December 2nd, 2014

A day in a life of this market stall holder

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Seven am. I always set this time.
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That’s the time when the alarm tone from my iPhone goes off, but five hours of sleep isn’t enough (I typically finish work around 2am on Friday nights) so almost every time I struggle to wake. Every morning I hit the snooze button & sleep for ten more minutes. That ten minutes feels so prescious somehow… 
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It is around ten past eight that we leave our kids to the grandparents & make our trip to the market. As Mr D drives, he sticks his hands out of the window & manually pulls out the radio antenna on the car roof. We start to listen to the Frank Skinner Show on Absolute Radio. The witty light hearted talk makes us smile & it’s a great way to start the day. After a while though, we think that the adverts inbetween are so frequent & obtrusive (why are radio adverts so shouty & the jingles so horrible?) that we switchover to BBC Radio Four in the meantime. I love it that there are no advert breaks on this one. Its pure solidness on this station, tackling a more serious subject matter. Sometimes we forget to go back to Absolute if the subject interests us.
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When we do arrive at the market, around ten to nine-ish, Mr D does several rounds of carrying the large cake trays from the car to my stall while I spread the table cloth amongst other tasks. I am so happy that he’s doing this – the cakes are actually rather heavy – & coming to think of it, it would be wouldn’t it when on a typical week I use about 5kg of butter, 5kg of sugar, 4 kg of chocolate, 1.5kg of almond powder, 1.5kg of cream cheese, 1kg of cream, & amongst other bits n’ bobs.
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By the time we arrive at my pitch, my neighbouring stall holders are already there – the French cheese boys, Miss.K from the next stall, Mr.R the meat seller, Mr.H the honey-man, Mr.M the artist who sells his prints. We all greet with a smiley hello & whilst setting up, we touch-base with how our week’s been folding out. 
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In the morning, Mr.M the artist bought two large tarts. Mrs.S the ladybird book seller bought another, & Ms.I, the gloves n’ bags seller followed suit with yet another large tart. Selling to fellow holders (especially in such a succession!) is a rather affirming moment, & it feels great. We all burst out in a guffawing laughter about how, having a stall near me is a curse or a blessing! Over the years, they come to me for their cake needs, & I am ever so grateful. 
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Despite the great start to the day, my spirits started to dampen as it began to rain. The damp air melts away the icing sugar that is sifted over the fruit tart & it doesn’t look so good anymore. And, when it rains so early on in the day, I worry that people would change their mind about coming to an outdoor market like ours. 
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Notably, in the mornings, I see the local customers out shopping before the maddening crowd descends on to the market later on in the day. They also know that they get first dibs with cake choices too, especially the large whole cakes which I only bake a limited number of. 
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One by one, the regulars start to drop in. 
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Always first is the shop owner who’d been purchasing a slice of ‘flourless chocolate cake’ from me the past nine years. Yes-yes, I didn’t type it wrong, nine years, & that is every single week without fail! As much as it is a ritual for her, it is a ritual for me to sell to her. 
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The ‘flourless chocolate cake’ has its own fans. There are two more notable customers who buy whole 8 inch ones at the pace of once-every-two-weeks. I’m guessing these men have also been purchasing like this for the past four years or so? – One of them, a man who, I guess is slightly younger than my dad, drops by. This week is the ‘no purchase’ week. Regardless, he stops by & makes a point of saying hello to me which I appreciate. The subject we talk about is always sports & fitness. The man is a rigourous excerciser and goes to those super tough spinning classes (fitness-cycling to pumpy music) too. When we talk, he gives me great advice on my fitness quests & how to stay motivated. 

The carrot cake couple is next. It’s always a slice or two of carrot cake for them. Although once, they took a whole one all-the-way to Italy! In their hand-luggage, being careful to keep it upright. :)
I joked “hello stranger!” to them with a cheeky wink as I hadn’t seen them for a while. It happens they were on holiday! Lucky them…! 
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After that, it’s Mr.Xmas, who is so tall that he has to crouch slightly to peer through the bunting that is hung on my stall. Why’s he called Mr.Xmas? It’s because he is the only customer who gives me a Christmas card! Two years in a row now! What a sweet guy. - Almost every week he drops by. I used to ask “The usual?” which are two fruit tarts, but now, after 3 years (?) of the same selection, he also buys a slice of carrot cake.
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As I was cutting a whole chocolate cake in to slices for the biker who wanted to fit it in to two tupperwares, a lovely blog reader Mrs.R dropped by too. Her opening line to me was “I came from Manchester to this market to see you!”. Woooooowza! Thank you!!! Afterwards, my stall neighbours all clammer to find out. They simply can’t believe how a small-scale cake-seller like myself can receive visitors coming from all over the place, & to be honest, me too, it’s such a wonderful wonder.  
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Around four pm, it starts to get dark & the kebab shop opposite turn their shop sign lighting on. It’s using strip lights so it gives off a bluish white hue. The cheese stall behind me has their own lighting using tungsten light bulbs, & it’s a warm yellow hue. Both sources of lighting shed enough brightness on to my stall, & standing between the two is sufficient to see me through until the 5pm closing time, by which time it is completely dark.
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Pretty much bang on four thirty pm, I consider an end-of-day sale depending on how much cakes/ truffles I have left. I would obviously like to say to you that I sell out every single week but the truth is, some weeks are great & some weeks not. That is the name of the game. It could be that the weather was not great, or that it is a week before people’s payday.
Having a sale brings a different type of crowd. And a crowd it is at times! It’s a speed-talk of “Yes, who’s next please?! Yes, you’ll be next.” as people clammer in front of the stall. Psychology seems to go that if there’s a crowd, it is more desirable. The people attract more people.
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By five pm, I have packed up & it is leaving time. If I have any cake bits left, I give them to nearby stall holders. Mr.R the meat seller gives me steaks in return & Ms.V from the fish stall gives me beautiful salmon. The cheese boys give me good discounts in their shop too, so in a way, it’s not all wasted. 
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Mr.D comes to collect me, sometimes with the children. They all help with carrying the bags to the car. And in the car, we talk catch-up with how our day had been. How the kids did at the Japanese Saturday School, how Mr.D did with his swimming & how I did at the market. I tell them about special blog visitors, & about some friends if they have visited. 
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If there is no Arsenal match on, we manage to get home before six. But no rest for the wicked as one says (but what have I done?), & I get back in to the kitchen to cook dinner. Saturday night’s menu is often Mr.R or Ms.V’s exchanged goods, with Japanese rice & a few veggies on the side. 
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For the rest of the evening, I just plonk myself on the sofa like a sack of potato. Full from dinner, in the comfort of home, with no more immediate duties to do, I finally relax. I desperately mean to stay awake & make use of the time, like watch a film for once, or read an article I’ve been meaning to read, but it’s not ever like that. Given a chance, my body says sleep! & so I end up napping on the sofa… After a while, I make my way upstairs to bed. On my way though, I pass the kitchen & I remembered that I bought a jar of English honey from Mr.H. It’s the same brand as the spoonful he kindly gave me when I was suffering from a cold the other week. – With a sleepy mind, I think to myself ‘tomorrow morning I will have honey on toast’.
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January 15th, 2010

Coco&Me Baked Cheesecake Recipe

(with step-by-step with pictures)

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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)

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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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x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x .

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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…)

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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).
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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!

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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!
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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…)
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Note:

  • 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!

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

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x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x .

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The Baked Cheesecake Recipe:

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Ingredients:

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


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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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x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x . x x .
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Method:

  • 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

October 24th, 2009

A little bit about the hot chocolate & hare

Coco&Me - Hot choclate machine at market stall & wooden hare - www.cocoandme.com

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Last Saturday I finally started to sell my hot chocolate again now that the weather is proper cold! The basic recipe is 1 part cream, 1 part chocolate, 4 parts milk. – I pour it in a simple white paper cup & then sprinkle dark chocolate shavings on top for the lux effect!
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Coco&Me - Hot choclate machine at market stall & wooden hare - www.cocoandme.com

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And here is a picture of the wooden hare (not rabbit! The ears are long!) that I have been selling since the beginning of Summer. It is hand-carved, imported from Germany & the arms n’ legs are dangly. I’m glad to say that it’s going down really well & my stock is running out fast…
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Right now it’s 1:30am on Friday night, & I ought to be in bed, ready for tomorrow’s market! (The weather forecast says it’s 90% rain… oh joy…) I’ll add more to this write-up next week when I get a chance! Good night!!
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xxx

August 6th, 2009

The cakes that didn’t make it

www.cocoandme.com - rose tart & cherry clafoutis - Coco&Me

(Wine poached pear, sliced then arranged like a rose, above a layer of chocolate ganache – Adapted from a recipe from the book ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of Chocolate’ – Picture taken back in Summer 2006)

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Whilst doing the market for 3 years, there’s been variety of cakes & chocolates that have appeared upon my stall table. Most stay popular & remain in the line-up – like my Flourless Chocolate Cake that I have been baking since I started the stall. It’s a pure fixture, that one. I roughly make 4 to 8 of these 8-inch’ers each week, which must mean that I must have made about 800 of them by now?! (crazy number, crazy notion)
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But sadly, some get withdrawn (‘getcha crumbs & get out of ‘ere!’). Mainly because they didn’t sell well enough & I preferred to transfer the time making them to making the more popular ones instead.
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Indeed, there are also other reasons for pulling those products. For instance, cherry clafoutis (de-stoning mass amounts of cherries was cumbersome & it stained my fingers), opera (too time consuming to make all the layers & the costs became too expensive that I had to charge more), & the ‘wine poached pear rose & chocolate ganache tart’ – which got the people oohing as they see it, but only occasionally netted me the crucial sale…! They would say: ‘The tart looks too good to eat’ (they really do say this for real, not kidding!) & opt for safer options like ‘pear & almond tart’ instead. I still love this rose tart to bits though. The pear fruit goes really well with rich chocolate cream. I guess if I know that it can be sold in bucket loads, I would’ve stuck to it.
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www.cocoandme.com - cherry clafoutis, wine poached pear & chocolate tart & pear tart - Coco&Me(Picture of cherry clafoutis, the wine poached pear & chocolate tart & pear tart – picture taken back in Summer 2006)
www.cocoandme.com - cherry clafoutis - Coco&Me(Cherry clafoutis, 8 inch’er – Picture taken back in Summer 2006)
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The tell-tell sign for me to be convinced that they remain in my line-up is obviously its sales numbers, but, also importantly, it is when & if there are specific customers that come back for more of that same product, week after week with great reviews. The ‘Summer Fruit sponge’ (sponge colourfully studded with lots of raspberries, blueberries & blackberries) & the ‘Caramelized Banana Cake’ (whole pieces of bananas were caramelized before incorporated in to the batter) that I had sold for over a year was not the case, it was delicious, & it sold well, but never had the crowd wowing, & eventually I also lost the love for it.
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Whereas this ‘Baked Cheese Cake’ I raved about sometime ago in an earlier post is. Totally is. I really have to let you know the recipe asap & spread this deliciousness! So stay tuned!!

February 15th, 2009

Happy Valentine’s Day 2009

Coco&Me - Happy Valentine's Day 2009! chocolates - www.cocoandme.com

(Think Easter eggs with chocolate buttons inside, only in a heart shape! – I obviously can’t pipe straight lines, but hey, just call it ‘part-of-the-charm’ will you?!)
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Coco&Me - Happy Valentine's Day 2009! chocolates - www.cocoandme.com

(Displayed with ‘white chocolate heart discs’ with strawberry & pistachios. A strawberry tip: when assembling, ruffle the leaves up to make it look ‘alive’.)
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For this year’s Valentine’s Day I made just two chocolate hearts, & two-dozen of white heart discs with strawberry/ pistachios. I also made a lot more of my usual heart shaped tarts, especially more with the red raspberry fruit on top, which I knew would be a good seller today.

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And indeed, the day was fantastic, with lots of men going for the obvious red heart tarts & co. Some of them had beautiful flower bouquets too (lucky ladies).

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I always knew today would be great for my stuff, but what I didn’t expect was the overwhelmingly high level of business I was to have. – I mean, the ‘fruit heart tarts’ sold out by 12 noon, & as for the strawberry heart discs, it disappeared by 1.30pm. At the end of the day, I pretty much sold all the truffles too!!

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Today, London is loved up, & I am proud to think that my chocolates & cakes have featured a little in their romance…
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Now that Valentine’s is over, the next big calendar event is Easter in April, when I get busy with making Easter eggs & bunny-shaped chocolate bars. But first, I’ve got a 3-tier Wedding Cake order for March! It’s for the son of my dear customer whom I like very much – I am so happy to be asked to make it!

November 19th, 2006

The chocolates & cakes on my stall list

cakes.jpg-

First, about how last Saturday went:

Broadway Market can develop strong blustering gusts like in a wind tunnel. Pleasant in Summer but in Winter it can be bitingly cold.

The market wind is truly nasty. It would blow my stash of empty cake boxes away & would scatter my stall neighbour Kim’s handmade cards & plant holders everywhere every 30 minutes. When the wind is so strong, the stall table would shake magnitude seven, & I hold down on it like I’ve encountered a storm on a sailing journey. Which may sound like an exaggeration, but I remember my Danish stall neighbour’s rack flying off her table & smashing her beautiful plates… But last Saturday, the gust of wind blew the plastic sheet off the roof of my stall…! Thank goodness it wasn’t raining – otherwise it could have ruined all my chocolates & cakes… Sales-wise, it went well, but except for my truffles – I had atleast twenty left. Truly disheartening when this happens, but not so bad an outcome for D & my friends in my neighbourhood…

For this week’s entry, I’ll list the chocolates & cakes I currently sell at the market.

  • Flourless Moist Chocolate Cake: Sold as slices & as whole cake. The ingredients are just butter, sugar, eggs, organic chocolate & a tablespoon of Triple sec (orange liqueur). It’s my ‘best seller’ & it’s the one with many repeat customers.
  • Gateaux Basque: Sold as slices & as whole cake. A very rustic looking French cake with a layer of custard cream & dried prunes baked in to it (in the picture above). The surface has a hand-drawn pattern – done by rubbing egg wash (coloured brown with coffee granules) first & then drawing the pattern with the end of a spoon (hence scoring the coloured egg wash away).
  • Tarte Tatin: Sold as slices & as whole cake. See my earlier entry to read more about it.
  • Poppy seed & Summer Fruit Sponge Cake: Sold as slices & as whole cake. I love the slightly nutty aroma & taste of poppy seeds. The tangy taste of the berries go really well with the sweet sponge. The colour of deep-reds & blues from the berries look great against black-specked sponge.
  • Caramelized Banana Loaf: Sold as slices & as whole. The banana has been cramelized first before being incorporated in tho the cake batter. There are broken up walnuts in it too, it is a really good combo with banana.
  • Luxury Brownies: Chunky squares full of pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, & pecans. Pure luxury. There is a big ‘brownie-battle’ at the market with so many stalls selling it, but I can truly say it is the most chocolatey & most & dense of ‘em all!
  • Fresh Berry Tart: Small, medium & large sizes, also in individual heart shapes (pictured above). It has baked almond cream sponge (or frangipane) under the packed layer of fresh fruit like raspberries, blueberries & strawberries. It makes the stall look colourful & it often catches the eyes of the passers-by & hopefully stop them on their track!
  • Pear & Almond Tart: Small, medium & large sizes. Frangipane with sliced pears & almond slices.
  • Lemon Cream Tart: Small, medium & large sizes. Frangipane with lemon cream & white chocolate lettering.
  • Chocolate Tart: Small, medium & large sizes, also in individual heart shapes. Filled with dark ganache infused with cinnamon & raspberry puree layer underneath. Decorative cocoa powder stencil work on top.

And then there is the chocolate truffles & molded bonbons, sold in bags or in a box selection):

    • Caramel Truffle: tempered dark chocolate coating. Caramel liquid & chocolate is mixed to make the ganache.
    • Earl Grey Truffle: tempered milk chocolate coating.
    • Raspberry Truffle: tempered white chocolate coating.
    • Classic Vanilla Pod Truffle: first coated with tempered dark chocolate & then dipped in cocoa.
    • Hazelnut Crunch Truffle: Gianduja (chocolate containing about 50% hazelnut & almond paste) ganache mixture, coated in tempered dark chocolate & then covered in caramelized hazelnut nibs.
    • Mendiants: White, milk & dark. Molded chocolate discs with nuts & dried fruit, or with candied orange discs.
    • Molded chocolate shapes: White, milk & dark or a marble effect. Rabbits, cats & heart shapes.


    As you can tell, I make quite a fair bit. I get asked numerous times about how long it takes to make them, & the answer is…

    = I spend at least twenty hours during the week (on Thursday evenings & about fifteen hours on Fridays) & then about seven hours on Saturday to sell it.

    At the end of Saturday, it feels like I put my body & soul in to it. But without question, it is never a chore. I enjoy it (except for the washing up part!) & my effort is rewarded. I love being ‘my own boss’ & make what ever I want to make. I love selling directly to the consumer & enjoy chatting to them (except for when some bloke really haggle at the end of the day, to the point of disrespect – ‘cos it’s what you do at a market innit?‘).

    So anyway, hop down to the market & sample some of the items! Come on, I know you have a sweet tooth in you!!