Raspberri Cupcakes is the result of Steph Hooi's passion for baking. Constantly seeking her next sugar high, Steph says she'd be happy eating cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As an Australian-born Chinese Malaysian, she loves to experiment with baking ideas that ignite childhood memories of Australian and Malaysian food.
We ask Steph for advice on macaron making, her crazy creations (including an impressive Tim Tam cake), and being a fussy eater.
When did your love of all sweet things begin?
It started really early, I've always enjoyed my sweets more than savouries. One if my first trips to the emergency room as a child was because I was running towards the kitchen for ice cream and managed to trip and bump my head.
What’s the most unusual ingredient you’ve ever used in a dessert?
It's always fun to use unusual ingredients in desserts, but the strangest I've ever used would have to be beetroot. A few of my blogger friends came up with the idea of experimenting with desserts that featured vegetables as the main ingredient. I ended up coming up with a whole plate of different beetroot desserts; brownies, ice cream, macarons and lollipops. It involved a whole week of roasting and pureeing a LOT of beetroot, I had stained hands and the whole house was infused with the smell of beetroot. It was really interesting but I don't think I've been able to enjoy eating beetroot quite as much since then. My favourite ingredient to use in desserts which is pretty unusual in Australia (but not in Malaysia) is sweet corn. I love sweet corn ice cream.
What makes for an amazing macaron? What’s your favourite flavour?
It has to have a delicate, egg shell-like exterior, a gooey centre with no large air-spaces in the shells and that perfect crinkly 'foot' at the base of each shell. It should have a strong flavour but shouldn't be sickly sweet, and it shouldn't be crunchy or too chewy. It can be frustratingly hard to get them right when you're baking them! It's so hard to pick one flavour as my favourite, I really like citrus flavoured ones because the tang helps to offset the sweetness of the macaron, like these lemon poppyseed macarons. But popcorn macarons with salted caramel are always a winner too.
Are there any desserts which hold particularly happy childhood memories for you?
Birthday cakes! My Mum always made the most amazing birthday cakes when we were little, we used to look through our copy of the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake book and pick the cake I wanted each year. I still have the original book, it's so fantastic. It was always so exciting to see the decorated cake, covered in loads of buttercream (never fondant, not a fan of the stuff) and colourful lollies, and jelly or dyed desiccated coconut. I loved the whimsy and imagination that went into creating them and I try to capture that in the things I bake nowadays. I definitely inherited my love of baking from my Mum.
You’ve baked a few crazy cakes – is there anything you’re keen to try out in the future?
The Tim Tam cake was one of my favourites because it was so fun and really easy to make. I've already made a Mint Slice cake and an Iced VoVo cake, so I'd definitely like to try making more cake versions of my favourite biscuits. Other than that I'll have to wait and see if another crazy cake idea comes to mind in the future.
How has your Malaysian background influenced your taste in food? Your cooking style?
It's had a huge influence on my taste in food, I love all things about Malaysian cuisine but I don't cook it that much at home. I like my food to have a strong punch of flavour and particularly enjoy extra spicy dishes. And there's no such thing as too much garlic. I am willing to try anything at least once and there isn't much I don't like. I like to use distinctly Malaysian flavours in my baking when I can, like pandan and sweet corn.
What would you cook if you wanted to impress, but actually didn’t have much time?
I don't cook that much, but when I do it has to be quick because it has to be something I can whip up after work. You can't go wrong with a really great steak, which I love to serve with this onion-blue cheese sauce from the Pioneer Woman. It's so easy but so delicious that it makes you want to lick the plate clean, and I reckon that even people who aren't huge fans of blue cheese will love it. Something with a bit of butter, cream and cheese is always a crowd-pleaser.
Have you got any fail-safe baking tips for us?
This may seem obvious, but always read the recipe carefully! I've made some silly mistakes in the past because I've skimmed over parts of the recipe and missed important steps. Good quality butter will make such a big difference to any recipe, especially when you are making pastry or shortbread. Using high quality baking paper to line your tins and trays will save you the heartache of having your cakes or biscuits stick to everything. And make sure your baking powder and bi-carb soda is fresh!
Have you ever come across a dessert you didn’t like?
I had a beetroot dessert recently that I wasn't too keen on, but I couldn't tell if it was due to my previous experiments with beetroot desserts! But I always admire the thought and effort that goes into a beautifully plated up dessert, it's not usually something I could do myself.
Where would you go in Sydney for the best sweet treats?
To be honest I don't buy many sweet treats these days because I'm always trying to get rid of the large amount of sweets that I bake at home! If I do go out, the desserts at Sepia Restaurant are always stunning. And some things that I just can't resist are the Portuguese tarts from Sweet Belem in Petersham, the brulee tarts from Bourke St Bakery, fresh pandan waffles and sugarcane juice in Cabramatta and Bankstown, and the Malaysian kuih from Alice's in Thornleigh.
What would your blog followers be surprised to learn about you?
I was a very picky eater as a child; I refused to eat anything strong flavoured or spicy and would sulk every time we had to go out to a Chinese restaurant. It was such a waste that I didn't appreciate all the great food while I was living in Kuala Lumpur, and only really started loving all kinds of food/cuisines when I was older and living in Sydney. These days I love going back to Malaysia on holiday and relish all the amazing dishes that you can enjoy over there.
Follow Steph on Twitter.