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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Recipes for a gift

While Ms Evangeline Koh makes apple crumble bars for family and friends every year, Ms Shira Chan (above) and her daughters, (from right) Shanice, Shannea and Shanae, bake gingerbread cookies
The Straits Times - December 9, 2013
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Recipes for a gift

Christmas is often viewed as the season of love and giving.

And home cooks say there is nothing more meaningful than an edible gift, made with love and from scratch.

SundayLife! speaks to four home cooks who make everything from cookies and intricately decorated gingerbread laced with royal icing to chocolate fruit cake with Guinness Stout and brandy, and even jam made from seasonal fresh fruit. They share their recipes.

Home baker Elaine Low, 41, finance director of a family-run property management company, makes more than 100 fruit cakes to give away at Christmas every year. She says: "The number of cakes I give away has been increasing each year because of the people we have come to know over the years. But Christmas is all about giving and I enjoy baking and giving away home-baked gifts."

Mr Wilson Wang, 25, creative director at a design studio, shares his recipe for a sweet-tart cranberry jam, which he usually makes for friends and family during the festive season.

On why he bothers to make jam from scratch when it is easily available in supermarkets and speciality gourmet shops, he says: "I love to cook and share my food. A recipe is just a recipe, but it's the joy of sharing that transforms a recipe into a meaningful gift."

Apple crumble bars, made with stewed cinnamonflavoured slices of apple, are 22-year-old music student Evangeline Koh's gifts of choice. She wraps the bars with cellophane or brown paper, before tying each parcel with ribbon and attaching a handwritten gift tag.

Housewife Shira Chan, 42, ropes in her four daughters, aged between four and 10, to help with decorating cakes and cookies for their friends and family.

One recipient who has received Ms Chan's edible gifts over the years, is administration executive Diana Lim, 44. Last year, Ms Chan gave her a beautifully decorated chocolate mousse cake and four cupcakes for Christmas.

Ms Lim says: "I love chocolate and receiving a customised gift makes me feel very special because I know it takes a lot of effort for someone to make it."

Next week, chefs share their special holiday recipes

APPLE CRUMBLE BARS

Who: Ms Evangeline Koh, 22, music student at the Singapore Bible College

During the festive season, Ms Koh’s gifts of apple crumble bars double as a delicious Christmas snack for friends and family.

She usually bakes them on weekends so that her boyfriend, Mr Benjamin Lee, 20, a pilot, can take them on trips and share them with his friends.

Mr Lee says: “It’s always heartwarming to have homemade snacks during long periods apart from each other. Usually when I offer them to my friends, I’m left with an empty box.”

Her Christmas spin on the apple crumble bar recipe is to add dried cranberries to the apple mixture and to use them as a garnish too.

The bars are then wrapped in either brown paper or cellophane, complete with twine or ribbons and handwritten gift tags.

As her pastor parents have to preach in church on Christmas Day, the occasion is a simple affair for her family of five. She has two younger brothers aged 19 and 20.

Ms Koh, who also cooks Christmas meals for her friends and family, says: “Everyone is busy nowadays, so we may not necessarily decorate the house. But we gather for a meal and spend quality time together.”

INGREDIENTS

CRUST

340g unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

FILLING

80g unsalted butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

12 Granny Smith apples (about 2.7kg), peeled, cored and sliced thinly

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 Tbs cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 cup water (optional)

TOPPING

3 cups quick-cooking oats

2 cups all-purpose flour

11/2 cup brown sugar

11/4 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

340g unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Dried cranberries for garnish

METHOD

1. Preheat oven to 190 deg C.

2. For the crust: In an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar at medium speed for about two minutes, until light and fluffy.

3. At low speed, beat in the flour and salt until a soft dough forms.

4. Line a 13 x 9 inch baking tray with parchment paper.

5. With your hands, press the dough onto the pan, creating an even layer about 1cm thick.

6. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and set. Remove from oven to cool on a rack.

7. For the filling: In a deep pot, melt the butter with the brown sugar. Add apples and cranberries. Cook over high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

8. Add cinnamon powder and ground nutmeg.

9. Cook for another 10 minutes, until the apples caramelise and any liquid has evaporated. If necessary, add up to 1/2 cup of water to prevent the apples from burning. Remove from the heat and let cool.

10. For the topping: In a large bowl, use your hands to mix the oats with the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon powder, baking soda and salt.

11. Mix cubed butter in until the mixture resembles thick clumps.

12. Assemble the apple crumble: Scoop the apple filling over the crust and spread into an even layer.

13. Sprinkle the butter clumps on top of the apples and gently press them into an even layer.

14. Bake for 1 hour, until the topping is golden. Rotate the pan halfway through baking.

15. Cool the crumble completely on a rack, before cutting into bars with a sharp knife.

16. Garnish with dried cranberries and serve.

Makes about 48 bars

CHOCOLATE FRUIT CAKE

Who: Ms Elaine Low, 41, finance director of a property management company

Every year, Ms Low makes more than 100 fruit cakes and other Yuletide offerings such as stollens and panettone to give away at Christmas.

Just for her chocolate fruit cake alone, she uses 20kg of dried fruit, including raisins, prunes and dates.

She usually puts the dried fruit into two large tubs that can take up to 10kg each.

The fruit then macerates in Guinness Stout for about a week, before she starts baking her signature Christmas cake, which she has been making for about a decade.

Once the cakes are made, she brushes each one with brandy to preserve them, as well as to intensify the alcoholic flavour.

The mother of two children, aged 11 and 13 , whose husband Heng Meng Hee, 42, works in the IT security industry, says: “For me, it is more meaningful to make my own gifts and I enjoy it.”

INGREDIENTS

(To be prepared a week or at least a day in advance) 750g mixed fruit (available at supermarkets and baking supply shops such as Phoon Huat)

200g chopped prunes

200g chopped dates

330ml Guinness Stout (one can)

CAKE

250g butter, softened

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 Tbs vanilla extract

4 eggs

1/2 cup orange marmalade

1/4 cup orange juice

250g dark chocolate chips

2 cups plain flour

1/2 cup self-raising flour

2 Tbs ground cinnamon

Brandy for brushing

Chopped nuts and preserved cherries for decoration

METHOD

1. Place all dried fruit in a container with a lid. Pour in the can of stout. Mix and leave it covered at room temperature to soak for about a week, or at least one day. Stir it occasionally.

2. After the fruit has been soaked in the stout for a sufficient amount of time and when you are ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven to 160 deg C.

3. Line a 23cm round cake tin or use waxed loaf cake boxes that are available from baking stores.

4. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter on low speed until it is pale and fluffy. Creaming it on high will cause the butter to melt.

5. Add vanilla extract to the butter and continue mixing.

6. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure the mixture is well combined before adding the next egg.

7. Add the fruit and any remaining liquid into the mixture. Continue to mix on low speed.

8. Add the marmalade, orange juice and chocolate chips and continue to mix on low speed.

9. Fold in sifted flour and ground cinnamon and mix until well combined.

10. Pour mixture into the cake tin and bake for 21/2 to 3 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. If using mini loaf cake boxes (7 by 3cm), bake for about 45 minutes. You can also use muffin cups. Timings may vary depending on size of tin but use a skewer to tell if the cake is done.

11. Remove from oven and leave to cook on wire racks. When cooled, keep the cake in an air-tight container and brush with brandy every other day until you are ready to give it away. Decorate with nuts and preserved cherries, then wrap with clingwrap or place into a cellophane bag.

Makes about 25 mini loaf boxes, or one 23cm round cake

GINGERBREAD

Who: Ms Shira Chan, 42, housewife

Christmas is the time of year when Ms Chan and her family come together to decorate cakes and cookies as gifts for their loved ones.

She and her four daughters, Shanice, 10, Shanae, eight, Shannea, seven, and Shanelle, four, decorate spiced orange cookies and gingerbread that have been cut into shapes ranging from stars and angels to Christmas trees and snowmen. Ms Chan's husband, Mr Kwok Siu Hong, 45, works for a shipping company.

Her gingerbread recipe has been modified and tweaked since she began baking in 2005. For example, she has cut down the amount of sugar and instead of adding just golden syrup, she uses a combination of honey and maple and golden syrups.

The cakes and cookies are usually given to friends, family, members of their church and teachers.

The self-taught baker and former sales administrator, who became a stay-at-home mother six years ago, says: "Baking and decorating with my daughters is a good time for us to bond. Also, making things ourselves gives the present a personal touch."

GINGERBREAD

INGREDIENTS

60g unsalted butter, softened

70g brown sugar

A pinch of salt

1 egg

30g honey

50g maple syrup

70g golden syrup

480g plain flour

2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 ground cinnamon

1tsp baking soda

A pinch of ground white pepper

METHOD

1. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar and salt with a whisk until it is smooth and fluffy. If the butter is still hard, you can cut it into small cubes and use a wooden spoon to cream it with the sugar and salt.

2. Add the egg and beat the mixture until well combined.

3. Add honey, maple syrup and golden syrup and mix well.

4. Sift in the flour, ground ginger and cinnamon, baking soda and ground pepper in two batches.

5. Mix until it comes together and forms a dough. You may need to use your hands about midway through this process to knead it, but be sure not to overwork it. Once a consistent dough has been achieved, cover the bowl with clingwrap, or its silicon lid if the bowl has one. Leave it to rest for 15 to 30 minutes. It does not need to be refrigerated and can be left at room temperature.

6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180 deg C and line a baking tray with parchment or baking paper.

7. Once the dough is ready, place it between two sheets of parchment paper. Then, using a rolling pin, roll the dough out until it is about 5mm thick. Using cookie cutters, cut the dough into desired shapes. Any leftover dough can be rolled out again to make more biscuits.

8. Lay the biscuits onto the tray and bake on the middle rack for 15 to 20 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown. Leave to cool on wire racks.

ROYAL ICING

INGREDIENTS

1 egg white (58g egg)

200g icing sugar

1 to 2 drops of lemon or orange juice, or vanilla essence, for flavour

A drop of food colouring if desired

METHOD

1. Whisk the egg white until it is bubbly and foamy, then add the icing sugar and continue to whisk until it is thick and well combined. It should be fairly viscous and have the consistency of slightly watered-down toothpaste.

2. Put into piping bags and attach desired piping tips or nozzles. Decorate cooled gingerbread as desired. If you do not have piping bags and nozzles, you can use a resealable plastic bag and snip the bottom.

Note: If you are adding flavours and food colouring, you may want to add more icing to achieve a desired consistency

Cookie cutters and piping bags are available at baking supply stores such as Phoon Huat, ToTT and Bake King. For those just starting out, Ms Chan suggests going to Daiso to pick up cutters and piping nozzles.

CRANBERRY JAM

Who: Mr Wilson Wang, 25, creative director at a design studio

In the lead-up to Christmas, Mr Wang's cranberry jam is a hotly requested addition to many a dining table.

He is happy to oblige his family and friends, since the jam is not complicated to make and goes well with meats, bread and biscuits.

Mr Wang, who learnt the recipe a few years ago when he was travelling in Europe, says: "The jam can be used to glaze meats and it can be served on the side with Swedish meatballs or ham."

When making the sweet and slightly tart jam, do not be alarmed if the mixture looks runny after cooking, he says. When it cools, the pectin (a natural thickening agent) in the cranberries will set the jam.

For a more tart jam, oranges can be substituted with lemons and limes instead. Mr Wang has also done other variations of the jam with fruit that pair well with cranberries. These include peaches and strawberries, as well as mangos for a chutney.

He has also bottled sultanas soaked in rum - perfect as an ice cream topping - and homemade Thai chilli sauce to give as festive gifts too.

His family's annual Christmas gathering also includes the celebration of his brother, cousin and father's birthdays. It is a feast of roasted items - fish, chicken and vegetables - as well as side dishes such as cheese-stuffed peppers with bread crumbs.

He says: "My uncles also cook for Christmas. One does Cantonese cuisine while the other does more Western dishes. It's part of our culture to share food with others, plus, home-cooking is healthier."

INGREDIENTS

150g white sugar

150ml water

Juice and zest (finely sliced into thin strips) of 2 oranges

325g to 350g fresh cranberries

METHOD

1. In a saucepan or pot, add sugar and water. Bring to a boil.

2. Next, add orange juice and zest. Bring to a boil again.

3. Add the cranberries. Bring to a boil.

4. Once it boils, lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you prefer a thicker jam with more pulp, strain off some of the mixture. Add soda water to this "syrup" to make drinks. If you prefer a smoother jam, you can mash the cranberries with a spoon.

5. Sterilise jam jars by placing them in a pot of boiling water. You can also place the jars in a pot and pour hot water from a kettle over them and let them sit for a few minutes.

6. Remove the pot of cranberry jam from the heat and let it cool. Scoop the jam into sterilised jam jars. The jam can keep for three to four weeks in the refrigerator.

7. Serve with toast, scones or biscuits. The jam can also be used as a glaze for ham, roasts or ribs.

Makes 700ml to 1 litre of jam

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