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Singapore Cooks

Hitting the sweet spot

Home cook Nor Hadayah Mohamad has baked the whole gamut of pastries and cakes, from cupcakes to macarons to fancy entremet cakes

Housewife Nor Hadayah Mohamad is not one to rest on her laurels when it comes to baking. Having mastered festive treats such as pineapple tarts, kueh makmur and steamed fruit cake in her 20s, she wanted to up the ante.

As soon as she started working at age 21, she spent "a generous portion of my pay cheque" buying baking ingredients and tools. She had an administrative job in a university for eight years.

Over the past 15 years, she has baked the whole gamut of pastries and cakes, from cupcakes to macarons to fancy entremet cakes.

The 36-year-old says: "I have a sweet tooth and as I grow older, I love taking on more difficult bakes as it gets more fun."

One of her first projects was the French shell-shaped butter tea cakes - madeleines.

  • MAKE IT YOURSELF: PANDAN MADELEINES

  • INGREDIENTS

    200g unsalted butter, cut into cubes and left to cool to room temperature

    3 eggs

    125g caster sugar

    15ml pandan juice, from 7 pandan leaves cut into small pieces, hand-pounded and squeezed through a muslin cloth

    50ml milk, warm

    187g cake flour

    1/4 tsp salt

    1/2 Tbs baking powder

    1/2 tsp baking soda

    Melted butter

    Cake flour

    METHOD

    1. In a pan over medium heat, melt butter until it bubbles and creates a sizzling sound. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

    2. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl, add caster sugar and mix contents with an electric mixer. Mix on medium speed for two minutes and then on high speed for three minutes. Mix till the batter turns fluffy and has a pale yellow colour.

    3. Stir pandan juice into milk. Pour into a pan set over low heat until it starts bubbling, about 2 minutes.

    4. In another mixing bowl, add cake flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and mix contents with a whisk.

    5. Strain cooled melted butter to remove milk solids and set aside.

    6. Pour the pandan milk mixture into the egg mixture and mix well.

    7. In three batches, add the flour mixture to egg and milk mixture, and mix contents thoroughly after each batch with an electric mixer on low speed.

    8. Pour the butter gradually into mixture and mix thoroughly.

    9. With a spatula, scoop batter into two large piping bags and refrigerate overnight.

    10. Grease a non-stick madeleine pan lightly with melted butter and dust it with cake flour. Place the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes.

    11. Pre-heat oven to 200 deg C.

    12. Squeeze the chilled batter into a cold madeleine pan. Pipe contents into each mould until it becomes half-filled. Tap the pan twice to ensure that the batter is evenly set in each mould.

    13. Place the pan in the oven and lower the baking temperature to 180 deg C after 10 seconds. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

    14. Take the pan of baked madeleines out of the oven and let it cool for 3 minutes. Tap the madeleines out of the pan and serve.

    Makes 24

Driven by her love for madeleines from cafe chain Delifrance, she decided to replicate these classic cakes at home. However, she got more than she bargained for.

First, she scalded her fingers from the hot steam that wafted from over-cooked butter. Then, the madeleines turned out tough due to over-whisking of the batter, and there was the challenge of creating the trademark hump on the cake. To develop a swell on the back of the cake, she chills the batter overnight and keeps it cold before baking.

After five attempts, she finally turned out madeleines with cookie- like crisp edges and soft insides. To make things more exciting, she has baked madeleines in flavours such as lemon, chocolate and vanilla, orange and pandan.

She incorporated pandan into the French classic as it was a flavour she grew up with, having loved ondeh ondeh (a pandan-flavoured kueh filled with gula melaka) and kueh bakar (a baked custard-like pandan cake).

Giving madeleines a pandan twist gets her older relatives to "try a frou frou French pastry that they are not familiar with".

She adds: "It is a light and pleasant flavour that appeals to the older generation, who only know about kueh bahulu."

Instead of creating an accompanying dip, she injects the pandan madeleines with gula melaka sauce using mini pipettes. She says: "I was inspired by videos on molecular gastronomy and wanted to create a cool and memorable way of serving madeleines."

Besides madeleines, she makes macarons, pies and her latest baking craze - entremet cakes. The French-style cake features multiple layers, such as sponge, jelly, cremeux and mousse, covered in a glaze.

She learnt the complicated technique from online videos by French pastry chef, Christophe Michalak, who owns Michalak Take Away patisserie in Paris. Her piece de resistance is a 6kg, three-tiered garden-themed wedding cake, which she baked for her brother's wedding earlier this month .

The peach-coloured cake was made up of two entremet cakes - a red velvet cake with Speculoos cookie butter, white chocolate and cream cheese filling was stacked on another cake, which was made with light rose cream, lychees and raspberries. On top of the two cakes was a passionfruit chiffon cake with a mango and lime curd centre. The stack was frosted with lychee buttercream and adorned with intricate butterfly cut-outs and flower petals. She took three days to put the cake together.

When she is not baking compli- cated creations, she enjoys baking chocolate cakes and cookies with her five-year-old daughter.

She also enjoys teaching youths to bake, and was a part-time instructor with holiday camp provider Camp Asia.

Ms Hadayah, who is married to a 36-year-old graphic designer, says: "I love to share my baking knowledge and baking gives me a sense of accomplishment, especially when people enjoy my cakes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline 'Singapore Cooks Hitting the sweet spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe