Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My First Daring Baker's Challenge...and one of my new toys


Today is officially my "coming out" day. Not in the sense of a blushing debutante (although all of you who think, or would like to think that way, are by all means welcome to do so), but in terms of being a member of the Daring Bakers.

Considering that I have waited a full month (and then some) to participate in the July challenge, I am surprised at how easily I put this task off until the very last minute. Life, and my innate knack for procrastination got into the way. However, this month at least, I have another very valid excuse for not wanting to complete my challenge sooner.

On July 26 2008, I finally received my much-coveted Canon EOS 450d!! YAY!!! I am now a proud owner of a DSLR!! However I feel compelled to warn you that I have not yet mastered the functions of this camera, nor yet feel comfortable using it, in case you expect mind blowing photos. I have lots to learn and a long way to go.

But I digress. This month's challenge is hosted by Chris of Mele Cotte, and the task is to attempt Carol Walter's Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream. I could not be more excited!! Layered gateaux are by far my favourite thing to both eat and make. I know this makes me sound a tad masochistic, but I always like a challenge. So thank you Chris, for choosing this cake!!

Oh, and although this cake looks a little on the heavy side (texture, mouthfeel, flavour etc.), it is as light as a goose down pillow!! The swiss meringue buttercream and the whipped cream really made a difference!! One thing that I am not satisfied with though, is that my layers are not perfectly and evenly straight. This, I admit, is my own fault. Due to greed I have decided to lather an excessive amount of buttercream and whipped cream filling onto the cake layers. And due to laziness I had not bothered to pipe and spread them out evenly. This resulted in the afore-mentioned effect on the cake, and in my anguish for being so careless. Oh, and on being careless, I also dunked a whole recipe's worth of praline powder into my buttercream instead of the 1/3 cup stated on the recipe. Sigh.

But at least it was delicious, right?
(J: I think it tasted really good with the full amount anyway. I don't know why you want to make it with only 1/3 cup.)

Bless his soul.

The complete recipe is available on Chris' website. It contains quite a bit of information, thus I will not post it here. But for those of you who have not attempted it, please give it a go; it's really not that difficult if you read all the instruction carefully.

PS. I will update you on my other new toy in the next post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Luscious Red Velvets and New Opportunities

I promised myself that I would be baking and blogging a lot more when my term break commenced a week ago. I have been baking moderately more often, but haven't been blogging very much about them. For this I must apologize.

You see, I received some bad news last week from my restaurant. My boss went around the bush and then in circles explaining himself and the situation that has compelled him to make the sacrifice, but it could be summed up with this sentence: I have been laid-off.

The signs were there all right, my hours were cut down, and even when I get any it seems that I was asked to finish earlier than my scheduled roster, because there was just nothing else for us to do. It is a slow time in the restaurant industry-- we are in the middle of a nasty winter spell and I don't blame people when all they want to do is stay at home curled up underneath a warm blanket. I feel much the same way.

So I have been applying for various jobs and contemplating the next step. I doubt that I will be able to work in a pastry kitchen again until I graduate from culinary school--the Australian Immigration only allow people with International Student Visas to work a maximum of 20 hours per week during term time. I was really lucky that I was able to find myself a part-time job in a pastry kitchen that I can work at for as little as 20 hours a week--most kitchens either demand full-timers that could work 50-60 hour weeks or part-timers that could do 35-40 hour weeks. So whatever jobs I apply for in the meantime will benefit me strictly in terms of cash flow, and maybe, hopefully, I'll learn a few things along the way.

To tell you the truth, I have been contemplating about leaving for quite some time now. I just haven't been able to find a potential job that I would be totally happy with to replace my old one. Plus, I like all the people that I work with, so that makes leaving harder.

But now there is a multitude of possibilities. Opportunities that I have been toying with and fantasizing about for the past few months. Applications for internships that I have procrastinated to put forward into action because I was worried that I would not have time to fit them into my life.

So here's to new possibilities and (hopefully) a new job!!

I made two versions of these red velvet cupcakes. The bright red ones are from Joy the Baker, and the cocoa ones are from Chockylit. I used the recipes for the frostings that each recommended. I have to say though, that Chockylit's frosting is easier to make because it is less prone to splitting. But if you want to try making the brown sugar cream cheese frosting, please follow Joy's guidelines to ensure the best results. As you can see, my brown sugar frosting split a little, and although I did come up with a way to rectify the problem later, I had gotten impatient and piped it on the cupcakes the first chance I got.

If your brown sugar cream cheese frosting splits, put it in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water. Keep stirring, and you will notice that the frosting will turn smooth. But do not take off from the heat yet, or your frosting will split when it cools down. Keep stirring until mixture is warm-ish. Swipe a little of the frosting on your fingertips and rub them together. You should only be a slight graininess. Remove from heat and cool.

I apologize because I could not be more specific about the instructions, but i was purely going by touch. The best way is to try it, let it cool down and see if it turns grainy. If it does, return to the bain-marie( heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water), and keep it on for a longer period of time. But be careful not to scorch it.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Remembrance of Things Past, or a Mistake Revisited

No, this post is not about madeleines, as the title so suggestively implied. This is about the first time I made French macarons.

It was December last year, when I finally got my bum off my seat and decided to make some of those wonderful little confections so many food bloggers are blogging about. They are the daintiest, prettiest things , and they are called macarons.

In those photos they looked so tame, so innocent that I thought I'd make them for a family christmas gathering at my J's parents' house. Three days to go, and I thought I would start with the shell, just in case things did not work out. I made the macarons in two ways, one batch of lemon macarons using the Italian meringue method, and another batch of pistachio using the French meringue method, borrowing the recipes that I found on Tartelette's blog.

The Italian meringue lemon macarons turned out just perfect. I was contented and pleased with myself. And then the horror began. My tray of pistachio macarons emerged from the oven as the ugliest things I have ever seen. Lopsided, cracked, and uneven. Not just one or two, but almost all of them. I consoled myself with soothing thoughts; perhaps I had misread the recipe, perhaps it is the humidity in the air (December is summer in Australia), perhaps I have forgotten to add a vital ingredient to the batter. With these uneasy thoughts in my head, I headed to bed.

The next night (I had to work from 9am-8pm that day, almost a double shift but not quite), I went on to make another batch of pistachio macarons. I made sure to add all the ingredients, follow the recipe down to every letter, switch on the air-conditioner in my apartment and let the piped batter stand for a good hour. I waited with my eyes closed my my hands clasped in a prayer.

I could not remember what I said or did when the first tray came out of the oven, looking exactly like their predecessors from the previous night. I must have gone through a shock, because I could not remember stomping or kicking or screaming or cursing, and I am a drama queen with a very hot temper.

What followed afterwards when I regained my memory was a frantically typed email at 1 am in the morning to Helen of Tartelette, whom I see as one of the authorities in macaron making. I was desperate and sent a plea for her to shine light on the art of macaron making. She replied promptly with suggestions in such generous details that I felt instantly reassured. But I have never since tried making French macarons again. Until now.

About two weeks ago J went for a visit to his nonna's house. He brought from there a citrus fruit which looks innocently enough like an orange. But peel the skin away and what greets your tongue is a flavour that has the unmistakable acidity of a lemon. This fruit grew on a tree in his nonna's backyard. It seems that she has grafted an orange tree into a lemon tree and married the pair (I am sure this is not the proper explanation, but it will have to suffice), resulting in this hybrid fruit.

I thought about what I wanted to make with this lem-orange, and decided to revisit my old fears of making macarons, mainly because I think that the sweetness of the macaron shell will foil the tartness of the fruit. This time, though, I made sure to take a few extra precautions (and read Helen's tutorial on the online Dessert Magazine).

When my first batch spread too much and became lopsided and uneven, I gritted my teeth and set my mind on making another one, and another one, and another one still, until I can get it perfect. It seemed that my determination managed to win over the macaron god, because I had the idea to cover my oven fan with a flat baking tray. And so my second batch, though a tad under-folded, yielded beautiful round macarons with perfectly even feet. And we live happily ever after.

I borrowed Helen's recipe for the macarons (Thank you Helen, and if you ever want anything from Australia, just let me know and I'll mail it to you!). The ganache I made, though, was a little too white chocolate-y for my taste, so I'll update the recipe after I develop one that I'm completely happy with. I already have something in mind, so stay tuned!