Since many readers have asked about the types/brands of products I use for cooking and/or baking. I have compiled a list of the items most commonly inquired about.
Butter – Unless stated otherwise, I only use unsalted butter for cooking and baking. I normally use President butter and Elle Vire (available at all supermarkets) for baking and Petit Normand butter or Goldtree Butter (from Phoon Huat) for experiments. I use salted butter for butter cake recipes.
Cream/ Heavy Cream – I use London Gold Dairy Whipping Cream (from Phoon Huat) for cooking and baking. I also use President Whipping Cream (from all supermarkets). If a recipe calls for double or heavy cream, I usually substitute it with one of these whipping creams.
Oil – Unless otherwise stated, I use canola oil for cooking and baking.
Oil spray – I use PAM oil spray to grease baking trays as well as for a light coating for cooking. I also use Gold Canola cooking oil spray from Phoon Huat.
Eggs - Unless otherwise stated, I use 65g eggs (with shells) at room temperature for all my recipes.
Chicken/Beef Stock – Whenever possible, I make my own chicken stock. But at times when I run out, I mix store-bought stock (salted) and water in the ratio 1:1.
Buttermilk – I usually use store-bought buttermilk. But when I run out, I use this recipe to make buttermilk – Combine 1 scant cup milk (whole, low-fat or heavy cream) with 1 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar. Let stand 5-10 minutes. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. When it is ready, the milk will be slightly thickened and you will see small curdled bits. (This substitute will not become as thick as regular buttermilk.) Use this substitute (including curdled bits) as you would buttermilk in your recipe.
Milk – Unless otherwise stated, I use whole (full-cream) milk for cooking and baking. I prefer Meiji Full-Cream Milk.
Plain flour – I used Prima Top flour as a substitute for Plain flour.
Self-raising flour – No, do not substitute flours in a recipe. If you do, the consistency of the bakes will be different. Self-rising flour is flour that has a leavening agent – baking powder – and salt added to it during packaging. Since the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the flour, you will get the same nice lift to your baked goods every time you use it. If you don’t have self-rising flour and you have a recipe that calls for it, you can make your own by combining 1 cup plain flour or top flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Similarly, if you only have self-rising flour, you can reduce the baking powder and salt called for in a recipe that uses standard all purpose flour. It is not advisable to use self-raising flour in place of normal flour because the ratio of flour:leavening agents will be changed.
Cake flour – Cake flour is a low protein flour that is made from soft winter wheat. It has a protein content of about 8% and is usually bleached, which gives it a very fine texture and a very light color. Because it has such a fine texture, cake flour should be sifted before incorporating it into a recipe to prevent clumping. Cake flour is great for making cakes and other baked goods because it gives you a very tender result. This is because it has such a low protein content compared to other flours and less gluten forms when you mix it into a batter, producing a cake with a fine, soft, even crumb. To make cake flour, take one level cup of all-purpose flour, remove two tablespoons, and then add two tablespoons of corn starch back in. I use Prima Cake flour.
Sugar – Unless otherwise stated, I use caster sugar for baking.
Caster Sugar – This is superfine granulated white sugar. Since the sugar crystals are very fine, they will dissolve more quickly into batters. You can use Fine Sugar for baking but you will need to beat a lot longer.
Light Brown Sugar – This type of sugar has some molasses added in. It has a somewhat wet and sandy texture but it is not as sticky as muscovado sugar. I normally use this sugar when the recipe calls for “brown sugar”. This can be substituted with Dark Brown Sugar.
Dark Brown Sugar – This is similar to Light Brown Sugar and can be used as a substitute for Light Brown Sugar. It simply contains more molasses than Light Brown Sugar.
Muscovado Sugar – This sugar contains quite a bit of molasses. It comes in two forms – Light Muscovado Sugar and Dark Muscovado Sugar. The dark version contains more molasses than the light version. This sugar is wet, sticky and sandy and has a stronger flavor that Light Brown Sugar.
Demerara Sugar – This sugar will hold its form when baked (ie, it will not melt). It is usually used as a topping for muffins or other bakes where texture is required.
Icing Sugar – Also called “Confectioner’s Sugar“, this is sugar that has been ground into powder. This sugar melts easily and usually needs to be sifted before use.
Salt – Unless otherwise stated, I use Kosher salt for cooking and baking.
Sea Salt – Sea salt is obtained by evaporating seawater. This salt is usually not (or very minimally) processed so it contains trace levels of minerals like potassium, calcium and other minerals. I use Maldon sea salt flakes, usually available at Cold Storage and Jason’s Supermarkets.
Kosher Salt – This is the salt that I use the most often. Kosher salt is a coarse-grained salt made from salt crystals and is usually not iodized. Because it is coarse, it is easily picked up by pinching with one’s fingers and easier to gauge. I use Morton Salt, usually available at Cold Storage and Jason’s Supermarkets.
Fleur de Sel – Literally translated as “flower of salt” in French, fleur de sel is a hand-harvested sea salt collected by scraping the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans. Because of its relative scarcity and intensive production, fleur de sel is one of the most expensive salts in the markets. This is a moist salt and is sprinkled on cooked food or bakes. I buy fleur de sel from Amazon.
Table Salt – Mined from salt deposits, table salt is processed to purify and get rid of all other minerals and contaminants before anti-caking substances are adding to prevent the salt from sticking together. Table salt may be iodized. I do not use table salt.
Bicarbonate of soda/ Baking soda (and Baking powder) – Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate. When baking soda is combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient (e.g., yogurt, chocolate, buttermilk, honey), the resulting chemical reaction produces bubbles of carbon dioxide that expand under oven temperatures, causing baked goods to rise. The reaction begins immediately upon mixing the ingredients, so you need to bake recipes which call for baking soda immediately, or else they will fall flat.
On the other hand, baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate, but it includes the acidifying agent already (cream of tartar), and also a drying agent (usually starch). Baking powder is available as single-acting baking powder and as double-acting baking powder. Single-acting powders are activated by moisture, so you must bake recipes which include this product immediately after mixing. Double-acting powders react in two phases and can stand for a while before baking. With double-acting powder, some gas is released at room temperature when the powder is added to dough, but the majority of the gas is released after the temperature of the dough increases in the oven.
Cream of Tartar: The most common use for cream of tartar is to stabilize egg whites when making meringues or meringue toppings. The cream of tartar not only stabilizes the egg whites and allows them to maintain their texture when whipped into stiff peaks.
Cocoa Powder (Dutch Processed) – Dutch-process cocoa powder is made from cocoa (cacao) beans that have been washed with a potassium solution, to neutralize their acidity. Dutching cocoa powder makes it darker and can help mellow the flavor of the beans (David Lebovitz). Unless otherwise stated, I use Valrhona Cocoa Powder in all my recipes.
Cocoa Powder (Natural) – Natural cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that are simply roasted, then pulverized into a fine powder. Because natural cocoa powder hasn’t had its acidity tempered, it’s generally paired with baking soda (which is alkali) in recipes (David Lebovitz). This causes a reaction with the baking soda. Unless otherwise stated, I use Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder for recipes that require natural cocoa powder.
Baking Chocolate – Baking chocolate, also referred to as bitter chocolate, cooking chocolate and unsweetened chocolate, is a type of chocolate that is prepared or manufactured for baking. Semi-sweet chocolate is less bitter so they are used in cookies.
Compound chocolate – Compound chocolate substitutes the two main ingredients found in real chocolate. Instead of chocolate liquor, it has cocoa powder, and replaces cocoa butter with an oil. This means, for candy making, this chocolate can be melted down and dipped and will set up fine. This is the chocolate to use if you want to melt chocolate for dipping. (Source: here.)
Couveture Chocolate – Couveture Chocolate requires more attention and preparation when being melted down. Unlike the compound coating, it cannot just be melted down. It has to be tempered. If it is not tempered, the chocolate will bloom, or may not even set up properly. When it is tempered correctly, it sets up with a glossy shine, has a snap and melts in your mouth. Coverture chocolate contains a higher percentage of cocoa butter- usually between 33% – 38%. It is ideal for coating truffles, creating chocolate decorations and much more (Source: here and here.)
Puff Pastry: I use ready-rolled puff pastry for all my dishes and bakes. They are available at the bigger supermarkets and Phoon Huat. When using puff pastry, remove one sheet at a time and keep the remaining pastry sheets in the fridge until needed.
Vanilla Extract: I only use Vanilla extracts in my bakes. Vanilla extract is usually a natural product made by soaking vanilla pods in a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water. The flavour of the vanilla is taken up by the liquid ingredients and makes the vanilla extract that we use in cooking. On the other hand, Vanilla essence is usually a synthetic (ie chemically produced) vanilla flavouring and is cheaper than the natural extract but I don’t believe in putting more strange chemicals in my body than is necessary. You can also substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste for 1 teaspoon vanilla extract if you wish to get flecks of vanilla bean in your bakes.
Vanilla Beans: I use Madagascar vanilla bean pods. If unavailable, I substitute 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste for 1 vanilla pod.
Pandan Extract : I use Koepoe Koepoe pandan extract.
Japanese sauces/condiments I use a lot of in my recipes:
Korean sauces/ condiments I use a lot of in my recipes:
Chilling cookie dough for a minimum of 2 hours: Chilling permits the gluten strands in the flour to relax, avoiding a “rubbery” consistency in the final product. The elapsed time may also permit the flour to absorb more of the moisture in the dough, so the cookies do not spread out so much when baking.
Ban-marie: A bain-marie is a water bath or double boiler. It is a French term for a piece of equipment used in science, industry, and cooking to heat materials gently and gradually to fixed temperatures, or to keep materials warm over a period of time.
Dutch oven: A Dutch oven is a thick-walled (usually cast iron) cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. Dutch ovens have been used as cooking vessels for hundreds of years. They are called casserole dishes in English speaking countries other than the USA. A heavy dutch oven is really a nice thing to have. Aside from the fact that a heavy cast iron or iron/enamel dutch oven is good for browning and braising, the heavy cover really seals well and can cook things faster on the stovetop.
NOTE: If you do not have a Dutch oven, you can use a baking tray, and cover it with aluminium foil.
Baking pan size substitution: You can find a guide on baking pan size conversions here.
Vanilla Essence Vs Vanilla Extract: I get asked if vanilla essesnce can be used in place of vanilla extract a lot. Uh, NO, NO and NO. Pure vanilla extract is made by macerating and percolating vanilla beans in a solution of ethyl alcohol and water. Imitation vanilla extract contains vanillin, made either from guaiacol or from lignin, a byproduct of the wood pulp industry. Do you even know what that means? Then why eat it?
Resting meat or chicken after grilling or roasting: As one surface of the steak hits the hot pan (or grill), the juices in that surface are forced away towards the center, increasing the concentration of moisture in the middle of the steak. Once the steak gets flipped over, the same thing happens on the other side. The center of the steak becomes supersaturated with liquid—there’s more liquid in there than it can hold on to—so when you slice it open, all that extra liquid pours out. By resting the steaks, you allow all that liquid that was forced out of the edges and into the center time to migrate back out to the edges. (Source: here.)
1. Go through the strawberries. Discard the ones that are damaged or unripe.
2. Rinse the strawberries in cool water and pat them dry (thoroughly) with kitchen towels. Hull the strawberries (ie, remove the green stem).
3. Place the berries in a single layer on a sheet of baking paper. Put the tray in the freezer until the berries are frozen solid. If unsure, freeze overnight.
4. Place the berries in ziplock bags – get as much air out of the bag as possible before you seal the bag.
5. The frozen berries can be store up to 6 months in the freezer.
Different types of rolled oats:
1. Regular Rolled Oats (also known as “Old Fashioned” Rolled Oats)
These oats are made by steaming the oat groats so as to soften them, before they are rolled into flakes.
The steaming process partially cooks the oats so the cooking time is reduced. Since they are flattened when rolled, they also have a greater surface area, thus they cook faster.
These oats are great for using in baked goods like cookies and muffins.
2. Quick Rolled Oats
These are like regular rolled oats but they are steamed and rolled more so they are partially cooked even more. They are also rolled thinner than old fashioned oats. As a result they are creamier and less chewy.
Quick Rolled Oats are digested more quickly so you don’t feel as full for as long.
These can also be used in baked goods like cookies and muffins.
3. Instant Rolled Oats
These oats are steamed for an even longer time so they are pre-cooked. They are rolled even thinner and are dehydrated.
Because the oats are pre-cooked, you need to only add boiling water to re-hydrate them before eating.
These oats are usually not used in baking.
Source: See here.
Different types of miso pastes:
1. White Miso
White miso is made from soybeans that have been fermented with a large percentage of rice. The actual color of this miso ranges from light beige to white. This miso has a sweet taste so it is recommended for use in condiments like salad dressings or in light sauces.
2. Yellow Miso
Yellow miso is made by fermenting soybeans with barley and sometimes a small percentage of rice. It ranges from yellow to light brown. Yellow miso has a mild, earthy flavor and is better for general use in not only condiments, but also marinades, soup, as well as glazes.
3. Red Miso
Red miso is also usually made by fermenting soybeans with barley or other grains, but with a higher percentage of soybeans and using a longer period of fermentation. This can range from red to dark brown. The deep umami flavor of red miso can be overwhelming if used in mild dishes, but is great for hearty soups, braises, and glazes.
General Guide for Chiffon Pan Size (using 65g eggs):
4-eggs recipe : 18 cm mould
5-eggs recipe : 21 cm mould
6-eggs recipe : 23 cm mould
7-eggs recipe : 25 cm mould
Please convert the ingredients in your recipe using the number of eggs required as a guide.
Chiffon Woes – I can’t remember where I took this from; if anyone knows please inform me so I can credit the source.
1. If the cake falls out of the pan when you overturn it, the sides and the bottom are probably not browned. This means the cake is under-baked. Check the temperature of the oven or bake the cake for a further 10 minutes. If the top is already sufficiently browned, tent the cake with aluminium foil.
2. If the cake slips out of the pan but the sides are browned, check the recipe’s hydration ratio. If there is too much liquid in the cake, the cake will be too heavy. When you overturn it, it will be pulled down by its own weight. After slipping out of the pan, the cake will start collapsing and becomes flattened.
3. If the cake has caved in on the sides, the egg whites could have been over-beaten.
4. If the top of the cake (what was previously the bottom) is sunken in, the oven temperature is too high. If the oven temperature is too high, it will cause the cake to over-expand. So when the cake relaxes after cooling, it will sink.
5. If the top of the cake splits, there is no need to panic since it will become the bottom.
6. If the oven temperature is too low, the cake will have problems rising and will not be able to reach its optimum peak. The cake will be heavy, short and dense.
7. If the oven temperature is unstable, the cake will not rise properly and may collapse. If you are unsure of the temperature of your oven (especially if the oven is old), buy an oven thermometer to check. Or get a new oven!
8. If the cake starts to deflate in the oven, either the temperature is too high, causing the cake to peak too fast too soon or the oven temperature is unstable. (Refer to #7.)
9. Most recipes will instruct you to turn the cake upside down immediately after you take it out of the oven. If you do not do so, the cake will collapse on its own weight since the cake structure is still unstable when it is hot. However, if the temperature outside the oven is very low (cold draft), the cake will shrink very quickly. If there is a vast difference in temperatures, open the oven door slightly to circulate the air a little to even out the temperatures before taking the cake out.
10. If there are many big holes in the cake, air may have been trapped when you poured in the batter. Lift the tube pan about 10cm off the work top and drop it a few times before baking to rectify this. If you did not fold the egg white properly, you will get uneven holes as well or you can see speckles of whites in the cake.
11. It is normal for chiffon cake to lose some of its height after cooling. However, if it loses at least half of its original height, check if the egg whites were beaten to stiff peaks or if you had deflated the egg whites during folding.
Agar-agar: Agar is a gelatinous substance that is originally made from seaweed. It comes in 2 forms – strip agar and agar powder.
Gelatin – Gelatin is a colorless and odorless substance that is made from the collagen found inside animal bones and skin. Gelatin comes in the form of powder, granules or sheets. It is not advisable to substitute gelatin for instant jelly powder because instant jelly creates bouncy texture while gelatin only helps to set whatever liquid that you use. It will not yield the same texture as instant jelly will.