Food, Stories

Spiced Plum & Chocolate Yogurt Cake

A while ago, the Ninja Turtle decided to make the most of her countryside life by dragging GodzillaPin blackberry harvesting with her. Not long after, while out on another one of her countryside strolls, she chanced upon a fallen damson plum tree in the next village, Bethelainville. The weather in France has been very bizarre this summer, and in this part of Lorraine, most of August had been dreary, with cloudy mornings, storms and high winds, and lots of rain.

Any chance of wearing summer clothes and getting a tan were out of the question, and even the local flora succumbed to the wild weather, hence the poor fallen tree. Of course, the Ninja Turtle isn’t one to pass up any chance of sampling what Mother Nature has to offer, and since the tree was already done for, she figured it’d be a real shame to leave those luscious fruits to perish in the elements.

Walking the 2 hilly miles home with her pockets loaded with as many plums as she could possibly stuff in them was cumbersome, to say the least. Trying not to squish them made the job even harder, but her heart was bursting with excitement at the thought of what she could do with those.

quetsche

Gorgeous damson plums boasting a deep, rich, luscious shade of violet, bursting with flavour and flavonoids.

What’s most peculiar to the Ninja Turtle was that Lorraine is generally known for another variety of plum, a small yellow spherical ball of sweet juiciness known as the mirabelle. In fact, the mirabelle is so popular here that in Metz, there is an annual festival in Metz known as the Fête de la Mirabelle, where the fruit is celebrated to the fullest for 2 whole weeks, with concerts, food and wine tastings, exhibitions, activities for the children, a parade, fireworks, and even a beauty pageant that finishes with the crowning of a Queen Mirabelle!

The Damson plum, in comparison, seems to silently fade into the background.

So the Ninja Turtle decided to do it some justice, and celebrate it in her own way – by turning it into a cake, with a recipe which has proven to be wildly popular among friends and family this summer. Enter: the lazy baker’s guide to making scrumptious desserts with minimal washing up.

gateaux en moules

In fact, these cakes are so popular that she has resorted to making double batches each time because they get devoured in a couple of days.

The Ninja Turtle has received a few requests for the recipe, so without further ado…

Ingredients for basic cake

4 pots (125g) plain yogurt of choice (works with Greek, soy, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, normal milk, low-fat, non-fat… but this one was with soy yogurt)
4 pots sugar
4 eggs
2 pots olive oil
6 pots flour of choice (this version was a mix of rice flour and buckwheat flour)
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 sachet (11g) baking powder

For this spiced plum and chocolate cake, add:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
200g dark chocolate, chopped in large chunks
300g Damson plums, chopped in chunks

Instructions

  1. Empty the yogurt into a giant mixing bowl. Use one of the pots to measure out all the rest of your ingredients. Mix in the oil, sugar and eggs. Stir vigorously.
  2. Add in the next three ingredients of the basic cake mix – the flour, the baking soda and baking powder. Most recipes will warn against over-mixing the flour if you want to avoid dense cakes because over-mixing wheat flour creates gluten, but the Ninja Turtle has figured out TWO key points – gluten-free flours don’t have this problem, and this is a very moist cake batter, so you can mix to your heart’s content without worrying. Even if you use normal wheat flour, the quantity of baking powder and baking soda ensures a beautiful rise so you’ll end up with a soft, fluffy, moist and light cake.
  3. For this version of cake, add in all the rest of the ingredients and give it a good stir.
  4. Pour into your cake or muffin moulds, about 3/4 full.
  5. Pop them in the oven at 180°C (350°F). The Ninja Turtle used deep loaf cake moulds, and these cakes took an hour to be done. However, if you’re using a shallower cake mould, about 40 to 45 minutes will do. If you’re making muffins, adjust to about 20 to 25 minutes. If in doubt, stick a skewer in the largest part of your cake and see if it comes out clean.

The Ninja Turtle has played with various versions of yogurt cake, using those aforementioned blackberries in one, making a chocolate buckwheat streusel in another (that one was a crowd favourite), and even experimenting with a bottle of dark beer in another. The cakes never last, so she’s concluded it’s a recipe worth keeping (and sharing!)

Best of all? Aside from a teaspoon, you’re only using that one little yogurt pot to do all your measuring. How easy is that?

dessert

The Ninja Turtle ate her cake tonight for dessert with a dollop of yogurt and some blueberries.

How do you make the most of summer fruits?

What’s your favourite easy dessert recipe?

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Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

Our Living Heritage

This week, the Ninja Turtle had the excellent fortune of being invited to the private residence of one of Mother Turtle’s oldest friends, Auntie Sylvia, with the express purpose of learning how to make ang ku kueh. What? you say.

A little bit of context: just as the French people don’t simply call themselves français when speaking among themselves, but rather from the geographic region of origin: i.e. “je suis Parisenne/Bretonne/Vogienne/etc“, the Ninja Turtle identifies as Teochew, in reference to the Chaoshan region of Guangdong, where her forebears originated from.

Ang ku kueh, or 红龟粿, translates literally to Red Tortoise Cake. Red because it’s an auspicious colour for the Chinese, and tortoise for its longevity, good fortune and prosperity (or so says Wikipedia). Looking at the key ingredients – sweet potato, mung beans, tapioca starch and glutinous rice flour, the Ninja Turtle was pleasantly surprised to learn that this dessert is in fact, gluten-free! (It’d be a long stretch calling it Paleo-friendly with the food colouring, but hey, 80/20 rule, right?)

Although ang ku kueh is still widely available for purchase in local bakeries, the sad reality is, like the spoken language of Teochew, the art of making traditional desserts is slowly dying in this globalised world. Hence, when the Ninja Turtle received the invitation to learn from Lao Sim, a master of traditional cakes, she jumped at the opportunity.

Meet Lao Sim, a mother, a grandmother, an expert cake-maker, a Teochew woman. She has lived through WWII, she has known Singapore before it was an independent nation. She speaks in Teochew, Mandarin and English. She is a living piece of our history.

Meet Lao Sim, a mother, a grandmother, an expert cake-maker, a Teochew woman. She has lived through WWII, she has known Singapore before it was an independent nation. She speaks in Teochew, Mandarin and English. She is a living piece of our history.

As most expert cuisiniers are wont to do, the way Lao Sim treats the food scale borders almost on the ornamental – that is to say, she can be quite unspecific with quantities. When her students requested to measure and record the quantities, they would be met with the retort “ah ka ah ka jiu hor lah, ming jing zhung!” which translates to “a guestimate will do” but said in the tone that implied food scales were for weaklings.

From many years of experience, she works with her eyes and her hands to determine how much of what ingredients to use. Her judgement will yield either a frown followed by a brisk addition of some flour, shaken straight out of the bag, or a slug of liquid into a mixture, or a satisfied nod and grunt of approval, whereupon the work would proceed to the next step without fanfare.

As such, the Ninja Turtle feels compelled to disclaim that despite her best efforts in recording, some ingredients’ quantities weren’t always made clear, hence she cannot take 100% responsibility for queer results. Nonetheless, if you are feeling adventurous, here is a recipe with photos.

Ang Ku Kueh Recipe
Equipment
Food scale
Blender
Steaming baskets
Moulds for ang ku kueh

Preparations

Skin of the ang ku kueh

The following list of ingredients is to make one batch. If you’re making two batches – one sweet and one semi-salted, the quantities must be doubled. To differentiate the two types, work with each batch separately and leave out the red food colouring in one batch, or substitute it with another colour if you’re feeling wacky.

  • Glutinous rice flour 300g
  • Tapioca starch 300g
  • Course sugar 7 teaspoons
  • Pinch of salt
  • Unspecified quantity of oil
  • Blended sweet potato 650g
  • Sweet potato liquid
  • Red food colouring

Fillings

Half-salted filling

  • 1kg cooked bean powder
  • 300g sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup pandan leaf water
  • 3 tablespoons shallots

Sweet filling

  • 1kg cooked bean powder
  • 500g sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pandan leaf water
  • Unspecified quantity of oil

Heat warm water. Add sugar.
Let sugar dissolve over medium heat – do not caramelise.
Add bean powder and stir to a paste.
Add glutinous rice flour to make paste sticky.
Add oil to make the paste smooth.

Sweet and half-salted fillings must be worked on separately. Don’t confuse the batches!

Putting it together

Lao Sim, vous êtes formidable...

Lao Sim, vous êtes formidable…

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