Pierre Herme’s Melody Cake

For birthdays within my family, it is somewhat unspoken that not only am I tasked (as always) to bake a delicious birthday cake, I am also usually expected to bake a cake I’ve never baked before!

As years go by and as the number of someday-I’m-definitely-going-to-bake-this-stunning-cake type of recipes are used up one by one, I found it especially hard to find the perfect cake for my mom’s birthday this year. I thought pretty long and hard, looked on the internet to look for the perfect recipe and when I couldn’t,  I turned to my pile of trusty baking books to gain some inspiration. It was just a couple of days before her birthday did I finally set my mind on which cake I was gonna bake – Pierre Herme’s Melody Cake.

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The recipe for this cake was almost 10 pages long and referenced 3 different parts of the book. It had quite a number of components and while it was quite intimidating, I was so ready for a challenge! This cake turned out to be quite manageable, in hindsight, but I do recall being really nervous and careful as I was making all the different components and it definitely didn’t help that the recipe would say stuff like…”extremely fragile”. The cake consists of 7 layers (starting from the bottom): cinnamon cookie, genoise, twenty-hour apples, bavarian cream, genoise, cinnamon cookie, sliced apples.

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Lemon and almond shortbread cookies

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Imagine the lemony smell permeate through your house as your first batch of cookies are almost done. As you take your first bite, the buttery, sweet and lemony taste explodes at the tip of your tongue. Then, you notice that little crunch and there you have it…cookie bliss.

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I recall baking hundreds of these during the holiday season last year. It just felt right to bake it again this year. 6 hours a day I stood, for the past 2 days…feet sore, shoulders aching, but how happy I felt! It has been too long since I felt that…happily tired.

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I had the sweet company of a family friend’s daughter, Maya. One of the few children (as of yet) to call me Aunty :P Such an adorable smile she has!

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She was a happy helper, running between trying to cut out shapes from the buttery dough to spell her name, to finding the cat and convincing us that she needs the cat to come out, to running around with the hysterical dog and yelling “sit!!!!!” And finally, to jumping with excitement upon hearing that she could feed the fish. And don’t worry, she washed her hands between each interval :P

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These cookies are a joy to bake. Few ingredients, mixes together in minutes, and packed with buttery goodness. I especially like it that with a bit of effort (see below), it’s terribly easy to make these cookies look equally sized with perfect edges. Nothing about it not to like!

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Lemon and Almond Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 40 cookies. Double or triple the recipe to make more.

Ingredients:
225g (1 cup or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
grated lemon peel of 1 unsprayed lemon
2 tsp lemon essence
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond slices, chopped

Directions:

1. Put the butter in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and mix until soft and creamy.

2. Add sugar, salt, lemon peel and lemon essence and mix until just incorporated.

3. With mixer on low, add in the flour and mix until just incorporated. At this point, you might want to taste a little of the batter just to taste if the lemon taste is strong enough. If not, add a little more, bearing in mind to be careful not to add too much as it can make the dough sweet.

4. Add in chopped almonds and mix just until incorporated.

5. My preferred method to ensure that cookies are evenly sized: Roll half the dough using a rolling pin in between sheets of cling film to about 3/8 inch thick and put in fridge to chill for about 30 minutes or if dough feels hard to the touch.

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Slice and bake: Roll dough in logs and wrap in cling wrap or parchment paper with diameter of about 1.5inches. Chill in fridge for about 30 minutes or until dough feels hard to the touch.

5.Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C and line baking sheets with parchment paper. If you decide to use my preferred method, working with 1 slab of dough at a time, cut out using a cutter (intricate shapes not preferred) and lay on baking sheet to bake.

Slice and bake: Working with one log at a time, cut slices about 3/8 inches thick and lay onto parchment paper.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until cookies are slightly (yes, just slightly!) brown. Cookies look best when they are still mostly pale. Cookie shapes will hold best when they’re put into the oven cold.

Additional note:
If you’re not used to baking in large quantities, baking 2 trays of cookies and at the same time, cutting shapes out for new trays can be stressful. Cookies look best when they are either left to bake till completion in the middle of the oven but since that just doubles the baking time, I would usually put 2 trays at once. In this case, it will be best to start off with cookies at the bottom and finish off with cookies on top. Follow these steps…they’ve worked really well for me:

1. Position your 2 oven racks equally in the oven, leaving equal spaces between. Preheat you oven.

2. Approximate the time the cookies will take. This will require some trial and error as all ovens are different. For a start, recipes will generally give you a pretty good idea. In my oven, these shortbread cookies are at at its best at about 16 minutes.

3. After the oven is preheated, put in your first tray of cookies at the bottom rack. Don’t be tempted to put another tray of cookies on the top rack yet. Use a countdown timer to start timing half of the total time, i.e. in my case, it will be 8 minutes.

4. Before the 8 minutes is up, have your second tray of cookies ready. When 8 minutes is up, open the oven and shift the bottom tray of half baked cookies to the top. Put in the new tray of cookies at the bottom. Time for 8 minutes again.

5. Before the time is up, have your third tray of cookies ready. When the 8 minutes is up again, the top tray of cookies should be done – remove from oven and put it on a cooling rack. Shift the bottom tray to the top and put in your new tray of cookies.

I usually bake anywhere between 5 to 12 trays at a time and have found this method is extremely efficient – helps you to keep track of the timings easily while ensuring that your cookies are evenly baked :)

cake design using almonds

I’ve tried decorating the sides of my cakes with nuts a number of times using a range of different methods. I would usually start by toasting the nuts and chopping them up. After which, it is up to my imagination to get them to stick.

On some days, I would try to grab as much chopped nuts as possible and moving quickly, try to press them onto the cake. But usually, no matter how fast I am, the nuts would slip off my hands before they go on the cake and I would end up touching the icing. On other days, I would use the “throwing” method where I would “throw” the nuts onto the sides of the cake. Unfortunately, it would usually lead to uneven sides and nuts all over the table.

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Last week, my mom asked me to bake a hummingbird cake for a birthday and I decided that I would, for once, spend some time and get the nuts right. Mustering up all the energy I had left, I decided to…lay the almonds one by one. I got down on my knees so that I would be on the same level as the cake on the table, put all the toasted sliced almonds next to me, and working as quickly as I could, I started from the top and laid the almonds one by one.

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national day + many things to be happy about!

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Yesterday was Singapore’s 48th birthday. For my immediate and extended family, it is a day where we get together, have a feast and watch the national day parade on television. It is actually pretty exciting because from where I stay, we can hear a little of the activities going on, such as the helicopters and when the F16s flown by the Singapore Air Force flies by the house. Year on year, the sequence of the national day parade is somewhat predictable, which in my opinion makes it quite fun. We’ll always ask questions like “has the contingent marched out?” “is the President out yet?” just to ensure we don’t miss out on anything.

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cannelloni stuffed minced beef recipe

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Annabel (aka Bel) and I were at the supermarket quite a while ago and as we walked through the pasta section, she pointed out Barilla’s Cannelloni, asking me if I had seen such a pasta shape before. Despite being quite a pasta fan, I have never noticed nor tried it before. We decided to get it. Bel is a really awesome cook and one day, we were surprised with cannelloni stuffed with minced beef for dinner – it was heavenly!

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mint truffles recipe

The first time I made truffles was when I was in Seattle. I’ve always been a big fan of dark chocolates. I’m not a milk chocolate kind of person, and definitely not a white chocolate kind of person – I love my cocoa!

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Getting to eat a chocolate truffle is a real treat since it is really decadent, but also really expensive. The first time I made champagne truffles, I was mesmerized at how easy and decadent it is. Unfortunately, I’ve to say that while it is easy to make truffles in the US, it is tough to do it back in Singapore. Since moving back, I’ve always had trouble sourcing for chocolate. They are either mediocre chocolate, or really really expensive. Once, when I decided to make Pierre Herme’s Riviera for my mom’s birthday, his recipe suggested to use a particular type of Valrhona chocolate. In an attempt to make it perfect, I went to the store to see how much it would cost. After some calculations, the cost of chocolate alone for a 9-inch cake would be more than a whopping SGD$100 (USD$78) – absolutely ridiculous and crazy. From then on, my siblings, whenever they go in and out of the US, would carry 10lb blocks of chocolate for me. I would in turn bake them awesome goodies :)

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apron cooking guides

About a month ago, my dear friend and colleague, Sheryl, told me that she had a present for Jon and I, which she felt was really apt. I had been really curious since she told me about it and although I didn’t say much to her, I was waiting with great anticipation to find out what it is. Yesterday, she came by my desk and passed it to me. It was in a brown paper bag with a note stuck to it saying “since you bake and he cooks” – its an apron, with a cooking guide by Suck UK (umm, not sure what the name’s supposed to mean)

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I really love textile based materials with cooking/baking themes, especially when they are really practical. A while ago, I purchased a conversion dish towel from crate & barrel which I shared here and it has been extremely useful. I refer to it whenever I need to convert from degrees farenheit to degrees celcius and it provides just the right amount of detail I need.

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world peace cookies

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I must have made this recipe at least ten times.

Because cookies are easy to store and transport, I often bring this cookie to office to share with my colleagues. Since then, one of my colleagues, Sara, refers them to “my favorite cookie”. So, whenever I mention that I intend to bring cookies, she’ll always ask… “Is it my favorite cookie?” My other colleague, Sheryl, after trying the cookie, said that she actually took a leap of faith when she accepted the cookie offer. She generally doesn’t like chocolate cookies but she said that this was just different and continued to have more!

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classic bittersweet brownies recipe + packaging (free printable coming up!)

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I’ve been baking brownies quite often recently. Brownies are everyone’s favorite and having a good ol’ warm brownie with ice cream is always a perfect ending to a nice simple dinner. On a side note, I’ve a colleague that is allergic to chocolate and I absolutely cannot imagine how he can survive!

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