Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Daring Baker's Challenge, and some personal ones

I have had plenty of time this week for various musings and thoughts on the past. These reminiscence is brought forward by the fact that I am currently employed as a full-time couch potato and kitchen fiend. But after watching the last episode of season 7 Scrubs on DVD, finishing my book and feeling that I could not stand to face another dirty bowl/spatula/countertop in the kitchen, I was forced to contemplate the plight of my existence. After losing a job I thought I could do well at, given sufficient time to adjust and rise up to some insurmountable challenges and responsibilities, I could not say that I was devastated. Maybe it was the fact that I have been through 4 jobs in 6 months---of which 2 ended on my terms---or maybe I just did not like that job very much.

Being impartial in your profession of choice is, in some ways, an advantage. Sure, you do not go to work feeling euphoric (then again, I have never experienced that, even when I was working as a pastry chef), but when something goes wrong you learn not to take it too personally. Sure, it is demeaning being told that you do not have the experience necessary for this particular line of work, but the grieving is over quickly, and you are able to look at the whole experience less as a dent in your uncertain future, and react to it with a defiant 'well, at least I had the balls to try it out!'

Now that my internet connection is back up and I can finally upload my photos for the January DB Challenge, I am back with the intention to blog and whine. This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

I had the initial idea for this project long before I made it, so I have only made the basic chocolate tuile recipe by Angelique Schemeink. As the visual clues would have leaked my little secret out to you, here it is in words: Chocolate-Encrusted Tuile with Smoked Chocolate Ganache.

Yes, I tried smoking chocolate---with more or less satisfying results, if I may be so bold as to add. Less because I could not yet control the temperature of my 'smoking chamber' (read: a bowl perched atop a bamboo steamer set above an aluminum container of smoking materials confined in the safety of my trusty wok) and scorched my chocolate a tiny bit as a result; and more because it tasted really good, and when the intention is to make it into a ganache, the temperatures hardly matters anymore (or so I'd like to think).

So what better than to pipe the ganache into cigar-shaped tuiles? Better yet, to coat the tuiles in a layer of melted chocolate, then cover it with shaved chocolate chunks for a textural contrast? Or, even better still, set it up to look like a half-smoked cigar? And so my plans all fall into place, and with the same note of optimism, I hope that my life will too.

Chocolate-Encrusted Tuile

65 grams softened butter
60 grams confectioner’s/icing sugar, sifted
2 large egg whites (slightly whisked with a fork)
65 grams all purpose flour, sifted
1 table spoon cocoa powder

300g Chocolate, half melted and half shaved with a vegetable peeler.

Using a hand whisk or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle (low speed) and cream butter, sugar and vanilla to a paste. Keep stirring while you gradually add the egg whites. Continue to add the flour in small batches and stir to achieve a homogeneous and smooth batter/paste. Be careful to not overmix.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up. (This batter will keep in the fridge for up to a week, take it out 30 minutes before you plan to use it).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease with either butter/spray and chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. This will help spread the batter more easily if using a stencil/cardboard template such as the butterfly. Press the stencil on the bakingsheet and use an off sided spatula to spread batter. Bake at 180 degree Celsius for about 4 minutes.

Immediately release from bakingsheet and proceed to shape/bend the cookies in the desired shape. These cookies have to be shaped when still warm, you might want to bake a small amount at a time or them in the oven to warm them up again. Or: place a bakingsheet toward the front of the warm oven, leaving the door half open. The warmth will keep the cookies malleable. Leave to cool, and dip in some melted chocolate, then roll in shaved chocolate chunks. Set aside.

Smoked Chocolate Ganache

150 ml thick cream (35% fat)
105 g dark chocolate

Create a shallow container using an aluminum foil. Place ingredients for smoking in the container (I used dessicated coconut and Lapsang Souchong tea). Place the smoking materials in a deep wok and heat up for about 5 minutes or until smoking. In the meantime, prepare a bamboo steamer and a stainless steel bowl of chocolate pieces. When ready, turn off heat and place bamboo steamer on top of the smoking materials, and set the bowl of chocolate on top. Cover with lid and smoke for 15-20 minutes. Note: As I mentioned earlier in this post, the chocolate will burn a little due to the high heat in the smoking chamber, and I am still working on a better way to do this.

Spread the chocolate onto a sheet of parchment paper to cool. If you are using couverture chocolate, blooms will become very apparent after the chocolate solidifies. Your chocolate may also cools down softer and not hold the 'snap' that characterises a perfectly tempered chocolate. For this purpose only, this is acceptable.

Boil cream in a saucepan. Place smoked chocolate in a bowl, and pour boiling cream to melt the chocolate. Stand for 1-2 minutes, then stir to create a homogenous mixture. Leave to cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooling. When consistency is firm enough to pipe, transfer into a piping bag fitten with a plain nozzle, and pipe into chocolate-encrusted tuile cigars. With a hot but dry spatula, smooth off the ends to create a better finish.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Year's Resolutions, and some seasonal surprise

The new year is here, and I finally came up with a few resolutions I would like to achieve this year.

1. Blog more regularly. Actually, just blog more. Yes, I know, I know.
2. Attempt making more intricate gateaux/desserts at home. I am usually very lazy when it comes to making multi-component desserts at home because firstly I would have to do all the dishes, and secondly, I usually crave comfort food when I am at home, thus instant gratification were the words of the day last year.
3.Get a step closer to my dream of opening a contemporary patisserie.
4.Bake more seasonally, creatively, and sustainably.
5. Frequent the farmers' market more, well, frequently.

On another note, my friend Mallory at The Salty Cod has rallied me to participate in Jugalbandi's Click! The Photo Event, and this month's theme is RED. So what more appropriate than featuring the spoils of summer produce in Australia?

But after splurging on these fruits (and some luscious mangoes too), I have to justify their purchase by making something with them. I decided to start with an old nemesis: strawberry daifuku, or Japansese rice cake with bean paste and strawberry filling. I have always been mesmerised and obsessed with Japanese wagashi (traditional sweets), because not only are they hand-crafted with utmost meticulous care; their shape, colour and appearance reflect both simplicty and seasonality to the highest order. I have always wanted to learn the skills to make these little beauties, but for the longest time, I could not find any books which deliver its instructions in English.

Well, I still could not actually. But my persistence finally paid off. On my last vacation home to Jakarta, Indonesia, I met the executive chef of the newly opened Ritz Carlton Jakarta, who happened to be Japanese, and who coincidentally also runs a newly opened cooking school which offer short courses in traditional Japanese sweets---aka wagashi!!

So I immediately signed up for two items: strawberry daifuku and a spring wagashi called kiku. So far I have stored what I learnt in the recesses of my brain, but last week, in the face of a punnet of rapidly ripening strawberries and the prospect of having to make a light, easy-to-eat summer dessert for a picnic slash movie at Moonlight Cinema at the Royal Botanical Gardens, I decided to make these old favourites of mine. I have modified the recipe and method to make the sticky dough easier to handle, and replaced the red bean paste with white bean paste, which I think complements the strawberries better. Not only is this sweet light, healthy, completely gluten-free (here's to you, Mallory!!), it is so delicious I could not stop eating them!! You can also adjust the sugar to your own liking, or omit them from the dough. I would, however, recommend not to completely remove them from the bean paste, just for that bit of sweetness that makes life so much sweeter!!

Strawberry Daifuku
(makes 13)

For the skin

125g dango-ko (a mixture of glutinous and non-glitunous rice flour. In general, shiratama-ko is the preferred flour to make daifuku, but I discovered that the skin made out of dango-ko is easier to handle, with minimal sacrifice to the glutinous texture)

170g water
125g confectioners' or icing sugar
Potato starch, to dust

For the filling

300g lima beans, soaked for 6-8 hours in cold water, skin stripped off
100g caster sugar
50g water
13 small strawberies, stemmed and hulled

Place lima beans and soaking water in a stock pot and boil. After boiling point, add more water (about 250-300g), and continue heating. Bring up to boil again, then strain off liquid and immediately refresh beans in cold water. Soak the beans in cold water for about 5 minutes. Return the beans to the stock pot, fill with plenty more water, and simmer at low heat until beans are tender and crumble easily. If you are unsure, it is better to simmer the beans a little bit longer to ensure a smooth paste. Strain off the water and place beans into a large bowl. Add some cold water into the bowl, stir and wait a minute or two until bean paste settles at the bottom. Skim off any floating impurities off the surface of the water. Repeat three to four times until the the top layer is free of impurities. Place a large, clean tea towel over a bowl, and pour the bean paste. Squeeze hard to ensure all the water is removed from the bean paste. Make sugar syrup by combining water and caster sugar in a saucepan until boiling. Add half of the raw bean paste into the boiling sugar syrup, stir to combine, and boil again while stirring continuously. Add the rest of the raw bean paste into the mix and continue to mix at low heat. Continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated. A good way of telling is to bear in mind that the paste has to be moulded around the strawberries---thus you don't want it to be too wet or too dry and crumbly. Cool down, and divide paste into 13 equal portions. Roll into balls, and flatten slightly. Set strawberries on top of disks, and mould bean paste around strawberries, leaving a portion of the tip uncovered. Refrigerate while you get the skin ready.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well, and place in a steamer. Depending on your flour, you might need more or less water. If unsure, it is better to add more water, as this will only affect the steaming time required, and not have any effect on the texture of the skin. Steam for 20 minutes, checking and stirring every 5 minutes to ensure that skin is steaming evenly. In the meantime, wet a large tea towel and dust work surface with potato starch. Transfer dough into the center of the wet tea towel. Be very careful as dough will be very hot and sticky. Fold the tea towel into two, with the dough encased inside, and roll the dough into a log. Cut this log into 13 equal portions. Work with a little at a time, and keep the rest of the dough covered. Taking a piece, flatten into a round disc and set onto the dusted surface (roll it into a ball first if you need to---if dough is too sticky, encase it in the wet cloth and use it to help you roll it into a ball.) Stretch the dough out a little, and set the tip of the strawberry down on the surface of the disc. Pull up the sides so that they join together, and turn the dough around and dust the bottom with a little potato starch to seal.

And the cherries, you say? Well, I just have to wait a little longer until I settle down in my new job to start baking again. I just hope by then it will not be too late to buy more cherries.