Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kuidaore's Eric Kayser's Matcha Tart

Being utterly in lust with Kuidaore's website for now, my eyes very nearly popped when I saw Kuidaore's take on Eric Kayer's Matcha Tart. Her rectangular fluted pie tin, her little fluted leaf molds, her presentation of the most perfect financier I've seen to date. I knew I had to make this soonest possible.

The other thing that got me salivating was the way J described the financier. It is also the first time I've read the words 'closely knit crumb'. I do understand the word, but the moment that was used to describe the base, there could be no disillusionment of how the base should be. Closely knit also indicates that this would be is a heavy cake-like base, much like the butter laden Pound Cake. And I would say a clean crisp tea would go great as an accompaniment.

I went around hunting for her rectangular fluted tin and was extremely disappointed. It seems pie tins have to be circular in shape and I had an even tougher time searching for a fluted leaf mold. Determined as I was, I went ahead with a rather large and oaf-ish square cake tin that had large curvy sides and decided I could wait no longer. I had to make Eric Kayser's Matcha Tart. I am glad that I did.
I halved the mixture except for the key catalysts such as the salt and the Matcha. Whilst using the 10 egg whites as dictated by the original recipe, seemed like a good way to please any cholesterol-laden body, it would also mean the risk of an imminent cardiac arrest, as well as having to decide on near-future recipes utilizing all 16 yolks. And because I tend to bake more whenever I'm stressed, I already had 6 yolks, eagerly anticipating their fate, in deep freeze. In addition, I didn't have a vanilla bean on hand so after preparing the beurre noisette, I added a generous splosh of good vanilla extract and left the browned butter to cool.

I love everything about the financier. The moist yet clean taste of matcha sans the bitterness. The hints of sweetness in the cake, especially the now much-longed 'closely knit crumb'. And as hard as this is to fathom, seeing how I am terribly intolerant of sour tarty foods, I even love the way it's paired with the crisp tart raspberries. Again, the pairing of raspberries instead of red currents, was decided by J. I was just following her flog, in a semi-lust trance.

I wanted to experiment a little, so I decided to use up the remainder of my Japanese Champagne grapes for the other half of the cake. Aesthetically, I'm sure the grapes didn't do much for my picture. As for taste, I think the grapes would taste better had they been peeled but sitting around for half a day, peeling grape by grape, is just too much for a good picture, even for me. Moreover, I was pretty sure, adding peeled grapes would just quicken the deterioration of the base without refrigeration, in our humid weather.

Aside from a few scrunched up shocked faces in the morning, almost every colleague who tasted this, loved it minus the tarty raspberries. More importantly, this financier got the approval of Dad, who doesn't have as sweet a tooth as most of my colleagues.

In retrospect, I did a little flip through of Eric Kayser's Sweet and Savoury Tarts and as much as I dislike sounding like a crazed Kuidaore fan, J's pic of the Matcha Tart actually looks waaaay better than the one in Eric Kayser's book!

But J is right on one count, "it's one of those effortless recipes requiring labour no more arduous than some unhurried stirring". Simple enough an investment for a resounding Wow! on returns. This is going to be a keeper in my books, times when I am too lazy to make anything for a house party or pot luck but am obliged to nonetheless.I will be experimenting a little on the flavouring. I see futures of lemon zest, orange, and perhaps even earl grey if it can withstand the heat from the aromatic beurre noisette. Mmmm...!

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Tale of Betrayal

It has finally happened... I knew it would happen sooner or later. I knew we couldn't last forever but I never allowed myself to dwell on it for long. I never wanted to think of the inevitable.
We have finally parted ways. All I have are memories now...

For my birthday this year, my thoughtful colleagues left a homemade card shaped like an oven with a little angbao within, on my desk. (The mighty red angbao is a tiny little envelope Chinese use to contain money as a wellwishing offer in place of a present.) This was their gift to me this year ever since I yakked non-stop about having to get a new oven sooner or later before my old one exploded in my face. It has been smoking on several occasions with no provocation and one some days, everything seemed fine.

So I finally got round to shopping for another and well... I selected one. All I cared about was the capacity. I needed something bigger so I could dump my oven thermometer alongside my 12- muffin tray within. It was delivered today and I found I was strangely un-enthusiastic about it.
I just pointed at the biggest 43 litres from a brand I recognized and paid. I didn't even get to see how it looked like considering they didn't have any of that capacity on display.

My old table oven is now sitting on the floor and in its glorious place? My spanking new oven. The newbie has an ebony facade and is encased in an sleek metal of opaque white. It also has a rotisserie function, along with grilling. The glass reinforced door does not close into a sealed space, it merely covers. I suppose this is to enable the grilling function, where the glass door is to be kept open. All 42 litres of this honking metal looks ... foreign somehow. I can almost feel its snooty metallic nose looking over my old puny table oven, in disdain. Flashbacks of me and oldie run through my head, against the overcast sky (see? the heavens are crying too). Scenes of how oldie regurgitated baked and roasted wonders with a giggle, while I coo-ed at her achievement. Scenes of how oldie pumped up its temperatures instantaneously when I was stressing over preparations for dinner parties, of how oldie played nanny over the turkey, watching it like a hawk, during Christmas.

I am a traitor. Oldie gets old and cranky and for her loyal service to me throughout the past 9 years, I reward by discarding it. I am a louse. I have no regard for loyalty and if anything should age on me, I reward them by throwing them into the nearest dumpster. I haven't thrown oldie yet. I need some grieving time.

I am bereft.

(Decorum insists that I display pictures of newbie as an appreciation of the gift from others)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Let's Do the Macaron Baby

I know this must have been going on for quite some time now, but the Macaron conspiracy finally got to me. After having read so much about Laduree's Macarons, especially the ones by Pierre Herme, every fibre in my being pleaded that I try baking this at least once. I envisioned grandiose kitchen mastery where I would be whipping up Macarons of varied flavours: Chocolate with a deep velvety smooth dark Ganache, Rose scented to conjure illusions of romance, Matcha's bittersweet fill for stark zen, Lavender infused to bring forth the clarity of spirtual wellbeing. Very simply, rainbow-coloured gerbet Macarons began thumping the good march across my visions , beckoning, cajoling, taunting me to creation.

I'm beginning to understand why I term myself the experimental one. I adore prolific words used when describing baked confections and I salivate over a great visual. I experiment to see how far short I fall of the visually stunning or scrumptious product. I am usually in the kitchen within a week or two after scoffing down or reading a great confectionery description. With the inborn competitive nature, I crave the exultations when something works. And these Macarons, presented me with multitudes of accolades, namely from family and colleagues. People who are familiar with my experiments, know honest opinions are the only price for tasting my re-creations. I think one of my colleagues even teared when she saw my Macarons because she never thought I would make something she had tasted and thought delicious, years ago.

I started doing extensive homework because even the most successful (in my opinion) flog Macaron connoisseurs seem to go in depth of what can and will go wrong for novices. Yet others who are professional cooking instructors (again, in my opinion), raise woes on times where the Macaron Goddess was displeased with them, thus churning out a disappointing batch.

Then I chanced upon NicoleKaplan's simplistic approach in an eGullet thread. She gives a 'show and tell' process that very simply guarantees success. Her Italian meringue method of the recipe gave me the very lifeline I needed. I wrote to her for some advice and promised, if successful, to name my firstborn batch of macarons in her honour.

So with ingredients, a fine mesh sieve and a prayer, I embarked on this. I must have been dropped on the head one time too many by the birthing nurse.

Problem #1
I gather Almond Flour is not actually a white flour but is actually ground almonds. That being said, even after 1 hour of copious sifting, I could not get the almond flour through my fine mesh sieve. After much dainty cussing and swearing, I chucked the entire lot in with the sifted icing sugar & cocoa.

Problem #2
I did not know how much Ghirardelli cocoa to add to my Chocolate Maracons so I just winged and eyeballed it, with much fear, as Nicole instructed.

Problem #3
My Silpat birthday presents could not fit into my tiny little oven and hence I resorted to wax paper. Surprisingly, this seems to assist in lifting the delicate little crisps off the tray, with some careful maneuvering of course. I did read somewhere that Macarons were never meant for the home convection oven and this had me quaking in my boots for all of 12 minutes when my babies were in the oven.

Problem #4
She who forgets she is in the tropics, shall die a terrible Ganache-y death.
I really wanted a bitterish sweet filling to counter the achingly sweet Macarons, so I resorted to Ganache once again (refer to failed piping in my previous post on Cupcake). Obviously I wasn't using my head because once it is piped...
- Do I refrigerate the entire Macaron so the Ganache doesn't ooze out pathetically in our heat?
- Will the Macaron go soft with the moisture in the fridge?
- Will the chewy bits harden? Argh!

Problem #5 (upon cross examination after the deed)
Someone scaled down the recipe by 1/8 but I just realised something AFTER I baked the macs that the proportions don't seem right. Eeps! Actually all is not lost, my recipe below still tastes pretty decent. Crunchy on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside. However, I reserve my rights to reverse this judgement till I have actually tasted one of Pierre Herme's.

Anyway, this is the re-produced recipe from NicoleKaplan's eGullet thread:

Basic Macaron Recipe
2 kgs TPT (tant pour tant)
1 kgs Sugar
750 gms Egg Whites

1. Sieve dry ingredients at least once
2. Next start an Italian meringue, bring your sugar syrup to soft ball stage (235-240 F / 118-120 C), and slowly add to your soft peak whites. Whip until lukewarm.
Water to sugar ratio: 25% the weight in water to the sugar (62.50 gms water and yes, I disallow failure). I used a candy thermometer that had a nifty marking that read 'Softball Stage' so I didn't really fret over when would be a good time to stop the cooking process.
3. Then slowly fold the dry ingredients into your meringue in about 3 batches. You do not need to be super careful in fact you want to keep mixing until the batter takes on a kind of shine.
4. Next with a large round tip pipe your macarons onto a silpat and let air dry for 10-20 minutes until a crust forms on top of them.
5. Then bake at 275 degrees (130 C) until they puff up and when you grab the tops and jiggle them a bit they are almost set but still offer a little movement. Let cool and then flip them over and brush the undersides with the syrup of your choice. Fill, stick together and enjoy.

Note: I managed to yield approx. 104 macarons (meaning you can expect 52 filled macarons)

Ganache Recipe (Doubled from what I originally used)
120 gms Unsweetened Chocolate
255 gms Valrhona 64% cacao Manjuri
58 gms Unsalted Butter
360 gm Heavy Cream - abv 36% fat

1. Melt chopped chocolate with butter over a water bath
2. Boil cream over small-medium heat till it boils.
3. Add cream to chocolate butter mixture.
4. Whisk till well mixed. I used Thick cream instead because I bought that by mistake.
Difference being that thick / whipping cream contains at most 36% fat, whilst heavy cream has to contain at least 36% fat. Whipped cream whips faster but loses form more quickly. Heavy cream conversely, takes a longer time to whip and doesn't gather as much volume as whipped cream. Of course, heavy cream doesn't lose its whipped shape as quickly either. From my trial, the thick cream that I bought doesn't seem to whip into any volume at all.
5. Cool and then pipe when the cream can hold form

- The Ganache I originally made is half the fore-mentioned recipe, thus, I still have at least 13 unfilled Macarons leftover. I might try out an Italian Buttercream with no added flavouring.

During the entire process, I was in a constant state of fright from start to finish.
I fretted over the unsifted almond flour causing huge craters.
I fussed that I folded too much and too little.
I felt faint when I didn't see any skins form during the airing stage.
I stressed if my Macarons would be handicapped (without pretty little feet) of if my little divas would develop 'dainty' Size 0 or Size 12 feet.
I worried if the Maracons would keep in an airtight container in my humid weather.

In retrospect after all the calculations and fears are done, I think I managed a fairly decent attempt on my virgin foray into the Macaron dance. True, it may not be the best looking Macs in town... and the piping could have been done more generously. But I would give myself a pat on the back nonetheless and name these... My NicKap's Macarons. Again, excuse the poor excuse of a photographer... me.

(Listen up soldiers!)

(We have Nicole to thank for our nifty feet)

Ready to roll?

Do we look like The Leaning Tower of Pisa... huh? Do we? Do we?

I'm a Tomato Racist

Tell me if this doesn't look like some lusciously plump sweet fruit? Something along the lines of Persimmons, oranges, nectarines?

Why the fuss over the simple tomato? Reason is simple. I dislike em.
I can't take the mushy squishy-ness of this. To me, this vegetable doesn't make sense. It's neither flavourful nor tasty, nor does it have a unique distinct-ness that appeals. Perhaps the problem doesn't begin with the tomato, perhaps it really is the fault of hamburgers. Since time eternal, burgers are known to be married with tomatoes and lettuce as a natural pairing. The weird thing about me is that I tend to keep re-trying foods I dislike, hoping to discover that little secret that makes others go gaga over them. Things like Ladyfingers, Aubergines, Onion, Chinese Parsley, Tomatoes, etc.

My myopic view of the mighty tomato changed when I had my first taste of a real Caprese Salad in Da Paolo, amidst lush greenery in Cluny Court and then again in Italy. The simplicity of a mouthful of thick, fresh mozzarella cheese with equally thick robust and firm buffalo tomatoes. The drizzle of olive oil causing these foods with almost opposing tastes, meld into a medley that just makes it seem... right.

And I had air flown Japanese tomatoes when I was in a Japanese Restaurant lately. The shockingly ice cold gush at the first bite, the sweetness that followed. Surreal.

And then my old memory bank jolted, realising that back when I was working regionally, I used to love the Chinese Restaurants' appetizers of ice cold tomato chunks, dabbed daintily with granulated sugar.

So, when I came across a tomato that was bigger than my fist at a local grocer, I couldn't resist. I had to know why these darn tomatoes cost approximately USD 3.80 each. Will update when I finally sink teeth into it. By the way, mommie dearest, commented that at almost USD4.00 per pop, I had better lick the entire tomato and space out the pieces throughout the week. I also got some Japanese tomatoes which I ate as is, these cost USD4.00 per bag of 3 and they are absolutely sweet and firm with a touch of squish. Mmmm I am in lurrrrve.

Conclusion? Perhaps it really isn't the mighty tomatoes fault that caused emotional scarring since my jaunty youthful days. Perhaps it was the locally grown or neighbouring tomatoes that gave cause to the fear *wags finger at those baaaaad tomatoes*. Perhaps I'm 'aging' in taste as I mature. Or perhaps... it's the difference between a to-mah-to and a to-may-do.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Nigella's Snickers and Peanut-Butter Muffins

There are times when things are there for a reason. Just like Nigella's: How To Be A Domestic Goddess' Children Section. I'm now rather certain that the baked goods in that section are targeted at and ONLY at children.

I thought it would be fun to try out her recipe calling for peanut-butter and snickers bars. Yes, actual snickers bars. What could go wrong? Chunky Peanut Butter and Chocolate Caramel and nuts.

Well... perhaps Children are the only ones who can appreciate this... with immature blatant taste buds... wait what am I saying? Perhaps only American and English kids would love this. Afterall, they seem to enjoy having spoonfuls of peanut butter much more than Asian kids. Or perhaps it's me the 'adult' whose tastes are a little too sensitive to this much peanut butter at one go.

Anyways, the recipe isn't a flop. It did what it was supposed to do, it rose and it bubbled where the chopped snicker bars lay. It was just... too much peanut butter at a go. It's muffin-like, meaning not too sweet but the peanut butter just packs a punch. Even if I reduced the peanut butter further, erm... maybe I should wait overnight to see how the muffins go with colleagues and over a cup of coffee at least. Her recipe is as follows:

(Adapted from Nigella Lawson's: How To Be A Domestic Goddess)
Snickers and Peanut-Butter Muffins
250 gms plain flour
160 gms Crunchy Peanut Butter
140 gms chopped Snicker Bars (Original Recipe: 3 x 64gms bar)
85 gms Golden Castor Sugar
60 gms melted unsalted butter
180 gms Milk
1 Large Egg
1.5 tsp Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt

1) Mix flour, sugar, baking power and salt
2) Incorporate Peanut Butter till crumb-like
3) Pour slightly cooled melted butter into egg and milk, mix.
4) Pour wet ingredients to dry and gently incorporate together
5) Add chopped snicker bars
6) Pour into muffin cases and bake at 200 Degree Celsius (I baked at 170-185 degree celsius because my oven seems to burn most things if I follow most temperatures to the T)

Yields 12.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I Love My Silicones

I really do love my silicones, NOT the ones in stuffed into a body, rather, I am referring to silicone bakeware that will probably be the most useful invention after the zipper, for bakers' and enthusiasts only of course. Silicone bakeware have been flooding the culinary world of late, causing much hype. It is more expensive than traditional tins but I suspect the prices would drop drastically once patent rights expire.

Silicone wares are non-stick and heat tolerant with the flexibility to be molded into more friendly shapes as compared to the traditional metal tins. They come in a variety of shapes, such as cookie baking sheets (or tray liners), traditional and animated cake / loaf tins as well as brushes. The greatest advantage of silicone bakeware to me, seems to be the non-stick properties and storage (Non-stick pans have not always been known to do its job). I have always held a secret fear that my concoctions would not un-mould whole, and similarly, have always developed migraines trying to organise bulky tin storage. The silicone baking sheet itself is kept rolled and takes up relatively little storage space.

I spent many a sleepless night, browsing the tons of Silpats advertised in American online bake stores. I wondered whether they were truly non-stick and if they would burn. I wondered how easy it would be to wash off the remnants of baked confections.

Imagine my surprise when I finally found a couple of local bake stores carrying these precious goods! Experimentation being my middle name, I went ahead and bought a decent sized Silpat loaf tray along with an 8pc regular muffin tray (Silpat is the brand name of the silicone invention by French Chemist, Guy Demarle). I remember thinking to myself how I would refer to a silicone 'Loaf Tin' from now on... Loaf Silicone? Loaf Tray? Loaf Thingamjig?

I have however, read a few flogs claiming that the silicone mat wasn't as non-stick as claimed and they would never use another again. My dense chocolate loaf baked beautifully and I had no trouble at all when it was time to un-mould. Needless to say, I am in baking lust with my silicones.

I recently found yet another treasure trove of a bakestore, and the thing that caught my eye within minutes of stepping into the shop? Cupcake silicones in a variety of pastels! How absolutely sweet is that?

Conversely or ironically, I also found a traditional item that was never available on the shores of Singapore (at least as far as I know)... Cake Release. I read that Pam had the grease/flour spray but never found it in the local supermarkets. Cake Release greases and flours tins for especially sticky recipes but obviously this would not be necessary in silicone moulds. I bought it anyway just because it is almost like realising childhood dream.

A Month of Celebrations

Have been a little busy this month even though I told myself I would like to bake and decorate a little cake for myself as a mark of wanting to celebrate a birthday alone. Ok... so I was inspired by Obachan's blog and truthfully? A tad curious of how it would feel, celebrating by myself for myself.

I know that no matter how I articulate this, it would sound sad but it really isn't! I take the stance that instead of turning up to celebrate a good friend's birthday, I would be turning up to celebrate for myself.

I have had previous occasions where I just want to crawl into bed and pray that the day goes away for fear of aging, fear of embarrassing Happy Birthday serenades, fear of saying Thank You and having to look surprised at receiving and dusting yet another gift on the shelf, fear that friends get into arguments and develop bad vibes over how to celebrate my birthday, etc..

I didn't manage to celebrate it alone this year but I hold myself to the promise that I will bake a belated birthday cake for myself soon enough.

However, I did manage to remember to bring a camera for one of the birthday celebrations held in my honour. This was something that is just up my alley... a home cooked meal in a home. Good company, good conversations, good laughs. What can I say? I am aging and I relish in peaceful non-embarrasing celebrations. Heck! I even got my desired gift... silicon bakeware! Woot! I ADORE getting what I asked for. Surprises have never really worked for me. Maybe it is the control freak in me.

Anyway... this photo may not say much but it will be a memory I will cherish. The thought that everyone made an effort to get together, and make me feel special. Now if I can only bring myself to remember everyone ELSE's birthday... I would be on my way to groovy street of showing everyone how I appreciate them =P

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Kiss From The Ethereal Fairy

Growing up in an asian household, fairycakes never made it as one of the birthday party items. If anything, cupcakes became a deadly fascination only after I watched 'Sex And The City'. The one where Miranda and Carrie were having yet another tete-a-tete over a large fuschia frosted cupcake each. I have since dreamed of this pink cupcake endlessly. I may not like the sickeningly sweet fuschia frosting but I would like to have one in my hand, smearing my lips just a little as I take a gigantic bite off one.

So when I finally got Nigella's 'How To Be A Domestic Goddess' book, her Fairycakes was earmarked almost immediately when I leafed through it. And since I have a little get together tomorrow, I made a batch of these today.

What I love most of this recipe is that it makes exactly 12 large cupcakes without excess leftovers. What I disliked was that it called for Royal Icing which is not sold in Singapore. I surfed quite a few sites before 'inventing' this frosting myself. Whilst I will not repeat Nigella's recipe for the basic cupcake (you can get it off her website anyway), I will list the recipe for the self invented icing.

Chaos' Instant Icing for Fairycakes
30ml unsalted butter
250gm Icing sugar Dash of Good Vanilla Essence
3-4 Tbsps of Cold Milk

- Melt unsalted butter over a boiling water bath, removing when melted
- Add vanilla essence & unsifted icing sugar. Whisk till mixed
- Whisk like the wind over heat
- It will be lumpy but as you whisk over very gentle heat, the butter starts to get runny, incorporating the icing sugar well. This is when you start to drizzle the milk in, aiming for a dripping consistency (i.e. be able to drip from a spoon onto each cupcake)
- Remove from heat and whisk till it is bubble-less and smooth.
- Divide the icing sugar into batches, dependant on the number of colours you wish to create. I used 2 gel paste colours, white and red (trying for fuschia).
- Take a dollop of coloured icing and drip it into each cupcake.
- The batch made will sufficiently ice 12 cupcakes.

Hint: I didn't really want to lop the tops of the cupcakes off (truthfully? I can't bear to throw away lopped cupcake tops), so I used large muffin cases and molds when baking the cakes. This ensured that my cupcake was fairly well spread and minimal rising occurred. I still had cute round little mounds but nothing that required lopping of any kind.

After icing the cakes, I would place each into a small wide rimmed bowl, swirl it firmly a couple of times and voila! The icing would be well spread around the sides (remembering that each cupcake still had mounds and thus more icing is required along the edges of the cupcakes) after such swirls.

I misplaced my wafer roses and sugar daisies so I used whole lavender sugar roses, attached with sugar leaves. These are the same sugar flowers that one would use when decorating a whole cake or even a wedding cake.
Yes... I realise no one would wanna risk losing a tooth or two eating into these decorations but I just can't resist the end result.

Tell me if you think it was worth putting these over-the-top flowers on!