Throwback + Cakes

So, Thursday marked a year since prom, the next batch of grade 12s just had their graduation ceremony today and... I feel kinda oldish. 

Graduating from high school left me feeling just the slightest bit empty, and very much excited for what was to come next. As the months went by and the next chapter began, I found myself missing sjii more and more - in the weird, little ways. I think it's the knowledge that things would never be the same again, and that you'd be stepping out from your little bubble into the world. I miss the routine of the school day, and the structure of our timetable made lessons a lot easier to tank. I even miss our uniform (the senior school one), which was simply a polo shirt and a skirt, and comfy as hell. Not the Monday one though, and up till today I still don't know how to tie a tie despite wearing one every Monday for three and a half years. 

One of my favourite things about sjii was that it provided you with so many opportunities to try new things. I played frisbee, continued with tennis for a bit, somehow got involved in the drama club, and so many other things! What I am grateful for is the freedom to explore, and to start up/dabble in random activities with no pressure to produce results for the school or anything of the sort. I liked how the emphasis was never on results, but rather on the effort put in and the courage to put yourself out there and have a go. The encouraging and supportive environment is something I really miss, and I do regret not having the courage to try out more, or being too lazy to do more. Hahah. They put a lot of trust in us as well. Not many schools would give you the chance to plan a "holiday" with your friends to fulfil your CAS requirements (hmm). But challenge week was definitely one of the best weeks of school :-) The teachers are also some of the most caring people I've met, and they always treated us with respect, and we respected them greatly in return. The students and teachers had a pretty good relationship, on the whole.  I guess the worst part about an international school is that the teachers are constantly changing, and I think at least half of the teachers I had one year ago have since left. 

I'm thankful that I'm still friends with my crew/clique from sjii, that our group is still active, and that we still bother to meet up every once in a while. Same for the other friends I've made whom I don't see or speak to as often, but are always there. I guess I'm also thankful that life has showed me which friends are worth keeping as well, and the importance of treasuring and valuing the ones who are. I miss the daily bridge sessions at our table before, during and after school and well, I miss our table a lot actually. The actual table, the one we "inherited" from the seniors. And the grass patch next to it which was good for photos, though I hear a new block of classrooms has been built over it. I was really sad when I heard that. I miss walking across it every morning at 7am, and then running 2.4 with the guys (for fun, for me and for them, for ippt training). Certainly don't miss the showers, though I have to say they were a lot cleaner than the ones I've seen in local schools. I miss running away from school at 1pm on Mondays, because that's the day I ended early but we weren't allowed to leave school early until grade 12. Hence the running - which was too often done literally. I miss cafe-hopping after school (usually on a Tuesday) and studying at One Man Coffee. I even miss the journey home from school, despite the burden that is 156, as the company always made it worth it. I was really lucky to have most of my friends staying in the same area as me. 

I certainly don't miss things like ridiculous black leather shoe rule (which I didn't always follow but it doesn't matter anymore), or that we weren't allowed to order food in without a teacher's permission, or the ridiculous sweater rule. The last one always got to me. If you know me, you would probably know that I have a (slight) addiction to sweaters - I'm usually wearing one in school. The thing is, we weren't allowed to wear non-uniform sweaters but the thing is, we didn't have one for the longest time. This rule wasn't even stated in the rulebook, which obviously made me question its legitimacy - but there was this one teacher who was extremely particular about it. She even went up to every single person who wasn't wearing a "proper" sweater during a geography exam once to tell them off and record their names (needless to say, I was one of them). I even had my sweater confiscated once, now isn't that absurd. 

But all these things are inconsequential in the long run, and all they do is leave us with memories to look back on and laugh at. I do believe I left sjii with more good memories than bad ones, and although everything seems better in retrospect, I feel like you never know the value of a moment until it's gone. Obviously I have had moments when I wished that I could get the hell out of there but I suppose such moments will occur wherever you are. I don't miss prom or the actual graduation itself very much, but I guess what it symbolises is really a lot more than what it is. I do have a lot of things I wish I'd done differently back then, in school all the way up to prom, and beyond - but it's way more important to focus on what you did, and what you learned. High school was a place for us to grow, and I suppose if you didn't make any mistakes in there you didn't really do it right after all. Honestly, I don't wish that I could go back and do it over again, because the experience just wouldn't be the same and I feel like I left at the right time. I'm contented with that.

On to cakes... 

Baking is something that I've enjoyed doing since high school, but it's always been just a hobby to me. I have toyed with the idea of selling cakes and stuff before, but never seriously. But a few weeks ago, during crim class, I received a DM from someone on insta asking me if I took customised cake orders. I didn't really, but I was open to the idea - and so I had it: my very first cake order. 

It's a kinder bueno cake: a chocolate cake with crushed kinder bueno between the layers, with hazelnut praline swiss meringue buttercream and topped with a chocolate ganache. 

The next week, I received another order from a schoolmate who wanted a cake for his helper's birthday :-) For that, I baked a salted caramel cheesecake! I encountered multiple problems along the way and even had to redo the cheesecake and the salted caramel sobs but I am quite thankful that it turned out alright in the end hehe. 

It's basically a regular cheesecake with a digestive base, salted caramel topped with crushed lotus biscuits (because who doesn't love caramelised cookies...?) 

And a few weeks ago, I was asked to bake a birthday cake for an old friend of mine, Ben! We were in the same geography class since grade 9, and sat at the same table in grade 11 and 12! Oh, fun times. Our teacher used to call him Sunshine because he always had a smile on his face. He was always really fun to be around and talk to, and he definitely played a part in brightening up our geog classes. 

This cake was hella fun to make!!! I made a simple chocolate cake with nutella swiss meringue buttercream, and decorated the edges with some valhrona chocolate pearls and silver dragees, and the lettering was done with nutella. There's definitely a lot of room for improvement but I'm looking forward to future challenges :-)) 

Tokyo Coffee Diary (ii)

Continuing from where I left off the last time...

[I am ashamed to say that this is almost four months late, and unfortunately my memory is fuzzy and my descriptions are not going to be as on point as they were for part (i) (here!), but I will try to recall everything as best as I can.]

6. Paddlers Coffee

So this was a chance visit. It was the kind of place on my coffee list but not on my 'die-die-must-go' list, but when my mom and I walked past it one sunny morning in Shibuya, we decided to check it out. I feel as though we spotted it by a stroke of luck; a little flag hanging off the side of a wall; a stand on the floor that said 'Paddlers Coffee'. Paddlers' is the only place outside of the USA that serves Stumptown Coffee, and having followed Stumptown's Instagram for quite a while, I was undeniably rather excited. 

Tucked in the corner on the second floor of a rather indie-looking shop (Todd Snyder, never heard of it until that day), Paddlers is tiny; unassuming even. Here, they only offer filter coffee, and you have a choice of three regions - Latin America, Africa and Indonesia - and a blend. We had the Indonesia, which came under the barista's recommendation as the "least acidic coffee" of the three. 

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As it was my first time having proper filter coffee, I didn't quite know what to expect. The Indonesia was pleasant; earthy and dark. The coffee had a light mouthfeel, and I wondered if it was too diluted. That aside, it was quite refreshing. I felt a little bad though, as they didn't have any milk on them and my mom doesn't like her coffee black! We later found that they had recently opened a new branch that serves espresso in Nishihara, so if that's more your style, you can head there instead. 

Paddlers' Coffee
Todd Snyder Townhouse, 6-18-14, Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku
Nearest Station: Shibuya Station/Harajuku Station
Open 11am-7pm daily

2-26-5 Nishihara, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Yoyogi-Uehara
Open 7:30am-6pm daily

7. Turret Coffee

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When you're googling the 'best coffee in Tokyo', a few big names come up. Omotesando Koffee. Bear Pond. Streamer. The list goes on. But of all the lists I've seen, Turret hardly makes an appearance on any, which I feel is completely unjustified, because Turret definitely ranks near the top of my list. Turret actually uses the same beans as that of Streamer's and the person who opened it used to work under Hiroshi Sawada at Streamer. However, I found that I enjoyed the coffee at Turret's a lot more than the one at Lattest -  maybe I should have gone to the original Streamer outlet instead. Anyway, this just shows the importance of the many variables involved in the making of coffee, and how the same beans can produce rather different cups of coffees. 

Turret's coffee had a wonderful balance of flavours, and the milk really allowed the dark notes of the coffee to shine instead of overpowering them. The coffee was not acidic in the least, which I liked very much. I highly recommend a trip to this place, especially after a trip to the Tsukiji fish market which is a 5-10 minute walk away! Oh, and did you know that turrets are actually the names of the trucks that deliver goods to and from the Tsukiji fish market? 

Turret Coffee

2-12-6 Tsukiji Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Tsukiji-Shio/Hibiya
Opening Hours: 
Mon-Sat 7am-6pm
Sun 12-6pm

8. About Life Coffee Brewers

I only just realised, but I'm not sure if the guy was posing for my camera. Anyway, I'm kind of upset that I didn't take any good pictures of this lovely little coffee stand in Shibuya, because it's so (instagrammable) adorable. This is pretty much a takeaway joint, and there are no seats save for a tiny bench outside the kiosk itself. My mom and I opted to drink our coffee on-the-go, which is not a very Tokyolite thing to do, but we did it anyway. 

The people here really seem to know their shit about coffee. I didn't get a chance to talk to them but I read a little article about them in Drift (volume 2), a wonderful publication about coffee and I was really quite impressed. What further impressed me, however, was my latte. I was initially a bit skeptical about their coffee as I had read somewhere that this was one of the few places in Tokyo that used a light roast for the beans. But what About Life did was show me that light roasts can be done, and when done right, they are a truly work of art. 

About Life Coffee Brewers
1-19-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Shibuya
Open daily 8:30am-8:30pm  

9. Omotesando Koffee [CLOSED] 

[edit (26/1/2016):  I just did a random google search and discovered that Omotesando has closed! My heart just broke into a million pieces. Toranomon Koffee is, thankfully, still up and running - but I will miss this quaint hideout very much.] 

The place is a little shed tucked away in a quiet street away from the busy streets of Shibuya and Harajuku. It feels like an entirely different world once you turn into the side streets, and when you step into Omotesando Koffee, you'd wonder if you are really in the city at all. Most of the seats are found in the garden, and the whole place exudes incredibly homely vibes. I would think "quaint" is the best word to describe this place. 

I was highly impressed by the fact that they had an automatic (??) tamper. And it's pretty genius, I don't know why most places don't seem to use one but it's such a good idea. It would really make all the coffees a lot more consistent. Consistent tamping probably wouldn't be much of a problem for such experienced baristas though, but it's the little things that count, right? 

The coffee was smooth, nothing mind-blowing, but good, and safe. The baked custard cube complemented the coffee rather well. It's something like a canele, and the crunchy, caramelised edges were divine. (P.s. do forgive my ugly thumbnail in the picture above.)

 Omotesando Koffee
4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo
Nearest Station: Omotesando
Open daily 10am-7pm

10. Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee is where I had one of my first experiences with specialty coffee. It was during a trip to San Fran in 2013. Unfortunately, I don't think I truly appreciated what I was drinking back then. All I remember thinking was that they had a really nice logo and that the queue was very long. I was very excited to hear that they had expanded to Asia, though, and to Tokyo at that! 

Their Tokyo outpost is huge. It's actually located on the second floor of a building, on top of a shop called Zucca - so don't get confused while you're looking at google maps. The design of the place is minimalistic, while the wood flooring gives it  a rustic feel, coupled with the greenery at the patio. They even have a whole section selling merchandise! 

Of course, I had to have a gibraltar as Blue Bottle is supposedly the place that invented it! A gibraltar is basically the in-between of a macchiato and a latte, somewhat similar to a piccolo. I distinctly remember that the coffee here was a lot sharper and brighter compared to most of the coffees I've had on the trip, and it had a fantastic mouthfeel. And just look at that latte art. The milk was done beautifully. 

My only regret was leaving this to the last day, because the brunch menu looked awesome and I would have loved to try their beignets but I was too stuffed from a morning of eating. But I'll make it back, I promise. Or to the SF branch. Somewhere, someday, somehow. 

Blue Bottle Coffee
3-13-14 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku
Tokyo 107-0062
Nearest Station: Omotesando
Open daily from 10am-9pm 

 

Giant Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich

I feel as though recess week gives us the illusion of time. We begin it believing that we will be productive and that we are going to get our shit together, but before you know it Sunday will come and nothing will have changed much. Although I seriously hope that the latter doesn't happen... 

Recess week has been off to a great start! Recess week only really began for me when I finished and submitted my LARC assignment, after which I baked a birthday cake for my uncle and went for F1 at night! Caught Maroon 5 live (that was all we really went for) and they were really good. I was so happy that they played so many of my favourite songs of theirs, and I thought it was very apt that we got there just in time for Sunday Morning, which is the first song that Melrose played in our jamming sessions. Went for drinks and supper with Melrose after; it felt incredibly liberating to have a night out after six weeks of school. 

Baked this giant cookie the next day for Clarence's birthday cake! I was initially thinking of baking him a cake cake, but after talking to Josh about it we came up with the idea of this giant ice cream cookie cake, as Clarence loves the ice cream and cookie co sandwiches available at Wildfire! This was hella fun to make and assemble. We used three whole tubs of ben & jerry's strawberry cheesecake ice cream (which was a really good choice) and buzzfeed's method of cutting the tub. 

The ice cream got crazy and started melting all over at one point, and we tried to smush it together with those two knives you see and spread them around as best (and gently) as we could. The base cookie held up damn well (much better than I had expected it to), but I think it was Justin's board that really helped hehe. The board's even kinda aesthetic! The top cookie broke when we tried to transfer it over, unfortunately, so we had to make do by simply piecing it together. 

The candle you see above is one of those trick candles, the kind that are somehow able to relight after being blown out. It was hilarious watching Clarence blow it out again and again, and somehow he didn't even suspect that it was a trick candle (which might have been the best part). Happy 21st, Clarence :-) 

For this giant cookie, I used my cornflake-chocolate-chip-marshmallow cookie recipe (you can find it here!), omitted the cornflakes, used all brown sugar and shortened the baking time. The recipe makes one giant cookie, by the way! To ensure that the cookie would remain soft, I (somewhat) underbaked it - I recommend a baking time of 13 minutes (the cookie that broke took 12 minutes).  The short baking time is also attributed to the way I baked it, which was by spreading the cookie dough into a large circle on the baking sheet before baking it. Larger surface area + the dough was spread out rather thinly.

Anyway, Clarence really enjoyed the cake, which was lovely to see! One of the best feelings in the world is when people appreciate and enjoy the things you make. Thanks for doing this with me, Josh, and for doing all the hard ice cream spreading work hehe. 

Carrot Cake Cheesecake

As if it wasn't already obvious enough, cheesecakes are one of my favourite things to bake (and eat!!). 

Going to a local university has introduced me to many people from all parts of Singapore - not that Singapore is very big (it really isn't) - but I guess it has made me realise how much of a protected little bubble sjii was. And I kinda miss it. In fact, I've been missing it a lot more than usual in the past few weeks. We're three weeks into the semester, and I'm still trying to find my footing. Maybe I just miss the comfort and familiarity of a place I spent most of my days in for three and a half years. But one needs to remember to keep looking forward. 

I am awfully tired, having spent a good part of last week doing (or rushing) my email assignment. Starting it from scratch definitely contributed to my growing eyebags. Anyway, I need to learn to manage my time better, but that's probably the story of every law student's life. Celebrated the completion of my assignment with a great brunch with mommy and my first ever IFG tennis game, which turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected. Don't we all love pleasant surprises. I also received a (not-so-pleasant) surprise in the form of a broken shoe during the warm-up period of my first match. I had to borrow shoes for that match, and the subsequent one. 

On a whole, most of the people I've met so far have been pretty open and friendly. But due to the nature of uni, it feels like most of these friendships are mere hi-bye ones, as everyone is literally everywhere, all the time. You do get to meet a lot of people though. Anyway, it was my friend Mel's birthday this Tuesday, and our OG got together to throw a little birthday surprise in the summit for her and Gen, whose birthday fell on Thursday. I didn't have enough time to bake for Gen, so our friend Belle made a delicious (and huge) tiramisu for her, and it propelled tiramisu towards the top of my to-bake list! Anyhow, it was a successful surprise, and it was nice to have everyone together again, even if it was just for a short while :-) 

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During Matriculation Week, I remember being rather bored in one of the talks, and Mel and I started talking about cakes. Mel's favourite cakes are both cheesecakes and carrot cakes; and we tossed around the idea of having a carrot cake cheesecake come into existence - and that's how the idea of baking this carrot cake cheesecake for her was born! I initially struggled with deciding how to go about making this - I thought about baking a layer of carrot cake followed by a layer of cheesecake, but that felt a bit boring. I wanted to infuse the flavour of carrot cake into the cheesecake, but I didn't think that all those spices would go well in a good old new york cheesecake. 

I finally decided on baking a carrot cake and then folding the pieces into a cheesecake, firmly crossing my fingers that the carrot cake pieces would not overbake in the cheesecake. I believe it was the moisture from the cream cheese that kept the chunks moist; a piece of wisdom imparted from a fellow baker on Insta! The result was a creamy, albeit slightly dense, cheesecake that Mel (thankfully) liked! My only gripe was that the crust was kind of soggy, and thinner than. I will adjust the recipe for it accordingly, and update if necessary hehe.

The carrot cake recipe was adapted from Jamie Oliver's, while the cheesecake recipe was adapted from my cookie butter cheesecake's. 

Carrot Cake Cheesecake

For the Carrot Cake

Ingredients: 
✿ 250g softened buter
✿ 50g brown sugar
✿ 5 large eggs, separated
✿ 1 tsp lemon juice
✿ 1 tsp vanilla extract
✿ 170g self-raising flour, sifted
✿ 1 heaped tsp baking powder
✿ 100g ground almonds
✿ 100g walnuts
✿ 1 tsp cinnamon
✿ 250g peeled, grated carrots
Steps: 
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius. Grease and line an 8-inch square pan. 
Stir the sifted flour and baking powder together. 
Beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high until pale and fluffy, followed by the egg yolks, one by one. Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Next add the flour and baking powder mixture on low, followed by the ground almonds, walnuts and cinnamon on the same low speed. Mix until just combined. 
Whisk your egg whites until stiff peaks form, and fold them into the cake mix. Pour your batter into your baking pan and bake for about 45-50 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean/the cake is springy to the touch. Let it cool before cutting it into tiny pieces. 

For the Cheesecake

Ingredients: 
✿ 200g digestive biscuits
✿ 45g melted butter
✿ 400g cream cheese, softened
✿ 50g granulated sugar
✿ 100ml sour cream
✿ 1 tsp vanilla extract
✿ a dash of lemon juice
✿ 2 eggs
✿ carrot cake pieces
✿ walnuts/pecans/caramel/wtv for toppings!!!!! 
Steps: 
Preheat your oven to 162 degrees celsius. Grease and line a 8-inch cake pan. (I didn't have my springform pan back yet). Crush your digestives and mix them with the melted butter. Press into the base of your pan and pre-bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. 
On medium-high speed, cream the cream cheese and sugar together for about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, sour cream and lemon juice, followed by the eggs, one at a time. Fold the pieces of carrot cake into the cake. You can also crumble them in! 
Bake cheesecake in a water bath for about 55 minutes. Let it cool in the oven for about 10-15 minutes before taking it out to let it cool to room temperature. Decorate with your toppings (if desired)! I toasted some walnuts and put them atop the cake with a drizzle of caramel sauce and crumbled carrot cake. When done, transfer it to the fridge to let it cool some more :-) 
 

Basic Banana Bread

Confession: I only threw the 'basic' in just for the alliteration; this banana bread is not that basic.  

Bananas are a breakfast staple for me. For some reason, my grandparents believe that freckled, spotted bananas are 'spoiled' and rotten, and they throw away any of such bananas in the house. Which really sucks, because everyone knows that spotty bananas are the best kind. The more spots, the better! After trying to change their minds to no avail, I've taken to hiding bananas in the freezer to keep them longer. It's been going well so far. They get all mushy and spotty and make for wonderful banana bread. I didn't have any such bananas in the house this time as my grandparents had just bought a new batch, so I decided to try out something new and caramelise the bananas as I melted the butter. I was hoping that doing so would soften them and bring out their natural sweetness, and it would save me time as compared to the alternative, which would be roasting them in the oven for about 20 minutes. 

I think I overbaked the bread though, as I misread the timing on the recipe to be 45-50 minutes instead of 40-45 minutes. I took it out at the 45-minute mark, but the bread was slightly drier than I would have liked. The recipe I used was from smitten kitchen, but I adapted it just like how my best friend did with her banana bread that I ate and loved so many months back. I think I'll be making this again soon - it makes for a great breakfast. I had this topped with caramelised bananas, crushed lotus cookies and some almond butter! My sister had hers with some cookie butter and she loved it. 

On another note, I'm done with my first week in law school! It feels like a whole new ball game and it's taking quite a bit of getting used to. There's a mountain of readings and a whole new skill set yet to be developed, so I'm trying not to be too hard on myself and I'm taking things as they come. I'm also trying to get used to having lectures, it's a new style of learning for me. I feel as though you need to have pretty good concentration throughout the lecture; you never know what you might miss out on... Still working on that. Also, is it a thing to clap after a lecture? 

Basic Banana Bread

Ingredients:
✿ 75g butter
✿ 3 large bananas
✿ 50g brown sugar 
✿ 1 beaten egg
✿ 1 tsp vanilla extract
✿ 1 tsp cinnamon 
✿ 1 tsp baking powder 
✿ 190g all-purpose flour
Steps
Preheat your oven to 176 degrees celsius. In a saucepan, melt the butter with the bananas, stirring constantly. When all the butter has melted, remove from heat and stir in the sugar, egg, and vanilla, followed by the cinnamon. 
Sprinkle the baking soda over the mixture and mix it in. Lastly, stir in the flour until just combined. 
Portion out 1/3 of the batter and stir in 1/2 a tablespoon of cocoa powder, and 1/2 a tablespoon of baileys (credits to my amazing edboob for this idea!!). Spread the batter in your greased loaf tin and send it off to the oven for about 40 minutes!!