Sunday, April 26, 2009

DB April Challenge, and a happy mistake

Okay, so I'm not that good at making cheesecake come out neatly and unbroken from its pan. In my defense, I used a shallow square non-springform pan to bake it, thus making the exercise of removing the sticky, gooey deliciousness extra hard. Really, I'm not just making excuses for myself. The leftovers which I baked in ramekins turned out nicely with a smooth and satisfying plop at the slightest coaxing.

Add that to the humiliation that somehow the bavarois recipe I had intended to accompany the cheesecake did not work. I intended to make a fig, muscatel and pear bavarian cream to accompany the blue cheese cheesecake I had made. Unfortunately, I had an unforeseen glitch in my choice of fruit. It turns out that fresh figs contain an enzyme called Bromelain--- found in foods such as pineapple, kiwi, papaya and ginger roots---which breaks down gelatin, thereby inhibiting thickening. And of course, I had only researched this as I was typing this post, thus explaining the glob of goo on my plate. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?

Anyway, although my bavarian cream is beyond redemption, I had a moment of enlightenment with my cheesecake. Seems like divine intervention had saved me from the looming doom that is shame and humiliation of failing a DB Challenge. As I was gathering the scraps of my fallen cheesecake, a thought whispers itself in my head. I can't remember its exact words, but it went something like this: hey, why don't you roll them into a ball, then cover them in walnut crust? And so I did. And it turned out to be a good move.

I'm not adept at creating and plating multi-component desserts, unlike my friend Y, whose creations are works of arts. Her desserts may look like they were spontaneously crafted at the spur of the moment, but believe me, those organic structures on a plate are carefully calculated with a good dose of restraint, resulting in a balanced and harmonious plate. Like Jackson Pollock, but much better; in my humble opinion anyway. Plus I feel it's partly owing to her mentioning a cheese plate cheesecake that I was able to salvage my cheesecake. Maybe it was her voice in my head...hmmm....

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Salty+Sweet Series 2: Raisins

I have a confession to make: I don't like macarons. I find them cloyingly sweet as a whole, and the shell, traditionally made of almond meal, leaves quite a lot to be desired in the taste department. Maybe it is owing to my unrefined palate that I was unable to rave about macarons in the frenzy that some of the other baker-bloggers could and had. Or perhaps you can blame it on my lack of appreciation for the subtlety and elegance of the French almond-based confection. But before you flog me, I want to tell you something. First, I know I am not the only one. Second, I have finally found a macaron I am in love with.

I cannot remember my first introduction to the walnut, probably because it was so forgettable--I could almost be certain it was out of a supermarket pack; in other words, bitter, stale and of poor quality. Because otherwise, how could the memory of popping a fresh walnut along with a plump raisin into my mouth, one Saturday morning a few months ago, be etched so distinctly in my brains and my palate? I could not even remember what compelled me to buy those walnuts and raisins that day, or why I chose to go to that Iranian vendor to purchase them, instead of the other places scattered across the market.

Ever since then, I have been dreaming up things I would make with walnuts and raisins. Maybe it was why I suggested to Mallory that we pick raisins as the theme of the second Salty+Sweet series. Or maybe it was because no one ever does give the poor raisins any credit at all, despite all that they contribute to mankind. I was in pre-school the first time I ate raisins;my mother bought one 6-pack Sun-Maid Raisins for my after-school snack. They were oh-so-small, perfect for my (then) tiny hands and fingers and mouth. But I liked them because they were sweet. Enough said. Then I stopped eating them for years, until I bought a bag of them at the same time I bought those walnuts from that Iranian vendor. So it seems a shame to break up such an excellent marriage.

I made two batches of macarons---one where I completely replaced the almonds with walnuts, and another where I went half and half. Not that I have anything against almonds, but the all-walnut macaron won hands down, due to having a more pronounced walnut taste, but with none of the astringent undertones which came from the tannins.

But a macaron is not a macaron without its filling, is it? I wanted to feature the raisins prominently in the filling, and Mallory happened to mention rum and raisin ice cream. So rum and raisin ganache it is! While they tasted really good separately, I got a little anxious about how they were going to fare together. Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

As with the first Salty+Sweet Series, there is a prize to be won. My partner-in-crime Mallory chose this cheeky gift as a tribute to this month's theme. To stand a chance to win, you have to comment on both mine and Mallory's blog. The winner will be announced in one week, so you have until then. Good luck!!

Walnut Macarons with Rum and Raisin Ganache

140g walnuts
170g icing sugar
3 large egg whites
50g caster sugar

In a food processor, pulse together walnuts and icing sugar. Sift into a clean bowl. Whisk egg whites in a stand mixer until foamy, then add the caster sugar in three additions until a shiny meringue is achieved. Fold the icing sugar/ground walnuts mixture in 3 batches, and be very careful not to overmix, otherwise the batter would spread too much when piped.* Pipe the batter onto a baking paper/silicon mat-lined baking tray, leaving a 5cm gap in between each macaron. Gently rap baking tray on the counter to get rid of air bubbles. Leave to dry out for about one hour, or until macarons form a skin and are no longer sticky to the touch, before baking at 150 degree Celsius for 15 minutes.

Rum and Raisin Ganache

60g raisins (I used a mixture of raisins and sultanas), pureed with 75g of water
25g rum
180g white chocolate

Heat rum and raisin puree in a saucepan until boiling. Add white chocolate, leave to stand for 1 minute, then whisk to obtain an emulsion. Transfer to a shallow bowl, cover surface directly with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight. Before using, heat ganache in microwave in 2 5-second bursts. Transfer to a stand mixer, and whisk on high speed for 30 seconds.

*I am by no means an expert in macaron making. For more detailed instructions on making macarons, please visit macaron goddess Helen's website, where I myself went to learn the dark arts of macaron making. I also emailed my lovely friend /uber pastry chef Y for some guidance during the creation of these deviations. As long as you ask nicely, I'm sure she wouldn't mind helping you out with your macaron problems.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!!

I wanted to make something different for Easter this year. Not that I remembered making anything last year, or even the year before. Growing up in the tropics mean that Easter has never been such a big deal. Sure, I remember my first Easter egg hunt---Sunday school, quite a lot of years back. But no, they did not hide the eggs in the garden or anything like that. The Sunday School teachers (do you guys call them that?) merely hid them in different parts of the classroom. Not much fun. We were told beforehand that we could only take one egg each, that no one is to take two. And I guess I was never the fastest, or the most eager kid in the room. Instead of searching high and low, like other kids, I just went up to a boy who had found two, and were holding them in his hands, and said, "Can I have one of your Easter eggs? You can't take two."

I did not remember whether he said yes or no--he might have been too stunned by my forward-ness (read: aggression)-- but I ended up going home with my first chocolate Easter egg anyway. I think I might have just taken it out of his hand without waiting for him to respond first. Hm.

Unlike the rest of the world, us folks in the Southern Hemisphere do not herald Easter as the beginning of Spring and the coming of better weather. I have to say that this Easter has been the warmest so far, but I know the warm days are numbered, so I decided to put an extra dose of spice to give these cookies some much-needed comfort.
I also chose to use a combination of sultanas and raisins because, well, I just happened to have them lying around in my pantry.

Hot cross cookies
(adapted from The Australian Women's Weekly Cookies book)

125g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
1 egg

120g of a mixture of sultanas and raisins

300g self-raising flour

3tsp mixed spice
2tsp milk
apricot jam, for glazing

royal icing

1/2 egg white

125g icing sugar

Beat butter and sugar together in a bowl of an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment, add the egg, and stir in the sultanas and raisins. Sift flour and spice together over the mixture, and add the milk. Mix until it just comes together. Weigh 15g of dough, and roll into a ball. Place on lined baking sheet, and flatten slightly. Repeat until all the dough is used up. Leave about 5 cm space in between each cookie, because they will expand in size when baking. Bake at 160 degree Celsius for 15 minutes, or until light golden. Allow to cool.

To make royal icing, sift icing sugar into a bowl. Whisk egg white until foamy, and beat in icing sugar in 4 additions. Continue whisking until mixture is thick. To achieve piping consistency, water it down with one tablespoon of water. You may have to adjust the amount of water required. If the royal icing feels a bit stiff to be piped, feel free to add more water. With a paper cornet or a piping bag with a very small round tip ( I used a decorator's tip, because they are generally made for finer work), pipe crosses on top of the cookies. Leave overnight to set.

Heat apricot jam in a saucepan, strain, and brush jam on the cookies.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fig and Blackberry I a sugar addict?

I made this crostata a few weeks ago with the last of the good blackberries, and at a time when figs were at their peak. No, it's not a pizza. It is, indeed, a crostata.

Being one to believe that more is more, I may have misread (ignored) the instructions to leave at least a 5cm wide border all around the sides. As a result, there was not enough to cover enough of the fruits to sufficiently transform what is meant to be a freeform pie into the work of art called a crostata.

J had a birthday last Tuesday. No, I did not make him anything special. In self defense though, I did ask if he wanted me to make anything for his birthday. His answered no. And being someone who never takes things at face value, I began to wonder if his lack of enthusiasm for my food is directly related to the fact that I only ever make sweet foods. While I am more than happy to munch on sweets all day--- which I do on a frequent basis, forgoing main, proper meals in place of sugary goodness---J has a (much) lower threshold for sweet things. He likes a few mouthfuls here and there, but on an average day, I'd say that three servings of anything sweet is his limit of sugar intake in one sitting. Which works for me, because I end up polishing off the rest of the food. Life is good.

Or so I thought. I have been pondering about this lately: do all the people in your lives enjoy most of the things that you make? Because here's a BIG revelation: the people in mine surely don't. With the exception of my siblings, who are borderline carnivorous, most of my friends don't eat or even buy sweets, which I find completely unimaginable. One of my friends confessed at a recent lunch meeting that he could not even remember when he last bought a candy bar/cookie/anything sweet from the supermarket. The horror!!

After observing how most of the ladies at work took 2 days to finish a small bag of 6 shortbread biscuits that I made and gave to them, I can't help but wonder if the problem has always been mine. I take on average 5 minutes flat to polish off 6 shortbread squares for breakfast with my morning tea. And no, this is not the embarrassing scenario where I am the only one who do not realise how bad her cooking/baking really is, so get that thought outta your head!

What I want to know is what you, my readers, consider to be your sweetness threshold. Whether it is something like mine (I can polish off ten 2cmx4cm pistachio nougat bars in half a day---ohhohoh I'm a patissier's and a dentist's dream!!), or somewhere along the lines of my friend, who thinks that sugar is just another type of food he does not need. I look forward to reading your comments!!

This crostata recipe is adapted from Chef Catherine Adams' recipe which was featured in the Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine. Please click on this link to get to the recipe page. I took the liberty of substituting the raspberries with the blackberries; feel free to use any other fruits that are in season.