake

(& about my Birthday trip to Lewes)

Vegan Chocolate Cake - Egg, dairy & nut free chocolate - with Recipe - Coco&Me


Hello there everyone! I’ve been away from posting on the blog for sometime haven’t I…? Sorry (tell me you missed me) ^^.


It’s because I haven’t had any exciting desserts to post about!

Since I gave birth, I’m feeling just plain flabby. I hate hate hate it (I can’t even face looking at the full-length mirror), & so I have been staying away from making & subsequently scoffing sugary desserts. Call me vain, sometimes vanity overrules appetite, even if it’s for my passion for cakes! Hope you understand…

Wednesday two weeks ago was my birthday (32!), & so in that following weekend, we decided to drive to Lewes (a small town in SE England) to stay over at our friends L & W’s place as a special birthday treat. Loyal blog-readers would know that I tried & miserably failed to reach Lewes last year, but hurray! this time we managed to get there no problem, & in just over 2 hours!

Our friends L & W has a beautiful daughter who has serious allergy to egg & nuts. If she were to accidentally eat any of these ingredients, it could be life threatening for her. It must be tough for the whole family when you ALWAYS have to check the ingredients list on the back of products, & to tell your toddler that some products are not for her to eat, when other kids can.


I made the mistake of boasting to the family about my son’s wonderful strawberry toothpaste, that it is the only one my son likes. Their daughter wanted to try, & we were about to let her, when our friend spotted that the toothpaste has horse chestnut listed in its ingredients… It was a total shock, & then horror moment for me – that a toothpaste had nuts as an ingredient, & that I could have made their little girl very ill.

It didn’t occur to me that a non-food product could also be dangerous for her. I was then told that even a small amount of nut-oil that happened to be hidden in the hand moisturizer that her mummy was using would swell up the little girl’s hands by contact.

So it is no surprise that her house is a ‘egg & nut free haven’. And that we were treated to foods under that rule.


Soon as we arrived, L made us beautiful lunch – & while we were eating it in their country-side garden, L had a chocolate cake baking in the oven. The delicious smell wafted & lingered in the air. Ahhh…, I love home-baking. Nothing like the excitement of straight-from-the-oven cake for dessert. But when L told me it’s Vegan, & that it uses vegetable oil & vinegar as replacements to butter & eggs, I felt a little wary & my excitement deflated. I felt deprived of “the real thing”. Butter & eggs gives cakes flavour, so replacing them didn’t sound at-all apetizing.

(The science: Mixture of vinegar & the bicarbonate of soda creates carbon dioxide gas & raises the cake as it tries to escape out. (you can inflate a balloon this way!) And as for the inclusion of vegetable oil: it is 100% fat in replacement of the fat from the butter that you would’ve used. Butter has atleast 80% milk fat.)


BUT to my surprise, it was totally TASTY! It was super moist & airy too. And you know what? I can even go as far as to say that I rate the “moist-ness” better than any other chocolate cake I’ve tasted in years (except for my very own ‘Moist Chocolate Cake’ from my stall ofcourse! ^^). And that is a big statement coming from a cake-fanatic like myself. I must say though, that it lacks in the depth of chocolate flavour, but eating it with the ganache filling sorts that problem out.

So here is the recipe that I scribbled from L’s copy of “Allergy-free Cookbook” by Alice Sherwood. (The recipe book gets a big thumbs up from L who says every recipe in it is really good.) I took the liberty of changing the measurements around a bit to make it slightly more chocolatey, & less oily. I replaced the castor sugar it suggests to light brown sugar for the molasses flavour. Oh, & converted the there-abouts ‘tablespoon & teaspoon’ measurements to proper & precise grams n’ milliletres!


The book gives you a choice of either spreading chocolate ganache cream or chocolate buttercream (both dairy-free). Both cream recipes are at the end of this post. The chocolate buttercream was a bit too sweet for me, but it was popular with children. The amount of sugar together with the sugary cake scares the heck out of me though… – I suggest if you’re going to serve this cake to grown-ups, go for the ganache.

Please bare in mind though that if you’re going for the ganache option, nut-free chocolate may be hard to obtain. Most Confectioners use nuts in many of their products, & they might be using the same production-line to make products without nuts in the ingredients. This is where the problem for people with nut-allergy lies. Pretty much all the chocolate bars on the market may have traces of nut, or nut-oil.


Thankfully there is a UK-based company Kinnerton who produces guaranteed nut-free chocolate products. It is apparently sold in selected Sainsbury, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons & Waitrose stores. Or you can buy in bulk directly from them too. Kinnerton has really gone the extra mile to manufacture nut-free products by allocating nut-free zones, as well as following strict safety measures to keep it nut-free. Read all about how they did it on their website.

There are a few moderations I’ve made to the recipe:

  • Vinegar is to be added as the very last ingredient. – It’s to delay it reacting with the soda. You should get the maximum rising-power out of it that way.
  • I’ve included cherries & jam. – Our friend L spread fruit jam in-between the layers & mixed cherries in to the cake, which I thought really made this extra special.
  • I propose using apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar as the book suggests. – Apparently the concentration of acidity is stronger, & without any scientific background, I’m hoping it’ll react even more with the soda & produce a fluffier sponge. – It’ll add a tiny bit more flavour to the cake too. And did you know that cider vinegar is good for treating sore throat? – Hey! A cake that’s good for illness? Now we’re talking!!
  • And optionally, you can add a splash of Kirsch cherry liquor in to the ganache to add to the cherry theme!


Vegan Chocolate Cake - Egg, dairy & nut free chocolate - with Recipe - Coco&Me

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Egg, dairy & nut free chocolate cake Recipe:

(serves 10-12)


Ingredients for the sponge:

  • 330g of plain flour
  • 400g of light brown sugar
  • 12g of Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 65g of nut-free cocoa powder

    (Note: check the back ingredients list to make sure it is nut-free. Cocoa powder is often made in chocolate factories that also handle nut products.)

  • 2g of salt
  • 450ml of unsweetened soya milk
  • 90ml of corn or other nut-free vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing

    (Note: don’t use olive oil as its flavour is too distinct)

  • 23ml of white vinegar
  • 7ml of vanilla extract
  • A large tin/ jar of pitted cherries
  • Fruit jam of your choice (cherry, apricot, strawberry, raspberry, etc)


You’ll need:

  • 2 x 20cm (8 inch) round baking tins


Method for the cake sponge:

  • 1. Pre-heat oven to 180C (350F, gas mark 4).
  • 2. Grease both tins with oil. (No need to line it with grease-proof paper. The oil on the tin & the oil from the cake is sufficient enough lubricant for de-moulding the cakes.)
  • 3. Sift together the dry ingredients in to a bowl: flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa powder & salt. (The light brown sugar tends to clump, so please don’t skip sifting!)
  • 4. Mix together the wet ingredients in another bowl: soya milk, oil, & vanilla extract.
  • 5. Mix wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.
  • 6. Stir in the cider vinegar.
  • 7. Divide mixture in to two greased tins.
  • 8. Spread evenly.
  • 9. Evenly scatter the cherries on top of the batter. Here make sure you don’t place any cherries in the centre – this way you’d be able to cut a clean slice with a straight angle when serving.
  • 10. Bake for 40 minutes, until it rises, & is firm to the touch.
  • 11. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, & then turn out on to a wire cooling rack ( – I like to cool it upside down, so that the domed top becomes flat surface perfect for icing). Cool completely.
  • 12. Make the dairy-free ganache or the chocolate buttercream using the recipe below.
  • 13. Place one sponge upside down on the stand/ platter on which you’re going to present on.
  • 14. Slather jam of your choice.
  • 15. Use spatula to spread 5mm thickness or so of the ganache/ buttercream.
  • 16. Pop the other sponge on top.
  • 17. Artfully (painterly) slather the rest of the ganache/ buttercream on the top & the sides.


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Ingredients & method for the dairy-free ganache:

  • 150ml soya cream (in place of double cream)
  • Nut-free & dairy-free dark chocolate 200g
  • 100g castor sugar
  • 7ml Kirsch cherry liquor
    Bring soya cream & sugar to simmering point & pour over the finely chopped chocolate. Mix gently with spatula (If the chocolate has not fully melted, zap it in the microwave 10 seconds at a time until melted). – Use immediately.


Ingredients & method for the dairy-free chocolate buttercream:

  • 175g dairy-free spread
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 90g of nut-free cocoa powder
  • 10g of vanilla extract
    Cream the dairy-free spread to thoroughly soft. Add vanilla extract & mix. Slowly & gradually add icing sugar & cocoa powder until creamy and smooth in texture. Use immediately.


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coffee mugs - lewes park - Coco&Me

(In Lewes, we visited Southover Grange gardens. I was extremely happy to get a proper porcelain mug (& not the usual paper throw-aways with plastic lids) for my Rooibos tea from their kiosk! And how wonderful that everyone dutifully returns it to the kiosk when they finish! (if this was a park in London, more than half would probably disappear I’m sure…) – It reminds me of drinking Glühwein from a porcelain mug at a German Xmas market, but only you’d have to pay extra first, & you’d get a little money back if you return the mug!)

Lewes park - Coco&Me

(From left: Me, L, cutie girl I, W, & my boy upside down. And in the right picture, my daughter S asleep.)

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