Rock-a-bye baby Faith

Before Faith came into this world, several friends who are mothers have warned me, “Treasure your last few months of sleep because once the baby comes out, you would not have such a luxury.”

That prophesy came true and I believe many mothers suffer the same fate (do I see nodding heads?). However, by the end of the second month, the status update was:

1) Faith slept in her own room = no co-sleeping (this has been so from day 1).
2) Faith could sleep through the night from 8+pm to 5am (first feed). After her feed, she would continue sleeping until 7am.

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Our initial plan was to shift Faith’s cot into our room after the confinement lady left. However, that didn’t happen because we realised that the cot was too big to go through the door and we were too lazy to dismantle it so, due to our laziness, Faith remained in her room (which turns out to be a blessing!).

I turned to some literature (yes, definitely Gina Ford) in sleep-training Faith but I find the points made in Bringing up Bebe particularly insightful. I wrote a review on this book in a previous post and I’m listing the stuff I do to get Faith to sleep through the night.

1) Differentiating day and night. When Faith wakes up at around 7am, I make sure the windows are opened and would carry her near them and tell her that it is morning. I do this EVERY DAY. In the evening, the hubs and I would dim the lights and ensure that the environment is quiet.

2) Get Faith in the mood to sleep. There is a ritual that I follow quite religiously e.g. cleaning her, singing to her, etc. I’m sure most parents do that.

3) Talk to Faith about bedtime. I believe babies have the ability to understand even at this young age. When I put Faith in the cot, I told her it is bedtime and then leaves the room. She would still play by herself but eventually goes to sleep on her own (note: this does not work all the time).

4) Give her the boobs. Works most of the time, especially when she is really tired.

5) Do “The Pause”. I believe this is the one method that got Faith sleep through the night. Initially, every little sound that Faith made, I would rush into her room and pick her up. However after reading the book, I have learnt to pause.

According to the book, the key to sleeping for longer stretches is for the baby to learn how to connect his sleep cycles on his own. Babies often cry when they’re learning to do so. They can make a noise like an angry frog and yet still be asleep. So from the time the baby is a few weeks old, pause a bit when he cries at night. By rushing in to pick him up, we are not giving the baby a chance to develop the skill of plunging into the next sleep cycle on his own. In fact, the baby will think he needs you to put him back to sleep.

Do note that this is different from letting the baby cry it out. This would take about five minutes or so. If after these few minutes, he’s still crying, it could be that he needs something and that’s when you pick him up.

This gentle sleep-teaching method of The Pause works best in the baby’s first four months.

This method works on Faith and the hubs and I could have our rest.  Of course, all babies are different and unique and if all else fails, a little prayer won’t hurt. 🙂

How do you sleep-train your child?

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Notes on whipping egg whites

Eggs should be separated carefully so that no yolk gets in the whites. Fats, especially egg yolks (which contain emulsifiers as well as fats), interfere with the development of the egg white foam. Even a speck of egg yolk will drastically increase the amount of energy required to produce the foam and will reduce the foam’s stability.

Always use a very clean bowl and whisk to whip egg whites. Do not use plastic bowls since plastic holds fat residue, even after a thorough cleaning.

The fresher the eggs, the more viscous the egg whites. The whites of eggs that are at least 3 days old can actually be whipped to slightly greater volume than those of very fresh eggs. This is an advantage for making souffles, where maximum volume is highly desirable. In pastry making, stability is more important than maximum volume, and whipping fresh whites makes the foam more stable.

While it is easiest to separate eggs when they are cold, it is easier to whip air into warm whites. This egg whites should be allowed to warm to room temperature before whipping.

Use a copper, stainless steel, glass or glazed ceramic bowl to whip egg whites though copper bowls are the best choice. Do not use aluminium, which discolours the whites.

Egg whites sold in a carton does not whip as well.

1 egg white is about 1 ounce.

The addition of cream of tartar while beating egg whites brightens the whites and adds stability. The latter is true for the adding of salt.

Notes gathered from Baking class and The Art of the Cake by Bruce Healy and Paul Bugat. 

CSCA AB Lesson 1 – Puff Pastry

This weekend had been rather eventful, with a tiring yet interesting Saturday. Well, the Advanced Baking course which I signed up with Cambridge School of Culinary Arts started on Saturday and it has been immensely enjoyable. That evening, we also hosted dinner for our friends which was a result of an accepted proposal submitted to Foodbuzz and which I received a stipend to carry out the dinner.

Anyway, back to Lesson 1 which was on Puff Pastry. Ok, it’s not something entirely foreign to me. After all, I have attempted quick puff pastry before when making apple turnovers but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to learn more and have the experience of baking in an industrial kitchen. More importantly, I hope to learn something useful from the Pastry chef herself.

So, the hubs accompanied me to the school and waited for me for a full 4 hours as I went through the first lesson (so touched!). There were about 9 of us in the class and the chef herself was a graduate from the school and teaches full-time now. And my, the knowledge she has! She rambled on and on and I was furiously penning down new insights. There were two master recipe that we ought to know for pastry – the classic puff pastry and the quick puff pastry. Since the classic puff pastry takes a long time (about 6 hours in total), we couldn’t possibly do that and the alternative was the quick puff pastry. I was a tad disappointed since I had experience with this method and was expecting to learn the classic one (which I also attempted before but with much less success) but we just had to make do since we had time constraint.

After the demonstration and explanation, we were to pair up and attempt one of the recipes listed in our notes. My partner, Mariela, and I chose Almond Pithivier because we had no idea what it is and decided to try it. I realised later that it is a classic French pastry.

One thing good about attending classes is that you have the experts to tell you if you are on the right or wrong track. Obviously I can learn baking on my own but I would not be able to know how much I can improve without an expert’s take on it. I realised that I have to roll the dough till it’s really thin and chef made me feel the difference between Mariela’s and my dough. Oh! Now I know! Puff pastry is hard work! So, please appreciate the effort behind making puff pastry the next time you buy it!

A few things that I have noted (my own notes and perhaps only I would understand):
–  Use puff pastry for huge rise. Otherwise use quick puff pastry since this is the easier way of making it.
– Flour absorbs moisture so keep it in a dry place.
– Gluten needs to rest so you need to place it in the fridge for it to rest.
– Butter needs to be cold and ice water is needed when making puff pastry since the moisture is needed.
– Puff pastry dough is ready when they can hold together without being sticky
– If dough is too sticky, don’t add flour to the rolling pin but to the dough, esp to the buttery side. Use brush to help too.
– Keep dough loose at all times.
– Roll in one direction esp for the first roll. Never roll both in a vertical and horizontal way.
– Keep the width consistent.
– Egg wash: don’t allow it to drip to the floor of the sheet pan as it will prevent your product to rise.

Next lesson: Meringue! I am looking forward already!

Recipe for Almond Pithivier

1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup amaretti (crushed cookies)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 oz. dark rum
1/2 tsp almond extract

Egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream

In a bowl combine the almonds and crushed cookies. Beat the sugar and butter until light, add the almond mixture, eggs and run and beat until well combined. Freeze the mixture for 20 minutes.

Roll out the puff pastry 3/8′ thick, cut out even number of small circles using cake rings/cookie cutters. With the balls of your fingers, push and pat a disk of dough out onto its baking surface to make an even circle slightly larger than your cutting guide. With a docker or two forks, dock dough all over at 1/2 inch intervals – this prevents the bottom layer from rising too much. Place a round of chilled almond cream on this enlarged bottom layer of dough. Paint the circumference of bottom disc with egg yolk glaze. Place a remaining piece of dough evenly over the almond cream, pressing two layers together. Make a little hole in the top to allow air to escape. The dough may need to be chilled at this point, but if it is still firm, proceed to decorating, then chill before baking.

Glaze the top with the egg wash, take care that it does not drip down the sides of the pastry. A classic Pithivier has a scalloped edge made with a knife all around the circumference. You may also press the tines of a fork all around the outside edge. The usual pattern for the top of a Pithivier is a sheet of swirling spokes, beginning at the steam vent, curving out to the edge. If you prefer, make a decorative pattern with the back of a fork over the Pithivier. Chill the Pithivier in the fridge for 30 minutes or the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Bake the Pithivier on a parchment lined sheet pan in a 425F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375F and bake 25-30 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

The Kueh Lapis Legit Experience

I need to manage your expectations.

This is not a successful Kueh Lapis attempt. Of the four elements – appearance, taste, smell and feel – it has failed in its appearance.

This is the third set of CNY goodies that I’m attempting, knowing how difficult it can be since Mel, a good friend has warned me about her failed attempt too. It could be rather discouraging having to throw away the concoction of 20 egg yolks (and you need to find other means to get rid of the egg whites), a whole box of unsalted butter, prunes, mixed spice, brandy and above all, not forgetting the hours you put in front of the oven, checking  every 7 minutes and having your face steamed (don’t get burnt!).

This is massive work. Failure will cause your heart to drop, for a while, and turn your most beautiful day into a storm. Be warned.

I woke up with full enthusiasm to attempt this traditional Indonesian layer spice cake. There were a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is a very challenging cake but I feel it is stil achieveable and secondly, Ken’s Peranakan aunties know how to make Kueh Lapis and I want to make sure I could do so before I return (in a bid to be a good wife to a Baba or maybe I want to be better = competitive. Hah!). As a good student, I did all the research and read up on the various recipes offered on the Internet.

Now, the practical aspect came in. And you know what? I had everything mise en place until I realised I bought the wrong mixed/all spice. @#$%^&. The dear hubs who had just woken up, was kind enough to offer to help me buy while I continue the preparation. How sweet of him!

The first part of mixing the ingredients went well and I was confident it would turn out fine but I had underestimated the true test of making Kueh Lapis Legit – grilling each layer until it turns a nice brown on the top. To be totally honest with you, I have this little fear of grilling or broiling ever since the bak kwa experience. It’s a method I have never used and being unsuccessful and dramatic on my first attempt at the method was good enough to destroy any confidence I have in the kitchen.

So, yes, I failed at the grilling again. How frustrating! The taste was there all right but it didn’t appear to be the Kueh Kapis Legit that I had in my mind. If you observe the closed-up picture of the cake, you would realise that each layer does not have the distinct golden-brown that it should have. A pity!

So, with that, I declare it a failure. It is fit for the stomach, nonetheless, just that it could not be presented as gifts to others. I guess I would try the second time but this, not until we could finish what we have now!

So, what do you do with 16 egg whites with the baking of Kueh Lapis Legit. Every attempt at this cake would require you to consider what other desert/pastry you need to bake in order to use up the remaining lonely egg whites. Well, you could make Italian meringue which you could store in the fridge until you want to use it or you could do Macarons or perhaps, Angel Food Cake.

 

I wanted to do macarons but realised I did not have the ground almond which is an essential for the pastry so it’s Angel Food Cake ( which uses 10 egg whites!) for me.

On Eggs
Nearly perfect in both nutrition and form, the egg is the food against which all others can be measured for efficiency. Loaded with protein, one egg contains about seventy-five calories, as well as all the amino acids; vitamins A, B, D, and E; and most of the minerals, including iron, essential for human life.

The colour of the shell and of the yolk have no bearing on the taste, nor is a white or brown shell or a dark or pale any indication of an egg being more “natural.” What can make a difference to its taste is what the hen eats.

Eggs should be stored unwashed with the narrow end down in the least cold part of the refrigerator. Generally, they’ll last for a month. Refrigerated raw egg whites keep for up to twelve hours; a yolk for twenty-four hours.

The white of the egg, or albumen, contains no cholesterol or fat. The yolk, which makes up about a third of the weight, has both.

Weight of the parts of an egg (for baking reference):
In shell – 57g
Without shell – 50g
Egg white – 30g
Egg yolk – 18 g

Reference: Life is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days by James and Kay Salter

When I’m tired or simply lazy to try out new dishes/ recipes, all I have to do is to think of home and the many types of food I enjoyed at home and with colleagues. Today, it was cold and I suddenly thought of Mee Tai Muk (anyone knows the English name for it?) and how mom topped the dish with braised minced pork. Yummy! I kinda remember the flavour and decided to try to make the dish.

Well, I didn’t have Mee Tai Muk but I still had the Japanese Somen noodles and I thought it would blend in the taste well.

First, marinate the minced pork with ShaoXing cooking wine, soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar, salt, pepper and dark soy sauce. Can’t give the exact measurement but it’s really purely based on tasting (many of you do that too, right?). Into the refrigerator it went, at least for 30 minutes ( to me, the longer the better – a few hours).

I also used shittake mushrooms which added more flavour to the meat. Don’t throw the water away after you have soaked the mushrooms. The liquid is useful!

So, combining garlic (lots of them) and some chopped onions, stir-fry them and add the mushrooms, followed by the marinated meat. Taste to season. I added sugar too.

Cook the somen noodles (3 – 5 minutes) and place it in a bowl.

Add a ladle-scoop of chicken stock over the noodles. It’s also a terrific idea to have stock in the refrigerator.

Top the noodles and stock with a good amount of the braised minced pork. Garnish with coriander leaves and fried shallots.
Tastes just like mom’s! Watch out, mom! I’m going to go back with a vengence!

“When I walk into a market I may see a different cut of meat or an unusual vegetable and think, ‘I wonder how it would be if I took the recipe for that sauce I had in Provence and put the two together?’ So I go home and try it out. Sometimes my idea is a success and sometimes it is a flop, but that is how recipes are born. There really are not recipes, only millions of variations sparked by someone’s imagination and desire to be a little creative and different.” ~ James Beard.

* Braising is simmering foods in a small amount of liquid. In the process, the foods not only absord flavour from the surrounding liquid but also contribute to it, creating a cycle of exchange that results in profoundly complex and satisfying tastes. What complicates braising is its many submethods, or techniques and variations. (James Paterson’s Cooking)

The 面包 experience

Some people say that bread making is therapeutic especially when you are kneading the dough. My opinion? Incredibly stressful …on your FIRST attempt.

My first bread making experience started purely due to necessity. We had a day trip the following day and had to pack our own lunch. The easy way out was to prepare sandwiches but we had no bread. We could well go to the supermarket and buy a loaf but I thought it was a good opportunity to bake a loaf of bread!

I started reading up and gosh, how confusing it seemed! There were a lot of information that I had to take in: how yeast work, at what temperature will it be active, how to knead the dough, etc.

I am thankful that there are numerous resources and reading widely helped. My first attempt at Honey Wheat Bread was a success and I was amazed by yeast! My second bread was Currant Bread with Cinnamon Swirl and I got distracted while watching Masterchef. The bread turned out well, nonetheless, just that it has no swirl.

Honey Wheat Bread

Currant Bread with a Cinnamon Swirl

I’m eternally grateful for my mixer which makes life so much easier for me. =)Here I am. I’m making notes on it, so bear with me.

Continue reading

[Notes] On baking

Chopping chocolate

Place chocolate bar or block on a cutting board and press down on it in several places with a large, sharp knife to break it up. For more finely chopped chocolate, hold the tip of the knife in place with your free hand and move the knife in an arc, making small chops as you go.

Creaming butter

Creaming the butter for cakes and cookies is crucial. Beating the butter – often with sugar – before other ingredients are added creates air bubbles that make your baked goods high, light, and tender. Have butter at room temperature before creaming.

Whipping egg whites

Begin with eg whites at room temperature and a bowl that is absolutely clean and free of any fats or oils. Beat egg whites at moderate speed with a wire whisk or an electric mixer. When foamy, increase the speed. Beat until whites form stiff, stable peaks but are still moist and glossy.

Whipping cream

Chill a metal bowl and the beaters for your electric mixer in the freezer at least 15 minutes before you begin. Pour cold whipping cream into the chilled bowl and beat on medium-high speed until medium-firm peaks form. Don’t overbeat or you’ll wind up with butter.

Source: Food Network Kitchens Cookbook

Storing fresh produce

The following are the ideal storage conditions for some of the most comon fruits and vegetables.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes: Store unwashed, in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated place – not the refrigerator.
Onions, shallots, garlic: Store at room temperature in a dark, dry, well-ventilated space – though not with tubers. Each emits a natural gas that causes the other to rot.
Stem vegetables (celery, asparagus): Store in the crisper section of the refrigerator in sealed plastic bags.
Buds and flowers (broccoli, cabage, Brussels sprouts, artichokes): Store in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper.
Tomatoes: Store at room temperature on the countertop – never in the refrigerator.
Lettuces, herbs, salad and cooking greens: Soak separated leaves in cool water, then spin dry in a salad spinner. Store loosely packed inacontainer with a damp paper towel over the top, then covered with plastic wrap.
Mushrooms: Store, unwashed, in a single layer on a plate, covered with a slightly damp paper towel on an upper refrigerator shelf.
Berries: Store unwashed and covered with plastic wrap in a single layer on a paper towel-lined plate in the refrigerator.
Apples, lemons, limes, oranges: Store in plastic bags in the crisper section of the refrigerator.
Peaches, melon: Let sit at room temperature for a few days to soften, then store in the refrigertor for 3 to 5 days.

Source: Food network kitchens cookbook.