This post was first posted on ELLE Singapore on 25 November 2020.
Who doesn’t like molten lava cakes? Cakey on the outside and decadently chocolatey on the inside, nothing could go wrong with this warm dessert. And if there’s a scoop of vanilla ice cream plonked on the side, I’d praise the heavens.
But as much as I enjoy the molten lava cake, they can be a tad too decadent. There’s a word for that in Singapore (and some regions of Southeast Asia): jelak (which describes that cloying feeling you get when you have too much overwhelmingly rich food). While there are ways to overcome that feeling of jelak-ness, like adding lime or anything mildly acidic, I find having textures in the bite one of the better (and pleasurable) ways to do so.
And what better way to prove my point with mochi brownies.
We know mochi has roots in Japanese confectioneries. We also know it is often made from mashed or ground glutinous rice. More importantly, it is best known for its soft, springy, stretchy and chewy texture. But what we do not know is that mochi, somehow, goes surprisingly well in brownies and madeleines.
Enter Michelle Tong, a Singaporean home baker who runs Gaily Bakes (@gailybakes). Her specialty? Sinfully delicious “mochi-infused” bakes.
“I came across a Hawaii Butter Mochi — the Hawaiian descendent of the Japanese mochi, if I may — recipe and it got me intrigued by how changing a type of flour can have such a different outcome,” Tong says, elaborating on her decision to proffer mochi-infused offerings to her customers.
“The contrast in texture is amazing. And I tried experimenting with other bakes to shake things up.”
At present, Gaily Bakes is a one-woman operation. The conceptualising, baking and marketing of the products are managed by Tong herself. Some of her delicious creations include “Hojicha Mochi Brownie” and “Earl Grey Mochi Madeleine”.
Tong only began selling these confections recently. She had founded the brand some five years ago in 2015, but took a hiatus from 2017. It wasn’t until the Circuit Breaker which happened earlier this year that Tong, who had left her full-time job in the financial industry, had time to expand her business. Put simply, she is amongst the many ranks of home bakers proffering baked goods during quarantine.
“The Circuit Breaker gave me ample time to get acquainted with baking and doing the things I love again. To live in such trying times, I’ve also learnt to be more appreciative and to cherish every moment,” Tong says. “Which is why when I bake I want to make it worthwhile for my customers.”
On the challenges she frequently faces, Tong admits that there is difficulty catering to different people because of their taste preferences. “I have a love-hate relationship with the creation process. I am a self-taught baker so I spent a lot of time studying recipes and watching videos to understand the science and techniques,” Tong explains.
Like most mochi bakes, the pleasure lies in their textures. When consumed at room temperature, the bakes are fudgy and gummy on the inside. But when consumed warmed (heated in a microwave for a few minutes), the flavours deepen and the texture within changes into something addictively chewy. Essentially, what you get is a somewhat crispy but caramelised (or glazed) crust with a gooey chewy centre.
It’s very addictive.
With Christmas fast approaching, Tong will be curating festive bakes tailored to the season’s festivities. This time, she is putting a twist the old-fashioned Bundt cakes (or bundtlettes) with a mochi filling and some shots of alcohol. The best part, they come in miniature sizes, which are perfect to bring along for the season’s galore of Christmas parties.
“When we think of Christmas, we think of the following flavours: chocolate, cranberry, eggnog, pecans and peppermint. Sometimes, there is a wee bit of alcohol in the midst,” Tong adds. “If there’s some of each found in my bakes, it reminds me of the festivities, and that’s what I want to bring across.”
For the most part, Tong is still experimenting with newer creations. She is one of the earliest home baker or baker offering these gooey goodness in Singapore, and that alone is enough reason to give her mochi bakes a try.
In the meantime, she is gratified to have received compliments from her friends, families and new customers. “I really enjoy having this as a creative project to express my creativity,” Tong says. “I also enjoy the sense of satisfaction when my customers gave me great feedback and positive reviews about my bakes.”
All images courtesy of Michelle Tong.