Heart beats for cake


(Adzuki bean with vanilla, and hazelnut Pocky)

If you
If you could
If you could only
If you could only stop
If you could only stop your
If you could only stop your heart
If you could only stop your heart beat
If you could only stop your heart beat for
If you could only stop your heart beat for one heart
If you could only stop your heart beat for one heart beat.

–Too many birds, Bill Callahan.

Do you ever feel like sometimes you love a song so much that it’s hard to describe what it’s like to hear it. Is it like falling in love? That electric feeling that jolts your heart when fingers touch. That first kiss. The inexplicable sense of everything being right in the world.

My current obsession is Bill Callahan’s album, Sometimes I wish We were an Eagle. It is on rotation in my house every day. If I’m not listening to it, I’m humming it quietly under my breath – as I traipse down the street, while I wait on the platform for my train, or when I’m dealing with someone I do not enjoy interacting with. During these moments, Bill whispers. Joyfully.

I dread the moment I become oversaturated on Bill and finally get sick of that album. Later down the track, I know I can come back to it and rediscover how great each song is. And the heart will beat faster again.


(Black mochi cake with sesame)

Several bags of glutinous rice flour later, and I’m still not sick of mochi cake yet. I first made one from Elizabeth Falkner’s book, but did not like the result. My next attempt, using Food Librarian’s recipe for cherry mochi cakes was very successful. It planted the seed of interest, and the fact that her recipe is the easiest “one-bowl-wonder” ever, further enabled my obsession. I have also since adapted the recipe to suit my preferences, resulting in a slightly lighter and less sweet cake, which still maintains that elusive diplomatic balance between a Western cake and an Asian chewy dessert.


(Mochi blondie)

If like me, cake governs your heart as much as music does, then this recipe is for you. Once you’re hooked, you’ll probably find yourself playing around with the ingredients. Substitute mochiko for black glutinous rice flour or green pandan rice flour (both available from Thai grocery stores). Or substitute thin coconut cream for evaporated milk, throw in some cherries and top the batter with shredded coconut or chocolate chips, and you have a mochi cake version of the Cherry Ripe bar. Or add some melted white chocolate, and fold in white chocolate buttons and macadamia nuts, and you have a chewy mochi blondie.

Make this, and when you taste it, you will know what I mean. Mochi cake, be still, my beating heart.

Mochi Cake :

225g mochiko [I use Thai glutinous rice flour, available from most Asian grocery stores, to great effect]
85g unsalted butter, melted
175g caster sugar
187g evaporated milk (1/2 can)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
additional ingredients of choice eg. fresh berries, chocolate, nuts

Preheat the oven to 175’C. Grease and line a 12 x 8 x 1.5 inch rectangular baking tin.

Sift the mochiko and baking powder together. In an electric mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Fold in the melted butter, then the evaporated milk and vanilla. Fold in the dry ingredients and any extra ingredients you wish to incorporate into the cake. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared baking tin.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool the cake on a rack, then remove from tin and cut into desired shapes.

Variations :

Mochi blondie : Reduce sugar to 150g. Melt 100g white chocolate with the butter and proceed with the method above. Fold extra white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts into the batter at the end, if desired.


(::vanilla pannacotta, adzuki brownie, black mochi cake, adzuki snow, soy caramel dust, homemade Pocky)

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What to make for a friend who has good news and bad news

(White chocolate and macadamia nut ‘blondies’)

She breezed through my front door. I have good news! She said. And bad news.

The good news was that she had finally gotten her dream job. In spite of the bad news hovering like an elephant in the room, it was the good news that we wanted to celebrate and discuss. Afterall, how many people can really say they are working in their dream job?

I look around the carriage of my train some mornings and wonder why people look so sad or hurt and angry. It is as though someone has shouted in their ear and dragged them out of bed, scrubbed their face with soap, handed them a briefcase and pushed them out the door. I know I have days when I dread getting out of bed because the whole cycle begins, the moment your feet touch the floor. But it’s all we can do sometimes to try to stay afloat in a world drifting faster than we can manage. Stuffed into heavy suits and shiny shoes, we breathe in with forgotten lungs and tread water.

Because she and I were celebrating on one of those days when none of the above exists, I had to make a cake. Even though I don’t often bake with white chocolate, I know she loves it, and after making this, I could not stop myself from eating the trimmings. Leonor calls it a blondie, but I actually think it’s more of a cross between a cake and a blondie. It is light, but impossibly moist and truly celebrates the flavour of white chocolate like no other cake I’ve tasted.

Despite this, it looks deceptively like a functional cake, which the world is already filled to the rafters with. Functional cakes are the lubricant for social discourse between the hours of 10 and 11am or 3 and 4pm.

This is not a functional cake. It doesn’t facilitate discussion. It is a cake baked with words, and I hope she can hear it when she eats it. It says, I value your friendship. I’m sorry you’re having relationship issues at a time in your life when you are feeling ready to settle down and have children. I admire you. I am proud of your achievements. I hope to always be there for you.

(For Mel)

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(Chickpea ‘Blondies’)

I feel a certain calmness these days that I haven’t felt in a long while. Is it that the air seems crisper and fresher? I’ll admit, I’m more aware these days that I’m getting older. I’ve adopted that sing-song voice when I talk to friends’ kids. The guy behind the counter at the local liquor store has long since forgotten to ask me for ID. Face cream, not ice-cream, is now an important daily ritual.

Of course, I still love ice-cream, but am becoming increasingly conscious of the need to eat healthily. My heart still beats faster for butter but I’ve also found new things to be excited about. Not forgetting my foray into the world of black bean brownies, I’ve become equally excited about Celine’s chickpea ‘blondies’. The fact that a combination as unusual as strawberry jam, tahini and chickpeas can be delicious and as an added bonus, healthy and vegan, is what I find so interesting.

(Tofu salad with sesame sauce)

In the spirit of the vegan recipes and wholesome eating, I’m including a beautiful vegan-friendly tofu and sesame dish, adapted from a chicken recipe by Harumi Kurihara from her book, Harumi’s Japanese Cooking. I’m a big fan of cucumber, and happily eat it with most things (especially in sandwiches). If you happen to dislike cucumber, you can easily replace it with any other vegetable, such as shredded cabbage, carrot, beansprouts etc. This dish is wonderful as an appetiser, or can be served with rice or soba noodles as the main event.

You can find the recipe for chickpea ‘blondies’ here.

Tofu salad with sesame sauce :
(serves 4, or 2 hungry people)

50g spring onion (scallions), finely shredded
200g cucumber (or a mixture of your favourite vegetables)
250g firm tofu, cut into strips or cubes
50g green beans, blanched and refreshed
1/4 bunch coriander, leaves picked and roughly chopped or torn

for the sesame sauce :
1/4 cup (50ml) chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
4 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, finely chopped
2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped

Cut the cucumber in half, remove the seeds with a spoon, and slice the remaining flesh into batons. Combine the cucumber and remaining ingredients in a bowl.

Mix all the ingredients for the sesame sauce in a separate bowl, the pour it over the tofu and cucumber. Toss well, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve.

(PS: I’m dedicating this recipe to a good friend in Alaska, who kindly reads my blog every now and then, and somehow manages to comment occasionally even though he doesn’t have much interest in baking. There you go W., I’ve got a savoury recipe for you to try!)

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