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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Wholewheat Ginger Cookies {Fuss-free Baking}

Ginger is one of my favourite flavours. The fragrance of a ginger-infused dough, both as it makes and bakes, is just intoxicating! You've got to have baked with it to know what I'm talking about, so read on and give this one a try.

Fuss-free Wholewheat Ginger Cookies

I stumbled across these Ginger Cookies a few years ago while searching for healthier treat options. Now most "healthy" treats may be good for you, but I'll be honest: they don't really hit that sweet spot. Not so these cookies. Made with oil, wholewheat flour and raw sugar (and ginger of course!), they are healthier than your regular cookies and also deliciously satisfying! I make most of these cookies plain, which is what my hubby and daughter take along in their snack boxes, and the ones with sprinkles are my daughter's back-from-school treat.

Wholewheat Ginger Cookies (adapted from

Yield: 3 dozen

2/3 cup canola oil
3/4 - 1 cup raw sugar (I used the whole 1 cup)
1 large egg
4 tbsp molasses OR treacle OR golden syrup (I use treacle as I prefer its taste over molasses)
2 cups sifted wholewheat flour (I use our Indian chapati flour)
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp ground ginger

1. Preheat oven to 180C and line 3 baking trays with parchment / baking paper.
2. Mix flour, soda, cinnamon and ginger together. Set aside.
3. Whisk oil and sugar in a large bowl till combined. Add the egg and whisk till mixed in, followed by the treacle and mix till all the wet ingredients are well combined.
4. Sift the dry ingredients over the wet and combine with a spatula till they are blended in.
5. Drop tablespoon-sized scoops of dough onto baking trays, spacing them a couple of inches apart. I put 12 on a tray.
6. Bake for 10-12 minutes till set, but still slightly soft when touched. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight tin.

- The original recipe involves rolling 1-inch sized balls of the dough and then dipping it into sugar. I just dip a few scoops of dough in sprinkles, and leave the rest plain, they still taste beautiful. Feel free to dip in sugar or sprinkles of your choice.
- Depending on your cookie preference, bake for 10 minutes for a softer cookie and for the full 12 minutes for a crunchier one.

Fuss-free Wholewheat Ginger Cookies

This recipe is a particular favourite of mine as it ticks all the right boxes: fuss-free, check; healthier, check; absolutely scrumptious, check! As there's no butter and therefore no heavy mixing required, my almost-five-year old could take a more active role and in fact, mixed all of the wet ingredients herself. It boosts her confidence in the kitchen and gives her that creative satisfaction. Ginger is not a universally loved flavour, so I'm delighted that my family shares my enthusiasm for it. Even my husband who dislikes most other cookies loves this one, so this recipe is an all-round winner!

Fuss-free Wholewheat Ginger Cookies

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Rainbow Ruffled Fondant Flower Tutorial

My friends over at Pretty Paper Studio have a rainbow theme for this month's craft challenge (do check out their gorgeous work on their blog). Inspired by the colours, I wanted to play along too, though not with paper, but my preferred medium - fondant! I decided to combine rainbow colours with my current favourite decoration - ruffled fondant flowers.

Rainbow Ruffled Fondant Flower Tutorial

Before we get on with the tutorial, here are some of the things you'll need:

Supplies for Rainbow Ruffled Fondant Flowers

Fondant (or gumpaste or a mix of both) - in six colours.
Scalloped circle / flower cutters in various sizes.
Rolling pin.
Icing sugar (or cornstarch), for dusting.
Ball tool, for ruffling the edges of the flowers.
Foam pad.
Soft sponge pad.
Water and a paintbrush (reserved for decorating purposes only).
Kitchen paper.

My cutters come from various sets, as I don't have a single set for small flowers. The foam and sponge pads are Wilton's. Also, remember to keep your fondant wrapped tight in cling film when not in use.

And now the tutorial.

Building the Rainbow Ruffled Fondant Flower

1. Dust your work surface with some icing sugar and then roll out your red fondant till it's about 1 mm thick. Cut out the base layer of the flower with your largest cutter, and place it on the foam pad.

2. Hold the ball tool like a pencil with half the tip on the edge of the fondant and half on the pad, and roll back and forth with a gentle pressure; the fondant thins out and ruffles up. Don't overdo it as the fondant can rip.

Building the Rainbow Ruffled Fondant Flower

3. Gently lift your ruffled red fondant layer and place on the sponge pad. The flower will be assembled on this pad. Hold the ball tool upright and press down gently on the center to cup the layer.

4. Roll out the orange fondant and cut with the second-largest cutter. Ruffle the edges on the foam pad. Brush a tiny amount of water on the center of the red layer. Lift the orange layer, center it over the red layer and place it down. Press down gently with the ball tool so it adheres.

5. Roll tiny bits of kitchen paper into tubes and prop up any edges that are drooping too low. Once the fondant has had a couple of hours drying time, you can carefully ease the paper out and the fondant will stay raised.

Building the Rainbow Ruffled Fondant Flower

6. Repeat steps 3-5 for the yellow, green and blue fondant, making sure you use cutters of decreasing size. I rolled a small ball of purple fondant and adhered it to the blue layer with a dab of water.

7. You can leave it at this, or optionally press down a white pearl cachous in the center of the purple ball and add lines to the edge of the purple fondant by pressing down with a toothpick or a knife tool. Remember to place kitchen paper tubes wherever needed.

Gently transfer to a baking paper-lined tray, or leave it on the sponge pad to dry 4-6 hours before handling, and your rainbow ruffled fondant flower is ready!

Rainbow Ruffled Fondant Flower

As you can see, I used my flower to top off a freshly frosted cupcake. Just press down gently while the frosting is still soft. To adhere the flower to a fondant surface, I'd recommend using a dab of royal icing or sugar glue instead of plain water, to give it a stronger bond.

Hope you've enjoyed this tutorial!

Rainbow Ruffled Fondant Flower Cupcake

Monday, June 16, 2014

Anzac Biscuits {Fuss-free Baking}

Baking is one of my greatest pleasures, and for the most part, I've been fortunate to be able to indulge that passion with all the necessary equipment and gadgets it calls for. But that hasn't always been the case. I lived in London a few years ago, and while it was a great experience overall, it also required a few compromises, baking-wise. As our stay there hinged entirely on my husband's work, I was reluctant to make any pricey investments in baking equipment, knowing we could have to pack and leave any time.

That's when I began searching out recipes that were simpler and easy to put together, without the need for special mixing equipment. Even today, when I'm blessed with a better-equipped kitchen, there is a different kind of satisfaction when I find simple, easy-to-mix recipes that turn out well. And that is why I'm introducing a new series: Fuss-free Baking!

Maybe you're an occasional baker or someone just starting out, maybe you have certain constraints like I did. Or maybe you're just tired or rushed for time and want to whip up something quickly without dragging out the mixer. Recipes that are labelled Fuss-free Baking will be easily mixable by hand and have fewer ingredients. You will still need 1-2 baking trays and either a scale or measuring cup to measure ingredients, but at least the need for mixing equipment can be avoided.

Anzac Biscuits

I'm starting off with a biscuit recipe that I first heard of only after moving to Australia. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Wikipedia traces the origins of this biscuit back to World War I when it was a favourite of army wives to send for their husbands due to its long shelf life. After having made it in school recently, my daughter asked me to make some at home as she found them very yummy. Since it is a classic Aussie recipe, I turned to an Aussie culinary icon for guidance. Here it is:

Anzac Biscuit Recipe (adapted from Donna Hay)

Yield: approx 3 dozen biscuits.

2 cups (180g) rolled oats
1 cup (150g) plain (all-purpose) flour (I used 1/2 cup plain and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour)
⅔ cup (150g) caster (superfine) sugar
¾ cup (60g) desiccated coconut
⅓ cup (115g) golden syrup
125g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoons hot water 

1. Preheat oven to 160°C (325°F). Mix the oats, flour, sugar and coconut in a bowl. 
2. Cook the golden syrup and butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring, until melted. 
3. Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the water and add to the butter mixture. It will fizz. Take off the heat and pour into the oat mixture and mix well to combine. 
4. Drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto baking trays lined with baking / parchment paper and flatten to 7cm rounds, allowing room to spread. 
5. Bake for 8–10 minutes or until deep golden. 
6. Allow to cool on baking trays for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. The 5-minute rest time is essential as the biscuits will still be soft on coming out of the oven, and only firm up as they cool.


Anzac Biscuits

The cooked butter and syrup give this biscuit a mild butterscotch flavour. You may also have noticed that Anzac biscuits are eggless; that is one of the reasons they keep so well. The baking time is up to you and what type of biscuit you prefer: you can see the difference in colour where one batch baked for 10 minutes leading to a darker, crunchier biscuit, and another I baked for just 8 minutes, making a chewier one. I personally prefer the crunchy ones that have a nice snap when you bite into them. I also love the way the oats stand out against the darker biscuits.

I hope I've given you enough reason to try making these biscuits. If you like something with a dash of chocolate, you can try these equally fuss-free chocolate chip cookies.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mothers & Daughters: Appreciating the Other Side

Kris's depiction of the two of us

This conversation took place a few weeks ago, while we were sitting in church waiting for Mass to begin.

Kris, in a serious whisper: "It's hard work being a mum, isn't it?"

My heart just filled up at this unexpected insight from my four-year-old. "Yes, it is." I whispered back to her, smiling mistily. We sat in a companionable silence for some time, till she turned to me and whispered just as seriously as before, "It's hard work being a daughter too."

Being in church, I had to subdue the laugh that bubbled up to a quiet chuckle. But as I sat there and thought about what she'd said, I had to agree, it's hard to be a daughter. Especially now that she has a basic level of understanding and thinks she knows all there is to know, it must be very hard to come up against the boundaries we set for her. Very hard to accept and act on our advice, when she thinks she knows best.

With all my attention focused on trying to be a good mum, and doing the things good mums should do, I don't think I'd ever really thought about our relationship from her perspective before. Smart remarks like that make me realise that my baby is a baby no longer, but very much her own person, with her own views and opinions that hubby & I need to take into account as we move ahead on this parenting journey. So I have to thank my little Kris for helping me to become more empathetic and open-minded as a mother.

On Friday, I received a wonderful bag of "surprises" that she'd made at school. It included a card, the drawing above of the two of us (did you see my green nail polish?!), a cloth bag with a similar picture painted on it, and a Mother's Day survey! It had questions on what I do, my likes and strengths, how we spend our time and so on. Her answers are both heartwarming and hilarious. They were written down by one of her teachers, and here I have to say, kudos to those ladies for getting 20 four-year-olds to answer a bunch of questions!

Highlights from the survey:

What does your Mum cook the best?
Answer: Mango curry and rice.
(Only, it's not Mum who used to make this, it's Dad! But Mum has learned how :D)

Why do you love your Mum?
Answer: Because she makes lovely cookies.
(So the way to her heart is also through her stomach!)

I love that the school has taken the effort of carrying out this little survey, as it has given us a beautiful memento of Kris at age four, how she sees me and what she values about us. It's rewarding to know that in addition to the "hard work", she sees us as having a loving and fun-filled relationship .... with food and baking being a big part of it, of course :)       

VVanilla cupcakes with textured fondant toppers and handmade ruffled flowers

Sunday, April 27, 2014

An Easter Education

"Is Easter the Easter bunny's birthday?" went the innocent question from my daughter Kris last year. Even as I laughed and pulled her in for a cuddle, I began wondering how I would tackle this. I grew up in a country where Easter was not a national celebration; it was significant only to the Christian community and we all knew that the central figure in the Easter story is Jesus (the bunny was way low-profile back then). Kris is growing up in an environment where all the major Christian festivals may be national holidays, but where Jesus is far removed from the mainstream celebrations and associated imagery. Santa becomes the star at Christmas, and Easter is the bunny's time in the limelight.

So it's quite understandable that Kris thought Easter revolved around the bunny. Of course I wanted to set her straight, but how do you explain death and resurrection to a three-year old and not leave her scared, or scarred? At the time, I simply told her that Easter was about Jesus, who was 'taken away' by the 'bad people', but that He managed to come back and save everybody, and that is why we celebrate Easter.

Placing marzipan crosses on the Hot Cross Bun Cookies
Kris putting the marzipan crosses on Hot Cross Bun Cookies

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against Santa or the bunny. I think they add a fun element to these celebrations and I happily share Kris's excitement in the Easter egg hunts and hat parades. We enjoy making Easter bonnets and bunny masks and as you can see here, we've been busy baking to share treats with our friends. But at the same time, I feel it's essential to remember what's really at the heart of this celebration, and more importantly, to take the time to help my child understand that too.

Easter sugar cookies and gift basket
Easter sugar cookies. Left: bunny-scape. Top right: Easter egg cookies. Bottom right: Easter gift basket.

Kris is now a year older, and wiser (sort of :D). Because of tv and her peers, she now has words like 'dead' and 'kill' in her vocabulary, which gave me room to be more specific about the Easter story this year. We've been going through her kiddy Bibles, reading the stories from them, and this has led to some memorable conversations. I will always cherish the priceless expressions that race across her face as she tries to absorb it all.

Our talks have also had another unexpected effect: in teaching Kris, I am learning afresh too. In searching for words to explain our faith in its simplest terms, I found myself reconnecting with it more profoundly than I ever have before. And it feels like I'm discovering the beauty of it all over again, which when you think about it, is exactly what this period should achieve.

Easter Sunday then dawned and we had a quiet morning at home. I was feeling rested and renewed. We video-chatted with my family and when my mother asked Kris why we were celebrating, she said it was because Jesus died and came back to save us.  I lit up with her answer .... and then deflated a moment later when she said, "but the bunny is the bigger part about Easter." {sigh}.

It's going to take quite a few Easters before she really gets it. I know it's a slow and lifelong process. Her questions haven't abated in the week since, and I'm encouraged that she wants to keep reading from her Bible, instead of me making her do it. Of all the things we do together, I especially treasure the time we've spent discussing Jesus over the past few weeks. I only hope I'm able to sustain her interest, and help her budding faith flourish. 
Piped royal icing filigree cross cake topper
An incredibly fragile royal icing filigree cross atop a simple vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting & toasted almonds.

Friday, March 28, 2014

One Direction Cookies

I've said it before, I'll say it again: the human capacity for creativity and inventiveness never ceases to amaze me. And I'm so very grateful to live in a time where ideas can be exchanged instantly, and inspiration is just a click away. Like it was in the case of these cookies.

One Direction Cookie Set
This set was requested by a friend for her niece, who is a huge fan of the band. My immediate response when she asked me was pure bafflement: how on earth do you convert real people into cookies? She assured me that she'd checked online and it had been done. I then looked up 'One Direction cookies' and one of the first image hits was this incredibly cute set by Sweet Sugarbelle.

Now I stumbled across Sugarbelle's blog a couple of years ago when I first began decorating, and since then I've been in awe of her work. She possesses a unique knack of creating dramatic designs out of the simplest cutters, and sometimes combination of cutters. See, there's that relentless creativity at work. So she designed this brilliant template of the band members and very generously shared it for free on her blog, along with a tutorial.

One Direction Band Cookies

Sugarbelle uses something called a Kopykake projector, which is designed for use on cakes and other sweets. It projects the design to be piped directly onto the sweet, which makes it very easy to pipe complex patterns. Again, there's that inventiveness: a projector to simplify decorating. Who thinks of all these things?! Sadly, I don't own such a projector so I did it the old-fashioned way: cut out the easier part of the template (which was the face and ears), traced around them with an edible ink marker, and freehanded all those fussy hairstyles in. 

One Direction Cookies with Template

I did not want to replicate Sugarbelle's platter in its entirety, so I added some different designs with the music notes and stars. I took a quick shot of the stars as I worked on them. Cookie decorating doesn't have to be difficult; something as simple as piping dots along the border can also make a big difference.

1D Stars Hearts Music Notes

This set was a first for me in a couple of ways. It's the first set of my cookies to travel; they went from Sydney to Bangalore and survived intact, thank you God! The other 'first' is making cookies based on real people. And of all the people in the world to cookiefy, I'd have never gone in this direction (yes, I absolutely had to say that :D), except for being asked. So a big thank you to my friend for trusting me with this, and a big thank you to Sugarbelle for sharing that super-creative template! I've got to say, despite my personal feelings (or lack thereof!) for the band, I love these little guys :D

One Direction Cookies

Monday, March 10, 2014

Milestones and a Macaron-Covered Cake

I think '30' started getting hyped up a few years ago. Or is it that I only started paying attention to the hype the closer I got to 30? Anyway, the closer I got, the more I started thinking about it and I guess I was mostly neutral; I never flipped out, but neither did I go, yaaay I'm going to be 30. Till some tragedies occurred close to home and shocked me into thinking straight: every day you're here, is a day to be glad for.

Chocolate cake with peppermint buttercream filling, fudge frosting and macaron shells

So I thought turning 30 deserved a special effort, when usually I just buy a couple of slices from my favourite bakery. And I hoped that if it turned out alright, I might be able to share recipes and ideas here. The cake itself came out great, though my macarons, while tasty enough, have a long way to go before they're technically proper.

The cake is the same Devil's Food Cake I made for my daughter's birthday last year, and the recipe is at the end of this post. This time, I used a third of the measurements to make three 6" layers each, that were sandwiched with buttercream (recipe over here). I used half this buttercream recipe and flavoured it with peppermint extract instead of vanilla. I divided the buttercream into two batches, dyed to match the two macaron colours. The frosting is a dark chocolate fudge, that I tried for the first time, and came out superbly. I had wanted to put a big flower on top, but honestly was a bit intimidated by them, till I found this easy technique.

I wanted to use macarons somehow, as they are my daughter's favourite dessert at the moment. However, they are notoriously tricky to get just right, and even on my fourth attempt I am far from getting the perfect texture. Should you want to give them a shot, here's a good video to get you started. I placed some unfilled macaron shells on the cake, and later kept some filled macarons around it. For the filling, I used the same peppermint buttercream as in the cake.

Chocolate cake with peppermint buttercream filling, fudge frosting and peppermint macarons

Now on a personal note, I had wondered if I should share some .... thoughts, on turning 30, but then I er, thought about it, and didn't feel like I had many :), except that sense of inexpressible gratitude. Even after reading this touching post by my friend Neelu, I didn't feel like I had much to say, as I thought she said it all, and said it brilliantly.

But then my birthday arrived. Start to finish it was beautiful, by God's grace. I received some wonderful, unexpected surprises. Wishes flowed in from friends and most of my family .... except for one person. My daughter :). She refused to wish me all day, right up to when we were about to cut the cake later that night, at which point her dad said enough was enough: wish mum now! She did, with a sheepish grin, and sang happy birthday as well.

The reason for all the drama? She's anti-birthdays at the moment. All you folks out there freaking about turning 30, 40, whatever, my little girl's got you beat. She's worried about turning five! Why? Because she doesn't want to leave preschool and the teachers she loves, doesn't want to go to 'big school' and doesn't want to grow up :) So for her right now, birthdays (mum's and her own included) are silly.

Then, the next day I received this incredible gift from my family. All my dad had told me before, was to expect a couple of DVDs in the mail. I sat to watch the first without a clue as to the contents. Words can't express the sheer joy I felt when I saw what it was: the recordings of mine and my sister's first birthdays!

Video recording had just taken off in India when I was a baby, and my first birthday was the first recorded event in my family. We had these on the old VHS tapes (remember those?), and over time they started gathering mildew and couldn't be viewed properly. So with a great deal of sadness, we all wrote them off as lost causes. I don't think any of us watched them in at least a decade. But on a recent trip back to our house in India, my dad found the tapes and got the salvageable portions converted to DVD format.

It's a priceless gift for all of us, something we thought we'd never see again, carefully restored. Even more priceless, because they include people we loved, like my grandfathers, who are not with us anymore. Precious memories in a tangible form that I can now share with my child, and show her at least some part of her history, and where she comes from. And yes, also help her to understand that she is not the only one who's had to deal with growing up; I too was a child like she is now, and I too had to grow up and go to big school and so on :)

All of these things made me realise that I actually do have a few thoughts that I'd like to share, so here goes:

  • Embrace your age wholeheartedly, and be thankful for it. If you ever start feeling otherwise, spare a thought for all those who weren't lucky to make it to whatever age you are now.
  • No matter where you reach, never forget where you've come from and the people who've been a part of your journey; more importantly, those that have helped you on that journey.
  • Change is inevitable, and seldom easy. But you do your best to deal and go on trusting He knows your way forward.
  • This is an echo of what Neelu said in her post, that I feel more strongly about now, having seen those DVDs again: document your life story! I am so grateful to my parents for choosing to record our birthdays; and so grateful to God for every moment from those first milestones to this one.
Chocolate cake and a glass of red!