Saturday, February 28, 2009

Musings on Pomegranate, and THAT time of the month

It is that time of the month again. Regardless of how seldom I blog, we meet each month here in my sanctuary, where I unveil to you the Daring Bakers' Challenge of the given month. This month, the challenge is a very unique chocolate cake recipe, the less because it is completely gluten-free, and more because it contains no additional sugar.

This cake has a texture somewhere between a cake, a brownie, and a custard. There is intense chocolate, as dark and inexorable as night. But scattered amidst this landscape are ruby red globes which burst into sweet, and then sour; the fruit of the Underworld that bound Persephone to Hades for three months out of each mortal year.

Picking apart a pomegranate is a messy yet rewarding exercise. Amidst ruby-stained fingers and lips, any person is bound to moan in ecstasy when the white membranes of the fruit finally yield an undiscovered cavern of yet another cluster of seeds. Add to that the pleasure of feeling the tiny, plump globules pop and flood your tongue with their sweet liquor, a sensation so eminently satisfying it is almost forbidden. Little wonder Persephone gave in to its temptation.

I wanted to pair this decadent cake with a sorbet made from another ancient fruit: figs. Why? Because I couldn't resist the sight of their plump little figures at the market. And oh, they happen to taste out of this world, and they were apparently introduced to humans as the fruit of autumn by the goddess Demeter, who is also none other than Persephone's mother. Because the deadline for this challenge is in less than 3 hours' time, I think I'll make this post a short one. As my few previous posts have been long ones, and since someone said something about a picture is worth a thousand words sometime ago, I'll let my photographs do the talking this time. I hope they do not disappoint.

The February Challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad- Baker & Chef. 'We have chosen a chocolate valentino cake by Chef Wan; a vanilla ice cream recipe from Dharm and a vanilla ice cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.'

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped

½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter

5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment. 3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls. 4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry). 5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together. 6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate. 7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration} 8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C 9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C. Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet. 10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Fig Sorbetto

12 ripe figs, trimmed
200g caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon
200ml thick cream (35% fat)

Process the figs, sugar and lemon juice until combined. Add the thick cream and pulse until smooth. Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions.


Monday, February 23, 2009

From Melbourne, With Love

This was meant to be a Valentine's Day post. Apparently, I was too busy belting out the chorus from the famed Annie soundtrack to post on time, again. While putting this post together and snooping around some newly-discovered blogs--- most of which have made it to my regular blog-stalking circuit--- I experienced a revelation. Back in my days as a fashion design undergraduate, I felt a little more than confused about how I was meant to approach designing.

While the concept of creating a logo and brand presence was straightforward and simple enough for me to understand, other aspects of designing---creating mood boards, advertising boards, design development, layout concepts, typography etc. baffled me. It took a good 2 years after graduation for me to come upon this revelation, and finally everything that I learnt back then seemed to be making more and more sense.

I remembered one lecturer, a captivating lady who, in her early forties, is still one of the most unique, most awe-inspiring individual I have ever met. She is always impeccably dressed and made-up; and to my (and all the other students') fascination, always managed to look like a 40's pin-up girl, down to every single strand of blond, barrel-curled hair. She is also one harsh but fair lecturer. I remember more than one occasion when she asked why I did not do my design development in colour, even after I had determined both fabrics and colour range for the collection I was designing. Being a stubborn, hard-headed girl that I was (and still am, mind you), I never listened to her because 1. doing sketches in colours take up time that I did not have; 2. the colours on the fabrics never exactly match my colour pencil-rendered designs anyway.

But now I finally understand. It's funny how we can always find parallels in whatever we do, regardless of how far-off those things may seem to be.

This is my version of the Black Forest cake, which I had dissected and reconstructed. Although I used fresh garnet cherries instead of griottes, I find that it works well with the recipe. On the other hand, you are welcome to substitute Morello cherries or other varieties of sour cherries.

I obviously need to tweak my recipes a little before I am satisfied, mainly because I want the milk chocolate chantilly to turn out a few shades paler than the dark chocolate mousse. But otherwise, I'm pretty happy with this attempt.

Black Forest, Reconstructed
makes 5x 10-cm rings

Chocolate Joconde

240g yolks
200g caster sugar
140g almond meal
360g egg white
120g caster sugar
60g butter, melted
120g flour, sifted
40g cocoa powder, sifted

Preheat oven to 180 degree C. Place egg whites and 60g caster sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk at high speed to form stiff peaks.
In the meantime, whisk egg yolks, 100g caster sugar and almond meal until pale and thick. Fold melted butter into the egg yolk mixture. Fold in 1/3 of the stiffly-beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Fold in the rest of the egg whites. Sift the cocoa powder and flour into the bowl, and fod in to combine. Spread on a greased and lined baking tray and bake for 5-8 minutes. Cool, and cut circles slightly larger than the size of your intended pans. You will need 2 circles for each pan.

Cherry Compote

125g caster sugar
5 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
250g cherries, pitted and halved

Place catser sugar and balsamic vinegar in a saucepan and heat on high heat for 1-2 minutes. Add cherries and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until mixture is syrupy. Cool cherries in syrup.

Milk Chocolate Chantilly

600g double cream
420g milk chocolate, chopped

Boil cream in a saucepan, and pour over chopped chocolate, stir until combined in a homogenous mixture. Clingfilm the surface of the ganache and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Whip to firm peaks. In the case where the ganache hardened too much and is impossible to whip, or where it splits after whipping, you can place the bowl on top of a saucepan of simmering water to bring it back together. Just melt about 1/3 of the ganache, and then remove from the heat, and whisk by hand to attain the same results.

Cherry Jelly

150g fresh or frozen cherries. pitted
1 Tablespoon water
1/8 cup sugar
2 teaspoon kirsch
1 titanium-strength gelatine leaf

Process cherries in a food precessor/blender, and strain. Reserve the pulp. Boil sugar with water and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add kirsch and cherry juice to the sugar syrup and heat gently to about 40-50 degree Celsius. In the meantime, soak gelatine leaf in water to soften. Add gelatine, along with 2 Tablespoon of reserved cherry pulp into the cherry syrup. Stir to combine.

Dark Chocolate Mousse

100 g caster sugar
80ml water
100g eggs
100g yolks
200g dark chocolate, melted and cooled (I used 70% dark chocolate)
300g cream, softly whipped

Make a pate a bombe: Heat caster sugar and water in a saucepan until the temperature of the sugar thermometer reads 120 degree C (soft ball stage). Whisk eggs and yolks in a stand mixer until thick and pale. In a steady stream, and with the motor running pour the sugar syrup down the side of the mixing bowl. Whisk on medium-high speed until cool. Fold softly whipped cream into the mixture.

To Assemble

Line moulds with tall acetate strips, making sure it is at least 5 cm taller than the height of the ring. Place the first joconde circle at the base. Drain cherries from syrup and dry with a paper towel. Press halves side by side, cut-side out, into the acetate strip, until they line the entire circumference of the ring. Pipe the milk chocolate chantilly over the cherries, covering them. Place the other circle of chocolate joconde on top and lightly press down. Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours. Next, pour warm cherry jelly into pan, and again leave to set in the fridge. Lastly, pipe the dark chocolate mousse on top of the set cherry jelly, and leave to set in the fridge.

Happy (Belated) Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Childhood Interests, and How People Never Really Change.

I have always loved recipes. The desription and photos are, to me, almost as enticing as the thought of making them. Not that I ever did, at least not until 3 years ago.

I remembered growing up reading a weekly children's magazine, which release every Thursday I look forward to with much anticipation and excitement. I remember waiting impatiently for my mother to come home from work every Thursday because I know she will bring with her a fresh, pristine copy. I remember the smooth, glossy cover, taking it in my two hands and lifting it up to my nose, inhaling deeply the scent of ink and paper fresh off the printers.

It was to this magazine that I wrote, one day when I was about 7 years old, putting in a request to feature more recipes, and to make the recipes a weekly feature in the magazine. It's funny that people always say that you change when you grow up; when I look back into my childhood, I realise that not much had changed at all. I loved reading and writing then, and I still do now. My parents caught me doing sketches of dresses one evening a long time ago, and guess what my major at university was. I loved playing with my kitchen set and recipe books, and I recoverd this lost love just three years ago. I remembered my parents buying a few interior decorating books and magazines when they were building the new house some 15 years ago, and I used to carry them around with me in the house, just so I can pore over the photos every chance I get. This is the only childhood interest which I have yet to revisit, but which I am hoping to pick up again very soon. I have been on a mission to revisit my apartement for sometime now. Somehow, my plans never took flight. I just don't know where to start.

Psrhaps I should explain. Most of my life has been lived overseas. Making a rented premise a home is an exercise in futility. Firstly, my student budget did not allow for excessive spending, and even now I feel that buying pretty home decorations is a waste of money.Although somehow, this frugality never crossed over to clothes shopping.

So, why am I telling you these things, again? I am thinking of redecorating, and somewhere along the line, I am hoping to redecorating my life too. This year is meant to be a fresh start for me, a fresh new book after 24 years in the occupation of a student. It did not start out very well, but I intend to finish it in a very, very positive way.

So, what are your ideas on how to start a redecoration?

These amazing brownies are from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert. They are, and I kid you not, the best brownies I have ever had. I consider Medrich a perfectionist whose meticulous and slightly obsessive recipe testing enabled her to understand how each ingredient plays a vital role in transforming a good thing into a great one. She described these brownies as a cross between 'a very moist cake and a rich chocolate mousse'. I could not agree more. Although the nutmeg may seem unneccesary, I do not recommend skipping it. It creates a new dimension to the brownies that adds depth of flavour. After all, 90% of taste comes from your sense of smell.

New Bittersweet Brownies

228g 70% chocolate, chopped

86g unsalted butter, cut into chunks

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1tspn vanilla paste

55g plain flour

Whole nutmeg, grated, to serve.

Preheat oven to 160 degree C. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with baking paper. Place chocolate and butter in a bain marie, stirring frequently until the mixture is melted and smooth. Set aside. In a stand mixer, whisk eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla on high speed until the mixture is thick and pale. Whisk in the warm melted chocolate/butter mixture. Fold in the flour. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean, save for a few moist crumbs. This will take approximately 25-30 minutes. Cool in the pan, invert and dust with freshly grated nutmeg.

Note: I have been intently following the news these past few days. Some of you may have heard of the devastating bushfire tragedy that wiped out entire towns in many parts of Victoria. One of the locations that suffered the full extent of the tragedy was a suburb near J's parents' home called Kinglake. On Saturday, when J was out, I received a phone call from his mother. She told me that the wind had changed direction and the fire was going their way, and that they were going to evacuate once the fire went past the nearby hill. It stopped just a few miles away, right before it hit the hill, thanks in no small parts to the laudable efforts put in by the firefighters.

A number of bushfires are still raging across Victoria up to this moment. Some of them have been burning for 4 days straight. The thought that some of these fires were intentionally lit during the total fire ban day on Saturday makes my blood boil, and then some. While I feel relieved that J's family was not affected by the fires, my heart goes out to all the victims of what has been termed 'Australia's worst-ever disaster'.